(Bill Belichick photo on cover page courtesy of the New England Patriots)
(Mike Zimmer photo above courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
Talk of Fame Network
The Denver Broncos proved in 2015 that defense still wins championships in the NFL. And the Minnesota Vikings are proving in 2016 that defense can take you farther than offense.
Playing without their quarterback and NFL rushing champion, at 5-0, the Vikings are the NFL’s only unbeaten team because of their slam-the-door shut defense. Broncos coordinator Wade Phillips was the NFL’s defensive guru last year. Now it’s Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s turn this year.
Which leads us to our poll question this week on the Talk of Fame Network: who has the best defensive mind in today’s NFL? Our field of candidates is superb. Here are your options:
Bill Belichick, head coach, New England Patriots. Belichick served as defensive coordinator of two Super Bowl champions with the New York Giants and presided over four other Super Bowl champions with the Patriots. Both of his New York champions finished second in the league in defense, and his 1986 team collected 59 sacks. His four New England Super Bowl champs all finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense, with the 2003 champion allowing the fewest points in the league. His defensive game plans regularly undressed the best offensive teams in football, most notably the 2001 Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl and the 2004 Colts in the AFC semifinals. Both opponents had rare 500-point offenses that season, plus NFL MVPs at quarterback.
(Bill Belichick photo from the Talk of Fame Network library)
Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks. Carroll is the architect of Seattle’s Legion of Doom defense. He inherited the NFL’s 24th-ranked defense when he arrived in Seattle in 2010, but inside of two seasons Carroll had a defense ranked in the Top 10. By his third season he had a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league. By his fourth season in 2013 Carroll had a defense that allowed both the fewest points and yards on the way to a Lombardi Trophy. Seattle led the NFL in defense again in 2014, finished second in 2015 and leads the league again this season. Carroll also served as a defensive coordinator at the Jets and 49ers in addition to head-coaching stints at the Jets, Patriots and Southern Cal, where he won two national titles.
(Pete Carroll photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans. A Hall- of-Fame cornerback with the Detroit Lions, LeBeau may be an even better coach than he was a player. LeBeau has constructed the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense in five of the last 12 seasons. He served as coordinator of five Super Bowl defenses, one with Cincinnati and four with Pittsburgh. He’s the inventor of the zone blitz and has produced pass rushes that registered 50-plus sacks three times. His defenses have also intercepted 20-plus passes eight times. At 79 years of age, LeBeau is now in his second season with the Titans.
(Dick LeBeau photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)
Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos. Like LeBeau, Phillips favors the 3-4 scheme. He’s been in the NFL for 38 seasons with nine different teams, including 24 as a defensive coordinator. His units have finished in the NFL’s Top 10 in defense 19 times in those 24 seasons. But last season’s Denver team was the first time his defense ever finished No. 1 as a coordinator. His 1999 Buffalo Bills finished No. 1 in defense when he was the head coach. His 2006 San Diego Chargers registered 61 sacks, his 2008 Cowboys 58 sacks, his 1987 Eagles 57 sacks, his 1983 Saints 56 sacks and his 2015 Super Bowl-champion Broncos 52 sacks.
(Wade Phillips photo courtesy of Eric Bakke/Denver Broncos)
Mike Zimmer, head coach, Minnesota Vikings. Zimmer inherited the NFL’s 31st ranked defense when he arrived in Minnesota as head coach in 2014. He vaulted the Vikings to 14th in his first season, 13th in his second season and now he’s in the Top 5. Zimmer coordinated the NFL’s top-rated defense in Dallas in 2003 and took the Cincinnati Bengals all the way up to No. 3 in 2013 before the Vikings hired him away. He had a 51-sack season with the Bengals and a 31-takeaway season with the Cowboys. But this current group is special. The Vikings are allowing a league-low 12.6 points per game and lead the NFL in both sacks and takeaways.