What was the greatest pass-rush front in NFL history?


Joe Greene photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Jacksonville Jaguars have built a devastating pass rush in free agency, signing tackle Malik Jackson away from the Denver Broncos in 2016 and end Calais Campbell away from the Arizona Cardinals in 2017. Add holdovers Arby Jones and Yannick Ngakoue to the mix and first-round pick Dante Fowler coming off the bench and, well, the Jaguars have 33 sacks through the first seven games of the season to lead the NFL. That includes a pair of 10-sack games against Houston and Indianapolis. Campbell leads the NFL with 10 sacks and Ngakoue (6 1/2) and Fowler (5 1/2) both rank in the Top 12.

That got us at the Talk of Fame Network thinking — what team built the greatest pass rush of all time? So that’s the subject of our weekly poll — which pass rush will wear that crown? We’re offering up four choices littered with Hall of Famers and all-decade performers:

Buddy Ryan’s Chicago Bears. The Bears set the NFL single-season record for sacks with 72 in 1984, then followed that with 64 in their Super Bowl championship season in 1985. The front four featured two Hall of Famers, ends Richard Dent and Dan Hampton, plus tackles Steve McMichael and William “Refrigerator” Perry. Chicago had three pass rushers in double figures in 1984 — Dent with 17 1/2 sacks, Hampton 11 ½ and McMichael 10. Dent collected 17 more in 1985, plus Super Bowl MVP honors with another 1 ½ sacks in the Super Bowl. McMichael chipped in eight sacks in 1985 and Hampton 5 ½. Ryan left after that season to become head coach of the Eagles but didn’t take the pass rush with him. The Bears collected 62 more sacks in 1986.

Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles. Ryan inherited Reggie White when he became head coach of the Eagles in 1986, then drafted end Clyde Simmons that April and tackle Jerome Brown in 1987. He signed former first-round pick Mike Pitts in 1987 and the result was a dominant front that generated a 57-sack season in 1987 and then peaked with a 62-sack season in 1989. White led the NFL in sacks with 21 in 1987 and 18 in 1988, and Simmons would go on to lead the NFL after Ryan’s departure with 19 sacks in 1992. White was named to the all-decade team for both the 1980s and 1990s and also the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. He now has a bust in Canton. White ranks second all-time in sacks with 198, and Simmons also finished his career in the 100-sack club with 121 1/2.

Fearsome Foursome of the Rams. The NFL didn’t count sacks in the 1960s when the Fearsome Foursome of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy and first Rosey Grier, then Roger Brown, were creating havoc up front for offenses. All you need to know is that Jones and Olsen are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Brown has received consideration as a senior candidate. Olsen and Jones both were named first-team all-decade for the 1960s, and both also were named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Unofficially, Jones ranks third all-time in sacks with 173 ½, sitting behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White.

Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain. The Steel Curtain won four Super Bowls in the 1970s and, again, it was what’s up front that counts. Pittsburgh built a slam-the-door-shut defense that featured L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White at end and Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes at tackle. White and Holmes started on the first two Super Bowl championships, and end John Bansczak started the last two in place of White. Steve Furness and Gary Dunn both started one Super Bowl apiece at tackle in place of Holmes. But the Hall-of- Famer Greene was the centerpiece. Not only was he selected to the all-decade team, he was named to both the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and the 50th Super Bowl anniversary team. Greenwood also has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist.

Purple People Eaters of the Vikings. The NFL still wasn’t counting sacks in the 1970s, but it was the defensive front of ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall and tackles Alan Page and first Gary Larsen, then Doug Sutherland, that powered the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances that decade. Eller and Page have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Marshall has been a finalist. Eller was a first-team all-decade selection in the 1970s and Page a second-teamer. Page became the first defensive player ever named NFL MVP in 1971 and remains one of only two defenders ever to win the award along with Lawrence Taylor. Unofficially, Page collected 148 career sacks, Eller 133 1/2 and Marshall 128.

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4 Comments

  1. Bear fan Bob
    October 25, 2017
    Reply

    I dont know if there was any better. There have been great pass rush. Cowboys, steelers, 49ers but bears was the best. I still watch some of these games. It displays the true force of a front line in harmony imposes its will on another team at its best.

  2. Rich Quodomine
    October 25, 2017
    Reply

    If you’re talking one season, give me the ’85 Bears. Best D I ever saw play, and it started up front.

    If you’re talking for history, I am going to take a rare “before my time” stance, and say the Fearsome Foursome. They didn’t necessarily invent the passrush, but as the game evolved in that time, they created the first “great line” of the TV era. And Deacon Jones. He could be 100 years old and still cause a concussion with a head slap.

    • Bear fan Bob
      October 25, 2017
      Reply

      Look up the grits blitz in Atlanta, I forget about the rams, thanks for the reminder. Bears were still better. They just got too full of themselves after 85..

  3. Kerouac
    October 27, 2017
    Reply

    My vote was for the Rams ‘Fearsome Foursome’ of the 1960’s – for one year / season however: the AFL’s 1967 Oakland Raiders. The ’11 Angry Men’ that year threw opposition passers 67 times in just 14 games, an better per game sack average than any team before or since.

    That the 67 sacks was almost double the 36 of the year before 1966, same cast of characters, of note. Difference perhaps the addition of CB Willie Brown in trade, his pairing Kent McCloughan the ‘bump & run’ technique.

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