When you think of some of the NFL's best defenses of all time, you think of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, the 1985 Chicago Bears, Vince Lombardi's Packers, the 1969 Chiefs, Bill Parcells' New York Giants, Atlanta's famed "Gritz Blitz," the 2002 Buccaneers and Dallas' Doomsday Defense.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens are also thought to be one of the top five defenses of all time, as they set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed in a 16-game season (970).
Yes, they are the only team in the last 25 years to allow fewer than 11 points per game. Yes, there were multiple Hall of Famers on the roster, including Rod Woodson and Ray Lewis, who will undoubtedly have a bust in Canton as one of the best linebackers of all-time.
In addition to Lewis and Woodson, the Ravens had many stellar complementary players, including Jamie Sharper, Tony Siragusa, Chris McAlister, Rob Burnett, Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary, Duane Starks and Sam Adams.
As we all know, the NFL decided to completely nix the Cleveland Browns in 1996, relocating the franchise to Baltimore, where they would change their name to the Ravens.
In the 1996 draft, the Ravens had two first-round selections: No. 4 and No. 26. They used the first pick to select offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who will likely be a future Hall of Famer. The No. 26 selection was used to take Miami linebacker Ray Lewis and for him, the rest is history.
During their first four seasons of existence, the Ravens never won more than eight games.
What's the best defense of all-time?
Then came the 2000 season. After adding numerous playmakers on defense, the team seemed to have a bright future. Their defense was stunning, while the offense was mediocre at best, with Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks splitting time as the main signal-caller.
The Ravens ultimately finished the regular season 12-4. They finished second in the AFC Central, but defeated the Denver Broncos and division rival Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. Ray Lewis and Co. would then go on to face the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship, winning the game 16-3.
Facing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, the team easily took care of business, winning the game 34-7. Ray Lewis was named the game's MVP and it remains the only Super Bowl victory in the team's short history.
The defense was remarkable, to say the least, and I'm not taking anything away from them.
During the 2000 season, the offense failed to score a single touchdown in five consecutive games. Yet, they won two of those games because of the tremendous play of the defense. In that five-game stretch, the offense never scored more than 15 points in a single game, but they didn't give up more than 14 points in any of those contests.
All four of their losses came because the offense failed to register a single touchdown. If the offense had been able to score, the Ravens could have captured an undefeated season. But since their offense was so lackluster, the team struggled to win games despite a strong defense led by Lewis.
The defense was amazing in 2000, but the same could not be said about their competition.
In that season, Baltimore traveled to Pittsburgh, Miami, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Arizona. They stayed at home to play Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Cleveland, San Diego and the New York Jets.
Obviously, on offense, the quarterback is the most important position on the field. More times than not, if the quarterback struggles, the whole team is going to struggle. A team cannot constantly be one-dimensional on the offensive side of the ball and win championships. That's just the way it works. Simply put, it's the way the NFL is.
During their season, the Ravens played some horrendous quarterbacks, and that's putting it nicely.
They faced off against Tennessee twice, meaning the defense squared off with Steve McNair on both occasions—they would also go on to play McNair's Titans in the playoffs.
They also played Jacksonville twice, and in those contests they strictly played Mark Brunell in one game and Brunell and Jamie Martin in the other game.
Cincinnati, one of the Ravens' current division rivals, also played Baltimore twice during the 2000 campaign. In the first contest, a 37-0 shutout by Baltimore, Scott Mitchell was the team's quarterback. The former Lion played a horrible game, as he went 14 for 23 for 97 yards and two interceptions. At that point in his career, there was no doubt that Mitchell's best days were behind him.
Akili Smith, one of the biggest busts in NFL history, quarterbacked the second game against Baltimore, a 27-7 loss. Smith could never get things rolling, as he completed 15 of 27 passes for 137 yards. The game actually wasn't that bad for Smith, as he didn't throw an interception, something that is considered very rare for his short-lived career.
Baltimore also faced the Cleveland Browns twice that season, who were in their second season back in the NFL. In the first game, a 12-0 win, the defense faced off against Tim Couch, who, like Smith, is considered one of the biggest busts in the NFL's storied history. Couch completed 20 of 35 passes for 203 yards and three interceptions in the Browns' loss.
During the second game, a 44-7 Baltimore victory, they played a mixture of Doug Pederson and Spergon Wynn. Both quarterbacks were horrendous; Pederson completed 8 of 16 passes for 108 yards and one interception. Wynn didn't fare any better—he completed 5 of 9 passes for a paltry 30 yards.
Pittsburgh was the final team to play the Ravens twice in 2000 and the teams split the series.
In the season opener, Kent Graham was the team's quarterback in the Steelers' 16-0 loss. Graham was awful, as he completed just 17 of 38 passes (44.7 percent) for 199 yards—coincidentally, the Ravens' Tony Banks also threw for exactly 199 yards, but the difference was that his team won the game.
Kordell Stewart, affectionately known as "Slash," started the team's second game against the Ravens. Luckily for Stewart, the Ravens' offense was spectacularly mediocre, as Pittsburgh won 9-6. Stewart completed just 9 of 18 passes for 133 yards, 45 of which was a touchdown to receiver Hines Ward.
That was the only touchdown of the contest, as kicker Kris Brown missed the extra point.
The Ravens' biggest loss of the season turned out to be their 19-6 defeat by the Miami Dolphins. And no, Dan Marino was not quarterbacking the team, as he was not on the roster for the first time since 1983. The signal-calling duties went to Jay Fiedler, who played a decent game. Fiedler went 11 of 16 for 160 yards, along with a touchdown.
Baltimore's other two AFC opponents, the Chargers and Jets, both resulted in wins for the Ravens.
Luckily, the defense experienced the joy of going against Ryan Leaf, who like Akili Smith and Couch, is widely considered to be one of, if not the biggest bust in the league's history. Needless to say, Leaf didn't disappoint. The quarterback completed just 9 of 23 passes for 78 yards and one interception. As it turned out, this would be Leaf's final season in San Diego.
The Ravens were then forced to play the pass-happy Jets. However, the Ravens won the game 34-20 after Testaverde attempted an NFL-record 69 passes in a non-overtime game—Drew Bledsoe holds the record with 70, but that was in a game that went into extra minutes. Testaverde managed to complete 36 of those passes for 481 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Washington won their contest 10-3, thanks to running back Stephen Davis' 33-yard touchdown run. Brad Johnson, who would win the Super Bowl two years later with Tampa Bay, didn't do much in the Redskins' favor. The veteran completed 18 of 27 passes for 158 yards and one interception. Luckily, Davis broke off a big run and the 'Skins were able to give Baltimore one of their four losses.
Baltimore easily handled the Cowboys in their 27-0 victory. Some could argue that Troy Aikman was the best quarterback they faced all year, but he was way past his prime. Aikman, a Hall of Famer, completed 19 of 33 passes for 138 yards and three interceptions. The 2000 campaign would be the final one for Aikman, who had one of the two worst seasons of his career.
Finally, their last NFC opponent was the Arizona Cardinals, led by quarterback Jake Plummer. The Cardinals narrowly lost the game, 13-7, as Plummer went 23-for-43 for 266 yards with one touchdown and two picks.
Needless to say, the Ravens faced some horrendous quarterback play. Three of the quarterbacks they faced off against -- Akili Smith, Couch and Leaf -- are considered to be three of the top ten busts of all-time.
Outside of those three, there was Kent Graham, Jamie Martin, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Scott Mitchell, an over-the-hill Troy Aikman, a turnover-prone Jake Plummer and Jay Fielder, who had started one career game prior to the 2000 season.
The point I'm trying to make is that the Ravens defense did so well because of a slew of mediocre quarterbacks. Other than the ones listed directly above, they faced off against Mark Brunell, Vinny Testaverde, Steve McNair, Kordell Stewart and Brad Johnson. That's not saying much.
Baltimore's defense faced zero All-Pro quarterbacks in the 2000 regular season. Zero. Many teams would have been able to put up gaudy numbers on defense when playing quarterbacks of that caliber.
In the playoffs, they played Denver, Tennessee again, Oakland and the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Gus Frerotte and Jarious Jackson split the duties for the Broncos, as did Bobby Hoying and Rich Gannon for Oakland. Of course, Kerry Collins was the signal-caller for the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Now, the Ravens did have a spectacular season when it came to defending the rushing attack. As stated in the beginning of this article, they allowed an NFL record-low 970 rushing yards in a 16-game season. The defense did face off against some quality running backs like Eddie George, Jerome Bettis, Fred Taylor, Emmitt Smith, Corey Dillon and Curtis Martin.
Two of those running backs are already in the Hall of Fame, while Jerome Bettis could have a bust in Canton very, very soon.
Additionally, Bettis, George and Corey Dillon all faced the Ravens twice and all three registered 1,000-yard campaigns in 2000. Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor, Stephen Davis and Lamar Smith also went up against the Ravens defense that season and all five recorded 1,000-yard seasons.
But to even it up, they also squared off against Travis Prentice, Stacey Mack, Rodney Thomas, Richard Huntley, Terrell Fletcher and a rookie Thomas Jones, who rushed for just 373 yards in his rookie campaign.
During the postseason, the Ravens' defense went up against the one-year wonder Mike Anderson, Tyrone Wheatley and Tiki Barber.
Although the Ravens hosted some amazing running backs, the quarterback position is what's most important. Like I said earlier, more times than not, the entire offense is going to struggle if the quarterback can't get things into gear.
There's no doubt that the Ravens' defense in 2000 was stupendous. The cast holds numerous records from that season, but people have to take into account the opponents they faced. Of the eleven different teams they faced in the regular season, only two made the playoffs -- the Titans and the Dolphins.
Furthermore, seven of the eleven different teams they played finished the regular season with a record of 8-8 or worse, including the Chargers, who went 1-15. The Browns finished 3-13 while the Bengals' record was 4-12. The Ravens played both of those teams twice.
I'm not taking anything away from the Ravens' defense. They had a tremendous season, but I don't agree that they're in the same company as the 1985 Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, Lombardi's Packers and others.
Maybe one day I'll think differently, but for now I don't think the Ravens had one of the best defenses of all time, especially given the circumstances of the teams and quarterbacks they faced during the regular season.