Where Does Denver's Super Bowl 50 Defensive Performance Rank Among the Best?

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Where Does Denver's Super Bowl 50 Defensive Performance Rank Among the Best?
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

On paper and the surface, what the Denver Broncos defense did to the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 might not come across as exceptional. After all, 10 Super Bowl defenses have surrendered fewer points, and nine more have given up exactly the same amount. 

Super Bowl winners have historically surrendered an average of 15.8 points per game while registering an average of 3.1 takeaways, so the Broncos didn't make history by allowing 10 points and forcing four turnovers. 

Yes, they faced the NFL's highest-scoring offense, but in terms of points allowed, four teams—the 2013 Seahawks, 1983 Raiders, 1969 Chiefs and 1966 Packershave fared just as well, if not better than Denver when facing top-rated scoring offenses in the Super Bowl. 

Top Super Bowl performances against No. 1 scoring offenses
Defense Opponent Opponent PPG Points allowed Takeaways
1969 Chiefs Vikings 27.1 7 5
2013 Seahawks Broncos 37.9 8 4
1983 Raiders Redskins 33.8 9 3
1988 49ers Bengals 28.0 9 1
1966 Packers Chiefs 32.0 10 1
2005 Steelers Seahawks 28.2 10 1
2015 Broncos Panthers 31.2 10 4

Pro Football Reference

And if we attempt to account for the scoring explosion that has skewed those types of statistics in recent years by looking at the difference between regular-season points-per-game totals and Super Bowl outputs, the 2015 Broncos still take a back seat to half a dozen Super Bowl squads. 

Difference between season PPG average & Super Bowl total
Defense Opponent Opponent PPG SB points Difference
2013 Seahawks Broncos 37.9 8 29.9
1983 Raiders Redskins 33.8 9 24.8
1972 Dolphins Redskins 24.0 0 24.0
1974 Steelers Vikings 22.1 0 22.1
1966 Packers Chiefs 32.0 10 22.0
1968 Jets Colts 28.7 7 21.7
2015 Broncos Panthers 31.2 10 21.2
2000 Ravens Giants 20.5 0 20.5
1969 Chiefs Vikings 27.1 7 20.1
1971 Cowboys Dolphins 22.5 3 19.5
1988 49ers Bengals 28.0 9 19.0

Pro Football Reference

Nineteen other defenses have recorded at least four takeaways in the Super Bowl, 18 of which were victorious. And the Broncos are one of 11 teams that have surrendered 10 or fewer points on defense while taking the ball away four times in the Super Bowl. That's 22 percent of the winners. 

Only when we combine points, takeaways and sacks do we begin to see just how complete Denver's Super Bowl 50 performance was on that side of the ball, because Denver recorded a Super Bowl record-tying seven sacks. 

Here's a complete list of teams that have surrendered 10 or fewer points while registering four takeaways and five sacks in the Super Bowl: 

Fewer than 10 points and at least 4 takeaways and 5 sacks
Defense Opponent PPG Points allowed Takeaways Sacks
2015 Broncos 31.2 10 4 7
1989 49ers 22.6 10 4 6
1985 Bears 22.6 10 6 7

Pro Football Reference

Look how much better Carolina was offensively than San Francisco's opponent (Cincinnati) and Chicago's opponent (New England). 

Plus, of course, the Broncos defense scored a touchdown in the first half and set the offense up on the Carolina 4-yard line in the second half. Without those two plays—both forced fumbles by Von Miller—Denver might have scored only nine points and likely would have lost the game. 

The '85 Bears, '00 Ravens, '06 Colts, '13 Seahawks and '15 Broncos are the only Super Bowl teams ever to score on defense while allowing 10 or fewer points on that side of the ball. Ironically, Peyton Manning played for two of those teams and was burned by another. 

So across the board, in terms of both stoutness and play-making, and considering the quality of the opponent, this was a gem of a performance from Wade Phillips' unit. Where exactly should it rank among the best? Below is a proposed breakdown based on the criteria above: 

1. 2013 Seahawks: They completely shut down the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, limiting future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos to just a single garbage-time touchdown in a four-takeaway performance. 

Claim to fame: They generated nine points directly off turnovers, outscoring the Denver offense 9-8. 

Hurting their case: Nothing. Denver averaged 37.9 points per game during the regular season and had scored at least 20 points in every single game.  

2. 2002 Buccaneers: Tampa Bay scored a ridiculous three touchdowns on defense while giving up just 15 points (12 of which came in garbage time). 

Claim to fame: It's just amazing that the Bucs defense outscored the Oakland offense 21-14. Keep in mind that the Raiders had the No. 2 scoring offense in football during the regular season. 

Hurting their case: Only that they surrendered 15 points on D and 21 in total. 

3. 2000 Ravens: The defense pitched a shutout, outscoring the Giants offense 7-0 in a five-takeaway, four-sack blowout. 

Claim to fame: This is the only defense in Super Bowl history to allow zero points while scoring points of their own. 

Hurting their case: They were facing Kerry Collins and a Giants offense that ranked in the middle of the pack with a points-per-game average of just 20.5. 

4. 1985 Bears: New England wasn't a juggernaut on offense, but that historic Chicago D held the Patriots to only 124 total yards for the game while creating six turnovers.

Claim to fame: New England's only non-garbage-time points came on a zero-yard, three-and-out drive following a first-quarter Walter Payton fumble. And the Bears also tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks. 

Hurting their case: The Pats averaged only 22.6 points per game during the regular season, ranking 10th in football. 

5. 2015 Broncos: They scored seven points and set the offense up inside the Carolina 5-yard line a second time in a shocking 24-10 victory over the league MVP and his top-scoring offense. 

Claim to fame: They had four takeaways and tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks, giving up 10 points to a team that had scored 80 in its previous two playoff games. Oh, and they limited the league's best rushing quarterback to just 45 rushing yards on six carries. 

Hurting their case: They surrendered 21 first downs and 315 net yards. 

6. 1972 Dolphins: They pitched a shutout and intercepted Washington quarterback Billy Kilmer three times.

Claim to fame: They're one of only three teams in Super Bowl history to allow zero points on defense. 

Hurting their case: They didn't score, and the Redskins offense was good, but not lethal, ranking seventh with 24.0 points per game. 

7. 1983 Raiders: Against an offense that averaged a silly 33.8 points per game—one that turned the ball over a league-low 18 times during the regular season—the Raiders D surrendered just nine points while intercepting Joe Theismann twice. 

Claim to fame: The 541 points Washington scored that year remains the seventh-highest total in NFL history, a complete anomaly amid a slew of modern-era marks (nobody else from before 1998 is in the top 10). The Redskins had scored 75 points in their first two playoff games and at least 23 points in every game that year. 

Hurting their case: Only two takeaways, and they didn't score on D. 

8. 2007 Giants: Against an offense that averaged 36.8 points per game and scored at least 20 in every game that year, the New York D flustered Tom Brady with a five-sack performance, limiting the Patriots to just 14 points. 

Claim to fame: They dethroned an 18-0 opponent that to that point had the highest-scoring offense of all time, holding New England to just 229 net yards. The Pats averaged just 4.0 yards per play, which is the fourth-lowest Super Bowl total this century. 

Hurting their case: They still surrendered two touchdowns and had just one takeaway. 

9. 1974 Steelers: The Steel Curtain introduced itself by intercepting Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton three times and surrendering just seven points in a 16-6 Super Bowl IX victory. 

Claim to fame: Pittsburgh won despite scoring just 14 offensive points, with the defense chipping in with a safety. And Minnesota's 119 net yardage total remains the lowest in Super Bowl history. 

Hurting their case: They didn't score any touchdowns on D, and the Minnesota offense averaged a so-so 21.1 points per game during the regular season. 

10. 1977 Dallas Cowboys: They intercepted Broncos quarterback Craig Morton four times, recorded four sacks and forced seven turnovers while giving up only 10 points. 

Claim to fame: This may be the only time a starting quarterback has been chased from a winnable Super Bowl game. 

Hurting their case: The Broncos weren't a particularly good offensive team, ranking 10th in football with a 19.6 points-per-game average during the regular season, and Dallas didn't generate any points on D. 

11. 1989 49ers: They had four takeaways and recorded six sacks while giving up just a single garbage-time touchdown in a 55-10 victory over Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and the Broncos. 

Claim to fame: They're one of just three teams that has surrendered 10 or fewer points while registering four takeaways and five sacks in a Super Bowl. 

Hurting their case: The Denver offense, which averaged 22.6 points per game in the regular season, was good, but not great. 

12. 1988 49ers: The D allowed just nine points against the league's top-scoring offense in a 20-16 victory that featured five San Francisco sacks. 

Claim to fame: The Bengals averaged a league-best 28.0 points per game during the regular season. 

Hurting their case: They didn't score, and they had just one takeaway. 

Honorable mention: 1990 Giants: They haven't been mentioned until now because they still gave up 19 points, but that alone is pretty remarkable when you consider they were playing the high-flying Bills, who led the NFL in scoring and put up an insane 95 points in their first two playoff games. 

Claim to fame: Defensive coordinator Bill Belichick's game plan from that night is now in the Hall of Fame. A historically-good Bills offense just could not move the ball. 

Hurting their case: They're one of only two Super Bowl-winning teams that didn't register a single takeaway. 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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