Bears' Dominant '46 Defense' Revolutionizes NFL in 1985

Andrew RostenContributor IIMay 22, 2009

26  Jan 1986:  Quarterback Tony Eason #11 of the New England Patriots is brought down by linebacker Wilber Marshall #58 of the Chicago Bears during Super Bowl XX  game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Bears won the game 46-10.

CHICAGO- Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan created more than a defensive scheme with his famous "46 Defense."

He built an unstoppable force that made the Chicago Bears' defensive players look like actual grizzly bears in the eyes of the opposing offenses. The six defenders that occupied the line of scrimmage in the "46 Defense," as well as other potential pass rushers, struck fear into those assigned to block them and those who were about to be tackled.

This monstrous defensive scheme enabled the Bears to beat up on opposing quarterbacks and running backs in two basic ways: quantity and knowledge.

With six Bears stacking up the line of scrimmage, including linebackers Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall, who lined up on the same side, the debate of who to block was one that had many answers. However these answers often excluded the right answer. 

If opponents chose to block everyone on the line of scrimmage, it left another blitzer with an open route to the quarterback. This blitzer would be middle linebacker Mike Singletary and/or safeties Dave Duerson or Gary Fencik. 

Duerson finished that regular season with two sacks while Singletary recorded three. Of course, blocked or not, the line of scrimmage patrons found ways to get to the quarterback while defensive end Richard Dent led the team with seventeen sacks. The dynamic blitzing duo of Wilson and Marshall combined to sack the quarterback sixteen and a half times.

What made the "46 Defense" so intimidating was not just the many defenders who chased the quarterback, but o opponents also had to deal with the numerous variations of the blitzethe Bears used.

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For instance, the defensive linemen would line up in different positions. Future Hall of Famer Dan Hampton, for example often played as both a defensive end and as a defensive tackle in the same game.In a 16-10 win over the Green Bay Packers Hampton recorded a sack as an end and another as a tackle.

As a result of their historically scary defense, the Bears surrendered the lowest point total in the National Football League, allowing only 12.4 points per game. In the playoffs, they shut out the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams en route to a Super Bowl XX meeting against the New England Patriots.

Although the Patriots managed to score ten points, the Bears set numerous defensive records on their way to a demolishing 46-10 victory. In the first half, they set a record by yielding only nineteen yards and only one first down.

Perhaps the most meaningful impact the Bears' "46 Defense" left on the NFL is the change forced upon offensive strategy, as quarterbacks needed to learn how to react quickly to stacked blitz packages. Only one quarterback was able to do so against the Bears in 1985 and that was the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino.

If there is only one weakness to Ryan's super scheme, it is that a limited number of defenders were available to cover pass receivers because everybody else was rushing quarterback. Marino managed to exploit that weakness as he led the Dolphins to score on each of their first five possessions en route to 38-24 win and the Bears' only defeat in the 1985 season.

Therefore, as destructive as the "'46 Defense" was to offenses around the NFL in 1985, it proved to be a very valuable lesson to offenses of the future. 


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