What defense was better? 1990 or 2014?


I have seen a lot of debate on the social media platforms about which of these two feared defenses was better. Now, credit where it is due, the teams in the 90’s did go to four straight Super Bowls and that automatically earns brownie points in a lot of people’s minds. But on paper, you’d be surprised who did better.

Since it is much more complicated to group together those defenses of the 90’s, I picked the best defense statistically from that run of four straight Super Bowl appearances, which was the first one in 1990.

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In just plain rankings, the 2014 Bills defense ranked higher in both points (4th) and yards (4th) allowed, whereas the 1990 Bills defense ranked 6th in points allowed and 8th in yards allowed.

The 1990 Bills recorded 43 sacks, while forcing 35 turnovers for a +14 differential. This vaunted defense was led by Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and do-it-all man Darryl Talley. Smith finished the season with 19 sacks, earning AP Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The 43 sacks ranked ninth in the league, and the teams’ 18 interceptions tied them for 12th with the division rival New York Jets.

Smith’s 19 sacks led the Bills by far (second place was held by Nose Tackle Jeff Wright who had five), and only trailed fellow HOFer Derrick Thomas by one for the top spot in the league.

In a more general sense, the 90 Bills only allowed less than 20 points nine times in the regular season, while holding teams to single digits a total of four times.

Fast-forwarding to 2014 and the defense was like a mirror. A powerful front seven, led by the Williams duo and Marcell Dareus, and a secondary that was led by Corey Graham and Stephon Gilmore.

This season’s Bills finished with three double-digit sack recorders, with Mario Williams earning 14.5 and Jerry Hughes and Dareus each garnering 10.

Nov 30, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback

Johnny Manziel

(2) throws the ball as Buffalo Bills defensive tackle

Kyle Williams

(95) tackles during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The team finished the season with 19 interceptions, which earned them a sixth place finish in the league, and the teams’ 54 sacks were five more than the second-place Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles.

This year’s defense also surpassed the 1990 Bills in their rushing defense, holding teams to seven fewer yards per game than the Smith/Talley-led crew.

The numbers show that this year’s defense was better than 1990’s, and if you asked me to take one of them, on paper I would take this year’s. But some arguments would say that this defense “led” the offense to four straight Super Bowl appearances. They didn’t.

In 1991, the points per game ranked 19th in the league, and in 1992 they were 14th. The offense, however, was consistently ranked in the top seven in all four years that they went to the big game. So I would say that it was the offense who led the defense to those Super Bowls.

In 2014, the Bills defense led the offense to a 9-7 record. This defense was consistently ranked top-5 all season long, whereas the offense finished 18th in points and 26th in yards per game.

Now, put that 90’s offense together with this year’s defense, and I guarantee the Lombardi trophy would come to Buffalo. There’s no doubt about that. But if one defense had to win me one game, I’d take 2014’s version over 1990.

The blueprints of the defenses are the same (dominant line, competent secondary). Let’s hope the results in the near future are as well.