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The Ryan Index

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush

The football community is in mourning this week, after the passing of Buddy Ryan. Remembered as one of the most celebrated and color defensive coaches in history, Ryan’s most famous accomplishment was guiding the ’85 Bears to a Super Bowl — on the backs of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.  But Ryan’s defenses weren’t just known for being great: they were known for being great at attacking the opposition.  Some defenses, like the 2009 Jets, were great defenses but were not all that aggressive: those Jets ranked 1st in points, yards, first downs, and yards per attempt, but were 11th in interception rate and below-average in sack rate.

Ryan’s defenses were known for their big plays — sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and scoring plays.  So I decided to create a formula using some gut and fuzzy math to create a Ryan Index of aggressiveness. Here’s the formula:

  • 2 points for every sack
  • 4 points for every interception
  • 3 points for every forced fumble, 1 point for every fumble recovery
  • 6 points for every interception return (on top of the 4 points for the interception)
  • 6 points for every fumble return touchdown (on top of the 4 points for forcing and recovering the fumble)
  • 5 points for every safety
  • Finally, here are the points awarded based on the points allowed in the game:
    • 0 points: +15 points
    • 1-3 points: +12 points
    • 4-7 points: +10 points
    • 8-10: +8
    • 11-14: +6
    • 15-16: +4
    • 17-21: +2
    • 22-23: 0
    • 24-27: -2
    • 28-30: -4
    • 31-34: -7
    • 35+ points: -10

Let’s take some games from the ’85 Bears as examples.

  • In a 44-0 thrashing against the Cowboys, the Bears get +15 for the shutout, +12 for recording 6 sacks, +16 for four interceptions, +3 for a forced fumble, +1 for a fumble recovery, and +12 for the two pick sixes.  That totals 59 points, the best game by the Bears all season.
  • In Super Bowl XX, Chicago scored a +57.  How?  New England scored 10 points (+8), and committed six turnovers (+24).  Chicago had 7 sacks (+14), a safety (+5), and a return touchdown (+6).

This system isn’t perfect, and I am sure you can quibble with the values.  But I think this does a good enough job of identifying the most aggressive and successful defenses.

After calculating the score for each defense in each game (including playoffs), I then summed those results to get a team grade for each team season. Then, I calculated the Z-Score for every team in NFL history using those team grades to measure how many standard deviations above/below average each team was in each year. So why is this called the Ryan Index? Because Buddy or Rex Ryan was the defensive coordinator for the first and third teams using this methodology.

Here’s how to read the table below, using the ’85 Bears as an example. That Chicago team ranked 3rd all-time by this methodology. The Bears defense produced 658 points over 19 games, or 25.3 points per game. The league average defense scored 14.2 points per game using this methodology, while the standard deviation of all defenses in 1985 was 4.08. As a result, the Bears were 2.88 standard deviations better than average that season.

RkTmYearPtsGPts/GLg AvgLg StDvZ-Score
1BAL20064871728.616.14.073.09
2TAM20025511929.015.64.572.93
3CHI19856581934.620.15.042.88
4SEA20134811925.314.24.082.72
5CHI20124101625.613.84.482.64
6MIN19884951827.518.33.512.61
7SDG19615601537.321.16.302.58
8SFO20114121822.914.33.382.54
9MIN19704811532.120.14.782.51
10NYG19383671230.611.18.102.41
11KAN19954001723.516.13.122.37
12NYG19372951126.811.66.462.36
13NWE20034891925.716.04.122.36
14PIT19745081729.920.54.032.32
15BAL20005962029.817.15.492.32
16SEA19984111625.716.44.012.32
17DET19624571432.620.55.302.30
18CHI19424281235.720.86.612.26
19ATL19774531432.422.34.552.22
20NYG19974431726.117.24.072.18
21PHI19914661629.118.25.002.18
22BAL20084561924.014.14.532.18
23NYG19352631320.210.64.452.16
24KAN19974411725.917.24.072.15
25PHI20024581825.415.64.572.15
26JAX19994991827.717.64.722.14
27CHI19864951729.119.84.412.12
28CHI19635151534.320.66.512.12
29OAK19805652028.319.24.312.10
30CAR20154321922.713.74.312.09
31DEN19845341731.419.95.542.08
32GNB19664821630.119.84.962.08
33GNB20104622023.114.74.072.07
34PHI19894961729.218.85.032.07
35HOU19934411725.918.13.812.05
36RAM19664201430.019.84.962.05
37SEA19845621831.219.95.542.05
38NYG19514491237.421.08.042.04
39KAN19695331731.419.75.702.04
40WAS19644061429.021.33.802.02
41DAL19815271829.319.64.802.02
42KAN19904351725.617.83.882.01
43BAL19685181730.519.35.582.00
44PHI19493951330.417.56.481.98
45PIT20084391923.114.14.531.98
46GNB19964791925.217.04.171.97
47BAL20113761820.914.33.381.95
48SDG20074311922.715.63.651.94
49OAK19674871630.419.85.491.93
50PIT19944161823.116.23.601.92
51GNB19473241227.016.35.691.88
52CAR19964461824.817.04.171.86
53NYG19393501229.216.56.821.86
54CHI20053961723.316.23.841.84
55DEN20154111921.613.74.311.84
56NYG19443941135.819.98.711.82
57SFO19953711721.816.13.121.82
58CHI20014371725.717.64.471.82
59GNB19624511530.120.55.301.81
60WAS19915181927.318.25.001.81
61NOR19914631727.218.25.001.80
62PIT19724741629.619.55.621.80
63NOR19924541726.719.54.061.78
64PIT20104151921.814.74.071.77
65CHI19483261227.216.56.101.75
66GNB19432911029.119.95.281.75
67NYG19504331333.322.56.201.75
68NWE20044451923.415.94.321.74
69GNB19654471627.919.94.621.74
70TEN20004521726.617.15.491.73
71NYG19865211927.419.84.411.73
72CAR20133621721.314.24.081.73
73BUF19654181527.919.94.621.72
74MIA19823841329.520.75.171.71
75DAL19714851728.520.94.471.71
76BAL20033921723.116.04.121.71
77WAS19734571530.520.75.741.70
78PIT19734571530.520.75.741.70
79MIN19714271528.520.94.471.70
80STL19994871925.617.64.721.70
81PIT19785261927.721.43.711.70
82CLE19464611530.719.76.541.69
83CHI20064351922.916.14.071.68
84MIN19694971729.219.75.701.67
85TEN20083681721.614.14.531.66
86SFO20093341620.915.03.551.64
87DTX19604051428.920.94.881.64
88NYG19413311227.617.56.151.64
89BAL19714511628.220.94.471.64
90NYG19543951232.922.96.151.63
91BUF20143081619.313.93.291.63
92CHI19593441228.720.15.251.63
93NYG19362301219.212.24.261.63
94NYG19614691531.321.16.301.62
95WAS19835131927.020.34.171.62
96HOU20143071619.213.93.291.61
97BUF20043651622.815.94.321.60
98RAM19524221332.525.24.571.60
99MIA20033611622.616.04.121.59
100KAN20153701820.613.74.311.59

And here is how Buddy’s teams ranked in each season:

Yr RkTmYearPosPtsGPts/GLg AvgLg StDvZ-Score
12MIN1976DC3821722.521.45.570.19
21MIN1977DC3101619.422.34.55-0.63
19CHI1978DC3231620.221.43.71-0.32
2CHI1979DC4091724.119.53.221.42
10CHI1980DC3451621.619.24.310.55
18CHI1981DC3001618.819.64.80-0.17
12CHI1982DC204922.720.75.170.39
6CHI1983DC3701623.120.34.170.69
4CHI1984DC4611825.619.95.541.03
1CHI1985DC6581934.620.15.042.88
10PHI1986HC3361621.019.84.410.28
6PHI1987HC3361522.419.54.090.72
5PHI1988HC3681721.618.33.510.95
1PHI1989HC4961729.218.85.032.07
6PHI1990HC3531720.817.83.880.77
1HOU1993DC4411725.918.13.812.05
4ARI1994HC3231620.216.23.601.11
12ARI1995HC2681616.816.13.120.19

Ryan coached three different franchises to a 1st-place ranking in the Ryan index. In an interesting twist, two defenses — the ’86 Bears and ’91 Eagles — had historically great seasons and led the league in the Ryan Index in the year after Ryan left. His imprint was on a host of great defenses over a 20-year career. Rest in peace, Buddy.

  • Clint

    My favorite Rob Ryan game: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201010240nor.htm
    Also featured the all-time longest run by a punter

  • AgronomyBrad

    Not sure if this is feasible, but what about adding Tackles for Loss, 4th down stops, and/or 3-and-outs forced? And would there be a way to filter out Special Teams/Defensive scores from the “Points allowed” category? I realize this is intended to more of a “fun” stat than anything else, but I love this sort of thing.

  • sacramento gold miners

    One of the biggest “what ifs” in Super Bowl history would have been a Bears-Dolphins rematch in New Orleans for SB20. Miami was upset at home by New England that season in the playoffs, so we never had a chance to see what adjustments Buddy Ryan would have attempted to slow down Dan Marino in Round 2. As everyone knows, it was Miami handing those Bears a decisive defeat in the Orange Bowl during the regular season.

    • Tom

      Richie (another reader, Dolphins fan) and I were commenting on this a while back; I have to think that would have been a much better Super Bowl than the one we got. The Dolphins gave up the ball 6 times in that New England playoff game…

      • Richie

        Awhile back I was trying to come up with the 10 worst losses in Dolphins history. (Some from before my time.) I could only come up with 9 bad losses, but that loss to New England is probably the worst for me. That or the loss to San Diego in the 1994 playoffs.

        The 8 I could come up with (in no particular order):

        – Sea of hands (before my time)
        – Kellen Winslow game (before my time)
        – Super Bowl XIX
        – Super Bowl XVII
        – 1985 AFC Championship game
        – 1994 AFC Playoffs vs San Diego
        – 2002 Week 17 overtime loss to New England
        – 1990 AFC Divisional playoff vs Buffalo
        – 1999 shellacking by Jacksonville

        • sacramento gold miners

          San Diego and Miami also hooked up in a memorable 1984 regular season game, when the Dolphins came in undefeated. The Chargers edged Miami late, I don’t recall if it went to OT or not.

  • TN

    I would add 10 points for knocking the starting quarterback out of the game.

    • And 20 for knocking out your former kicker.

      I find the outpouring of sympathy and leaguewide mourning for Ryan a little surprising. He was a great defensive coach, but he also had a terrible reputation as a dirty coach who encouraged head-hunting. He had a bad temper and got into both physical and verbal fights with colleagues. Not that we shouldn’t recognize his passing or celebrate his career, I’m just surprised that people around the league seem so saddened. Ryan wasn’t an especially popular guy.

      • Tom

        Was listening to Dan Patrick yesterday (or day before) and he was mentioning how Ryan encouraged head-hunting, as you say. He possibly would have been thrown out of the league if he had that attitude in today’s game.

      • TN

        Ryan was enormously popular with his players, though. After the Bears won Super Bowl XX, one cadre of Bears hoisted Mike Ditka on their shoulders, while another cadre hoisted Buddy. Has any other DC ever been carried off the field like that?

        • Jim Schwartz was, as recently as 2014. But that shouldn’t count, because he asked them to. And yes, Buddy was very popular with his players.

          • WR

            Bill Belichick was carried off the field by the Giants after they shut out the Redskins in the 1986 NFC championship.

      • Adam

        It never ceases to amaze me how the perception of public figures change drastically the minute they die. While he was alive, most observers considered Buddy Ryan an asshole. Now suddenly he was a great guy who deserves to be showered with affection? I don’t get it.

  • Adam

    I like this a lot – aggressive defenses are fun! I think it would work better if you ignored points allowed, as there’s not much correlation between aggressiveness and points. A defense can play very conservatively and pitch a shutout.

    Happy to see the ’06 Ravens on top. I actually think they were better than the ’00 team, but are forgotten because they didn’t win the SB.

  • Tom

    Well, I like this list, it’s definitely doing what it’s supposed to: the 2009 Jets, ranked 21st in DSRS since 1970 (3rd when removing points allowed by return scores and safeties, called “true” DSRS), doesn’t even crack the top 100! Below is a short list of great (but apparently not very aggressive) defenses that failed to crack the top 100 of the Ryan Index (based on “true” DSRS):

    1. 2009 Jets
    2. 1977 Broncos
    3. 1976 Steelers
    4. 1975 Steelers
    5. 1990 Giants
    6. 1975 Rams

    The ’76 Steelers held teams to around 10 points per game and pitched 5 shutouts, but had no return TD’s and a single safety. Not very aggressive, but don’t tell that to this guy:

  • Tom

    (I’m going for the “most comments” award today). Not surprised to see the 1998 Seahawks ranked 16th on the list. They hold the record for the most “non-offense” points scored in a season since 1970, 91 (5.7 per game!).

  • Topher Doll

    Really enjoy this, just want to note your explanation of the table (The Bears defense produced 658 points over 19 games, or 25.3 points per game…) is mostly a row off, taking data from the 2013 Seahawks.

    Fun index though and while flawed it’s another enjoyable way to discuss defenses.

  • Josh Sanford

    This is a really fun analysis and it appears to confirm what most of remember about these great defenses. Would it be a lot of work to rank the 100 Super Bowl defensive performances to date?

    • Team Points win
      dal1992 67 1
      chi1985 57 1
      tam2002 53 1
      dal1977 48 1
      rav2000 47 1
      den2015 47 1
      pit1975 45 1
      rai1983 44 1
      was1991 43 1
      sea2013 43 1
      sfo1989 39 1
      kan1969 39 1
      pit1974 38 1
      dal1970 35 0
      clt2006 33 1
      gnb1967 33 1
      dal1993 33 1
      was1987 30 1
      nyj1968 30 1
      nwe2001 29 1
      nwe2004 29 1
      mia1972 29 1
      min1974 28 0
      gnb1996 28 1
      sfo1981 28 1
      dal1995 28 1
      den1977 28 0
      was1972 27 0
      gnb1966 27 1
      rai1976 26 1
      dal1971 26 1
      clt1970 26 1
      mia1973 25 1
      nyg1986 25 1
      rai1980 24 1
      sfo1984 23 1
      den1998 22 1
      car2015 22 0
      cin1988 22 0
      pit2008 21 1
      sfo1988 21 1
      nyg2007 20 1
      dal1975 18 0
      gnb2010 18 1
      pit2005 18 1
      pit1978 18 1
      nwe2007 18 0
      sfo1994 17 1
      dal1978 16 0
      was1982 15 1
      nyg2011 15 1
      nwe2011 14 0
      pit1979 14 1
      nor2009 12 1
      sea2005 12 0
      den1997 12 1
      mia1982 12 0
      clt1968 12 0
      crd2008 11 0
      buf1990 11 0
      chi2006 10 0
      min1969 10 0
      ram1999 9 1
      sfo2012 9 0
      nwe2014 8 1
      nwe2003 8 1
      oti1999 8 0
      rav2012 7 1
      nyg1990 7 1
      nwe1985 7 0
      cin1981 7 0
      sea2014 6 0
      phi2004 6 0
      ram2001 6 0
      mia1971 6 0
      ram1979 5 0
      was1983 5 0
      nyg2000 5 0
      buf1993 4 0
      min1973 3 0
      kan1966 3 0
      pit1995 2 0
      pit2010 2 0
      sdg1994 2 0
      buf1992 2 0
      gnb1997 1 0
      rai1967 1 0
      den1987 1 0
      nwe1996 0 0
      mia1984 0 0
      phi1980 0 0
      car2003 0 0
      atl1998 -3 0
      min1976 -3 0
      rai2002 -3 0
      buf1991 -3 0
      clt2009 -5 0
      den1986 -8 0
      den1989 -8 0
      den2013 -10 0

      • The 1990 Giants rank as the lowest winning defense. That’s because they finished the game with 1 sack (+2) and 0 turnovers, with 1 forced fumble (+3) and 19 points allowed (+2).

      • Josh Sanford

        Thanks for doing that! There have been about 10-12 defensive explosions in the Super Bowl. Hard to beat that.

      • Josh Sanford

        Thanks for this. Some teams really crushed it in the SB.