Defensive record breakers? By Rhys Knott

Defensive record breakers? By Rhys Knott
Reading Time: 4 minutes.

Defensive record breakers?

Following on from his recent ‘Record breakers?‘ article, Rhys Knott takes a look to see if any NFL records could be challenged this season from the defensive side of the game.


Nobody has made more tackles in an NFL single season than Ray Lewis did in 1997. His 156 is 20 clear of Patrick Willis in second place. Lewis’ 1999 season when he made 130 sits third in the list too. That record looks like it will stand for quite some time. Currently Jaguars Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun leads the league with 54 so far.

With an abject Jaguars Offence turning up most weeks it’s not too unreasonable to think he may have to make even more if he stays healthy. However on his current pace he’ll only make 115 tackles. To beat Lewis’ record Oluokon will have to make 15 tackles every week. Which is nine more than he’s made per game so far.


After eight weeks, five players have four interceptions this season. That’s Vonn Bell, C.J Gardner-Johnson, Eddie Jackson, Jordan Poyer and Tariq Woolen. On that pace they would end the season with 11. But interceptions are so random and obviously as dependent (if not more so) on the person throwing the ball as much as the whoever is catching it. So it’s difficult to translate past performance into a future total with any confidence.

Unless one of the four drastically increases their productivity in the next nine weeks this record is safe. “Night Train” Lane holds the single season record for interceptions with 14 in 1952, his rookie season.

Now there are some very noteworthy things about the 1952 season. Most importantly it was 15 seasons before the first Super Bowl was played. But also “Defensive Pass Interference” did not become an NFL rule until 1953. Even though it officially became a rule a year after Lane’s record setting season it has only been policed as we now know since about 1996. Another important fact is that there were only 12 games in the 1952 season. So Lane averaged more than one interception per game!

A ferocity that’s seldom been equaled

Dick “Night Train” Lane was, in his own words an Army veteran “looking for a job” when he arrived at the Rams office as a 24 year old and asked to be given a tryout. He stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and liked to tackle players by wrapping his arms around their neck. This technique, known as the “night train neck-tie” was unsurprisingly deemed to be dangerous and banned by the NFL.

Former L.A Times columnist Jim Murray said “He played the game with a ferocity that’s seldom been equaled” adding “there were games where Lane had more receptions than the receivers he was covering”. To those who said Lane’s interceptions were a result of him gambling on the field he said “I never gamble on the ball, just the angles I take on receivers.” And he claimed he had an advantage on receivers because he studied each individual receiver.

The football part of Lane’s life story is by far the most boring part. Even then he played 157 games and didn’t retire until he was 37 in a time when medical care was unrecognisable from what it is today.


‘Unofficially’ the single season record for Quarterback Sacks is held by Al “Bubba” Baker of the Detroit Lions. When he recorded 23 in 1978. It’s unofficial because the NFL only began to recognise QB Sacks as an official statistic in 1982. The official record is Michael Strahan’s 22.5 from 2001. Which TJ Watt matched last season. But the 1978 version is far more interesting.

Baker set his record as a rookie when he was part of the Lions’ vaunted “Silver Rush”. Between ‘78 and ‘82 Baker, Doug English, William Gay and Dave Pureifory not only set every franchise record for Sacks. They also made eight Pro-Bowl appearances between them. And, during the 1980 season some of them joined teammate Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen on a cover version of the Queen classic “Another one Bites the Dust.” (You know you’re a good athlete when you’re releasing singles, kinda like Waddle & Hoddle’s Diamond Lights).

Back on the field Baker made five of his 23 Sacks in one game against the Buccaneers. In 1982, after Sacks had become an official statistic, Baker made eight and a half in the eight games he started. Baker’s ‘78, ‘79 and ‘80 seasons are still at the top of the Lions Sacks lists. Not content with playing 13 seasons in the NFL Baker now owns “Bubba’s-Q World famous BBQ and catering” with his daughter.

2022 has been a particularly brutal season for elite pass rushers. With both Bosa brothers and T.J Watt all missing time with injuries. But Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith are doing their part with 8.5 Sacks each. However to break the “unofficial” record they’ll need to make two sacks every week from here on in.

Forced Fumbles

The single season Forced Fumbles record is 10 and is jointly held by Robert Mathis, Osi Umenyiora and Charles “Peanut” Tillman. There’s nothing too interesting about this record beyond the fact that Mathis set his record most recently in 2013.

So it must be about time it was broken, right? Well this year Coby Bryant of the Seahawks is leading the charge with four. Meaning he’s only on pace to record 9 by the end of 2022. He does have two games against the Rams before the end of the season though. And Matt Stafford has fumbled three times (more than any other Quarterback). But it looks like this defensive record will remain intact for another year.

Defensive records look safe

it would appear then that defensive record breaking is highly unlikely this season as things stand. Unless somebody goes on an extraordinary run.

In fact only one area look like a record could be set. And that is for fumbles. Unfortunately for our defensive players, and the player involved, it looks like that record will come on the other side of the ball.

Justin Fields is on pace to break one of the most unwanted single season records. Fields’ 11 fumbles so far mean he’s giving the ball up more than once a week. If he continues he’ll end the season with 24 fumbles and that would beat Kerry Collins 2001 mark of 23. Collins dropped back to pass 568 times that season. So far Fields has dropped back 159 times so he’s scheduled to only pass 337 times this year.

But Fields ability as a runner makes him more susceptible to big hits from Defenders. So unless the Bears rest him or he takes one too many hits it looks like the record will be Fields’. At least he will be padding the numbers for defenders forcing and recovering those fumbles!

If you enjoyed this article you can find more from Rhys Knott here.

Banner Image: Al ‘Bubba’ Baker turns the corner in search of a QB. Image from Pinterest.

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