|Wednesday, May 9
Gibbs, Rypien made '91 Skins great
By Eddie Epstein
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: Our series on the greatest NFL teams of all time continues with its eighth installment and a look at the 1991 Redskins. The greatest team ever will be revealed on Tuesday, May 15.
The more I studied this team, the more impressed I was. Believe me, that's not easy for me to say as I am not exactly the biggest Redskins fan around.
This team was truly well-balanced and was above average to outstanding in just about every area. Like all Redskins teams under Joe Gibbs, they had a powerful running game. Earnest Byner ran for more than 1,000 yards and Ricky Ervins added 680 more with a nice 4.7 average per carry. Ervins' rushing total would have led nine NFL teams in 1991. By the way, they did lead the league in average yards per pass attempt (8.07) as well as allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt (6.00). That combination will work every time.
Their defense was good enough against the run allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing per game and a 3.9 average and as we already know, it was excellent against the pass. The Redskins were plus-18 in turnovers. Brian Mitchell had a great year returning punts, averaging 13.3 yards a return and running two back for touchdowns. Their punt coverage ranked among the top five in the league and their kickoff coverage in the top 10. They played very well against good teams.
One amazing number is sack differential. Redskins passers were sacked only nine times all season, while their defense recorded 50 sacks. This is really nothing more than a "freak stat," but the '91 Redskins were one of only three teams since 1950 to record at least 40 more sacks in a season than their opponents. For what it's worth, the nine teams who were plus-35 in sacks or higher had an aggregate record of 91-42-1. (When a sack differential is that high, it's not just about being ahead and forcing the other team to throw a lot.)
I think that Joe Gibbs was the second greatest coach in NFL history, behind only Vince Lombardi. It's not mere trivia that his three Super Bowl champion teams had three different quarterbacks; it is a reflection of his greatness as a coach. Think about the teams that have repeated or had many championships in a relatively short period of time. Terry Bradshaw quarterbacked all four of the Steelers' Super Bowl championships. Joe Montana was the QB for the first four of the 49ers' titles. Troy Aikman was the QB for the three Cowboys' titles of the '90's. Obviously, it is easier to win the Super Bowl with a consistently great quarterback than without one, all of which makes what Gibbs and his teams accomplished more remarkable.
Speaking of quarterbacks, the 1991 Redskins QB was Mark Rypien. That season was Rypien's moment in the sun as he never again played anywhere near as well. Rypien's forte was the long pass, which was made easier by the great protection of the Redskins' offensive line. To see if his numbers matched his reputation, I logged all touchdown passes of 25 or more yards in 1991. Which quarterback had the most? Take a guess?
Mark Rypien 14 Jim Kelly 11 Chris Miller 10 Steve Young 8
Half of Rypien's touchdown passes were 25 yards or longer; the league average was 31 percent.
As much as Rypien's post-1991 career was a disappointment to him and to Redskins' fans, he can't be denied what he achieved that year.
Eddie Epstein works as a consultant to major league baseball teams. He is the co-author, along with ESPN.com's Rob Neyer, of "Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time." He has been a regular contributor to ESPN.com's baseball coverage and is a huge football fan.