Power Ranking Every Defense in the NFC East
They say defense wins championships, and that was never more true than when the New York Giants brought home each of their two Super Bowl rings in these last five years.
Most would agree that the defense and the play of Eli Manning were the major factors in bringing the Lombardi Trophy to the Canyon of Heroes.
With that being said, who has the best defense in the NFC East ahead of 2012?
This is a difficult article to write on two levels—not only will it be hard for me to be completely objective, but each defense in the NFC East is pretty darn good.
Try not to take offense to being the worst defense in the division if you're a fan of that team. It's not like each one of these teams couldn't be a top-15 unit.
Here are the power rankings for the defenses in the NFC East.
No. 4: Washington Redskins
Key Additions: Brandon Meriweather, Cedric Griffin, Jonathan Goff
To be considered the worst defense in the NFC East is like being told you're the worst looking model at a beauty pageant; it still stings to hear but it's not exactly terrible news.
The Redskins defense is mostly what got them their few wins in 2011. Led by a dominant front seven with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, the defense kept them in most of their games.
They were 13th in yards per game and 21st in points per game allowed in 2011, and with the additions they made to the secondary, they could improve on those numbers in 2012.
The addition of former Giant Goff and outside linebacker Bryan Kehl were underrated moves this offseason. Goff is coming off ACL surgery, but is extremely motivated and a very smart player that has a lot to prove in 2012. Kehl's impact will mostly be on special teams, but he provides depth to the linebacker unit.
When you look at the Redskins defense, you don't see many weaknesses, but they could stand to turn the ball over more frequently. Their minus-14 turnover differential was a huge factor in their 5-11 season. They created just 21 turnovers, tied for ninth worst in the NFL in 2011.
To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if each defense in the East were a top-10 unit in 2012, but the Redskins are bringing up the rear in this department.
No. 3: Dallas Cowboys
Key Additions: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Brodney Pool, Dan Connor, Tyrone Crawford
Dallas' defense was always solid under the years of Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, but the unit let them down in 2011 on multiple occasions under new coach Jason Garrett.
With the campaign on the line in the final week of the season, Eli Manning ate the Dallas secondary for all three meals, carving them up with 346 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
The defense also blew two leads in back-to-back games against the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots. The fourth-quarter woes of the Cowboys were on full display last season, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took the brunt of the blame.
Now that the Dallas secondary isn't full of amateurs, Ryan may actually bring this defense back to its former glory. They weren't terrible in 2011, finishing 14th in yards per game allowed and 16th in points per game allowed, but too often the secondary let them down.
Looking at their numbers, nothing really jumps out at you, but they did have the seventh best run defense in 2011. Losing Bradie James might hurt, but the Dan Connor signing lessens that blow.
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will be a huge improvement at cornerback—their shutdown ability will free up Ryan to blitz more than he was able to last season. The Cowboys will get back to being a top-10 group in 2012.
No. 2: New York Giants
Key Additions: Jayron Hosley, Keith Rivers
How can the Giants be the second best defense while they didn't make any huge free-agent signings and only took one defensive player in their first five picks of the NFL draft?
It's pretty simple, really.
Getting Terrell Thomas back and staying healthy (hopefully) will drastically change the dynamic of the Giants' defense.
Back in 2010, the Giants were a top-10 group, ranking seventh in yards per game allowed.
What changed in 2011?
Thomas tore his ACL in the preseason, the team lost Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim for the year, Osi Umenyiora for nearly half the season, four other backup cornerbacks for the year, Justin Tuck for four games (he played hurt in others) and Michael Boley for two.
The fact of the matter is, the Giants were rarely, if ever, a healthy unit last season. However, at the end of the year, they showed how dangerous they can be when the trainer's room isn't full of bodies.
This defense allowed a total of 54 points in four playoff games (not including the two given up by the offense), which averages out to 13.5 points per game.
Health, the improvement of the linebacking corps with Keith Rivers, Chase Blackburn (coming back) and the return of Thomas all adds up to the Giants getting back to being a top-10 and potentially top-five unit.
No. 1: Philadelphia Eagles
Key Additions: DeMeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry
Not only were the Philadelphia Eagles the best defense statistically in the NFC East in 2011, but they fixed their glaring weakness from the 2011 group.
The defense let them down for the better part of last season, but played incredibly well down the stretch, leading to four consecutive victories to close the season.
The biggest problem—the middle of the defense—has been addressed with the trade for former Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the trade up to draft defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Now, not only do the Eagles possess one of the best 4-3 front four's in the NFL, but they may actually have some linebackers to back them up. Adding Mychal Kendricks was huge for the Eagles; he was one of the fastest and smartest linebackers in this year's class.
Today's NBA has seemingly been captivated by teams with a "Big Three."
Well, the Giants won a Super Bowl behind their "Big Three" pass-rushers in Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul a season ago.
The Eagles now have three of their own pass-rushers that could rival their hated foes from up the highway with the addition of Vinny Curry. He, Trent Cole and Jason Babin will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Ironically, you may be able to add the trade of Asante Samuel in the key additions section above. The Eagles never could figure out how to manage three Pro Bowl caliber corners last season. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha will now be the unquestioned starters, and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo can give them defined roles.
As long as the Eagles can stay healthy, this should be a top-five unit.