2013 NFL Playoffs: Defensive Stars Who Will Dominate Wild Card Weekend
Most of the attention during Wild Card Weekend will be focused on the fortunes of the trio of rookie quarterbacks involved. However, there is a clutch of defensive stars who could upstage Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
They include a pair of unheralded defensive linemen and two high-effort, outside pass-rushers. NFL fans should also expect to be treated to another dominant showing from the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Here are the six defensive stars who could dominate Wild Card Weekend.
6. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins
Second-year outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has been the Washington Redskins' most productive pass-rusher. He led the team with 8.5 sacks during the regular season.
Kerrigan is a hustling pass-rusher, with the size and tenacity to defeat blockers on the edge. The 6'4", 260-pounder is also a complete playmaker.
Kerrigan logged 54 tackles, forced two fumbles and claimed an interception in 2012. He will line up away from the Seattle Seahawks' best offensive lineman, left tackle Russell Okung, when the two teams meet this Sunday.
That means Kerrigan should be able to dominate. The Redskins will need him to if they hope to keep the elusive Russell Wilson in the pocket.
5. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt played a decisive role when the Houston Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals in last year's AFC Wild Card Round. He can dominate youthful quarterback Andy Dalton and company again.
No team in the league has been able to consistently keep Watt at bay during the regular season. His power, length and high-energy style allow Watt to routinely get into the backfield.
He was in on 81 tackles and logged 20.5 sacks. Double teams are no use and even if he doesn't penetrate the line of scrimmage, Watt can cause havoc batting passes.
He swatted 16 in 2012, creating plenty of turnovers in the process. Just by commanding so much of the Bengals' attention, Watt will help the Texans defense enjoy a big day.
4. B.J. Raji, NT, Green Bay Packers
If Clay Matthews really believes the Green Bay Packers will stop Adrian Peterson posting another huge rushing effort against them (via NFL.com), nose tackle B.J. Raji must dominate.
Raji is capable, but his mammoth frame must be in the backfield more often than not against the Minnesota Vikings. Raji must get to Peterson before the dynamic runner has the chance to bounce to the outside.
That means penetrating the line of scrimmage and stopping Peterson before he gets going. Similar to Vince Wilfork, Raji possesses surprising and dangerous quickness for his tremendous size.
He will need to use it if the Packers want a chance of slowing down Peterson.
3. Cory Redding, DT, Indianapolis Colts
Veteran Cory Redding could be in the mood to dominate when he returns to Baltimore to take on his former team. The 10-year pro is key to the Indianapolis Colts' hybrid 3-4 scheme.
Redding will often play as a 3-technique tackle along the Colts' three-man line. He will need to get into the backfield often to stop Ravens runners Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
He can also provide a useful interior rush that will help pressure Joe Flacco. The Baltimore quarterback isn't particularly mobile and is often a stationary target in the pocket.
That will suit Redding. If he can clog the middle, the Ravens offense will struggle.
2. Red Bryant, DL, Seattle Seahawks
If the Seahawks want any chance of slowing down the Redskins' top-ranked running game, Red Bryant must dominate. The mammoth and versatile defensive lineman is the cornerstone of Seattle's run defense.
That rush defense has slumped slightly this year, falling to 10th overall. However, there still aren't many teams prepared to run at Bryant.
He lines up as a 5-technique end in the Seahawks' multiple front schemes. He could dominate the right side of the Redskins offensive line.
Starters Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus are light and won't be able to handle Bryant's aggression and size. If he occupies a double team, the Seahawks will have more room to allow their talented linebackers to attack downhill.
Expect Bryant to moved across the formation to combat Washington running back Alfred Morris and the zone-stretch play.
1. Paul Kruger, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Paul Kruger is the Ravens most consistent pass-rusher and will play a key role in pressuring Andrew Luck. Kruger led the Ravens with nine sacks and could terrorise Indianapolis right tackle Winston Justice.
Kruger is a relentless power rusher who could take advantage of Justice's lack of agility. He is not the most fluid mover and doesn't set his feet well.
If Kruger can get him moving backwards quickly, he can collapse the edge of the pocket and close on Luck.
Each of these defensive players can win Wild Card Weekend for their respective teams. They are facing favourable matchups and have the potential to dominate.