The Seattle Seahawks hope to carry over their top-ranked defense from a year ago.
NFL defenses are intimidating.
At least, they should be.
After Week 1, a substantial number of defenses lived up to expectations whereas a number of traditionally solid defenses fell by the wayside.
When casual fans think of dominant defenses, they might recall the defensive units of teams like the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet, times have changed.
Now, a number of other teams have emerged as the vanguard of tough defenses within the NFL. Many of these were showcased in Week 1 and have earned the accolade of being touted as top tier.
Contained herein are the 10 most intimidating defenses heading into Week 2.
The criteria for this list includes a number of various aspects. For starters, a defensive unit must have limited their Week 1 opponent to less than 400 yards. In addition, the defense had to generate at least two turnovers and limit their opponent to less than 25 points.
Consideration is also given to defenses with a number of "intimidating" key players. Sacks and tackles for a loss also factor into the equation.
Also considered is the opponent each defense faced in Week 1. Some defensive units matched up against high-flying offenses that are going to put up yards and points regardless of what team they face. A respectable game against a worthy offense has to be taken into account.
As mentioned, it is tough to compile a truly accurate list after only one week, yet the facts and statistics are there. Though fans and analysts can predict which defenses are going to be good in 2013, one week gives us little indication as to whether or not those predictions stand correct.
And so, let us take a look at the 10 most intimidating defenses heading into Week 2 of the 2013 NFL season.
49ers linebacker Aldon Smith will be a playmaker to watch in 2013.
There are some defenses that should be on this list.
Yet because of the previously-mentioned criteria, they do not find themselves on this list.
Still, many of these defenses are worth examining and cannot be forgotten. Additionally, some of these defenses should—and probably will—work their way onto the list of "most intimidating" as the regular season progresses.
Keep an eye on that.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have defensive end Justin Smith back and healthy. When he is on the defensive line, it spells trouble for opposing offenses—especially when teammate Aldon Smith is rushing the passer. Quarterback pressure will be paramount for San Francisco this year and expect these two to have a lot of it.
The secondary is also adequate and rookie safety Eric Reid had a nice debut against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1.
San Francisco gave up 28 points against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which is to be expected given Green Bay's potent offense. Thus, they are three points over inclusion on this list.
However, fans cannot count this team's defense out for very long. They will be higher in a very short time.
Here is another team that will probably rise quickly on the intimidation factor.
When things are rolling defensively for Houston, the defense can be flat-out scary. They have a tendency to get into opponents' heads, and that alone is reason enough to watch this unit.
J.J. Watt is clearly a name worth watching. Why would he not be? He epitomizes what Houston's defense is all about.
If the San Diego Chargers had not dropped 28 points against them in Week 1, the Texans defense would be ranked high on this list. The fact that the Chargers were able to develop some early rhythm against the defensive unit prevents them from cracking the top 10.
As with the 49ers, expect this to change.
We stay in Texas for this one.
Dallas does not meet the criteria based on the fact that they allowed 478 yards and 31 points against quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants in Week 1.
Yet it must be mentioned that Dallas' defense forced six turnovers during the game, which led all teams during the week.
Considering how important turnover differential is in today's NFL, the Cowboys deserve a little credit.
It will be interesting to see how Dallas moves forward as the regular season progresses. The defense allowed an average of 31 points per game last season, which ranked 26th in the league overall.
If they want to get higher on this list, that number will have to drop substantially.
New England Patriots
Points Allowed: 21
Total Yards Allowed: 286
Turnovers Generated: 2
The New England Patriots are not exactly a team one would consider when it would come to a defensive-ranked top-10 list.
Yet they find themselves as the 10th after their Week 1 victory against the Buffalo Bills.
Traditionally, one would consider New England a team focused solely on offense. This is a defense that merely needs to do enough to get the job done.
A year ago, the Patriots were 10th in the league, allowing an average of 20.7 points per game.
Players like Jermaine Cunningham, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes bolster the linebacker corps, while Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Aqib Talib might make up a strong secondary. Picking up safety Adrian Wilson also benefits the backfield.
As a result, New England's defense may not be that bad in 2013.
In fact, Gary Wolff of Fansided.com argues that the Patriots defense may be the most versatile and perhaps the most dominant in the NFL in 2013.
They showed some signs of that potential against Buffalo on Sunday. They were the principle reason behind their Thursday Night Football victory against the New York Jets in Week 2.
While the Patriots defense may not be as flashy or as well known, they are a considerable force, and possibly an element critical to New England's success in 2013.
Christopher Price of WEEI.com makes a similar argument:
Let’s be honest: Everybody loves sacks. They look awesome on a stat sheet, get the rest of the defense pumped up and usually produce ridiculous contracts. But when you get a defense facing a mobile quarterback, sacks aren’t always the top priority.
In this regard, Price is right.
New England has faced two mobile quarterbacks in a row and has placed more emphasis on containment than attacking the quarterback. It has worked thus far and generated turnovers in other areas.
The key for the Patriots is whether or not the defense can stay healthy. If they can, New England may go from an offensive-minded team to a defensive one.
Sure, the Patriots have not yet faced any elite offenses as of yet, but what they have shown is impressive thus far. As a result, and because of the expectations that may be placed on them, New England's defense cracks off the list at No. 10.
They will have to perform well against better offenses to climb any higher.
The Saints defense put together a commendable effort in Week 1.
New Orleans Saints
Points Allowed: 17
Total Yards Allowed: 367
Turnovers Generated: 2
I am wondering how to start this particular slide. Part of me wants to say, "Welcome back, Sean Payton." The other part wants to give credit to a Saints defense that limited the high-flying Atlanta Falcons offense to only 17 points.
Needless to say, both should be mentioned.
It is hard to give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a lot of credit here, yet he has to deserve some. More importantly, it is worth noting the difference in chemistry and culture this team has with Payton back at the helm. He makes a huge difference and that was apparent in Week 1.
The Saints were one of the worst defenses in the league last year during Payton's absence, and yet they did a commendable job in limiting the damage from Falcons players like quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones.
While both had respectable days during the opener, the fact cannot be ignored that New Orleans' defense slowed them enough to put their team in a position to win.
Given how talented the Falcons offense is, that task is not easy.
Marcel Davis of Bleacher Report writes that New Orleans had the most dominant defensive performance in Week 1. He writes:
Don't think of New Orleans' defensive resurgence as a flash in the pan.
If New Orleans can turn in such a performance against Atlanta in its first game utilizing a 3-4 defense, then one can assume that, as players get acclimated to Ryan's scheme, its defense will only improve.
Couple that with a relatively light schedule in terms of playing high-powered offenses, and it’s in the realm of possibility that New Orleans could actually register a top-10 defense by season’s end.
While I cannot agree with the statement that the Saints defense was the most spectacular of all the NFL teams, I can agree with the fact that this is something that may be a trend in future games.
Yes, New Orleans did dictate the tempo of the game and the fact they limited Atlanta's offense to a mere 17 points is worth recognizing. If they keep it up, the Saints could stay on this list for a while and be a tough opponent down the stretch.
While the intimidation factor is not quite there, it is budding. As a result, they find themselves holding the ninth spot on this list.
Kansas City Chiefs
Points Allowed: 2
Total Yards Allowed: 178
Turnovers Generated: 2
Congratulations are in order to the Kansas City Chiefs who, one year ago, finished with an abysmal 2-14 record.
Who would have thought that the Chiefs would have made a top-10 list for something good in 2013?
Kansas City has undergone a myriad of changes after last year. Andy Reid took over as head coach, quarterback Alex Smith was brought in from San Francisco and a number of other changes have suddenly made the Chiefs relevant once again.
Thus, it should not be too surprising to see a Kansas City team steamroll the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Following the game, Reid described the game plan that the Chiefs tried to execute against the Jaguars.
Granted, Jacksonville is not exactly the epitome of first-class talent. The Jaguars are going to have a tough season—to put it mildly—and a 28-2 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs is a sign of things to come.
Yet one cannot look past the fact that the Jaguars still have some talent. Holding that talent to a mere 178 yards while forcing two interceptions deserves recognition on this list. Throw six sacks into that mix, and Kansas City has to be pleased with its new-look performance in Week 1.
How much of this performance can be expected from the Chiefs in coming weeks, however? Are they a team that can count on this sort of game down the road? Do they have the pieces to turn performances like this into a regular thing?
ESPN writer Adam Teicher thinks they can:
Still, despite the dubious quality of their opponent in Jacksonville, there were signs that the Chiefs were doing more than just picking on some hapless foe and that their defense has some staying power. A large number of their defensive players had great games.
James Dudko, an iSportsTimes.com writer, goes into further detail describing this trend:
The praise belongs to [defensive coordinator Bob] Sutton who delivered exactly the kind of defense Reid wanted when he took over the Chiefs. Reid had promised his defense would be more creative when he hired Sutton, according KCChiefs.com.
If these opinions are correct, the Chiefs defense may have just put themselves on a map. Allowing only two points—and those resulted from a safety and not the Jaguars offense—speaks a lot of Kansas City's potential here.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson stated via ESPN, "We wanted to get some stuff on film to let everybody know the Chiefs’ defense is for real. We ought to do this week in and week out. We should just keep getting better and better."
Maybe Kansas City's defense does get better and better as the season moves on. That would be a pleasant surprise for Chiefs fans.
While the inclusion on this list is commendable, the fact that Kansas City took on a lowly Jacksonville team to earn the accolade knocks them way down on this list. If they are able to repeat this performance against some of the better offenses throughout the league, expect their stock to rise.
As for now, eighth place seems about right.
St. Louis Rams
Points Allowed: 24
Total Yards Allowed: 390
Turnovers Generated: 2
Another team not particularly known for historic defense is the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams have emerged as one of the better defenses in the league over the past few seasons. Under head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Tim Walton, St. Louis' defense is something worth watching over the course of the 2013 season.
What makes this unit special is that there is a lot of young talent emerging on the defensive side of the ball.
A lot of signs can point to the edgy cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who—despite his on-the-field antics—has emerged as a solid and hard-hitting member of the secondary.
A player with those accolades can easily get into the heads of opposing offenses.
Surrounding him is a solid core of talent. The group of linebackers, including Jo-Lonn Dunbar, is young and experienced. It is a unit good at stopping the running game as evidenced by holding the Arizona Cardinals to 86 yards on the ground in Week 1.
Dunbar elaborated on St. Louis' potential before the season started in a video that can be viewed here.
The Rams also posted four sacks in the game, showcasing an ability to rush the passer.
Much of the accolades of the revamped St. Louis defense can be the direct result of Fisher.
Sports Media 101 contributor Chuck Chapman describes the process of emulating the 1984 Chicago Bears defense of years prior:
Fisher spent 1981 through 1984 with the Bears as a backup defensive back and special teams ace. During that time, he watched first-hand as Buddy Ryan built the foundations of the Bears juggernaut.
Now, as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, it appears that Fisher is following that same blueprint, hoping to turn the Rams into the reincarnation of Ryan's "Monsters of the Midway" on the banks of the Mississippi.
If Fisher gets his way, and it looks as if he has the talent to do it, the Rams could be a spectacular defense in the years to come.
At any case, their good showing in Week 1, combined with the intimidation factor, the Rams make it into seventh place on this list.
There are still a few pieces missing here and they are not able to overcome many of the teams yet to be mentioned, but that time should come soon.
Points Allowed: 16
Total Yards Allowed: 229
Turnovers Generated: 0
Okay, so I am going against my own rating criteria on this one.
I realize that the Pittsburgh Steelers did not generate any turnovers in Week 1, which should deny them access to this list. Yet if there is an exception, the Steelers have to be it.
There was a time not so long ago where Pittsburgh would have been counted in the top three of any defensive-minded list. Those days appear to be coming to a close.
Pittsburgh is no longer the defensive powerhouse it once used to be, yet that does not mean they lack in the intimidation factor.
Veteran safety Troy Polamalu is still there and continues to make plays. Just watch him take down quarterback Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans in their Week 1 matchup.
That alone deserves recognition on this list.
The Steelers did limit Tennessee to only 229 yards on offense and held them to 16 points. Locker was also only able to post 117 yards passing.
Yet Pittsburgh has developed a weakness against the run, having allowed a total of 112 yards during the course of the game.
In a way, there is a defensive changing of the guard around the NFL. Whereas Pittsburgh used to field a top-tier defense, times have changed. Many of those players who championed the Steelers defense are gone now, and fans could be seeing a decline in future weeks.
Michael Fabiano of CBS Sports highlights this, "The Steelers used to field an elite defense, but that was then and this is now."
As a result, do not expect Pittsburgh's defense to stay within the top 10 of intimidating defenses for very long. It is likely that they drop—and soon—especially when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 2.
Still, a good outing in Week 1, highlighted by the play of Polamalu, needs to be mentioned. The Steelers cannot get any higher than sixth at this point, but they do not deserve any less.
At least not yet.
Points Allowed: 24
Total Yards Allowed: 330
Turnovers Generated: 4
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley could headline any list of intimidating players.
Regardless of the recent fine-worthy hit by Suh in last week's matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, Suh is an extra-special player and so is Fairley. Both of these guys are fully capable of imposing their will on opposing offenses.
Sure, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did his thing against Detroit in Week 1—rushing for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Yet Peterson will get his yards, and he could have done much more had Detroit's defense faltered.
Justin Simon of Fansided.com elaborates more on the Lions' approach to defeating Minnesota in Week 1:
The Lions set out with a game plan that dared the Vikings to beat them through the air, and it was the run defense that allowed the Lions to work themselves back into the game. Rather than letting Peterson control the game and wear down the clock with the lead, the Vikings were constantly forced to play from second and third down with long yardage to go.
What really mattered, however, was the fact that the Lions were able to shut down Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder was able to complete one touchdown pass, but it was against three interceptions. This facet proves that Detroit's linebackers and secondary should be equal to the task heading forward.
Ponder was also sacked three times during the game.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ponder was hurried 24 times and eight of those came from Suh alone.
Say what you want about Suh, he is a special player and the anchor of that defensive line. When he plays clean, the intimidation factor is still there.
In addition, the rest of the defense did its job and did it well. Considering the intimidation factor that players like Suh offer, Detroit has to be included on this list. What they did against a powerful Minnesota offense, led by Peterson, speaks measures.
True, they may not have been as impressive, nor did they really limit points against, but the Lions defense was pretty solid in this one.
Solid equates to a fifth-overall selection on this list.
The Bears defense has long been a staple of their success.
Points Allowed: 21
Total Yards Allowed: 340
Turnovers Generated: 3
Linebacker Brian Urlacher may have retired, but the Chicago Bears defense is still a pinnacle of their success.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has to be in love with a defensive unit like the Bears, after coming over from the lackluster Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason.
The Bears kicked off their 2013 season against a Cincinnati Bengals team that could be a surprise in the AFC North this year.
Regardless of the hype, Chicago put the clamp down in decisive fashion.
While they might have given up more points than they would have liked, the Bears defense did its job in a number of different areas. Shutting down the running game and allowing only 63 yards on the ground is a good indication that opponents' running backs are going to struggle.
Cornerback Charles Tillman also has to be heralded following his two interceptions on Sunday. The two-time Pro Bowler is showing little sign of aging at 32-years-old.
Yet big plays hampered the overall performance of the Bears defense and it is something that needs work if Chicago hopes to continue its defensive dominance.
In spite of their good showing, Bears head coach Mike Trestman expects more out of the defense. In an article written by Dan Wiederer of The Chicago Tribune, Trestman said:
We’ve got to limit their explosive plays; 130 yards of their offense was on three plays. We know we’ve got to do a better job there and I think we will.
...It's things that do happen in coverage. They did a good job. I think we were much better at it after that.
Big plays can often mean the difference between success and failure. Had the Bears been able to limit some of the big plays made by Cincinnati, they would have found themselves higher on this list.
Chicago will take on running back Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings next week. Big plays could again be a factor as the Bears look to limit one of the best backs in the NFL. That alone will be a tough task. Yet the Bears defense is intimidating and talented enough to do the job.
Still, a performance like the one Chicago had against a much-improved Bengals team is worth noting and justifies a solid fourth place on this list.
Points Allowed: 10
Total Yards Allowed: 291
Turnovers Generated: 3
Week 1 proved to be an impressive performance for Miami and a defense that spent much of the offseason shaking up the unit—particularly the secondary.
Granted, the Dolphins took on a less-than-stellar Cleveland Browns offense in Week 1, which should result in an easy matchup.
Yet when faced with such an opponent, a defense should be able to rise to the occasion. That is exactly what Miami did.
The defense totaled six sacks in their victory against Cleveland and held the opposing offense to an average of just 4.0 yards per play—fourth lowest among all NFL teams in Week 1.
"Okay, so it was just the Browns," some fans might say. Yet there are plenty of reasons to believe that this defense may shock people in 2013.
Bleacher Report AFC East lead writer Erik Frenz sums up why Miami's defense should be worth watching:
Don't call it an overreaction to one strong performance—against the Browns, at that.
Call it a continuation of last year's strong defensive performance when the Dolphins ranked seventh in scoring, which was an extension of an exceptional 2011 campaign, when they ranked sixth.
Call it the culmination of a solid offseason's work by the Dolphins front office and coaching staff, who identified the weaknesses in an already-strong unit and made the right moves to bolster those weaknesses.
Call it a defense that will take the league by storm in 2013.
If Frenz is correct and the Dolphins continue to impress, there are few reasons to expect them dropping far on this list.
Yet the road ahead will be tough for Miami as they have to take on the Colts, Falcons and Saints in the next three weeks.
Mike Shiekman of Yahoo! Sports explains the precarious situation facing the Dolphins and notes that the defense will be paramount to the team's success:
The opposing offenses all boast signal callers who make up the consensus top-ten of fantasy quarterbacks. The Miami defense will take on Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady all in an eight-week run.
I'm exhausted from just running through the quarterbacks' accolades in my mind.
That will be a tough hurdle for this revamped defensive unit, and will likely reveal just how good Miami's defense truly is.
Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan breaks down what the defense will have to do to ensure success in 2013 on the listed video.
Yet their performance, especially with six sacks in the books, has to give them a shot at being in the top three.
Tennessee's defense sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times Sunday.
Points Allowed: 9
Total Yards Allowed: 195
Turnovers Generated: 2
I can almost guarantee that most fans would not have predicted a team like the Tennessee Titans being the second most intimidating defense, let alone making the list at all.
Yet that is exactly what they have done.
Granted, Tennessee faced a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that is strewn with problems. The fact that the Titans held Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to 191 yards and only one touchdown is pretty stellar, considering how much Roethlisberger likes to use his arm.
It also helps when the defense can generate five sacks.
Young players are making a name for themselves on this revamped Tennessee defense. Guys like defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Zach Brown are proving they have what it takes to be a force at the NFL level.
Their play did not go unnoticed by CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco:
Casey had two sacks, two other pressures and was a force inside against the run. Brown had eight tackles, two sacks and a pass defense. The Steelers couldn't get anything all day on offense in large part because of those two. They will again be key against the Texans and their zone-running scheme this week.
These guys should be players to watch when the Titans take on the Houston Texans.
Titans' safety Bernard Pollard summed up how Tennessee felt about this particular game via John Glennon of The Tennessean:
When you play against a team like this and the history that’s here... you’re dealing with a lot of bullies. They’re a powerhouse. You can’t back up in this kind of fight. You have to throw the first punch and keep going, and I thought we did a great job of that.
Indeed, Tennessee did just that. Not only did they thwart almost everything Pittsburgh attempted on offense, but they also imposed their will on almost every aspect of that side of the ball. It was a case of the Titans defense doing everything right against a Steelers offense that could do almost nothing.
Given the yardage allowed and the whopping five sacks forced by Tennessee, they have to be ranked high on this list. Yet the total intimidation factor is reserved for a team just one spot higher.
Points Allowed: 7
Total Yards Allowed: 243
Turnovers Generated: 3
In 2012, the Seattle Seahawks boasted the best defense in the NFL.
Why expect anything different in 2013?
Seattle started off this season with a tough matchup on the road against the Carolina Panthers. Their defense would have to face the likes of quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams.
The toughest test, perhaps of all, would be that the Seahawks would open up their season away from CenturyLink Field and be forced to play their opener on the East Coast—something that they have not been good at historically.
While Seattle's offense was not particularly inspiring, the defense was.
The Seahawks held Newton to only 125 yards passing over the course of the game, limiting him to only one touchdown pass. The defense also sacked him once and prevented the mobile quarterback from his rushing capabilities.
Newton was able to gain only 38 yards on the ground on five attempts.
Seattle also did a good job of limiting Williams to only 86 yards rushing.
Smith recorded the lone touchdown for Carolina, and the Panthers squandered their home-field advantage in Week 1.
What makes the Seahawks defense so intimidating is the fact that they play aggressively, force turnovers—three in this game—and hit hard.
The secondary is particularly intimidating. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are worth watching in the Seahawks backfield.
Seattle takes on their division rivals the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2. Watching the included video, fans can get an appreciation for how gifted the Seahawks defense is and what the 49ers may expect when they travel to Seattle.
Sunday should give plenty of indication whether or not the 49ers will be intimidated.
Seattle carries over a No. 1-ranked defense from last season. Their combination of speed and strength, along with their dominance against a worthy Carolina team, earns them top pick on this list. If this trend continues, expect the Seahawks defense to stay at the top for a while.
There it is. These are the top 10 defenses according to the aforementioned rating criteria heading into Week 2.
Many of these teams were probably expected to be here. Others earned their way on despite what experts may have been saying about them before the season.
This list will certainly change as the season rolls on. Some may rise and others will fall, yet after Week 1 we can get a glimpse into which defenses may be worth watching.
After all, defenses are supposed to be intimidating.
Do you feel I missed on the top-10 list? Chime in on the comments section and list your own most intimidating defenses thus far into 2013.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.