Ranking the 10 Most Intimidating Defenses Heading into NFL Week 3
After two weeks of NFL action, we have seen some teams get off to great starts defensively. But which defenses are the most intimidating?
Rather than discuss which defenses are the best overall, let's talk about which ones have made their mark as the most intimidating in the league thus far.
All statistics are provided from ESPN.com.
Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders
With only 10 teams making the list, I'd like to give an honorable mention to the Oakland Raiders. They have gotten off to a great start defensively, although their opponents take away from Oakland's performance thus far.
The Raiders rank fifth in the league in total defense, only allowing 522 yards after two games. They are also tied for the league lead in sacks, with nine. The impressive thing about that number is that no Raider has more than two sacks.
Defensive end Jason Hunter leads with two and is followed closely by cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Usama Young, who each have 1.5 sacks. Oakland is relying on pressure from all over the field to get to the quarterback, and it has worked thus far.
Despite this ability to get to the quarterback, Oakland has not forced any turnovers on defense this year with no interceptions or forced fumbles.
I also took the strength of schedule into consideration for Oakland, who has not yet had to face an elite offense yet. They held Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts to 21 points before limiting the Jacksonville Jaguars to nine.
Oakland has a solid defense and will eventually start to create turnovers. But right now, the Raiders remain on the outskirts of the most intimidating defenses in the NFL. Let's see who made the cut.
10. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL after opening the season 2-0, and their defense deserves a lot of the credit for their quick start.
While the Dolphins are in the middle of the pack when it comes to total defense, their performance speaks for itself. Miami has only allowed 15.0 points per game, which is tied for third in the league. Although Miami has given up yardage, the players have proved they can limit the damage.
Miami also has enjoyed its revamped secondary, which is currently second in the league in interceptions with four. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson is tied for the NFL lead in picks with two.
Miami is also tied for the league lead in sacks with nine. Veteran Cameron Wake leads the team with 2.5, while Derrick Shelby and Randy Starks follow him with 2.0 and 1.5 sacks, respectively.
Also, keep in mind that Miami's first two games were against Cleveland and Indianapolis; otherwise it might be higher on the list.
So, is the Dolphins defense for real? We'll find out in Week 3, when Miami will host the dangerous Atlanta Falcons and their 11th-ranked offense.
9. Denver Broncos
Despite not having the suspended Von Miller to start the season, the Denver Broncos have quietly gotten off to a good start on defense.
While Denver's pass defense has been shaky, the Broncos are currently ranked as the No. 1 run defense in the league, which can be attributed to the big guys up front. Players like Terrance Knighton and second-year player Derek Wolfe have helped clog the lane.
Their pass-rush has survived without Miller, as Denver has recorded five sacks through the first two weeks. Newcomer Shaun Phillips currently leads the team with 2.5 sacks. Expect the team's sack total to rise later in the season when Miller is back in action.
Until then, Denver's defense will have to continue to play well. The Broncos will host Oakland in Week 3 in a division matchup before Chip Kelly and the Eagles come to town in Week 4.
I expect Denver to take care of Oakland, but the matchup against Philly should prove to be exciting. Stay tuned.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are currently ranked ninth in total defense to start the season despite losing some veterans, including linebacker James Harrison.
Pittsburgh is also ranked ninth in passing defense, as it has only allowed a total of 198.5 yards per game thus far. The secondary has performed well with veterans Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu at the helm.
The Steelers also rank in the top 10 in points allowed through the first two weeks of the season. Despite opening the season 0-2, their defense has only allowed 18.0 points per game against the Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Look for Pittsburgh’s defense to play well, with its next three opponents ranked in the middle or bottom half of the league on offense. The Steelers will host the Chicago Bears in Week 3 before traveling to play the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets.
7. San Francisco 49ers
In a perfect world, the San Francisco 49ers would be sitting closer to the top of this list. San Francisco finished the 2012 season with the third-ranked defense in the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance, but it has struggled thus far in 2013.
Most of the struggles can be attributed to the strength of their opponent's offenses. In Week 1, the 49ers allowed the Packers to score 28 points despite winning the game. Last week, they allowed 29 points to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in a blowout loss.
Despite its struggles thus far, San Francisco still boasts one of the league's better defenses. It is impossible to leave them off this list with players like Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis leading the defense.
Jim Harbaugh will lead his team against his former Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, and the Colts this week. I expect Harbaugh to have his players amped up.
6. Chicago Bears
While the Chicago Bears have relied heavily on their offense thus far, they still boast an intimidating defense that consists of Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers and company.
However, even with Peppers, the defense has struggled to get to the quarterback, as the Bears have only recorded two sacks through the first two weeks of the season. Peppers has failed to record a sack, and Corey Wootton leads the team with one.
Despite their inability to get to the quarterback, the Bears have managed to wreak havoc in the secondary. Their three interceptions are tied for third most in the league.
They have also forced opposing teams to cough up the ball an astounding five times thus far this season. Even though they have only recovered three, that number is still third in the league.
Cornerback Tim Jennings and linebacker Blake Costanzo each have two forced fumbles and recovered one. Jennings also has one of the team's three interceptions, which he returned for a touchdown.
While it has given up an unusually high amount of points to start the season, Chicago's offense has given the defense enough cushion to work with en route to their 2-0 start.
The Bears have a Week 3 showdown with the Steelers on Sunday night in a game that features two intimidating defenses. However, with Pittsburgh's offense struggling to open the season, look for Chicago to secure the victory on Sunday night.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have used a nice blend of offense and defense thus far this season, but if they want to win the AFC North, their defense will have to continue to play well.
While their stats do not scream intimidating, the Bengals defense is a force to be reckoned with.
They have a solid defensive line that consists of Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson. While this group has only produced two sacks thus far, that number is set to rise.
The Bengals have played against Chicago and Pittsburgh in the first two weeks this season. They failed to sack Jay Cutler against Chicago but managed to record two against Pittsburgh, despite the hard-to-sack Ben Roethlisberger under center.
Cincinnati's secondary is none too shabby, either, with Leon Hall, Terrence Newman and Reggie Nelson patrolling the field. The Bengals only have two interceptions thus far, but the trio of Hall, Newman and Nelson will likely increase that number when they face teams with weaker quarterbacks than Roethlisberger and Cutler.
However, they will face an even better quarterback in Week 3 when the Bengals take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. After that, Cincinnati has a favorable matchup against the Cleveland Browns that should help pad its numbers.
4. Houston Texans
Despite giving up the fifth most points in the league, the Texans boast one of the league's most intimidating defenses through two weeks.
Why? Houston owns some of the league's most intimidating players, such as J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph. The Texans will receive a boost when safety Ed Reed steps on to the field in a Houston uniform for the first time, which could be Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Reed will offer a veteran presence with ball-hawking abilities in the secondary, which Houston needs moving forward.
Watt has gotten off to a decent start this season after recording two total sacks in the first two games, despite the fact that opponents are paying a lot of attention to him. If he can remain consistent, the Texans will be in good shape this season.
The Texans have a tough road ahead against some of the NFL's elite teams. Houston will travel to Baltimore in Week 3 before taking on two NFC West opponents, the Seahawks and the 49ers.
If Reed is good to go against Baltimore, I expect he will have a big game against his former team. We'll find out on Sunday.
3. New York Jets
Despite all the controversy that has surrounded the New York Jets in both the offseason and the preseason, Rex Ryan has once again put together a strong defense.
New York's defensive line anchors the defense and has young stud Mo Wilkerson to lead the front. Wilkerson has been playing alongside Sheldon Richardson, Kenrick Ellis and Damon Harrison thus far and has helped limit opposing running games, as the Jets are tied for fourth in the league in run defense.
Ryan's squad currently has the second-rated overall defense in the league, yet there is still room for improvement. New York sits toward the bottom of the league in sacks and turnovers, which shows the true ability of this defense.
Antonio Cromartie has become the leader of the secondary, and while Dee Milliner still needs some time to adjust to the NFL, the pass defense has been stout thus far against Josh Freeman and Tom Brady. The Jets are currently ranked second in passing defense, as they have only allowed 181.5 yards per game.
Granted, Freeman and Tampa Bay lacked discipline in the opener, and Tom Brady was throwing to a bunch of young receivers. However, Rex Ryan's preseason claim that his team would have a top-five defense this year does not seem so outlandish anymore.
The Jets will face the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, which should make Rex lick his lips. I am expecting him to cook up a few complex schemes against rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
Also, throw in the added factor that Rex will be coaching against his former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Look for the defense to play with a chip on its shoulder come Sunday.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have used strong defensive performances to start the season 3-0 following victories against the Dallas Cowboys, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Week 1, the Chiefs completely shut down Jacksonville's offense en route to a 28-2 victory. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert was held to a 1.2 QBR and a a 30.8 passer rating after completing just 16 of his 35 attempts while tossing two interceptions.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City front seven did an excellent job in limiting one of the league's better running in Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD only rushed 15 times and averaged 3.0 yards per carry.
The Chiefs faced their first real challenge of the season against the Dallas Cowboys and limited their offense to just one touchdown, a two-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant.
Aside from that, Kansas City managed to keep an efficient Tony Romo out of the end zone the rest of the game. Dallas running back Demarco Murray could not run the ball against the Chiefs defense, who limited him to 25 yards on just 12 carries.
The Chiefs have registered 15 sacks thus far, which is leads the league. Dontari Poe leads the team with 3.5 sacks, while Justin Houston has 3.0. Those numbers put each player in the top 10 league leaders in sacks.
In head coach Andy Reid's return to Philly on Thursday night, Kansas City shut down the Eagles offense and earned a 26-16 road win. The defense did a great job limiting Michael Vick to just 201 passing yards and a 49.4 passer rating.
The players on defense pressured him well all game, as they recorded six total sacks and forced two interceptions. Houston recorded a game-high 4.5 sacks to give him 7.5 on the season, and Eric Berry returned a pick for a touchdown in the victory.
Their next challenge will come next week against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks own the NFL's most intimidating defense by far after two weeks of play.
Seattle leads the league in total defense, as it has only allowed 460 yards (230 per game) thus far. The Seahawks' 226 passing yards allowed leads the league, and they have only allowed a minuscule 5.0 points per game.
Those numbers result from games against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, as well as Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams are capable of putting up big numbers on offense, but were shut down by Seattle.
While the Seahawks rank in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks and interceptions, they are tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (five) and lead the NFL in fumble recoveries (four).
Seattle's size and speed on defense is unrivaled and wreaks havoc on opposing offenses.
The Seahawks defense does not seem to have any weaknesses. The players can rush the passer and defend the pass well. The one area the defense needs to improve on is its run defense.
The 234 rushing yards their defense has allowed is the 10th highest total in the league. The Seahawks are likely to improve that ranking with a Week 3 matchup scheduled against Jacksonville.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is nursing an ankle injury, which has put his availability for the game in doubt. If he can't go, look for Seattle to stuff the run against Jacksonville.
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