Power Rankings: Every NFL Team's Top Pass-Rushing Duo

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

Power Rankings: Every NFL Team's Top Pass-Rushing Duo

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    Typically, there are two ways to win defensively in today's pass-oriented NFL: lock down the opposing team's top receiver or rush the quarterback.

    Negating an opposing quarterback's top target with an elite cover man can be an effective strategy, but it never seems fully satisfying.

    The action, as they say, is in the trenches.

    No defensive play kills drives, swings momentum and fires up a defense quite like a sack. Plus, sacks are a whole lot of fun to watch.

    Today, we will take a look at each team's top pass-rushing duo and rank them based on production, intimidation factor and overall impact.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Top Duo: DE Brett Keisel and OLB LaMarr Woodley

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 4.0

    As difficult as it may be to believe, the Steelers rank last in our pass-rushing duo rankings.

    For a franchise that's long held an identity as a defensive-oriented team, it is a little sad to see.

    While Keisel and Woodley remain top-notch defensive players, the duo is no longer one that will keep offensive coordinators up at night.

    Just how bad have things gotten in Pittsburgh? Keisel and Woodley have combined for all four of the Steelers' sacks this season, and Woodley has three of them, which means that the team's top "duo" could change at any moment.


31. New York Giants

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    Top Duo: DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DE Jason Pierre-Paul

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 2.5

    For the past few seasons, Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul were members of a defensive line rotation that was seen as one of the best in the NFL. However, opposing quarterbacks have had little trouble attacking the Giants' secondary this season, which has allowed them to get the football out before this duo can strike home.

    Still, Pierre-Paul remains one of the most athletically gifted and relentless pass-rushers in the game, and Kiwanuka is capable of holding his own, even at age 30. 

    These two are still a threat and will likely see a rise in production if the defense can find a way to play better as a whole.


30. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Top Duo: DE Jason Babin and DE Tyson Alualu

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 3.5

    The Jacksonville Jaguars seem to find themselves near the bottom of every rankings list this season, and this list is no different.

    However, it is worth noting that opponents continuously find themselves playing with a lead, which helps minimize the Jaguars' pass rush.

    Babin is not the same player he was in 2010 and 2011 (30.5 sacks in that span), but he is still the best pass-rusher on this team. Alualu, a three-year veteran, is developing into a nice complement. 

    If Jacksonville could find a way to go deep into a game with a lead, this duo would be more highly regarded.

29. Chicago Bears

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    Top Duo: DE Julius Peppers and MLB D.J. Williams

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 3.0

    Make no mistake, Peppers is still one of the most feared pass-rushers in the game today. Even at age 33, he regularly commands double teams and must be accounted for on every play.

    Unfortunately, the Chicago Bears have been unable to develop a proper counterpart on the opposite side of the line, which has enabled opposing offenses to compensate for his presence.

    Williams, a former Denver Bronco, has benefited most from the attention Peppers commands, logging two sacks while rushing primarily from the interior.


28. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Top Duo: OLB Connor Barwin and DE Fletcher Cox

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 4.0

    Rookie head coach Chip Kelly and his mile-a-minute offense have garnered most of the attention in Philadelphia this season—and for good reason.

    The Eagles defense, ranked 31st at 434 yards allowed per game, isn't very good.

    There are few defensive stars on this team, but Barwin and Cox stand out because of their ability to get to the quarterback. Barwin, in particular, has the ability to be a game-changer. He is only two years removed from an 11.5-sack season with the Texans.

    However, this duo is far from the elite, and the Eagles will likely spend next offseason searching for a complete sack artist to build around.

27. Minnesota Vikings

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    Top Duo: DE Jared Allen and DE Everson Griffin

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 4.5

    The Minnesota Vikings, a playoff team a season ago, have not lived up to expectations this year. Neither has the pass-rushing duo of Griffin and Allen.

    In 2012, these two combined for 20 sacks. Right now, they are on pace for only 18, just over a sack per game.

    Of course, Minnesota's pass defense is a disappointment as a whole, giving up 326 yards per game (30th in the league) through the air.

    Griffin and Allen still must be accounted for. As long as opposing quarterbacks are able to hit the quick pass, however, this duo will continue to be a shadow of its former self.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Top Duo: OLB Lavonte David and DE Adrian Clayborn

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 5.0

    Not a lot has gone well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to this point in the 2013 season. However, the duo of David and Clayborn has emerged as an unexpected surprise for a defense that is known more for its secondary.

    David, a second-year player out of Nebraska, is probably the biggest surprise, with three sacks in just four games. He had two all of last season.

    Clayborn, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, looks to finally be reeling in the potential that made him a first-round draft pick in 2011.

25. San Francisco 49ers

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    Top Duo: OLB Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 4.5

    As a team, the San Francisco 49ers are tied for 14th in the league with 13 sacks. Unfortunately, 4.5 of those were logged by linebacker Aldon Smith, who is currently in rehab and now faces felony weapons charges.

    This leaves Bowman and Brooks to fill in as pass-rushers behind veteran sack-enabler Justin Smith.

    Both Brooks and Bowman are complete linebackers who have the ability to make plays at any area of the field. As a pass-rushing duo, the two are underwhelming but capable.

    They should continue to produce at an above-average level, but they're unlikely to force opponents to make significant adjustments to their blocking schemes.

    The 49ers defense is simply much better with Aldon Smith on the field, and there is no telling when he will be back.

24. Oakland Raiders

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    Top Duo: DE Lamarr Houston and DE Jason Hunter

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 5.0

    Though they are by no means perfect, the Oakland Raiders have been surprisingly competitive thus far in the 2013 season.

    A big part of that success has come via an underrated defense (ranked 13th in scoring at 21.6 points per game allowed).

    On the front end of that defense is the defensive end duo of Houston and Hunter, who have accounted for five of the team's 13 sacks this season.

    While this duo has a long way to go before it can be considered elite, the pair has a way of bringing constant pressure on opposing offensive lines. Expect these two to help keep the Raiders defense competitive as the season continues.

23. San Diego Chargers

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    Top Duo: OLB Jarret Johnson and OLB Larry English

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 4.5

    When the season began, few would have thought that Johnson and English would be leading the pass-rushing charge in San Diego.

    However, offseason acquisition Dwight Freeney was never the factor that the team envisioned and is now lost for the season to a torn quadriceps.

    Fortunately, the Chargers pass rush appears to be in capable, if underwhelming, hands.

    While the tandem of Johnson and English is unlikely to make serious noise this season, the two remain a serviceable, middle-of-the-pack unit and should command adequate attention as the season progresses.



22. St. Louis Rams

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    Top Duo: DE Chris Long and DE Robert Quinn

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.5

    The 2-3 St. Louis Rams have fielded a below-average defense this season (ranked 28th at 28.3 points per game allowed). However, the duo of Long and Quinn continue to be one of the brightest young pass-rushing tandems in the NFC.

    Quinn leads the way with an impressive five sacks through five games, but both players logged double-digit sacks a season ago. 

    Expect this duo to continue to be game-plan-worthy, even as the defense as a whole struggles to find an identity.



21. Seattle Seahawks

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    Top Duo: DE Cliff Avril and OLB Bruce Irvin

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 3.0

    Avril and Irvin have yet to showcase their true potential thanks to Irvin's four-game suspension for violation of the league's banned substance policy.

    However, this talented tandem has the ability to finish the season as one of the best in the entire league.

    As a raw rookie, Irvin amassed eight sacks in 2012. Meanwhile, Avril put together an impressive 9.5-sack season with the Detroit Lions last season.

    Expect these two to play and feed off of one another as the season progresses and make life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks along the way.

20. Miami Dolphins

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    Top Duo: DE Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 3.5

    Cameron Wake, a former CFL star, has established himself as on of the league's premier pass-rush specialists. In his first four seasons with the Dolphins, he amassed 43 total sacks 

    Dion Jordan, the third overall pick in April's draft, remains a work in progress. However, at 6'6" and 260 pounds, he has the physical ability and potential to match Wake's production on a weekly basis.

    The impact this duo has on the field doesn't fully translate to the stat column. These two have harassed opposing quarterbacks every single game this season and have the potential to develop into a top-five tandem.

19. Atlanta Falcons

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    Top Duo: DE Osi Umenyiora and OLB Joplo Bartu

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 5.5

    As a team, the Atlanta Falcons are tied for 24th in the league with just 11 sacks through five games. However, the team does have the cornerstone for a strong pass rush in former New York Giants star Osi Umenyiora.

    Umenyiora is currently on pace for a 12-sack season in 2013, which would mark his highest total since 2007 with the Giants.

    Bartu, a rookie, has the potential to add to a pass-rushing unit that should improve as the season goes on. The former Texas State standout has 1.5 sacks in four starts and has shown the ability to bring pressure from the outside.

    Expect this duo, along with the entire Atlanta team, to finish the season looking a lot better than it does right now.

18. Carolina Panthers

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    Top Duo: DE Greg Hardy and DE Charles Johnson

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.0

    The Carolina Panthers defense is one of the most underrated units in the entire league (ranked third, allowing just 301.5 yards of offense per game)

    Likewise, Hardy and Johnson form one of the league's most underrated sack duos.

    However, this is an efficient and nearly elite tandem that deserves to be mentioned among the NFL's best.

    The two combined for 23.5 sacks in 2012 and are currently on pace for 24 sacks this season. However, their impact goes well beyond sacks. They have the ability to make a quarterback restless in the pocket, forcing both mistakes and turnovers.

    They should be considered budding stars and would garner much more attention on any team that could win more consistently than Carolina.

17. Green Bay Packers

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    Top Duo: OLB Clay Matthews and OLB Nick Perry

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 5.0

    Clay Mathews remains one of the most feared pass-rushers in the entire league, but the Green Bay Packers have had trouble finding someone who can match his intensity and production on a regular basis.

    Perry, another USC product now in his second season, might just be that guy. He had two sacks in just five appearances last season and has matched that total in three starts in 2013.

    From a potential standpoint, this duo ranks among the highest in the NFL.

    Unfortunately, that potential will likely be put on hold, as Mathews is expected to miss a month with a broken thumb.

16. New England Patriots

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    Top Duo: DT Tommy Kelly and DE Chandler Jones

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.0

    It's been quite some time since the New England Patriots were known as a defense-oriented team, but those days may be quickly returning.

    New England currently ranks second in the league in points allowed (14.0 per game), and a lot of that dominance can be attributed to the Patriots' defensive front.

    Tommy Kelly, a longtime Oakland Raider, is a force on the interior of the Patriots line, able to stuff ball-carriers and rush the quarterback.

    Jones, meanwhile, is quickly developing into one of the league's most impactful but underrated pass-rushing ends.

    With these two leading the defensive charge, the Patriots should be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

15. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Top Duo: DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.5

    If you watched the Cincinnati Bengals' Week 5 win over the New England Patriots, you probably have a good idea of just how dominant the Bengals defensive line can be.

    The Bengals are one of very few teams that can consistently generate pressure by rushing four down linemen. It all starts in the middle with Geno Atkins, who has developed into one of the league's best defensive tackles in a little over three seasons.

    Dunlap, who came into the league the same year as Atkins, has had an up-and-down career as a pass-rusher (9.5 sacks as a rookie, 10.5 over the past two years) but is emerging as a true force as an outside rusher.

    Opposing offenses are forced to pick their poison when playing Cincinnati, as putting two blockers on the 303-pound Atkins typically opens things up for Dunlap off the edge.

    In their first three years in the NFL, the two have amassed 43 combined sacks and seven forced fumbles. 

14. Arizona Cardinals

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    Top Duo: DE Calais Campbell and DE Darnell Dockett 

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.0

    Don't look now, but the 3-2 Arizona Cardinals are playing solid football and are making a surprising push in the NFC West.

    The team is doing it with defense (ranked 10th, allowing 19.0 points per game), and the tandem of Campbell and Dockett has played a huge role. This two are looking as good as ever and are already approaching their sack total from a year ago (8.0) 

    Both players have spent their entire careers with the Cardinals and should give fans something to cheer about throughout this young NFL season.

13. Tennessee Titans

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    Top Duo: OLB Zach Brown and DE Ropati Pitoitua

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.0

    The Tennessee Titans are a surprising 3-2 and have played extremely competitive football to this point thanks to their stingy defense (ranked 11th with 19.0 points per game allowed).

    Brown and Pitoitua have played a large role in Tennessee's defensive resurgence by chasing down opposing quarterbacks and bringing consistent pressure into the pocket.

    After combining for just 7.5 sacks a season ago, this duo appears ready to take the next step and become a legitimate force in the AFC South, as does the team as whole.


12. Detroit Lions

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    Top Duo: DT Ndamukong Suh and DE Ezekiel Ansah

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 5.5

    The stout defensive line of the Detroit Lions begins with Suh, who has the ability to command double- and triple-teams, collapse the pocket and rush the passer from the interior. However, Detroit's ability to get to the quarterback does not end with him, thanks to the addition of rookie first-round pick Ansah.

    With Suh and fellow tackle Nick Fairley commanding so much attention, Ansah has been able to get off the edge and wreak havoc in the backfield on a regular basis.

    This duo has frequently hurried opposing quarterbacks, forced turnovers and ended promising drives already this season. 

    The scary part is that the defensive front of the Lions is probably going to become even more of a force as the unit continues to grow and play together.

11. Dallas Cowboys

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    Top Duo: DE DeMarcus Ware and DE George Selvie

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 7.0

    For eight long years, Ware has epitomized the NFL pass rush. He is quick, agile and relentless. With Selvie now on the opposite side, teams can no longer put their entire focus on stopping him.

    Up until this year, Selvie was more of a developmental player. With three sacks in five games, however, he has emerged as a legitimate threat and a nice complement to the ferocity of Ware.

    These two form a solid one-two punch for Dallas and are a big reason why  the Cowboys are currently tied for the division lead.

10. Indianapolis Colts

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    Top Duo: OLB Robert Mathis and DE Cory Redding

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 11.0

    The Indianapolis Colts are quickly proving that their 2012 playoff season was no fluke, and the team is not just getting the job done on offense.

    The defense currently ranks fifth in scoring defense (15.8 points per game) and is helped immensely be a highly above-average pass rush.

    The ageless Mathis leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks, which makes this more of a one-man show than a true duo.

    Redding has chipped in with 1.5 sacks of his own and has the ability to overpower linemen from the outside. However, rookie first-round pick Bjoern Werner is waiting to explode as a sack artist and could quickly take his place as Indianapolis' second-best pass-rusher.

9. Washington Redskins

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    Top Duo: OLB Ryan Kerrigan and OLB Brian Orakpo

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 8.0

    The Washington Redskins defense is bad. Very bad. There is simply no other way to describe a unit that is giving up a average of 440.5 yards per game (worst in the league).

    However, the pass-rushing duo of Kerrigan and Orakpo is somehow good. Very good.

    Each of these players could be considered among the league's top linebackers when healthy, and together, they form one of the most fearsome duos in the entire NFC.

    The two are already on pace for 32 combined sacks this season, which is a testament to their combination of power and quickness.



8. Houston Texans

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    Top Duo: DE J.J. Watt and OLB Whitney Mercilus

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 8.0

    In a little over two years, Watt has become one of the NFL's most feared defenders.

    While he is probably better known for his ability to deflect passes at the line (he led the league with 16 passes defended a year ago) he is a very fine pass-rusher (20.5 sacks in 2012).

    Mercilus is not as well known among casual fans, but he has been a big part of Houston's No. 1-ranked (134.2 yards per game allowed) pass defense with 4.5 sacks through five weeks.

    Watt is likely to garner most of the attention from opposing coordinators, thanks to his status as reigning Defensive Player of the Year. However, both players must be accounted for, and this tandem is shaping up to be on the most intimidating in recent memory.

7. Cleveland Browns

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    Top Duo: DE Desmond Bryant and OLB Barkevious Mingo

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.5

    The hard part for the Cleveland Browns is narrowing down their group of pass-rushers to just two. The team seems to have an entire squad of sack specialists (Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard combined for 16 sacks last season). But Bryant and Mingo currently top their list.

    The addition of Bryant was one of the most underrated moves of the entire 2013 offseason, and the mammoth 310-pound lineman has already rewarded the Browns with 3.5 sacks as a pure power-rusher.

    Mingo, Cleveland's prized first-round pick, has showcased his athleticism and ferocity as an edge rusher with 3.0 sacks in just four appearances.

    This duo has helped make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and has helped the Browns surprisingly achieve the league's fourth-ranked defense (301.8 yards per game allowed).

6. Denver Broncos

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    Top Duo: DE Robert Ayers and DE Shaun Phillips

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 10.0

    The scariest part about the Denver Broncos pass rush is the fact that the team's top sack master, Von Miller, has yet to return fro his six-game suspension.

    With Miller out, Ayers and Phillips have filled in beautifully. They bring power and speed from the defensive end positions and make things extremely difficult for opposing signal-callers as they try to keep pace with the magnificent Peyton Manning.

    As long as Manning is leading the Broncos to 46 points per game (his team's current average), this duo is going to have plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback and rack up gaudy defensive numbers.


5. New Orleans Saints

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    Top Duo: DE Cameron Jordan and OLB Junior Galette

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 7.0

    What a difference a coordinator can make.

    Last year, the New Orleans Saints fielded the worst team in league history. This season, under Rob Ryan, the unit is ranked fourth with just 14.6 points per game allowed.

    Jordan and Galette lead the way in Ryan's exotic system. The two bring the heat on nearly every play, and both have a legitimate chance to finish the season with double-digit sacks, thanks to the Saints' ability to put up points offensively and play with a lead late in games.

4. New York Jets

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    Top Duo: DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DE Sheldon Richardson

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 6.5

    Remember when New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan was heading into a lame-duck season and would be lucky to survive the team's Week 10 bye?

    At 3-2 and only a game out of first place in the AFC East, the Jets look nothing like the team everyone expected, and a big reason is their No. 2-ranked defense (299.0 yards allowed per game)

    Wilkerson and Richardson are a force up front, bringing 609-pounds of pass-rushing pop into the face of opposing quarterbacks.

    This duo is one of the most powerful in the NFL, and the best part for New York is that this is an extremely young pair and the two will only get better.

3. Buffalo Bills

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    Top Duo: DE Mario Williams and DT Marcell Dareus

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 10.5

    The Buffalo Bills made Mario Williams the league's highest-paid defender last offseason and were rewarded with an impressive 10.5 sacks.

    Now, Williams appears poised to eclipse that total, as he already has 7.5 through just five games. He remains that rare combination of power and finesse that teams covet in an outside pass-rusher.

    Dareus, meanwhile, is a 331-pound juggernaut who simply commands too much attention up the middle for teams to focus entirely on Williams in a game.

    These two form a dangerous duo and could emerge as the NFL's top unit by year's end. 

2. Baltimore Ravens

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    Top Duo: OLB Terrell Suggs and OLB Elvis Dumervil

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 10.0

    Remember when everyone thought the Baltimore Ravens were going to fall apart after losing so much talent in free agency?

    Well, it sounded good at the time.

    Suggs is still a terror as an outside pass-rusher and is playing as hard and as relentlessly as ever.

    Dumervil, who amassed 63.5 sacks during his Denver Broncos career, has quickly adapted to defensive coordinator Dean Pees' system.

    These two are shaping up to be the best pass-rushing duo the Ravens have fielded in many year—and nearly the top unit in the entire league.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Top Duo: OLB Justin Houston and DT Dontari Poe

    2013 Combined Sack Total: 13.0

    The Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the biggest surprises early in the 2013 season. After winning just two games in 2012, the team is currently undefeated and is riding a high wave of defensive dominance.

    So it is no surprise that Houston and Poe find themselves at the top of our list.

    Houston is currently ranked second in the NFL in sacks and has nearly reached his 2012 total (10.0). He has quickly become one of the most intimidating pass-rushers and has played a large role in Kansas City's 5-0 start.

    Poe, meanwhile, is a beast of a man in the heart of the Kansas City defensive front who can collapse the pocket and hurry the quarterback with sheer brute force.