Power Ranking Every NFL Team's Defense Entering Week 8
Defense wins championships. We’ve all heard it said before, but there is some actual merit when it comes to that saying.
Teams like the 1985 Chicago Bears have proven that with a strong defense, success is never too far away. We see teams every week that have good games on defense, but only a few can truly say they are “great” defenses.
When looking at the NFL’s best defensive squads, some teams immediately come to mind. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are two teams that have built around strong defensive units and have developed winning habits because of it.
Having a strong offense doesn’t hurt, but a championship defense can stop anyone and truly make a contender out of virtually any team.
When deciding which team ranks where, there's a lot to consider. Obviously, statistics are the easiest and most efficient measuring stick, but the intangibles also have to be there. Especially since we're less than halfway through the season, a teams' stats could easily be negatively skewed by a bad game or two.
Finding a defense that has the total package–stats, intangibles and that certain fear that they strike into opposing offenses–is hard, but there are definitely a handful of great defenses in the NFL.
*All stats courtesy of NFL.com*
32. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have had a weak secondary for a few years now, but it’s been especially exploited in 2013. They’re allowing 28 points per game and have given up 2,181 yards to their opponents.
While an innovative offense can cause problems for the opposing team, it means nothing if your defense can’t stop anyone, and that’s what Philly is struggling with at this point in time. The secondary must improve if the Eagles want any chance of winning the NFC East.
31. Detroit Lions
Struggle is nothing foreign to the Detroit Lions, but now that their offense has turned it around and added some firepower, their defense has fallen behind. They’ve allowed 99 first downs through the first seven weeks of the season and have given up 1,974 yards, fourth highest in the NFL.
Detroit hasn't even reached the toughest part of its schedule. Things definitely aren’t getting easier for the Lions.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although their offense gets the lion's share of the blame, the defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars is not much better. Second-round pick Jonathan Cyprien has been disappointing to say the least, and the rest of their defense seems to be following the same trend.
They Jaguars have given up 15 touchdowns and only have three takeaways. You would think their defense would be better given the fact that Gus Bradley, former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, is their new head coach, but it seems to have had very little effect.
29. New York Giants
Typically known for their defense, the New York Giants have not been playing like the Giants of old. They’ve recorded just six sacks so far this season and are giving up 31 points per game.
While the Giants did win their first game Monday night against the Vikings, that’s not saying much, especially when Josh Freeman is the opposing quarterback. The Giants defense did have a pretty good performance, but given the level of competition, it’s just not a big enough sample to say whether or not they’re “back."
28. Minnesota Vikings
You’d think a team that drafted two highly touted defenders in the first round of this year’s draft would have a better defensive output, but here we are, and the Minnesota Vikings are having a rough time making things work.
They’re giving up over 30 points a game and can barely stop anyone on offense. Minnesota still has to play the Seahawks, Ravens, Bengals and the Packers twice, meaning that things are only going to get rougher for them.
The Vikings' biggest issue may just be that they’re so filled with youth on defense, but there is an abundance of talent within that youth. Once they do get things figured out, they will be a tough defense to take on.
27. Washington Redskins
For a team which has two of the best rush linebackers in the NFL, the Washington Redskins have had another year of weak defensive play. They’ve given up 24 plays of 20 yards or more, and three plays of 40 yards or more. Washington is also allowing 31 points per game, and that’s just not how you win games.
In a division as competitive as the NFC East is, the Redskins must start doing better on defense if they want any chance of repeating as division champions.
26. St. Louis Rams
Defense was something the St. Louis Rams prided themselves on last season, but they seem to have fallen off a bit. They’ve given up 21 plays of 20 yards or more and five plays of 40 yards or more (most in the NFL).
The Rams’ opponents have had a completion percentage of 69, the highest in the NFL. Their run defense has especially stunk, as they have allowed 126 yards per game, with eight runs of over 20 yards. St. Louis has also given up the most rushing touchdowns of any team this season (9).
25. Buffalo Bills
Things have not been easy for the Buffalo Bills this season. While they were lucky enough to have struck gold in the second round of this year’s draft with linebacker Kiko Alonso, their defense has still struggled to stop most offenses this year.
They’ve given up more touchdowns than they have takeaways and have allowed 10 plays of 40 yards or more this season. It’s pretty surprising that they still struggle even with guys like Marcell Dareus and Jairus Byrd manning their defense.
24. San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have been a more efficient team offensively, but their defense is falling behind. They’re allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68 percent of their passes and often find themselves playing from behind.
The Chargers have also given up nearly 2,000 yards of offense through seven weeks; that’s the most yards they’ve allowed through seven games in the past three years. Now that the Chiefs have become as good as they are, San Diego must step its game up defensively if it wants to keep up in the AFC West.
23. Dallas Cowboys
It’s normally the offense of the Dallas Cowboys that’s getting harped on, but their defense has been the underwhelming unit thus far this season. While the Cowboys did lose a couple of players to free agency, they still have their core group of defenders that has been around for years—they’re just under-performing at this point.
Don’t get me wrong: They’ve had some great games, but consistency has definitely been an issue. They’ve allowed the seventh-most touchdowns so far this season (17) and have given up the third-highest passing-yard total this season (2,043).
Right now, they’re on top of the NFC East, but with the Eagles and Redskins just a couple of games behind, it’s imperative that they firm up their defense.
22. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons might be the most disappointing team in the NFL so far this season. Their streak of winning double-digit games is in danger, as they’re off to a less-than-impressive 2-4 start. Opposing quarterbacks have had a 66 percent completion rate against the Falcons, who have also allowed 14 passing touchdowns through just seven games (second highest in the NFL).
Despite their woes against the pass, they’ve been pretty good against the run, giving up just 598 yards. This could very well turn into a lost season quickly, and the Falcons defense should catch most of the blame.
Their offense is averaging 26 points a game, good enough for ninth in the NFL, while their defense is giving up 26.2 points per game. With those kinds of numbers, you just won’t win a lot of games in this league.
21. Oakland Raiders
Things have been pretty rough for the Oakland Raiders over the years, particularly on defense. They’ve gotten solid play from their offense, but their lack of a strong defense is what’s led them to their current record of 2-4.
The Raiders have allowed a 68 percent completion rate through seven games this season, third highest in the NFL. If things don’t change on the field soon, things will be changing off the field.
20. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL with Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, but outside of those two, things are kind of bland for the Bears on defense. It’s hard enough to move on without Brian Urlacher, but now that Lance Briggs is injured, it will be even tougher for Chicago to find some leadership on defense.
The Bears are giving up 29.4 points per game, fifth most in the NFL. When you play in a division like the NFC North and face guys like Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson twice a year, defense is extremely important.
With the way they’re going now, the Bears won’t make the playoffs unless their defense picks up.
19. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins defense had high expectations heading into the season, but it has yet to reach those expectations. The Dolphins are allowing an average of 372 yards per game and have one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Losing Sean Smith in free agency was big, and it’s showing, as they’re allowing the eighth-most passing yards per game in the NFL.
They’re still in the mix for the AFC East title, but they will only achieve that if their defense steps up and starts making more plays.
18. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers defense has made some positive strides in the past few years and has some of the best defenders in the NFL.
That being said, the Packers are without the leader of their defense, Clay Matthews, who is out with injury. Along with Matthews, Casey Hayward has also been out with a tweaked hamstring. Playing without these two guys has definitely impacted the Packers' defensive output, as they’ve allowed an average of 346 total yards a game.
Surprisingly, their pass rush hasn’t suffered too badly; they’ve recorded 20 sacks so far this season (sixth best in the NFL). If Green Bay can find some sort of consistency on the defensive side of the ball, then it will be an extremely dangerous team when the playoffs come around.
17. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals had a great year in 2012 in terms of defense but aren’t doing quite as well in 2013.
They’ve allowed the seventh-most touchdowns in the NFL so far this season (17) and have the sixth-most penalty yards in the league (447). Surprisingly, star corner and defensive leader Patrick Peterson hasn’t played so well this year. He surely hasn’t played badly, but Peterson has not been up to par for what we’re used to seeing from him; he’s on pace for a career-worst year in tackles.
This may seem a bit harsh, but for a guy who was considered by some to be the next great NFL cornerback, he’s sure not playing like it.
It’s not all bad for the Cardinals defensively, though—Karlos Dansby has been playing at a Pro Bowl level so far this year, as he’s had 62 tackles, 2.5 sacks and nine passes defensed.
16. Baltimore Ravens
What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens had one of the most vaunted defenses in the NFL with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leading the way. Fast forward to 2013, and Lewis has retired, while Reed is in Houston.
They also lost stud pass-rusher Paul Kruger to the Browns and starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to the Dolphins. They did bring in Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil in free agency, as well as Matt Elam in the draft; all three of these players have done a pretty good job of making up for the team's losses this offseason, but it’s clear the defense just isn’t the same.
Baltimore has given up 10 plays of 40 yards or more and is dearly missing the defensive leadership it had for so long.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the best secondary in the NFL on paper.
That may sound a bit crazy considering they’re 0-6, but when you have guys like Darrelle Revis and Mark Barron holding down the fort, it’s hard to argue. Throw in Dashon Goldson and rookie Johnthan Banks, and it’s evident there’s a lot of talent back there, which shows up on Sundays.
Lavonte David is also a very good defender, and he’s made big waves for the Bucs since coming into the NFL last season. The youth on this Bucs defense portends a bright future for this team defensively.
14. Indianapolis Colts
While the Indianapolis Colts surely don’t have a bad defense, they definitely don’t have a great one. They’ve allowed 24 plays of 20 yards or more but have given up just eight passing touchdowns.
They did a great job against Peyton Manning and the Broncos last Sunday but looked pedestrian against Philip Rivers and the Chargers a few weeks ago.
They’ve afforded their opposing passers a 59 percent completion rate, eighth lowest in the NFL. They lack a game-changing defense but definitely have some quality pieces in Pat Angerer and Vontae Davis.
13. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have had a pretty forgettable season so far, but they have been doing pretty well on defense.
They’re sixth in the NFL in sacks (20 through seven games) and have done a pretty good job of shutting down opposing passers (only six passing touchdowns allowed). Bernard Pollard—whom they signed in free agency—has been a tackling machine for the Titans, recording 47 tackles in just seven games (seventh most of the defensive backs).
Second-year linebacker Zach Brown has also been a big bright spot for the Titans, and his stats to date portend a fruitful career in the NFL.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Many things have changed for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the years, but their always-intimidating defense is something that’s hardly changed. Even with the loss of James Harrison this past offseason, Pittsburgh has still been able to post solid numbers defensively.
The Steelers have allowed just 11 offensive touchdowns (allowed 33 in 2012) this season, and have been especially good against the run, giving up just 656 yards in seven games.
Dick LeBeau has done a tremendous job keeping this defense consistently tough, and it definitely shows when the Steelers take the field.
11. Denver Broncos
This may seem a bit low for the Denver Broncos, but they just haven't played like the same defense they were last year. That is largely due to the fact that they’ve had to play all but two games without Von Miller and Champ Bailey.
Now that these guys have returned, the Broncos defense should look a good bit better, and will probably scoot into the top ten sooner than later.
That being said, Denver has still allowed 2,779 total yards this season (third most in the NFL) along with 22 touchdowns (fourth most in the NFL). Luckily for the Broncos, they’ve got Peyton Manning, who has single-handedly outscored each of the team's opponents this season with his 25 touchdowns.
Regardless, improvements must be made in order to ensure and sustain a deep playoff run.
10. New England Patriots
For a team that’s known for its offense, the New England Patriots sure have played some good defense this season.
Their current record is 5-2, although they could have easily been 2-5 if not for their defense keeping them in games. Cornerback Aqib Talib has been playing lights-out this season, tallying four interceptions and nine passes defensed. Second-year defensive end Chandler Jones has also been an integral part of the defense, but it’s a rookie who’s arguably been the most impressive Patriot defender so far.
Former Maryland Terp Joe Vellano has done a great job filling in for the injured Vince Wilfork. As an undrafted free agent, getting an opportunity to start (especially as a rookie) is tough to come by, but Vellano has made the most of it.
9. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees and the offense of the New Orleans Saints are always the talk of the town, but now that Rob Ryan has taken over the defensive coordinator position, the Saints defense has been every bit as impressive.
Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro has been a big-time player for New Orleans, and the pass rush is the best it’s been in years.
The Saints are fourth in the league in terms of points allowed and have recorded 20 sacks (had just 29 all of last season). Now that their defense has caught up to their offense, it’s hard to argue that the Saints aren’t a Super Bowl contender.
8. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have gotten a lot of flak this season for several reasons. From trading Trent Richardson to allowing Brandon Weeden to once again be their starter, the Browns are a pretty easy team to hate on, but their defense is one thing you just can’t knock.
While it lacks big-name players outside of Paul Kruger and Joe Haden, the Browns defense has become one of the best units in the NFL. The first-round pick from this year’s draft, Barkevious Mingo, has been great for Cleveland and is second on the team in sacks.
The Browns are one of those teams that, if it weren’t for their defense (and some luck with Brian Hoyer), probably wouldn’t have won any games yet this season.
7. New York Jets
Nobody gave the New York Jets much of a chance heading into 2013, but here they are at 4-3, just one game out of first place in the division. The obvious reason for their surprising success this season is their stingy defense. They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but also have one of the most underrated defenders in the league as well.
Muhammad Wilkerson has been the most consistent defender in New York since he was drafted, and has been on an absolute tirade this season. He’s tallied 26 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles so far, and is on pace to post career bests in sacks and forced fumbles.
If the Jets' defense keeps this up, they could very well steal the AFC East crown from the clutches of New England.
6. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have been on a roll defensively this season. They've recorded 17 sacks, four forced fumbles and nine interceptions in 2013 en route to a 5-2 record.
They added safety Eric Reid in this past draft—a move that is clearly paying off, as he has five passes defensed and three interceptions through seven games.
While the 49ers are a great defense overall, their strength lies in their linebacking corps. Whether it’s Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman, the linebackers of San Francisco are some of the most feared tacklers in the NFL.
5. Houston Texans
Despite the team falling apart offensively, the Houston Texans’ defense has still stood strong this season. They did lose Brian Cushing for the season after last Sunday’s game, but they’ve been able to perform well without him and I expect the same this time around.
Their pass rush is headlined by J.J. Watt, but is enforced by guys like Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus. They also boast a pretty well-rounded secondary with guys like Jonathan Joseph and Ed Reed leading the way.
The Texans may not be the powerhouse team that they were last season, but they are every bit as talented defensively.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
While already a talented group, the Cincinnati Bengals defense has the potential to be even better.
The Bengals’ defensive unit is headed by Geno Atkins, a disruptive defensive tackle who’s been looking like a modern-day John Randle as of late. He has yet to miss a game in his NFL career and is a big reason why the Bengals have been a playoff team the past couple of years.
Outside of Atkins, Cincy heavily leans on second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict quite a bit, and for good reason. Despite having a rocky road to the NFL, Burfict has been a pleasant surprise for the Bengals.
After going undrafted, Burfict recorded 127 tackles in 2012 and added an extra “oomph” to the team.
3. Carolina Panthers
Gritty, smashmouth football; that’s what the Carolina Panthers do. With second-year star Luke Kuechly leading the way, the Panthers have earned the moniker of most-feared front seven in the NFL.
Their secondary isn’t spectacular by any means, but it’s hard to look bad when you have over 1,200 pounds of pass rush along the defensive line. Rookie Star Lotulelei has turned out to be a tremendous addition at the nose tackle position, earning his stripes as a run-stuffing force in the middle.
Carolina has allowed just seven touchdowns this season, the least of any team in the NFL. Carolina has a young, tough defense that will help it accomplish great thing in the near future.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid, while largely known for his implementation of the West Coast offense (and most recently for his resemblance to the Kool-Aid man), quietly put together a star-studded yet blue collar defense this past offseason.
The Chiefs added respected cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, while also shoring up their defensive line with former New York Jet Mike DeVito. They’ve allowed just eight touchdowns this season and are allowing 11.6 points per game.
As the only remaining undefeated team, the Chiefs have made a hell of a turnaround with much thanks going to their defense.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are the class of the NFL when it comes to defense. With a defense built by Pete Carroll and now-head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars Gus Bradley, Seattle has compiled a group of hard-hitting, athletic defenders.
The Seahawks defense is highlighted by the secondary, better known as the Legion of Boom—comprised of Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and the corner everyone loves to hate, Richard Sherman.
While Sherman is the type to let you know how bad he’s beating you, the others aren’t quite as boisterous but are every bit as dangerous. They’ve allowed a measly 12 touchdowns through seven weeks of the season, third fewest in the entire league.
The Seahawks are also the only team in the NFL with more than one recorded safety. They’re great, they know they’re great and they’ll let you know they’re great. Seattle is just plain scary on the defensive side of the ball.