NFL's Best Defenses so Far

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIINovember 19, 2011

NFL's Best Defenses so Far

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    In what has become a quarterback's league, the NFL has made it an extremely hard task to play defense. Offenses set records every year for yards, points, touchdowns, etc. Many defensive players are called for penalties for just breathing on a team wrong.

    That's why, in this day and age, the best overall defenses make the playoffs and win championships. If your defense can get some stops and make it difficult for the other team to put points on the board, it gives your team the best shot at winning. Many teams are hoping for shootouts due to weak defenses, but rarely does that work out.

    That's why eight out of the top 10 teams in total defense are either division leaders or in the hunt for a playoff berth.

    These teams are feared and are in serious conversation for a Super Bowl run.

    After all, there's a saying for defense: "defense wins championships."

    These are the top five teams in the NFL in defense so far this year.

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens defense has been one of the best units in all of football the last decade. When you think of defense, the Ravens defense comes to mind.

    The defense has led the Ravens every game, it seems, due to the lack of offensive fire power.

    The Ravens' current quarterback, Joe Flacco, struggles at times and looks like a mediocre quarterback at best. The only real threat on offense for the Ravens is running back Ray Rice. That's why this team is led by Ray Lewis and the defensive unit.

    This defense is intimidating to play against. They will hit you hard and have no shame. They swarm to the ball and force teams into mistakes.

    The Ravens currently rank No. 3 in total defense right now. They give up just 284.7 yards per game. They rank third in points allowed as well, giving up a stingy 16.9 points per game.

    The Ravens are best in controlling the ground game, giving up 90.3 yards per game, which ranks fourth, but the pass defense ranks sixth, giving up only 194.3 yards.

    The best game this year was in Week 1 against division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens forced seven turnovers on the Steelers offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh has always been built on old-fashioned, tough defensive football. Every year, you know what you're going to get with the Steelers. They're going to play you on the verge of being dirty and make hard hits so you know you're there.

    This team is not afraid to play through the whistle.

    The 2011 Steelers defense is once again among the league's best. They rank second in total team defense, giving up just 280 yards per game. They rank fourth in points per game at 17.9.

    The pressure they put on the quarterback ranks them third in pass coverage, giving up just 183.2 yards per game in the air.

    With all the blitz schemes, they fill gaps great against the run as well. The Steelers rank seventh against the rush in giving up 96 yards per game.

    The defense, like the Ravens, is getting older, but they have shown to still have it and are a key reason why they will make a run at the Super Bowl.

Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans have been drafting defensive players over the last several years to do one thing and one thing only: Stop division rival Peyton Manning.

    The Texans had troubles stopping the Colts for most of the last decade, but the last few years have shown a vast improvement. Last year, they were last in pass defense, but did a decent job against the run. This year, they brought in former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to run the defense.

    Phillips brought the 3-4 scheme and made this Texans team a tough defense to play against.

    It's worked.

    The Texans rank No. 1 in team defense this year, giving up 269.7 yards. They also rank in the top five in every other defensive category as well.

    Their 16.6 points per game ranks second in the entire league. Mix that with a high-powered offense and this team is a force in not just the AFC South, but the whole NFL.

    They also rank second in pass yards, with 178.4 yards given up through the air. In a passing league, that's amazing, especially for a team who ranked dead last a year ago.

    The rush defense ranks fifth, giving up 91.3 yards per game.

    Overall, I'm extremely impressed on how fast Wade Phillips turned this defense around—especially with a ton of key injuries, including defensive leader Mario Williams.

    This team is sure to win the AFC South and make their first ever trip to the playoffs. With a tough defense, this team can march all the way to Indy for the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    This Bengals team has been a pleasant surprise this year. They're led by two rookies on offense, but this defense has quietly led them to key wins and in a playoff race.

    I thought the Bengals would be a four-win team at best this year. This defense had other thoughts in mind.

    At one point this season, the Bengals led the league in total defense. Now, they rank fifth.

    They give up 304.2 yards per game and 18.2 points per game. Both rank fifth.

    They're one of the hardest teams to run against, though. They rank second in the entire league, giving up just 86.8 yards per game on the ground.

    The defensive line unit is tough to get past.

    The pass coverage unit ranks 10th, giving up 217.4 yards per game in the air.

    If it wasn't for such tough defenses in the division, with all four teams ranking in the top six in total defense, the Bengals would be even better.

    This team is young and will be a feared for years to come.

San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers are the only team from the NFC on this top five list. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has turned this team around quickly in his first year as an NFL head coach.

    The 8-1 start is the best start since the old dominate 49ers days of the 80s and 90s. Many could say they play in a weak division, but they've won games against some good teams.

    The 49ers also are an impressive 4-0 in playing the early game on the East Coast.

    What makes this 49ers defense so dominant is the way they play against the run. The 49ers lead the league in rush yards against, giving up 73.2 yards per game on the ground. That's impressive enough, but the most impressive stat is that this unit hasn't given up a rushing touchdown all season.

    The other impressive stat is that they rank No. 1 in points against.

    San Francisco only gives up 15.3 points per game in their nine games so far. Anytime you give up that little of points against, you win football games.

    Even though they struggle a bit against the pass, the dominance over the run game will lead them to key victories late in the year.