5 of the NFL's Softest Defensive Fronts

Hunter AnsleyCorrespondent IIINovember 28, 2011

5 of the NFL's Softest Defensive Fronts

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    Not even a date with the guy who used to be Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson was enough to shock the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line into action.

    Tampa has been as bad at playing the run as any team in the league over the past five weeks, and after possibly resuscitating Johnson's year and career, it's a title they seem intent to hold. Still, the Bucs aren't the NFL's only awful rushing defense.

    In fact, a soft front is the reason all five of these clubs are flailing on the field and flirting with the top pick in next April's draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Might as well start at the bottom.

    The Bucs have been gashed over the past five weeks, giving up an average of 170 rushing yards per game during that stretch. That's a mark that would rank 11 yards behind the NFL's current worst rushing defense.

    The Bucs' front four is a young group, full of NFL rookies and sophomores, but that's no excuse for the pounding they've taken in recent weeks.

    That has been a big part of their five-game slide and 4-7 record. Improvement should come with time and experience, but as it stands now, this is clearly a team that cannot solve the run.

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Colts have long owned one of the NFL's worst rushing defenses, and although it seems crazy, they've never really addressed the problem head-on. 

    It'd be nice to say that strategy has finally caught up with them, but it has been an issue for too long. Without quarterback Peyton Manning around to force opposing offenses into obvious passing situations, the Colts' ends haven't been able to pin their ears back.

    Manning's absence has also allowed opponents time to test their ground games, and the results have been disastrous for Indy.

    They're currently giving up over 150 rushing yards per game, bad enough for 31st in the league. 

    Until the Colts finally add premier players up front who have the ability to anchor against the run, they'll continue to flounder. 

St. Louis Rams

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    With all the talk about coach Steve Spagnuolo's ability to cultivate a dominant defensive line, Rams fans would expect to have a unit that, say, didn't rank last in the NFL.

    Unfortunately, that's exactly the case in 2011. The Rams are giving up almost 160 rushing yards per game, nearly a full 10 yards worse than the 31st-ranked Colts.

    And it's one of the main reasons they're one of the final few competitors for the top pick in next April's draft.

    They've held only three opponents under 100 yards rushing all season, while giving up over 200 to three different teams.

Carolina Panthers

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    Defensive end Charles Johnson was given a six-year, $76 million contract in the offseason after racking up 11.5 sacks in 2010, and he has been decent this season, adding 7.5 more.

    But for a team to invest that kind of money in their defensive line, even at defensive end in a four-man front, they have to expect better results against the run.

    The Panthers spent two mid-round draft picks on the defensive tackle position in the 2011 NFL draft, and they've gotten exactly what you'd expect from a team giving ample playing time to two mid-round rookies.

    Carolina's allowing over 135 rushing yards per game, and they've allowed a league-high 15 rushing touchdowns.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Browns used two early 2011 NFL draft picks to address their issues up front, and they've received solid returns so far from defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard.

    However, the individual successes of the two featured rookies have not translated into an ability to stuff the run.

    Cleveland's conservative offense has certainly put a strain on their defense, often allowing opponents to hang around or take such early leads that the ground game is never off-limits. But to give up 136.8 yards per game and rank 29th in the NFL is unacceptable either way.

    With two more games against both Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, things could get worse for the Browns before they get any better.