Playoff Top Twelve: Defenses

All week long, we’ve been running a special NFL Playoff Top Twelve “marathon.”  We did the quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers, but today we’re going to switch over to the other side of the ball and do defense.  Unfortunately, I am nowhere near knowledgeable enough (nor would I probably have the time to try) to break down by defensive positions, so today’s Top Twelve is going to be defensive units, as a whole.  Like I’ve said before, I do not like the way the NFL “ranks” its defense (by yards allowed), so, rightly or wrongly, I put very little stock into the official rankings when making these decisions.  What I do put a lot more stock into is the much (and I don’t know why) overlooked statistic of points allowed.  I mean, after all, that is the goal of every defense, right?

12). Seattle Seahawks.  (27th overall – 21st rush, 27th pass; 25th in points allowed, 25.4)  Yet again, the Seahawks find themselves ranked last among playoff teams in a specific category.  This defense is, well, not very good.  They are led by a couple of solid players who may have lost a step in Marcus Trufant, Lofa Tutupu, and Lawyer Milloy, and they have a couple good up-and-coming players in Earl Thomas and Aaron Curry.  But, their d-line is not very good, with their two best pass-rushers being Eagles castoff, Chris Clemons, and Colts castoff (and former Temple Owl), Raheem Brock.  The numbers on this defense are not good, and that is even against a very soft schedule.

11). Indianapolis Colts.  (20th overall – 25th rush, 13th pass; 23rd in points allowed, 24.2)  The Colts have really struggled on defense this year for much of the season.  There is hope, though, as their main problem has been the fact that they were absolutely gashed against the run.  But, in their last two games (must-wins), they shut down Arian Foster and then Chris Johnson, so they may have figured it out.  And, the danger of this defense is that if the offense can get them a lead and force the opposition to throw the ball, they still have two of the best pass-rushers in the game, in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who can cause mayhem if allowed to just pin back their ears and go after the quarterback.  And, they do still have two of the more underrated defensive players in the league in safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Gary Brackett.  Overall, though, this defense is certainly not the strength of this team and could really cost them if they return to their run-defense struggles.

10). Philadelphia Eagles.  (12th overall – 15th rush, 14th pass; 21st in points allowed, 23.6)  Ranking this team 10th may be a bit of a concession to my ongoing debate with Doogan.  I think this defense is pretty good; he does not.  Well, Doogan looks more right than I do right now, as this defense has struggled in the last quarter of the season.  Injuries have played a big role, and that does not help heading into the playoffs.  The losses of Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, and Stewart Bradley have really hurt.  We will have to hope that guys like Jamar Chaney and Dmitri Patterson can step up and fill the void.  The bright spots are that the Birds do still have one of the planet’s best pass-rushers in Trent Cole and one of the best defensive playmakers in Asante Samuel.  They cause a ton of turnovers and put tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  They are still a unit to be afraid of, but, unlike in the golden Jim Johnson years, this defense is not capable to carrying the team to great heights.

9). Kansas City Chiefs.  (14th overall – 14th rush, 17th pass; 11th in points allowed, 20.4)  The Chiefs have the old philosophy of run the ball, play good defense, and you will win games.  Well, they certainly got the first part right, and the second part is coming along.  It is a young and inspired defense, led by a great coordinator in Romeo Crenel.  Derrick Johnson is a stud linebacker, and Brandon Flowers has probably entered the top 4 or 5 among NFL cornerbacks.  Rookie Eric Berry has been outstanding, and Tamba Hali has broken out this year with 14.5 sacks.  It is a good defense, but still learning.  It should be interesting to see how they handle the spotlight of the playoffs.  #7, 8, and 9 were really, really close in my book, and I think the Chiefs are still a little green to be ranked ahead either of the next two.

8). New Orleans Saints.  (4th overall – 16th rush, 4th pass; 7th in points allowed, 19.2)  The defending champs are known to be a dynamic offensive team, but you do not win Super Bowls without a very good defense, and they have a lot of that defensive ability back this year.  In fact, I think that their regular season was better defensively this year than it was last year.  Their secondary is full of playmakers in Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins, and Tracy Porter.  Their d-line is also dangerous with Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis.  The linebackers are a little shaky, but they have the veteran Jonathan Vilma, who seems to step up in big moments.  This team still relies on its potent offense, but this attacking defense is nothing to sneeze at again this year.

7). Atlanta Falcons.  (16th overall – 10th rush, 22nd pass; 5th in points allowed, 18.0)  A bit of a no-name defense that has just flat-out gotten it done.  A team that does not have that quick-strike kind of offense relies a little bit more on the defense to make sure that games stay close.  And, this defense has come through all year.  Brent Grimes (from Northeast High in Philly) and Kroy Bierman (a great name) have been quietly excellent.  John Abraham is still a stud.  As good as this defense has been, though, I do think they are vulnerable, though they will benefit from home games through the NFC playoffs.

6). New England Patriots.  (25th overall – 11th rush, 30th pass; 8th in points allowed, 19.6)  A lot has been said about how this defense, particularly the secondary, will not be very good this year.  Well, in typical Belichick style, he just took the guys he had and coached them up to be a solid, if not spectacular defense yet again.  Yes, there are holes, but overall this defense – led by Belichick’s brilliance – is back and very good.  Vince Wilfork is still a monster in the middle, and Jerod Mayo has been their best linebacker since the day he was drafted.  But, it is the secondary that has been so surprising.  Probably defensive rookie of the year, Devin McCourty has come out of nowhere, as has safety Patrick Chung.  The other safety, Brandon Merriweather, is going back to the Pro Bowl (a questionable selection), so this secondary is playing at a pretty high level.  Like many of the teams listed above, this team will not win the Super Bowl because of their defense, but it’s not that likely that they will lose because of it either – which is more than most expected coming into the season.

5). New York Jets.  (3rd overall – 3rd rush, 6th pass; 6th in points allowed, 19.2)  Something is wrong with the Jets defense this year, and I think I know what it is, though you may not believe me.  I think it is Darrell Revis.  I think he is still banged up.  And, this defense is so reliant on shutdown corners to enable them to send their crazy blitzes, and Revis (and Cromartie on the other side) have not been as shutdown as they have been in the past.  Added to the secondary’s issues is the loss of Jim Leonard for the season.  Leonard may not seem like the all-important safety that he is, but he is the leader of this defensive backfield and he has been sorely missed.  Now, I might be far too low on this defense this year because they still have some great pieces and a great defensive mind leading the way, but I think Rex’s unit is not nearly as strong as they were when they entered the playoffs a year ago.  Plus, I think that they have particularly bad matchups, with Peyton Manning (who has owned the Ryans in the past) in the first round and then, if they get there, Tom Brady and the Pats in Round Two.

4). Baltimore Ravens.  (10th overall – 5th rush, 21st pass; 3rd in points allowed, 16.9)  Say what you will, I love this defense.  I would still probably call Ray Lewis and Ed Reed the best at their position in 2022.  Lewis is known as, by far, the smartest, most prepared, and most inuitive defensive player in the game.  He knows some of the offensive playbooks around the league better than guys on those teams.  And, what can you say about Ed Reed?  He led the league in interceptions this year, with 8, after missing the first SIX GAMES.  This defense changes the game, and I have not even mentioned the freakshow athlete of Haloti Ngata in the middle.  There are still questions about the corners, and the depth all over, but I will take my chances with Lewis and Reed any day, any year.

3). Chicago Bears.  (9th overall – 2nd rush, 20th pass; 4th in points allowed, 17.9)  I wonder how some of these organizations are able to do it every year, even with the incredible turnover that dominates the NFL.  Teams like the Ravens, Steelers, and these Chicago Bears seem to have great defenses every year, no matter what – even through changes coaching changes and personnel makeovers.  The Monsters of the Midway may be the best example.  This team has had a good defense pretty much consistently since, well, forever.  And, they are back to it again this year.  I picked the Bears to be a real surprise team at the beginning of this year, and I think that not many people joined me in this is because we tend to forget that this team added two of the best defensive players in the league back to the defense this year.  Everyone knows that they signed Julius Peppers – who clearly just needed a change of scenery – but I think many people forgot that the Bears would also add Brian Urlacher back after missing all of last year with an injury.  With Urlacher back and Pepper wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, guys like Lance Briggs, Chris Harris, and Peanut Tillman were able to thrive in secondary roles.  This defense is fast, athletic, and well-coached.  Lovie Smith knows defense, and this team will go as far as this defense can carry them.

2). Green Bay Packers.  (5th overall – 18th rush, 5th pass; 2nd in points allowed, 15.0)  Everyone talks about Aaron Rodgers and the elite weapons he has on offense.  But, this team may be better on the defensive side of the ball than they are on offense.  Call me crazy, but I think they are the second-best defense in the entire NFL.  Cla Matthews is an absolute stud; Charles Woodson is the ultimate defensive playmaker; and, A.J. Hawk is one of the most underrated linebackers in football.  Plus, the d-line is getting very good with the emergence of B.J. Raji in the middle, and a rejuvenation of Cullen Jenkins.  This defense is Super Bowl caliber.  This team is a brutal #6-seed.

1). Pittsburgh Steelers.  (2nd overall – 1st rush, 12th pass; 1st in points allowed, 14.5)  As high as I am on the Packers, the Bears, and the Ravens, this #1 choice was easy.  The Steelers are, in my opinion, far and above the best defense in the NFL.  With all the coverage and talk about Troy Polamalu, it is hard to imagine him not being overrated, but in fact, he might even be underrated.  He is THAT good.  But, it’s not just that long-haired Samoan.  James Farrior and James Harrison are beasts.  Ike Taylor has become a very good cornerback, and Lawrence Timmons is vastly underrated.  Casey Hampton is a beast on the line, and, to make it all worse for AFC competitors, their best d-lineman, Aaron Smith, might be healthy and able to play when the Steelers host the Divisional Round game.  This defense is the reason that I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers, not the mighty Patriots, are the favorites to win another Super Bowl this year.

This entry was posted in Top Twelve and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Playoff Top Twelve: Defenses

  1. Doogan says:

    -Funny, I was just thinking last week that Bethea is underrated.

    -I love Tamba Hali. He was such a monster at Penn State, and a good guy. He had to escape war in Liberia with his family when he was 10, which you might find interesting, Bry. Somehow he is not in the Pro Bowl this year?

    -Malcolm Jenkins probably will miss the game saturday with a knee injury, but I guess the Saints probably won’t need him.

  2. Doogan says:

    Hmmm, this list seems telling, huh? Isn’t there some saying about defense winning championships? Guess maybe there’s something to that

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *