In a league that is becoming increasingly offensive minded, with most of the rules favoring quarterbacks and receivers, it seems like defense is a lost art. That pisses me off, because I love defense. I watch the game more to see receivers get clocked going over the middle, see quarterbacks get pile driven through the field, and watch defenses make goal line stands.
Unfortunately there appears to only be a handful of teams left who have the intestinal fortitude to forego the ridiculous rules continually put in place to hinder the defense’s performance, and hit hard every play. With that in mind, I present the top five defenses as we look towards the 2012-2013 NFL season:
“I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.” – Jack Tatum
5. Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Rank: 8 Total Points Allowed: Points Allowed Per Game: 20.5 Yards Allowed Per Game: 324.9
The Eagles defense had a tumultuous start to last season. Blame was everywhere, including questioning whether or not Juan Castillo was capable as a defensive coordinator. Despite a disappointing season from a team that was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender, the defense showed a lot of promise and put it together in the second half of the season. Sack machine Jason Babin is returning, as well as one of the league’s best shutdown corners in Nnamdi Asomugha. They added defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the draft, both of who will upgrade problem areas. They ended up eighth overall last season, and I foresee the Eagles being a top defense heading into 2012.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
2011 Rank: 1 Points Allowed Per Game: 14.2 Yards Allowed Per Game: 271.8
For a defense labeled slow and old after a couple shoddy performances at the beginning of the 2011 campaign, the Steelers ended up the number one defense overall. Normally, I would have no issue placing them in the top spot on a list of this nature. However, Blitzburgh will be undergoing a youth movement in several areas, most notably on the defensive line. This may create a problem in terms of how quickly and effectively guys like Cam Heyward, Ziggy Hood Stevenson Sylvester, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen can learn the complex defensive playbook of Dick LeBeau. The old and slow defense will be getting younger and faster, but has also lost valuable smarts and experience. It may hinder the Steelers at times, but they’ll most likely not miss a beat.
3. Baltimore Ravens
2011 Rank: 3 Points Allowed Per Game: 16.6 Yards Allowed Per Game: 288.9
The Ravens and Steelers battle every season for the label of the hardest hitting and most ferocious defense. Baltimore is always very, very good, and will once again be a top squad in 2012. They have corner Jimmy Smith coming into his second year, the ageless Ed Reed still patrolling the secondary, and monster Haloti Ngata on the defensive line. The only glaring issue is replacing Terrell Suggs after he tore his achilles. They’ll look to rookie Courtney Upshaw to fill that void. The Ravens are an extremely well coached team, and they’ll continue to mangle opposing offenses. When you’re talking AFC North, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, two of the top five spots in defensive ranking are already accounted for.
2. Houston Texans
2011 Rank: 2 Points Allowed Per Game: 17.4 Yards Allowed Per Game: 285.7
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has pulled no punches, he believes Houston will be the best defense in the league in 2012 even with the departures of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. Reports thus far indicate that Bradie James is filling Ryans’ role quite well, which leaves Watt no choice but to improve on his stellar rookie outing to fill the void left by Williams. The Texans are a young, talented team on the rise, led by their defense. They’ll be right back in the mix of things this season, nearing the top of the league defensively. We’ll have to wait and see if Watt’s prediction of number one comes to fruition.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2011 Rank: 4 Points Allowed Per Game: 14.3 Yards Allowed Per Game: 308.2
The 49ers front seven is absolute beast mode. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, and Navorro Bowman are all excellent compliments to the best linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis. This group put together a great season in 2011, coming one game short of the Super Bowl. No doubt they will build off last season’s success and are the number one defense to watch heading into 2012.