Yesterday I deliberated on my top five offenses of 2013, with the Packers and Falcons coming out on top. But we all know defense wins championships, right? Who do you think will be the best defense in the league this year?
Chicago Bears: Even without Bears mainstay Brian Urlacher, Chicago will be cycling in some new players at linebacker in rookie Jon Bostic and veteran D.J. Williams. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are beasts against the pass. Chicago could be a top 5 defense by seasons end, but with the losses of the defensive minded Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli this team will be a new-look defense in 2013.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Yeah, the Steelers are old. They lost James Harrison in the offseason and injury concerns about Troy Polamalu persist, but hear me out. Rookie Jarvis Jones looks to me like an extremely NFL-ready linebacker and will make an immediate impact. LaMar Woodley, who initially was criticized for being out of shape, seems to have gotten his act together. The Steel Curtain is still something teams should be concerned about.
Denver would have been much higher on my list of best 2013 defenses at the beginning of this offseason, but they haven’t exactly had the most successful last few months.
Elvis Dumervil was released because the paperwork to restructure his contract came late and past the deadline which would have required the team to pay him his full $12 Million salary. Oops. He signed with Baltimore and Denver lost one of their better linebackers (11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles last season). They also lost Von Miller to a four game suspension to start the season. Miller had 18.5 sacks last season. As you can see, their pass rush power could be very depleted for the first month of the season. I still think Denver is a great defense, but I think they’ll struggle for the first month of the season with Miller gone. And they’ll definitely feel the sting of missing Dumervil at OLB this season too. It doesn’t help that Champ Bailey is getting old (anyone who saw him get torched against Baltimore in the playoffs will agree), so this defense might come down to earth a bit in 2013 after a stellar 2012.
I love Cincinnati’s defense. They’ve quietly built one of the better defenses in the league. Their front four is phenomenal, led by pro bowler Geno Atkins who had 39 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 2012. Other players to watch include former Steelers LB James Harrison (does he have anything left in the tank?) and standout Vontaze Burfict who had an astounding 127 tackles last season.
Their secondary is the only question mark for this team. Leon Hall is a big part of their secondary, but after an achillies injury in 2011 and torn ligaments in his thumb this offseason, injury concerns have to be brought to the front. 2012 rookie Dre Kirkpatrick has injury concerns too after playing sporadically in his rookie season due to various injuries. The corners should be healthy by the time the season comes around, but it’ll still be a concern for the team.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has the potential for a great defense on his hands if his secondary stays healthy and productive this year. It also wouldn’t hurt to see James Harrison show some of his old fire at linebacker. Maybe in a divisional game against his former team and now division rival Pittsburgh?
The 49ers had a top-tier defense in 2012 and will continue to have a top-tier defense in 2013. They’ve been dealt some bad luck in this offseason, losing CB Chris Culliver for the season to a torn ACL and losing S Dashon Goldson to free agency. One of the better moves they made was signing Nnamdi Asomugha to a short term contract with no guaranteed money yet. The most they can lose if Asomugha doesn’t pan out is about $3 Million. He has potential to be great but has been sub-par the last few years. We’ll see if he can turn it around.
Another move I liked by the team was trading up in the draft for S Eric Reid out of LSU. One of the top ranked safeties in this years draft, the niners only had to give up a third round pick to move up 13 spots to get him. They hope that he’ll be a good replacement for Dashon Goldson, who dashed in free agency. I think Reid may struggle initially, but once he gets the hang of the system I like him in coverage along with fellow safety Donte Whitner.
The Texans reloaded this offseason and added some key pieces that should make their already terrifying defense even scarier. After JJ Watt was dominant last year with 20.5 of the teams 28 sacks, the team will have LB Brian Cushing back after he suffered a knee injury against the Jets last season. They also signed long-time Ravens safety Ed Reed who had four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a touchdown last season in Baltimore. With Cushing and Watt at linebacker, quarterbacks better be fearing for their lives. Ed Reed DID have offseason hip surgery in April, but hopes that he will be ready for week 1.
I plan on being back for Week 1. But as you’ve known me for the longest time, I’m going to be smart about my injuries and make sure I’m there for the later part of the season when the team really needs me.
His status for week 1 may be up in the air, but Reed will do everything in is power to contribute to his team. Hip injuries are tricky, so we’ll see.
Seattle has been the talk of the league this offseason and a pick to make a super bowl run. Part of that is because of their defense, which looked great last year. The unit allowed the fourth fewest yards (306.2) and fewest points (15.3) per game in the NFL. They posted 31 turnovers, good for fourth in the league. The only concern with the team is in crunch time. In the playoffs last season, the team’s season came to an abrupt end thanks to a last minute Matt Ryan drive that led to a game winning field goal for Atlanta.
The defense will continue to be lifted by their secondary, which is their best area and one of the best in the league. In a pass-happy NFC West, this is just what Seattle needs to be succesful. Corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will see new addition Antoine Winfield competing for their spot, so the competition could be fierce.
Cliff Avril from the Lions and Michael Bennett from the Bucs were key free-agent signings expected to make an impact immediately. Seattle also drafted two defensive tackles: Jordan Hill (Penn State) in the third round and Jesse Williams (Alabama) in the fifth round.
Seattle has a positional battle going on at outside linebacker with the signings of Avril and Bennet. Bruce Irvin, though suspended for the first four games of the season, will also compete to start.
All members of the Seahawks’ secondary (including safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) should have ample opportunities to make plays provided the team’s pass rush can improve on last season’s numbers — the Seahawks had 36 sacks, 0.5 below the league average.
Will the Seahawks defense make them the team to beat this year? With some tough tests in the NFC West, it’ll be a long and hard road for Seattle but their defense just might be phenomenal enough to get them through.
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