There’s a perception that the football public wants offense for its Sunday afternoon entertainment so the NFL has stacked all the rules against the defense. You can’t hit quarterbacks high or low. You can’t hit receivers crossing the middle and you can’t touch them downfield. Offensive linemen can use their hands and arms to slow down pass rushers.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some great defense being played in the NFL these days. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings both reached conference title games last season with an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams have loaded up on defense this season and Broncos, Eagles and Steelers have all added key pieces.
So who has the best defense in the NFL this season? That’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. Who do you like? Lots of good options:
Baltimore Ravens. Led the NFL with 34 takeaways in 2017 and finished sixth in fewest points allowed with 303. Baltimore has won two Super Bowls this century with Hall of Famer Ray Lewis at middle linebacker and a physical, take-no-prisoners approach to defense. The Ravens had the best opening weekend, collecting six sacks and keeping the Buffalo Bills out of the end zone in a 47-3 victory. Terrell Suggs, a member of the 100-sack club, remains the focal point of the pass rush.
Carolina Panthers. Finished third in the NFL in sacks with 50 in 2017 and seventh in both defense points allowed with 327. Luke Kuechly is the game’s best middle linebacker and the Panthers stack 650 pounds of power and might into the run defense with tackles Kawann Short and Dontari Poe. Julius Peppers and Mario Addison are both double-digit sackers coming off the edge. This defense will be even better in October when OLB Thomas Davis returns from suspension.
Denver Broncos. Finished third in the NFL in defense last season despite allowing 382 points and winning only five games. This is a defense that lives for its pass rush and Von Miller has few peers at his craft. He’s a past NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. The Broncos gave him some help this season by claiming the best pass rusher in the draft in Bradley Chubb. Pro Bowl CB Chris Harris is at the back end to clean up when the pass rush doesn’t get there.
Jacksonville Jaguars. Finished second in the NFL across the board in yards allowed, points allowed (268) sacks (55) and takeaways (33) on the way to the AFC championship game. This is the rare case where money bought a dominant defense. The Jaguars spent $263 in free agency the last few years on veteran defenders CB A.J. Bouye, end Calais Campbell, safety Barry Church and end Malik Jackson. They also traded for Pro Bowl DT Marcell Dareus and used a Top 5 draft pick on CB Jalen Ramsey and used a very high second-round pick on LB Myles Jack. This group is a pleasure to watch.
Los Angeles Rams. Finished fourth in the NFL with 48 sacks last season. The defending NFC West champs allowed 329 points and finished 19th in the NFL in defense. But don’t let that fool you. This offseason the Rams added three veteran Pro Bowl defenders – tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. They join the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year – DT Aaron Donald – and another first-round pick up front in end Michael Brockers. With Wade Phillips pulling the strings, let the fun begin.
Minnesota Vikings. The NFL’s stingiest defense, the Vikings allowed both the fewest yards and points (252) in the NFL last season. It starts at the back end where Minnesota has a Pro Bowl safety in Harrison Smith and three first-round draft picks at cornerback – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes. The Vikings also have a stereo pass rush with Pro Bowlers Anthony Barr ad Everson Griffen coming off the opposite edges.
Philadelphia Eagles. Finished fourth in defense, points allowed (295) and takeaways (31) last season on the way to a Super Bowl championship. Fletcher Cox gives the Eagles an inside force both in the pass rush and run defense at defensive tackle and coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to rotate fresh legs off the edge. First-rounders Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett lead the assault and the Eagles gave Schwartz another key piece on the cheap, trading for Pro Bowl DE Michael Bennett during the offseason fire sale at the Legion of Doom. Malcom Jenkins provides a physical presence at safety.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Led the NFL with 56 sacks and finished sixth in defense, seventh in points allowed (308). From Bill Cowher through Dick LeBeau through Mike Tomlin, the Steelers rely on their Bliztburgh defensive scheme with a heavy emphasis on the linebackers. Through one game this season, Pittsburgh again leads the NFL with seven sacks. The feature linebacker in this edition of Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense is T.J. Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt. The Steelers also tightened up the back end of the defense by spending a first round pick on safety Terrell Edmunds.