Instead of ranking teams, I decided to list what I think are the five best defenses in football right now. Statistics certainly do matter, but I don’t look at the number of yards allowed per game. The only four categories I think really matter are points allowed, turnovers forced, red zone touchdown percentage and third down percentage. Among those defenses are only groups that play a complete game, so they play the run and pass equally as well. Let’s take a look at the very best:
1. Buffalo Bills:
I think you simply have to put them at number one. The Bills have the best defensive line in football – bar none. Everyone on it has a case for being All-Pro. Their linebacking corp took a big hit already in the offseason when they lost standout Kiko Alonso for the year, but has held up extremely well, especially against the run. Even though you could plug a lot of guys in there with that unbelievable d-line up front. Buffalo’s secondary lost Jairus Byrd to the Saints in free agency, but they are very deep. Leodis McKelvin has taken a big step from last year, Stephon Gilmore is on his way to being one of the best cornerbacks in the game and Aaron Williams is one of the most complete safeties in coverage. As far as stats go – They are second in points allowed per game and takeaways while being first in sacks and third down percentage. So they are basically dominating every major defensive category.
2. Detroit Lions:
They have turned out to be the most improved unit from last year. A couple of under the radar-signings in the secondary – including hard-hitting safety James Ihedigbo – have been key. But what really makes this defense go is their defensive line, which consistently controls the line of scrimmage, puts pressure on quarterbacks and is fighting for the number two spot among that position group. Ndamokung Suh has turned heads with his play rather than on personal fouls, but he’s not even the best player on this defense, the real star is DeAndre Levy, who is the prototype linebacker for today’s pass happy and wide open game. No wonder they lead the league in points allowed per game.
3. Arizona Cardinals:
The Bird Gang features the most aggressive defense in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is not afraid of bringing the heat and leaving some of his guys in man coverage. To be honest – I didn’t think they could be this good without Karlos Dansby (now in Cleveland), Daryl Washington (suspended) and Darnell Dockett (injured). The Cardinals’ defensive backfield really challenges the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom for the number one spot among that group. With Patrick Peterson healthy again they might even have a slight edge. Overall they are right now ahead of Seattle’s D.
4. San Francisco 49ers:
The Niners D has looked a lot different then what they did last year. They lost Donte Whitner to the Browns, NaVorro Bowman to his terrifying injury in the NFC Championship game and Aldon Smith to suspension. So what do they do? – They bring in what right now is the best safety in football in Antoine Bethea and a couple of rookie linebackers that play out of their minds – Chris Borland (Wisconsin) and Aaron Lynch (USF). This defense is well coached and schemed by Vic Fangio and that’s the reason they can bring in a lot of different guys in and develop them into new stars. They come up with a lot of turnovers and most of the time give their offense the chance to win games (even though the offense hasn’t really come through for them). With improved pass rush provided by Aldon Smith, solid play against the run and a back end that kind of falls under-the-radar they have to be in the mix.
5. Seattle Seahawks:
This defense certainly is not the same we saw shut down offenses each and every week last season, but this is still one of best ones in the league. They are number one in yards allowed per game, but I don’t think this is one of the most important statistics, because I don’t care if teams can move the ball, but rather if they give up points. So it’s good that they are number three in points allowed per contest (18.4). You simply had to think of them having a slight drop from where they were last year, just because they lost so many guys. Still, they have one of the two best defensive backfields and can play man-to-man against pretty much everybody, a couple of great pass rushers and with Bobby Wagner back from injury a leader in the middle. With Wagner back in the lineup they held the then league-best Arizona Cardinals and the 49ers on the road to three points each. This could be a sign of things to come.
Notable mentions: Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins
The Texans defense has yet to prove they can beat the elite quarterbacks, but they lead the league in takeaways and have the best defensive player in football – Mr. JJ Watt. So they have to be mentioned right here.
The Dolphins D just allowed Chris Johnson to have his first game with 100 yards or more and they haven’t played particularly well against the run, but when they start to put teams in passing situations they have the guys to go one-on-one on the outside in Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan but most of all the guys to get after the passer – especially Cameron Wake.
Denver’s and New England’s defenses have been improved dramatically from last year and get it done when the game is on the line most of the time, but I don’t want to put them anywhere up there, because they profit so much of their offenses putting opponents under pressure to score points. Still, these are pretty tough groups.