Can the defense get some love? Last week we looked at the Top 3 Offenses in the League and now it’s the defenses turn. I learned last week that these lists will ruffle some feathers.
Readers emailed me in waves to tell me every one of their opinions regarding the offenses I selected.
I’m hoping for the same result as we look at which defenses will have the biggest impact this coming season.Defense wins championships, without a good one a team will always be at a disadvantage.
These teams exemplify what good defense looks like and can change the complexity of a game at any given moment.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs may have the fastest defense in the entire NFL. Led by All-Pro defensive backs Eric Berry and Marcus Peters, this team get’s to the ball in a hurry. Last season the team ranked first in total team takeaways with 18 interceptions and 19 forced fumbles. This defense is stingy and will not allow offenses to be careless with the football. Passers could not do much of anything against this talented secondary.
The team ranked second in the league holding opponents to a 58.5 completion percentage.
The Chiefs have impact defenders on each level of the defense, each one of them being a playmaker. Linebackers Ramik Wilson and Derrick Johnson both ranked in the top 25 at their positions, according to ProFootballFocus. Helping the pass rush is former first round pick, linebacker Dee Ford.
Ford finished out the 2016 campaign strong becoming a force off the edge. He picked up 10 sacks and a forced fumble in his last nine regular season games. However, other than Ford, no other Chief defender picked up more than four sacks. Linebacker Justin Houston spent most of the year on the sidelines recovering from an ACL injury. Veteran Tamba Hali is more of a situational pass rusher at this stage instead of a full-time starter.
The pass rush was not the only area of the team that needed improvement. The rushing defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game with 121. The Chiefs seem content to fix their rushing defense in house, doing very little to correct the issue. The run defense needs major upgrades before this team can make the jump to elite defense.
The Vikings defense was the talk of the league in the beginning of the season. During the first five games, the unit did not give up more than 16 points in a game. For the year the team ranked top ten in both total yards allowed per game and passing yards per game. They allowed the third fewest rushing touchdowns with nine and ranked fifth in sacks with 41.
The defense has talent littered across the entire roster and that talent produces. The secondary featured a trio of players ranked inside the top 30 at their respective positions in Terrance Newman, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith.
Trae Waynes also had a good year with 11 pass deflections and three interceptions. In the front seven Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Linval Joseph all combined for a 24.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Throw in the contributions from linebacker Eric Kendrick’s and this defense is set as far as impact playmakers go.
The big drawback from this unit is the run defense. The team desperately needed the contributions of Sharrif Floyd on the defensive line. When Floyd is on the field, he eats up blockers and makes life easier for the entire defense.
Floyd is massive presence on the line that eats up blocks and opens holes for second line defenders. However, Floyd is having complications with his recovery from a surgery to repair his meniscus. The Vikings drafted insurance in last month’s draft in third round pick Jaleel Johnson. But, the Vikings defense will be much improved from last season if Floyd can come back healthy.
It almost seems unrealistic to rank the Broncos as the third best defensive unit in the league. Given the teams historic championship run, when many argued if they were the best defensive ever. But before you guys bring the pitchforks out let me explain.
The Broncos ranked first in opponent passing yards per game averaging 185.8 in 2017. The second closest team averaged 201.6, an almost 16-yard difference. This defensive implemented a “No Fly Zone” restricting teams to ground travel only.
Star cornerbacks Aquib Talib and Chris Harris Jr ranked as the top two cornerbacks in the league. The tandem is among the league elite and often takes entire passing units out of the game. Add the always dangerous Von Miller and you give any passing offense a formidable challenge.
However, as noted with the teams above, the Broncos run defense is among the league’s worst. The team ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed with 130.3 per game. The team needed to address the front seven this offseason and failed to make any impact moves.
The only move the team made was drafting defensive end Demarcus Walker in the second round of the draft. Walker has the potential to make an impression on the defensive line, but is most likely a year away. Without any legitimate run stuffers, the Broncos defense will remain one dimensional even though that one dimension is great.
2. Arizona Cardinals
The thing that makes the Cardinals defense so dangerous is their ability to suffocate offenses. The defense restricts the space offenses have to operate, whether it be on the ground or air.
Last season the team ranked in the top ten in opponent total yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yards per game. Offenses rarely gained traction against this team as the secondary and pass rush were often too much to handle.
Leading this defense are veterans Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. Peterson and Jones both ranked inside the top 15 at their respective positions last season.
Peterson led a secondary that ranked in the top ten in opposing quarterback rating and passing touchdowns allowed. The back end did suffer a blow, losing safety Tony Jefferson to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency. However, the team may have found his replacement in second round pick, Budda Baker. Add a healthy Tyrann Mathieu and this secondary looks even scarier.
The pass rush is nothing to sneeze at either, ranking first in total sacks with 48. Markus Golden and Jones were the primary rushers combining for 23.5 sacks. The linebacker unit figures to get a boost with first round pick Hasson Reddick’s speed and athleticism.
Even though Deone Buccannon was no slouch at linebacker, you can never have enough playmakers on your defense. Honestly the Cardinals would be the number one ranked defense if not for the behemoth in Houston
The Texans were without their three-time defensive player of the year, J.J. Watt for most of the season so you would expect the unit to regress. Instead, they were still the same immovable defense that we have come to expect.
When the defense needed a stop, they got stop. When they needed a turnover, they got the ball back. Each member of this defense hunts the ball every play and knows whats expected of them.
Not too many defensive lines have the type of talent that the Texans have. Even without J.J. Watt, the team has a former number one overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, and second team all pro, Whitney Mercilus, on the line.
Clowney lived up to his draft status last season, ranking as the number nine overall edge defender, according to ProFootballFocus. On the other side Mercilus has been a good understudy to Watt, ranking as the seventh best edge defender in the NFL.
At linebacker Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney both ranked inside the top 32 at their positions. Both provide a veteran presence and leadership to a top flight unit. In the secondary, the team lost talented cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency.
However, the team may have his heir apparent waiting on the sidelines. Former first round pick, Kevin Johnson has all the talent in the world to replace Bouye on the backend.
Overall, this team went into the offseason not needing to do much this defense. The team lost key player but has the depth and coaching for the impact of there departures to be minimal.