The old adage is that “defense wins championships.” As discussed last week, that cliché seems more and more like a vestige of the past with each passing season, as the NFL becomes more and more focused on offense ahead of defense.
But that’s not to say stopping the opponent isn’t important. After all, some of the best offenses in NFL history weren’t able to lead their team to a Super Bowl victory.
Dan Fouts and Air Coryell never lifted the Lombardi Trophy. The 1999 Minnesota Vikings came up short, as did the record-setting offense of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in 2007. And just last season, Peyton Manning’s high-powered attack in Denver was bested by Seattle’s swarming defense in the Super Bowl.
So while the league may be trending toward offense, defense is still important. Stopping people is still a part of any championship formula.
With that in mind, the staff at cover32 decided to analyze how every team in the NFL stacks up on the less-glamorous side of the ball. Here are the results, a 1-32 ranking of every defense in the league:
1. Seattle Seahawks – They were the league’s best defense a year ago, surrendering less than 300 yards of total offense per game, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be equally as good in 2014. Defense is king in Seattle.
2. Carolina Panthers – How did the Panthers shock everyone and win the NFC South in 2013? By playing stifling defense. And while their offense has been depleted during the offseason by free agency, their defense has largely remained intact.
3. San Francisco 49ers – The Aldon Smith situation certainly muddies the waters a bit in the Bay Area, but there is still a ton of talent on the 49ers roster. Sure, they may struggle early; but by season’s end, they’ll once again have a top-notch D.
4. New York Jets – Given that the Jets played a rookie quarterback who was hot and cold, to say the least, last season, they only way they were competitive was because of their swarming and opportunistic defense.
5. St. Louis Rams – The Rams do one thing very, very well; they get after the quarterback. A season ago, the unit led by Robert Quinn recorded 53 total sacks, the third highest total in the NFL. Expect to see plenty more of that in 2014.
6. Denver Broncos – While Denver’s offense got all of the headlines last season, their defense was able to remain in the middle of the pack despite a bevy of injuries. Von Miller returns, joining newcomers Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Demarcus Ware.
7. Houston Texans – Everything went wrong in Houston a year ago, as the season derailed early and never got back on track. But the Texans defense remains a strong point, built around J.J. Watt. And if they add Jadaveon Clowney in the draft, look out.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Bruce Arians did a masterful job turning the Cardinals around during his first season in Arizona, largely because they had a defense that was among the league leaders in sacks and takeaways. Can they repeat those feats in ’14?
9. Green Bay Packers – By the end of the year, the 11 guys Green Bay was trotting out on the field every week seemingly couldn’t stop anyone. But Clay Matthews returns from injury, joined by newcomer Julius Peppers, to form a great pass rush.
10. New England Patriots – The Patriots gave up a lot of yards last season (seventh most in the league), but not a ton of points. They did that by getting after the passer, recording 48 sacks. Adding Darrelle Revis strengthens the defense even more.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Lovie Smith inherits a defense that was middle of the pack in 2013 (16th in yards surrendered), but the additions of DE Michael Johnson (Cincinnati) and CB Alterraun Verner (Tennessee) will bolster the defense.
12. New Orleans Saints – Rob Ryan did a masterful job during his first season in the Big Easy, transforming the Saints defense into one of the best in the league. The offseason additions of Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey will only help matters.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers always seem to have a decent defense, as Dick LeBeau gets the most out of whatever is left on Pittsburgh’s roster. Last year was no exception. Despite not excelling in any area, the Steelers were a top-15 defense.
14. Cleveland Browns – In 2013, the Browns defense was on the field for the fourth-most plays in the league. Despite that workload, they were able to finish as a top-10 defense. That shows they have talent on that side of the ball.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars – They were awful a year ago, finishing tied with Atlanta for the fifth-worst defense in the NFL. But Gus Bradley got things going by the end of the season. The Jag are on the right track; hop on the bandwagon early.
16. Buffalo Bills – Buffalo did two things very well last season; they forced turnovers (29) and got after the quarterback (57 sacks). They’ll have to do the same to remain even remotely competitive in 2014. The pass rush should remain a strong point.