The NFL is an offense-driven league, yet dominant defenders are still a compelling feature of this game we all love so much. During Week 2, many of them stepped up big for their respective teams.
Whether it was a linebacker gobbling up tackles like they were life itself, a cornerback shutting down one of the league’s best receivers or sack masters plying their trade, we saw plenty of big plays on the defensive side in Week 2.
These are the players who stood out the most.
Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins is one of the toughest covers in the entire NFL. The man can do it all, and usually does. But on Sunday, Hopkins was covered all game long by Jalen Ramsey, who did a masterful job of frustrating him at every turn.
Hopkins caught just five passes for 40 yards. That’s it.
Ramsey finished with four tackles and one pass broken up, and he essentially made one of the best receivers in the game a non-factor. He also ticked off his coach in a big way, but that’s just part of the package with this moody star.
Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers lost on Thursday night, but nobody can blame it on Kuechly, who played inspired football and was all over the field all night long. He racked up 17 tackles, including eight solo and 2.5 for a loss, and two forced fumbles — one of which turned into a touchdown.
He was also responsible for this incredible safety tackling Peyton Barber in the end zone.
The only thing Kuechly didn’t do was come up with a tough interception that could have potentially altered the outcome.
Stephon Tuitt, defensive end, Pittsburgh Steelers
An absolute game-wrecker inside of Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme, Tuitt had a huge game against Seattle. Leading a defensive effort that forced four sacks of Russell Wilson, Tuitt consistently took advantage of his matchups inside against Seattle’s interior linemen.
All told, Tuitt had four tackles and hit Wilson three times, leading to 2.5 sacks on the stat sheet.
Shaq Barrett, outside linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A player who showed promise in Denver but who was never going to start, Shaq Barrett signed a one-year prove-it deal with Tampa Bay this past spring. He’s certainly proving it this season.
Following up a one-sack performance in Week 1, Barrett came out on fire Thursday night. He sacked Cam Newton three times and hit him four times.
Just a dominant performance from a guy who is set to get paid a ton of money if he continues balling out for Tampa Bay.
Jamie Collins, linebacker, New England Patriots
Welcome back to New England, Jamie Collins! After spending a few seasons in Cleveland, Collins signed with New England this offseason and made his presence felt in a big way during Sunday’s shutout win over Miami.
Leading New England with five tackles, Collins also had half a sack and two interceptions, and one of them was returned for a touchdown.
Collins led a defensive effort that utterly humiliated a Miami team that is going nowhere, fast.
Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker, Houston Texans
The person who has benefited the most from Jadeveon Clowney’s move to Seattle is Whitney Mercilus, who starred in Week 1 and once again brought an impact hammer to Week 2.
Though the stat sheet shows Mercilus only was in on two tackles, he made both of them count. He tallied two sacks on the day, including one that separated Gardner Minshew from the ball and was recovered by J.J. Watt.
The Texans have some major issues to fix on both sides of the ball. But we can say with confidence that Mercilus is holding up his end of the bargain on the edge.
Danielle Hunter, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings
It’s not very often that we see a defensive end known for pass rushing leading his team in tackles. That’s what Danielle Hunter did Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, racking up nine tackles, including six of the solo variety, and two for a loss.
Hunter also had Aaron Rodgers on the run often. He ended up with three quarterback hits and a sack.
Minnesota’s offense, and in particular Kirk Cousins, let the team down. But Hunter led a defensive effort that clamped down on the Packers in a big way in the second half and gave his team a chance.
Kwon Alexander, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t tell the entire story about how effective a player was, and that’s the case when it comes to what Kwon Alexander did Sunday on the road against Cincinnati.
Alexander had six tackles, including one on the goal line stuffing Joe Mixon, but it’s what he did defending the pass that stands out the most. The speedy linebacker defensed three passes total and baited Andy Dalton into a crucial interception when Cincinnati was getting into a rhythm late in the second quarter.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had Philly’s number defensively Sunday night, and a big beneficiary of this was Desmond Trufant.
Before halftime had even hit, Trufant already had two interceptions of Carson Wentz.
By the end of the game, he had tallied three passes defensed to go along with those interceptions and was a key player for the Falcons as they improved to 1-1 on the season.