The absence of a normal offseason and an eliminated preseason took its toll on NFL defenses to begin the season, but we’re starting to see signs of change. As Week 7 draws closer, defensive coordinators are now making adjustments and some of the league’s game-changing players are stepping up.
We saw it in Week 6, with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears putting on defensive clinics. Those stellar efforts paved the way to victory and could set the tone for the next 11 weeks of the regular season.
After another fun week of football, there was plenty of shakeup in our rankings for the NFL’s best defenses. If Sunday’s action is a sign of things to come, the next few months in the NFL should feature plenty of excitement.
Here, we rank the top-20 defenses in the NFL heading into Week 7.
Updated: Oct. 21, 07:50 PM EST
20. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 18)
All it takes is one awful quarter to ruin your day. Cincinnati did a solid job against the Indianapolis Colts for 45 minutes of Sunday’s game. Unfortunately, allowing 21 points in the second quarter and being picked apart by Philip Rivers is an ugly mark on the resume. There are still some things like to about this defense, with the Bengals holding passers to an 86.3 quarterback rating heading into Week 7, but it’s evident this group is volatile. The key in Week 7, blitz Baker Mayfield like crazy.
19. Tennessee Titans (LW: 16)
After an incredible performance on Tuesday night against the Bills, Tennessee’s defense looked unprepared for the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson picked this secondary apart with four scores and 335 passing yards, dropping 36 points in the process. If the Titans can’t start creating more pressure, they have the sixth-worst rate (17.6%) in the NFL, great quarterbacks will have no issues against this team.
18. Carolina Panthers (LW: Unranked)
Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady have been the talk of Carolina, but it’s time to show some love to defensive coordinator Phil Snow. Outside of a short stint with the Detroit Lions (2005-’08), Snow has spent his coaching career at the collegiate level. He seems to be adjusting to the NFL quite nicely. Carolina’s defense has allowed the sixth-lowest quarterback rating (83.3) after Sunday’s action and it is being accomplished by a young secondary. We’re excited to see how Snow’s defense plans to stop Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas in Week 7.
17. Arizona Cardinals (Last Week: 20)
The loss of Chandler Jones can’t be overstated. An edge rusher capable of a 20-sack season and game-changing ability can’t be replicated. This defense has been solid in 2020, allowing just 20.4 points and 346.6 total yards per game. Arizona’s defense then came to play against the Cowboys in Week 6, forcing four turnovers. That included two Ezekiel Elliott fumbles in a blowout win.
16. New York Giants (LW: 19)
New York finally experienced a victory Monday. While it took facing woeful quarterback Kyle Allen and the Washington Football Team, a win is a win. The Giants looked respectable defensively, limiting Washington t 3.6 yards per carry, generating eight quarterback hits and scoring a defensive touchdown. There are still plenty of holes and some bad weeks, but New York’s defense is allowing the eighth-lowest yards per play (5.2) in the NFL.
15. Buffalo Bills (LW: 11)
It comes down to a lack of consistency for Buffalo’s defense. A top-three unit in our rankings before the season, this group has fallen hard. As detailed by The Athletic’s Arif Hasan, it likely comes down to Ed Oliver’s play slipping after a knee injury, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds’ struggles and All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White’s erratic play. This all culminated in a brutal Week 6 showing against the Chiefs that saw the Bills’ run defense torched for 245 yards on the ground in their second consecutive loss.
14. Miami Dolphins (LW: Unranked)
It’s time to start talking about Brian Flores as one of the NFL’s rising names. Miami made some key additions to its defense this offseason, but Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson have been banged up. Even with the limitations, Miami’s defense is holding opposing quarterbacks to the seventh-lowest quarterback rating (86.3) in the NFL and this team surrenders the second-fewest points per game (18.8). if the Dolphins can deliver a defensive-led victory in Week 7, playoff talk will heat up.
13. New Orleans Saints (LW: 15)
Few teams needed the bye week more than the Saints. For as talented as this defense might be, it has played undisciplined this season and key starters have also been limited by injuries. A week of rest should mean Marcus Davenport is healthy, a boost for a pass rush that needs it. Meanwhile, Janoris Jenkins might be cleared to return in Week 7. The Saints are better defensively than the team allowing a 108.2 quarterback rating, but it’s time to prove it.
12. Denver Broncos (LW: 17)
Even with an injury-riddled defense, Denver found a way to make things happen against the New England Patriots. Cam Newton never looked comfortable as a passer, getting sacked four times and taking eight hits. Denver’s defense won this game on Sunday and it should be rewarded soon with A.J. Bouye nearing a return. This was a nice step forward, but regression looms with Patrick Mahomes and Co. coming.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 7)
The bye week came at the right time for Los Angeles, allowing the likes of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Nasir Adderley to get healthy. There are still some key peices missing, like slot cornerback Chris Harris Jr., but this group is still pretty stable. If this defense needed to find some confidence coming out of the bye, a Week 7 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars will provide it.
10. Washington Football Team (LW: 12)
Washington’s defense had one big problem on Sunday, it seemingly forgot that Daniel Jones could run. A 49-yard scamper accounted for 20% of the total yards this defense allowed in Week 6. Outside of that, six tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and just one offensive touchdown allowed is a quality performance. Washington’s secondary will have issues in Week 7 against the Dallas Cowboys receivers, but this front seven will create havoc.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 9)
There are plenty of things to like about Kansas City’s defense. It boasts the fourth-highest hurry rate (12.4%), the highest quarterback knockdown rate (10.6%) and is the second-best unit at creating pressure (28.5%). On the other hand, the Chiefs can be beaten on the ground and in the defensive secondary. None of that came to fruition during a 26-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 6. In fact, Kansas City allowed Josh Allen to throw for just 122 yards while yielding an average of 3.7 yards per rush.
9. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 10)
Jason Verrett might be one of the best stories of the NFL season. Once a Pro Bowl corner, his career was suddenly derailed by injuries and it seemed we would lose out on a defensive star. He has rediscovered his form in San Francisco and it couldn’t come at a more critical time for the 49ers. The 49ers rank top-10 defensively in quarterback rating (86.9), completion rate (62.1%) and total yards per play (5.2) allowed entering Week 7. With Richard Sherman drawing closer to a return, this defense should get even better.
7. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 6)
Credit to San Francisco for finding a way to neutralize Aaron Donald, which made a big difference in the victory. With Donald unable to create much pressure. Jimmy Garoppolo executed Kyle Shanahan’s offense to perfection. When Donald and Jalen Ramsey aren’t making plays, this defense can run into problems. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often and we expect a rebound performance in Week 7 against Nick Foles.
6. New England Patriots (LW: 3)
The Patriots had little time to practice this week due to their COVID-19 outbreaks and they came out sluggish to begin Week 6. With the offense unable to move the football and Denver getting a short field, trouble was brewing for New England. For the most part, this defense held up really well and it came through by shutting the Broncos out in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t enough to overcome the issues on offense, but the Patriots boast a strong defense.
5. Chicago Bears (LW: 5)
Chicago’s defense is its best offense. While that might be a tired cliche, especially with this team, it is accurate for the Bears. Entering Sunday, the Bears allowed the lowest rate of passing touchdowns (2.1%), held opposing quarterbacks to a 57.4% completion rate and excelled at shutting down top receivers. It will be a chess match in Week 7 when Sean McVay looks for ways to attack Chicago.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 8)
Incredible. If you wanted to know why defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will get a second chance to become a head coach, look at his team’s attack against the Packers. Rodgers went from playing at an MVP-caliber level to being rattled all game and performing like Daniel Jones. A big credit goes to this team’s effectiveness on the blitz, per Next Gen Stats, with a league-leading 15 sacks and six interceptions forced by sending extra pressure. This was a defensive clinic by the Buccaneers and shows what this team is capable of when everything is clicking.
3. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 2)
Things looked bleak early for the Colts. A defense that held opponents to fewer than 12 points in three games this season, allowed 21 points to the Bengals in the first 16 minutes. Joe Burrow was finding some holes in this secondary and it felt like Indianapolis was in trouble. Everything clicked after halftime. The Colts allowed three points in the final two quarters, allowing Philip Rivers to complete the comeback. There are some things for this defense to clean up, but that’s what the bye week is for.
2. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 1)
A Week 6 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles was the Ravens’ dream. For a defense that needed to do a better job creating pressure, facing the Eagles’ depleted offensive line was perfect. The damage started early with a fumble and Baltimore has now forced a turnover in 19 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. On top of that, per Jamison Hensley, the Ravens haven’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter in their last eight road games. We’ll knock this team a bit for the fourth-quarter issues. Now, some time to rest during a Week 7 bye.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 4)
Cleveland’s offense entered Sunday averaging 37.5 points per game in the past four weeks and Pittsburgh just made this team look like an FCS program. It wasn’t a big surprise, the Steelers knew Baker Mayfield struggles against pressure and they blitzed like crazy. The biggest lesson from Week 6, Minkah Fitzpatrick is back to his playmaking ways. We can’t wait to see how the NFL’s second-best run defense (3.3 yards per rush allowed) handles Derrick Henry.