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Ranking top five NFL defenses heading into final stretch

Leighton Vander Esch NFL superstars
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

An elite defense can trump an elite offense

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In an era where offensive football is all the rage, it’s worth pointing out that defenses still do matter. Case in point: Chicago’s stunning show of dominance on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams proved an elite defense can trump an elite offense.

With that in mind, we wanted to take a look at the top defenses in the league heading into the final weeks of the regular season.

In reverse order, these are the most dominating defensive units the league has to offer.

 

Houston Texans

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A healthy J.J. Watt really does make all the difference in the world. He has 12.5 sacks this year and is a constant presence in opposing backfields on both running and passing plays. Houston has racked up 36 sacks as a team, is fifth in the NFL with 23 takeaways, and is peaking.

Last game against Indy notwithstanding — Andrew Luck was scorching hot — the Texans are red hot on the defensive side of the ball. In their last four games, they have eight total takeaways and two defensive touchdowns. The combination of talent up front and on the back end has created a defense one no offense wants to face in these final weeks of play.

 

New Orleans Saints

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Through 13 games, the Saints have allowed just 1,009 yards of rushing offense. This leads the league. And while it’s somewhat due to the fact that opposing offenses usually fall behind so quickly they abandon the run, they aren’t usually successful when they try, either (3.6 yards per attempt).

What makes this defense even more potent is the fact that it has pass rushers who have been routinely getting to the quarterback. With 41 sacks, the Saints rank third in the league. So, run or pass, opposing offensive lines are consistently getting dominated by the defensive front of New Orleans. And while the defensive secondary isn’t elite, it’s good enough to take advantage.

 

Baltimore Ravens

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Featuring one of the best pass defenses in the league, Baltimore nearly shut down Patrick Mahomes and Co. in Kansas City on Sunday. The Ravens would have done it, too, if Mahomes wasn’t a legitimate freak of nature who quite possibly possesses alien DNA.

On the season, the Ravens have the third-best pass defense in terms of yardage, have racked up 38 sacks, and have allowed just 18 passing touchdowns. Even more frustrating for opposing offense is the fact that it’s darn tough to run against this unit, which allows just 3.8 yards per carry and has allowed just nine total rushing scores on the season.

To top it all off, Baltimore leads the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 18.5 points per game.

 

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With elite defensive talent at all three levels, the Cowboys have a championship-caliber defense that has shown the ability to shut down even the most potent of NFL offenses (see: the Saints game).

Dallas ranks No. 4 in total defense, No. 4 in passing defense, No. 8 in rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense, allowing 18.9 points per game. And this is a defense that is coming on strong toward the end of the season.

The young defensive backs are outstanding, rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and fellow youngster Jaylon Smith are two of the best in the game, and the guys up front are killing it on a weekly basis.

 

Chicago Bears

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

No rational person could come away from Sunday night’s stunning display of defensive dominance against Los Angeles and not conclude the Bears feature the most dangerous defense in the league.

The addition of Khalil Mack (10 sacks, six forced fumbles, one interception for a touchdown) have turned an already competent unit into a buzz saw. Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith is growing on a weekly basis. Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson are phenomenal on the back end. Akiem Hicks is a stud in the middle.

And to top it all off, the Bears have defensive coordinator Vic Fangio pulling the strings. He’s a grand master who just out-coached Sean McVay in no small way, and now that he has elite talent at every level his true worth is shining through.

 

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