Now entering the full weekend slate of Week 14, we at PFF decided to take a look inside the numbers (both the ones in our data sets and the ones painted on the field) to examine who the top 10 defenses were, in terms of covering the middle of the field.
To no shock of ours, the top 10 are all playoff-contending teams. With that in mind, here are the top 10 defenses in terms of lowest passer rating allowed when the opposing offenses targets the middle of the field:
*Editor's Note: These stats were drawn before the Thursday night game between New Orleans and Atlanta.
Passer rating allowed ACROSS THE middle: 65.5
The middle of the field has been dangerous territory for opposing quarterbacks facing the Jaguars talented secondary. Jacksonville has allowed just five touchdowns over the middle this year – tied for sixth-lowest in the league – but it’s been their ability to take the ball away that has really stood out. The Jaguars have made a league-high 12 interceptions when defending the middle of the field and allowed a 63.6 completion percentage, tied for third-lowest. The Jaguars are anchored by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey (93.8 overall grade) and A.J. Bouye (89.3 overall grade), our second- and sixth-highest graded cornerbacks in the NFL, respectively through 13 weeks. Linebackers Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack and Telvin Smith all own top-15 coverage grades at their position, and safety Tashaun Gipson is 11th. Just throw it somewhere else.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 71.3
The Saints secondary has improved markedly with the addition of first-round rookie Marshon Lattimore, PFF’s third-ranked cornerback (92.7 overall grade). Lattimore has allowed just a 47.4 passer rating into his coverage, the third-best mark in the league. With his help, the Saints defense has given up the third-lowest yards per pass attempt at 7.4 and fourth-lowest completion percentage (64.3). They’ve allowed four touchdowns over the middle of the field – tied for third-least – while securing nine interceptions, tied for third-most. Linebacker Craig Robertson has done a great job in coverage this season as well, ranking third among 4-3 outside linebackers by averaging 11.1 snaps in coverage per reception allowed.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 74.6
The 2017 iteration of the Steel Curtain has extended to the middle of the field this year. Pittsburgh has allowed the second-lowest completion percentage (63.6) to opposing quarterbacks over the middle of the field and the second-fewest completions (96). Linebacker Ryan Shazier is our seventh-highest graded linebacker in coverage (84.6 coverage grade) and his three interceptions tied him for the most among inside linebackers before his unfortunate injury.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 75.6
The Ravens’ pass defense has been among the league’s best when defending the middle of the field this year. Baltimore has allowed the fewest total yards (1094), tied for the fewest yards after the catch (391), and has made the second-most interceptions (10) over the middle through Week 13. Prior to his season-ending injury last week against the Lions, cornerback Jimmy Smith was our 13th-highest graded cornerback in coverage (86.2 coverage grade) and was allowing the fourth-lowest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (49.2).
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 78.2
Led by PFF's highest graded cornerback Casey Hayward (96.7 overall grade) and Trevor Williams (eighth-best at 88.2 overall), the Chargers’ pass defense has been stout when defending the middle of the field. Through 13 weeks, they have allowed just four touchdowns while bringing in eight interceptions. They have also given up the lowest yards per attempt (7.2) and yards per catch (10.4), despite having been targeted the third-most times (180 attempts) across the middle. Since his return to the lineup, linebacker Denzel Perryman has done his part in limiting yards in coverage this season, as he has allowed just 55 yards after the catch, lowest among 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 100 snaps in coverage.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 80.2
With a pass defense led by veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, rookie head coach Sean McVay’s surprising Rams squad has been solid against middle-of-the-field passes. Los Angeles has given up five touchdowns and made six interceptions over the middle of the field this year, allowing a league-low 62.0 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman is the team’s top-graded corner (81.7 overage grade) and has given up a passer rating of just 61.2 when targeted.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 81.6
The Eagles defense has given up eight touchdowns over the middle of the field this year while making nine interceptions, the third-most picks in the league. Patrick Robinson, our fourth-highest graded cornerback through 13 weeks (92.1 overall grade), has led the talented secondary while linebacker Mychal Kendricks (82.2 coverage grade, 11th overall) and Nigel Bradham have anchored the linebacking corps in coverage. Bradham leads all 4-3 linebackers in yards allowed per cover snap (0.58) and coverage snaps per reception (15.7).
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 82.5
The Seahawks’ historically solid pass defense has allowed just two touchdowns to the middle of the field all season, the lowest mark in the NFL. Their 3.6 average yards-after-catch allowed is second-best and their 404 total yards after the catch allowed are third-best. They’ve allowed just 65.9 percent of passes to be completed over the middle of the field and are tied for the fourth-fewest average yards per attempt allowed at 7.5. Safety Earl Thomas (90.1) has our fifth-highest coverage grade among safeties but it is linebacker Bobby Wagner who has stolen the show. Wagner is easily our highest-graded linebacker in coverage (94.9 coverage grade) and his 0.87 yards allowed per coverage-snap ranks him 13th among all inside linebackers.
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 85.4
Led by cornerback Darius Slay (85.7 coverage grade, 15th among cornerbacks), the Lions pass defense has held its own through 13 weeks. Detroit has given up five touchdowns and made nine interceptions over the middle of the field. Safety Glover Quin is third among all safeties in fewest yards allowed per coverage snap (0.17) and fifth in coverage snaps per reception (47.7).
PASSER RATING ALLOWED ACROSS THE MIDDLE: 86.2
Though the Bills defense has given ground over the middle of the field this year, they allowed only three touchdowns, the second-fewest in the NFL. Buffalo, however, is in the bottom eight in terms of completions (120), total yards (1451), and completion percentage allowed (71.4). Rookie Tre’Davious White, our fifth-highest grade cornerback (90.5), has led the way for the Bills in pass coverage while Jordan Poyer (90.6 coverage grade) ranks as our fourth-highest-graded safety in coverage. Rookie linebacker Matt Milano has done a great job in coverage as well, including his highlight reel interception against Tampa Bay earlier this season. Milano ranks in ninth in both yards allowed per snap in coverage (0.93) and in coverage snaps per reception allowed (10.3) among the league's 4-3 outside linebackers.