The Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals keep proving that their defenses are for real even as the competition gets more challenging, while teams like the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos have failed to maintain their early-season form once they started to face stiffer challenges.
Some of the best defenses in the league in recent years are sliding ever further down the rankings, and the Washington Football Team now see their defense ranked in the lowest tier, along with the Super Bowl losing Kansas City Chiefs, whose season now may be in real trouble.
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|New Orleans Saints||-0.112||4||-0.167||13||-0.085||5|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||-0.087||6||-0.256||3||-0.031||9|
|New England Patriots||-0.043||11||-0.175||11||0.046||16|
|Los Angeles Rams||-0.03||13||-0.057||27||-0.017||10|
|Las Vegas Raiders||-0.016||15||-0.14||18||0.057||17|
|Green Bay Packers||-0.015||16||-0.068||25||0.014||11|
|San Francisco 49ers||0.004||17||-0.131||19||0.092||18|
|Los Angeles Chargers||0.007||18||0.067||32||-0.037||8|
|New York Giants||0.037||23||-0.057||28||0.101||19|
|New York Jets||0.048||25||-0.156||15||0.191||28|
|Washington Football Team||0.098||30||-0.212||5||0.259||30|
|Kansas City Chiefs||0.125||31||0.013||30||0.197||29|
1. Buffalo Bills (Up 4)
It was easy to point to the slew of bad quarterbacks the Bills played early in the season when evaluating their defense. However, they showed up well against the Kansas City Chiefs, and though the Tennessee Titans put up some points, their passing attack was limited to 216 net yards and converted just 40% of third downs.
Buffalo’s defense boasts the highest expected points added (EPA) per play mark of any unit and has allowed opponents to score a touchdown on a league-best 14.7% of their drives. There is still room for improvement, with cornerback Tre’Davious White earning overall PFF grades in the 50.0s right now — a far cry from his All-Pro ceiling.
2. Arizona Cardinals (Up 9)
At some point in every NFL season, you need to cast off your priors and evaluate what’s in front of you. Arizona’s defense had some major weaknesses on paper, but none of them seem to be translating to problems on the field. The Cardinals' defense is simply performing at an extremely high level.
They are changing up formations and game plans weekly to match up with specific opponents, and no defense in the league has allowed a scoring drive at a lower rate than the Cardinals' 24%. J.J. Watt may never be the Defensive Player of the Year again, but he has 28 total pressures from 217 pass-rush snaps.
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3. Los Angeles Rams (No Change)
The Rams fielded the league’s best defense last season under Brandon Staley, and though they have dealt with departures from both players and coaching personnel, the group is still clearly an imposing unit. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey remain two of the biggest defensive superstars in football, and each is playing at a level that rivals anything else at their respective position.
Donald leads all interior linemen with 34 total pressures, while Ramsey already has more defensive stops than all of last season in his new, more central role within the defense.
4. New Orleans Saints (No Change)
Only the Buffalo Bills have allowed a touchdown drive less often than the Saints (14.9%). This defense ranks top five in several different defensive categories and is about to get one of its best players back from suspension in defensive lineman David Onyemata. In 2020, Onyemata’s 88.8 overall grade led the defense, and he recorded 49 total pressures as well as 31 defensive stops.
The Saints' defensive line could use the arrival of Onyemata this season, but it has been an excellent bend-but-don’t-break unit so far. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is having his best campaign since he was a rookie, despite being burned by D.K. Metcalf for a big touchdown on Monday night in Week 7.
5. Cleveland Browns (Up 5)
The Browns' defensive front is starting to hit top form the way it hoped it would after adding reinforcements over the offseason. Myles Garrett is on a Defensive Player of the Year run and leads the NFL in total pressures on third down. He also ranks No. 2 overall in PFF grade. Jadeveon Clowney has 31 total pressures, already more than his 2020 total in Tennessee.
Cleveland has also enjoyed the fruits of improved players in the secondary, and even depth players such as Greedy Williams are playing well when pressed into action.