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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Evaluating top 20 defenses entering Week 3

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL.

While it’s important not to overreact too much to Week 1, the first game of the 2022 season provided plenty of useful information to evaluate as we go forward. Some teams with high expectations (Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles) fell short, but others delivered with promising signs for the future.

Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams. For fantasy purposes, our Week 2 fantasy defense rankings can be found at the bottom.

Related: The Most Expensive Rookie Cards, Including Tom Brady And More

Let’s dive into our NFL defense rankings heading into Week 3.

Stats courtesy Football Outsiders, Pro Football Reference, ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

Dropped from NFL defense rankings: Las Vegas Raiders (20), Indianapolis Colts (19)

20. New England Patriots (UR)

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A year removed from being a top-10 team in the NFL defense rankings, the New England Patriots are now fighting their way onto the list. Facing Mitchell Trubisky certainly helps as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback lacks the ability to test the Patriots’ secondary. With that said, it’s nice to see Christian Barmore and Matthew Judon making plays. As for next week, Lamar Jackson should have no trouble against this team.

19. Houston Texans (UR)

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to take notice of the Houston Texans’ defense. Lovie Smith’s group ruined a debut for Russell Wilson, holding the NFL star to a 66.4 quarterback rating with an ugly 45.2% completion rate on 31 attempts. Houston generated some pressure in this matchup, sacking Wilson three times with seven quarterback hits. Heading into Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, the Texans’ defense is allowing just 18 points per game. Just keep in mind that opponents are also averaging 163 rush ypg.

18. Minnesota Vikings (14)

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings want to go back to the days when they faced backup offensive tackles and a Green Bay Packers offense trotting out No. 3 and 4 receivers. On Monday Night Footballl, the Vikings seemingly forgot quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the best athletes at the position. Compounding their issues, the Vikings allowed 183 rushing yards and 333 passing yards (82 to Dallas Goedert, 80 to DeVonta Smith, 69 to Quez Watkins and A.J. Brown). Let’s see how Ed Doantell’s group rebounds in Week 3, but the Detroit Lions have weapons (D’Andre Swift, TJ Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown) to attack Minnesota.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (18)

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Cara Owsley-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone set a higher standard for the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense in this matchup. The Dallas Cowboys started a quarterback who was on their practice squad two weeks ago and he was protected by a backup left tackle with the No. 2 receiver sidelined. Allowing 20 points should be enough on most Sundays for a good offense to win, but Cincinnati’s defense allowing 5.7 yards per play and sacking Cooper Rush once in 31 dropbacks is a problem. We’ll see if this unit improves against the New York Jets.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (UR)

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start with the good news for the Kansas City Chiefs defense. The pass rush (30.9% pressure rate) is excellent through the first two games of the season and it’s not like Kansas City is blitzing all the time (10.6% blitz rate). This unit is also holding its own against the run, surrendering just 3.9 ypr through two games. However, what Mike Williams did to this secondary is a concern moving forward. There’s a little room for the Chiefs to climb in the NFL defense rankings, but there is also a lot more work to be done.

Related: Kansas City Chiefs schedule

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (9)

nfl defensive rankings: pittsburgh stelers
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

As we mentioned coming into Week 2, making a fair evaluation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense without T.J. Watt is going to take time. Thursday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns didn’t change the dynamics too much here. Pittsburgh’s defense opened up Week 3 by yielding 22 first downs and 376 total yards of offense. That included 171 yards on the ground. Cleveland only converted 37.5% of its third-down attempts, but its success on the ground and in the red zone stood out. Fortunately, things should be a little easier in Week 4 against the New York Jets.

14. Carolina Panthers (17)

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

A defense deserves to win an NFL game when it holds an opponents to 19 points and 265 total yards on 70 plays. Keep in mind, that the New York Giants scored six of its points after the Carolina Panther fumbled at its own 25- and 40-yard line. Each time, Carolina’s defense stepped up with huge stops. The Panthers have allowed just three touchdowns this season, holding opponents to a 40% touchdown conversation rate inside the red zone. This might not be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022, but keep an eye out for it in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints.

13. Cleveland Browns (11)

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

It certainly wasn’t a bad performance for the Cleveland Browns defense on Thursday Night Football. Holding the Steelers to 17 points and allowing just 1-of-9 conversions on third down, that’s a recipe for winning consistently. It’s even more impressive when you consider this happened despite a myriad of injuries. However, the Steelers’ offense is one of the worst in the NFL and Cleveland is now without Anthony Walker Jr. moving forward. Moving up the defense rankings just feels unlikely heading into Week 3.

12. Miami Dolphins (7)

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A year after erasing Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins defense found itself on the other end of the spectrum in Week 2. Jackson delivered an MVP-caliber performance, eviscerating Miami for 318 passing yards, 119 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Just as alarming, the Dolphins had zero answers for Rashod Bateman (108 yards) nor Mark Andrew (104 yards) and they didn’t record a sack.

None of this bodes well for a Week 3 draw against Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis. We’re anticipating a high-scoring matchup, one that won’t make either of these defenses look particularly sharp. With that said, it doesn’t change the fact Miami boasts the talent and coaching to have one of the best NFL defenses moving forward.

11. Baltimore Ravens (5)

NFL defense rankings, Baltimore Ravens
Sep 18, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) catch a pass for a touchdown in the fourth quarter asBaltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (24) defends at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For three quarters, this looked like one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens only allowed 14 points to Miami through the first three quarters and they generated a pair of takeaways. Holding a three-score lead, it looked like Baltimore would cruise to victory with an elite offense and a top-five defense making them a Super Bowl contender. Tua Tagovailoa then completed 13-of-17 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns while Tyreek Hill burned the Ravens’ secondary for 48- and 60-yard touchdowns.

While Baltimore’s secondary was banged-up on Sunday, this fourth-quarter collapse raises red flags. It won’t be an issue in Week 3 (New England Patriots), but it could be a huge problem on Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Bills. We’ll just have to see if Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are 100% for that meeting.

10. Los Angeles Rams (15)

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

While the Atlanta Falcons might be one of the worst teams in the NFL, their offense flies under the radar. Arthur Smith knows how to design a system that utilizes a diverse cast of weapons (Cordarrelle Patterson, Drake London, Kyle Pitts). It’s why the Los Angeles Rams earn some praise in Week 2. The true standout on Sunday wasn’t who you would expect. Rookie cornerback, a fourth-round pick out of South Carolina State, recorded his first interception and sack. As Los Angeles prepares to face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, keep in mind that Kyler Murray threw four interceptions with a 76.3 QB rating in three games against the Rams last season.

9. Denver Broncos (12)

NFL: Denver Broncos Training Camp
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s starting to come together for the Denver Broncos’ defense. Since allowing 17 first-half points to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, the mix of young talent and veteran experience on this roster is starting to gel. Pat Surtain is becoming the No. 1 cornerback everyone believed he could become in his second year and the pass-rushing duo of Randy Gregory and Bradley Chupp helps make life interior for the interior defensive line. It certainly helps to face the Seahawks and Houston Texans, so we’ll hold off on moving the Broncos up higher in the NFL defense rankings until they prove it against Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers.

Related: Week 3 NFL schedule

8. Green Bay Packers (8)

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers’ secondary wasn’t tested in Week 2, thanks to its effective pass rush and a flat Bears’ passing attack. However, the inability to stop the run is a major concern. David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert combined for 160 yards on 19 carries and opponents are averaging 5.6 ypr against Green Bay this season.

Looking ahead to Week 3, defensive tackle Kenny Clark draws a favorable matchup against a weak Buccaneers’ interior offensive line. Tampa Bay is also thin at wideout, but the Buccaneers’ ground game should have little trouble against Green Bay.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (6)

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

This is the Philadelphia Eagles defense we expected to see. Darius Slay recorded more interceptions (two) than receptions allowed (one) in man coverage against Justin Jefferson (Next Gen Stats) and Philadelphia did an excellent job pressuring quarterback Kirk Cousins. Just as important, the Eagles won at the line of scrimmage with Dalvin Cook averaging just 2.8 yards per rush and then Minnesota abandoned its ground attack.

Expect great things against Washington in Week 3 and Philly can climb further up the NFL defense rankings. Some will view this as an unfavorable matchup, Philadelphia comes in outside the top-15 in consensus Week 3 D/ST rankings. However, the Eagles have the secondary to match up with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. Combine that with the pass rush going after Wentz and this all bodes well for Philadelphia.

6. Dallas Cowboys (10)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We pushed the Dallas Cowboys outside the top 10 in our initial NFL defense rankings entering the season. As stated in the past, it all tied back to a unit that relied heavily on takeaways and that luck always regresses. This is a different version of the Cowboys’ defense and no one can argue that it has to do with playing weak opponents. Dallas boasts one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, getting to both Joe Burrow and Tom Brady. This is a defense that can win several games on its own, including upcoming matchups against the New York Giants (Week 3) and Washington Commanders (Week 4). All of this, of course, is a credit to Dan Quinn, Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs.

NFL defensive rankings: Top 5 defenses in 2022

5. New Orleans Saints (6)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Ownage is ownage. In the last five regular-season starts against Tom Brady, the New Orleans Saints defense held the future Hall of Famer to a 60.2% completion rate with a 67.2 passer rating, 14 sacks and a 7-8 TD-INT ratio. No team is better at causing Brady so much frustration that he damages equipment on the sideline. We also must note that the Saints’ run defense bounced back nicely in Week 2, holding Leonard Fourntte to 2.7 ypr and limiting Tampa Bay to 72 yards on 30 rushes. All of it pushes New Orleans back up the NFL defense rankings and it will eat in Week 3 vs Carolina.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (7)

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Getting J.C. Jackson back provided the Los Angeles Chargers defense with a huge boost and he helped contain the Chiefs’ passing offense. If not for penalties and a questionable replay decision, Los Angeles would have picked off Patrick Mahomes at least once. Overall, the Chargers deserve credit for containing Travis Kelce (51 yards on seven targets) and bottling up Mahomes for the most part. Moving forward, this should be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022.

3. San Francisco 49ers (2)

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of the best NFL defenses in 2022, not the group that fought through awful field conditions in Week 1. The San Francisco 49ers’ defense pressured Geno Smith, snuffed the Seahawks’ run game and allowed their defensive line to eat all Sunday. After dominating late in the 2021 season purely off the play of the front seven, San Francisco’s secondary is now in a better place. The 49ers vs Broncos matchup looks outstanding on paper, but the edge goes to San Francisco’s defense.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the best defense in the NFC. They did precisely what you’d expect from an elite unit, sacking Jameis Winston six times with nine quarterback hits and three interceptions. While Tampa Bay ceded some yardage on the ground, allowing 5.1 ypr, that’s not as glaring of an issue based on the talent and size on the defensive line. Facing one of the best NFL defenses in Week 3, Aaron Rodgers is in serious trouble against a unit with 19 quarterback hits, 10 sacks and a 53.35 passer rating allowed through the first two games.

Related: Tom Brady to receive ‘personal day’ every Wednesday in 2022

1. Buffalo Bills (1)

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills proved why they are the best defense in the NFL. Even without No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White, Leslie Frazier’s group made it a miserable Week 1 for Los Angeles. The Bills then did their thing against Tennessee in Week 2, picking off Ryan Tannehill twice as the quarterback was benched in a 41-7 Buffalo win.

While this is the No. 1 defense in our overall NFL defense rankings, this matchup against the Dolphins is concerning. Buffalo will be without Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips on Sunday. For a secondary already without White, that means the Bills will have even more trouble against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. If Buffalo can’t generate interior pressure, Tagovailoa will attack a weakened Bills’ secondary.

All and feedback on the NFL defense rankings can be sent to @MattJ_Sports on Twitter

Week 3 D/ST rankings

  1. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Washington Commanders
  2. Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs New York Giants
  3. New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Green Bay Packers
  5. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Denver Broncos
  6. Houston Texans D/ST vs Chicago Bears
  7. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
  8. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs New England Patriots
  9. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  10. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
  11. Las Vegas Raiders D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  12. Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs New York Jets
  13. Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Arizona Cardinals
  14. Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
  15. Kansas City Chiefs D/ST vs Indianapolis Colts



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