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2022 NFL defense rankings: Best defenses in NFL playoffs

Sportsnaut
Sportsnaut
 5 days ago

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The playoff field is set and the road to Super Bowl LVI is underway. With the postseason set to begin, we’ve got a new set of NFL defense rankings analyzing every team competing for the Lombardi Trophy.

Football fans are familiar with the old saying that defense wins championships, it’s partially true. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense fueled their championship run last season and crucial plays from the Kansas City Chiefs defense led the Super Bowl comeback.

Related: How to Watch AFC Championship Game – Cincinnati Bengals vs Kansas City Chiefs

Combine an elite quarterback with a defensive unit that takes away big plays and creates takeaways, that’s a recipe for a Super Bowl champion. The Rams and Chiefs are trying to replicate that, while San Francisco is being carried by its dominant defense.

Let’s dive into the playoff edition of our 2022 NFL defense rankings. We’ll update each team’s blurb after their postseason game. Once teams are eliminated, we’ll take a look at their offseason outlook defensively.

Related: How to Watch NFC Championship Game – San Francisco 49ers vs Los Angeles Rams

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

14. Las Vegas Raiders – Elimianted from playoffs

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Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered, the Las Vegas Raiders did an admirable job in the playoffs. Maxx Crosby came through with a sack and recorded two quarterback hits, making Joe Burrow uncomfortable at times. Las Vegas also held up well against the run, holding Joe Mixon t 48 yards on 17 carries (2.8 ypr). Most impressively, the Raiders allowed Cincinnati to score a touchdown on only two of their red-zone trips.

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But the AFC Wild Card game loss to the Bengals also highlighted areas of the defensive unit that must be addressed in the offseason. Casey Hayward Jr. delivered a rebound season, but he’s a free agent after the season and will be 33 in September. Behind him, Nate Hobbs played extremely well as a rookie but has off-field issues. After that, the secondary is a mess. If Las Vegas wants to be in the 2022 NFL defense rankings next season, the secondary needs more talent.

13.) New England Patriots – Elimianted from playoffs

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Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots sat near the top of the NFL defense rankings for a majority of the 2021 season, but there were troubling signs before they faced the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round. averaged 129.9 rushing yards per game and 5.1 ypr against the Patriots’ defense from Week 8-17. On Saturday, Devin Singletary accounted for two touchdowns and 81 of the Bills’ 171 rushing yards. But New England was also destroyed by Josh Allen , surrendering 308 yards and five touchdowns with a near-perfect 157.6 QB rating.

It’s fair to say there is work to be done this offseason. Matthew Judon disappeared late in the season and with a weakened pass rush, great quarterbacks tore New England’s secondary to shreds. Essentially, there was nothing the Patriots did well when facing quality competition. Bill Belichick needs to fix a lot of things this offseason, but how the Pats finished the year will definitely drop them in next season’s NFL defense rankings.

12.) Philadelphia Eagles – Eliminated from playoffs

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Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles’ defense entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum. Led by Darius Slay, opponents averaged just 206.4 passing yards per game and 81.3 rush ypg from Week 8-17. But Philadelphia faced the New York Giants (twice), Washington Football (twice), New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos and New York Jets during that stretch. Against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, things got pretty ugly.

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Mike Evans (117 yards, 1 TD) did whatever he wanted against Philadelphia’s secondary. Keep in mind, the Buccaneers’ top receiving options behind him were Rob Gronkowski and Giovani Bernard. Getting beat by Evans proved costly.

But Philadelphia’s defense also did some things well in the loss. Brady took four sacks and the Buccaneers’ rushing attack averaged just 3.7 yards per rush. Even more impressively, the Eagles held Tampa Bay to a 33% third-down conversion rate. With three 2022 first-round picks, this defense can be even better next season.

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11.) Pittsburgh Steelers — Eliminated from Playoffs

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward are two of the biggest driving forces behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ surprise playoff appearance. With the season on the line, Pittsburgh’s front seven racked up 12 sacks in the final two games, with that pressure resulting in the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens combining for 271 passing yards and four interceptions.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense (Week 12-18): 178.4 ypg allowed, 9-9 TD-INT, 27 sacks, 60% completion rate

Those numbers are certainly impressive. However, a blowout 42-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs painted this unit in a bad light. After taking a 7-0 lead on a T.J. Watt scoop and score , the Steelers’ defense allowed touchdowns on six consecutive Chiefs possessions. Yeah, that’s not great.

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10.) Dallas Cowboys – Eliminated from playoffs

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Quinn and the Dallas Cowboys are going to see Deebo Samuel in their nightmares. Arguably the best offensive weapon in the playoffs, Dallas never had an answer for the San Francisco 49ers running back/receiver. Everyone knew what Kyle Shanahan would bring to the table, using pre-snap motion and deception to create rushing attacks. Quinn’s defense looked like they never saw it coming.

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There were signs of this happening. Dallas allowed its opponents to average 126.8 rushing ypg since Week 6, this was the worst matchup possible for the Cowboys. Things could have been worse, too. Trevon Diggs repeatedly got spun around by Brandon Aiyuk, only to have Jimmy Garoppolo miss Aiyuk time and time again.

Heading into the offseason, things get very interesting for Dallas. Unless Quinn replaces Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys will need a new defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, Randy Gregory, Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse are free agents. The fallout will dramatically swing where they land in next season’s NFL defense rankings.

9.) Arizona Cardinals – Eliminated from playoffs

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals had hoped that the return of J.J. Watt would light a fire under a defense that yielded 38 points to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 18 and just hasn’t been the same without the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the mix.

  • Arizona Cardinals defense stats (w/ J.J. Watt): 201 pass ypg allowed, 9-6 TD-INT, 19 sacks, 5.5 ny/a, 84.5 QB rating

Once Watt landed on injured reserve, things went downhill fast. Opposing quarterbacks averaged a 99.1 passer rating against Arizona’s secondary, posting a stellar 18-6 TD-INT ratio and a 6.3 ny/a. Matthew Stafford added to that in the Cardinals’ NFC Wild Card blowout loss. The quarterback completed 13-of-17 passes for 220 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Rams ao went oof for 140 rushing yards in the blowout win.

8. Tennessee Titans – Eliminated from playoffs

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Titans pass rush did everything physically possible to win on Saturday. Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Denico Autry combined for 6 sacks, tying the record for most sacks in a playoff game. It also held up against the run, limiting Joe Mixon to just 3.9 yards per rush. It’s a shame the rest of Tennessee’s roster didn’t show up.

We do have questions about Tennessee’s defense for the 2022 season. Caleb Farley will be returning from a torn ACL and Harold Landry is a free agent. If Landry walks, it leaves a huge pass-rushing void to fill for a team that saw its secondary get torched against top competition. We’ll be keeping all of that in mind for the 2022 offseason edition of our NFL defense rankings.

7.) Green Bay Packers – Eliminated from playoffs

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Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers defense delivered a championship-caliber performance on Saturday. Just look at some of the statistics from this unit for a majority of the game. Through three quarters, Green Bay held the 49ers to 51 net passing yards, 65 rushing yards and only allowed three points. Across the entire game, the Packers surrendered only one touchdown and it came on a blocked punt.

Now, with the season over, things are bleak. Za’Darius Smith will be a cap casualty, the Packers can’t afford to re-sign linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas in free agency. Those are going to be significant losses and the only hope of filling the looming needs is by trading Aaron Rodgers for draft picks. That, of course, ends Green Bay’s contention window.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Eliminated from playoffs

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Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense played a crucial role in Sunday’s dramatic 27-3 comeback. FOrcing three fumbles with aggressive play, it swung the momentum of the game and gave Tom Brady opportunities to keep narrowing the deficit. But once Brady tied it, Tampa Bay’s inability to stop Cooper Kupp proved costly. Heading into the offseason, it will be very interesting to see what the Bucs do with Carlton Davis and Jason Pierre-Paul among their top impending free agents.

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5. Buffalo Bills – Eliminated from playoffs

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Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills entered the playoffs atop our NFL defense rankings and an opening performance against the New England Patriots backed it up. But in one of the best NFL playoff games in recent history, Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s group fell apart.

Fans can live with a defense allowing 28-plus points to an elite offense led by Patrick Mahomes . That’s not the problem from another playoff exit. But soft coverage that allowed the 64-yard Tyreek Hill touchdown with 62 seconds left and then playing so far back that the Chiefs easily moved into field goal range in only 12 seconds, that’s alarming.

Frazier is still a good defensive coordinator, one game doesn’t wipe everything away. But this performance might cost him a shot at being a head coach. Assuming he returns as Buffalo’s DC, the team’s next priority will be retaining top free agents like edge rusher Jerry Hughes (45 pressures this season) and potentially re-signing Levi Wallace. The good news, Tre’Davious White will be back in the fall.

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4. Cincinnati Bengals

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Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Defenses need luck on their side to make it this far. While talent, coaching and execution come out on top more consistently, sometimes victories are determined by the football bouncing your way. That played a role in the Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff victory, with two of Ryan Tannehill’s three interceptions coming off deflections.

From a broader perspective, there are some things Cincinnati needs to be concerned about for the AFC Championship Game. A.J. Brown (142 yards, 1 TD) torched the Bengals’ secondary in the divisional round. Meanwhile, a thin interior defensive line surrendered 140 rushing yards.

We’re not expecting much from either defense in the AFC Championship Game, but this is the worst team in our NFL defense rankings among the remaining four. Patrick Mahomes won’t make the same number of mistakes as Ryan Tannehill did, leaving the Bengals’ secondary to get cooked.

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3. Kansas City Chiefs

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’re seeing different versions of the Kansas City Chiefs defense every few weeks and a wide level of variance is dangerous this time of year. While the Chiefs could point towards their strong effort in a Wild Card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the performance against Josh Allen may be a better indicator of what we saw late in the season.

  • Kansas City Chiefs defense stats (Week 14-18): 248.6 pass ypg allowed, 8-3 TD-INT, 123.4 rush ypg allowed, 5.01 ypr

A rematch against the Bengals’ offense also doesn’t bode particularly well for Kansas City’s secondary. In that meeting, Ja’Marr Chase erupted for 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns. One might think defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo makes adjustments to prevent that, but he couldn’t even make in-game changes for a crucial Week 17 game when Chase was the one guy beating them.

Everyone is expecting a high-scoring game and for good reason, neither defense can prevent big plays. What it might come down to is who pressures the opposing quarterback more frequently. With Chris Jones, Melvin Ingram and Frank Clark, the edge goes to Kansas City against a porous Bengals’ offensive line.

2.) Los Angeles Rams

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Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams survived, barely. Credit to this defense for shutting Brady down in the first half, only allowing three total points. Frankly, the 24 second-half points allowed are a greater reflection of the Rams’ offense repeatedly coughing up the football than failures on the defensive end. One thing is for certain, the Rams’ rn defense that held Leonard Fournette to 3.9 ypr will need to show up in the NFC Championship Game.

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There is obviously plenty of history between these two rivals. Kyle Shanahan’s offense combined for 784 total yards and 58 points across 131 plays in two regular-season meetings. The Rams’ defensive front allowed 130-plus rushing yards in both contests and a 60.7% third-down conversion rate.

But the Green Bay Packers did show, if teams are physical enough, San Francisco’s rushing attack can be more effectively limited. In that same NFC matchup, right tackle Tom Compton and left guard Laken Tomlinson surrendered eight pressures and four sacks. There’s a path to victory for the Rams, but it will take beating Kyle Shanahan’s 6-0 record against this team.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is going to be a head coach before long. In his first season of calling plays, the former NFL linebacker made a strong impression. But the film and execution from this performance is all he needs to slide across the table to convince a team to hire him.

After that 10-play, 89-yard touchdown drive by the Packers to open the game, they never found the end zone again. Far more impressively, outside of that blown coverage 75-yard play by Aaron Jones, the 49ers surrendered 99 total yards across 43 plays. Much of that comes from a suffocating second-half performance, giving up just 54 total yards. Phenomenal, there are no other words to describe that performance.

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