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NFL defense rankings: Week 7 matchup previews

Sportsnaut
Sportsnaut
 7 hours ago

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The 2021 NFL season is officially underway and Week 6 delivered some surprising performances across the league. With high-scoring games scattered throughout Week 6, there’s plenty of shakeup among the top defenses in the NFL.

One thing to keep in mind, the state of defensive play is down. Through six weeks, the NFL is setting all-time highs for league-average completion rate (66%) , passer rating (95.2), passing touchdowns per game (1.7) and the second-highest points per game (23.8). Between that and injuries, we aren’t seeing many top defenses perform consistently.

Let’s dive into our Week 7 NFL defense rankings, with nuggets on each team’s matchup updated throughout the week.

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NFL defense rankings: Week 6 reviews

20. Las Vegas Raiders (Last Week: Unranked)

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Maxx Crosby is a force coming off the edge. The fourth-round pick in 2019 entered Sunday’s game with just two sacks, but the 31 total pressures and 18 hurries proved he was getting in the quarterback’s face. The hard work paid off against the Denver Broncos, with Crosby propelling this defense to a much-needed win.

19. New York Jets (LW: 19)

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Week 6, New York ranked 18th in DVOA against the pass, 16th in adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.7) and fifth in quarterback hits (37). Credit to Robert Saleh for doing incredible work with a thin secondary and for helping Folorunso Fatukasi and John Franklin-Myers blossom in this year.

Looking ahead to Week 7, we get a really interesting matchup. Saleh is going to find ways to make quarterback Mac Jones uncomfortable, especially if New York can get home without blitzing. We don’t think the Jets will do enough defensively to beat the New England Patriots, but this should be a low-scoring game.

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18. Indianapolis Colts (LW: Unranked)

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Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is how defenses are supposed to perform against the Houston Texans. The Indianapolis Colts were more than willing to let Houston run the football (124 yards), but this unit always came through in key situations. Matt Eberflus will need to draw up a better game plan against the San Francisco 49ers, but the Colts’ defense is slowly earning back our trust.

There is a problem for Indianapolis. The Colts’ defense ranks last in pressure rate (16.1%) and their soft zone coverage can be exploited by a quick-hitting 49ers’ passing attack. While Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a great quarterback, he makes the right reads and gets the football out with timing. We don’t expect the Colts to allow 28-plus points, but the defense has enough holes to decide this game.

17. Baltimore Ravens (LW: Unranked)

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Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

We witnessed a version of the Baltimore Ravens defense that hasn’t shown up in months. Facing MVP candidate Justin Herbert , Baltimore’s entire roster played a role in this defensive masterpiece. A well-rested defense deflected seven passes, sacked Herbert twice, neutralized Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (77 combined yards) and held Los Angeles to six points.

Looking at the matchup with Cincinnati, the Ravens’ secondary will have its hands full. Joe Burrow is getting more comfortable rolling around on his surgically-repaired knee, buying time for his great cast of weapons. Marlon Humphrey can limit Ja’Marr Chase, but that still leaves Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to make plays. Ultimately, the Ravens’ pass rush will determine who wins this matchup.

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16. Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 14)

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers have one fatal flaw. This defense cannot, under any circumstances, stop the run. Not only did Baltimore rush for 187 yards and three scores, it also controlled the clock for 38 minutes of Sunday’s game. Brandon Staley talks about the value of running the ball on offense and opponents are taking his advice. Things won’t change during the bye, so don’t expect Los Angeles to climb in later NFL defense rankings updates.

15. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 15)

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings came dangerously close to winning this game. For the Carolina Panthers to have any shot at a game-tying drive, they needed to cover 96 yards with two minutes remaining. Most teams find a way to stop Sam Darnold , the Vikings couldn’t.

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With that said, Minnesota held Carolina to 306 total yards and created three takeaways. It’s not always pretty, but Mike Zimmer’s defense is doing more than enough to keep games close. One stat that will make Zimmer very happy, per Will Ragatz , Minnesota has nearly as many sacks through six games (21) as it did all last year (23).

14. Cleveland Browns (LW: 10)

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There are good things to take away from the Cleveland Browns performance in Week 7. Holding an opponent to 14 points, 223 total yards and 4.6 yards per play are elite numbers. But context is everything. Teddy Bridgewater played hurt and he’s not a particularly good starting quarterback to begin with. This defense should do well in Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we don’t fully trust it right now.

13. Los Angeles Rams (LW: 16)

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Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) knocks the ball out of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones’ (8) hand resulting in a fumble, recovered by the Giants, in the first half. The Giants fall to the Rams, 38-11, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Lar

An old friend of the NFL defense rankings returned in Week 6. New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones turned back into Santa, gifting takeaways to whichever Rams’ player wanted one. When the final whistle blew, Los Angeles picked Jones off three times, forced two strip-sacks and recorded four sacks. In Week 7, the Rams face a terrible quarterback (Jared Goff) whose weaknesses they know very well.

There’s not a lot to say about this specific matchup. Los Angeles knows all of Goff’s bad tendencies and each will be exploited. With Detroit lacking the weapons to make any plays, receivers won’t get open and Goff will either go down under pressure or make throws that are hard on the eyes. From a fantasy football perspective, this is the best defense in Week 7,

12. Chicago Bears (LW: 12)

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Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered, the Chicago Bears did a nice job defensively in Week 6. When you hold the reigning NFL MVP to 195 passing yards on 23 attempts and surrender just 24 points to an elite offense, that keeps you in a lot of football games. But Chicago’s offense isn’t ready to win a game and Aaron Rodgers owns the Bears.

For as much as we enjoy watching the pass rush and believe Sean Desai is doing great work, this is a bad matchup for Chicago. Tampa Bay boasts the offensive tackles to keep Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn away from Tom Brady. With time to throw, the Hall of Fame quarterback will thrive as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin torch the Bears’ woeful corners.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 13)

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David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a lot easier to play defense when you aren’t facing one of the best passers in NFL history. Jared Goff averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt in Week 7, throwing one interception and barely moving the football before the final drive. As for the Lions’ rushing attack, it finished with 36 yards on 18 carries. The Cincinnati Bengals dominated this one in every way imaginable.

Facing an NFL MVP and the best rushing attack in the NFL will present a challenge for Cincinnati. But keep in mind, the Bengals are allowing the sixth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.0) and rank second in Pro Football Reference’s Expected points contributed by rushing defense (15.49). If the Bengals get the job done against the Ravens, they will rocket up our Week 8 rankings.

Week 7 NFL defense rankings

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 11)

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Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to gauge where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at right now defensively. While they only allowed 115 passing yards to quarterback Jalen Hurts , one of his greatest weaknesses is beating teams deep with arm strength and touch. Tampa Bay also lost Richard Sherman for multiple weeks, delivering another blow to the secondary. But the Bucs don’t face a high-end passing attack until December, so there is time for everyone to get healthy.

The Bucs should be excited about this meeting with Chicago. Tampa Bay will immediately shut down the Bears’ rushing attack, putting all the weight of the offense on rookie Justin Fields. From there, expect tons of blitzes and unique coverage looks to make life difficult. With a strong performance, which we anticipate happening, the Buccaneers will climb in our next NFL defense rankings.

9. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 9)

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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

This certainly isn’t the San Francisco 49ers ‘ defense of old. Opposing quarterbacks have a 99.7 passer rating with an 8-1 TD-INT ratio. On the bright side, San Francisco went into its rest week allowing the sixth-lowest conversation rate on third downs (32.76%) and the 11th-lowest yards per pass attempt (7.0).

What really matters for the Week 7 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts is putting pressure on quarterback Carson Wentz. The Colts’ offensive line is beaten up, leading to this unit ranking in the bottom 10 for hurries and pressures allowed. If we see the same effort we saw from the 49ers in Week 6 against Arizona, Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa are going to eat on Sunday Night Football.

8. New England Patriots (LW: 7)

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Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

We’re providing the New England Patriots with some benefit of the doubt. There are areas for the Patriots to fix. New England is allowing opponents to convert 32.86% of the time on third downs. The Patriots also aren’t causing much havoc in the backfield, entering the bye with the eighth-lowest pressure rate (22.7%) and that was all before Dallas moved the ball at will against the Patriots’ secondary.

A matchup against the Jets could make some of those numbers look better a week from now. New York’s offensive line has allowed 51 quarterback hurries through five games and was decimated by the Patriots in Week 2. We expect rookie Zach Wilson to perform better in Round 2 against Belichick, just not by leaps and bounds.

7. New Orleans Saints (LW: 8)

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Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of the bye week, the New Orleans Saints should feel pretty good about this defense. Edge rusher Marcus Davenport, one of the Saints’ most impactful players, is expected to return from a pec strain within a few weeks. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (elbow) could return relatively soon and defensive lineman David Onyemata will return from suspension in Week 8.

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Keep all of that in mind when examining the defensive stats. New Orleans boasts the fifth-highest quarterback knockdown rate (12.7%) and entered the bye week with the second-lowest passer rating (71.3) allowed. With two weeks of preparation, we expect a strong Week 7 performance against the Seattle Seahawks.

6. Carolina Panthers (LW: 3)

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Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

A truly brutal showing for the Carolina Panthers. Whatever Minnesota wanted to do against Carolina’s defense, it did. The Vikings erupted for 198 rushing yards, 373 passing yards and 34 points in a true offensive clinic. Stephon Gilmore will help moving forward, but this pass rush recording just two sacks in the last three games is a huge concern.

Sunday’s matchups against the New York Giants is coming at the right time for Carolina. The Giants have allowed the eighth-most pressures (74), per Pro Football Focus and just put Andrew Thomas on IR. WIth Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay also out, Carolina’s defense is a must-start in Week 7.

5. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 5)

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Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The volatile Dallas Cowboys defense made things interesting against New England. Trevon Diggs’ incredible pick-six flipped the game , but it was immediately followed by a coverage mistake for a big touchdown. Dallas allowed 120 yards on the ground and Mac Jones enjoyed some success, leading to 29 points. But when your defense has playmakers like Randy Gregory (two sacks) and Diggs, the little mistakes don’t matter as much.

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4. Denver Broncos (LW: 2)

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Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos hired Vic Fangio for his defensive mind and an ability to help his players do the little things. We’re not seeing any of that from a unit that is getting progressively worse with each passing week. Cleveland played with a backup quarterback, backup offensive tackles and a third-string running back on Thursday night. Denver’s defense allowed 182 rushing yards and failed in every fundamental aspect of the game. With opposing quarterbacks posting a 108.3 passer rating and running backs averaging 4.3 yards per carry against Denver in the past four weeks, count on this group falling in the Week 8 NFL defense rankings.

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3. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 6)

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Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed a big night from their defense to win and that effort came through. T.J. Watt recorded two sacks, Alex Highsmith was credited with four quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks and the pass rush helped bottle up DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett (93 total yards). Pittsburgh can enjoy its bye, but that Halloween matchup against the Browns’ offense will be a huge test.

2. Buffalo Bills (LW: 1)

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Syndication The Tennessean

Listed at No. 1 in our NFL defense rankings heading into Week 6, Buffalo just couldn’t do anything right against the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry went off for three touchdowns, including a 76-yard run . And after some initial struggles, Ryan Tannehill led Tennessee to points in each of its final six possessions to help the Titans pull off a stirring comeback .

Given that Buffalo entered Week 6 having yielded the fewest points in the NFL and topping pretty much every advanced stat, we can’t move its defense down too much. However, Monday’s game might have been a wake-up call heading into the bye.

Click here for our latest NFL power rankings

1. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 4)

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Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even without top edge rusher Chandler Jones, the Arizona Cardinals made it a miserable Sunday for quarterback Baker Mayfield. Arizona racked up five sacks and six quarterback hits, while also holding Cleveland’s offense to 14 points. Really, if not for the freak Hail Mary touchdown , this defensive performance (290 total yards allowed) looks even better.

Earning the No. 1 spot in our NFL defense rankings, Arizona will also be the top option in Week 8 fantasy defensive rankings. Chandler Jones (COVID-19) should be back, putting the Cardinals in a fantastic spot to generate sacks, takeaways and keep the Texans off the scoreboard. If Arizona allows more than 13 points to Houston, we’d be surprised.

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