I’m going to give some predictions about the defenses taking the field in 2009, but first a little bit about me.
I’m new to the fantasy football end of sports journalism, but I’ve been a writer, most of it for daily newspapers, since 2000. I’m a die-hard, bleeding Brown-and-Orange Browns fan and proud of it.
I’ve obsessed over football ever since I was a kid watching the games every Sunday at my grandparents house over numerous bowls of pasta. Bear with me as I work out the kinks.
But, enough about me. Let’s look at how the defenses are stacking up so far as you get your draft board ready.
One week into training camp isn’t going to tell you a whole lot, but it is interesting to note what has and what hasn’t changed at the top of the leaderboard.
As I said, I’m a Browns fan, and it pains me to say this, but your number one defense in the league right now is shaping up to be the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, and I’m not the only predicting this. When you look at how the Steelers construct their defense, it’s amazingly simple. The Steelers have an identity.
They run the ball and they stop the run. Last year, they allowed 3,795 yards and only allowed 223 points.
This is clearly ridiculous. Given that they’re returning most of the same players this year, including the hairy beast Troy Polamalu and NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, it’s a safe bet that this team will continue to score points for you.
The only red flag for the Steelers is that the core unit is beginning to age. However, I don’t expect that to be a factor this year as they’re not ancient. They’re all in their prime and should consistently remind us of why Pittsburgh has one of the most feared defenses in the league.
Rookie Defensive End Ziggy Hood could be a breakout player on this team. I completely respect the Steelers drafting process and how they develop their players. Hood may be a rookie, but he’ll definitely add to the Sack totals this year.
The number two defense isn’t as easy a pick as it may seem. ESPN has the Giants ranked number two followed by the Titans, Ravens and Vikings.
NFL.com also has the Giants at number two followed by the Vikings, Ravens and Jets.
While I’m not trying to poo-poo the Giants, there’s a new defensive coordinator and a lot of things in flux. These kinds of changes can have negative consequences even on a team full of stars. New philosophies sometimes don’t gel in the first year and production drops.
However, the Giants do have a boatload of talent, and talent can make up for a lot of other deficiencies. The Giants allowed 294 points on 4672 yards last year. That’s quite a drop from the Steelers when you compare the numbers.
The key to the Giants defense is the depth, and for that reason, I’m going to rank them number two as well.
I’m going to call ESPN’s prediction of the Titans at number three a bust. They even point out how thin the Titans depth chart is. Given I’m sticking with the rank and file putting the Giants at number two due to depth, I’m breaking with ESPN on number three and going with the Baltimore Ravens.
Under General Manager Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have had pretty solid defenses over the years. They were ranked the no. two overall defense last year, just behind the Steelers, and were ranked no. six in 2007, no. one in 2006 and no. 5 in 2005.
That’s called consistency.
While the core group of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs have played a large part in achieving these goals, you have to respect the organization for maintaining and developing the outer components.
For example, Bart Scott had 26 tackles last year. While he had no sacks, his work allows players like Lewis and Suggs to do their jobs.
Lewis will be the only huge question mark in my mind going into the season. If age doesn’t catch up with him, a legitimate concern, look for the Ravens to be on top of the league defensively this year.
Speaking of the Ravens defense, I have the Jets and Eagles ranked four and five, respectively. The Jets new head coach, Rex Ryan, brought a bunch of guys from the Ravens over with him, and I expect that will significantly improve the unit.
Expect more interceptions from the Jets this year along with fewer yards than the 5270 given up last year.
The Eagles had 48 sacks last year and gave up fewer yards, 4378, than the Ravens. The Eagles also blitz a lot, which is good if you’re into that sort of thing.
Andy Reid loves putting pressure on quarterbacks, and the unit he’s assembling this year looks, on paper, to be a fast one that will be constantly nibbling at the quarterback’s heels. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this unit cross the 50 sack barrier.
Finally, while admitting I am a Browns fan, look for Cleveland’s unit to be much improved from last year. Cleveland is a potential sleeper, but they’re still a risk due to a lack of depth.
The insight I can provide from reading training camp reports and head coach Eric Mangini’s press conferences is that Shaun Rogers will continue to be a beast. Also, the Browns are mining Buddy Ryan’s expertise via defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to add some “46” defensive elements into their 3-4 scheme.
The Browns will definitely give up fewer yards this year. I’m very confident in that prediction. I’m not sure how the corners are going to turn out yet, but this defense will be ranked much higher than last year.