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Which NFL Teams Have the Defensive Units Needed to Aid a Championship Run?
Defenses adjusting to changes in the way rules are enforced
In the past, great defensive units were built around great players who anchored the team in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. Recent history suggests that while it is necessary to get strong defensive line play, the focus for great defensive teams has shifted more towards coverage in the secondary. With rule enforcement changing for contact on receivers, the need for strong performances from the safety position become more important than ever before. The criteria for defenses that are capable of elevating their team to a championship level, include having nearly every position be a strength for that unit, with extra emphasis on the safety and cornerback positions. The Seattle Seahawks matched the prototype for a championship defense last season, with solid but lesser known players in the front seven, combined with multiple star players in the secondary. Playing championship level defense in the NFL is very rare, and it does not always yield a championship as a result. With that said, there are a few teams in the NFL this season that have defenses capable of carrying a team on a championship run.
The Denver Broncos
Last season the Broncos were led by a spectacular offense, but with the addition of three key pieces to their defense in the offseason, the Broncos defense is now ready to compete at a very high level. Aqib Talib and TJ Ward give the Broncos the stars necessary to compete at the highest level in coverage, while Demarcus Ware paired with Von Miller on the edges, will provide a significant pass rush. Overall the mix of talent added in free agency, along with the experienced talent that the Broncos already had defensively, should be a lethal combination when they come together against the Broncos opposition. The starting secondary of the Broncos includes four reliable veterans with cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, as well as safeties TJ Ward and Rahim Moore. The Broncos are very strong on the defensive line, with the ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer. Their depth at linebacker will be tested early with the loss Danny Trevathan, but they have more than enough talent in the secondary to give the opposition trouble when they drop back to pass.
The New England Patriots
After seeing what the Seahawks were able to accomplish against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, New England decided to try to model their defense after Seattle's this offseason. By adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to their secondary, the Patriots created an elite secondary all in one offseason with Devin McCourty playing deep coverage at the free safety position behind them. For the Patriots, this is a secondary that is playing behind a fantastic front seven, as the Patriots have the size to stop the run and the speed to rush the passer along their defensive front. The Patriots strong group of linebackers is led by the man in the middle, Jerod Mayo who has put himself in the conversation among the elite inside linebackers in the NFL today. The Patriots combination of athleticism in the front seven, and cover skills in the secondary, are what make the Patriots defense a unit that could help lead their team to a championship in 2014.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers made a nice offseason acquisition when they signed Alterraun Verner to be their number one cornerback. Another offseason addition in Mike Jenkins, also has a chance to make an impact for the Buccaneers defense, as he joins Verner and former second round pick Jonathan Banks in the secondary for Tampa Bay. Behind them at safety, the Buccaneers have top talent in Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron to lock down the back end of their coverage. In front of them on the defensive line, Tampa Bay has a young and athletic front four that is going to win the battle in the trenches most every week. This will help their young group of linebackers have room to make plays against the opposition's running game. With Tampa Bay having speed, size and elite athleticism at nearly every position on their defense, they have the type of defense that could elevate their team to a championship level.
The Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals will feature a very deep defensive unit once again in 2014, with the talent they retained and added through the draft. The Bengals have five cornerbacks on their roster that can play football at a very high level, in Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. Their best player at safety is free safety Reggie Nelson, but youngster George Iloka emerged as a solid player at the strong safety position for the Bengals last season. Led by linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, the Bengals also have one of the strongest group of seven along their defensive front. The Bengals feature an interior pass rush with Geno Atkins at defensive tackle, and both Carlos Dunlap as well as Wallace Gilberry can get after the passer as edge rushers. The Bengals have the personnel to produce elite defensive results if they can get this unit to come together and meet their full potential.
The Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks defensive dominance has become well known by NFL fans the past two seasons. The Seahawks did lose Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond this offseason, but their depth has yielded a strong replacement in Byron Maxwell to play opposite Richard Sherman at cornerback. As long as the Seahawks have Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor roaming the deep halves of the field, they will have a chance to play coverage at a very high level. The Seahawks pass rush depth and linebackers will continue to anchor the middle of field for their defense while an extremely talented secondary goes to work in their efforts to lock down the opposition's passing attack. Once again, the Seahawks will have a defensive unit that will give them a great opportunity to compete for a championship.
While the Rams and Cardinals have plenty of impact talent on the defensive side of the ball, they do not have as much as these five teams currently have. As for defenses winning championships, the most recent championship was won in a dominant defensive effort by the Seattle Seahawks. In both of the recent Super Bowl wins by the Giants over the Patriots, it was the dominant pass rush effort and quality coverage in the secondary that allowed the Giants to take down an offensive powerhouse on the biggest stage. For those fans who thought defense winning championships is just a cliché, in recent years that statement has largely been proven to be true as team's with transcendent talent on the defensive side of the ball, ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. The five defenses mentioned here are all units that could elevate their teams to a championship level, but it will be interesting to watch if another defense emerges to shock the world and to clinch another championship.