We ranked the top offenses in the NFC on Thursday. We’ll switch gears today and rank the top defenses. If it’s true that defense wins championships, are the 49ers in good hands heading into the playoffs?
San Francisco 49ers
Nick Bosa. Fred Warner. Javon Hargrave. The return of Arik Armstead and the addition of Chase Young. The emergence of Charvarius Ward as a top-flight corner. Dre Greenlaw’s motor is unmatched. The 49ers’ defense allows an NFC-low 17.5 points per game, is second in interception percentage at 3.54 percent, allows the third fewest yards per game at 303.9, and the third-fewest rushing yards per game at 89.7. Steve Wilks’ bunch is getting healthy at the right time and will be well-rested.
This is as close as it gets. Micah Parsons is a disrupter, Daron Bland has had a historic season, and the Cowboys defense ranks second in points allowed behind the 49ers. The Cowboys rank second in total yards allowed, second in passing yards per game allowed, third in interception rate, and first in sacks per passing attempt. The reason the 49ers get the nod over the Cowboys is run defense. Dallas allows 112.4 rushing yards per game.
Looking at statistics solely and seeing Tampa’s defense ranked 11th in yards per game allowed isn’t inducing confidence. Tampa’s run defense is stingy, allowing 95.3 rushing yards per game. Where their defense shines is in the red zone and goal-to-go situations. Tampa ranks first in red zone percentage (42.59%) and goal-to-go percentage (58.62%). They also rank third in the NFC with 19.1 points per game allowed.
Rashan Gary and Preston Smith have formed quite the duo for Green Bay at the edge positions. Jaire Alexander, when not suspended for crashing a coin toss, is still a formidable cover corner. When De’Vondre Campbell is healthy, then this unit gets even tougher. The Packers allow the fifth least points in the NFC at 20.6 and are second in the NFC in sacks per pass attempt at 8.60 percent.
This feels like a coin toss between the Lions and the Rams. Both units rank back-to-back in total yards per game allowed at ninth (Detroit) and tenth (Rams). Detroit ranks second in rushing yards allowed in the NFC. The Rams allow fewer points per game at 22.2 compared to the Lions’ 23.2. Aaron Donald is still elite, but the Lions, under Aaron Glenn, have fielded a similar defense statistically. The Rams and Lions also rank back-to-back in sacks per pass attempt.
The Eagles rank in the NFC: Thirteenth in yards allowed per game. Fifteenth in passing yards allowed per game. Eleventh in interception rate. Tenth in sacks per pass attempt. Fourteenth in points allowed per game. Fifteenth on third down and 13th in goal-to-go situations. Matt Patricia isn’t saving this unit.