Sleeper Defenses: Week 12
We can no longer lean on former top defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots to turn things around, for even the worst defenses can pick up double-digit points late in the season.
It’s time we play the matchup.
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The Bengals, on the other hand, will hope to leave Baltimore with some of their offense intact.
With Cincinnati’s veteran running back Giovani Bernard out for the season with a torn ACL and wide receiver A.J. Green battling a severe hamstring injury, the Bengals’ offense will be without two key pieces, and the Ravens’ defense will show no signs of mercy.
Bernard and Green accounted for 42 percent of quarterback Andy Dalton’s targets and 44 percent of the team’s first down receptions.
Bernard’s absence from the backfield should negatively impact lead back Jeremy Hill’s ability to churn out yards on the ground, especially against the Ravens’ vaunted run defense.
Following inside linebacker Zachary Orr’s lead, the Ravens have put together the No. 1 run defense in terms of yards per game (76.0) and yards per attempt (3.4), per ESPN.com.
Orr leads the team with 88 combined tackles (63 solo) and five tackles for loss.
Look for the Ravens to keep the Bengals in their cage come Sunday.
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The Arizona Cardinals hit the road for the second consecutive week to take on an Atlanta Falcons defense that should keep veteran quarterback Carson Palmer and company from flying high in the Georgia Dome.
Coming off one of his worst performances of the season against the Minnesota Vikings, Palmer will face another physical, tough defense in Atlanta.
Veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant should exchange blows with Cardinals’ top receiver Larry Fitzgerald in what should be a competitive matchup outside the hashes, as the two are currently playing some of the best football of their respective careers.
Trufant 31 combined tackles (25 solo), four pass deflections, and interception and two forced fumbles through 10 games this season.
Without a thriving Palmer to Fitzgerald connection, Arizona’s offense will look to lean on lead back David Johnson against the Falcons’ mediocre run defense (ranks 17th in yards per game), but rookie inside linebacker Deion Jones has a different mindset.
“It’s just a matter of our mind-set and getting lined up and playing with great effort,” Jones said, per Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Having that mind-set that no one else is going to run the ball on us. That’s pretty much it, you know.
Jones is second on the team with 64 combined tackles (48 solo), three tackles for loss, five pass deflections and two interceptions.
If the rest of the Falcons’ defense can mirror Jones’ mindset, the Cardinals’ offense will turn one-dimensional, which should force Palmer into some bad decisions early against Trufant and the rest of Atlanta’s secondary.
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With a combination of Brian Hoyer and Cutler under center, the Bears have averaged just 15.7 points per game (31st) this season, and unfortunately for those still holding strong in the Windy City, Barkley isn’t the answer.
Coming in for Hoyer in the Bears’ loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 7, the former USC product went 6 for 15 for 81 yards with two interceptions.
Expect a similar stat line against the Titans if Barkley does wind up under center.
Veteran edge-rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo have combined for 17 sacks through 11 games, and their teammates have pitched in to give the Titans’ defense 30 sacks this season (3rd).
Regardless of whether it’s Cutler or Barkley at the helm, Morgan and Orakpo will look to disrupt the Bears’ passing attack as frequent visitors behind the line of scrimmage, leaving Chicago’s 21st ranked run defense to pick up the pieces.
New Orleans Saints
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It’s not often that the New Orleans Saints are praised for their efforts on defense, but when taking on a visiting Los Angeles Rams offense, any team’s defense can look the part.
In rookie quarterback Jared Goff’s first career start last week, the former No. 1 overall pick completed 17 of 31 passes for 134 yards, leading the Rams’ offense to just 227 total yards and 10 points.
To put that into perspective, their offensive performance last Sunday was 72.9 yards fewer than their season average, and the Rams’ offense ranks 31st in average yards per game.
Though the Saints’ defense hasn’t blown anyone away in a single game this season, their playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary should thrive against Los Angeles.
Veteran inside linebacker Craig Robertson has been a vacuum at the center of the New Orleans’ defense, bringing in a team-high 90 combined tackles (53 solo) and six tackles for loss.
Behind Robertson, safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Ken Crawley have held flashed dominance in small bursts, as the two have combined for 11 pass deflections and an interception.
Goff looked off in his NFL debut, and don’t expect anything to turn on in New Orleans.
San Diego Chargers
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Despite losing several defensive starters to significant injuries, the Chargers have found ways to have success on defense, as rookie inside linebacker Jatavis Brown and veteran cornerback Casey Hayward have been two of the many to fill big shoes.
Brown, a former Akron product drafted in the fifth round, has solidified himself the starting lineup in wake of veteran linebacker Manti Te’o’s injury, accumulating a team-high 54 combined tackles (43 solo).
Hayward, a former slot corner with the Packers, has filled in for third-year cornerback Jason Verrett, and he hasn’t held back.
Hayward has leads the team with 13 pass deflections and five interceptions.
In contrast, the Texans’ offense hasn’t had similar success, as they have averaged just 313.3 yards per game (28th) through 11 weeks.