2022 NFL defense rankings: Dallas Cowboys make a statement heading into Week 4

Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL.

While it’s important not to overreact too much to Week 1, the first game of the 2022 season provided plenty of useful information to evaluate as we go forward. Some teams with high expectations (Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles) fell short, but others delivered with promising signs for the future.

Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams. For fantasy purposes, our Week 2 fantasy defense rankings can be found at the bottom.

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Let’s dive into our NFL defense rankings coming out of Week 3.

Stats courtesy Football Outsiders, Pro Football Reference, ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

Dropped from NFL defense rankings: New England Patriots (20), Minnesota Vikings (18)

20. Houston Texans (19)

NFL defense rankings
Sep 25, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) is sacked for a loss in the fourth quarter by Houston Texans defensive back Jalen Pitre (5) at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans run defense played up to expectations on Sunday, sacking Justin Fields five times and picking him off twice on 2022 drop-back attempts. It proved to be a game to remember for rookie Jalen Pitre, who recorded both interceptions along with two tackles for loss and a sack. With all of that out of the way, opponents can run at will against a unit responsible for 607 rushing yards allowed entering Week 4.

19. Indianapolis Colts (UR)

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Sep 25, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) slides after a run during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Many expected Patrick Mahomes to hang 300-plus yards and three touchdowns against a vanilla Gus Bradly defense. Instead, the Indianapolis Colts defense did a nice job holding the NFL MVP candidate to one touchdown with a 78.5 passer rating. It’s a step in the right direction, especially with Shaquille Leonard nearing a return.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (17)

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Hendrickson returned to his 2021 form on Sunday afternoon. After recording zero sacks and one tackle for loss in the first two games, the Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher was credited with four quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks on Sunday. Cincinnati also compiled eight pass deflections and held the New York Jets to 3.8 yards per rush. It’s a step in the right direction, but this secondary will be outmatched I Week 4 vs Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill.

17. Baltimore Ravens (11)

Syndication: The Providence Journal

Sunday did very little to address our concern with the Baltimore Ravens. They sacked Mac Jones three times and snagged three interceptions, but that says a lot more about the state of the New England Patriots offense. What’s alarming is DeVante Parker torching the Ravens’ secondary (156 yards) and New England had no trouble on the ground (145 yards, three touchdowns). The Buffalo Bills offense should eviscerate this group.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (9)

nfl defensive rankings: pittsburgh stelers
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

As we mentioned last week, making a fair evaluation of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense without T.J. Watt is going to take time. Thursday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns didn’t change the dynamics too much here. Pittsburgh’s defense opened up Week 3 by yielding 22 first downs and 376 total yards of offense. That included 171 yards on the ground. Cleveland only converted 37.5% of its third-down attempts, but its success on the ground and in the red zone stood out. Fortunately, things should be a little easier in Week 4 against the New York Jets.

15. Kansas City Chiefs (16)

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Defensively, the Kansas City Chiefs played relatively well on Sunday. Of the 20 points allowed, one touchdown came on a drive that started at Kansas City’s 3-yard line. It summarized Sunday’s loss for this team. Kansas City held Indianapolis to 3.8 yards per play, shutting down Jonathan Taylor and doing an effective job against Matt Ryan until the game-winning drive. Based on this performance on the road, there’s no reason to move the Chiefs down in the Week 4 NFL defense rankings.

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (UR)

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s time to pay attention to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Entering Sunday, Jacksonville held opponents to a 71.8 quarterback rating, ranked fourth in knockdown rate (14.1%) and allowed the fourth-lowest scoring rate (17.4%) in the NFL. Week 3 proved this isn’t a fluke. The Los Angeles Chargers managed only 10 points with a 33.3% third-down conversion rate and two turnovers. If this continues against the Philadelphia Eagles, a top-10 spot in the NFL defense rankings awaits.

Related: NFL offense rankings

13. Cleveland Browns (11)

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal

It certainly wasn’t a bad performance for the Cleveland Browns defense on Thursday Night Football. Holding the Steelers to 17 points and allowing just 1-of-9 conversions on third down, that’s a recipe for winning consistently. It’s even more impressive when you consider this happened despite a myriad of injuries. However, the Steelers’ offense is one of the worst in the NFL and Cleveland is now without Anthony Walker Jr. moving forward. Moving up the defense rankings just feels unlikely heading into Week 4.

12. Carolina Panthers (14)

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers’ defense kept games close in the first two games only to see the offense squander opportunities. So, this unit took care of things on its own. Look past the 426 total yards allowed, the New Orleans Saints accounted for 90 yards and a touchdown in garbage time. Instead, focus on the three takeaways (two interceptions, fumble return touchdown), a 50% red-zone conversation rate and six quarterback hits. The Panthers have earned their place in the NFL defense rankings and they could climb higher with a strong showing against Kyler Murray.

11. Los Angeles Rams (10)

NFL: Los Angeles Rams At Arizona Cardinals
Michael Chow/The Republic

Another step in the right direction for the Los Angeles Rams defense. While we’ve seen Kyler Murray enjoy some success against this unit, the best versions of the Rams’ defense know how to stop him. It was evident in Week 3 as Los Angeles surrendered just nine points before Arizona used garbage time to pad its numbers. While the San Francisco 49ers have given the Rams some problems in a past, it could be a much different story in Week 4 with the 49ers’ offensive line in a bad state.

10. Miami Dolphins (12)

Syndication: Palm Beach Post

Jevon Holland is quickly becoming one of the best, young players in the NFL. He played an instrumental role in Sunday’s victory, sacking Josh Allen 1.5 times and deflecting two passes. Put aside the 497 total yards generated by the Buffalo Bills offense in Week 3, the more important numbers are Miami holding Allen and Co. to a 50% red-zone conversion rate, 5.5 yards per play and keeping them out of the end zone in the second half. Expect this pass rush and secondary to cause problems for Joe Burrow in Week 4.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (4)

Syndication: Florida Times-Union
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Los Angeles Chargers could be in trouble. Dropping in the NFL defense rankings goes beyond allowing 38 points and over 400 yards to the Jaguars’ offense. Los Angeles is now staring down the possibility of a lengthy absence for Joey Bosa, significantly depleting a top-heavy defense. A Week 4 draw against the Houston Texans should be a cupcake matchup, but there are red flags that better opponents will exploit.

8. New Orleans Saints (5)

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints defense certainly isn’t the reason they lost in Week 3. Carolina averaged fewer yards per play (5.0) than the Saints’ offense and converted just 28% of its third-down conversions. New Orleans held Baker Mayfield to 170 passing yards on 25 attempts and only surrendered one offensive touchdown across 13 drives to Carolina. We trust this unit against quarterbacks, it’s allowed just 180 passing yards per game in the last two weeks. If there’s one area of concern, partially responsible for a slight dip in the NFL defense rankings, the Saints allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second time in three games.

7. Denver Broncos (9)

NFL: Denver Broncos Training Camp
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is beginning to look like the version of the Denver Broncos everyone believed could be its peak form. Opponents are averaging 170 passing yards per game against the Broncos secondary, posting a pedestrian 86.4 quarterback rating. Even more noteworthy, Denver is holding the opposition to a 26.5% third-down conversion rate through three games. Facing a struggling Las Vegas Raiders offense in Week 4, we have every reason to believe the Broncos will strengthen their status as one of the best NFL defenses.

Related: Week 4 NFL schedule

6. Dallas Cowboys (7)

nfl defense rankings: dallas cowboys
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

We pushed the Dallas Cowboys outside the top 10 in our initial NFL defense rankings entering the season. As stated in the past, it all tied back to a unit that relied heavily on takeaways and that luck always regresses. This is a different version of the Cowboys’ defense and no one can argue that it has to do with playing weak opponents. The Cowboys proved that in a dominant defensive performance against New York on Monday. Daniel Jones was pressured 22 times while being hit another 12 times en route to the Cowboys recording five sacks. Despite giving up 167 rushing yards, Dallas’ takes a step up in our latest NFL defense rankings.

NFL defensive rankings: Top 5 defenses in 2022

5. Green Bay Packers (7)

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers defense deserves all the credit for taking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s more than fair to point out Tom Brady played without his left tackle and three top receivers. As we’ve seen throughout NFL history, though, he’s the best quarterback in NFL history for a reason. Green Bay snuffed out the Buccaneers’ rushing attack, left Brady under constant duress and it was all done without Jaire Alexander. Back in the top 5 of our defense rankings, the Packers are a nightmare matchup for the New England Patriots.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need just one play to recapture their momentum and it happened on the Aaron Jones fumble. A potential 21-3 deficit provided this defense with new life and they locked down the Packers’ offense the rest of the way. This remains one of the best NFL defenses in 2022 and it will cause a few problems for Mahomes in Week 4.

3. Buffalo Bills (1)

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle

The Buffalo Bills’ defense isn’t truly responsible for the loss on Sunday. Miami averaged just 5.4 yards per play. Even more impressive, especially in the heat, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle only combined for 135 receiving yards on an afternoon when the Bills played without Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips and Dane Jackson. With that said, Buffalo drops in our NFL defense rankings. It has everything to do with Hyde being lost for the season, that absence looms large moving forward.

2. San Francisco 49ers (2)

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers defense swarms opponents and takes just about everything away from them. Through three games, San Francisco allows just 148.3 pass yards per contest with eight sacks and three interceptions. Running the ball also isn’t a great option, demonstrated by the 2.8 yards per rush surrendered. It’s neck-and-neck for the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles in our NFL defense rankings.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (7)

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles have the best defense in the NFL right now. In the last two weeks, opponents are averaging just 3.8 yards per play with a 34.5% third-down conversion rate against Jonathan Gannon’s group. It’s certainly a collective effort. After Darius Slay stole the show in Week 2, the Eagles’ pass rush set the tone in Week 3 with 17 quarterback hits and nine sacks. Add that to the effort against Minnesota and Philadelphia’s defense is now responsible for 24 quarterback hits and 11 sacks in the last two games. Watch what this front seven does in Week 4 against the Jaguars.

Related: NFL TV ratings

Week 4 NFL defense rankings

  1. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs New England Patriots
  3. Dallas Cowboys D/ST vs Washington Commanders
  4. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Houston Texans
  5. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs Cincinnati Bengals
  6. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Arizona Cardinals
  7. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST vs New York Jets
  9. Cleveland Browns D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
  10. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  11. Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  12. Arizona Cardinals D/ST vs Carolina Panthers

All and feedback on the NFL defense rankings can be sent to @MattJ_Sports on Twitter

This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.

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