Best NFL defense: Ravens or Steelers?

PFW staff
Pro Football Weekly
Best NFL defense: Ravens or Steelers?

It’s an AFC North battle in the first semifinal matchup of our “In the Trenches” bracket searching for the best defense in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Baltimore Ravens to see who moves on to the championship.

It’s up to the fans to decide who moves on, but here’s what the PFW staff had to say about the matchup:

Senior editor Eric Edholm:
“Even with the loss of Terrell Suggs — and I think he will be back sooner than people realize — the Ravens are the better unit overall, despite last season’s small rankings differences. The Ravens were better in the red zone, they are less dependent on so many 30-somethings, and the young, underrated core of talent gives them the edge in depth. The Ravens are more of a playmaking unit overall and were playing their best ball in the postseason. The Steelers’ defense let the team down in the loss at Denver.”

Associate editor Kevin Fishbain:
“This matchup, like when the two face off on the field, is as close as they come. I’m going to give the slight edge to the Steelers, simply because there are fewer question marks. Terrell Suggs’ injury plus Ed Reed and Ray Lewis reaching the end of their careers helps move the needle to Pittsburgh. While the Steelers’ are far from a young and spry unit, there’s enough talent there that still has years left — most notably James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu. Add to that Dick LeBeau, arguably the best defensive coordinator in the game, and the Steelers, who had the league’s top defense last season, should get the win over their rivals in this round.”

Associate editor Arthur Arkush:
“I am going with the Steelers, but this is easily the most difficult matchup thus far. The biggest reason for my decision is the monster offseason injury of Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive MVP and arguably the most dominant defender in the game. Although the Steelers have had several offseason changes of their own, I think they are better equipped to handle the losses of Aaron Smith and James Farrior with Ziggy Hood and Larry Foote, players who have already proven their worth in this league. Given the task of filling in for Suggs, who hopes to return this season, is rookie Courtney Upshaw, who I think was a great pickup but also a guy who will need time to learn in the NFL. The Ravens have better players coming up the pipeline but Pittsburgh still has the makings of the slightly better 'D' in 2012.”

Producer Mark Schoeck:
“An argument that better personnel makes the better defense doesn’t encompass the full scope of a defensive unit. What does? The numbers. The Steelers were first in total defense and points allowed in 2011. They’ve allowed fewer total yards than the Ravens the past two seasons. Forget their age and the blemishes in their secondary; the Steelers have one of the greatest defensive coordinators in the history of the game to make them the most efficient group in the NFL. The Steelers should advance here.”

Contributing writer Mitch Fraser:
“This is an incredibly close battle between two of the toughest defenses in the past 10 years. I’ll give the slight edge to the Ravens’ 'D.' Although Terrell Suggs is hurt, I think he may be back in time for a playoff push, and although Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are approaching the end of their NFL tenures, they are still two of the savviest and most intelligent football players in the league. They’ve proven they can pick it up a notch in the playoffs, unlike Pittsburgh last year against Denver. Surrounded by young up-and-coming talent and an aggressive, hard-hitting mentality, Lewis and Reed should be able to lead by example and give the Ravens a defensive edge over their division foes in the 2012 season.”