October 20, 2023 9:00am

The NFL's Best Defense

If defense indeed wins championships, the Cleveland Browns have a chance.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

If defense indeed wins championships, the Cleveland Browns have a chance.

The Browns are one of only four NFL franchises that has never reached the Super Bowl along with the Detroit Lions and two expansion teams, the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. But there is hope for Cleveland in 2023. In this week’s NFL Power Poll, we asked our panel of former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters who has the best defense in the NFL and offered up 10 options – the Top 10 defenses in the NFL through six weeks.

The Browns received half of the 180 votes cast to win comfortably over the San Francisco 49ers (60). The Dallas Cowboys received 9 votes, the Baltimore Ravens 8, Philadelphia Eagles 5, Detroit Lions 4 and Kansas City Chiefs 3.

And that makes Jim Schwartz the front-runner for NFL Assistant Coach of the Year honors. Schwartz was hired by the Browns as their defensive coordinator this season and the turnaround has been dramatic. The Browns allowed the 20th most points and the 14th most yards in the NFL last season – an average yield of 331.5 yards and 22.4 points per game. But this season under Schwartz, the Browns have allowed the fewest yards and points in the league – an average yield of only 200.4 yards and 15.4 points.

“I don't know if there is one defense in the NFL that is a slam dunk as the best,” said former Hall of Fame voter Vito Stellino, “but since Cleveland shut down San Francisco with the help of 49ers injuries and Purdy playing a so-so game, I’ll go with them.”

Schwartz has previously served as a defensive coordinator at Buffalo, Philadelphia and Tennessee and won a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles. He also spent five seasons as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. His Browns have kept three of their five opponents out of the end zone and then held the 49ers to a season low 17 points last week.

But the San Francisco defense certainly has its supporters. The 49ers have allowed the second fewest points (87) and the third fewest yards (278 per game) and also leads the NFL in interceptions with 10.

“When healthy, the 49ers have the most dominant defense -- one which can make an opponent one-dimensional better than any other D,” said Hall of Fame voter Barry Wilner. “Don't be fooled by their having lost their first game last weekend. This is the only unit that has likely All-Pros at all three levels in Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga.”

The second question to our panel focused on the big game on this week’s NFL schedule. There are five 5-1 teams through the league’s first six weeks and this is the only game that matches two of them – the AFC East- leading Miami Dolphins at the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. The Dolphins lead the NFL in both points and yards on offense. The Eagles are one of only four teams that ranks in the Top 10 in both offense and defense this week. So who wins?

Our panel gave the edge to the Eagles…but it was slight. The Eagles received 94 votes, the Dolphins 86.

“The Miami game is critical for the Eagles, who haven't played one of the top teams until now to show if they are contenders or pretenders,” said Stellino.

Added Wayne Larrivee, the voice of the Green Bay Packers: “Right now the Dolphins are playing better. The Eagles appear to still be searching for their game.”

Remember Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson, who stoked the Philadelphia fans at the 2017 NFL draft in the City of Brotherly Love with his braggadocio on the Cowboys?

“Let’s Go Dolphins!!!!” he said in casting his vote in this week’s poll.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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