The Best and Worst: Defense

Updated: July 23, 2003, 12:31 PM ET
By By Ryan Early | NFL Insider
Free agency and the salary cap has done a good job of evening out the talent throughout the NFL. By design, teams cannot dominate all areas of the game. Instead they have to come up with a strategy to best lead to on field success. Some teams try to get one outstanding player on each unit, hoping they will improve the play of those around them. Others pick and choose whole areas of the team to make great while ignoring the others, hoping their gamble pays off. The Carolina Panthers have from one side to the other the best defensive line in the league, but they count on their fierce pass rush to hide their deficiencies in their secondary.

Defensive Line
Three teams stand far above the rest when it comes to quality defensive lines. The Bucs' defense took them to the championship, and it was their defensive line that was the strength of their defense. The NFL is a copycat league, but only two other teams have the talent up front to mimic Tampa's defensive play. There is a significant drop to the next level, but one unit that rarely gets any mention but deserves special attention is the Steelers front in their 3-4 defense. Because of the scheme of their defense, the linemen's job is geared to tying up blockers and closing run lanes than rushing the passer. Therefore they are the foundation of the team's defensive play. While the linebackers get the glory, it is hard to think that nosetackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith could do their jobs any better.