Defense wins championships. It is only fitting that the selection of my first All-Pro Defense required more time and analysis than the selection of the offense. I made a concerted effort not to make “beauty contest” picks on the offensive side of the ball. No Steve Hutchinson. No Adrian Peterson. No Randy Moss or Reggie Wayne. No doubling up on left tackles. Here’s hoping this defense is just as “ugly.”
I’m going to do something that is a bit unconventional, but I believe it is meaningful because of where the NFL is right now in the evolution of defensive formations. A few years ago, only a handful of teams ran 3-4 defenses. Today, this is not the case. The fundamantal roles of front 7 players in 3-4 defenses and traditional 4-3 defenses are dramatically different that it is essentially impossible to apply the same standard to players in both systems. So, I’m going to have a 3-4 Front 7 and a 4-3 Front 7. The secondary players will be the same for both units.
Let’s start in the trenches with the 3-4 Defense.
Defensive Tackle. Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers. In some circles, this may seem like a “beauty contest” pick. It’s not. As a Steeler fan, I was hesitant to make it. Nonetheless, there are some things that cannot be ignored. The run defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers (until Week 16 vs. the Baltimore Ravens) was performing at a high level. When Aaron Smith went down earlier this season, I fully expected the wheels to fall off — just as they had in 2007. The run defense, however, has proven more rugged than I anticipated — and with the absence of Smith and All-World safety Troy Polamalu, the reason for that consistency is evident. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is simply having one of his best seasons. He plays a position where statistics are secondary, but he has roughly twice as many tackles and sacks as he did during the 2008 season. Hampton suffered the embarassment of being placed on the physically unable to perform list by Mike Tomlin last season – and I actually wrote about his health, but he’s rounded into shape rather nicely.