1-32 team poll, plus the biggest defensive issue for every team


Welcome to Week 5 of the 2023 season. After four weeks, we have more of an idea how teams stack up against each other. The San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles are the only undefeated teams left, and the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers remain winless. The rest of the league falls somewhere in between.

This week, we’ve updated the rankings and are taking a look at every team’s defensive efficiency rating (per ESPN Analytics’ Football Power Index). Our 32 NFL Nation reporters also identified the biggest issue on every defense. Some teams can’t get to the quarterback; others are having trouble stopping the run. But every team has at least one thing to work on the rest of this season (and the Denver Broncos‘ defense has many).

Here are the updated rankings, starting with the 49ers.

Our power panel of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities evaluates how NFL teams stack up against each other, then ranks them from 1 to 32.

Previous rankings: Preseason | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

Jump to a team:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF

Week 4 ranking: 1

Defensive efficiency: 65.0 (ranked 11th in NFL)

Biggest issue on defense: Red zone efficiency

By and large, the 49ers’ defense doesn’t have many areas that stick out for improvement, but it could do a better job of slowing opponents down when they get inside the 20. Through four games, the Niners have allowed touchdowns on six of nine drives they’ve allowed to reach the red zone, a 66.7% rate that is tied for 23rd in the NFL. The Niners are still winning games comfortably, but holding opponents to field goals instead of touchdowns more frequently will matter as the schedule gets more difficult. — Nick Wagoner

Week 4 ranking: 3

Defensive efficiency: 64.5 (12th)

Biggest issue on defense: Pass defense

The Eagles are 27th in passing yards allowed (260.8 per game) and have yielded the third-most passing touchdowns with nine, trailing only the Broncos (13) and Bears (10). Their top two slot corners, Avonte Maddox (torn left pectoral muscle) and Zech McPhearson (torn right Achilles tendon), are expected to miss the remainder of the season, and they are thin at the safety spot as well. — Tim McManus

Week 4 ranking: 5

Defensive efficiency: 76.8 (4th)

Biggest issue on defense: Absence of CB Tre’Davious White

On Monday, coach Sean McDermott announced that the former All-Pro cornerback is out for the season with a torn right Achilles suffered in the team’s win over the Miami Dolphins. White was “beginning to really round into form,” as McDermott said, coming off a torn ACL in November 2021 that required a year of recovery before he could return to a game. Now the question for the Bills is how the younger players on the roster — notably Dane Jackson and 2022 picks Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam — can perform over the course of a long season. — Alaina Getzenberg

Week 4 ranking: 4

Defensive efficiency: 73.3 (6th)

Biggest issue on defense: Lack of takeaways

The Chiefs have five takeaways, tied for 11th in the NFL. That’s not good enough for a team that thrives on the pressure it puts on the opposing offense. Particularly alarming is the fact they have just one interception despite playing two games against otherwise struggling young quarterbacks in Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. That doesn’t bode well for upcoming games against Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson (twice), Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in the next six weeks. — Adam Teicher



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Week 4 ranking: 6

Defensive efficiency: 85.2 (2nd)

Biggest issue on defense: Run defense

Seems a little harsh to say run defense after it allowed 2.3 yards per carry against the New England Patriots, but it’s run defense. The performance against Arizona in Week 3 still resonates: 222 yards allowed, 180 in the first half, 7.4 yards per carry. The Cowboys know opponents will want to run on them each week, and San Francisco (No. 3 in rushing) is up next, with two games against Philadelphia (No. 2) in the near future. The Cowboys can create takeaways and rush the passer. The best way to neutralize that is to pound the running game. The Cowboys know it and need to remain true to their gap responsibilities. — Todd Archer

Week 4 ranking: 2

Defensive efficiency: 35.6 (28th)

Biggest issue on defense: Third-down defense

There are several problems that plague the Dolphins’ defense, including its inability to get off the field on third down. Miami is allowing opponents to convert on 46% of their third-down attempts — tied for the eighth-worst rate in the NFL. The Dolphins’ performance in critical situations is exacerbated by a middling pass rush and below-average run defense, as well. This is not the start Miami was hoping for after hiring Vic Fangio, even with Jalen Ramsey out for the foreseeable future. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Week 4 ranking: 7

Defensive efficiency: 84.2 (3rd)

Biggest issue on defense: Explosive runs

Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have allowed three runs of 20 yards or longer — only the Broncos and Cowboys have given up more in that span. The problem has been setting the edge with young outside linebackers David Ojabo and Jeremiah Moon. This is uncharacteristic for Baltimore, which allowed the second-fewest runs of 20 yards or longer (38) over the previous five seasons. The Ravens still remain one of the best run defenses overall, ranking seventh in the league with 92.5 yards allowed per game this season. — Jamison Hensley

Week 4 ranking: 8

Defensive efficiency: 63.3 (13th)

Biggest issue on defense: Rushing the passer

The pass rush has certainly improved from the past two seasons, but the Lions’ pass rush win rate is 32.3% through four games — which ranks 29th in the league according to ESPN Analytics. However, Detroit has shown improvement: Over the past two games, the Lions’ defense has registered 12 of its 13 sacks on the season, with second-year edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson totaling 3.5 in that span. The Lions’ pass rush appears to be figuring it out and will look to build its momentum against Carolina this week. — Eric Woodyard

Week 4 ranking: 13

Defensive efficiency: 65.4 (10th)

Biggest issue on defense: Explosive pass plays

The Bucs’ defense is giving up 17 points a game — seventh best in the league. But it has given up 16 pass plays of 20 or more yards — fourth worst in the NFL. This is largely a function of Tampa Bay’s high-risk, high-reward scheme. If a player vacates his spot in coverage to blitz and doesn’t affect the quarterback, it creates a hole in the defense. On nine of those plays, the Bucs were blitzing. However, they’re giving up a touchdown only 27.3% of the time in the red zone — the second-best rate in the NFL — which allows them to take these gambles. — Jenna Laine

Week 4 ranking: 10

Defensive efficiency: 38.6 (27th)

Biggest issue on defense: Third down

Stopping the run has been the only thing Seattle’s defense has done consistently well. Everything else has been either up-and-down or downright poor, with the Seahawks’ third-down defense standing out as the most glaring of several issues so far. Heading into Monday night’s game, the Seahawks ranked second-to-last in third-down percentage, allowing opponents to convert more than 57% of the time. However, the defense did better Monday night, allowing the Giants to convert on only 6 of 16 third-down tries. — Brady Henderson

Week 4 ranking: 9

Defensive efficiency: 87.0 (1st)

Biggest issue on defense: Forcing turnovers

Despite being No. 1 in the NFL in defensive efficiency, the Browns have continued to struggle to force turnovers. They are tied for 24th with just three forced turnovers, including only one interception. Last season, Cleveland finished 20th with 20 forced turnovers. The defense is obviously much improved this year and playing as well as any unit in the league. Still, the lack of turnovers remains. It’s early, and the Browns are creating plenty of pressure on the quarterback (11th in PRWR, 48.7%). Maybe the turnovers will come. So far, they haven’t. — Jake Trotter

Week 4 ranking: 14

Defensive efficiency: 43.0 (26th)

Biggest issue on defense: Pass defense

No matter the quarterback or offense — from Tagovailoa to Tannehill — when teams have desired to beat the Chargers for deep passes, they’ve almost always been successful. The Chargers have allowed the most passing yards in the NFL (1,199). Sunday’s win over the Las Vegas Raiders was the first time the Chargers’ pass defense didn’t allow a completion of more than 20 yards — thanks to a rookie quarterback making his first start and six sacks from outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Still, for the Chargers to ever have a shot at contending in the AFC, the pass defense will need to solve this issue. — Kris Rhim

Week 4 ranking: 19

Defensive efficiency: 76.6 (5th)

Biggest issue on defense: Pass rush consistency

It sounds weird considering the Jaguars just sacked Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder four times and linebacker Josh Allen is tied for the NFL lead with six sacks, but the pass rush is still an issue. This same group didn’t sack C.J. Stroud once the week before, and Allen doesn’t have much help. More consistent pressure, especially from 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, needs to happen to complement Allen. — Michael DiRocco

Week 4 ranking: 12

Defensive efficiency: 53.4 (18th)

Biggest issue on defense: Run defense

This is not a new problem. It was a problem before Joe Barry took over as defensive coordinator in 2021, but it hasn’t gotten any better. The Packers were 26th in rushing yards allowed per game (139.53) last season, and they’re 30th (155.25) this year. It would be easier to fix if Barry could identify one overriding issue, but he said: “It’s not one thing. It’s one thing on this play; it’s another thing on this play.” — Rob Demovsky



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Week 4 ranking: 22

Defensive efficiency: 45.7 (24th)

Biggest issue on defense: Taking the ball away

Through four games, the Rams have only two takeaways: an interception in Week 3 and a fumble recovery in Week 4. This is something that has continued from last season. Los Angeles is tied for 28th in the NFL in takeaways this season and tied for 24th in turnover differential (minus-3). The Rams have games coming up against the Eagles (four turnovers), Cardinals (two turnovers) and Steelers (five turnovers), so forcing turnovers could be key to stringing wins together. — Sarah Barshop

Week 4 ranking: 17

Defensive efficiency: 54.9 (16th)

Biggest issue on defense: Explosive pass plays

Washington has allowed 11 pass plays of 25 yards or more, tying for second most in the NFL with Chicago. That’s the same number the Commanders allowed in the final eight games of 2022. They’ve already allowed five touchdowns on such plays, two less than all of last season. A lot of it is youth: Rookie corner Emmanuel Forbes has allowed several long pass plays and was involved in some fashion, whether in man or zone, in four 25-plus-yard gains vs. Philadelphia Sunday. Coaches want the aggressive Forbes to be more disciplined with his technique. — John Keim

Week 4 ranking: 20

Defensive efficiency: 68.0 (7th)

Biggest issue on defense: Secondary

The pass rush has been intermittent, but the performance of the secondary is concerning right now. There were numerous uncontested throws in Sunday’s loss to the Rams, with rookie receiver Puka Nacua left wide open on the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime. The Colts rank in the bottom third of the league in completion percentage allowed (68.7) and opponents’ yards per pass attempt (7.6). Cornerback, in particular, is an issue — especially given that starting corner Dallis Flowers suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday. — Stephen Holder



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Week 4 ranking: 15

Defensive efficiency: 66.8 (8th)

Biggest issue on defense: Tackling

Saints coach Dennis Allen said the loss to the Buccaneers was “one of their worst tackling games,” which allowed the Bucs to make some big plays to seal the victory. And after sacking the opposing quarterback seven times in the first two games, the defense has gotten to the quarterback only two times since. The Saints’ defense was solid through their first 2.5 games, but they’ve made just enough mistakes in the past six quarters to where they can’t overcome the offense’s shortcomings. — Katherine Terrell

Week 4 ranking: 11

Defensive efficiency: 66.5 (9th)

Biggest issue on defense: Run defense

For the second year in a row, the Steelers’ defense lost a key member in the first game of the season. This time around, Cameron Heyward’s groin injury was a significant hit to the team’s run defense. While the team held reigning rushing champ Josh Jacobs to 3.6 yards per carry, the Steelers are allowing 4.7 yards per carry on the season — ranking 28th in the NFL. Against the Texans, the Steelers allowed running back Dameon Pierce to set the tone early, which opened up the game for Houston’s rookie quarterback. — Brooke Pryor

Week 4 ranking: 28

Defensive efficiency: 54.0 (17th)

Biggest issue on defense: Sacking the quarterback

The biggest issue for the Texans’ defense is its inability to get sacks. Houston is tied for the fifth-fewest sacks in the NFL with seven. The issue isn’t pressuring the quarterbacks, as the Texans have the third-highest pressure rate (44.4%). But they can’t turn pressure into sacks. The team leader is defensive end Jonathan Greenard with three sacks, and the pass rush showed potential against the Steelers, sacking their quarterback three times. If this unit wants to reach the next level, it must start making the big plays and sacking quarterbacks. — DJ Bien-Aime

Week 4 ranking: 29

Defensive efficiency: 53.3 (19th)

Biggest issue on defense: Explosive pass plays

The Titans’ defense has given up 12 explosive passing plays (20-plus yards) this season. Those 12 plays account for 372 of the 692 passing yards the Titans have allowed through four games. Miscommunication and poor execution have been the root causes of the long passing plays Tennessee has allowed. The defensive front consistently gets after the quarterback. But the back end has to hold up its end of the bargain in order for the Titans’ defense to excel. The defense showed how dominant it can be in its best performance of the season this past Sunday, when the Titans didn’t allow a single explosive play while holding the Bengals to three points and 211 total yards in a 27-3 win. — Turron Davenport



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Week 4 ranking: 16

Defensive efficiency: 59.3 (15th)

Biggest issue on defense: Sacking the quarterback

The Falcons, with five sacks, are not bringing quarterbacks down — a familiar lament from the past few seasons. It’s a problem, but a smaller one for an otherwise efficient unit. Even the sack numbers aren’t as big of a deal as in prior years since the Falcons are pressuring quarterbacks on 30.2% of dropbacks and have a pass rush win rate of 45.2% — almost 10% better than last season. — Michael Rothstein

Week 4 ranking: 25

Defensive efficiency: 43.8 (25th)

Biggest issue on defense: Pass defense

When the Cardinals gave up 148 yards to 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk on Sunday, it was indicative of a larger problem Arizona’s defense has against the pass. Arizona is giving up the fourth-most yards per pass attempt (8.2) and the fifth-most yards per dropback (6.96). The Cardinals also rank 24th in the league in passing yards allowed (970) and 25th in opponent completion percentage (69.8%). — Josh Weinfuss

Week 4 ranking: 26

Defensive efficiency: 51.6 (21st)

Biggest issue on defense: Organic pass rush

The Vikings have spent most of the season struggling to generate a pass rush, even as they’ve blitzed more frequently (55%) than any other team in the NFL. Part of the issue has been an ankle injury to outside linebacker Marcus Davenport, who played in only four snaps over the first three games. When Davenport returned in Week 4, he recorded a sack and helped spur the Vikings to five sacks in the second half of a 21-13 victory. But Davenport and Danielle Hunter are the only rushers the Vikings can depend on at this point to win one-on-one battles. — Kevin Seifert

Week 4 ranking: 18

Defensive efficiency: 48.5 (23rd)

Biggest issue on defense: Run defense

Cincinnati’s rushing defense is the worst it has been in years. The Bengals have allowed the second-most rushing yards (280) in the NFL this season. Cincinnati’s 5.1 yards allowed per carry matches its highest total in the past five years. Cincinnati had 12 missed tackles against the Titans, per defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Bengals DT DJ Reader on being better tacklers: “You have to want to do it. Sometimes guys don’t want to do it. You have bad technique and that’s a product of you not wanting to do it that play.” — Ben Baby



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Week 4 ranking: 23

Defensive efficiency: 21.5 (31st)

Biggest issue on defense: Pressuring the QB

Wink Martindale’s defense is built on applying pressure, but the Giants haven’t done it consistently enough early in the season. The Giants have just four sacks in the first four games. That’s not the recipe for success for a defense whose strength is supposed to be up front with Dexter Lawrence II, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux leading the way. — Jordan Raanan

Week 4 ranking: 21

Defensive efficiency: 61.9 (14th)

Biggest issue on defense: Cornerback health

Top 2023 draft pick Christian Gonzalez left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury (torn labrum), and Jack Jones (hamstring) and Marcus Jones (torn biceps) are already on injured reserve, while Jonathan Jones (ankle) has missed the past three games. That put Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade into top roles on Sunday after Gonzalez’s injury, and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (261 passing yards, TD, no INT) attacked both of them with success. — Mike Reiss

Week 4 ranking: 24

Defensive efficiency: 51.1 (22nd)

Biggest issue on defense: Explosive plays

The Jets have allowed 17 runs of at least 10 yards and eight pass plays of at least 20 yards — a total of 25, which is tied for 20th in the NFL. That’s not good, especially when you consider their defense is predicated on limiting explosives — i.e. a lot of zone coverage and not too many blitzes. Some of the big plays have resulted from blown coverages, which is inexcusable for a unit that returned eight of 11 starters. With that much continuity, growing pains aren’t an excuse. — Rich Cimini

Week 4 ranking: 27

Defensive efficiency: 29.5 (29th)

Biggest issue on defense: Relative lack of takeaways

It was a major point of emphasis during training camp and the exhibition season: getting interceptions while forcing fumbles and recovering them. And yet … safety Tre’von Moehrig‘s interception of Justin Herbert late in the third quarter Sunday was the Raiders’ first takeaway of the season — in Game 4. Only the Giants have fewer takeaways, with zero. As such, the Raiders’ takeaway differential of minus-9 is the worst in the NFL. — Paul Gutierrez

Week 4 ranking: 31

Defensive efficiency: 17.7 (32nd)

Biggest issue on defense: Can’t pick just one …

The Broncos struggle to hold their ground up front in the run game — opponents are averaging a robust 5.6 yards per carry and 176 rushing yards per game. Their attempts to make off coverage work too often result in completion after completion. They haven’t tackled well, and they are last in the league in scoring defense (37.5 points per game), run defense (176 YPG) as well as last in yards allowed per pass play (9.5). Folks want to dump all that on Vance Joseph’s desk — and yes, he wears the headset, so he wears the results — but those kinds of problems go way beyond who’s calling the plays and include injuries in the secondary, those who assembled the depth chart and those carrying out the assignments. — Jeff Legwold

Week 4 ranking: 30

Defensive efficiency: 52.3 (20th)

Biggest issue on defense: Run defense

For a unit that entered Sunday’s loss to Minnesota down three starters, and then lost starting corner Donte Jackson (shoulder) in the first half, the secondary has held up surprisingly well. What the Panthers can’t do consistently is stop the run. Only five teams have given up more than their 545 yards rushing. Only four are allowing more than their 4.7 yards per carry. It’s constantly keeping opponents in manageable down-and-distance situations that ultimately will impact the back end of the defense. — David Newton

Week 4 ranking: 32

Defensive efficiency: 22.3 (30th)

Biggest issue on defense: Rushing the passer

The Bears have two sacks in four games and have pressured opposing quarterbacks on 22% of dropbacks, which ranks 32nd. Chicago’s defense is slightly more aggressive and opportunistic in generating pressure after coach Matt Eberflus assumed defensive playcalling duties in Week 2, but it hasn’t resulted in increased production. Eberflus said the Bears would have to start sending five or six rushers if they struggle to get pressure with their four defensive linemen, and while Chicago did see an uptick in blitzes against Denver (27.6%), that strategy was one the Broncos were able to adjust to in the second half. The Bears’ D-line has six new players from a year ago, yet the upgrade in talent has not improved the team’s ability to get to the quarterback. — Courtney Cronin

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