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2023 AFC North Breakdown by Position: The Defense

During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position.

During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a breakdown of each AFC North defense position group. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.

2023 AFC North Defense Breakdown by Position

Defensive Line: 4-3 Teams (Bengals, Browns = DT) | 3-4 Teams (Ravens, Steelers = NT & 2 DE’s)

The Best: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Rest: Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns

The Steelers lead us off in the breakdown of the best defensive division in the NFL. The tandem of  Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi is legit. Throw in rookie nose tackle Keeanu Benton and you have trouble come game time.

Even though the Bengals defensive line doesn’t get as much shine around the league, they are still very good. The man in the middle, DJ Reader is a premier run stuffer in the league and his running mate BJ Hill is as consistent as they come.

The Ravens play well as a collective whole but their defensive line is the weak link. Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington man the end spots, and veteran Michael Pierce has had a fairly solid career through six seasons at defensive tackle.

Cleveland’s interior line is where most of the work is being upgraded. Dalvin Tomlinson and Jordan Elliott are average players at best and this hinders the Browns ability to close out games.

Edge Rushers: 4-3 Teams (Bengals, Browns = DE’s) | 3-4 Teams (Ravens, Steelers = OLB’s)

The Best: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Rest: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals,  Baltimore Ravens

T.J. Watt and newly signed Alex Highsmith make a formidable rushing duo for the Steelers. They are both consistent players and Watt can turn a game in an instant for Pittsburgh.

Myles Garrett has terrorized quarterbacks since being drafted in 2017 and he carries this Browns defense. Recently acquired Za’Darius Smith gives Cleveland a very good edge group.

The bookends of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are fantastic and fly under the radar for Cincinnati. Hendrickson is the pass specialist and while Hubbard is effective in getting to the quarterback, he’s also very good at stopping the run.

Much like Hendrickson and Hubbard, Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh are underrated around the league. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald does a very good job of putting these two in positions to maximize their strengths to help the Ravens win games.

Linebackers: 4-3 Teams (Bengals, Browns = All 3 LB positions) | 3-4 Teams (Ravens, Steelers = Inside LB’s)

The Best: Cincinnati Bengals

The Rest: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers

Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are one of the best pairing of linebackers the league has to offer. Strongside backer Akeem Davis-Gaither has also made plays in crucial moments over his three seasons with the Bengals.

Baltimore’s linebacking crew is also top-notch in Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen. The Ravens often use these two to blitz, and they have good success at getting to the quarterback.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has been a revelation for the Browns since being drafted in 2021 out of Notre Dame. Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki have their moments of strong play.

The weakest part of the Steelers defense is ironically their inside linebackers. Veterans Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are two players who don’t affect games much for Pittsburgh.


The Best: Cincinnati Bengals

The Rest: Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Bengals Chidobe Awuzie is a top-10 cover corner and he’s flanked by second-year player Cam Taylor-Britt who has a fantastic rookie season for Cincinnati.

Cleveland’s Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II are also some of the best defensive backs around. They’ve both battled injuries throughout their respective careers and their durability is their biggest blemish.

Rock Ya-Sin and Marlon Humphrey are a consistent presence on the boundaries for the Ravens. Humphrey is the heavy hitter of the two and also the more dynamic player.

The Steelers are counting on rookie Joey Porter Jr. to play well this season. He will likely struggle early on and this may bite Pittsburgh in close games. He’s flanked by Levi Wallace who has his best season of his six-year career in 2022 with four interceptions.


The Best: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Rest: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals

The Steelers backend is led by Minkah Fitzpatrick who has turned into one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Damontae Kazee is an above-average strong safety with 14 career interceptions.

Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton played very well together last year. Look for this duo to get even better in most facets to help the Ravens defend big plays over the top.

Cleveland is banking on Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill improving to solidify both safety spots for the Browns. If they are up to the task, that defense will get even scarier.

The Bengals hope Nick Scott and Dax Hill can replace the huge void left by the recently departed Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. This is a tall task, and they hold the bottom of the AFC North safety rankings heading into the 2023 season.

AFC North Offense Breakdown

Main Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK


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