Vikings double up on defensive honors
In what has become a passing league, a defense has to be able to sack the quarterback and blanket wide receivers, and the ESPN.com All-Pro defense for 2009 can certainly do both.
But there was room, too, for some terrific defenders versus the run. Below is a look at the all-pro defensive unit:
For my offensive selections, click here.
Reasoning: Partner Jared Allen gets most of the attention, but Edwards had a strong season, and there are only a few standout left ends. The fourth-year veteran was one of only a dozen linemen with 50 or more stops (he had 51), and he added 8½ sacks.
Reasoning: Collected only half as many tackles as in '08 (30), but still one of NFL's most dominant inside players. He played some end earlier in his career and retains some of those pass-rush skills, as indicated by his six sacks, which tied for the league lead among interior linemen.
Reasoning: He registered 35 tackles after averaging 59 stops the past two years but still played at a high level. He doesn't penetrate a lot but commands double-team blocking, and that allows linebackers to make most of the plays. He's a strong anchor versus the run.
Reasoning: Not a prototypical nose tackle, but Ratliff penetrates more than most players at the position and can shoot the gap and be disruptive in the opponent's backfield. He recorded 40 tackles, six sacks (tied for NFL high for interior linemen) and two forced fumbles.
Reasoning: He missed two games completely and played only parts of five others but still had 13½ sacks and applied consistent pressure on the pocket. His spin and counter moves are among the best in the league. He added 24 tackles against the run.
Reasoning: The defensive rookie of the year is the only first-year player to earn a spot on the all-pro team; he also made the Pro Bowl. An all-around defender, he had 134 tackles, five sacks, four interceptions, 14 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Reasoning: He's a pure 4-3 middle linebacker who flows naturally to the ball and simply makes a ton of plays. A good two-way player, as his well-rounded numbers show. He posted 142 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, 10 passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Reasoning: A tackling machine and a leader, Willis helps the 49ers' defense in a lot of ways. He plays sideline to sideline and can cover in reverse. Unofficially, he led the NFL in tackles (152) and added four sacks, three interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
Reasoning: Some regard him as one-dimensional because he has no interceptions and only three passes defensed. But it's hard to ignore his league-best 17 sacks and four forced fumbles. A hybrid player, typical of a 3-4 outside linebacker, Dumervil usually moves to rush end on third down.
Reasoning: At age 33, he tied for the league lead in interceptions (nine) and added 18 passes defensed. The six-time Pro Bowler was among the top five cornerbacks in tackles (74). Woodson was a standout (four interceptions, 11 passes defensed) even after losing partner Al Harris to a knee injury.
Reasoning: The third-year veteran earned a second straight Pro Bowl berth by being the epitome of a shutdown corner. He faced many of the top wide receivers, played most of them man-to-man and never backed down. He had six interceptions and 31 passes defensed, six more than anyone else in the league.
Reasoning: Along with the rest of the New Orleans defense, Sharper wasn't nearly as good in the second half of the season (two interceptions, three passes defensed), but he tied for NFL lead with nine interceptions, returned three for touchdowns and set a record with 376 return yards.
Reasoning: He has proved over past two seasons that he is more than just a blitz/sack guy. Thanks to dramatically improved coverage skills, he had five interceptions, and his 13 passes defensed led all strong safeties. He stayed close enough to the line of scrimmage to record 74 tackles.
Reasoning: He's a strong-legged, clutch kicker whose self-confidence has grown the past few years. His 91.4 percent conversion rate (32-of-35) was best in the league among kickers with 30 or more field-goal tries. He was 3-for-4 from 50-plus yards.
Reasoning: Maybe not the best directional punter, as a lot of his kicks are returned, but Lechler's the guy you want when you're back deep in your own end. He can really boom the ball out of trouble, led the NFL in both gross (51.1 yards) and net averages (43.9), and has led either the league or the AFC in five of the past six seasons.
Reasoning: He's the Browns' best offensive weapon, and that's not even accounting for his work in the Wildcat formation. He had 94 total returns (56 kickoffs and 38 punts) and still averaged 21.1 yards. He scored four touchdowns, three on kickoff returns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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2009 NFL PLAYOFFS: ROAD TO MIAMI
Colts 30, Jets 17
Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)
Vikings 34, Cowboys 3
Jets 17, Chargers 14
Saints 45, Cardinals 14
Colts 20, Ravens 3
Jets 24, Bengals 14
Cowboys 34, Eagles 14
Ravens 33, Patriots 14
Cardinals 51, Packers 45 OT
- Fathead Patrick Willis Wall Graphic