NFL Week 12: Best Defensive Performances from Thursday and Sunday's Action

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2012

November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) and inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) combine to sack New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers defeated the Saints 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

In the era of the offense-driven, pass-happy NFL, it was nice to see defense winning its share of games in Week 12.

Four games in particular offered outstanding defensive performances. Two decided fierce divisional rivalries in the AFC, while the other two settled critical heavyweight tussles in the NFC.

Here are the best defensive performances from Thursday and Sunday's action in Week 12.


New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

Have the New England Patriots at last found some defensive muscle to complement their prolific offense? That's a scary thought, and it might not be so wide of the mark.

The Patriots defense destroyed the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night. They swarmed all over their AFC East rivals, forcing Gang Green into four costly turnovers.

Vince Wilfork led a charge that routinely crushed the pocket. Linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo were outstanding.

The pair blitzed gaps to stuff the run and pressure Mark Sanchez into mistakes.

The Patriots defense still gives up big plays, but the unit is now making plenty of their own.


Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Forcing eight turnovers from your hated rivals has to be a satisfying feeling for the Cleveland Browns defense.

The unit is the strength of a young team and completely overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was not a good day to be a Steelers running back, as four different runners coughed up the ball.

The Browns held the Pittsburgh ground game to only 49 yards. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was too much for the interior of the Steelers' offensive line.

The secondary also rolled down the shutters and gave aging third-stringer Charlie Batch fits. Stellar corner Joe Haden grabbed one of the Browns' three interceptions.

The Browns may have issues on offense, but if the new ownership is smart, they'll leave the defense alone.


San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

You just have to love the San Francisco 49ers defense. The group doesn't do much schematically, but they are an intelligent and physically dominant bunch.

They simply destroyed Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense in Week 12. The Niners ran two picks back for scores and harassed Brees in the pocket all game.

Hulking linemen Justin Smith and Ray McDonald frequently powered Saints blockers back into the face of Brees. They also led a charge that shut down any Saints attempts to establish the run.

Not committing big numbers on exotic fire zone blitzes, allows the 49ers to maintain a solid coverage structure. Their disciplined zone schemes frustrated Brees and forced both interceptions.

Not that anyone needed it, but the 49ers reminded the rest of the league they have a Super Bowl-calibre defense.


New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers

He may have no running game and a suspect offensive line, but shutting down Aaron Rodgers is no easy task. That is unless you are the New York Giants.

They dominated the Green Bay Packers quarterback in last season's playoffs and did it again Sunday night.

Big Blue used the same formula, opting for a man under, two-deep cover scheme and mixing their pressure alignments. Corners Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara successfully used press techniques to stifle Green Bay's dangerous wideouts.

Up front, the Giants mixed in a few more blitzes than usual to catch the Packers cold. That led to five sacks and kept Rodgers fleeing from the pocket nearly every time he dropped back.

Eli Manning and their running game performed well, but it was the defense that keyed the G-men's return to form.