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Defenses define division

After three games of the 2011 season, there's one impression that stands out: Defenses rule the division.

All four AFC North teams rank in the top half of defense in the NFL, including two in the top three (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati). No other division has more than two defenses in the top 13.

A look at those defenses (with ranking in parentheses):

  • STEELERS (No. 2): Yes, the "old" defense is second only to the Tennessee Titans. The scary part is Pittsburgh has yet to hit its stride defensively. Unlike previous seasons, the strength isn't run defense. The Steelers rank first against the pass, allowing 8 yards fewer passing per game than any other team in the NFL. Strong safety Troy Polamalu is still flying around, and cornerback Ike Taylor is quietly getting the job done.

  • BENGALS (No. 3): Cincinnati has one of the most underrated defensive fronts in the NFL. Nose tackle Domata Peko and defensive end Jonathan Fanene always seem to be around the ball. Rey Maualuga is making a solid transition from outside to middle linebacker. The big test comes Sunday against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills.

  • BROWNS (No. 9): This isn't the same defense that finished No. 22 last season. Under new coordinator Dick Jauron, the excitement has been generated by the play of rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard. Joe Haden is gaining more and more attention as a shutdown cornerback while defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin continues to go unnoticed despite an extremely strong season.

  • RAVENS (No. 13): The aggressive style of first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is a major reason why Baltimore ranks first in fewest points allowed. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs are becoming the tone-setters with their play this year. But linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed both still have plays left in them.