The teams of the NFC North enjoy longstanding reputations for great defensive play. Even in 2011's offense-first climate, the division featured some of the league's best individual talents on the defensive side of the ball.
Of all the division's sackers, stoppers and ballhawks, these five Pro Bowl stars have earned the most respect from players and fans alike:
1. Jared Allen, Vikings
Jared Allen led the NFL in sacks for the second time last season, shattering his previous career high with 22. The leader of the Minnesota defensive line also deserves some credit for the team's solid run defense, as he amassed 66 tackles (four for loss) last year.
Allen just turned 30 this spring, so there's little doubt he'll be a fixture among the league's sack leaders for several seasons to come.
2. Charles Woodson, Packers
The best cover corner in the division by leaps and bounds, Charles Woodson has reinvented himself since arriving in Green Bay. Blasted for underachieving in Oakland after being drafted at No. 4 overall, Woodson has averaged 6.2 interceptions a season since joining the Pack in 2006.
Woodson is also a better tackler than he's often given credit for, totaling 74 stops (and two sacks) last season.
3. Clay Matthews, Packers
Even coming off a down year, Clay Matthews is one of the most feared pass rushers in the business. Green Bay increased his coverage responsibilities (a career-best three interceptions last year), but he still managed to rack up six sacks on the season.
Matthews also found plenty of other contributions to make, notching five tackles for loss (tied for the team lead) and three forced fumbles while returning one of his interceptions for his second career touchdown.
4. Lance Briggs, Bears
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better outside linebacker in sideline-to-sideline pursuit than Lance Briggs. Although running mate Brian Urlacher has frequently gotten more accolades, it was Briggs who led Chicago a year ago with 105 tackles (10 of them for loss).
Briggs, who forced a pair of fumbles on the season, is also effective dropping back against the pass, an essential trait for a linebacker in the Bears' Cover 2 defense.
5. Ndamukong Suh, Lions
The Detroit defense is a unit on the rise, and no player is more responsible for that than Ndamukong Suh. The 25-year-old's self-control issues have been well-documented, but his athleticism and instincts also have him in a position to become the best playmaking defensive tackle this side of Warren Sapp.
Suh recorded four sacks and three tackles for loss last season, a fine showing by the standards of most interior linemen but a far cry from the 10-sack rookie campaign that earned him a Pro Bowl berth.117728