Reading the Defense: Linebackers in short supply in Week 9

As we've mentioned before here at "Reading the Defense", a good team defense is usually made up of good individual defensive players. That's certainly the case with the resurgent 49ers. Sure, everyone knows Patrick Willis. But NaVorro Bowman leads the team in tackles, rookie Aldon Smith was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for October and then there's Ahmad Brooks.

The sixth-year linebacker came up with a sack and fumble against Cleveland last week -- without a helmet. The incident spurred a touch of blood lust from Niners coach Jim Harbaugh. Brooks is third on the team with 4.0 sacks and helps make up one of the league's fiercest linebacker corps.

If that's not enough to get your blood pumping, how about some IDP (Individual Defensive Player) news?

Four Downs

First down: The good news for the Dallas Cowboys is that LB Sean Lee won't need surgery for his dislocated left wrist. The bad news is Lee looks doubtful for Sunday against Seattle. Dallas would prefer to have rookie Bruce Carter ready to go, but it will likely be veterans Bradie James and Keith Brooking picking up the slack. There are plenty of plays to be made against Seattle's sad-sack offense, but the majority of them could come from the edges where DeMarcus Ware will be harassing the quarterback and the secondary will be charged with locking down on the Seahawks' receivers.

IDP rankings

Top five scoring IDPs (according to NFL.com):

Second down: Pittsburgh's linebacker situation has even less clarity. James Harrison's orbital bone hasn't healed enough for him to return to action. Now James Farrior (calf) and LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) have been limited in practice. After a slow start to the season, the Steelers' defense once again resembles the unit we're all used to. It's hard to imagine Joe Flacco torching them again, as he did in Week 1, which likely means a heavy dose of Ray Rice. If the Steelers are short-handed at linebacker, it could mean Troy Polamalu making more tackles.

Third down: If only the Browns could get their entire defense healthy at once. A week after LB Scott Fujita returned from a concussion, Chris Gocong is in danger of missing Sunday's game at Houston with a stinger. Whether it's Gocong or Kaluka Maiava at the outside linebacker spot, it could be a busy day. Texans RB Arian Foster has been as essential to the team's passing game as he has the running game. Combine that with the return of TE Owen Daniels and Cleveland's linebackers could have their hands full.

Fourth down:Vikings CB Cedric Griffin has been a relatively productive fantasy IDP player. The irony is that his fantasy effectiveness -- he's the 23rd-rated defensive back in NFL.com leagues -- belies a general ineffectiveness on the field. Now Griffin is in danger of losing his starting job in favor of Asher Allen. With Minnesota on a bye in Week 9, coach Leslie Frazier has some time to sort things out. But the Green Bay Packers and their high-powered passing game loom in Week 10. Whoever gets the start at corner is likely in for a long day.

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