It's tough not to be a Monday-morning quarterback these days. I try not to look at how much my investments have lost, because I know that I'm investing for the long term and I won't be retiring for awhile. Still, it would be nice to make some money for a change. Or at least think that my portfolio has the potential to make money sometime soon.

To call this a frenzied month for the market would be an understatement. Investors looking for the long-ball touchdown pass certainly aren't scoring. As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I'm all about defense. And right now, the defensive plays of the market look attractive.

No Hail Mary here
That's why I became a shareholder of Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) after working for the company for several years. While the S&P has struggled for gains in the last 10 years, P&G stock is up almost 80%, with a steady dividend throughout. Not bad for a defensive play, eh?

Strong companies that don't heavily rely on the cyclical nature of consumers, like Procter & Gamble, are great plays that can both protect and grow portfolios. These aren't reactive plays, but solid investments across sectors like health care and consumer products. These stocks can bolster your holdings -- and keep you from going completely nuts while the rest of the market is fluctuating.

Healthy gains ahead for UnitedHealth?
Like the Motley Fool CAPS community who rates the company a full five stars, I've kept UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) on my radar screen for some time. I'm particularly interested now that the stock is down almost 60% from its 52-week high, with health insurance stocks being hit hard after AIG's (NYSE:AIG) fall.

But just because a stock is cheap doesn't make it a great pick, even if it offers a product that people will need no matter what happens next with the economy. UnitedHealth has delivered a five-year annualized revenue growth rate near 25%, and an EPS gain of more than 20%. And while the company hasn't delivered these kinds of numbers lately, UnitedHealth is positioning itself for a turnaround by raising premiums and cutting jobs. The company will be announcing earnings later this month, so it's definitely worth watching to see whether these changes will help its bottom line.

Food for thought?
It's no secret that food giants like Heinz (NYSE:HNZ), Kraft (NYSE:KFT), and General Mills (NYSE:GIS) are doing great, even in today's inflation-driven environment. These companies have delivered strong increases in revenue even with increasing commodity costs, which has been no small feat.

But there are so many more reasons why these foodies can add some real comfort to your portfolio. S&P studies have shown that these consumer staples and the like have outperformed the market by up to 90% in times of recession. Even better for these companies, though, is the declining price for commodities like corn, which has fallen from nearly $8 per bushel in July to $4.55 at the end of September. That's not great news for farmers, but it's definitely good for food producers looking to pad their profits. Combine this with a growing trend of people eating in to save cash, and the future looks bright for these companies.

Blitzing on first down
Sometimes your defense has to get a little aggressive, so this last pick lets you blitz on first down to change things up. Near its 52-week low, United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) is selling at a P/E of just 11.8. This conglomerate manufactures a diverse portfolio of industrial products, including elevators, heating and cooling units, and aerospace products. Its exposure across numerous sectors means that investors like you aren't isolated to one industrial area.

As far as growth is concerned, United Technologies has trounced the competition, with five-year annualized top- and bottom-line growth rates of nearly 15% each. United Technologies carries much less debt than its competitors, with a long-term debt-to-equity ratio of 0.37 versus the industry average of 2.04, positioning it well in this credit crunch. The company is continuing to deliver strong results in spite of declines across the housing market and elsewhere, projecting double-digit earnings EPS growth for the year.

In these times, keeping it simple is some of the best advice investors can get. By investing in strong, blue-chip companies, you can protect your portfolio even when the Dow falls below 10,000, as it has this morning. I just need to keep reminding myself not to look at how much I've lost, and to think instead about what I have to gain by being defensive.

Make a play for further Foolishness:

UnitedHealth Group is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Inside Value recommendation and the Fool also owns shares of UnitedHealth. Heinz and Kraft are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Looking for more advice in an all-consuming market? Give the Motley Fool's newsletters a try free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Colleen Paulson owns shares of Procter & Gamble, but does not hold positions in any other companies mentioned above. The Fool's disclosure policy isn't a Monday morning quarterback, but it does appreciate a savvy blitz package.