Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:58 pm
By Josh Katzowitz
As we enter the final weekend of the season, a number of squads are just playing out the string, hoping to put a solid performance on film, ready to clean out their lockers and look ahead to next year. While only four games on this week’s schedule mean absolutely nothing in terms of the postseason, quite a few of those teams are just looking to play spoiler.
And looking to the 2012 draft, where they can begin to rebuild their team or shore up that one position that could put them over the hump for next season. That’s why we’re taking the 10-worst teams in the league this year and finding one major flaw that needs to be fixed from April 26-28 in New York City’s Radio Music Hall.
For these teams -- and their fans -- the time has come to salivate at the prospects of landing the exact right guy that could change their fortunes for years to come.
10. Bills: Defensive line -- I didn’t like the Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million extension earlier this year, and I hate it now. But I think Buffalo has other concerns for the moment, and they come on defense. For one, Buffalo has a tough time stopping the run. First-round pick Marcell Dareus has been a bit inconsistent at the nose tackle, but he also has the ability to play like a monster. The 3-4 ends, though, need to be better. Injured tackle Kyle Williams obviously will help when he returns next season, but the ability to rush the passer once in a while also would help (Buffalo’s 25 sacks ranks 30th in the league).
9. Dolphins: Quarterback -- Look, the Dolphins have some talent. They proved that when Tony Sparano’s job was on the line, and they started winning games. They proved it by nearly beating Tom Brady, and they proved it by nearly beating Tim Tebow (that last point was a joke). While Matt Moore has been much better than expected after taking over for Chad Henne, he’s a Band-Aid. I think most of us would agree that Henne isn’t the answer as the starter, and perhaps, he and Moore could have a battle to see who could back-up a legit starting quarterback. Reggie Bush established himself as a 1,000-yard rusher, and with a talented quarterback like Robert Griffin III (if he lasts that long in the draft), the Dolphins could begin pushing for AFC East crowns.
8. Browns: Pass rushers -- Cleveland got two defensive linemen early last year (tackle Phil Taylor in the first round and end Jabaal Sheard in the second), and they’ve done a nice job on the left side of the defensive line. But the defense ranks 25th in the league in sacks, and defensive end Jayme Mitchell hasn’t had a great season. Marcus Benard, coming off a solid rookie season last year, is on IR, and if the Browns could get one more high-end rusher in the draft, they’d have talent and depth.
7. Redskins: Quarterback -- It’s probably time for Mike Shanahan to come to the realization that his quarterback picks the past two years have been disastrous (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck). He said the other day that the rebuild of this franchise has taken more time than he thought, but a standout quarterback obviously would help that process along. Shanahan also said that there was no question in his mind that he’d be back next season, but unless he finds a way to invigorate his offense, that might be a different story this time next year.
6. Chiefs: Right tackle -- Looking across Kansas City’s depth chart, there’s not one position group that so obviously needs to be overhauled. The Chiefs have talent, even if some of those positions don’t have much depth. But right tackle Barry Richardson has badly struggled this season. According Pro Football Focus, Richardson is the worst-rated offensive tackle in the league (the decision to cut Jared Gaither near the end of the season was a bad one). Left tackle Branden Albert is solid, but the right side of the line needs to be reworked.
5. Buccaneers: Run defenders -- The Buccaneers tried to shore up their defensive end spots last draft, taking Adrian Clayborn in the first round and Da’Quan Bowers in the second round. Considering Tampa Bay ranks dead last in sacks, the experiment hasn’t paid off immediate dividends. But the Buccaneers are also terrible against the run, and even though tackle Albert Haynesworth has played better than most of us had a right to expect, there are still huge holes to fill in the lineup.
4. Vikings: Secondary -- The Vikings rank as the 31st-worst defense in the NFL, but in reality, their front seven has talent (for instance, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway). Minnesota lost Antoine Winfield (its best corner) early in the year, Chris Cook has legal troubles, safety Jamarca Sanford has struggled badly and the rest of the safeties have been ravaged by injuries. It’s no wonder opposing quarterbacks dominate the Vikings defensive backs. On the season, Minnesota has recorded seven interceptions, worst in the NFL. The Vikings need to find somebody who can force turnovers in order to improve this unit.
3. Jaguars: Receivers – Oh, how they need receivers. Yes, Blaine Gabbert has been, by far, the worst rookie quarterback to play this year, but Jacksonville, even with new ownership and a new coach, probably needs to give him more than a season to see if he’s a quarterback of the future. He also needs somebody who can catch his passes. Here are Jacksonville’s top-three receivers: Mike Thomas, Jarret Dillard, and yeah, nobody else. In fact, there’s a good chance running back Maurice Jones-Drew will end up as the team’s leading pass-catcher this season. Hard to blame Gabbert completely when his receiving corps is so bad.
2. Colts: Running backs -- Assuming Peyton Manning returns healthy next season -- admittedly, a huge assumption -- his receivers should continue to be fine (this, of course, depends on what happens with free agents Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon). But we’ve seen this year that without a running game, a Manning-less Colts squad has very little chance of doing anything (mostly because Manning makes up for SO many team deficiencies). Joseph Addai, who’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry and probably won’t get to 500 rushing yards on the season for the second year in a row, might be released into free agency, and Donald Brown, while improved, isn’t a legit No. 1 running back. The Colts obviously have a big decision to make regarding Manning and Andrew Luck, but taking a running back probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.
1.Rams: Offensive linemen -- There’s been talk that maybe the Rams should grab Luck if they end up with the No. 1 pick. Which, with Sam Bradford on the team, would be ludicrous. Instead, St. Louis should be focused on how to put together an offensive line that doesn’t lead the league in sacks allowed. The biggest problem, not including injuries to Jason Smith and Jacob Bell that have hurt the unit, has been the line’s interior. Linemen aren’t the sexiest position, but damn, St. Louis needs to find some that can stay healthy and keep Bradford and Steven Jackson out of danger.
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Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Albert Haynesworth, Andrew Luck, Antoine Winfield, Barry Richardson, Blaine Gabbert, Branden Albert, Buffalo Bills, Chad Greenway, Chad Henne, Chris Cook, Cleveland Browns, Da'Quan Bowers, Donald Brown, Donovan McNabb, Indianapolis Colts, Jabaal Sheard, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacob Bell, Jamarca Sanford, Jared Allen, Jarret Dillard, Jason Smith, Jayme Mitchell, John Beck, Joseph Addai, Josh Katzowitz, Kansas City Chiefs, Kevin Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Marcus Benard, Matt Moore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Miami Dolphins, Mike Shanahan, Mike Thomas, Minnesota Vikings, Peyton Manning, Phil Taylor, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Bush, Reggie Wayne, Rex Grossman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, Steven Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Sparano, Top Ten, Washington Redskins
Posted on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:35 am
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit
Back in Week 6, the Bucs beat the Saints 26-20 to move into first place in the NFC South. They enter the Week 9 rematch coming off a bye and once again playing New Orleans for the division lead. The Saints are coming off a surprising loss at St. Louis in which they didn’t fail to show up, but rather, simply got outplayed.
An analyst loves nothing more than to break down a matchup involving two teams that recently played each other. The previous film notes are fresh and applicable. Let’s look forward by glimpsing back.
1. Blitzing Freeman
Gregg Williams is the most aggressive blitzing coordinator in the league. It’s not just that he blitzes frequently, it’s that he blitzes with six pass-rushers (as opposed to five). And they’re fast defenders. The Saints’ nickel defense offers a lot of speed. Strong safety Roman Harper essentially serves as a swift linebacker.
Actual linebacker Jonathan Casillas is a lightning bolt when going downhill. He wouldn’t thrive as a traditional read-and-react run-defending linebacker, but as a read-and-attack blitzer, he’s fervid. Something that stood out in the Week 6 game was that when free safety Malcolm Jenkins dropped into the box, he almost always blitzed. He too does so with speed.
The Bucs offensive line did a phenomenal job at picking up New Orleans’ blitzes in the last meeting. However, the nature of those plays left Josh Freeman with minimal room to step into throws. This revealed that a lot of Freeman’s throwing power comes from his lower body (this could be why he’s a more dynamic passer outside the pocket on the run). Big as Freeman is, his ball floats a bit when he has to rely solely on his arm.
2. Saints coverages
Knowing what they know about Freeman’s arm, it will be interesting to see what coverages the Saints design to allow their corners to jump routes behind the blitzes. A floating ball is an interception opportunity. Tracy Porter is particularly good at route-jumping from his off-coverage techniques in the slot.
The Saints should feel confident in Jabari Greer’s and Patrick Robinson’s abilities to stay with Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn in man coverage outside (neither wideout is particularly quick or fast). If the outside is handled with no help coverage, Porter will have more freedom to take chances from the inside.
Of course, if WE know this, then so do the Bucs. Look for them to design a few routes that could take advantage of Porter’s aggression. The fourth-year corner has been somewhat vulnerable against downfield patterns this season.
3. Running Backs
Earnest Graham started for the injured LeGarrette Blount in Week 6 and wound up rushing for 109 yards on 17 carries. It was plain to see that Graham, with his decent quickness and tempo-changing ability, gave the Bucs’ rushing attack more dimension than it has with the lumbering, bulldozing Blount. And because Graham was a good pass-blocker and receiver, the Bucs could camouflage their run/pass play-calls with him on the field. With Blount, it’s a safe bet that the play is either a between-the-tackles handoff or a basic three/five-step pass.
Blount is healthy now. It would have been interesting to see if some of his spotlight shifted over to Graham this week. We’ll never know; Graham tore his Achilles in London two weeks ago. Tampa’s No. 2 running back is now Kregg Lumpkin. And Tampa’s running game is now one dimensional.
The Saints are also dinged up at running back. Rookie Mark Ingram missed last week’s contest with a bruised heel. Veteran replacement Pierre Thomas played in his stead. Thomas’ screen pass receiving prowess gave the offense a little more dimension, but his lack of phone booth power became a problem when the Rams swarming front seven congested the lanes against New Orleans’ pull blocks.
Style-wise, the Bucs’ front seven is similar to St. Louis’ and, while not great against the run, it’s capable of invoking similar disruption.
4. Facing the Saints offense
Any team that plays the Saints this season should closely study what the Rams did last week. It was simple, really. The Rams started the game with high blitz frequency but backed off after it quickly became apparent that New Orleans’ offensive tackles could not block the defensive ends.
With pressure coming out of a four-man rush, Rams corners played tight press coverage against the Saints receivers, which took away the quick routes that Drew Brees and this offense love. On the inside, the linebackers defended the underneath lanes and the safeties jumped lanes from over the top (that’s traditional two-deep coverage). This mix of man and zone principles requires physical strength at cornerback and speed at linebacker and safety.
The Bucs have the personnel to mimic this gameplan. Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who has a terrific combination of speed and power for trench play, destroyed left tackle Jermon Bushrod in Week 6. To be blunt, Bushrod gets destroyed often. He’s probably the worst pass-blocking left tackle in the league.
Right tackle Charles Brown had been equally as shaky. He improved his mechanics over the past few weeks but still got abused by a surprisingly explosive and always-fundamentally sound Chris Long last week. It’s a moot point now as he just landed on injured reserve (hip). The unspectacular but experienced Zach Strief is back from injury and once again starting. He’ll be facing Bucs end Michael Bennett, who is not beast but is having a career-year. It’s a matchup that favors the Bucs.
As far as the coverage goes, Tampa has drifted from its Cover 2 tradition and gone to more of a man-based scheme. Their corners are hit-or-miss jammers at the line of scrimmage but all better athletes than those the Rams put on the field. The Bucs linebackers have enough speed to perform in underneath coverage, but the same is not true of the safeties.
A lot of people think Tanard Jackson is an “oh wow!” success story because he picked off a pass in each of his first two games back from suspension. But those picks came off fortuitously tipped balls. On a down-to-down basis, Jackson has shown limited range in coverage.
5. Defending Jimmy Graham
This is always the $64,000 question for defensive coordinators. In their last meeting, the Bucs treated Graham as a wide receiver and defended him with Ronde Barber. This posed a major size differential that the Saints took advantage of (Graham finished with seven catches for 124 yards).
But don’t be surprised if Tampa uses the same tactic again. It fits well into the rest of their defensive scheme. And you can play nickel against the Saints’ base personnel because the Saints don’t have a dominant ground game right now. Tampa’s nickelback, Barber, is an excellent run-defender anyway. Besides, the more overall speed the Bucs have on the field, the better.
After all, they also have to deal with Darren Sproles.
So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games.
Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Arrelious Benn, Charles Brown, Darren Sproles, Drew Brees, Earnest Graham, Gregg Williams, Jabari Greer, Jermon Bushrod, Jimmy Graham, Jonathan Casillas, Josh Freeman, Kregg Lumpkin, LeGarrette Blount, Malcolm Jenkins, Mark Ingram, Michael Bennett, Mike Williams, New Orleans Saints, Pat McQuistan, Patrick Robinson, Pierre Thomas, Roman Harper, Ronde Barber, Saints vs. Buccaneers, Saints vs. Buccaneers Preview, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tanard Jackson, Tracy Porter
Posted on: October 21, 2011 7:59 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
When the Bears and Buccaneers meet this Sunday in London, there’s a decent chance that one or both teams will still be suffering from jet lag (from the long airplane ride to the UK and from the five-hour (Tampa Bay) or the six-hour (Chicago) body clock change).
The other day, we touched on the Bears decision to arrive in London a scant two days before the game and that Lovie Smith said his team surely be fine: “For us, we wanted to keep a regular game-week routine in place and that's what we're doing. As far as getting acclimated, you can bog your mind down with all of that talk. We're going to go there. We'll be there Friday. We're leaving Thursday from here. That's plenty of time."
I wrote, however, that the previous two years have showed that the team that arrives in London first -- whether it’s 17 hours or three days -- has had the easier time adjusting* and also, perhaps not coincidentally, won the game (that hasn’t stopped three of the five CBSSports.com Expert Pickers from taking Chicago in this one).
*I’ll admit that I’m not sure how playing too much cricket (as you see from Brian Urlacher in the photo) affects your ability to play football.
Well, here’s one caveat to that opinion. Local foods can wreak havoc with your digestive system, and that apparently has what’s happened to Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Clayborn had a meal of fish and chips after arriving with his teammates Monday night. It did sit quite right.
“It didn't sit well with me at all,” Clayborn said. “It messed up my stomach bad. It won't keep me from playing, though.”
So, the counter to jetlag is food poisoning apparently. Unfortunately for the Bears, just about everyone on their team could be jetlagged. Probably not everybody from Tampa Bay will have stomach issues.
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Posted on: October 19, 2011 4:21 pm
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit
Saints vs. Colts
New Orleans’ two new weapons
The Saints have redefined their passing attack. It now runs through Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Graham has been far and away the best tight end in football this season. All onlookers could observe last season that the former Hurricanes power forward possessed considerable raw talent, but few could have predicted he’d polish it this quickly.
Graham has a natural feel for gaining positioning against pass defenders (insert obligatory “like a rebounder” comment here) and, best of all, he’s a hands-catcher who snags the ball away from his body. This makes him nearly impossible to defend, given his size and elevation abilities. Helping the cause is that the Saints align Graham all over the formation, which gives defenses fits in deciding what personnel package to use (most, including the Bucs this past week, have been going with nickel and treating Graham like a slot receiver).
Graham is Brees’s go-to guy. Sproles might be Sean Payton’s.
When the Saints are trying to dictate the tempo of a drive, they often look to get Sproles the ball underneath. The key is putting him in positions to run after the catch. This could mean screens, though often it has meant short outs and ins on spread plays where wideouts run deep to lift the coverage. Sproles has remarkable quickness and elusiveness, amplified by a rare-found ability to start and stop. He’s been much better in this offense than Reggie Bush ever was.
So how will the Colts defend the two new weapons? They’re a zone-based defense with fast linebackers. That helps against Sproles, but it does little for containing Graham. If the Saints can find ways to pass protect long enough to run vertical routes outside, that’ll prevent the Colts safeties from running under and over Graham’s routes. This would spell a fifth-straight 100-yard game for the rising star.
Dolphins vs. Broncos
Tebow’s limited resources
You couldn’t ask for more favorable conditions for a new starting young quarterback: two weeks to prepare, a game at Miami (where the weather is nice and the crowd is irrelevant) and facing a defense that, even with a beast like Cameron Wake, has for some reason completely forgotten how to rush the passer.
Trading your No. 1 receiver just days before the game might not seem favorable to a young quarterback, but that receiver was unenthused about playing with Tebow and hadn’t been getting open in Denver’s new ball-control offense anyway. Plus, he was liable to leave after the season, and his spot is ready to be filled by a now-healthy (hopefully) Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas is a possession target, whereas Brandon Lloyd was more of a vertical threat (though not a burner). The Broncos already have a litany of possession targets, such as Eric Decker, Matt Willis and, when healthy, Eddie Royal. This lack of vertical speed compresses the field and narrows throwing lanes, which isn’t good with a slow-reading young quarterback who has a long windup and prefers to improvise outside the pocket.
The Dolphins are healthy at cornerback again; with no downfield threats to worry about, don’t be surprised if this is the week they finally figure out how to reach the quarterback.
Bears vs. Buccaneers (London)
Forces up front
When playing well, these teams offer two of the faster defensive front sevens in football. The Bucs defensive ends – vastly improved Michael Bennett and explosive rookie Adrian Clayborn – feasted on the shoddy Saints tackles last week and should be licking their chops for J’Marcus Webb and Lance Louis (a guard by trade who has taken over for the overwhelmed Frank Omiyale on the right side).
Linebacker Geno Hayes played with instincts and speed against the Saints, which hasn’t always been the case this season. He’ll have a big say in whether the Bucs can contain Mr. Do It All, Matt Forte.
For Chicago, the mission will be attacking right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Julius Peppers, bum knee and all, is a force who can matchup with Donald Penn on the left side. Same goes for underrated Israel Idonije. But over the years, when it’s rained on Trueblood, it’s poured. He’s the guy to go after.
The Bucs don’t have a backfield star like Matt Forte to build around, though Earnest Graham is a productive receiver who, as he showed last week, can add a dimension of surprising (though subtle) inside quickness and elusiveness.
Don’t be stunned if Graham becomes a bigger component in the run game even after LeGarrette Blount gets healthy. Graham, however, is facing a much greater challenge this week than he faced last week; Chicago’s linebackers are just as fast as New Orleans’ but a lot more physical.
So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 7 games.
Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Andy Benoit, Buccaneers vs. Bears, Cameron Wake, Chicago Bears, Darren Sproles, Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, Dolphins vs. Broncos, Donald Penn, Drew Brees, Earnest Graham, Eddie Royal, Eric Decker, Frank Omiyale, Geno Hayes, Indianapolis Colts, Israel Idonije, Jeremy Trueblood, Jimmy Graham, JMarcus Webb, Julius Peppers, Lance Louis, LeGarrette Blount, Matt Forte, Matt Willis, Mchael Bennett, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, NFL London Game, Saints vs. Colts, Sean Payton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tim Tebow
Posted on: July 28, 2011 2:32 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 11:15 pm
Posted by Will Brinson
There's been plenty of action in free agency thus far (don't forget to follow it all in our live, updating Experience and with our 2011 NFL Free Agency Tracker!), but it also warrants mentioning that there have been a good number of first-round draft picks signed by various teams over the past few days.
Interestingly, many of these players who are signing have received fully guaranteed contracts, something you don't typically see with rookies, even though the total contracts, because of the new rookie wage system, are coming in lower than previous years.
For instance, the Cowboys signed Tyson Smith, their top pick, likely right tackle for 2011 and eventual successor to Doug Free, to a four-year, $12.5 million deal which is entirely guaranteed. By contrast, C.J. Spiller, taken in the same spot last season by the Bills, received a five-year, $25 million deal with $20.5 million guaranteed.
The Bengals signed Georgia wideout A.J. Green to a four-year, $19.6 million deal, all of which is also guaranteed, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy. (Trent Williams, by contrast, got $60 million with $36.5 guaranteed out of the No. 4 slot from the Redskins in 2010.)
The 49ers reported via Twitter that they've signed all their draft picks, including second-round quarterback Colin Kaepernick (four-year deal) and first-round defensive end Aldon Smith. Financials haven't been put out yet.
The same goes for the Buccaneers, who signed first- and second-round picks Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers (deets on the monies aren't out yet last I checked).
In Denver, Von Miller is "expected" to sign a four-year, $21-million deal with the Broncos soon. He probably would have seen up to $50 million more (not all guaranteed, of course) under the old rookie salary system. The ironic part? He was a named plaintiff on the Brady v. NFL lawsuit. It's worth noting that Miller's not sweating losing any pile of money and says he "plans on getting three, four, five contracts."
[(UPDATED 4:47 p.m. ET): John Elway confirms the team has agreed to terms with Miller. Wrote Elway on his Twitter feed: "Can't wait to get him on the field."]
The final thing to remember as the first-year player contracts start to come in? There's a fifth-year team option built into these four-year deals, and that deal must be picked up by the end of the third year or else the amount owed balloons to an average of the top-10 salaries at the position.
If a player performs well in his first three seasons then, he stands to either get locked for a fifth year or find himself inked to a new contract sooner than he expected.
Everything's not all roses, though. Agent Jack Bechta writes at the National Football Post that some teams are utilizing dollars for later-round picks and allocating them towards first rounders. It's not happening often, at least right now, but Bechta cites it as a "disturbing trend" because it's something that could potentially create a false inflation system for first-round picks as agents try to get more money than the player drafted the previous year.
There's not telling how often that will happen going forward, but it's still a bit concerning as the rookies current wages are pushed back because of the new CBA.
On the bright side, if shifting salaries does happen, it's a lot less likely that JaMarcus Russell remains the biggest NFL Draft bust forever. So there's that.
UPDATED 7:48 p.m. ET: The Jaguars have announced that No. 10 overall pick, QB Blaine Gabbert, has signed his contract.
UPDATED 11:14 p.m. ET: No. 13 pick Nick Fairley has signed a four-year deal worth about $10 million with the Lions.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 5:44 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: May 3, 2011 11:02 pm
Posted by Andy Benoit
Check back throughout the week for other division’s Draft Truths Revealed. To see all Draft Truths Revealed, click the “Draft Truths” tag.
Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Alex Brown, Atlanta Falcons, Cameron Jordan, Carolina Panthers, Chris Ivory, Da’Quan Bowers, Derek Landri, Draft Truths, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jerious Norwood, Johnny Patrick, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Mason Foster, New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Saints, Nick Hayden, Randall Gay, Reggie Bush, Sione Fua, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Terrell McClain
Posted on: April 3, 2011 2:34 pm
Posted by Will Brinson
Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups.
2010 was a weird year for the San Diego Chargers. They had all the tools necessary to contend for a Super Bowl, and in a season when parity reigned supreme, that should have equated with success. It didn't, though, because the San Diego got off to one of its patented slow starts, performed epically horrible on special teams, and couldn't close out inferior teams.
Statistically, though, it was all there. Philip Rivers was a machine on offense, piling up big stats despite throwing to guys like Legadu Naanee, Patrick Crayton, Randy McMichael and Seyi Ajirotutu. Part of what got those A-listers on the top of the Bolts' receiving stats was injuries (well, most was injuries), and part was the holdout of Vincent Jackson. Oh yes, and Mike Tolbert -- just like everyone expected -- was the team's leading rusher.
Defensively, San Diego thrived despite not having an elite pass-rushing presence. In fact, just like on offense, they were the No. 1-ranked team in the league. And yet, again, no playoffs. It's a really odd conundrum, frankly, and it's either a really weird fluke or it's indicative of a bigger problem within the organization. Given the Chargers' typically annual success, the jury's still out on the latter, but another slow start and sloppy manner of missing the playoffs could change that in 2011.
Special Teams, Depth
It's not all that hard to pinpoint the problems for the Chargers in 2010. Pretty clearly, special teams cost them a couple of wins and therefore a shot at the postseason (plus, likely a divisional title).
Of course, fixing special teams is much easier than, say, fixing a giant hole at quarterback, and it's entirely possible that with the right personnel moves, the Chargers will be fine in that area in 2011. In fact, once some veterans were plugged into the special teams unit, San Diego was much better at the third leg of football than it was earlier in the year. (At that point, though, it was just too late.)
Perhaps the bigger problem for the Chargers in 2011 will be the status of certain players. Vincent Jackson was franchised, but depending on how the CBA shakes out, he could be gone. It seems somewhat reasonable that he's around for one more year. Malcolm Floyd could be out the door as well, meaning the Chargers' depth at wide receiver could be crushed back to late-last-year levels. If Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper, Eric Weddle, Jacques Cesaire, Travis Johnson leave, the defense is going to take a hit too. It's part of the problem with the way A.J. Smith built the team -- if the labor negotiations don't favor the league, San Diego's depth suffers.
1. Defensive End
As might have been said 5,000 times in these previews thus far, it's a pretty good year to need depth at defensive line. So it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Chargers nab a defensive end with their first-round pick. J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Adrian Clayborn are all highly likely/possible picks for San Diego at No. 18.
Shaun Phillips had a monster year in 2010, but San Diego needs to beef up their linebacking corps, unless they actually think that Larry English can end up performing to his first-round expectations. (And, speaking of which, not exactly a great last pair of years in the first round for A.J. Smith, huh? Ryan Mathews and Larry English aren't exactly justifying their top-20 status.) English could still justify the selection, but there's some serious talent that would fit San Diego's scheme in guys like Robert Quinn, Akeem Ayers and Ryan Kerrigan, the latter two of whom should fall to 18 pretty easily. Quinn's a guy that would be a steal at 18 and could also be a trade-up target for Smith if hops up the board again in 2011.
3. Wide Receiver
Talk about an up-in-the-air position for the Bolts: if Jackson and Floyd end up leaving, they're going to need some serious help here. Buster Davis isn't going to pan out and while Antonio Gates should technically qualify as "depth" at wideout, having Naanee and Ajirotutu as the top receiving options just isn't going to cut it. Smith and Norv Turner know they can have success with less than elite talent, though, so seeing them take a wideout with an early pick would be a bit surprising.
Look, the Chargers are capable of winning it all in 2011. Statistics don't mean everything (obviously), but if a team is the top offensive AND defensive team, it means there's enough talent on the roster to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. Living up to the lofty expectations this franchise has set for the past few years in 2011 will require two things: not making simple mistakes and actually remembering that football starts in September.
It would help, too, for the Bolts to address some of their defensive needs as well. And for their last two first-rounders -- English and Mathews -- to play up to their potential. Should all of that happen in 2011 and the Chargers don't win the division and/or at least make a run to the playoffs, it's entirely possible that Norv Turner's job could be on the line once again. At this point, there's no viable reason for a team with this much success -- statistically speaking -- not to be converting their high-end performance into more wins.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed
Tags: A.J. Smith, Adrian Clayborn, Akeem Ayers, Antonio Gates, Buster Davis, Cameron Jordan, Eric Weddle, J.J. Watt, Jacques Cesaire, Kevin Burnett, Larry English, Legadu Naanee, Norv Turner, Offseason Checkup, Patrick Crayton, Philip Rivers, Randy McMichael, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, Seyi Ajirotutu, Shaun Phillips, Stephen Cooper, Travis Johnson, Vincent Jackson