Tag:Offseason checkup
Posted on: April 13, 2011 12:06 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Dallas Cowboys

Posted by Andy Benoit



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups.



In terms of disappointment, the 2010 Dallas Cowboys more than lived up to the “Everything’s big in Texas” phrase. The year that was supposed to end with Jerry Jones’ team being the first to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium instead ended in effect before Thanksgiving.

Wade Phillips was no longer the coach at that point and Tony Romo had been sidelined for the past month with what would turn out to be a season-ending fractured clavicle. Can’t blame the face-plant on Romo’s injury, though.

After all, the Cowboys were 1-5 in games their star quarterback started.



Brooking quickly established himself as the defense’s emotional leader when he arrived in 2009. Because he’s been in his 30s since the Bush Administration, everyone has assumed he’s on the cusp of washing up.

That simply hasn’t been true…until now. Last season Brooking showed hints of decline in struggling to get off blocks. He is still a dominant player when pursuing the ball untouched, but in a 3-4, inside linebackers can’t count on regularly being untouched.

Lee, a second-round pick out of Penn Stage last year, overtook Bradie James in nickel packages. Lee has good natural change of direction ability and, in a limited sampling, has shown adequate instincts. As great organizations like the Eagles and Patriots have illustrated over the years, it’s better to replace someone a year too early rather than risk keeping him a year too long.




1. Safety
The game is evolving to where safeties are becoming vital for creating deception and disguise in a defensive scheme. The only experienced safety on Dallas’ roster is Alan Ball, and he just converted from cornerback last year.

2. Offensive Linemen
Right tackle Marc Colombo’s lack of athleticism finally caught up to him last season. Right guard Leonard Davis may have remained benched if backup Montrae Holland had been more reliable. Davis really struggled with lateral movement in pass protection last season. Left guard Kyle Kosier is an unrestricted free agent.

3. Cornerback
It may be time to start grooming Terence Newman’s replacement. Newman will be 33 when (if) this season opens up. He’s no longer quick enough to play man coverage with the cushy buffer zone he prefers. Orlando Scandrick is not the guy to replace Newman long-term. The third-year pro is better equipped to defend the slot and must first bounce back from a difficult sophomore campaign.




It’s “America’s Team”, so there’s always talk of a Lombardi Trophy. But how about having no expectations and just shutting up for a change?

It’s well known the Cowboys have as much talent as any team. What needs changing is the way they manage that talent.

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Posted on: April 12, 2011 12:18 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 12:32 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Washington Redskins

Posted by Andy Benoit



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



New coach, new system, new quarterback, even new yellow pants. Didn’t matter, it was the same old Redskins in 2010. The new quarterback never mastered the new coach’s new system, which is why there actually wound up being another new quarterback at the end of the season. Rex Grossman wasn’t much better than Donovan McNabb, but then again, Grossman had to work with the same ho-hum supporting cast as McNabb.

But enough about the offense. How about Washington’s disappointing defense? Albert Haynesworth was a cross between the Cowardly Lion and Tin Man. Instead of finding a phony wizard to help spark some soul-saving confidence within him at the end, the most expensive defensive tackle in history found himself suspended.

The team unofficially charged Haynesworth with Owensism (i.e. being a jerk). Haynesworth wasn’t the lone disappointment on D. The secondary let more big plays pass through than Broadway.




Mike Shanahan’s famous zone blocking scheme works just about anywhere. There’s no reason to think powerful but spry running back Ryan Torain can’t be a 1,200-yard back behind such a scheme. However, Shanahan needs better athletes at center, right guard and right tackle. C Casey Rabach does not elevate the game of those around him. RG Artis Hicks is valuable only as a utility backup. And RT Heyer is too upright and stiff in the knees.

Finding more fluid linemen, even if it means settling for other teams’ undersized dregs, would be a worthwhile endeavor for the Skins.




1. Quarterback
It’s pretty clear Mike Shanahan does not want Donovan McNabb, right?

2. Wide Receiver
Santana Moss is an unrestricted free agent and probably not worth whatever he thinks he’s worth. Anthony Armstrong might be too much of a hard-handed plodder to hold down a starting spot long term. He’s certainly not a No. 1. The only other receivers on the roster are return specialist Brandon Banks and Terrence Austin and underachieves Roydell Williams and Malcolm Kelly.

3. Defensive End
There was talk that Adam Carriker had a strong season in 2010. Where’s the evidence? Carriker blended in like camouflage. Vonnie Holiday can still contribute in a limited backup role, but like with fellow end Phillip Daniels, age is a major issue.




It’s the NFL, where instant improvements are not only possible, but common. It helps having an adept coaching staff. Shanahan will be prepared for the D.C. scene in 2011 after being caught off-guard by the intense media in his debut season.

Still, a great coach can only go so far. The Redskins desperately need more talent at the skill positions if they want to give .500 a run.

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Posted on: April 11, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 12:37 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Houston Texans

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups . Also, check out our checkup podcast:





When the Texans beat the Colts 34-24 in the 2010 season-opener, Houston was well on its way to winning the AFC South and the first-ever playoff appearance for the club. Matt Schaub was going to continue emerging as one of the top QBs in the game, Andre Johnson was going to cement his place as the top receiver in the NFL, RB Arian Foster was going to build on his first-game performance (231 yards and four total TDs on 33 carries) and Houston’s secondary was going to be just fine without Dunta Robinson.

That’s what we thought anyway.

Then, the Texans, sitting at 4-2, lost eight of their next nine games to kill their season. Foster still went on to win the rushing title, and Schaub had a pretty good season. But Johnson didn’t have one of his better years (though to be fair, he WAS dealing with a painful ankle injury that he played through), and the secondary, to be kind, was absolutely horrid. Overall, in fact, the defense was terrible. Yet, coach Gary Kubiak has been retained for another season, and the Texans continue to be slightly worse than mediocre.

But something must change …




New defensive system

That something might be new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. While Phillips’ reign as Cowboys head coach ended in disaster in the middle of last season, he’s still well-respected as a defensive coordinator. In 2011, though, he’s got a big job in front of him.



1. Um, the secondary
Yes, the Texans will need to rethink their entire defensive back roster, because it repeatedly got torched last season. After saying goodbye to Robinson, who went on to a so-so season with the Falcons, the secondary (Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin, Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson) were just tremendously bad. If the Texans can’t get this fixed, it doesn’t matter who’s coordinating the defense, because Houston simply won’t win.

2. Nose Tackle
Houston hasn’t had to worry much about this position in the past because of the 4-3 scheme it used to play, but now that the Texans will go to the 3-4, they need to find a massive NT to eat up blockers and allow his linebackers behind him to make plays. Maybe Shaun Cody is that guy, but he might not be good enough and he certainly hasn’t been an impact player thus far in his career.

3. Second Wide Receiver
It looked for a time like Kevin Walter might be that guy, but he was little more than solid last year. Jacoby Jones is fine on kickoff returns, but he drops the ball too much as a receiver. Though the Texans obviously have much bigger problems, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Texans went after Julio Jones in the first round of the draft.




It’s hard to be confident that a Kubiak-led team will ever make the playoffs, but the Texans better accomplish that this year if they want to keep him around. Defense, like we’ve pounded in your head over and over in this checkup, is the true test, and there is plenty of talent in the front seven on that side of the ball. If Phillips can help get that unit in gear, the AFC South is ripe for the taking.

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Posted on: April 10, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 10, 2011 4:43 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Minnesota Vikings

Posted by Andy Benoit



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .



The Vikings’ perils couldn’t have been any worse for Minnesotans and any better for bloggers. Brett Favre drama took on a whole new tenor. Added to the cacophony of “Will he play?” questions was “Do you think it was him?” speculation.

Favre’s acrimonious relationship with Brad Childress did not improve, either, which was part of the reason the head coach was unable to survive through November.

Things didn’t pick up once Childress was fired. Symbolically, and fortunately for Zygi Wilf and his cadre of business cohorts seeking a new stadium, also literally, the Metrodome roof collapsed, leaving this team homeless for the holidays. The novelty of relocated Monday night games distracted from the fact that the Vikings finished the season in the same way they started it: with a thud.



Fullbacks

There is no reason to keep Naufahu Tahi on the roster. Even if the 29-year-old fullback had played well in 2010 (and he did not), his presence would be a hindrance. Adrian Peterson is a violent, decisive runner who does not have good patience when it comes to setting up his blocks. Peterson’s natural tendency is to get the ball and explode.

When there is a fullback in front of him, he’s forced to slow down and wait for the play to develop. Tahi, like most fullbacks, can’t hit the hole as quickly as Peterson can, even when he’s starting out two yards closer to the hole.

Peterson is better in an empty backfield. And, with a plethora of tight ends already on the roster, including blocking specialists Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinsasser, the Vikings are better running out of dual tight end formations anyway. Save a roster spot; dump the fullback.




1. Quarterback
Favre is really gone this time (*) and, with Childress gone, the front office has realized it is finally free to admit that Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer.

2. Offensive Tackle
The Vikings won’t draft someone at this position because that’d be admitting it was a mistake to sign Bryant McKinnie to a long-term deal and invest a second-round draft pick in Phil Loadholt. The reality is, the 6’8” 350-pound McKinnie’s heart is the size of a dwarf’s. The 6’8”, 335-pound Loadholt is still developing but is yet to show any signs of ferocity.

3. Cornerback
Antoine Winfield is creeping up in age but can still play, especially if asked to man the slot. Problem is, Minnesota doesn’t have any stability outside. Cedric Griffin tore both ACL’s at different times in 2010. Asher Allen has become every quarterback’s favorite opponent. Last year’s second-round pick, Chris Cook, has character concerns and just six games to his name, thanks to injuries as a rookie.




This team’s window of opportunity has closed. The Vikings knew this was coming – why do you think they were so desperate in their pursuit of Favre last summer? Now they must develop a new green quarterback behind an offensive line that is much, much worse than people realize (Favre’s quick decision making masked many pass protection deficiencies last season).

The defense, which already needs help in the secondary given that the pass-rush has tailed off, will take a step back if nose tackle Pat Williams does not return (he’s an unrestricted free agent).

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Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:38 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 1:37 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: St. Louis Rams

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



The Rams were one of the most surprisingly successful squads in the NFL last season. Coming off a dreadful 1-15 season in 2009 – which netted St. Louis the 2010 No. 1 pick and, naturally, QB Sam Bradford – St. Louis won six more games than it had in 2009 and were a game away from taking home the NFC West division title and a postseason berth, falling instead to the Seahawks in the season finale.

But the biggest news since their loss to Seattle was the hiring of former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. He’ll work closely with Bradfo




Quarterback, new offensive coordinator

While McDaniels helped current Chiefs QB Matt Cassel to a surprisingly good season the year he had to replace Tom Brady – who also got a little bit of McDaniels when he was in New England – and comes to St. Louis with a strong reputation as an offensive coordinator, Bradford will have plenty of work to do. The Rams will forgo the West Coast offense they ran last year and run more of a shotgun, spread-based scheme. This is where an offseason workout schedule would be helpful.



1. Wide Reciever
One of the most impressive accomplishments by Bradford last season was to throw for 3,512 yards to a corps of WRs that screams unknown and unproven (Danny Amendola, you’re our breakout star!!). The team lost Mark Clayton (patellar tendon) and Donnie Avery (ACL) while Danario Alexander missed eight games while undergoing a fifth (!) knee surgery. The acquisition of Randy Moss – if he would have let it happen – would have helped last year, but overall, the Rams really need help in this area.

2. Defensive Line
Surprisingly, the Rams weren’t terrible there last season, and much of that had to do with Fred Robbins and James Hall – who registered double-digit sacks for only the second time in his career at the age of 33. Overall, St. Louis ranked 19th in pass defense and 17th in run defense, and as you probably know, there’s a plethora of defensive linemen in the draft that could get a call from St. Louis (although drafting a WR in the first round makes more sense).

3. Defensive Backs
The Rams released standout SS Oshiomogho Atogwe, a defensive captain last year, because he was due an $8 million roster bonus Feb. 21. As a result, he left for Washington and left a huge hole in the St. Louis secondary. And while the Rams had high hopes in James Butler, he’s been plagued by injury and lost his starting spot. St. Louis probably won’t want to count on him.




The Rams still have plenty of holes to fill, but they also have young standouts on each side of the ball, particularly Bradford and MLB James Laurinaitis. In any other division, you’d say the Rams might struggle a bit and could feel good about themselves if they finish at .500.

But in the weak NFC West, they’ll be one of the favorites to win the division and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

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Posted on: April 6, 2011 2:19 pm
Edited on: April 6, 2011 3:20 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Miami Dolphins

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .



Entering their Monday Night Football matchup against the Patriots in Week 4, the Dolphins had to be feeling confident in their chances of beating New England in Miami. The Dolphins defense had looked good in knocking off the Bills and Vikings (which, at the time, was considered a pretty good win), and then Miami played the Jets to a close loss before the Patriots came to town.

A 41-14 disaster later, Miami fired special teams coach John Bonamego and never got more than a game above .500 for the rest of the season (and, in fact, finished the year at 7-9).



Coach on the hot seat, quarterback

Although Tony Sparano took a 1-15 team and turned it into an 11-5 division title winner a year later (beating out the Patriots for the honor), he’s gone 7-9 in back-to-back seasons. Apparently, owner Stephen Ross listened to Bill Parcells’ recommendation and decided to bring back Sparano for another season (though Ross DID disgustingly go out of his way to woo Jim Harbaugh for the job). But the specter of Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher still are out there and until Sparano is off the hot seat, fans will wonder about their availability.

Sparano would get a great deal of help if QB Chad Henne could put together a consistent season. WR Brandon Marshall blasted his QB at the end of last season and said he actually works better with QB Tyler Thigpen (a major ZING, by the way). It’s too early to give up on Henne, especially now that Chad Pennington will miss all of 2011 because of a torn ACL, but it’s getting to the point where Henne needs to show somebody something.




1. Running back
On paper, the duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams would seem a surefire way for the Dolphins to rack up rushing yards and plenty of touchdowns. Yet, the Dolphins managed to finish 21st in running last season. There’s a good chance that neither back will return to Miami next year, leaving Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard on the roster at RB. Which means the Dolphins will need some big-time help at that spot and which is why Alabama’s Mark Ingram might be a good draft pick (though the Dolphins might want to trade down instead).

2. Offensive line
You know what doesn’t help your third-string quarterback perform better? A terribly inconsistent offensive line. That’s what Tyler Thigpen faced in Miami’s 16-0 loss to the Bears in Week 11 – a line missing starters Jake Long and Joe Berger who then watched backup Cory Procter get injured on the second offensive series, meaning Richie Incognito had to move from guard to center. Miami could make a play for a solid center in the draft.

3. Keep improving the defense
n 2009, the Dolphins ranked 25th in the league in defense, but last year, they improved that number to No. 13. Most of the starting front seven is solid, but Miami’s DBs had a tough time hanging onto interceptions last season. It also would help if they got more playmakers in the secondary.




After Ross stopped emasculating Sparano for Harbaugh and then gave him a two-year extension, Ross made it clear he wanted a more aggressive, more exciting offense. Sparano, though, said he plans to keep running the ball more often than not. Could we see both? I suppose, though I kind of doubt it.

I also don’t see a playoff run with Miami, considering the Patriots and Jets still will be battling for AFC East supremacy. All of which means the meddling Ross probably will fire Sparano, and then, everybody can just start over again in Miami. Which means we might not see good pro football in Miami for a while.

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Posted on: April 5, 2011 3:21 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 7:36 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: Jacksonville Jaguars

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



On Dec. 12, 2010, the Jaguars were 8-5, and they were just beginning the week of practices that led to a showdown with the Colts that basically was for the AFC South title, a crown Jacksonville never has won. Indianapolis showed up that night and won by 10 points, and the Jaguars never recovered, losing their final three games and missing the playoffs for the third-straight season.

It was a huge disappointment, and you have to wonder about the future of this organization with this coaching staff in place. That is the No. 1 question facing this franchise heading into next year.




1. Avoid late-season slumps
Do you put this on Del Rio? Do you put this on Jacksonville being a bad cold-weather team? Do you put this on late-season injuries to Garrard and Jones-Drew in 2010? It’s hard to know. But after starting 7-5 in 2009 and 8-5 in 2010, the team went on to lose four games and three games, respectively, to end those years on the sourest of notes. We don’t know the answers to the above questions, but somebody might want to figure it out.

2. Defensive everywhere but DT
Though their 2010 first-round pick of DT Tyson Alualu was deemed a little bizarre at the time, the rookie from California had a pretty good year. He should continue to be an anchor in the middle of the defensive line. Now, just about every other position in Jacksonville’s defense needs to be upgraded. Perhaps most important are the defensive ends, who can help lessen the time the Jaguars unremarkable secondary must cover opposing WRs. Former first round pick Derrick Harvey has been a disaster, Jeremy Mincey is barely passable as a starter and Aaron Kampman has had a couple major knee injuries.

3.Quality Wide Recievers
Is Mike Thomas truly a No. 1 guy? He had a nice season last year (66 catches, 820 yards, four TDs) as a second-year player, but how will he fare without Mike Sims-Walker – who simply wasn’t the consistent playmaker the Jaguars needed? That’s a major question for Thomas and WR Jason Hill. If they can’t produce, Jacksonville still has young receivers in Tiquan Underwood and Jarrett Dillard. Jacksonville could feel the need to upgrade this position before next year, but if not, it’s still a talented, albeit mostly unproven, corps at this point.




It seems like nobody can really tell if QB David Garrard is worth keeping around, though he actually played pretty good football last season. Meanwhile, there’s no question Jacksonville will hang on tightly to RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who recorded 1,324 yards in 14 games last season and surpassed Tennessee’s Chris Johnson as the AFC South’s best back (his backup, Rashad Jennings, also is quality), and TE Marcedes Lewis proved himself a valuable commodity.

The offense most likely will continue to play conservatively – in part, because of the strength of Jones-Drew and to mask some of Garrard’s inadequacies – but the real test will be the defense. For Jacksonville, it’s the playoffs or bust, and most likely, we won’t know how good this team – or how safe Del Rio – really is until Week 13-17.

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Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 7:25 am
 

Offseason Checkup: New England Patriots

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .



The Patriots were probably the best team in football last season, compiling a 14-2 record before surprisingly losing to the Jets in the second round of the playoffs. Let’s see what New England had: Outstanding QB, check. Pretty good running game, check. A good enough offensive line and wide receiving corps, yes. A rock-solid defense, um, no.

The team had its problems on defense – which is talented but oh so young – but the wizardry of Brady who knows coach Bill Belichick’s system so well overcame most of those defensive hiccups. The Patriots haven’t had a losing season this century, so whatever constructive criticism that follows in this piece doesn’t suggest that the Patriots suddenly will struggle to win games. With Belichick, that simply doesn’t happen very often (unless, ahem, he’s donning the headset in Cleveland).




Recent unsuccessful playoff runs

A ridiculous statistic for you: the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC championship game. That’s right, since that undefeated New England squad lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs and the Jets in 2010 – all three of those were considered upsets, as well.

Doesn’t matter that New England has an annual chokehold on the AFC East (though New York is beginning to threaten that dominance), the Patriots can’t get anywhere in the playoffs. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in six years. So, what’s the problem?




1. Wide Receiver
Getting rid of Randy Moss probably was the right call for New England, but when the Patriots sent him away, they also lost their downfield threat. You might argue that Moss’ skills are in decline – and the Titans would DEFINITELY say that – but he’s still quite a long-ball receiver. Wes Welker is one of the best slot receivers in the game, Deion Branch had a nice comeback year and New England’s young tight ends are really solid. But a Moss-like receiver would be welcome.

2. More DL depth
Mike Wright and Ron Brace missed a combined nine regular-season games last season before injuries forced them to the Injured Reserve lists while Ty Warren missed the entire year, and a trio of rookies (two of whom were undrafted) were forced to step in and replace them. What the Patriots need in this year’s draft is a pass rusher off the edge, and since they have a plethora of draft picks, they could certainly try to trade up and find one. Wright, with 5.5 sacks, was the team leader, and following behind him were LBs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich. They need some help on the DL, though newly-signed Marcus Stroud could certainly ease some of that burden.

3. Better secondary play
Devin McCourtey had a strong rookie season, leading the team with seven interceptions and Leigh Bodden – who missed all of last year – will be a definite upgrade over Kyle Arrington. Pat Chung is solid at the SS spot, but FS Brandon Meriweather wasn’t very good last season (how he made the Pro Bowl is baffling). It would not be a surprise if New England tries to replace him.




The Patriots obviously have some corrections that need to be made. But this franchise has been the best – and most feared – in the NFL since Belichick took over (though Rex Ryan absolutely will NOT kiss his rings), and he doesn’t hesitate to get rid of loyal Patriots who he feels can’t help them anymore (I’m looking at you Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, et al). The Patriots will continue to battle with the Jets for AFC East dominance, but like usual, New England will be a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com