Curing what ails AFC teams
ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. identifies a malady and potential cure for every AFC team.
Here's what ails every AFC team and a potential cure. For cures to every NFC team, click here.
• Diagnosis: Non-blockage in the passing game
• Cure: Since both offensive tackles, LT Adam Terry and RT Marshal Yanda, are new to their positions, the Ravens must find ways to compensate for their inexperience. One way is by using slide protection, which involves the offensive line sliding one way and the tight end and running back filling in the backside of the slide. That will provide the two tackles with help away from the direction they are sliding, thus allowing them to concentrate on the sliding gap.
• Diagnosis: Multiple wounds on defense
• Cure: The Bills are in desperation mode due to injuries to five key starters on defense. That means coach Dick Jauron and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell need to simplify their defensive schemes to compensate for a lack of depth. That doesn't necessarily mean the Bills need to do less. They just need to make sure the schemes they are using fit their personnel better. But make no mistake -- recovering from so many maladies is tough.
• Diagnosis: Significant drop in defensive pressure
• Cure: The front four's lack of consistent pressure on the quarterback has had a side effect on corners Jonathan Joseph and Deltha O'Neal, who are struggling in coverage. Calling more blitzes will not work, since it will leave those corners on an island. Simply, defensive ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers need to step up their games. The Bengals also could try more stunts with the front four.
• Diagnosis: Allergic to run defense
• Cure: The Browns' defensive front seven has struggled against the run this season. Maybe it's time to line up in the Bear defense, which is the front that made defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan famous in Chicago. That Bear defense has a lineman covering the center head up and two 3-techniques over the guards. It doesn't compromise the personnel in the 3-4 and keeps the outside linebackers responsible for setting the edge on run plays.
• Diagnosis: Loss of consciousness against the run
• Cure: The Broncos are 2-1 but could easily be 0-3, as they've allowed an average of 166 yards rushing. Jim Bates needs to use more eight-man fronts, mixed with zone run blitzes and stunts to improve the poor run defense. He also might move the alignment of his undersized defensive ends inside to spill the running game outside to the team's fast linebackers.
• Diagnosis: Running a fever
• Cure: Signing RB Ahman Green and OT Jordan Black was supposed to spark the Texans' running game, but Green is banged up, Black couldn't even win the starting job and the running game is still struggling, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. The O-line needs to improve its ability to sustain blocks, and the wide receivers need to improve their blocks downfield. Also, what about adding a second tight end/H-back? By doing that, it's possible to bring an extra body and more blocking to the point of attack. Another key is to keep hammering at the run. Even when the ground game struggles, it's important to keep pounding the ball. All it takes is one big gain to make the defense respect the run -- and that'll open up the rest of the offense.
• Diagnosis: New growth on the offensive line
• Cure: Admittedly, this is just a minor concern, given the team's solid health through the first three games. Left tackle Tarik Glenn's retirement obviously was not catastrophic to the Colts' ability to score points, but it has had an impact. His replacement, Tony Ugoh, is an excellent talent, but thrusting him into a starting role as a rookie has resulted in some growing pains and the Colts have had to help him in pass protection. But the cure is simply more experience and continued monitoring to wean him off the dependency from teammates.
• Diagnosis: Chronic fatigue at wide receiver
• Cure: The Jaguars lack a receiver who instills fear into opponents; consequently, those opponents dedicate added defenders into the box to slow down Jacksonville's running game. Matt Jones must avoid jogging through too many routes, while Reggie Williams must get out of his breaks quicker. Dennis Northcutt shows promise but needs to make more of an impact. But a better cure would be to find a big-time playmaking wideout.
• Diagnosis: Limited movement of the running back
• Cure: Most opposing defenses are putting eight men in the box and daring the Chiefs to move the chains through the air. That means KC offensive coordinator Mike Solari needs to use more spread formations to soften the opponent's front seven. The offensive line might need to take bigger splits as most of tailback Larry Johnson's running plays are designed to hit between the tackles.
• Diagnosis: Anxiety disorder on offense
• Cure: The offensive line lacks continuity, meaning fewer holes for RB Ronnie Brown. QB Trent Green lacks consistency and can no longer stretch the field or produce big plays in key situations. The Dolphins need to use a short, rhythmic passing offense more frequently. That would allow the offense and Green to get in a groove and take some pressure off the O-line, since shorter passes will require holding their blocks for less time.
• Diagnosis: Restless-leg syndrome on special teams
• Cure: Admittedly, the Patriots seem to be in perfect health. Maybe the only real concern is on special teams with their second-year kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has yet to be tested this season. If it comes down to a critical game-winning kick, can Gostkowski deliver? The only way to know is to put him in that situation and run the tests.
• Diagnosis: Offensive arthritis
• Cure: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did a masterful job last season of keeping opposing defenses off-balance with his designs and creating individual matchups. Now armed with a much better running game, the Jets have another look to throw at defenses. The playmakers are there and using RBs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington combined with Schottenheimer's ability to spot the mismatches, the Jets will be able to create favorable matchups for receivers Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery Brad Smith and TE Chris Baker.
• Diagnosis: Defensive viral infection
• Cure: The NFL's third-ranked defense a year ago, the Raiders are 27th this season. The starting secondary has yet to account for any of the team's six interceptions. Safeties Stuart Schweigert and Michael Huff are better at run support, but they need to make a concerted effort to be ballhawkers. It's time to use more blitz packages and put pressure on the offense. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is a gambler and aggressive play-caller by nature and dialing up more blitzes should be natural for him.
• Diagnosis: Weak pulse for Hines Ward
• Cure: Since the Steelers lack a strong No. 2 receiver, opponents are doubling Ward. While that has worked to Pittsburgh's advantage -- opponents aren't putting eight defenders in the box, which is one reason RB Willie Parker leads the league in rushing -- the Steelers still need to establish Ward's presence. Once Ward recovers from his minor knee injury, expect offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to design game plans using Ward in motion to free him up.
• Diagnosis: Drippy defense
• Cure: Through three games a year ago, the Chargers had allowed 23 points. Through three games this year? Seventy-two points. Certainly, San Diego's offensive issues compound the problem, but defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell still needs to put more pressure on the quarterback. This bend-but-don't-break attitude is fine, but the Chargers are giving up too many play and need to gamble and create turnovers. Start sending Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips more. Both these OLBs are great blitzers and by adding pressure, it takes some heat off the secondary.
• Diagnosis: Excessive snoring at wide receiver
• Cure: The Titans have not made adding talented pass catchers to the roster a high priority, but that needs to change. This is a heavy run-first offense, but in Vince Young, they have a franchise second-year quarterback who could sure use a big-play wideout. Unfortunately, he likely will not get any help this season. Whether it's draft, trade or sign a free agent, the Titans must choose one of these ways to remedy the situation.
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