Seahawks' defense should improve
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E-mailer P-nice in New York suggested that Vick could become more effective in the spread because of his running ability. I contend the game is evolving away from the running quarterback. Vick could gain 7 or 8 yards on some runs and defenses would be willing to concede that as opposed to being picked apart by the short pass. Vick would still be able to move the chains with his legs, but it's hard to sustain long drives if you can't work the short passing game, which isn't Vick's strength.
Balance is the key to any offense. Vick has great skills, with Barry Sanders-like moves and a strong passing arm. But he must get back on a practice field to work on his short passing game if he's going to have a chance of success.
Let's go to this week's mail.
From the inbox
Q: Did Baltimore do enough to catch Pittsburgh and keep distance between them and Cleveland? We didn't pick up the new toy at receiver for Joe Flacco, but we may be able to protect him better and he should be more confident in going across the middle and using more of the playbook.
BG in Baltimore
A: I don't know if they did enough to catch Pittsburgh this offseason, but the Ravens did make a move that will allow them to compete with the Steelers every year: drafting Joe Flacco in 2008. He can compete against Ben Roethlisberger year in and year out. I look at Flacco as being a younger Roethlisberger. Some think he's a more mobile version of Carson Palmer. Regardless, teams with great quarterbacks are usually contenders. If Baltimore doesn't catch Pittsburgh in 2009, it will be ready to pass the Steelers in 2010.
Andrew in Chicago asked me to forecast the play of Darren McFadden and JaMarcus Russell of the Raiders this season. I think McFadden will be one of the breakout running backs this year, but I fear Russell is going to struggle again. He hasn't shown a lot of accuracy in OTAs. Willy in Pittsburgh wonders if the AFC North could have three playoff teams this season. I doubt it. The easy schedule makes it a possibility, but it would require the Bengals to be that third team. I don't know if they can top eight wins. Vinny in New York is a die-hard Cowboys fan and asks whether I believe Miles Austin will make a big impact on the Dallas offense. At best, he's the fourth option, so I don't see a huge impact. Much more will depend on how Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton do. To Chris in Minneapolis: I do think John Sullivan will do an acceptable job as a replacement for Matt Birk, but Birk was a great leader and a great player. To Mike in Jacksonville, the plan is for Eugene Monroe to beat out Tra Thomas at left tackle. The Jaguars drafted Monroe and Eben Britton at offensive tackle and they plan to build around them. Joe in Rogue Rivers, Ore., hopes the Bucs found their long-term quarterback answer in Josh Freeman. I buy into those thoughts even though it may take Freeman a year or two to establish himself. To KC in Belmar, N.J., the reports I hear from Jets camp is that Vernon Gholston is making progress with Rex Ryan, but he still has a long way to go. ... Adam in Tacoma, Wash., wonders if USC safety Taylor Mays could be the Seahawks' safety hope for the future. He's one of the more talented safeties to come around in years, but the Seahawks might be in position to take a top quarterback or left tackle in 2010. A Dolphins fan in Roanoke, Ind., liked the selection of cornerback Sean Smith in the second round with the 69th overall pick but considered Pat White a reach in the second round with the 44th overall pick. I figured White would go around that pick, but I was surprised the Dolphins took him. Remember, if he doesn't do a lot in the Wildcat, he's only going to be a third quarterback in the first year or two. I'm a little worried about Smith. He's a big corner, but a lot of big corners don't necessarily work out. Brian in South Glen Falls, N.Y., watched the Giants' offense struggle down the stretch, so he wonders if New York will have to modify its playbook, throwing more intermediate passes and working more on screens. Yes. The Giants' biggest worry is the blitz, which could take away the intermediate pass. Teams will blitz Eli Manning until he finds a go-to receiver in blitzing situations. He lost that option when the team cut Plaxico Burress.
Chris in La Quinta, Ca.
A: I believe Rivers belongs among the NFL's eight best quarterbacks, and you're right about him being a great leader. Philips has won playoff games in each of the past two years and has come back from major knee surgery without much of a dropoff. Rivers has two big opportunities this season. First, the Chargers should win the division with ease, so he must position the team for playoff games at home. His next big chore is getting a contract extension to make him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. Rivers is a free agent after this season.
Q: What's your thought about where the Seahawks' defense will rank this year? They couldn't get off the field last year with the offense sputtering, but they've made smart moves this offseason on the D-line, at outside LB and in the secondary with the signing of Ken Lucas. Plus, they have a coach in Jim Mora who's much more defensively minded than Mike Holmgren, who valued a "bend but don't break" mentality. Do you see the Seahawks moving into the top 10 for overall defense?
Daniel in Seattle
A: Seattle has had a great offseason, which is largely because of what it did on defense. You should like the defense a lot better than last year's. It has the ability to blitz with Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry, and Seattle has better man-to-man ability in coverage with the addition of Lucas at right corner and the development of Josh Wilson, who could play the slot. More importantly, Mora is going to be more aggressive with the defensive calls. Expect more blitzes and decent sack numbers with the return of a healthy Patrick Kerney. I don't know if that will get the Seahawks into the top 10, but it should get them into the top 15. If the Seahawks can improve their offense by five or six points a game, that could translate into a nine- or 10-win season.
Q: I was wondering if you had an update on how Cadillac Williams is doing on the rehab of his knee. He's a standup guy and has a ton of passion for the game. It's too bad he's had such bad luck.
Larry in New York
A: I'm not optimistic. While I think he will be able to eventually play somewhere despite the left knee injury he suffered at the end of last season, I wonder if he's going to make the Bucs. I worried last year that he was rushing it coming off surgery on his right knee, and I think he has lost his burst. The fact that the Bucs went outside the organization to bring in Derrick Ward and gave a big contract to Earnest Graham tells me they think Williams is their third-best running back. Williams is just starting to get to the point where he can run straight ahead. He has an outside chance of being ready for the start of camp, but it will be a tough road back.
Q: What's your take on the Eagles getting rid of their defensive leader, Brian Dawkins? I know he lost a lot of his athleticism late in his career, but the leadership he brings to that defense is unbelievable.
A: At some point, teams must move on from aging players who are great leaders. The Bucs did it with John Lynch, and the Eagles are making a calculated gamble breaking ties with the leader of their defense. Dawkins, 35, was great and he still might have a couple of good years ahead, but this change had to happen at some point. The Eagles have a decent track record of breaking ties with players in their 30s such as Dawkins. It will be tough to replace Dawkins' leadership, but teams are trying to get younger and more athletic at safety. That position is changing maybe more than any other in the league because of three- and four-receiver sets. Safeties now are being required to play much more in coverage.
Q: I have heard every expert so far act as though the Broncos will be the next Detroit Lions, but when you think about it, they actually might be better than last year. Last year, the defense was atrocious because we were missing our key players: Champ and Boss Bailey and D.J. Williams. With them back, Mike Nolan's scheme and the various guys we picked up through free agency and [the] draft, I think our defense has a shot for top 20. If the RBs stay healthy (mainly Knowshon Moreno), we might not have to always throw the ball, resulting in more red zone scoring and a better offense than last year. Call me an optimist, but I see the '09 season being better than the '08 season. Do you see it this way?
Ryan in N.J.
A: I don't see the replacement parts up front. If you are going to a 3-4 defense, as Denver is, you must get better in the front seven, particularly the line. The defense gave up 28 points a game last season. Do you really see improvement in stopping the run? My big problem in drafting Moreno is he didn't play in the defensive front seven. Sure, a good running game can help a defense, but no defense needed more help than the Broncos'. They signed 14 unrestricted free agents. That's something that an expansion team would do.
Michelle Beisner is in Chicago and has the latest on Jay Cutler and the rest of the Bears.
Jon in Marion
A: It's pretty clear that the bottom three teams (Oakland, K.C. and Denver) in the AFC West are in transition. It's like the NFC West last season. That division was at the bottom and things started to rise at the end of the season. It still concerns me that the Broncos got worse at quarterback, going from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton. In Oakland, JaMarcus Russell isn't making the big move at quarterback. In Kansas City, Matt Cassel doesn't have a lot of receiving talent that's proven.
Q: What's going on with Dunta Robinson and his contract issues with the Texans, and should I worry?
J. in Houston
A: Robinson has skipped voluntary work in Houston in the hopes of landing a long-term deal. He's coming off a major knee injury, so he has faced the fear of his career being over. Top cornerbacks make $10 million a year, and I'm sure Robinson is worried that he must still prove himself if he just gets a one-year offer. When you are rated as highly as Robinson among cornerbacks, you are hoping to cash in for the guaranteed long-term money. A one-year offer in the $9 million range doesn't compare to a $50 million or $60 million deal that has $20 million in guarantees. In the end, I think he will get that long-term deal. You should worry if he doesn't show up at training camp. That's where contract problems start to really hurt a team.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.