|Pro Football Teams with New Looks|
by Jim Feist
In 2002, the defending champion Patriots defense got old fast and fell apart, finishing 31st in the NFL against the run. If you canít stop the run, why would opponents even try to pass? The next two seasons New Englandís defense was seventh overall (3rd against the run) and ninth overall (6th against the run) leading the way to consecutive titles. In 2003, the Steelers were a pass-happy team, with the running game ranking 30th.
The last two years, Bill Cowher got back to running the football, long a Steeler staple, and it has resulted in a 31-7 record and a Super Bowl title. Making offseason changes to address weaknesses is key in the NFL. Letís take a look at some NFL teams that have made offseason moves they hope will tighten up some weaknesses.
Lions: The good news is there are a ton of changes. The bad news is that GM Matt Millen isn't one of them. Still, there are more good things to get Lions' fans excited about, or at least interested. QB Joey Harrington is gone, and the team was 18-37 with him. Rod Marinelli is the new head coach. He spent the past 10 seasons in Tampa Bay as defensive line coach. He brings in Donnie Henderson as the new defensive coordinator and Mad Mike Martz to upgrade what was a dysfunctional offense (27th).
Both assistants preach attacking the opponent on both sides of the ball. QB Jon Kitna comes aboard and he was very productive as a starter before giving way to Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. There are tools for the coaches to work with, in first round pick LB Ernie Sims (Florida State) and young WRs Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, all former first round draft picks.
Chiefs: As usual, the Chiefs were deadly on offense (No. 1 in the NFL) and terrible on defense (30th against the pass, 29th in sacks). Longtime coach Dick Vermeil retired and Kansas City brings in Herm Edwards as head coach. This was a bit of a surprise, as Edwards couldnít be more different than Vermeil. Edwards is a defensive guy and his offenses were ultra-conservative with the NY Jets.
He takes over a devastating Chiefs spread-offense that might be very different. Edwards said the offense will run the ball more in 2006 as he feels it will ultimately help the defense. Expect to see a lot of RB Larry Johnson in a more conservative offense. The Chiefs continued their rebuilding on defense by adding a pass rusher with the No. 20 pick, selecting Penn State DE Tamba Hali. Note that KC is 11-6 under the total its last 17 games.
Titans: Two years ago in the offseason the Titans shed $27 million in salary cap dollars. This past offseason they cut ties with longtime QB Steve McNair. Notice a pattern? 2006 sees the arrival of QB Vince Young and RB LenDale White.
This was an interesting draft haul, as reports are that longtime Coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Norm Chow badly wanted to draft QB Matt Leinart, but the owner wants to sell tickets and chose Young. If thatís the case, how long will this coaching staff be around? Regardless, this is a team in serious transition. Note that the Titans are just 5-11 SU/6-10 ATS at home the last two seasons.
Saints: 2005 was a train wreck season. The team played all its games on the road because of hurricane Katrina, then cleaned house after a 3-13 campaign. 2006 brings all kinds of new promise, especially on offense. Former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton is the new head coach. He coached the quarterbacks for Bill Parcells in Dallas and also held the title of assistant head coach.
The Saints were aggressive in the offseason, adding free-agent QB Drew Brees with a six-year contract. Brees had two brilliant seasons with the Chargers, the only concern is he badly injured his throwing shoulder in the final game of the season. He underwent surgery and it will take five months to be ready. Brees or backup QB Todd Bouman will have good targets with former All-Pro WR Joe Horn, Donte' Stallworth, RB Deuce McCallister and rookie RB Reggie Bush, whom the Saints couldnít believe was available after Houston passed on him. What a backfield!
Cardinals: The 2005 Cardinals were a good example of how stats can sometimes lie. Arizona was No. 8 in total defense, No. 9 in total offense, including No. 1 in passing! Yet, they were a bad team at 5-11. They were a sloppy minus-11 in turnover margin, too often failed to finish off long drives, and had no balance (first in passing offense, last in rushing). 2006 promises to be much better on offense.
Veteran QB Kurt Warner (11 TDs, 9 INTs) completed 64% of his passes before an injury shelved his season. He will start, but they were able to draft USC QB Matt Leinart with the No. 10 overall pick. Arizona brings in free agent prize RB Edgerrin James (1,506 yards) from the Colts to provide offensive balance. They already have stars in WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. After 16 losing seasons in a row in Arizona, is this the year that ends? Sports bettors take note: Arizona is 12-12 SU, 14-10 ATS the last three seasons at home, but 3-21 SU, 7-17 ATS on the road.