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» Scramble for the Ball: A Representative Pro Bowl Roster

Mike and Tom try to work out a Pro Bowl roster where every team in the NFL is represented. This year is harder than most!

15 Jul 2005

Four Downs: AFC East

by Aaron Schatz

Also check out the previous edition of Four Downs: AFC East.

Buffalo Bills

Let Him Dangle

Travis Henry is going to Seattle. Travis Henry is going to Jacksonville. Travis Henry is going to Tennessee. Travis Henry is going to the Red Sox for Kevin Millar and he's going to the Knicks for Stephon Marbury. We don't know which one of those trade rumors is going to prove true, but everyone is pretty sure that Travis "Little Hands of Concrete" Henry is leaving Buffalo.

What does the future hold for Mr. Henry? Let's take a look at the most similar players since 1978 using our system of similarity scores (explained here). First, here are Henry's conventional numbers for the past three seasons:

Year Team G Rush RuYD RuTD Yd/C Rec RecYD RecTD Age
2002 BUF 16 325 1438 13 4.42 43 309 1 24
2003 BUF 15 331 1356 10 4.10 28 158 1 25
2004 BUF 10 94 326 0 3.47 10 45 0 26

Because Henry had such a huge drop-off in usage between 2003 and 2004, the list of similar players changes dramatically depending on whether you list the most similar players over one season, two seasons, or three seasons. The list of similar single seasons has plenty of players who never came close to 1,350 yards; the list of similar two-year stretches features a number of players whose 1,300-yard season was a one-time event, not a repeat from the previous year; the list of similar three-year stretches isn't necessarily that similar, as you get a lot of players who were similar the first two years and not quite as bad in year three.

Let's start with similar players in a single season. One of these guys is pretty familiar to Buffalo fans, and he also switched teams the next season:

Player Year Age Team G Rush RuYD RuTD Yd/C Rec RecYD RecTD SIM
Gary Brown 1995 26 HOU 9 86 293 0 3.41 6 16 0 956
Antowain Smith 2000 28 BUF 10 101 354 4 3.50 3 20 0 943
Travis Minor 2004 25 MIA 11 109 388 3 3.56 13 75 0 932
Reggie Brooks 1996 25 TB 11 112 368 2 3.29 3 13 0 925
Cleveland Gary 1991 25 RAM 10 68 245 1 3.60 13 110 0 918

"SIM" is the similarity score -- the closer to 1000, the more similar. (When we do multiple years, it is the harmonic mean of two or three similarity scores.)

If Henry wants to prove to people that he can still be a starter somewhere, he's got a lot of good evidence on this list, starting with Antowain Smith. Like Henry, Smith was a former starter sent to the bench, but his previous seasons weren't similar to Henry's -- they were worse. He had gone from 1,124 yards to 614 to 354, and 2000 was Smith's third straight season below 3.75 yards per carry. The Bills released him, the Patriots signed him, and a year later he was coming off a career-best 1,157 yards and a Super Bowl championship. Smith's not the only player on this list who had a 1,000-yard season the next year; Cleveland Gary did as well. Gary Brown lost 1996 to injury but had 945 yards for the 1997 Chargers and 1063 yards for the 1998 Giants. On the other hand, Reggie Brooks never played again, and Carson Kressley will have a 1,000-yard rushing season before Travis Minor ever does.

Next, the most similar players over a two-year span. For space purposes, we'll leave off receiving numbers here, but they are reflected in the similarity computations. Age reflects the more recent season.

First Year Second Year
Name Years Age Team G Rush Yds TD Yd/C G Rush Yds TD Yd/C SIM
Erric Pegram 93-94 25 ATL 16 292 1185 3 4.06 13 103 358 1 3.48 888
Errict Rhett 95-96 26 TB 16 332 1207 11 3.64 9 176 539 3 3.06 854
Dorsey Levens 97-98 28 GB 16 329 1435 7 4.36 7 115 378 1 3.29 852
Mike Rozier 88-89 28 HOU 15 251 1002 10 4.06 12 88 301 2 3.42 847
Dalton Hilliard 89-90 26 NO 16 344 1262 13 3.67 6 90 284 0 3.16 846

The first thing that should jump out at you is this question: "How on earth do you rush for 1185 yards and only score three touchdowns?" Erric Pegram was playing on Jerry Glanville's last run-n-shoot team, and the 1993 Falcons had 28 passing TDs but only 4 rushing TDs. The 1992 team was even worse, with 33 passing TDs and only 3 rushing TDs. Pegram had just 89 yards rushing that season, and his career wasn't much like Henry's. He was a backup who had one big year, and then reverted to his previous backup status. He did change teams in 1995, like Henry probably will, and he put up 813 yards sharing time with Bam Morris for the AFC Champion Steelers.

Levens is more like Pegram than he is like Henry -- his career consists of one huge season (1997) and one moderately good season two years later (1,034 yards in 1999). The 1998 season similar to Henry's 2004 was caused by injury, not benching.

Errict Rhett is Henry's worst nightmare. He was a two-year starter in Tampa Bay, but like Henry he tallied up lots of yards and touchdowns because he carried the ball so much, not because he was very good at it. In each of his 1,000-yard seasons, he had just 3.6 yards per carry. He spent the first half of 1996 in an extended contract holdout and when he came back he was horrible, with 3.1 yards per carry, and had to share the load with a rookie named Mike Alstott. Then the Bucs drafted Warrick Dunn to compliment Alstott and that was pretty much it for Errict Rhett.

Both Rhett and Mike Rozier show up again on the list of the top three-year comparables:

First Year Second Year Third Year
Name Years Age Yeam G Rush Yds TD Yd/C G Rush Yds TD Yd/C G Rush Yds TD Yd/C SIM
Mike Rozier 87-89 28 HOU 15 312 1305 4 4.18 15 251 1002 10 3.99 12 88 301 2 3.42 844
Corey Dillon 01-03 29 CIN 16 340 1315 10 3.87 16 314 1311 7 4.18 13 138 541 2 3.92 814
Errict Rhett 94-96 26 TB 16 284 1011 7 3.56 16 332 1207 11 3.64 9 176 539 3 3.06 813
Duce Staley 98-00 25 PHI 16 258 1065 5 4.13 16 325 1273 4 3.92 5 79 344 1 4.35 812
Greg Bell 88-90 28 LA 16 288 1212 16 4.21 16 272 1137 15 4.18 6 47 164 1 3.49 810

As you can see from those similarity numbers, we're stretching things at this point, because Henry's career path is abnormal. Henry has only one player with a three-year similarity above 815, and to get even that one guy we had to pro-rate stats from the 1987 strike year. By comparison, Shaun Alexander 2002-2004 has 21 players with a three-year similarity above 815. (Alexander's top three, for the curious: Curt Warner 1985-87, Tony Dorsett 1979-81, and Walter Payton 1978-80.)

Is Corey Dillon similar to Henry? Well, each player lost his job to a younger teammate and then became trade bait. But Dillon was three years older when he lost his job to Rudi Johnson (the age difference is reflected in the similarity score) and was traded into the perfect situation, a defending champion with only one hole on offense: running back. Unless Ryan Moats and Correll Buckhalter both get injured and Philly is desperate for someone to match with Brian Westbrook, Henry's out of luck.

Duce Staley comes out as similar to Henry just because nobody else does. His bad third year was caused by injury, not benching, and while the rushing numbers are similar, the receiving numbers are very different, marking Staley as a very different kind of player.

No, Henry's future is likely closer to Rozier and Rhett Rozier had two average years as part of a committee in Atlanta and then retired. Rhett piddled around, got one more year as a starter in Baltimore in 1999, played at replacement level (3.8 DPAR), and was replaced. Greg Bell, by the way, never played again -- he is listed as "LA" because he had two big years with the Rams, was kicked to the curb in favor of Cleveland Gary, moved across town to the Raiders for a year as a backup, and was gone.

The best statement about Henry doesn't come from similarity scores, but from our advanced metrics which take into account opponent and situation. Here are Henry's rushing DVOA and DPAR for the past four years (those stats are explained here) along with rank among backs with at least 75 carries:

Year DVOA Rank DPAR Rank
2001 -21.8% 42 -8.3 43
2002 -9.1% 39 7.6 32
2003 -7.3% 36 9.5 29
2004 -10.6% 39 1.4 41

Dr. Z says that Henry is "a terrific runner," but I politely object. I understand not wanting to pay Shaun Alexander when there's a market glut for running backs, but if the Seahawks are going to give up a draft pick for this instead of playing Maurice Morris, they're crazy.

Miami Dolphins

Busy Bodies

In the last Four Downs, I pointed out that the Dolphins have spent the off-season collecting defensive linemen. Not yet satisfied with their haul, the Dolphins selected USC defensive tackle Manuel Wright in the fifth round of the supplemental draft yesterday.

This move, however, is difficult to criticize. The Dolphins haven't just been collecting defensive linemen -- for the most part, they've been collecting old defensive linemen. If they do move to a 3-4 alignment, they will likely be starting 36-year-old ex-Patriot Keith "I Was Not Traded For Dirk Nowitzki" Traylor at nose tackle. Kevin Carter will be 32, Vonnie Holliday 30, Larry Chester 30, and Jeff Zgonina roughly 137. Wright was considered a potential first-round choice if he had stayed at USC for two more years, probably a second-rounder if he stayed for one more year. It's not such a bad thing to take a player with that much talent, especially when he costs just a fifth-round pick and a roster spot for the next couple years. From what I've heard, Nick Saban isn't so bad at that teaching and development thing.


The Other Side of Summer

On the other hand, Wright is yet another defensive player added to a team that already had a good defense, while the offense has received less attention than the last Macy Gray record. They have Ronnie Brown now, and Ricky Williams coming back -- although as we've said numerous times, it is doubtful Williams will really make a difference. They apparently are going to give the starting quarterback job to Gus Frerotte, which doesn't seem like a huge step forward. The major problem with this team is offensive line, and with only one change -- free agent tackle Stockar McDougle -- the Dolphins are counting on new offensive line coach Hudson Houck to make lemonade out of the excrement of cows that may have eaten lemons last week.

Will Dolphins fans have something to cheer in 2005, rather than a season spent looking to the future? But no matter how much work Nick Saban does with the defense, the offense has to improve for the Dolphins to become contenders again. It doesn't have to be good, but it has to be average. Last year's Dolphins had a DVOA of -28.5%, worse than every team except Chicago.

We have DVOA ratings from 1998-2004, and in that time eight teams increased their offensive DVOA from one year to the next by 20%, relative to the league. (The baseline for DVOA is based on multiple seasons, so because the league's offensive environment changes slightly each year, the average DVOA for a specific season isn't necessarily 0%.) For the Dolphins to have hope of competing this year, they'll need to have an offensive turnaround similar to one of these teams.

1998 Raiders: -27.7% DVOA (29th)
1999 Raiders: +15.9% DVOA (2nd)

Reason for Improvement: The Rams won the Super Bowl, but the Raiders were actually the team which had the biggest offensive surge in 1999. The offensive personnel were almost entirely the same both years, with one major exception: at quarterback, Oakland switched from Jeff George and Donald Hollas to Rich Gannon. With this newly potent offense, the Raiders improved their record from 8-8 to ... wait for it ... 8-8. These may be the two most deceiving 8-8 records of all time. The 8-8 Raiders of 1998 were outscored by their opponents 356-288. The 8-8 Raiders of 1999, however, outscored their opponents 390-329. That's a 129-point switch with no additional wins. When the Raiders went 12-4 in 2000, it should have surprised nobody.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: Unless Gus Frerotte is Rich Gannon, none.

1998 Rams: -17.8% DVOA (26th)
1999 Rams: +18.3% DVOA (1st)

Reason for Improvement: You all know this one. The Rams traded for Marshall Faulk, drafted Torry Holt, finally got a healthy year from Isaac Bruce, and found Kurt Warner's space pod in a Kansas cornfield. I'll have much more to say about this team when we finally run articles with the full 1998 and 1999 numbers over the next few weeks.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: Yeah, right.

2000 Chargers: -39.0% DVOA (31st)
2001 Chargers: -3.8% DVOA (16th)

Reason for Improvement: The Chargers replaced Ryan Leaf and Terrell Fletcher with Doug Flutie and LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers outscored opponents by 332-321 and still managed to go 5-11.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: Pretty good, actually. This is the move the Dolphins would need to make to be in the playoffs -- not from horrible to good, but from horrible to average, letting the defense win games. The Dolphins, like the 2001 Chargers, replaced a committee of mediocre veterans with the highest-drafted rookie back. The harder move to duplicate is at quarterback. As bad as Fiedler and Feeley were last year, they weren't as bad as Ryan Leaf, and Gus Frerotte is no Flutie.

2002 Texans: -38.0% DVOA (32nd)
2003 Texans: -11.0% DVOA (24th)

Reason for Improvement: David Carr improves, Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis arrive.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: Miami's offense may be expansion-level bad, but it isn't expansion-level young, so no.

1999 Eagles: -31.9% DVOA (30th)
2000 Eagles: -1.8% DVOA (16th)

Reason for Improvement: Donovan McNabb's first full year as starting quarterback, maturing offensive line.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: No, this team is the exact opposite, with a great quarterback and offensive line to go with no running game and a receiving corps that didn't have anyone with talent even close to Chris Chambers.

1998 Panthers: -16.8% DVOA (24th)
1999 Panthers: +4.8% DVOA (10th)

Reason for Improvement: George Seifert arrives as head coach and brings a San Francisco-style offense which drives Steve Beuerlein to an inexplicable career year, with 36 touchdown passes and 4436 passing yards (previous career highs were 18 TDs, 3164 yards). Tim Biakabatuka has half of an inexplicable career year, averaging 5.2 yards per carry when not injured. Every position on the offensive line except left guard turns over.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: None, I think. You have to forgive me, as I wasn't paying much attention to the NFC back in those days, but looking back this season seems to make no sense whatsoever. I'd love to hear from some Carolina fans who can explain what the heck happened in 1999 and then what happened in 2000 to make it stop.

2003 Patriots: -0.8% DVOA (13th)
2004 Patriots: 26.3% DVOA (4th)

Reason for Improvement: Patriots finally get a running game.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: This is an offense that needed one last piece to go from average to spectacular, not lots of pieces to go from horrible to average, so no.

2003 Steelers: -8.4% DVOA (19th)
2004 Steelers: 16.6% DVOA (7th)

Reason for Improvement: Offensive line was wracked by injuries in 2003 but healthy in 2004 (except RG Kendall Simmons, but he went out early enough in training camp that his replacement Keydrick Vincent was fully ready when the season began). Jerome Bettis discovers fountain of youth. Highly efficient rookie quarterback.

Similarity to 2005 Dolphins: Yes, in that an offensive line that was horrible one year became spectacular the next. But the Pittsburgh linemen had been good for years. The aberration was the bad 2003, not the good 2004. That's not the case in Miami. I don't think there's a Ben Roethlisberger on this roster, either. On the other hand, we thought Jerome Bettis was toast, and his 2004 season certainly gives hope to other running backs trying to come back from declines caused by high usage, Ricky Williams included. Especially if Ronnie Brown can be Duce Staley.

New England Patriots

Accidents Will Happen

The NFL is a copycat league, or so the cliche goes, and 31 teams are constantly trying to copy whatever strategy helped the 32nd team win the Lombardi Trophy. That's certainly the case with the New England Patriots, winners of three of the past four Super Bowls.

A number of NFL trends can be tied, at least in part, to a desire to do things the Patriot way: defensive coordinators flirting with the 3-4 alignment, front offices cutting costs on the offensive line (except at left tackle), and coaches using defensive players on offense to create size mismatches (Julius Peppers as a wide receiver, for example). But one of the most important aspects of the Patriot dynasty is also the most difficult to copy: New England's outstanding depth.

Most NFL teams will begin the 2005 season believing they can contend for the Super Bowl if they can just avoid injuries. But that's just not good enough in the NFL. A well-built team must be able to excel even after suffering numerous injuries. No team has demonstrated this over the past two years more than the Patriots.

In 2003, New England started more than 40 different players, the most of any Super Bowl team in history. In 2004, they started 39 different players. Both starting cornerbacks were lost for most of the season; number one receiver Deion Branch missed half the year, as did starting right tackle Tom Ashworth; Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour missed the first two playoff games. And yet coach Bill Belichick was able to fill every one of these holes with a competent backup, even if it meant using wide receiver Troy Brown as a nickelback.

Not content to rely on such stopgap solutions, the Patriots have spent the off-season signing even more veterans to create their deepest roster yet. Most teams fill out the training-camp depth chart with undrafted rookies, but that's not the case in New England.

For example, all eight defensive backs who played in last year's Super Bowl are still on the team. So are two players who lost most or all of last season to knee problems: Tyrone Poole, who began the year as a starting cornerback, and Guss Scott, a third-round pick who spent his rookie year on injured reserve.

To these 10 players, the Patriots added three veteran defensive backs who were starters for other teams for at least half of 2004 -- cornerback Duane Starks came in a trade, cornerback Chad Scott and safety Antuan Edwards in free agency. The Patriots also spent a third-round draft pick on cornerback Ellis Hobbs and a fourth-round pick on safety James Sanders.

As a result, the Patriots will bring to camp 14 defensive backs who either have NFL experience or were 2005 draft picks -- 15 if you include Brown. Nine of those defensive backs have at least two years' experience.

Wide receiver is another example. David Patten's departure for Washington opened one spot on the depth chart, but the Patriots signed two free agent veterans, David Terrell and Tim Dwight. They also have 2004 fifth-round pick P.K. Sam, who spent most of his first season inactive but was specifically drafted as a developmental project. The Patriots even have three different players who were used as an NFL team's primary kick returner last season: holdover Bethel Johnson and free-agent signings Dwight and Chad Morton.

Where are all of these players going to fit? The answer is that they aren't. The Patriots have moved on to the next logical step. Not content to withstand injuries during the season, they have built up so much depth that they can withstand the inevitable injuries that come during training camp.

If a receiver or defensive back gets hurt during a preseason game, that spot on the depth chart will be taken by an experienced veteran, not undrafted rookie filler. And if nobody gets hurt during the preseason, the Patriots will just cut one or two of these veterans and escape relatively unharmed. Morton's signing bonus was just $60,000, so that's all the Patriots lose if he does not make the team. Dwight and Edwards received no signing bonuses, and cutting them before the season will cost the Patriots nothing (Scott did not receive a signing bonus either, but some of his salary is guaranteed).

The Patriots aren't taking more players to camp than other teams; they're just taking more players who are more than just fodder for the fourth-quarter of preseason games. It also doesn't hurt that the Patriots prefer to offer good contracts to numerous quality veterans rather than a few gargantuan contracts to a handful of superstars, leaving very little money to fill out the depth chart.

Can other teams recruit a similarly deep pool of veteran backups? Some might, but not all can, because depth is a zero-sum game. Every veteran going to camp with New England also means one less veteran available to other teams. For example, although New Orleans offered Brown more money in free agency, the versatile veteran decided to return to the Patriots (an endorsement deal with a local bank, it turns out, will make up most of the salary difference). That meant that the Saints had to turn to their second option, free agent Az Hakim, which meant in turn that the Kansas City Chiefs -- who wanted Hakim -- had to turn to their second option, the erratic Freddie Mitchell.

Of course, it's not enough to simply accumulate veteran players; teams have to know how to use those players in a way that masks their declining skills and accentuates their remaining strengths. Baseball writer Bill James used to say that the best managers were the ones who concentrated on what players could do rather than what they couldn't do. Earl Weaver would take a guy like John Lowenstein, who nobody wanted because he couldn't hit lefties, and pair him with a kid who could hit lefties (Gary Roenicke) to build one important piece of a World Series champion. Belichick does the same thing with his football team, juggling multiple players at each position and using each one in the right situations.

New York Jets

Imagination is a Powerful Deceiver

Conventional wisdom says that the Jets went 10-6 last year thanks to a great defense and their running game, so all eyes this off-season have been on the passing game and special teams. The big name acquisitions are a wide receiver, a tight end, a kicker, and a new offensive coordinator, and the biggest question mark of training camp revolves around the shoulder of the quarterback.

But as we've pointed out numerous times, and will explain further in our upcoming book Pro Football Prospectus 2005, conventional wisdom is wrong. The Jets did not have a good defense. They had a defense that was on the field for fewer plays thanks to the team's conservative offensive philosophy, and the advantage of a schedule filled with poor quarterbacks. Going into this off-season, the biggest problem for the Jets wasn't finding a wide receiver or a kicker; it was finding a professional secondary to play behind their talented front seven so that teams couldn't just pass on them all day. Check out the team's DVOA against different types of receivers, and you can see how the linebackers keep the New York passing defense from looking completely porous:

Year vs. #1 WR Rank vs. #2 WR Rank vs. Other WR Rank vs. TE Rank vs. RB Rank
2003 24.7% 26 30.3% 31 3.6% 23 -13.0% 10 10.4% 24
2004 33.0% 28 20.9% 28 -13.9% 11 -19.0% 8 -11.2% 15

With two weeks to go until training camp begins, the secondary is still unsettled. In fact, it became even more unsettled yesterday when starting cornerback Donnie Abraham retired. David Barrett is a nickel-quality back who was severely stretched last year as the number two corner. Now the Jets are stuck with him as the number one corner. Who will start at the other corner? Justin Miller fell to the Jets in the second round of the draft, but rookie cornerbacks generally have a steep learning curve (just ask the Packers). The other candidate is Pete Hunter, who the Jets acquired yesterday from the Cowboys for a conditional draft pick. Hunter finally became a starter last year, his third season in the league, only to blow out his ACL in Week 3. This year the Cowboys wanted him to move to safety, which isn't exactly the biggest vote of confidence in his coverage abilities.

Then again, there is a third candidate -- the one star cornerback still remaining on the free agent market, Ty Law. Law hasn't signed because no team has been willing to pony up the money that matches his resume, and no team is willing to pony up that money until their doctors have made sure that they're getting the same cornerback who put that resume together. Abraham's retirement is the best thing that could have happened to Law, because the supply of number one cornerbacks is one, and the demand in New York just shot through the roof. Law would like to be able to play against the Patriots twice a year, to show them up for giving up on him, but do the Jets have the cap space? According to Askthecommish.com, the Jets are in the bottom five in available cap space (as of May 21).

How about safeties? Free safety Erik Coleman may have been the best second-day draft pick of 2004, and he's the one solid piece in the secondary. But as good as his rookie season was, he did have a weakness that became clear near the end of the season. According to our new tape-analyzing buddy K.C. Joyner and his book Scientific Football 2005, Coleman was one of the top safeties at preventing complete passes deep, but he had a problem with late reaction time, so when deep passes were completed against him, they went for huge yardage. This was particularly a problem in the final two games of the regular season against David Givens (29- and 35-yard gains), Kevin Curtis (a 34-yard gain), and Shaun McDonald (a 33-yard gain).

Who will start next to Coleman, after last year's starter Reggie Tongue was waived? I decided to ask someone who knows the Jets better than I do, Jets blogger Brian Bassett. Before he went off to get married (congratulations, Brian!) he sent me these notes:

I think that Jon McGraw will get the nod for the starting job. He has battled injuries over the past few years, but it looks like the staff is ready to give him a shot. I think it is his job to lose.

Fifth-round pick Andre Maddox from North Carolina State is a confident player (thinks he is better than Brodney Poole) and has been known for jarring hits and his ability to tackle, so I think he would show promise in a limited run-stopping role for now, but it looks like he will be playing gunner on special teams initially, and the Jets will expand his role from there.

The big question mark is fourth-rounder Kerry Rhodes from Louisville. He was a quarterback and transitioned to safety in college. Apparently, he has great athletic abilities, but he has some rough edges that he was rounding off in college. He's more aggressive in coverage, the opposite of Maddox. The Jets traded up to get Rhodes, so they see the promise. Rhodes is a rangier player than Maddox, and Herm is big on players with the ability to close on the ball in the air, because he says this is an innate skill that is hard to teach.

It sounds like the rookies are pretty raw, which doesn't help a team that needs a couple of players to step up. Even if the Jets can give our friend Brian a big wedding gift by signing Law, they still have a defensive hole at the other corner that is easy to exploit unless Hunter or Miller can play at a high level and replace Barrett. This hole is an even bigger problem if Coleman still makes the occasional mistake reacting late on a deep route. As Joyner writes, "He has good pass recognition overall, but all it takes is a few times when you don't react quickly enough and you'll be beaten deep."

If Law joins the Jets, it will cause big problems for their opponents who depend on one great receiver, such as Miami, Jacksonville, and New Orleans. But I foresee some big fantasy football performances against New York by strong number two receivers, particularly those who like to go deep: Jerry Porter or Ronald Curry, David Givens or David Terrell, Joey Galloway, Ashley Lelie, and above all Lee Evans.

Note: An edited version of the New England section appeared in Tuesday's New York Sun.

Next week: NFC East by Al Bogdan.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 15 Jul 2005

55 comments, Last at 12 Aug 2005, 1:48pm by Led

Comments

1
by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 1:28pm

"For example, although New Orleans offered Brown more money in free agency, the versatile veteran decided to return to the Patriots (an endorsement deal with a local bank, it turns out, will make up most of the salary difference)."

Is this the type of subverting of the revenue cap that the "small market" teams want to eliminate? It seems that if a team can get local sponsers to supplant some of a player's salary costs, than the teams with the biggest backers will have virtually more salary cap room than other teams.

2
by MikeH (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 1:45pm

I feel like breaking out my Elvis Costello records now.

3
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 2:03pm

"Law would like to be able to play against the Patriots twice a year, to show them up for giving up on him..."

Saw Law interviewed on PTI yesterday. He was unusually equanimous on his feelings about the Pats...even when the hosts pushed him on the resentment issue. He even went so far as to say the door might still be slightly open for a return to the Pats (though he did shoot down the possibility of signing with the Chiefs, so today's report that he's reached a deal with them is either wrong or Ty was just using his five good minutes to blow a lot of smoke). Anyway, I don't doubt he'd enjoy playing against the Pats twice a year...about as much as Lawyer Milloy does.

4
by El Angelo (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 2:03pm

Well done, as always. While I don't disagree that the secondary is the Jets' biggest problem, the issue of Pennington's shoulder can't be overlooked either. I can't believe I'm writing this, but bringing in Dartmouth Jay was a nice solid insurance move for Gang Green.

Regardless, they still look like an 8-8 team to me. I can't make an argument that they're better than the Bengals or Ravens, let alone the Steelers, Colts, or Pats.

5
by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 2:05pm

Re: 1

In a word, no. If there was any evidence at all that Kraft or the Patriots organization had pulled strings to get Brown the deal, that would be a serious violation. But that's not what happened at all - Brown's been with the Patriots for ever and ever(drafted in 93?) and the fans love him, so it was pretty inevitable that a local company would figure out that he would be good fit for their locally-targeted ad campaign. I would actually think that league would want to encourage this kind of thing, as it encourages established players to stay in one area.

The thing the low-revenue teams are complaining about is unshared revenues - revenue from things like luxury boxes, stadium naming rights, and parking(I think) which doesn't get put into the shared revenue pool from which the salary cap is calculated.

6
by Aahzmadius (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 2:36pm

TMQ prediction: new cognomen for New England- the Flying Elvis Costellos.

7
by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 2:47pm

-Gus Frerotte is no Flutie

Name/ rating/com%/ yards/yrpc/td/int
Flutie 76.4/ 54.7/ 14686/ 6.9/ 86/ 68
Frerotte 76.1/ 54.6/ 15097/ 7.1 / 77/ 66

Hmm seems like Frerotte is Doug Flutie to me. I guess Flutie has better legs.

8
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 3:14pm

Johonny (#7 )--

Frerotte did okay, mostly filling in from a backup position later on in his career. So did Flutie. They are the prototypical "R" in DPAR at this stage.

The difference is, New England is counting on Flutie to, at most, carry on a pretty solid offense if their top-tier QB gets hurt. Over his career, that's what he's done best, and it's reasonable to expect he could come in out of the bullpen and win a couple, if Brady gets hurt and Davey remains a question mark.

Miami doesn't have the same luxury. If Miami's counting on Frerotte to start for them, their running game and defense had better do most of the heavy lifting.

9
by Aaron (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:03pm

No, he's pointing out my comparison of the 2005 Frerotte to the 2001 Flutie, not the 2005 Flutie. But career numbers don't make a good comparison. If you want to know just how good Doug Flutie was five years ago, click the link on my name and scroll down to the DVOA comparison between the games Rob Johnson started for the 2000 Bills, and the games Flutie started for the 2000 Bills.

And I'm impressed someone got the Elvis Costello thing within two comments.

10
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:07pm

I don't think the Jets are the only team in this division with issues in the secondary. What about the 'Fins?

They traded Surtain, (a top 10 corner in my opinion) for a 2nd round pick. As far as I see this represented no value, especially considering Buchanon went to the Texans for a 2 and a 3. This leaves Madison (good but ageing and with no INTS last season) as the #1 CB, and Reggie Howard or Travis Daniels as the #2 and Nickel backs respectively.

Miami also have issues at safety. The likely starters are Traveres Tillman and Tebucky Jones. Does this fill anyone with confidence? Thought not.

I know the 'Fins have been collecting D linemen, but no one will confuse them with the 85 Bears (Jason Taylor excepted), and unless the pass rush is special, there is a chance that the secondary could be exposed, particularly by #2 and #3 receivers of their opponents. Lee Evans vs Reggie Howard anyone?

11
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:09pm

Hmm seems like Frerotte is Doug Flutie to me..

You are short some 41,000 passing yards and 270 TDs on Flutie's line.

12
by Sean D (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:21pm

RE: 8
I think you missed the point by talking about Flutie on the Pats. I believe he was referring to the Flutie of '01 vs the current Frerotte, because that would be, oh I don't know, relevant.

13
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:25pm

There's no way Saban isn't thinking two or three years ahead... any chance he's trying to find some DL to build the rest of the defense around, thinking that that group is the best value between immediate and long-term rewards?

14
by Pat on the Back (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:37pm

#1 + #5,
I also am pretty sure that Brown had the endorsement deal before he was cut (it is with BankNorth, no?). Regardless, it wasn't so much that he would make more money with the endorsement deal and the Pats contract, but more that he would lose future money by taking the Saints deal, in that when he retires as a career Patriot, he can keep those endorsement deals running until he is 70. I predict he will be hawking for Bernie & Phyl and Dunkin' Donuts years after the Saints move to Las Vegas.

15
by Johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 4:54pm

Aaron your system does rank Flutie pretty high for the 2000 and 2001 season. However his basic stats for the 2001 season don't seem out of par with his career numbers and his career to that point. 56.4 Com %/ 6.6 YA/ 15 TD /18 INT

Clearly Flutie legs are the big difference in the two QBs. When Frerotte has tossed the ball he's gonna give you similar results to Flutie. But he's going to get sacked more. And behind that Dolphins Oline it could be way, way more.

16
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 5:30pm

Considering how much talk there has been about the BankNorth deal helping keep Brown in New England, that has to be the best source of goodwill the bank could possibly hope for. For the past three months, every article mentioning Troy Brown has mentioned BankNorth, most of them by name, and all in a positive light.

17
by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 5:39pm

I think Flutie is one of the all-time greats at using his legs (and his smarts) to avoid sacks. He's played behind some terrible offensive lines. If I were the Falcons I would have outbid the Patriots for him because I think he's probably the best player Michael Vick could model himself after. Flutie obviously never had Vick's speed, but other than that I think they're similar in a lot of ways.

18
by Sean D. (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 5:45pm

MDS, that almost sounded like it made sense. Give the OL and Recievers a chance to have some consistency no matter who is the starting QB. He's a witch! Burn him!

19
by Matt Blackstone (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 6:01pm

Panther country reponse. The reason for the big improvement I see as obvious. it wasn't talent related but psychological. Dom Capers had lost the team and the players did not play up to their potential in '99. The motivation of a hall of fame coach coming in led to career years for a number of players. I don't have the numbers, but as a guess, panther players in 99 played below career averages and above in 2000. As far as Beuerlein is concerned, I believe he is one of the most underated QBs in history, excepting that one year. Even in 2000, people were still wondering how he made the pro bowl. He was stuck behind Troy "Run in Fear from Panther linebackers" Aikman and a first pick in Collins. If given a real chance, he had the potential to be the first Tom Brady in 1996 if memory serves.

20
by Keith Cockrell (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 6:28pm

I don't disagree with the comments on Henry, but I don't see how any valid comparison of running backs could be made without including frequency of fumbles. An extra twenty or thirty yards at the end of a game doesn't make up for a couple of turnovers. That should always be included in any review of runners.

21
by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 9:11pm

The question more intersting on the Bills is Willis McGahee. It seems to me most people believe Mcgahee is in for a super duper incredible year. Even though last year he put up a line pretty much in line with what the Bills feature back has done the 2 year before him. Are the Mcgahee expectations too high?

22
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 9:36pm

21: I don't doubt McGahee's ability, but his success probably hinges more on how well Losman (and what should be a strong recieving corps) and the OL without Jennings performs.

23
by Sean (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 10:41pm

Looking at Scientific Football's breakdown of the Jets passing secondary, the numbers are generally mediocre, but not dire. As a team the Jets allowed a completion percentage of 56.5%, which was tied for fourteenth. They allowed 7.2 yards per attempt, good for eighteenth, gave up 23 TDs (tied for 14th again), and they were right around tenth in terms of forcing bad decisions. Their real weaknesses were in their burns, where there were five times when a Jets defender was simply beaten so badly he couldn't recover, resulting in 105 yards and 3 TDs. Their deep numbers were generally very good, although they were warped a bit by the burns, so that there was a high number of times when the Jets secondary let a receiver run open by 2+ steps...still, even with that taken into account, the Jets were top five in good/tight coverage on deep balls. Basically, the Jets schemed to take away the deep ball, and their front four was effective enough to allow the scheme to work, so long as the receiver didn't break the corners ankles at the line.

Would I feel much better if Ty Law was in the fold? Absolutely, and I think that the Jets will likely sign him. But one way or the other, the situation isn't quite as dire as it looks. The Jets have now added two quality corner prospects the last two years in Derrick Strait and Justin Miller. They're also getting Ray Mickens, their best man cover player, back from injury. At worst, the presence of Strait and Miller in the nickel and dime packages is going to represent an upgrade, and it's possible that one of those two players steps up and takes a starting job before the year is over. The Jets have also added four safeties through the draft in the last two years. They hit with Coleman, and at least have some good young bodies to try to replace Reggie Tongue.

Basically, there's some talent there, but it's young, and you don't want to rely on young players in your secondary when you are a playoff caliber team. If they sign Law, I think the rest of the secondary will round into shape pretty nicely.

24
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 11:10pm

Scott Pioli has signed a contract extension with the Pats (linked).

Yeah, I kinda missed the point about the Flutie we're comparing to Frerotte is the 2001 Flutie. But seeing as how the difference in Flutie's favor was mobility and leadership (based or the FO article Aaron linked above), and with the seemingly endless saga of woe that is Miami's O-line, it seems fairly safe to say that Frerotte is 2005 will be no Flutie from 2001.

25
by Glenn (not verified) :: Sat, 07/16/2005 - 3:30am

Next challenge for Aaron: AFC East article subtitles using Graham Parker tunes.

26
by the K (not verified) :: Sat, 07/16/2005 - 5:29pm

Looking like Henry is going to the Titans for the 3rd round pick in next year's draft. I wish him the best, but my question is this: Why would you not want to be a backup, thus you demand a trade....to be a backup? Did he feel that sleighted by losing his starting job, or does he just feel he'll have a better chance to play behind Chris Brown?

27
by fyo (not verified) :: Sat, 07/16/2005 - 9:37pm

If the Dolphins do go and improve their offense significantly, this is what we'll see in a similar comparison to improving offenses a few years from now:

2004 Dolphins: -28.5% DVOA (31st)
2005 Dolphins: -8.5% DVOA (18th)

Reason for Improvement:

Similarity to 2007 Cardinals: Absolutely none. The Cards weren't abandoned by their franchise running back, around whom the entire offense revolved, litterally hours after the last servicable replacement had signed a contract. The Cards also didn't draft Ronnie Brown and the coaching situation couldn't be more different.

My point isn't that I believe the above will happen. My point is that the analysis provided is deeply flawed, IMHO. 20 percentage point improvement in DVOA are clearly the EXCEPTION and every single time it has happened, you can point out (post-factum) the exceptional things that made it happen.

What one SHOULD look at is if anything makes the Dolphins' situation remarkable - i.e. any indicators that it might also be an exception. Comparisons with previous exceptions is certainly the obvious place to start, but since NONE of the exceptions above are much alike, it's unreasonable to expect any future exception to be so either.

Listing any "remarkable" things about the Dolphins situation, especially as they pertain to something that contributed to the -28.5% DVOA. Examples could include:

PROBLEM: Their franchise running back quit at such a point as to leave them without a competent backup. Having no backup in the first place was, in itself, an invitation to disaster (injuries happen and should be planned for).

ACTION TAKEN TO IMPROVE: Used second overall draft pick on a RB (Ronnie Brown). Resigned old franchise player (although I doubt he'll actually play much, if at all).

PROBLEM: Pathetic offensive line.

ACTION TAKEN TO IMPROVE: New OL coach. While not much, OL improvements are regularly seen from what is virtually the same unit just because of a coaching change.

PROBLEM: Poor play at QB.

ACTION TAKEN TO IMPROVE: Gus Frerotte chosen as "safe" backup. This one is tightly coupled to improvements at OL and RB. If either improves significantly, life will be a whole lot easier for the quarterback. Plus, Saban will actually give Feeley a chance, along with a system that suits him.

CONCLUSION:

All in all, the Dolphins' situation is quite remarkable, certainly different from the vast majority of cases where a team has a very low DVOA. Of course, this alone does not a resurection make. However, the changes in the club make it all but certain that there will be at least SOME improvement in 2005 (how could there not). While there appears no good way of making a quantified estimate, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the Dolphins could improve DVOA in the 20 percentage point range.

Oh, and Aaron, I'll give you 2:1 odds that (barring injury), Feeley is the starting QB come week 1.

I also don't buy all the worn-out arguments with regards to Ricky Williams (I agree with the conclusion that he likely won't contribute significantly, but not because he took a butt-load of carries - rather because he's been sitting on his rear for some 16+ months). How many examples are there of a RB taking a huge load for a couple of seasons and then taking a year (plus 4 games) completely off, without this being due to injury? None, you say? Well, might not taking a year off actually give the body a chance to recoup? There appears to be absolutely ZERO data to support the oft-touted "he'll bomb because he's worn out" theory (along with comparisons with half a dozen other backs who carried the ball massive amounts of time for multiple years - although none of these took any time off, except due to injury).

I'm a huge proponent of stats (which is why I read the site, duh), but they are also notoriously easy to abuse. Lies, damned lies and statistics... and all that ;-)

28
by johonny (not verified) :: Sat, 07/16/2005 - 11:18pm

PROBLEM: Their franchise running back quit at such a point as to leave them without a competent backup.

Dolphins backs when healthy actually out played Rickey Williams 2003 performance. Dolphins main problem here was the health of Morris and Minor.

ACTION TAKEN TO IMPROVE:OL improvements are regularly seen from what is virtually the same unit just because of a coaching change.

Are they regularly seen? I think Rex Hadnot and Vernon Carey may improve just do to experience. I think Stockar McDougle will be a plus to have. But the Dolphins are 1 injury from John St. Clair, Damion Cook and Wade Smith. That's not good.

Gus Frerotte is a lot like Jay Fiedler. And he will must likely have similar results behind the Dolphins O-line. The Dolphins need really good health on the Oline this year and improvement from Carey and Hadnot. I think the second part is likely but the lack of quality depth scares me.

29
by ats227 (not verified) :: Sun, 07/17/2005 - 11:56am

Continuing the dolphins discussion:

I took a look at the DVOAs since 2000 (those easily available on FO) and found that the AVERAGE improvement of a bottom-5 team was 9.5 percentage points.

5 of 20 teams actually managed a 20 point increase and 8 of 20 teams managed an increase > 15 points.

(NOTE: These are pure improvements from year to year, not corrected for "drift" in DVOA "zero point").

So the question becomes: Is there any reason to assume that the 2004/2005 Dolphins could muster an above average improvement? Any reason to assume they could land in the best 40% in improvement? What about best 20%?

Atlanta, at -6.5% DVOA, was the worst offense that made it to the playoffs last season, but Baltimore made it the year before despite a massive -20.6% DVOA. Carolina at -9.6% and Dallas at -10.0% also managed to secure playoff berths that year.

The conclusion would seem to be that Miami need only manage an AVERAGE improvement in DVOA in order to mount a CREDIBLE playoff drive.

There's no guarantee that even a 20 point improvement will land the Dolphins a spot in the playoffs, but the analysis by Aaron does seem rather schewed.

30
by fyo (not verified) :: Sun, 07/17/2005 - 1:08pm

> But the Dolphins are 1 injury from John St. Clair, Damion Cook and Wade Smith. That’s not good.

Certainly a valid point! Wade Smith in particular did not look good last season (or maybe he was impersonating a matador, in which case he did fairly well).

> Dolphins backs when healthy actually out played Rickey Williams 2003 performance.

That's not really a fair comparison. Ricky forced oposing teams to focus enormous resources on him. I didn't notice *anyone* taking Morris, Minor, Gordon or Henry seriously.

This is something DPAR utterly fails to take into account. Morris and Williams may have had similar numbers (2004, 2003 respectively), but no one who actually watched the games would argue that their accomplishments were in any way similar.

31
by gabe (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 1:03pm

The Patriots' depth is not something they have achieved through a bunch of basement bargain signings as the media points out. They have achieved this depth not only through good drafting, but also by taking undrafted rookie FA's and developing them. One look at the offensive line will tell you the story. These developed players are the cheapest hands in the market. Having good coaches helps.... This acquired depth now gives the Patriots a new draft option: red shirting many talented but raw rookies. If anyone remembers. when BB took over this team, they were one of the oldest and depth -less clubs in the league. He had to cut and rebuild the team alm ost from scratch. He did keep a core of versatile veterans who were willing to take a pay cut.

32
by MRH (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 4:00pm

How many examples are there of a RB taking a huge load for a couple of seasons and then taking a year (plus 4 games) completely off, without this being due to injury? None, you say? Well, might not taking a year off actually give the body a chance to recoup?

The guy who springs to mind is John Riggins, who sat out 1980. He didn't take the same pounding in 1978-9 that Ricky did in 02-03 (567 carries plus rec to Ricky's 772), but he was a 9 year vet in '79.

When he came back in '81 Riggo's numbers were 195/714/13 TD. That 3.66 ypc was almost a yard less than his '79 4.43. He averaged over 4 ypc 6 of his 1st 9 years. After his hiatus, he never put up 4 ypc. '82 was the strike year. In 83-84 he carried over 700 times for about 3.7 ypc. 24 tds in '83.

Riggins did what Gibbs wanted him to do - pound the ball. (In five seasons w/Gibbs, Riggins caught 34 total passes.) He was productive in that role. I don't see Ricky sticking around to be a battering ram, and although a sample of one isn't much to go by, there is more evidence to say Ricky will be mediocre than to say his body has recovered.

33
by MikeT (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 5:03pm

30:

Actually, DPAR does a very good job of evaluating workhorse running backs like Ricky.

DPAR compares the player to a well-below average "replacement", unlike DVOA, which compares to league average and sometimes gives a poor score to a guy who gets fed to the line 30 times per game.

In 2003, Ricky Williams graded out as just above replacement level. Yes, opponents crammed eight in the box all the time to stop him. Yes, he was playing behind a second rate line with some mediocre QBs and one good wide receiver. But a truly great running back would have still earned a good DPAR score under the circumstances: he would have scored a little above replacement value on his carries, and his hundreds of carries would add up to something good.

On a better team, Ricky would certainly earn better DPAR and DVOA scores. But with a better running back, the Dolphins offense in 2003, and their other offensive starters, would have had better DVOA and DPAR stats.

Actually, Miami's situation last year is quite remarkable only if you differentiate "quitting to pursue other interests" from "tearing up ACL in first day of camp". Many, many teams lose their franchise back for a season, often early in camp when he is hard to replace, then have to worry about what state he will come back in. And of course, running backs like Barry Sanders and Barry Foster have retired suddenly in recent years, leaving their teams to scramble.

The Dolphins fell apart in 2004 in part because they replaced Ricky with a bunch of nobodies, in part because their O-line went from bad to worse, in part because there was turmoil in the offseason as to who was running the offense, and that seemed to spill into the regular season.

The point of Aaron's research was that a) The Dolphins have to go from superbad to average to compete this year, b) that teams don't do that very often, c) that many of the teams that did were either teams filled with young stars or teams that had one bad fluke year, like the recent Steelers and Patriots, and d) there aren't many models that show a team rebounding significantly by drafting a running back, picking up a journeyman QB, and hiring a new coordinator and line coach.

All of which spells "rebuilding" for Saban and company, which appears to be the direction they are heading in, anyway.

34
by Brian (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 6:38pm

Your comment about the Jets defense not being good because they had far fewer plays is bogus. The Jets racked up 966 defensive plays last year, while the Steelers had 882. Would you then say the Steelers were only good because of the lack of defensive plays? The most plays in the league were 1072 by Oakland.
I believe a better tell would be to look at yards per play.
Teams in order include,
Buffalo 4.3, Washington 4.4, Pittsburg 4.7, Tampa Bay 4.7, Baltimore 4.8, Denver 4.9, Miami 4.9, Philly 4.9, then the jets and NE with 5.

35
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 8:14pm

Brian, yards per play is an important consideration on defense, but a lot of that is just a measure of their ability to eliminate the big play. There are other equally important measures. The two that spring to mind are third down defense and turnovers. Third down defense because a great third down defense is the single most consistent way to kill drives and get the ball back for your offense, and turnovers becuase not only do they get the ball back, they get the ball back with far better field position than an old-fashioned defensive stop would.

A team needs all 4 elements (the ability to limit the big play, the ability to consistantly stop small plays, the ability to consistantly kill drives, and the ability to author game-changing turnovers) to really be an elite defense. You'll have to show me that the Jets ranked high in more than just one of those categories before I'll believe that they're as good as their press clippings on defense.

36
by Johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 9:00pm

|- TOT--|--- Rush --|--- Pass --| OUT|
! PT--Y--A--Y-YA-TD--A--Y-YA-TD-|--OF|
+-------------------------------+----+
| 8 20 31 28 18 24 02 11 26 04 | 32 |
| 4 07 11 05 04 05 11 14 18 16 | 32 |
+-------------------------------+----+

Two year trend in Jets Defense. Last 2 years the Jets did good job preventing points. However clearly the Jets did much better against the run last season. However the Jets appear no better than average against the pass. Will the Jets be that good against the run again? Concern about the Jets secondary would seem to be valid.

37
by MikeT (not verified) :: Mon, 07/18/2005 - 11:16pm

Re the Jets

The Jets have been talked about alot on FO, particularly as regards their defensive stats.

The Jets grade out using normal stats as a very good overall defensive team, one that was excellent against the run and pretty good against the pass. DVOA grades them as a below average defensive team that was decent against the run but pretty bad against the pass.

There are two big reasons for the discrepency. The first is the one Aaron pointed out in the essay: the Jets' ball control style kept the defense off the field. The second reason the Jets defense looked so good on paper is because they played

The Dolphins twice
The Bills twice
The Cardinals with Shaun King at QB
The Niners
The Browns

When they faced teams with good offenses like the Bengals, Chargers, or Rams, they won 31-24 or 34-28 or lost 32-29. Their defense wasn't that great, but the good news is that the offense was better than it looked when facing some great AFC East defenses.

As for the discussion of the Jets' slowed-down offense, in Pro Football Prospectus there will be an in-depth discussion of exactly how the Jets slowed games down. In general, a low number of defensive plays is a sign of a good defense. In Jets, it's part of a system to control the tempo of games.

38
by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 1:57am

#17

I think Flutie is one of the all-time greats at using his legs (and his smarts) to avoid sacks. He’s played behind some terrible offensive lines. If I were the Falcons I would have outbid the Patriots for him because I think he’s probably the best player Michael Vick could model himself after. Flutie obviously never had Vick’s speed, but other than that I think they’re similar in a lot of ways.

---

Not quite Vick's speed, but not far off either. He ran a 4.4 when he was younger and a couple years ago claimed he could still run a 4.5 easily. So take that for what it's worth. I think you're right though, Flutie would be ideal for Vick to model himself after.

39
by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 2:07am

As far as the Fins are concerned, their season really is going to hinge on their running game. If Brown produces as expected and Williams is effective in the time he gets, I think that their o-line is going to look a lot better than it did last year, forget the changes made to it. Frerotte is a solid QB. In a good situation he's a pretty good QB. In a bad situation not so good. If the Fins get a ground game going, that will help slow up opposing teams passrush. If the line improves in of itself this year, which is very possible, I would say even probable, then he'll have time to throw the football. It's not like he doesn't have solid targets to throw to down field. He's a much better QB than Feeley and I believe he's much better than Fielder as well. It could be an interesting year for the Dolphins. If they had Pool this year in their secondary I would like their chances of making a nice rebound a little more. Still, guys have to stay healthy for the most part, or Brown has to be a monster. Probably a little of both.

40
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 2:43am

Re 37:

The Jets also played the Patriots twice, the Steelers twice and the Chargers twice, all teams with top offenses according to DVOA (they also played Houston and Seattle, two other teams in the top half of the league). They gave up 13 and 23 against New England, 17 and 20 against Pittsburgh, 7 against Houston, 14 against Seattle, and 17 in one of the two San Diego games (and while the Chargers scored 28 in the week 2 game, half of those points came in garbage time and would therefore presumably be downgraded somewhat). Those aren't dominant numbers by any stretch, but they are certainly respectable. The Rams and to a lesser extent the Bengals were the only teams who clearly were presenting the Jets secondary with matchup problems that they couldn't do much to counter.

41
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 2:49pm

Hey, Sean, again, there's more to a defense than just points allowed. Perhaps their offense played great, didn't have any turnovers, and their special teams were amazing, pinning the other team inside the 20 for every single drive. Under those circumstances, even an average defense would be able to hold the score down. Maybe those games were even MORE slow-tempo than the average Jets games (especially the Steelers games, as the Steelers grind clock like nobody's business). What I'm getting at is that you can't just throw out a single number and describe a unit's performance with it, especially because field position is fluid. A great offense will make a defense look better, and a great defense will make an offense look better.

I don't know if you remember the Sunday Night game between the Ravens and the Rams 2 years ago. The final score was something like 28 to 35. Would you look at that and say "Wow, both of those teams have horrible defenses, they gave up so many points to a team with such a bad offense?" (Keep in mind, 2 years ago, St. Louis's offense was pretty bad, overall, and VERY overrated).

Well, look at the game stats for the game. St. Louis had about 150 yards of total offense and scored 30+ points on Baltimore- not because Baltimore's D was so bad, but because their O kept coughing it up in horrible field position. There was one point in time when Marshall Faulk had 2-3 TDs... AND NEGATIVE RUSHING YARDAGE. Both defenses played REMARKABLY in that game, combining for double digit turnovers. It was actually one of the most exciting games I can ever remember. It's also the best example I've ever seen of the "Field Position is Fluid" concept.

42
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 5:07pm

Kibbles,

I don't disagree, and I'm certainly not arguing that the Jets have top quality personnel in their secondary or that they were a dominant unit, because they weren't (they were very good against the run and decent against the pass). Really, the team construction is very similiar to Pittsburgh, in that they both have quality front sevens and a strong running game and feature secondaries that are bound to get exposed against a top quality unit. All I'm saying is that when you watch the team on tape, the secondary didn't usually look hard pressed, save for one or two games. Yes, the Jets played field position football about as well as anyone last year and that certainly helped the defense out, but there were very few times when you looked at what was going on and said, "Uh-oh."

43
by Johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 07/19/2005 - 9:03pm

-Flutie would be ideal for Vick to model himself after.

I'd rather have Vick watching Steve Young tape.

44
by Jets Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 07/22/2005 - 4:38pm

Since the Jets managed to do pretty well last year, I was really looking forward to this season. Until I read this and became concerned about the secondary and weak cornerbacks. Yikes!
Looks like I need those Jets to do better than expected...
-once again.

45
by billvv (not verified) :: Fri, 07/22/2005 - 6:10pm

Don't worry about your Jets. They'll do just fine. Since Bill Parcells' time here there is a different mentality. No more "same ol' Jets." Chad said it the other day, they have been playing to attract and keep quality players. We'll see if they're ready to exceed his expectations, but I doubt they will fail.

46
by Johnnie Hanley (not verified) :: Sat, 07/23/2005 - 11:10pm

I find the evaluations of Miami and the Jets defenses to be.... well, frankly, biased. Miami has more questions on defense than the Jets do by a long shot. It appears that Miami will start a rookis CB, a fourth round draft pick, but the possibilty of the Jets' second round pick Miller starting for the Jets is somehow considered to be a bigger problem? Jon McGraw, an experienced but oft injured SS with much better measurables than Miami's Tavares Tillman is also more of a question mark? FACT: Both Tongue and Abraham were at times just awful last year. Tongue regularly blew assignments and failed in run support, while misreads of the offensive play call caused him to fail to offer the inside deep help he was assigned to against passing play calls. Abraham lacked the speed to be a #1 CB.

McGraw, Rhodes and Miller all have make up speed. Mickens also returns. Would a healthy Law help? Of course. Unless the Jets can sign a cap friendly deal with J Abraham, they don't have the cap space. I'd also like to mention that Bill Cohwer said after the playoff game, that Barrett played the best CB he'd seen all year. He isn't as bad as this report would suggest, although he did start the season slowly, he finished pretty well. As far as the D backfield goes, Miami has more issues than the Jets do, as they don't have the depth the Jets do there either.

The Miami front 7 looks pretty bad, to me at least. Chester is coming off not one, but two knee injuries, and one knee has been very slow to come around. They have to learn a new scheme, with a new coaching staff. Seau had to be talked out of retirement to play one more year, and will be an inside backer in the 3-4, another guy that is 35 years old, like Traylor. As good as Zach Thomas is, he is ill suited to play the 3-4. When Miami lines up in the 4-3, who will play the DT spots? They were even trying Holliday out there in mini camp. He is NOT a DT. He might even have trouble as a DE in the 3-4. Miami has a ton of DE's, but as mentioned, Zgonina is also 35 and has been a back up more than a starter during his career. Everyone keeps saying how good the Miami D will be, but why? They have more question marks than most defenses in the NFL going into this season, and to repeat, a new scheme and new coaches.

Rookie DB's work out more often than this article insinuates as well. Look at Coleman, M Williams, Dunta Robinson, S Taylor.... all 2004 rookies. There are others that played well also. The key to the Jets D is still the front 7. They put pressure on the QB, which helps the DB's out an awful lot. The defensive backfield will be much faster than it was a year ago. I'm lost when people talk about how good the Miami D will be.... it doesn't add up, way too many holes ans question marks, much more than the Jets D has in my humble opinion.

47
by Johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 07/25/2005 - 9:43pm

" find the evaluations of Miami and the Jets defenses to be…. well, frankly, biased. "

? Aaron really didn't get into the Dolphins defense this go around. So it's hard to see what Bias he has.

48
by Johnnie Hanley (not verified) :: Wed, 07/27/2005 - 3:38pm

It isn't just this particular article, in general, I've seen a clear trend for writers to make this staement, pasted from this Miami report:

On the other hand, Wright is yet another defensive player added to a team that already had a good defense

I am at a loss to understand why anyone expects the Miami D to be "good" this year, for the reasons I mentioned in my post. Yet, it also seems that saying the Jets defense isn't good is a trendy statement to make.

Why not say the Steeler defense isn't very good using the same thought process? The offense ran the ball so much, it just made the defense appear to be good? After all, the numbers used to support this evaluation for the Jets make an even stronger case to reach the same conclusion for the Steelers. Using the same criteria, the Steelers defense is also over rated. I doubt however, that this evaluation technique would be applied to the Steelers, because it really doesn't hold water. It doesn't hold water in the Jets' case, either.

49
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 07/27/2005 - 4:26pm

Johnnie Hanley (#48 )--

I think a comparison between the Steelers' and Jets' defenses is perfectly valid. Both were stout against the run, less so against the pass, and were aided considerably by a conservative, ball-control offense.

The difference between the Jets and Steelers in 2004, was that the Steelers were 4th in DVOA (3rd weighted), and the Jets were 19th (standard and weighted). So the Steelers had a top ten defense by DVOA, which looked even better because of the ball-control, run-oriented offense, while the Jets had a below median defense that actually looked good by traditional measures, because of that ball-control &c offense.

50
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 07/28/2005 - 10:52am

Plus the strong special teams of the Jets. Don't forget that. Ridiculously good punting/punt coverage. Pitt's much the same in this case, as well. Defenses look much stronger when they're given good field position to work with all the time, and a good offense plus very strong special teams really helps that.

If Nugent can kickoff well (and... he can) the Jets could have an extremely strong field position advantage this year.

51
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 07/28/2005 - 11:01am

Defenses look much stronger when they’re given good field position to work with all the time
Depends on the measure. By yardage, a defense that gives up a one-yard touchdown because the cover team allowed a 98-yard punt return, looks better than a defense that forced a punt after a 5-yard drive following a fair-catch on the 30.

52
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 07/28/2005 - 1:37pm

Ted Johnson just announced that he will retire.

Good thing for the Patriots that they had 17 linebackers on the roster.

Considering the relative age and depth differences of the DL and LB core, coupled with the loss of Bruschi and Johnson, will the Patriots play more 4-3 this year?

53
by seamus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 7:46pm

fyo #27, I'm with you. Compared with last season, the offense seems greatly improved.

QB, improved: Feeley will be better just from experience. Frerotte is at least no worse than Fiedler, who was almost entirely incapable of completing big throws.

RB, improved: I really don't buy that Ricky was slightly better than replacement. His last season with the Fish, he frequently had a tackler on him almost the moment he received the ball. Opponents could get strong penetration with a base rush. Ricky + Ronnie Brown (assuming they can sign him) + Lamar Gordon will be better than Gordon + Minor + Sammy Morris.

FB: Who knows?

WR, improved: David Boston should be on the squad, assuming he stays healthy and clean ('roids).

OL, improved: It simply couldn't be worse, and it's loaded with young guys and a better coach.

It looks like the Offense is on the way up.

Defense is on the way down, however. Losing Surtain basically gives up 1/3 of the field on passing downs.

54
by Johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 08/09/2005 - 2:39pm

Well preseason game #1 is over and here's a quick update of the Dolphins

QB, Gus looks like he's going to win the job. Feeley managed to look like the worse QB on the field.

RB Gordon/Willaims didn't do a thing. The Dolphins still haven't got there #1 pick in camp and you have to be a little worried.

FB Martin looks to be in the lead now.

WR Looks like the strongest its been in years.

OL Horrible. Feeley got murdered and the backs couldn't find holes. Their play had to be the biggest let down of the game.

Dl Wright wont make an impact this year and practice squad looks like it's in his future.

LB I was rather unimpressed with Saban's new LB corps.

DB Good, bad and ugly.

The good news it was the first preseason game and the Dolphins have a lot of time to sort out their DBs and O-line.

55
by Led (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 1:48pm

Well, we will see the highly touted leg of Mike Nugent in action tonight. I tell you though, as a Jet fan, watching Nate Kaeding implode last night made me physically ill.