A Super Bowl berth could be decided by the Patriots' ability to contain Le'Veon Bell -- and by Pittsburgh's ability to avoid their usual defensive breakdowns against New England.
17 May 2011
by Mike Tanier
With Cullen Jenkins expected to leave as a free agent and Johnny Jolly in legal trouble, the Packers hoped to replenish their defensive line in the draft. Unfortunately, the players they wanted most were selected before the Packers could pick them. Instead of settling for consolation prizes on the defensive line, the Packers opted to draft the best available players. "We didn't get caught up in our depth chart and feel like we needed another defensive lineman or a linebacker," head coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We really stayed true to the board."
The Packers depth chart now includes B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and many question marks. There's Howard Green, a 365-pounder best known for pressuring Ben Roethlisberger into a pick-six in the Super Bowl; Mike Neal, last year's second-round pick who missed most of the season with a shoulder injury; and C.J. Wilson, a 2010 seventh-round pick whose playing time increased at the end of last season. The lone new guy is Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick from Arizona State. Guy was a three-year starter for the Sun Devils and appears to be a solid system fit -- he's a gap plugger, not a pass rusher -- but the Packers have more needs than one seventh-round pick can fill.
Raji and Pickett are the only linemen on the roster who made more than 15 solo tackles last season. Green, Veal, Wilson, and others may step up -- or the Packers may use even more of their 2-4-5 personnel package next season.
The Vikings had no choice but to select a quarterback with the 12th pick. After that, the team had so many holes that they couldn't go wrong: They needed an upgrade at every position but running back. Still, it was surprising to see the Vikings wait until the fourth round to address their defensive line and the sixth round to improve their offensive line.
The mighty "Williams Wall" has been crumbling for years. Pat Williams and Ray Edwards are not expected this season, and Kevin Williams may be suspended in the StarCaps case (which has now been going on for 67 years). Christian Ballard of Iowa is a high-effort player and was a good fourth-round value, but he will not replace Edwards' eight sacks, nor will he command double teams like Pat or Kevin Williams.
On the offensive line, Phil Loadholt drew 15 penalties. While he committed just three Blown Blocks, our charters noted numerous instances of Loadholt's defender chasing Brett Favre or Joe Webb out of the pocket. Bryant McKinnie only grades out slightly better, and unlike Loadholt, the soon-to-be-31-year-old McKinnie isn't getting any better. Steve Hutchinson, meanwhile, is 33 years old and missed five games last year. Late-round picks DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco are developmental projects, not players who can challenge the tackles or step in immediately if Hutchinson declines.
With Nick Fairley joining Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch on the defensive line, the Lions hope that opposing quarterbacks will be knocked on their butts before they get a chance to throw. That's certainly going to happen once in a while. But when quarterbacks do have time to set and throw, the Lions will be in trouble, because the team did nothing to upgrade its secondary.
Chris Houston, the Lions' top cornerback last season, ranked just 42nd in the league in Success Rate. Houston intercepted just one pass. Alphonso Smith recorded five interceptions but ranked 63rd in Success Rate; opponents learned that he liked to bite on double-moves, and the rest was deep-fried history. Both Houston and Smith are coming off shoulder surgeries, and top backup Nathan Vasher (who replaced the injured Smith late in the year) will turn 30 during the season.
The Lions did bolster their safety corps by signing free agent Erik Coleman during the brief window between the end of the regular season and the lockout. Coleman and Louis Delmas give Jim Schwartz a versatile pair of safeties. But the Lions did not draft any cornerbacks or safeties at all. They are counting on either a bounce-back from Smith or a chance to enter the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes if free agency ever happens. Or, just a lot of Suh-Fairley sandwiches, with crunchy Cutler filling.
Gabe Carimi filled a big need for the Bears. But can he snap?
Carimi should beat beat out journeyman Frank Omiyale at left tackle, but the Bears needed offensive line help inside and out. The Bears have gotten very old on the interior line. Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza are fading quickly, and there is no one waiting in the wings to replace them.
The Bears committed 27 Blown Blocks that led to sacks or penalties, the third highest total in the league, but Blown Blocks only tell part of the story. The Bears ranked 30th in the league in Adjusted Line Yards on runs up the middle last season, where Kreutz and Garza do most of their dirty work. The FO game charters noted many instances of missed blocks by Garza that led to stuffed running plays, and even Kreutz whiffed on his fair share of blocks against quicker defenders.
Kreutz, who will soon turn 34, is a free agent but will almost certainly re-sign with the Bears. Third-year all-purpose lineman Edwin Williams is currently his backup. Omiyale could move from left to right tackle, allowing J'Marcus Webb (7.5 Blown Blocks last year) to move inside to challenge Garza. Early season starter Lance Louis (benched after Week 4) and 360-pound project Herman Johnson are also in the mix. It's a jumbled situation, populated by lots of stopgaps and few solutions. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will be looking for weaknesses in this line come Week 5, so the Bears must sort things out quickly.
A version of this article previously appeared on ESPN Insider.
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