Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Varsity Numbers: Honing in

Bill Connelly again looks at which college football teams the F/+ ratings are sure about, and which teams remain a mystery (led by Appalachian State).

28 Aug 2013

Scramble for the Ball: North Over/Unders

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Scramble's tour around the NFL concludes this week with the two North divisions. Mike, are you ready to dispense hate in the general direction of Jay Cutler and Todd Haley?

Mike: I think I'm all out of hate for Cutler, honestly. I do, however, have a never-ending pit reserved for Todd Haley.

Tom: Great, let's save that for last and start with the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS (8.5)

Tom: In determining the Bears' 2013 fate, we have to decide just how much Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher meant to a consistently good defense, and whether Mel Tucker can replicate what they've done. I see enough talent on the team. Between players like Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, and Charles Tillman, the answer is likely yes, unless their cornerback depth sinks them.

Mike: I don't see any reason to think the Bears defense will be anything less than exceptional. While cornerback depth might be an issue, considering the issues most teams have with their starting secondary, Chicago is sitting fairly pretty.

Tom: I think it's a reason to be concerned, but on the whole I agree the Bears should have a very good defense once again. I looked at the issue in a recent ESPN Insider piece and found the Bears weren't that old on defense, they just had a couple older stars they'll need to replace eventually.

Mike: The concern, as it has been, as it forever shall be, is the offense. Which was, again, terrible, ranking just below Philadelphia's implosion and Cleveland's employment of Brandon Weeden.

Tom: Yes, and for what feels like at least the sixth consecutive year, the locus of the problem seems to be the offensive line.

Mike: But things seem to be getting better! Marginally.

Tom: The Bears once again addressed the line. Early returns are Kyle Long could be good and Jermon Bushrod is Not J'Marcus Webb.

Mike: "Not J'Marcus Webb" is, of course, the NFL equivalent of the "you must be this tall to ride" sign.

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Tom: This feels like less of a disaster than Mike Tice's genius idea not to actually use the preseason to train his offensive line to do things they'll have to do in the regular season. Not J'Marcus Webb is up there with Not Mike Harris in San Diego.

Mike: The line will be better. Everyone can agree on that.

Tom: The question is whether they'll be "Levi Brown is better than D'Anthony Batiste good" or "actually good." Or maybe not? If we want to go back to the quarterback well, if Marc Trestman can get Jay Cutler playing as efficiently as he did in Denver, a good enough offensive line is just as, well, good as a good one.

Mike: Good is a bridge way too far, and Jay Cutler now is not the Jay Cutler we saw flashes of in Denver. Even on the rare occasion when he is, he's still throwing to two receivers, Brandon Marshall (0.0% DVOA) and Earl Bennett (0.3%), who are league-average. Now, some of Cutler's struggles have rubbed off on that duo, but it's absurd to think that production like that just means Marshall and Bennett are secretly top-20 receivers.

Tom: I don't think Marshall is average. I think he's "average when his quarterback throws him the ball 40 percent of the time." The Bears need more from Alshon Jeffery or somebody, which probably means Jeffery because, well, we've seen the other options.

Mike: Considering Cutler's adoration for Marshall, I think that's a distinction without difference.

Tom: Roddy White is still a really good receiver even if Matt Ryan now throws him the ball a lot instead of over a third of the time.

Mike: That's because Roddy White is an exceptional receiver. Marshall is a "good" receiver. When good receivers get extra attention from the defense, they play like average receivers.

Tom: I guess I'm higher on a theoretical Marshall who gets a high-but-not-obscenely-so percentage of the targets than you are, then.

Mike: In any case, this team will probably have a average-ish quarterback throwing to a cadre of very average receivers trading plays with a slightly above-average running back, all behind a below-average line. Applying some completely made-up math to this equation, that works out to below-average offense paired with incredibly solid defense. Nine wins shouldn't be a problem. Over.

Tom: I think this line is pretty much right where it should be. Flipping a coin, I'll go with under, but it's really close. Too bad you can't really push half-number lines.

Mike: You are such a coward, Gower.

DETROIT LIONS (8.0)

Mike: Tom's salivating over the whole-number line that he can justify a push on.

Tom: I feel like I've thought enough about teams built like the Lions that I think I can come to a decision here. They're nearly as imbalanced at wide receiver as the Bears, minus that Calvin Johnson is better than Brandon Marshall and probably should be thrown the ball that much. Like the Bears, they will be replacing three starters on the offensive line. Like the Bears, they have a couple very talented defensive linemen.

Mike: "Calvin Johnson is better than Brandon Marshall" is definitely the sort of insight you can only get at Football Outsiders.

Tom: Sometimes, Mike, we must remind ourselves that some obvious things really are obvious. I have a terrible weakness for non-obvious insights, so I must remind myself of that.

Mike: I think Rivers did a fantastic job in FOA 2013 of explaining the Lions' salary cap woes.

Tom: Yes, and he also did a good job pointing out those high but non-premium picks that you need to hit on if you suffered from the Winner's Curse have not panned out.

Mike: In many ways, the Lions are the opposite of the Bears. Well, in two ways, really: Their offense is good instead of bad, and their defense is terrible instead of excellent. The good news is that a really good offense can make up for a lot of bad defense! The bad news is that Detroit's offense isn't quite that good.

Tom: The good part of the offense was Calvin Johnson and, oddly, Joique Bell receiving. I think Reggie Bush should be an upgrade on Bell as a receiver.

Mike: He should be, yes. And Bell did run well when he was given touches. His overall numbers might be a sample-size mirage, but he passed the eyeball test.

Tom: This is like Carolina, in that the front seven needs to cover for a suspect secondary. In Detroit, though, it's the star defensive tackles rather than what should be a solid front seven.

Mike: I think you give the line they've constructed too little credit. This could be an incredibly exciting and dynamic line!

Tom: Long-term I'm optimistic on Ziggy Ansah, but not for 2013. Plus, the exceptional depth that they had in the past is now playing elsewhere. Or in the case of Corey Williams, not at all due in part to health issues.

Mike: I think the bigger problem is that everyone behind the line is, well, bad. I suppose Stephen Tulloch isn't actually bad. But he's not that great.

Tom: Glover Quin is the best player in the back seven. I like him, but he's a good player rather than a game-changer. There are young players at corner, but it feels like there have always been young players at corner. I don't see enough on parts of the defense to make up for the rest of the defense. Or enough on offense to make up for the defense. Under.

Mike: Amazingly, I was able to understand those sentences. What's more, I agree! Under.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (10.5)

Tom: The Packers went 11-5 last year with no particularly good running backs, a boatload of injuries on both sides of the ball, and a defense that was worse on third down than it was on second down. Why is this line only 10.5? I know, they had only 10.5 Pythagorean wins, but they had at least 12 the previous three seasons and we had them with 11.8 Expected Wins last year. FOA 2013 has them with 10.4 wins, but only because all our win projections are compressed toward 8-8.

Mike: That sounds like an excuse

Tom: Well, sort of, maybe. ...In other words, yes.

Mike: That said, the Packers' hideous defensive performance of 2011 seems to be something of an aberration.

Tom: Teams can have a down year. The Bears and Steelers both mixed a down year into their otherwise extended runs of defensive excellence.

Mike: I'm still suspicious about the linebacking corps, which is very ordinary. And the secondary is very good at everything except shutting down the opposing No. 1 receiver.

Tom: Can I see a great passer exploiting the middle of the field the way Kurt Warner did in the 2009 postseason? Sure, but this isn't the Lions.

Mike: Which means, both within the division and against the league writ large, that it's pretty close to useless. That's how you end up with a disconnect between DVOA and perception. Who will win? It doesn't matter, the offense is terrifying and the defense is, at worst, average. Over.

Tom: I think a healthy Tramon Williams is the sort of top corner they need. He wasn't healthy last year. He hasn't played this year. Like the Texans and Ed Reed, the time they'll need him most is December and January. Even without him, they're winning the division. Over.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7.5)

Tom: As a fan, those weird and wonderful seasons where you have a star player who has a superstar season and the team does just enough to win a bunch of games are great. The downside is everyone expects the same thing to happen the next year. After all, our players are great because we won, so we should win because they're great! Sometimes, this actually works out. Many times, it does not.

Mike: If anyone can make the magic happen again, it would be Adrian Peterson. But it is, as you say, unlikely. Especially when you are constantly weighted down by Minnesota QB.

Tom: I think even Gopher fans might tell you "Minnesota QB" is an insult to "Vikings QB." It's been over seven months since it happened, and I still cannot get past Joe Webb starting a playoff game. That passing attack was hamstrung by about the worst receiving corps in the NFL once Percy Harvin went down. Maybe Cordarrelle Patterson will end up doing Harvin-like things, but I need to see him do it consistently in the NFL with Christian Ponder to believe it.

Mike: And now Harvin is gone! Replaced with ... mid-round fantasy disappointment Greg Jennings.

Tom: Would it be mean to point out Jennings was the only Packers receiver with 50 targets and a negative DVOA in 2012?

Mike: Mean was what Jennings did to the hopes of so many owners last year.

Tom: I'm sure he only did it out of a strong feeling of personal animus towards fantasy football players. That's exactly why all NFL players do the things they do.

Mike: All those bounties the Saints had? The NFL misconstrued the system; it was actually fantasy football teams they were trying to ruin. I still think Jennings is a good receiver. Again, a good receiver drawing all the defense's attention quickly becomes average.

Tom: That seems like a pretty desperate way to win a fantasy league, especially a postseason one.

Mike: Nobody would ever accuse NFL personnel of being rational.

Tom: How we as fans who benefit from irrational commitment is a broader topic, and one for another day. In Minnesota, I see a defense likely to remain below average, a running game that will pretty much inevitably be worse, and a passing game likely to be below average again. Under.

Mike: I am slightly more optimistic about the defense, which I believe has been underperforming its potential. Every non-Peterson aspect of the offense makes me ill, however. Under.

Tom: Now our final division, the AFC North.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (8.5)

Mike: Baltimore was maddeningly inconsistent last year. I can't imagine all the turnover this offseason will help in that department.

Tom: I think some element of inconsistency on offense is an inevitable result of the Joe Flacco-led deep passing game. When it's on, as they were in the postseason, they can be very, very, good. When it's off, they can score 9 points against the worst team in the league, as they did against Kansas City last year.

Mike: I suppose the defense shuffled chairs more than the offense, but I think this offense is going to sorely miss Anquan Boldin.

Tom: Dennis Pitta was supposed to be Boldin 2013. They'll feel Boldin's loss more because of his loss. Either way, I concur they don't have that reliable mid-range option to complement the deeper game. (No, I don't think Ed Dickson is that guy.)

Mike: I agree that Flacco's "Son of Rexy" mentality leads to some inconsistency. I also think it goes horribly wrong far more often than it works. Most significantly, it was a substantial improvement in the running game that pushed the offense over the edge last year. 2012 may well have been subtitled "The Year Mike Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Ray Rice." Literally!*

(*Note: "literal" is now classified as a contranym. Please stop rage-typing. -ed)

Tom: Yes, but you got on the Ray Rice bandwagon in just enough time for Bernard Pierce to tip it over, at least a little bit. I see teams more used to, and better at defending, what Jim Caldwell did differently on offense than Cam Cameron.

Mike: Great seats.

Tom: Hm?

Mike: On the bandwagon.

Tom: Right. I have seen chatter the Ravens could be better on defense notwithstanding all the turnover. I think that is right, but people saying that should note the Ravens were a below-average defensive team by our numbers last year. On the whole, I think the Ravens can be average or above on offense, even with the passing game limitations, and average or above on defense. Even in what should be a competitive division and against an above-average schedule, I think 9-7 or 10-6 is quite doable. Over.

Mike: I'm not sure the defense is going to be better. Yes, a lot of the players who departed were past their prime and contributed below-average production. On the other hand, with the exception of Elvis Dumervil, the reinforcements aren't that impressive. And we still don't know who's going to take the No. 2 receivers when Lardarius Webb is injured again. That said, 9 wins is perfectly reasonable, as this clearly an above-average team, even in a rough division. Over.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (8.5)

Mike: My first thought was plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Then I realized that really, nothing changed at all.

Tom: As Mr. Tanier noted in FOA 2013, the Bengals made incremental improvements. They're better than they were they were. Just probably not a lot better.

Mike: I'm inclined to say that any improvement is completely within our margin of error. Which, granted, is freakin' huge.

Tom: I think they're a little bit deeper and more talented. I don't love the linebackers in coverage, and the addition of James Harrison does nothing to change that for me. I don't love the corners, and am not sure I like the safeties. The defensive line is big and talented, which does a lot to make up for some of those limitations.

Mike: And if Andre Smith takes a step back? Even an incremental one. They made some lateral moves, stocked up on a bit more young talent, but didn't do anything necessary to break through the logjam at the top of the AFC.

Tom: Giovani Bernard should add a dynamic element to the running game, so we should not have to listen to things like Cedric Benson's -10.4% DVOA led them to the playoffs or BenJarvus Green-Ellis did the same with his -8.1% DVOA. They have more candidates to find a useful complement to A.J. Green than they've had the past two years.

Mike: ... who? I don't think anyone seriously believes the offense is more than Dalton to Green and a few opportunities that pairing opens as table scraps for the rest.

Tom: Mohamed Sanu, the tight end pairing of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

Mike: Sanu played most of last year. I will say, I like his potential, but at this point it is still very much potential.

Tom: Sure, as a third-round rookie because they had almost no one else.

Mike: What I've seen has left me optimistic, but it is far too early to count Sanu 2013 as a marked improvement for the offense.

Tom: I did not want to make this a quarterback referendum, but I think we have to go there. The question is whether Dalton is more than a quarterback who is capable of executing well when he is managed and manipulated.

Mike: Personally, I like Dalton. I think he can improve his game and jump into the B-tier of quarterbacks, which honestly is pretty good company to keep. I think he needs better weapons to make that jump, however. Under.

Tom: You like him more than I do, though I still like the players around him enough to say 9-7 or 10-6 again and over.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (6.0)

Mike: Speaking of referenda on quarterbacks, here comes Brandon Weeden!

Tom: I am very curious about the long-term future of the Browns but not so interested in the 2013 version of the Browns. I am (a) confused, (b) weird, (c) both, or (d) wrong.

Mike: It's the Browns. Confusion is now a state of being.

Tom: There are too many intriguing things going on other than an old and inexperienced quarterback to start talking about Weeden immediately.

Mike: Do any of those things matter, though? Yes, Trent Richardson is electric.

Tom: The offensive line is pretty good. That is normally a good place to start. I am not yet confident in just how good Richardson will be. Given my affection for the line, can you be a star in the NFL without any long runs on a team with a suspect passing game?

Mike: The problem is that the line has the makings of an excellent pass-blocking unit but just isn't that great at opening holes. 20th in Adjusted Line Yards last year, 29th in Power success rate.

Tom: Edgerrin James was a very good back, but he did not need to have long runs because Peyton Manning and the passing game created plenty of long plays. Maybe he is a good back who does not make any long runs and the line is less good at run-blocking than I think it is. In that case I refer you to your previous comments about simply good wide receivers. Richardson in the NFL has not looked electric to me.

Mike: Fair enough. I'm still at the point where I'm judging on potential and flashes. Especially considering what a wreck the Browns' offense is.

Tom: I think many rookies would have struggled in that situation last year.

Mike: The defense should be significantly improved, at least. If only because the front seven has the talent to rack up far more hurries, which will help hide the terrible secondary a bit more.

Tom: Ray Horton did a great job at manufacturing pressure in Arizona last year. I think a comparison to the 2012 Cardinals is a good one, but that represents an absolute ceiling for this Browns defense. Average is a more likely expectation.

Mike: That will be a huge asset in the North. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both have suspect offensive lines. Of course, that is somewhat mitigated by Ben Roethlisberger's Houdini routine and the fact that A.J. Green can basically have his way with the Browns' secondary.

Tom: Green against Joe Haden, if Horton uses him the way he did Patrick Peterson to match up against the top opposing wideout, will be a great battle to watch.

Mike: The Browns are improving, but they're still the Browns. Whether that means they blow the whole thing up in two years is anyone's guess. In the meantime, they'll keep marching the long trail toward respectability. Under.

Tom: I was very tempted to live up to your awful stereotype of me and call this one a push. After thinking more about the schedule, no, under for me as well.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (9.0)

Mike: It is worth mentioning, at least to my Steelers fan self, that last year was the worst Steelers season in nine years. They had a slightly below average DVOA and finished 8-8. The problem, of course, is that this year isn't shaping up any better.

Tom: In 2012, they ranked at the top of our defensive age measure for the fifth consecutive season. Having an old defense is not per se bad. Having only old stars is a problem, and eventually an immediate one. The Steelers have mostly reached that point. I see some cause for moderate optimism on offense, minus the point that it is still mostly about Ben Roethlisberger, who is on the wrong side of 30. We have grown accustomed to the Steelers being the Steelers for so long, but magic tends to stop. The 49ers were great for about 17 straight years. Then they were not.

Mike: I think you are indulging in a bit too much doomsaying.

Tom: I know, the Steelers have looked old before.

Mike: Roethlisberger might be over 30, but that's not a massive problem for quarterbacks. The wide receivers are very young, as are the running backs. The really old stars on defense, Casey Hampton and James Harrison, are both gone. Larry Foote isn't exactly spry, and neither is Brett Keisel, but there is depth at linebacker and on the line. The age issue is really a problem with the secondary. Troy Polamalu is running out of gas and Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor are constantly injured. Part of the Steelers' problem is that you simply cannot replace Polamalu. There are no other players in the league or in the draft that can replicate his skill set. That's why I'm not optimistic about this year; Pittsburgh should have recognized this looming issue two seasons ago.

Tom: Given how hard it is to replace Polamalu with an equivalent, what should they have done? If they thought their interval to compete was still open (a reasonable assumption considering they just played in the Super Bowl) and letting him do his thing was their best option, they did what they should have done.

Mike: Decouple the defense from him. For over half a decade the defense has largely run through him. But the past two seasons he's been constantly injured and when he wasn't injured he was a step behind where he needed to be. That opened up a lot of holes in the secondary, and softened up the rushing defense significantly. You can still use a player of Polamalu's caliber after he's hit the downslope. Using him as if he will always be in his prime is insanity.

Tom: Always? Perhaps not. For three to four games in January? Maybe.

Mike: I do like the acquisition of William Gay, at least as a temporary measure. The Steelers' nickel package was in dire need of help. But there's not a tremendous amount of talent, much less young talent, behind the still-excellent but fragile Taylor.

Tom: I see Gay as more a replacement for the departed Keenan Lewis and overall a lateral move rather than an addition.

Mike: I personally have a soft spot for Gay, so I might be overestimating him a bit, yes.

I'm still not sure what to make of Haley: Year Two. Year One was a complete disaster, with personality conflicts between the quarterback and coordinator and criminal misuse of one of the league's top receivers. So Haley came in and established himself firmly as a "this is my system and you all can get bent" coordinator. This offseason, there seems to have been some reconciliation between Roethlisberger and his coordinator, and the offensive personnel might be a bit more suited to his style. Really, who knows what will happen with the offensive line, which is full of potential but hasn't had time to provide results, and whatever running back ends up sticking. I'm not buying into your cliff theory, but I'm not particularly enthused about this season, either. Under

Tom: The best thing about the offensive line is they are young enough to get better. They need to. I can see the Steelers winning 9 games and making it a three-team race atop the AFC North. I also can see them going 5-11 with any noticeable Roethlisberger absence, unable to drag Bruce Gradkowski or Landry Jones to victory the way they did Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, and Byron Leftwich. Under.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 28 Aug 2013

82 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2014, 2:20am by http://www.mhdra.com/europe/edo/sitemap.php?key=jerseys+sale

Comments

1
by dcaslin :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 1:44pm

Surprised Daryl Smith got no love on the Ravens review. So far, he's been a more valuable defensive signing than Dumervil...

20
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:02pm

Smith was pretty good in Jacksonville but was largely ignored because he was in Jacksonville.

31
by dcaslin :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 10:06pm

Right, so he's not in JAX anymore, let's stop ignoring him!

34
by Jimmy :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 6:33am

Ignoring who?

3
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 2:21pm

I agree with pretty much everything you said in the Lions section, except calling Glover Quin the best player in the back seven. Quin is a fine player, but when Louis Delmas is actually on the field (which admittedly hasn't been that much) I think he's slightly better.

Also, I think you're short-changing Chris Houston. Above-average as a pass defender (33rd in success rate), and great run defender for a corner (4th in stop rate). The problem is he's miscast as a #1 corner (he would be a great #2), because every other corner on the roster has been injured and/or terrible and/or inexperienced.

With much improved safety play, better DE's, and a healthy Nick Fairley, the defense could improve from awful to mediocre, which would make a big difference in win total.

9
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 3:48pm

Health is part of the reason I consider Quin the best player in the back seven. We're mostly on the same page on Houston, but they need those cornerback upgrades around him.

2
by Dennis Doubleday (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 2:20pm

I don't know a lot about the other teams, but you guys really seem to be making it up as you go along on the Steelers.

"Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor are constantly injured."

Seriously? Clark has missed 4 games in the past 5 seasons, and before Taylor missed 4 games with an ankle injury last season, he had played all 16 games for 7 consecutive seasons!

Other points are more debatable, but Cortez Allen, not William Gay, will replace Keenan Lewis as the starting corner. Allen gives every indication of being an up-and-coming star.

5
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 2:47pm

Exactly, they had the wrong safety (and Polu looks like he'll be able to play more this year.)

Even after last week's debacle the Brownies will improve on last year. They have improved enough in the pass rush to make up for their continued secondary weaknesses. I picked 8-8 last year and as far as I'm concerned I was as close to getting them right as all the experts who picked 2-14. 9-7 this year!

I also still think people are underestimating how much weaker the Ravens will be.

4
by theslothook :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 2:45pm

A few thoughts:

No mention that the lions were hideously unlucky last year and are bound to progress? I feel like its just taken as given that the lions talent will be exactly the same and not get better. If they do, I could easily see them improving next year and making the playoffs.

Bears - I will be very interested to see how much lovie smith's absence hurts the defense. I fear it could be more than people think.

Ravens - Why are the acquisitions so thoroughly scoffed at? Daryl smith was a pff love child, michael huff actually played well for that tire fire we call the raiders, and getting chris canty was good too.

8
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 3:36pm

You're right that the Lions basically played like a 7-9 or 8-8 team last year, and atrocious luck pushed them to 4-12.

The only problem I see with assuming that they'll rebound all the way back to playoff contender is the insane turnover along the offensive line. Losing Stephen Peterman is addition by subtraction, but Jeff Backus was underrated, and the fact that the Colts grossly overpaid Gosder Cherilus shouldn't diminish the fact that he played well last year. Reiff, Fox, and Warford are awfully inexperienced.

Also, we're not sure exactly how healthy Louis Delmas and Ryan Broyles will be.

78
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 11:56pm

Another factor that hasn't been mentioned is how awful the Lions were on kick returns last year. They essentially lost two games against MIN and TEN by giving up four TDs on kick returns. It's not clear yet if the coverage teams have improved, but Sam Martin looks like a huge improvement on punts and kickoffs so far.

I've been disappointed at how poor the passing game has been (Calvin's absence notwithstanding), and I have concerns wrt the inexperience in the CBs opposite Houston. I have fewer concerns on the line, because despite the changes there is still starting experience at every position except RG. I have to agree that this still looks like an eight win team depending on luck. We'd have to see more talent at WR and CB before we could call this a good team.

79
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Sat, 08/31/2013 - 9:34am

It cannot be overstated what an upgrade Martin is on kickoffs. Having the majority of them be touchbacks and not even having the coverage teams come into play will be a huge advantage field-position wise (not even mentioning his excellent punting).

I'm actually pretty high on Darius Slay. He'll take his rookie lumps for sure, but he's a gigantic upgrade over the warm bodies they had opposite Chris Houston last year.

14
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 4:54pm

I've generally been of the opinion that the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Lions were all about the same team.

The 2011 team was really lucky and the 2012 team was really unlucky, but that it's basically an 8-8 (+/- 3) team.

Which, if you're the NYG, means a Super Bowl every 4 years or so.

16
by Jon Goldman (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 5:02pm

The New York Football Giants are a a 9-7 team that morphs into a 14-2 team and then into a 4-12 team, sometimes within the same game, but usually switching between different games. They're an infuriating mess that can look like the best team in the league and then immediately thereafter like the worst team in the league.

23
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:33pm

The 2011 team is an interesting case. Their actual win total just about matched their expected and pythagorean wins, and they had a DVOA of 10.1% (11th). We're not talking about the 2012 Colts here.

Where they were lucky was in their 5-0 start (improbably good fumble luck, 3-0 in close games, helped by a Tony Romo meltdown). The rest of the season their luck regressed back to the mean.

17
by Marko :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 5:28pm

"Bears - I will be very interested to see how much lovie smith's absence hurts the defense. I fear it could be more than people think."

I actually think it won't be that big of an impact. They are running the same scheme with most of the same players. Some of the younger veteran players should make an even bigger impact this year. And the rookies (Bostic and Greene) and newcomers like James Anderson have been impressive so far. I also think that Mel Tucker will be more creative in and effective with his blitz schemes than Lovie was. Lovie's blitzes were very predictable.

Of course, the absence of Mike Tice and some of the terrible offensive lineman is a huge plus. Marc Trestman really understands and cares about offense. The Bears under Lovie seemed too often to treat offense as just something to do to kill time while waiting for the defense or special teams to score. As for the offensive line, I know it's only preseason, and the Bears haven't exactly played fearsome defenses, but Kyle Long has been very impressive. Many were shocked when the Bears picked him at #20 overall, but he may end up being the steal of the first round.

21
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:05pm

Mel Tucker is underrated, he did some good things with the Jags. Lovie was great with defense but Tucker was a very smart hire. I think the coach they'll really miss is Dave Toub, who looks like he's getting the Chiefs' special teams into shape pretty quickly.

49
by JasonG (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 4:22pm

2012 Bears vs 2013 Bears

Head Coach: Player/locker room management/respect (Lovie great), player accountability (not so great), assistant coach selection (pretty poor), game management (pretty poor), creativity/flexibility (pretty poor). Overall an upgrade, likely a major one.

Offensive Coaching: Upgrade, again major. Kromer > Tice. Trestman > Martz, Tice etc.

Defensive Coaching: Perhaps an upgrade if Tucker more creative, perhaps downgrade if creative turns into reckless. Let's say it's a draw.

ST Coaching: Toub to DeCamillis. Draw

Overall Offense: Major upgrade.

Offensive Line: Upgrade, potentially a major one. I always prefer good youth (that can improve greatly like Long and Mills) as opposed to the devil you know (an average or below vet you know you're getting blah).

Tight End: Legit concerns about depth, but Bennett is a top 5 blocker and above average in passing game. Kellen Davis was F- on both accounts. Major upgrade.

Forte: Forte himself hasn't changed, but OMG, Charlie Freaking Garner caught 90 passes when Trestman last ran an NFL offense. And the new o-line (including TE), new zone blocking and downfield blockers (Marshall and Jeffrey are both engaged and beastly blockers), Forte will be top 5 MVP this year. Yes I said it. Major upgrade (not talent wise, but how they will be utilized).

WRs: Upgrade. Marshall won't go for 118/1500 but that doesn't mean he'll be worse than last year, hip willing. Bennett again with injury problems so I can't even make a call on him, but Cutler trusts him almost as much as he trusts Marshall. And when he has played he was always a very reliable WR. Jeffrey's going to break out big, very big. Depth is better, too. No Hester first of all. Wilson is 2nd round talent. Depth after that is still tenuous, and yet that's still better than last year's depth. Thanks Angelo!

Cutler: As with Forte, Trestman's utilization (coaching, scheming, creativity, lack of stupidity and/or stubborness) is the reason for a major upgrade in production from Smoking Jay. To wit, who wins MVPs? Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Faulk, Warner. Those types, the elitest of the elite (duh). Rich Freaking Gannon does not belong in that company. Yet with Trestman, Gannon put up 97.3 QB rating (career 84.7, same as Cutler's) and 4700 yards. Backup QB situation is terrifying, but who cares? Cutler goes down, season lost.

Overall Defense: Same, meaning top 5 D, potentially better considering 1) Tucker might be more creative and 2) offense will stay on the field more than 3 plays at a time.

Defensive line: Melton's concussion could be a concern as is Peppers foot problems, but they (and Wooton too) should equal 2012 if nothing else. Collins has stepped up. Shea and Paea both look improved. Washington is quality depth. Overall, a draw compared 2012 which of course is still elite.

LBs: Still have Briggs, 2 quality vets added, 2 quality draftees added. A good mix that should be an overall a draw, with potential for upgrade (again I like quality youth with ability to take great strides).

Secondary: 9 picks from Jennings? Of course not. But Tillman and Jennings seem the same and Wright and Conte can still grow. New nickel Frey looks quality. Overall, draw.

Special teams. Gould is gold. Podlesh same as always. Maybe even better since he's a C for distance but A for placement which with a better offense plays into his strength. 2013 Hester might not be 2006 Hester but he should be better than 2012 Hester. Coverage teams look solid as always. Conservatively, a draw, which again makes them top 5 ST.

So, I see (rose-colored glasses be damned) 8 upgrades, 5 draws and zero downgrades. Top 5 D and ST and a major offensive upgrade from barely professional to respectable at least (with a chance of dangerous). Fine, the Chargers and Raiders were not great measuring sticks and schedule matters, but still, barring injuries (which can go either way), how is this team not significantly better than last year's? I just don't get how so many people are so lukewarm at best on the Bears this year. Then again these are the same people who thought Emery was a weird/awful choice, that Trestman was a "Who's that?" joke and that Long was a ridiculous pick (Bears entire 2013 draft class is likely to contribute to this year's team btw). We shall see.

51
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 5:14pm

Rose tinted doesn't begin to explain how you could think that DeCamillis is a draw with Toub. It puts the rest of your commentary in perspective.

53
by JasonG (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 5:35pm

DeCamillis is actually the one I know least about, but I'd read/heard quite a bit of positive stuff about him. But hey, at least you didn't dismiss an entire post because you didn't agree with one point within it; that would have been really shortsig... er troll-ish.

56
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 7:12pm

OK, I think I have been around here long enough to be pretty sure I'm not a troll. I haven't eaten anyone since 2008.

Your post is, to borrow from Chris Kluwe's idiom, full of sparkling sunshine on the backs of unicorns. What it lacks is perspective.

If you want a realistic look then here: the only areas the Bears upgraded are a rookie guard and a left tackle that ranked amongst the highest in the league in blown blocks. That and a journeyman tight end, who I do like, but they're trying to trade Earl Bennett, who is the closest to a proven, reliable secondary target they have.

Last year's defense was excellent but anyone with a brain would expect some regression to the mean.

Here's the real rub, if the FO and the coaches aren't happy with Cutler after this year then you'll be in the qb lottery and will be mired in the (raiderjoe inspired) hamster wheel with a staff too dug in to rebuild and unable to break out.

57
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 7:22pm

edit: OK, I've been a bit harsh but your initial post was incredibly positive with regard to the Bears. However, I wouldn't want to put you off FO's commentary boards so I'm sorry for being a bit judgemental. Keep reading and posting, you'll learn a lot (I know I did. And more apologies if this comes across as over condescending).

63
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:11pm

Yes, it was incredibly positive. Doesn't make it wrong. I was the first one to state it was rose-colored and therefore imply it might be overstated. As such, I asked the audience to explain why they thought this team wasn't significantly better than last year's. Other than DeCamillis not being quite as great as Toub, I have seen no other refutations of the points I made. And since we all know how internet posters love to jump on people I can only conclude either it was so long that no one read it or there's a ton of merit to points I made regardless of where my fandom lies.

64
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:33pm

Well I have read the perspective of many others (Bears fans, Bears haters and neutrals alike) for many months, which boils down mostly to 8 or 9 wins. And I still don't get that perspective.

They've upgraded more than 2 o-line positions. Bushrod, Slauson and Long are clear upgrades. Mills might not be, but since I can't even remember last year's right tackle's name, probably. Never was a Garza fan at center, but maybe he was victim of crap surrounding him. Now he has two quality guards to work with. Overall, personnel, coaching and scheme, seems like the o-line as a whole is a major, MAJOR upgrade.

Earl being more proven than Alshon is an empty argument to me. Long isn't proven, but everyone is extremely high on him. I would put money on Alshon (proven or not) having twice the production of Earl in 2013.

Last year's D was excellent. Why do they have to regress though? There are many with a brain (even Bears haters) who expect them to be top 5 again, as they have been for most of the last decade. Lovie gets some of that credit, sure, but so do the 11+ PLAYERS wouldn't you agree?

Not sure what the last sentence (regarding 2014 and beyond) has to do with the argument at hand (Are 2013 Bears better than 2012 Bears?).

66
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:50pm

"Why do they have to regress though?"

The ridiculous amount of turnovers and defensive touchdowns they scored last year is impossible to repeat from year to year. So they may not score as much, but they'll still be excellent.

So they'll regress from "so insanely excellent that they can literally win games by themselves" to just "excellent".

58
by Joe BearsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 8:54pm

What I saw, from the Bears first team, through my rose tinted glasses:
1) I saw a seven man rush picked up by 6 linemen and Forte - never would have happened last year preseason or during the season.
2) I saw the offensive line get push into the second level on running plays.
3) Other than the San Diego game I actually saw Cutler looking around the field on some of his passes, not just staring down Marshall and throwing to him.

Here is what I did not see, again with the first team:
1) The defense did not look much different.
2) I did not see the plays where the all the receivers ran to a spot and turned around waiting for the ball.
3) I did not see an obvious missed assignment on pass blocking - saw some of the linemen get beat but there were no rushers that someone didn't at least attempt to block.
4) I did not see near as many pre-snap penalties as I did last preseason.
5) I did not see Devin Hester trying to play receiver.

Granted the opponents were not elite and it was preseason but there was enough there for a little rosy tint.

65
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:48pm

Agreed. Let me add, you also saw:
- a dozen or so quick slants for very easy chunks of yards (which is a dozen or so more than you saw all of the last 3 years)
- an abundance of quick-release passing plays (where the QB and WR were actually in sync no less)
- third and longs converted
- third and shorts converted
- Cutler throw away a pass (my personal favorite play of the entire preseason)
- the pocket moved
- occasional misdirection
- 3 straight Forte runs to the right, inside the 10, that resulted in a TD (see it's not Forte, it was the freaking awful line that couldn't open a sliver of a hole to save it's life)
- general offensive efficiency (even in the red zone)
- offensive plays that a) attacked the weaknesses of the D and b) played to the strengths of the offensive personnel
- as for the D, I saw (without Melton or Peppers mind you), the same quality at every level, plus a little (not a lot) more blitz aggression. (Bostic isn't all his SportsCenter highlights make him out to be, but he'll improve)

54
by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 6:16pm

I think you significantly underappreciate how soundly coached the Bears' defense has been.

67
by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:50pm

And that won't continue? Tillman, Jennings, Briggs, Peppers, Wright, Conte, Melton et al will forget how to play the exact same scheme because Lovie is gone?

70
by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 3:32pm

Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Good coaching is not the norm, thus when good coaching is replaced, it more often than not results in a decline in coaching quality. The Bears defense was every well coached, the Bears offense poorly coached. Trestman has an excellent record of working well with qbs. The Bears offense will thus likely improve, especially given the o-line upgrades. The Bears defense was very well coached. Tucker may well result in no dropoff, or perhaps even an improvement, but it would not be the norm.

In any case, the Bears keep hiring guys with Minnesota ties that people I know well, who have direct knowledge, tell me are good people, so Trestman, like Tice, is a guy I will root for. I've been hearing good things about Trestman, as a human being, for more than 35 years, from people who know him personally, since the guy grew up not far from where I did, and I know guys who were his college teammates. I'd be really happy to see him have large success as Bears coach, especially since stadium politics has really reduced my ability to root strongly for any team, for non-personal reasons.

19
by Marko :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:01pm

Deleted double post.

6
by Craig (Braintree, MA) (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 3:01pm

I can't go by anything the Vikings have shown so far in preseason. Without AD in the line-up, the preseason seems like a virtual waste of time for the 1st team offense. Some analysts have said that the 1st team offense doesn't get to see how other teams are going to play them. I am looking forward to seeing what Jennings can do against man to man coverage. I was disappointed that there were no comments on Rudolph or on the Vikings CBs.

10
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 3:58pm

Ponder: nothing particularly insightful to say on him. Waiting to see what 2013 and the upgrades at wide receiver bring. Better than Joe Webb, obviously.

Rudolph: a reliable receiving option, but I'm not sure I've seen quite as much vertical explosiveness as I anticipated coming out of Notre Dame. I didn't expect Vernon Davis by any means, but I didn't think an Owen Daniels-like threat was out of the question. Maybe those plays are there and just not being made, but I have to see them made.

60
by shah8 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:58am

I think Joe Webb stands a pretty good chance of being moved back to QB. Then again, I think Webb is a substantially better QB than either Ponder or Cassel. This isn't to say that Webb isn't raw. This is to say that Webb is a playmaker of a considerably better grade--you don't have to wait until the playoffs for a 40 yard+ catch and run TD throw. And unreliable mechanics are far better than terrible mechanics. You see Kaepernick and Tannehill both have to warm up during the game to start making accurate throws this preseason. This will wear off as QBs gets more reps. Ultimately, I do think Frazier will get tired of the corporatroid throwing barely accurate enough passes that are slightly too high or too low or too far, and which minimizes YAC on intermediate and long throws. Much, much preferable to have a guy that when he's off, it's in the dirt, rather than off fingertips for interceptions.

Christian Ponder simply isn't an NFL starting caliber QB, and has been set in stone as starter regardless of playing quality or health, mostly to put his mug on pictures and say, "That's Our Quarterback". Meanwhile, Tarvaris Jackson has been playing lights out--and for Tarvaris,I do mean lights out (he's finding WRs, he's ON TIME, he's moving in the pocket, wth?) for Seattle.

62
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 9:39am

I got hand it to you, man. If nothing else you are persistent, and you stay on message.

68
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 2:40pm

I think Shah8 argues passionately and seems reasonable. The trouble is - somehow there's a major disconnect between what Shah sees and what I would say the rest of us are seeing when we see Joe webb. He sees a burgeoning, potential star waiting to be unleashed while I see a qb that really just can't throw the football at the nfl level. and the numbers are pretty horrid.

72
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 4:00pm

I agree. Somehow it makes it more exasperating that he seems like an intelligent guy. It's like hearing Stephen Hawking giving you reasoned, and well thought-out arguments on why he thinks the earth is flat.

73
by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 4:07pm

I think a good part of his Webbophilia is borne of a Ponderophobia. I certainly understand the latter ailment, but as I've tried to explain to him a few times, getting into a Webb v. Ponder debate is kinda' like having an argument with yourself as to whether you should smash your right or left thumb with a 10 pound sledge.

74
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 4:27pm

Webbophilia/Ponderophobia is definitely the new name for my fantasy team. I'll make sure to give you credit.

75
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 7:38pm

Thheee eearrth muuusst beee flaat oortherwiise Iii woouuld faaall out ooff myy wheeeelchaaaiir.

(I know, bad taste)

7
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 3:26pm

And this line, right here, is why advanced statistics gets a bad name:

"Even on the rare occasion when he is, he's still throwing to two receivers, Brandon Marshall (0.0% DVOA) and Earl Bennett (0.3%), who are league-average."

That's a fundamentally missed assumption about what the data means.

11
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 4:06pm

Maybe a more accurate statement about Marshall would have been, "Marshall, while a very good to great receiver, was by our numbers, average in terms of efficiency last year"?

13
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 4:52pm

I think even that overstates it. Even Jerry Rice would have looked like a schlub if Montana just winged the ball in his neighborhood every time a play took longer than 1.5 seconds, like Cutler does to Marshall.

CJ sometimes comes up with those, but I'm sure they hurt his DVOA, too.

15
by Jon Goldman (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 4:54pm

Efficiency isn't really my favorite way to measure wide receivers, especially when it can be argued that it's hard to be efficient when you're the entire offense and your offensive line makes the QB throw to you far less crisply, shall we say, than you would like.

I'd like to see how many of his drops/targets were a result of a bad or hurried throw, and I'd like to see how many of his less than stellar receptions (that is, of his less than great catches and plays,) could conceivably have worked better with a better throw.

38
by whckandrw (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 12:07pm

Yea it seems to misunderstand FO's own metrics. Marshall was targeted almost 50 times more than White last year. And White played alongside Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, whereas the best receiver Marshall played with last year was Alshon Jeffrey who was a rookie that only played 10 games. The only other player targeted as often as Marshall last year was Calvin Johnson, who actually had about 10 more targets. Also according to FO's stat page Marshall had a DVOA of 1.5% last year, not 0%.

It's like he doesn't remember when Tom Brady's stats got better when he could throw to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Or when Eric Decker and Demaryious Thomas's numbers got better when Peyton Manning was throwing to them.

There are definitely a few guys in the league better than Brandon Marshall (Megatron, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, to name a few), but I would take being targeted 2nd most in the league and still somewhat successful despite the lack of other receiving threats on your team is a sign you are a very good receiver.

39
by whckandrw (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 12:10pm

Also looking at DYAR, some of the guys that Marshall came out ahead of: AJ Green, Steve Smith, Victor Cruz, Miles Austin. Different sort of metric obviously, but those are talented guys, and the guys ahead of Marshall on that list are all clearly good receivers.

And perusing further I found another guy who got 190+ targets, Reggie Wayne and his DVOA last year was -5.7%.

12
by Jon Goldman (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 4:26pm

Well, I figure I'll comment on the Bears. I'd go with DYAR to measure wide receivers, but even then, so much of their stats and effectiveness rely on scheme. In game 2 of the preseason Marc Trestman essentially admitted that he wanted to give Marshall more practice. The only game where the Bears seemed to go beyond very vanilla plays (another thing Trestman admitted, to no one's surprise,) was against Oakland, and, well, the takeaways from that game consist of "Hey, we have more than 1 wide receiver!" and "The Bears beat up on a team that may be the worst in the NFL." It's frustrating, because the Bears looked rather good in weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason, but they also played the Chargers and Raiders in those games.

On the defensive side of things, I assume major regression in terms of defensive touchdowns is to be expected, and the defense should show some decline. However, what I find interesting is the fact that people jump on that stat as if to say the Bears will lose a bunch of games thanks to not scoring on defense, which is only valid if you also remember that, with a better offense, the Bears have a greater chance to score off of any turnover, even if not immediately. Couple that with an improved offense overall and the Bears should score more over the course of the season, even without any defensive touchdowns. (To build on this: if a defense causes 40 turnovers, and the offense scores a touchdown on ZY% of their drives [ignore field position, as interceptions and fumbles happen everywhere, though I'd love to see a chart showing where they were more likely {adjusted for game time, score, and general amount of passes/runs}] then that team will score .ZY X 40 touchdowns and some amount of field goals. If that ZY% is greater than their previous offensive touchdown percentage by a large enough amount [as I feel will be the case with the Bears] you can also increase the amount of total touchdowns by some amount [I know this doesn't work exactly, but it's a way of illustrating my point semi-mathematically. I'd love is if anyone would point out major flaws in my reasoning.])

If you assume that the offense only improves enough to make up for defensive regression, strength of schedule might bite the Bears in the ass this season and drop them to 8-8 or 9-7. If, like me, you assume the offense will improve enough to cover defensive production, the strength of schedule is offset and a similar record to last year is expected.

18
by Another Yinzer (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 5:58pm

I want to hear more about the Steelers defense running through Polamalu for the past 5+ seasons. How exactly? To be sure, there's no player like him when he's healthy, but there is also a bit of cult of personality when it comes to the national media's treatment of his greatness. If you only read/listen to the Pittsburgh media, you instead get the impression that the defense has been on the decline ever since Aaron Smith hung up his cleats. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between; I have a hard time buying that Polamalu is the sine qua non of the Steel Curtain's success.

24
by Intropy :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:39pm

They say that about Polamalu because it is true. Polamalu is a unique talent who enables the defense to play in ways they could not otherwise play. It is not merely a difference of degree. It is a difference of kind. His presence permits types of blitzes and coverage schemes. Essentially what you have in Polamalu is a great safety who can turn into a quick, undersized linebacker. If Leo is the new hybrid OLB/DE, then Polamalu is a hybrid SS/LB.

But that is not to say that the defense cannot play well without Polamalu. To some extent talent is talent. They could still be great, they'll just have to be great in a different way. Though to some extent Lawrence Timmons is emerging as a successor to that type of role, but he comes from the other direction as an ILB who can do SS things and isn't quite the superstar that Polamalu is.

22
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:22pm

It looks like I might be one of the few that thinks the Browns could be much better. It's still a tough division but I think they might actually be competitive.

I like most of the offensive line, I like Richardson, I think Little and Gordon are young, improving players who fit the digit scheme and both Chud and Norv have an outstanding record developing tight ends.

Rubin, Taylor and Bryant should be a good defensive line with Sheard and Kruger coming off the edge. If I was Horton I'd use Mingo next to Jackson inside in the inside blitzer role Daryl Washington made his own in Arizona. That would be a very good front seven.

Throw in a young cover corner like Haden and this team looks good at everywhere but quarterback. Now here there's a slight leap of faith, while Norv has deservedly become a walking punchline as a head coach his record as an offensive coordinator and qb coach is close to unsurpassed. If he can get Weeden to just be average, and he does fit the scheme, then don't the Browns start to look a bit better?

I don't know if I'd predict it but I would not be amazed if the perennial cellar dwellers of this division both finish above the Steelers and Ravens in a tightly fought race.

(And I just don't see how any reasonable observer doesn't think Dalton has a very strong supporting cast.)

25
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 6:40pm

Yes--agree with this 100%.

Bengals are slight division favorites in my opinion--Baltimore lost too much. Just not sure if Dalton is good enough to do much in the playoffs (and I say that knowing that Weeden is done starting if he fails this year.)

I'm still up on Weeden having potential, even though I'm one of not many in that regard.

26
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 7:14pm

Everyone who's confident about the Browns under keep underestimating how much of a difference going from a terrible coach (Shurmur) to a not terrible coach could potentially make for a team that has under-the-radar good talent. I don't have a good feel for Chud, but it wouldn't shock me if they do a more understated version of the improvment the 49ers made from 2010 to 2011.

29
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 7:26pm

Chud was their OC for their 10-6 2007 season (it was an easier schedule, albeit one that had 2 Steelers losses and a Pats loss, but they did have DVOA/pythagoreons consistent with that record.) Derek Anderson (!!) and Kellen Winslow (!!) got to Pro Bowls that year.

42
by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 2:46pm

And if history has proven anything, it's that good coordinators make good head coaches.

52
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 5:15pm

How many coaches have not been coordinators? Seems like an odd argument.

27
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 7:19pm

Since I root for the Ravens and made a lot of money on them in the playoffs, I'm having a hard time coming off the bandwagon at this point. I can see the point that their offense will not be as good as it was in the playoffs, but I think it will be close to what it was during the regular season. The Ravens playoff run on offense was based on 1) new O-line configuration with McKinnie at LT, and 2) Boldin making insane catches. While 2 won't happen again, the Ravens O-line should be better during the regular season than it was last year even without Birk, who was crafty but physically limited compared to Gino Gradkowski.

On defense, I anticipate them being substantially better than last year. The previous season they were awful on the D-line, with Ngata playing hurt most the year, Kemoeatu playing for Cody who had a bad hip, Suggs playing on one leg, Kruger being inept against the run, and Upshaw going through rookie growing pains. Art Jones was the only consistent performer. Now they've got back a fully health Ngata, Suggs, and Cody, added Canty, Marcus Spears, and B. Williams (3rd Round DT who looks legit), still have Jones, and upgraded Kruger to Dumervil.

They lost Lewis and Ellerbe at ILB, but Lewis couldn't run and Ellerbe was a good blitzer but his overall skills were questionable. I think the ILB play may be better with Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown, certainly better in coverage.

They lost Cary Williams at CB, who was competent at best, but should have their best corner Webb back at full strength. And they lost their safeties, but Ed Reed couldn't tackle and Bernard Pollard couldn't cover. I see greater speed and versatility with Huff/Elam/Ihedigbo.

The Ravens will probably be worse at special teams given how good they were last year. But I would estimate the improvements in defense will offset that loss.

32
by dcaslin :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 10:12pm

Yes

28
by wr (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 7:26pm

"Roethlisberger might be over 30, but that's not a massive problem for quarterbacks."

It's not a problem for most NFL quarterbacks. It is a problem when you factor the number of hits Ben has taken over his career.

30
by JMM* (not verified) :: Wed, 08/28/2013 - 8:04pm

This will be a very interesting year in the AFCN. With the exception of the Browns in 1st place, I can envision any order for all 4 teams. Injuries and an odd ball bounce or two can move Cincinnati, Balt, and Pitt into 1st - 4th. I am looking forward to it.

Go Steelers!

33
by steveNC (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 4:54am

Even so, sounds like you'll be a bit surprised when the Browns finish three places ahead of the Steelers.

35
by JMM* (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 9:06am

Yes, I would be shocked if the Browns finished 3 places ahead of the Steelers. The Browns could conceivably sneak ahead of the Steelers with enough luck, but for the Browns to place ahead of the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens would clearly signal the end of days (this year anyway.)

37
by herewegobrowniesherewego (not verified) :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 11:40am

I think JMM's mostly right. I see the Browns' ceiling around 9-7 to 10-6. They could be as bad as 6-10 (I can't see them not improving on last year, simply because Chud >>>>> Shurmur, more mature talent, and IMHO NFCN/AFCE is about equal to NFCE/AFCW.)

Bengals will take another small step forward to 11-5, Ravens could MAYBE be around there if everyone's reloading predictions are right but could fall all the way back to 6, Steelers 6 to 9 (Wallace is a huge loss IMO.)

36
by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 10:04am

Eh, a 7.5 win projection for the Vikings seems to me to be about right, so an under pick is sensible. Where I think the Almanac and Scramble are a little too pessimistic is that I think the Vikings have a decent chance to be pretty good on the line of scrimmage. If nothing else, having an 0-line where 3 guys were new at their positions last year, and everybody is back this year, will likely mean improvement, and they were decent last year. The defensive line has three talented edge pass rushers who are playing for contracts, Kevin Williams is still productive, and they have a first round draft pick who'll likely contribute pretty well.

Being good on the line of scrimmage on offense and defense gives a team a better chance at 8 wins or more than many suspect, even in this era where being Ponderous at qb (yes, I intend to wear that out) can be such a boat anchor.

40
by peterplaysbass :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 1:05pm

I agree with you about the importance of line play.

One of the biggest comforts is that the Vikings managed 10 wins last season despite Ponder's numbers, and the roster looks comparable or better in most areas. Winfield hurts, though.

The biggest concern for me is that Minnesota won a disproportionate percentage of their one-score games, which is tough to sustain. If they go .500 in close games this year and have as many close games as they did last year, it's going to be tough to do better than 7 wins.

41
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 2:15pm

Considering how much of todays game feels all about passing the ball and stopping the pass, I feel like the outside in approach is better than the inside out. If there were a team that feels like the inverse of the vikes, it would be somebody like the falcons, who are receiver deep and have a plethora of depth in the secondary. I realize the massive difference between the 2 qbs, but I'm still curious why people prefer to build through the lines in todays game. After all, I don't think its necessarily easier or safer to do so.

43
by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 3:00pm

Unless you are talking about qb with a Peyton-like ability to very consistently render the pass rush of lesser importance, a team which can't rush the passer well is really at a distinct disadvantage to a team than can, and of course the mirror image of that is protecting the passer. You get your qb hit hard with frequency, well, there are not many qbs in the league who will perform decently under such adversity.

Yes, if you are lucky enough to get a terrific qb, then life is a magnitude easier, and having great receivers helps terrific qbs. If you don't have that great fortune of obtaining such a qb, however, you best be able to at least avoid being consistently physically beat on the line of scrimmage. Now, if you are really good on the line of scrimmage, and then you strike gold past the first round, like with a Wilson or Koepernick, then life gets really sweet.

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by theslothook :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 3:19pm

I don't think anyone can get away with having no talent on the lines whatsoever. I submit, once your line ends up in bears/chargers/cardinals land, it becomes an untenable hole that needs to be addressed immediately. The same is true for d lines which field absolutely 0 pass rush. That said, I am wondering how much the payoff starts to decline at a certain point. You don't need to be Peyton Manning to field good passing offenses with suspect lines. Both the giants, cowboys, and steelers come to mind. Not coincidentally, those three teams all have had good receivers over that period to mitigate some of the damage. My bigger point was, even if you don't land that hall of famer, if you grab a pretty good one, is it still advisable to go offensive line? Or are you saying if you don't have a qb, go line? I think, if I have a good qb, I'd rather invest in receivers than o linemen, relatively. That doesn't mean you can just flat out ignore the o line, but for instance, I'd prioritize receivers vs o linemen.

Finally, I'm suspicious about how much pass rush plays into great pass defense. I know its a part of it, but lately I'm beginning to feel like its 70 percent coverage, 30 percent rush. According to pff, the eagles led the league in pass rush percentage(pressures/passing attempts) and they fielded an abysmal pass defense. The recent vikings also come to mind. Again, it makes me wonder if its not a better strategy to go for corners and safeties than pass rushers.

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by DisplacedPackerFan :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 4:18pm

You need to take that pressures / passing attempts a step further. How often did they have to bring 5 or 6 players to get that pressure? If you can bring just 4 and get pressure 15% of the time that passing defense is going to look a lot better overall than one that has to bring 5 to get pressure even if they get pressure 20% of the time. Numbers pulled out of thin air, but I think it illustrates the point.

Coverage only carries you so far as well. Part of the 2011 defensive collapse of the Packers was losing the pass rush when only sending 4 and then multiple injuries to what had been a pretty solid coverage secondary. Those injuries wouldn't have been as problematic if they were still able to get pressure. The back-ups could still hold good coverage for 3 - 4 seconds, but given 5 - 6 to throw all the time someone would be open, and generally it would be someone deep to really burn them. Having a Collins and a healthy Tramon Williams would have extended that coverage time to more of a 4 - 5 second range. Again numbers are just being used to show relative differences.

I agree that if the line gets too bad it doesn't matter how good the QB. Green Bay is just barely holding out above that level. Sitton is top 5 level at guard when healthy and they try to take advantage of that. Bulaga, with the exception of one half of one game in each year he has started more than 6 games is a top 5 right tackle. Everyone else is average or worse. Bulaga being gone this year is scary. Go go 4th round draft pick at left tackle....

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by theslothook :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 4:46pm

This is an area that has to be further researched. I have thought about doing it, but I didn't have the time. But yes, you're right, additional context is necessary to get a much more accurate view of this. And I know for a fact that there isn't a single nfl team has done the research to answer this question of : How much pass rush and how much coverage.

The more distressing thing that I found is, pressure percentage a team allows is highly dependent on the qb. Thus, I suspect the opponent adjustments would alter things big time. Also the kind of pressure you're getting, inside vs outside.

That said, I do think that its mostly coverage for a few reasons. In looking just at the aggregate, the best teams ONLY get pressure 30 percent of the time. That implies that 70 percent of throws are when the qb is not harassed. On top of that, the kind of dvoa you put up even when you are getting pressure heavily depends on your coverage. Ie - a good cover team that gets pressure is a lot better than a bad cover team that gets pressure. All in all, these two factors lean me to say that coverage is more important, whereas conventional wisdom at large thinks its almost all about pass rush.

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by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 6:25pm

The Giants won two recent championships on the basis of a deep, talented, pass rush rotation, and decent to great quarterbacking. The Ravens won last year in good measure due to adding a guy with talent who decided to play hard for a couple months, which allowed the Ravens two shift two other o-linemen, and suddenly get better at three spots, and have a good o-line for the playoffs.

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by theslothook :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 1:46am

I agree with the first part, disagree with the second. That's giving eli wayy too much credit. His receivers were awesome through that postseason. Victor cruz got over 100 yards on the 49ers.

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by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 7:08am

Eli Manning was just ok in 2007. If you don't think he was outstanding in the run to the 2nd championship, I don't know what to tell you. Go watch him throw the ball from his own end zone, 45 yards downfield, into a one foot window again, I guess.

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by theslothook :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 2:42pm

Will,

I'm not saying he wasn't. He was fantastic. But, I think my point was, his receivers were very good that year and that helped mitigate a poor o line as well. Again, assessing credit is difficult, but his receiving trio was Nicks, Cruz, Manningham, and Ballard. That group was incredibly deep and talented. I just don't want to write them all off and say it was all Eli.

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by Will Allen :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 3:48pm

I'm not. I will say that the 2007 Giants team was very good on the offensive line as well, and Eli just O.K., so I'm pretty confident in saying that it was a team that won a championship largely via being superior on the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. Last year, as I stated, I think a strong argument can be made that the Ravens were not championship caliber until a very unusual late season upgrade transformed the Ravens o-line into a superior unit. The Niners, of course, make their bones in large measure on superior line play, offense and defense, and it was when their best defensive linemen got hurt that they came back to the pack. The Seahawks are highly reliant on superior offensive line play.

In short, I just think that, while the rules changes and changes in rules emphasis have certainly made the league more qb centric, there is still ample evidence that having your big people knock their big people on their ass is a formula for consistent success. I really think it is important to not get locked into one way of building a roster. The important thing is to draft the proverbial best player available when your turn come up, and take it from there.

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by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 7:41pm

I'm not sure Seattle fans would agree that their offensive line is good. Two of them are truly excellent but the rest are a bit dicey.

I asked a question about who their starting five was on Field Gulls and one of the better replies was, 'five is a nebulous concept'.

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by theslothook :: Fri, 08/30/2013 - 8:03pm

What's more amazing is how one or two poor o linemen can completely undermine a unit. I only have to say chilo rachal and I'm sure Karl's spine will shiver. But then there's wayne hunter from the jets. Or when winston justice was put in for the eagles and that became a turnstile against mcnabb.

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by TomC :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 3:12pm

AFCN:

I am personally very surprised that the #8 DVOA team (and Super Bowl champion) has a lower O/U than the #18 DVOA team (that missed the playoffs). Put another way, does Vegas really think the Steelers are the team with the best chance to win the division?

NFCN:

I have a hard time reconciling the Bears discussion with the Bears predictions. Tom had a positive rejoinder for every one of Mike's concerns, then it's Tom that goes with under. It's hard for me to understand why a 10-win team (with a tough schedule) last year should be predicted to only win 8, after having supposedly made upgrades, but my Bear goggles are thick and strongly tinted.

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by theslothook :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 3:22pm

To your AFCN - I agree in principle, but the steelers have staved off demise before. They still have the best qb in the division. The o line is likely headed for a bounceback, but the biggest thing is faith. Faith in lebeau and the steeler way.

To the bears: As mentioned above, how much does lovie leaving affect them. I know mel tucker was underrated and the bears still have a boatload of talent on defense, but its a legitimate concern imo. He's been there for nearly a decade and hes a top notch defensive guy. It has to have some effect.

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by jonnyblazin :: Thu, 08/29/2013 - 4:18pm

Steeler lines (and over/unders in this case) always skew high due to the massive amounts of Steeler homers everywhere.

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by foxlies (not verified) :: Mon, 09/02/2013 - 7:01am

also when i hear 'it was literally raining cats + dogs' it drives me crazy so i sympathize w/ editor but... i thought it was ironic not at all rage typing;how do i sign in w/ homepage name [nfl alternative]?were my prior comments deleted? if so why please?i cant type so took considerable time + am loyal reader

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by Quijibo (not verified) :: Tue, 09/03/2013 - 3:35pm

So where is the loser league entry for this season?