Four Downs: AFC East

Four Downs: AFC East
Four Downs: AFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Sean McCormick

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Outside Linebacker, Quarterback

Part of the pain of missing on a first-round draft choice is that teams generally don't think about a Plan B. The Bills drafted Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009 with the idea that he would develop into a premiere edge rusher, and they haven't drafted a pass rusher since. Unfortunately, Maybin has been a non-entity. Three years later, the only alternatives on the roster are Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, two big names who are only a shadow of their former selves. Most observers expected the Bills to take Texas A&M's Von Miller with the third pick overall, but the Broncos threw a monkey wrench in that plan when they unexpectedly nabbed the former Aggies pass rusher.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was a nice story last season, but it was surprising that the Bills did not use the draft to add a quarterback with starting potential. It was probably a wise decision to go best available player and select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at the top of the draft, but it was surprising to see Buffalo ignore quarterbacks like TCU's Andy Dalton, as well as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett in the second round. If the journeyman Fitzpatrick returns to earth this season, there won't be a developmental prospect to step in.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Offensive Depth

For a 7-9 team, Miami did a commendable job of filling holes with its six selections. Need a center? Plug in someone named "Pouncey." Two running backs about to leave in free agency? Add Daniel Thomas, who bulldozed his way through the Big 12. Receiver help? Check. Tight end? Check. But the Draft rarely works like a grocery list, and when a team doesn't have many picks to work with, a single miss can wreak havoc. As a result, the Dolphins will look to add more of everything once free agency begins. They could look at a free-agent guard to put alongside Mike Pouncey, perhaps Justin Blalock or Harvey Dahl of Atlanta. They need to sign at least one more free-agent running back, whether that's an elite talent like DeAngelo Williams or a familiar face like Ronnie Brown.

It seems likely that there was some fire with all of that smoke about the team's interest in Ryan Mallett, and with the latest (and likely final) injury to Chad Pennington, expect the Dolphins to take a hard look at the free-agent crop of quarterbacks. With starter Chad Henne on a short leash, a reclamation project like Vince Young could come in and win the job with a strong camp performance.

New England Patriots

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Defensive End, Outside Linebacker

No team in recent memory has done as good a job of perpetuating their talent-purchasing power as New England, who ensured they would be major players in the 2012 Draft by acquiring extra first- and second-round selections. But when the Patriots opted to use their first-round pick to protect Tom Brady -- never a bad idea, mind you -- they passed up an opportunity to add a sorely needed playmaker to the front seven.

Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder supplies insurance against losing Matt Light in free agency and should provide a bookend for Sebastian Vollmer, but the Patriots took Solder with Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan still on the board. Jordan's scouting report reads like a young Richard Seymour, and he stood out as the only five-technique prospect who doubled as a legitimate pass-rushing threat in the draft.

Bill Belichick also showed scant interest in the 3-4 outside linebacker group, preferring to use his second- and third-round picks to shore up the secondary and add depth at running back. There are some pass-rushing free agents out there, including Jason Babin and Mathias Kiwanuka, and it is certainly possible that New England will make a push for a big-dollar veteran edge rusher.

New York Jets

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Outside Linebacker

The league caught up to Rex Ryan's exotic blitz packages last year, so much so that the Jets ended up as the worst third-down defense in football, according to DVOA. Things were so bad that Ryan finally called off the dogs in the playoffs, relying on coverage rather than pressure to keep Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in check. Ideally, the Jets would find an edge rusher who could generate a rush and force the offense to account for him, freeing up blitzers to overwhelm the protection scheme.

The Jets expressed interest in outside linebackers like UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Georgia's Justin Houston and Arizona's Brooks Reed, but were hamstrung by their lack of a second-round pick. Most of the team's 2011 player budget figures will go toward re-signing their own players, but it's possible that general manager Mike Tannenbaum will try to strike gold with a second-tier free agent like Matt Roth or Kamerion Wimbley. If not, Ryan will have to develop a situational rusher from within.

On offense there are holes to fill at receiver and along the offensive line. With Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith all set to hit the free agent market -- it is likely the Jets can only re-sign one of them -- there is room on the roster for a big receiver who can step in and play quickly. Fifth-round pick Jeremy Kerley is a dynamic athlete, but he played in a run-heavy offense at TCU and likely is destined for the slot. Meanwhile, if Damien Woody does not return, Vladimir Ducasse will begin training camp as the starting right tackle. Ducasse only played in three games his rookie season and was a healthy scratch during the playoffs.

A version of this article previously appeared on ESPN Insider.


48 comments, Last at 12 May 2011, 1:44pm

#1 by John somewhere (not verified) // May 09, 2011 - 4:31pm

First - reading all but nothing to say

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#4 by Theo // May 09, 2011 - 6:01pm

at least you're honest

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#2 by Thomas_beardown // May 09, 2011 - 5:32pm

Is there a reason the Jets will likely only keep one of the FA receivers? I doubt Brad Smith costs much money, and we are not sure what the cap situation will look like. Even if it comes back in it's former incarnation, is everyone sure they won't have room to keep 2 or even all 3 players?

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#6 by Drunkmonkey // May 09, 2011 - 6:35pm

Well, from what I've been reading, Smith wants to be more involved in an offense, and doesn't think that the Jets will ever truly take him seriously. I've heard that he wants a chance to play a real WR role in an offense, not just the gimmick and Wild Cat option. Beat writers for the Jets also believe that he will be asking for quite a bit more then what the Jets want to offer.

According to the above article, Holmes is seen as a higher priority then Edwards. I've heard that the team doesn't want to break the bank for all of them, and that Holmes will definitely get what he wants. That doesn't bode all that well Edwards, although he has stated that he isn't asking for a small island in the Caribbean.

I think the Jets should spend to keep both Edwards and Holmes in town, as Sanchez really needs all the playmakers he can get. Although, the thinking may be that with Holmes, Keller, Tomlinson, Greene, McKnight, the new RB, and Sanchez's BFF, the Jets might be set.

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#7 by Thomas_beardown // May 09, 2011 - 6:55pm

Thanks for the information. Looks like the Jets could keep 2 of them if they want to.

I have a feeling Brad Smith is going to be in for a rude awakening when he finds out no one takes him seriously as a wide receiver.

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#8 by Drunkmonkey // May 09, 2011 - 9:17pm

Same here. I just don't see what he can show other teams to make them think he can become a top flight WR- he's never been one! He was a QB in college, and until recently was only a special teamer, playing both the gunner and the return man. He was basically a bigger version of Josh Cribbs, without the upside, IMO.

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#38 by Bobman // May 10, 2011 - 8:52pm

He's hurt the Colts enough in the past and they sorely need a competent returner. Plus, based on last year's M*A*S*H unit receiving corps (corpse?), they may be able to offer him 60 targets a year... and a chance to play with Manning? Come on, Brad, you know you want it.

Personally, I'd prefer to NOT have to face him. Just seems to have Indy's number.

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#39 by Shattenjager // May 10, 2011 - 9:07pm

Don't all special teamers have Indy's number?

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#41 by Tundrapaddy (not verified) // May 11, 2011 - 5:20am

No, I believe you're thinking of San Diego.

By which I mean both: 'San Diego (rather than special teamers) has Indy's number', and; 'Special teamers have San Diego's number'.

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#45 by Shattenjager // May 11, 2011 - 11:17am

San Diego's legendary special teams woes are a one-year issue. Indy's have gone on for the better part of a decade. The Colts last had a positive ST DVOA in 2003 and have not since ranked higher than 20th in the league.

Indy's special teams DVOA 2004-2010: -2.3% (23), -2.2% (25), -2.9% (25), -5.9% (32), -1.8% (24), -0.7% (20), -5.4% (31)

San Diego's special teams DVOA 2004-2010: -3.0% (26), 0.1% (16), 4.4% (3), 4.3% (5), 1.7% (12), 0.3% (16), -8.6% (32)

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#20 by are-tee // May 10, 2011 - 10:59am

I think Smith's value went down drastically based on the changes to the kickoff rules. Remember, he was one of the top kickoff returners in the league last year. The Jets have three excellent WR's in Holmes, Edwards and Cotchery, but not much after that, so they really should make an effort to keep both Holmes and Edwards.

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#3 by Podge (not verified) // May 09, 2011 - 5:58pm

I'm sure that someone will point this out, but Wimbley did agree to a contract with the Raiders that was declared void because it broke the rules, as a contract extension, under the uncapped year of the CBA. Presumably as soon as he becomes a free agent he will be likely to sign the deal that he had on the table with the Raiders.

Good write up though.

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#5 by Led // May 09, 2011 - 6:22pm

It's interesting that both the Pats and Jets declined to draft an OLB despite the fact that both were widely believed to have holes at that position. Is that a reflection of the talent available? A belief shared by Belichick and Ryan about drafting rush OLBs? Just a coincidence?

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#10 by justanothersteve // May 09, 2011 - 10:52pm

The same could also be said of the Packers. Could it be that after Von Miller there were really no talents worth their perceived draft value as publicized by Kiper, et al?

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#18 by ASmitty // May 10, 2011 - 9:51am

Miller is a stud, Quinn and Kerrigan project well but were 4-3 DEs in college, Ayers is toolsy but raw, Houston failed a combine drug test, and Reid's stock seemed over-inflated by the superficial Clay Matthews comparisons.

The first three of those guys were off the board before NE or GB picked in round one, and the latter three would have been reaches for NE in round two (IMO) and only Houston was there for GB in the second. If I'm NE I'm happier with Dowling than any of the OLBs they passed on, and GB was never really in a good position to grab one for value.

It was a nice class at the top, but not very deep. It was flat out putrid for 4-3 LBs.

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#33 by johnny walker (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 3:56pm

Explanation on the Pack is simple: Ted Thompson doesn't draft for need. I think a lot of the picks that have left FO and others scratching their heads can be explained this way, actually. More teams seem to be waking up to the best available player mentality, at leasing judging from the results of this year's draft, and that's leaving a lot of confused analysts talking about how team X had a bad draft because they didn't get a needed a player at position Y.

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#9 by JonFrum // May 09, 2011 - 10:09pm

If Jordan = Seymour, Belichick would have jumped on him. The value just wasn't there, so he went with Solder. Value is how you keep a franchise going, not reaching or settling for need.

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#11 by db // May 09, 2011 - 11:36pm

Don't be so sure. He also passed on Clay Matthews.

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#13 by dryheat // May 10, 2011 - 8:04am

Clay Matthews in the Belichick 3-4 would be Tully Banta Cain...a liability in the run game who excells in getting to the passer. I doubt that Belichick sees Matthews getting washed out of running play after running play and thinks, "Damn, I wish I'd grabbed him."

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#14 by piratefreedom (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 8:50am

I would happily trade TBC for Matthews ;)
Even if Matthews is only a sub package guy his 3rd down value would be huge for the Pats

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#21 by dryheat // May 10, 2011 - 11:10am

True...but TBC I was a 7th round pick. TBC II was a mid-range FA signing in an uncapped year. How much do you think Matthews's agent is asking for in his next contract?

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#15 by justanothersteve // May 10, 2011 - 9:19am

WTF? Matthews actually plays the run extremely well. He's average for a LB in pass coverage. He may not have as much run responsibility because of scheme. But he's not a liability when asked. He may not always be able to stop a talent like Adrian Peterson 1-on-1, but he's hardly alone there. Unless you're the size of Levon Kirkland, you'll occasionally be run over at LB simply due to physics. Just like even the best CBs get beat occasionally.

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#23 by dryheat // May 10, 2011 - 12:47pm

I strongly disagree in re: his abilties playing the run. I think "sub-par" is being very charitable, and "absolutely horrible" closer to reality. And while he'd be a good 3rd down/obvious passing situation rush specialist for the Patriots, he certainly wouldn't be an every-down player in Belichick's scheme, and therefore not a great use of a 1st round pick.

Matthews is great at what he does. He makes enough big plays that Green Bay, and most other teams, can live with his shortcomings. Brooks Reed owes him dinner for getting him drafted about 1 1/2 rounds too early. However, it's very easy to look at guys who have success in other schemes and say that Team X needs that player. In reality, it's usually apples and oranges. Matthews wouldn't be a double-digit sack guy shooting gaps for the Patriots.

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#22 by Jimmy // May 10, 2011 - 12:19pm

I am with dryheat on this one. Just like every other linebacker in football Matthews has plenty of run responsibility, he just doesn't do it very well. Frankly my biggest criticism is how often and how badly he gets reached by a tackle or a TE. You shouldn't be able to play the run like that and win Defensive MVP. I also don't really understand how a player with such amazing hustle gets blocked on running plays so often but getting outside Matthews on running plays is suprisingly easy.

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#30 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 3:53pm

GB spends a lot of time in a 2-4 alignment. Who exactly protects him from up to 7 linemen? Garaji would have to be Mansionji.

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#36 by Jimmy // May 10, 2011 - 5:32pm

I would make the same criticism of a 4-3 end who gets reached too often. You have got to set the edge when you line up there.

FWIW I think he is a fantastic player and given his genes will probably still be registering double digit sacks in 2025 to maybe 2030 given modern training techniques. He is probably going to end up in the Hall and given his talent, age, importance of position and family history of durability he is amongst the most valuable players in the league, so it isn't like I don't rate the guy. I just think he doesn't play the run that well but he will probably get better at it in the future.

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#17 by ASmitty // May 10, 2011 - 9:44am

That Clay Matthews, what a scrub.

The Pats are SO much better off without him.

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#24 by Thomas_beardown // May 10, 2011 - 2:28pm

Yeah that DPOY candidate. How could anyone want him on their team.

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#25 by dryheat // May 10, 2011 - 2:35pm

What people seem to be failing to grasp is the difference between wanting a guy on the roster, and wanting to spend a first round draft pick on the guy.

I reckon most teams wouldn't mind having Janikowski as their kicker.

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#26 by Thomas_beardown // May 10, 2011 - 2:52pm

Clay Mathews is just such a superior pass rusher to Cain, that your comparision completely falls apart, and was hyperbole at it's worst. Bellichick has found room for similar one dimensional players like Asante Samuel and Randy Moss.

Now you could argue that the Pats landing 4 picks in the 2nd round yielding Chung, Butler and Vollmer is more valuable than Mathews (I don't remember how many they had before trading down).

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#29 by RichC (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 3:30pm

Or it could be as simple as that if anyone thought Matthews was going to be as good as he is, he would have gone first overall.

IE, nobody thought he was going to be this good.

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#31 by dryheat // May 10, 2011 - 3:56pm

Well, that's true -- there was nothing in Matthews's NCAA body of work that suggested he'd be a Pro Bowler. He was, in fact, a workout warrior.

But again, look at Patriots linebackers since Belichick arrived - there have been exactly two seasons an LB had 10+ sacks: Mike Vrabel has 12 1/2 back in I think 2007, and Banta Cain had 10 I think in 2009. McGinest never did it, Colvin never did it, Monty Beisel never did it (joke). And there is no reason to believe that Matthews would be able to do it...the scheme doesn't allow for a guy to sell out on a pass rush play after play. And if you can't reliably stop the run, you won't be out there on the early downs.

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#35 by Thomas_beardown // May 10, 2011 - 5:31pm

Or they've lacked premier pass rushers and you are using arbitrary cutoffs. McGinest and Vrabel both have seasons with 9.5 sacks, Colvin got 7 sacks while only starting 11 games and I believe he was hobbled by injury in 2005 (and further more I remember Aaron writing about how he was getting a ton of pressures that year that he was just a step way from converting into sacks).

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#32 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 3:56pm

Not everyone has Belichick's mythos.

Or his video staff.

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#34 by Thomas_beardown // May 10, 2011 - 5:21pm

I'm not disputing any of that. I'm asserting that comparing Clay Mathews to Tully Banta Cain, right now, is ridiculous.

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#37 by BaronFoobarstein // May 10, 2011 - 7:36pm

At least they're both football players in similar roles. Who is the superior aeronautical engineer, Clay Matthews or Garth Brooks? Now that's ridiculous!

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#43 by RickD // May 11, 2011 - 10:23am

It's strange what's happened to the verb "compare". Somewhere along the way it took on a connotation of "equate" for sportscasters.

When I compare Clay Matthews with Tully Banta-Cain, I find one of the two is much better than the other.

As for Cameron Jordan and Richard Seymour, Seymour is a considerably larger man. Word from the Foxboro insiders (i.e., Mike Reiss) is that Cameron Jordan is not big enough for the Patriots' scheme.

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#46 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // May 11, 2011 - 11:19am

It's not that strange.

: to bear being compared
: to make comparisons
: to be equal or alike

When used in the sense of "to compare and contrast," it picks up a meaning similar to that of "equate."

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#47 by Thomas_beardown // May 11, 2011 - 3:18pm

Yes, it was a poor choice of words, sorry. Still I think everyone knows what I mean, especially since the post I was originally responding to just up above.

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#19 by RichC (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 10:13am

So did 24 other teams.

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#12 by Podge (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 6:33am

If Jordan=Seymour Buffalo would have jumped on him, if Denver didn't already. As would any 3-4 team. And probably most 4-3 teams.

I thought the Steelers should have tried to trade up for Jordan. His potential to drop into coverage could have been mega in their zone blitzes.

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#42 by Tundrapaddy (not verified) // May 11, 2011 - 5:30am

Actually, if Jordan=Seymour then Buffalo would've drafted Quinn. Or Bowers (see Maybin, Aaron - as mentioned in the above article).

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#16 by RichC (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 9:22am

Whats the justification for DE being a hole for the Pats?

OLB, yeah, I can see that, but they've got Wilfork and Warren signed long term, and in the last couple years they've drafted Pryor, Brace, Deadrick, Love, and all have shown flashes as useful players. At some point, you need to give these guys some playing time and see if they can stick.

I still think the interior O-Line is their biggest post-draft hole. Connoly is the only guard with any playing time they have on the roster, and Koppen is up at the end of the year.

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#27 by Drunkmonkey // May 10, 2011 - 3:19pm

I completely agree that the Pats have lots of talent at DE, but didn't pretty much all of those guys get hurt last year? I know that injuries can sometimes be flukes, but if I remember correctly, Brace and Love have injury histories, and none of them are near the level of Seymour, which one of them was supposed to replace, I guess.

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#28 by RichC (not verified) // May 10, 2011 - 3:28pm

Nobody they draft is going to be Seymour. Not unless they get really friggen lucky, so I don't see that as a real valid concern.

I actually see DE as a position of depth, so I find pointing it out as an area of need a bit silly.

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#44 by RickD // May 11, 2011 - 10:29am

The problem is that pundits think that the low sack totals for the Patriots imply that the Patriots have a deep need to pick a pass rusher. But the Patriots are not the Colts. They don't run a defense based on having two speed rushers at DE.

I thought that a lot of the weakness of the Pats' pass defense last year was due more to the weakness in coverage than in the pass rush. Very often they would have drives where they gave up receptions within 2-3 seconds, play after play. Maybe Dowling and Bodden will help enough with that aspect of the game so pass rushers won't need to bring instant pressure.

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#40 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 11, 2011 - 1:12am

The Pats should get Ty Warren back next season. He missed all of 2010 with a hip injury. Warren's return (assuming he's healthy and 100%) would give the Pats' front seven a nice boost.

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#48 by e star (not verified) // May 12, 2011 - 1:44pm

Clay Mathews is overrated he only rushes the QB of the left side of the defense against the offenses RT usually not as good of a pass blocker as the left side telling u that he would get washed up against elite pass blockers cause he is not good enough to get around them. I mean look around the league the best pass rushers go against the best pass blockers like dwight freeny, john abraham, julius peppers, elvis dummervil, mario williams, demarcus ware, james harrison, and etc. those are the elite not clay mathews. Second he got most of his sacks against running backs and/or he came free untouched to the QB which is just a matter of scheme

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