Posted June 23, 2014

Cover-Two: Steven Jackson among players with something to prove in NFC South

Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Cover-Two, New Orleans Saints, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC South: Steven Jackson, Kelvin Benjamin among players with most to prove

Steven Jackson compiled a career-low 543 rushing yards last season, his first in Atlanta. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Chris Burke and Doug Farrar continue their offseason tour, this week focusing on the NFC South. Which players in the division have the most to prove in 2014? See below, with Burke handling the veterans and Farrar focusing on the rookies.
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Posted June 20, 2014

Offseason Report Card: New York Jets

2014 Offseason Report Cards, AFC East, New York Jets
New York Jets NFL Offseason Report Card

Geno Smith could fall down the depth chart if he doesn’t develop his game. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.

In Rex Ryan’s first two seasons as head coach, the New York Jets went to two AFC championship games and established a toughness and multiplicity on defense that was the envy of the league. In the three seasons since, Ryan’s Jets have not been able to crack the .500 barrier, mostly because of a series of moribound offenses that couldn’t survive Mark Sanchez’s mediocrity and whatever it was that Tim Tebow was expected to do. While Ryan’s defenses still shine (it could be argued that the current iteration has the best front seven to date), the Jets’ inability to hit on a quarterback has set them far behind in a league that is more and more about the passing game — unless you’re the Seahawks or 49ers and have everything else on the ball. The Jets once subscribed to and personified that ideal, but now, they’re merely a half-built team with issues where their assets should be. Continue Reading

Posted June 19, 2014

Offseason Report Card: Patriots

2014 Offseason Report Cards, AFC East, New England Patriots
New England Patriots Offseason Report Card

Darrelle Revis joined the Patriots on a one-year, $12 million deal. (Charles Krupa/AP)

With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.

According to Vegas, common sense and recent history, the New England Patriots are the second-best team in the AFC. Have they done enough since last season’s title-game loss to Denver, their second straight stumble one step shy of the Super Bowl, to get over the top in 2014?

On the surface, it is a little hard to say yes.

Where they could improve most is in the secondary, thanks to the arrivals of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. (Browner will miss the first four games of 2014 on suspension.) Revis directly replaces Aqib Talib, now a member of those pesky Broncos, while Browner will join a mix that already includes Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard.

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Posted June 19, 2014

Offseason Report Card: Miami Dolphins

2014 Offseason Report Cards, AFC East, Miami Dolphins

Third-year pro Ryan Tannehill will have several new faces protecting him in 2014. (Chris O’Meara/AP)

With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.

So… how was your 2013? Most likely, it wasn’t weird in the same way the Miami Dolphins’ 2013 was weird — unless you were involved in a very public bullying scandal that demolished two-fifths of your offensive line and put you in the crosshairs of the commissioner’s office as the personification of organizational dysfunction. Now that both Richie Incognito (unemployed) and Jonathan Martin (San Francisco 49ers) are off the roster, it’s up to general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin to not only turn things around, but also to somehow prove that a Dolphins franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000 is on the right track.

The good news is that there does appear to be a level of consistency in the talent acquisition department that was never there when former GM Jeff Ireland was in charge. Hickey moved decisively to shore up the team’s offensive line, signed running back Knowshon Moreno from the Broncos, and is trying his best to reverse the course.

“Joe [Philbin] and I are working together on this,” Hickey said at the scouting combine in February, when asked about the much-publicized culture change. “Leading up to this, we met with each department and laid out, restated and reinforced our vision of who we want to be, a culture of respect, communication and laying out that foundation and being intentional about communication throughout the building. Those are some of the steps that we have taken and will continue to take. We take this serious in our culture and who we want to be, and we want to set the standard around the league.”

Easier said than done. But on paper, at least, the Dolphins are off to a much better start this year than last. A low bar to be sure, but you have to start somewhere. Continue Reading

Posted June 17, 2014

Audibles Podcast: Examining burning offseason questions in AFC East

AFC East, Podcasts
AFC East burning offseason questions among topics in Audibles NFL Podcast

The Patriots have captured the AFC East crown in 10 of the last 11 seasons. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

Is the AFC East the Patriots’ division to lose? Clearly, but is New England really a Super Bowl contender? That’s just one of the burning questions that’s John DePetro, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar examine in this edition of the Audibles Podcast.

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Posted June 17, 2014

The All-22: How Dee Ford can add serious spark to Kansas City’s uneven defense

AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, The All-22, Uncategorized
Auburn's Dee Ford takes Florida State QB Jameis Winston down during the 2014 BCS Championship game. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Auburn’s Dee Ford tackles Florida State QB Jameis Winston during the 2014 BCS Championship game. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

There’s no question that the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs enjoyed a defensive resurgence under first-year defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. A unit that finished 30th in overall defense per Football Outsiders‘ opponent-adjusted metrics in 2012 shot up to ninth last season. The team’s pass defense moved from 31st to seventh, and the run defense improved from 28th to 15th. Sutton made the most of what he had, a roster packed with Pro Bowl-level talent, by adding different coverage concepts and making the defensive line schemes far more multiple. Everyone from safety Eric Berry to nose tackle Dontari Poe benefited, and few Chiefs defenders were more impressive in the first half of the season than bookend edge-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

However, when Hali started getting nicked up in the second half of Kansas City’s 2013 campaign, and Houston was lost in Week 12 to a dislocated elbow, the defense regressed. The same Chiefs team that started 9-0 (the first franchise in any major professional sport to win its first nine games after finishing with its league’s worst record the year before) ended their season with a 2-8 record, including a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Colts in which the Kansas City blew a 38-10 third-quarter lead. The Chiefs had 47 sacks overall, but just six total in their six losses, and by all metrics, the defense fell off disturbingly. Hali was double-teamed far more when Houston was out, and he had just two sacks in his last nine games — both against the Redskins on Dec. 8. Continue Reading

Posted June 16, 2014

The key to efficient offense? Not tempo

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, Smarter Stats
Dallas Cowboys show key to efficient offense is not tempo

The Cowboys were one of the NFL’s most efficient offenses in 2013 despite running the fewest plays. (Simon Bruty for SI)

The unofficial motto of most NFL offensive coordinators these days has become, to steal a Jurassic Park line from Jeff Goldblum: Must go faster.

“As this game gets faster and sped up, guys are going to have to prepare the right way,” said Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth last week, discussing the plan by new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to push the envelope this season when Cincinnati has the football. “To play that style, you have to prepare yourself.”

The chorus has been much the same in places like Buffalo, Detroit, Washington and Miami, where the goal is to hit the ground running — and passing — in the regular season.

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Posted June 19, 2014

Remain calm, all is well: Marshawn Lynch arrives at Seahawks minicamp

Sour Rankings
Marshawn Lynch looked like a happy camper at the Seahawks' practice facilities on Tuesday. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Marshawn Lynch looked like a happy camper at the Seahawks’ practice facilities on Tuesday. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch missed all of the team’s offseason activities to date, including a trip to the White House, but he was in attendance for Seattle’s OTAs on Tuesday. If Lynch, who is looking for a revision of the four-year, $31 million deal he signed in March 2012, did miss the three days of mandatory minicamp this week — the first such mandatory activities for the defending NFL champs since Super Bowl XLVIII — he would have been in line for about $70,000 in fines.

However, attend the first day of practice is all he did — because he hadn’t passed a physical yet, Lynch stood on the sideline with receiver Sidney Rice, who also didn’t participate. After the 90-minute practice concluded, head coach Pete Carroll sounded not at all concerned about Lynch’s status, happiness with his overall situation, and future with the team.

“Yeah, it’s a big story — we expected him to be here,” Carroll said with a laugh. “He’s got a sore ankle, and we’re going to make sure we take care of him. If there’s any question [about a player's physical well-being], we’re always going to opt to give guys more time. And I want to make sure he goes into the last month [before the preseason] feeling great.”

Lynch, of course, did not speak on his own behalf. So, it was up to Carroll to outline how the offseason communication has been going. Continue Reading