A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
The Mad Scientists’ Guide To The NFL: The AFC
PHILADELPHIA — In football, the formula for success is older than time — run the football, defend the run, and pressure the opposition’s passer.
Whether you are neophyte or sage, all who are connected to the sport agree. If those three elements are blended consistently, a team should win more often than it loses.
But we’ve all seen the X factors and gremlins that can upset a team’s aspirations when they least expect it-kinda like that inter-dimensional pixie who loves to fuck with Superman.
So, with that in mind, here’s where I see each NFL team cooking up their respective recipes for success — keeping in mind the components of our football formula via cumulative scores on each aspect; with up to three points for each key, plus one for the X factor (10 is the best score). Today, we’ll start with the AFC:
1. NEW ENGLAND : Patriots may not run the ball as well as most contenders, but QB Tom Brady’s effectiveness as a passer has a lot to do with it. With a defensive front seven that adds platinum free agent Adalius Thomas to wreak havoc on the opposition, Seymour, Bruschi, Wilfork and company gleefully go about their work.
X Marks This Spot: New England’s O-line as a unit is arguably the best in recent years because each lineman plays and practices at each other’s position — they are as close to an interchangeable parts O-line as one will ever see. When’s the last you saw the Pats fumble more than twice on center/quarterback exchange in a season? (Total: 2 run, 3 defend, 3 pressure, +1=9).
2. BUFFALO : Bills can’t help Buffalo being in — well, Buffalo. Willis McGahee’s rant upon escaping for Baltimore notwithstanding, Bills have tried hard to keep a nucleus of talent for their hardy home fans. DE Aaron Schobel and LB Angelo Crowell make for a nice foundation, and J.P. Losman to Lee Evans ain’t bad.
X-pectations: If rookie Marshawn Lynch can run the rock with conviction, Bills will be a pain in the ass to play at Rich Stadium. (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure +1 = 7).
3. NEW YORK JETS: Thomas Jones was a steal for the Jets, and that can only help a young line with up and coming talent like Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson to have someone that will give you a guaranteed four yards a pop.
X-Gamed: For whatever gains were made last season by head coach Eric Mangini, those pluses could severely compromised by the shabby treatment of lineman Pete Kendall, a hard-working plugger who has been a significant team player everywhere he’s been — and deserved to get paid by the team he helped immensely along the O-line. Jets have unwittingly dropped a roll of Mentos in their Coca-Cola. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 1 pressure, no X point = 6)
4. MIAMI: Fish have always been like Jaws on the pass rush, thanks to Jason Taylor, but run defense has been terrible. Still there’s no discounting experience, and adding Joey Porter will make for a needed infusion of intensity.
X’d out: Trent Green was a good quarterback, but in all honesty, Cleo Lemon is the best quarterback on the Dolphins right now. Money talks, and bullshit runs along the Astroturf. (Total: 2 run, 1 defend, 3 pressure, no X point = 6).
1. BALTIMORE: Randy Moss to New England? Good. Thomas Jones to the J-E-T-S? Damn good. Nate Clements to the Niners? Mmm, mmm good. But Willis McGahee to the Ravens? Quoth the Ravens — we will score. And they will, too –McGahee will turn a lot of those red-zone FGs into TDs; which will only amp up their deliciously predatory defense even more. With all respect to everybody that straps on, Ed Reed is the best safety in football. Haloti Ngata sops up defenders like a drop biscuit in gravy, and the punishment firm of Lewis, Scott, and Suggs will help Baltimore sneak into Arizona.
X-clamation: One touchdown more means 24 points a game instead of 17. Ravens have the formula down; give these cats 24 points worth of wiggle room each week, and Lewis will be doing his pre-game shimmy in prime time at Super Bowl XLII. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 10).
2. PITTSBURGH: There’s one reason why an organization has little turnover at the top — whatever it is their personnel does, works. For all we know about the Steelers, no matter how often Terry Bradshaw goes off on Fox on Sundays, Steelers have always built their franchise to win in December. Tailback Willlie Parker keeps them sound on the ground, and Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith key the run-stuffing forces; but Joey Porter will be missed in their pass-rush schemes.
X-actly: New head coach Mike Timlin won’t deviate from the Steeler Way — and he has a healthy and happy Ben Roethlisberger eager to please. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 1 pressure + 1 = 8).
undefined undefined 3. CLEVELAND: H ead Coach Romeo Crennel is bleeding. His best O-lineman (Eric Steinbach) has a wonky knee, his best defender and pass rusher is still out (Willie McGinest) and his “pay-me like I’m the first pick in the draft” quarterback (Brady Quinn) believes he’s ready for prime time. So where’s the good news? RB Jamal Lewis has shown he is ready to carry the load — and he’d better. Browns will need a lot of 25-30 carry efforts by Lewis to keep them in the park.
X-tinct: No doubt the buzzards are circling over Coach Crennel. If he can work seven wins from this season, he should get the chance to see things through with the franchise’s resident savior-to be. (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure, no X points = 6).
undefined undefined 4. CINCINNATI: We know RB Rudi Johnson has faithfully carried on the legacy of dependable ground game that Corey Dillon initially toiled in while working for arguably the most screwed-up front office in football. That HC Marvin Lewis has turned the franchise into a respectable on-field product still pales in comparison to their division competitors. If you double-team DE Justin Smith, no one makes you pay for it up front.
X-rated: I’m apologizing in advance, but it has to be said — for all the big cats Bengals have on offense, some members of the defense have played like pansies too often over the last couple of seasons. Lewis made his bones being a defensive specialist. To paraphrase my man Billy from “Purple Rain”: “They’re squeezing you, brother — you better kick ass Sunday or else.” (Total: 3 run, 1 defend, 1 pressure, no X point = 5).
1. JACKSONVILLE: Winners of the Underachievers Super Bowl for the last two years, the Jags have to make good on this season with what they have. For in the midst of this underachievement, a lot of talent has been used up. Fred Taylor never gets enough dap for being a top-flight running back. DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are true pit bosses; doing so much internal damage that Condolezza Rice could make tackles from free safety — in thigh-high spiked boots. Given this, however, the Jags linebackers don’t utilize this to their full advantage. More sacks can carry Jacksonville to the post-season, because everything else is in place.
Totally un X-pected: Jags cutting Byron Leftwich loose and elevating David Garrard to starter not really a bad move — what will be interesting will be seeing if Leftwich gets picked up somewhere where he can prove his worth as a starter again. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 2 pressure + 1 =9)
undefined undefined 2. INDIANAPOLIS: HC Tony Dungy has three major issues on his plate coming into this season — defending the championship, OT Tony Ugoh and the loss of DT Booger McFarland for the season. Keeping the Colts primed to defend is one thing, but Ugoh will have to be able to drive block for RB Joseph Addai as well as protect Peyton Manning’s blind side. DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis pressure and defend well, and a healthy Bob Sanders will help do damage in run support, but if they’re out there for awhile on defense, the lack of beef along the front line will cost them down the road.
To be X-pected: What was never mentioned was the superior coaching job Dungy and staff did before they got to the Super Bowl. Beating New England and Baltimore because they were textbook tackling their opponents was seriously overlooked and never given the kind of analysis it should have. Had it been someone else, welllllllllll. (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 8).
undefined undefined 3. TENNESSEE: The leading rusher and receiver are gone and their best corner/return man can’t play because he was naughty in the off-season. But the skies in Tennessee are double blue because LenDale White has an opportunity to become a fantasy football god. The forgotten USC Trojan is healthy, and the Titans O-line is good as long as C Kevin Mawae can still swivel and pull. DT Albert Haynesworth has the talent to be the defensive Comeback Player of the Year if he can channel his passion without getting too extra-curricular in the pile.
Great X-pectations: QB Vince Young, like Randall Cunningham before him, will be counted on to make chicken salad out of chicken lips — without a lotta lips. To Young’s advantage, he has a better O-line now than Cunningham ever had throughout his entire should-be-in-the-Pro-Football-HOF career — and you don’t need to take a Wunderlich test to see that. (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure + 1 = 7) .
undefined undefined 4. HOUSTON : Texans picked Ahman Green in free agency, and if he was looking for a place where he would get to tote that piggy, Houston is definitely the place to be. The NFL’s version of Batman will have his share of villains looking to stick it to him because the Jokers on his O-line weren’t the best pass blockers in the league (as QB Matt Schaub will soon find out). LB DeMeco Ryans, not DE Mario Williams was the defensive Rookie of the Year, and both will put their talented young legs (along with linebacker Morlon Greenwood and corner Dunta Robinson) to the test because they may be spending a lot of time out there.
X-termination: Not to say he’s as bad, but Matt Schaub may end up being the second coming of Scott Mitchell if the Texans didn’t get any better at pass-blocking. David Carr should have sued the organization’s ass for non-support. (Total: 2 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure, no X point = 6) .
1. SAN DIEGO: How could a team stacked like Pam Grier (okay, Meagan Good for you youngsters) be missing anything? MVP LaDainian Tomlinson scored more points than one fourth of the League’s teams via his fantastic talent and one of the best O-lines assembled in recent history. In spite of their youth, C Nick Hardwick, LG Kris Dielman and LT Marcus McNeill are so solid Al Davis must cuss a blue streak every time he sees Tomlinson run left on his Raiders. Although Jamal Williams was the best nose tackle in the league from as far back as when Doug Flutie was running the show, it’s good to see he gets his dap now. LB Shawne Merriman is lethal as a pass rusher and run stuffer.
X-ploited: In spite of all the amazing talent on this team, the Achilles’ heel is the health of Jamal Williams. Each year the Chargers surged and flopped in recent memory has a direct correlation with Williams being in the lineup. While no team can afford injuries, Williams is the true lynchpin of the San Diego defense. (Total: 3 run, 3 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 10).
undefined undefined 2. KANSAS CITY: If HC Herman Edwards’ classic cry of “You play to win the game!” could be compartmentalized to the ground attack, he might say, “You run to wear down and demoralize the opposition.” And with Larry Johnson, the Chiefs are able to do just that. Making quiet progression with talent like Tamba Hall and Jared Allen as bookend pass rushers, KC may be a super sleeper if they end up on the positive side of the many 14-13 games they’ll be in if they’re on their game.
X-boxed: Chiefs’ linebackers could be the defensive unit’s secret weapon. MLB Napoleon Harris has the potential to thrive in this set up, and Donnie Edwards has always been one of the most underrated and intelligent ‘backers in the league. Hopefully he’ll be remembered when his career is done in Canton, Ohio. Yes, he’s that good. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 3 pressure + 1 = 9)
undefined undefined 3. DENVER: The Broncos, more than any other team in the league can’t wait for the season to start. Travis Henry is the new plug-in back for Mike Shanahan’s ground attack, and being a bona fide back before coming to the Mile High City, Henry will benefit greatly from Denver’s approach to line play. Losing the speedy Al Wilson at linebacker will hurt, and the liabilities along the D-line may adversely affect CB Champ Bailey’s shut down ability.
No X-planation: The tragedy of Darrent Williams murder shook the team and the League, and one can’t help but think this will be prominent in the minds of every Bronco when they step on the field from now on. (Total: 3 run, 2 defend, 2 pressure + 1 =8)
undefined undefined 4. OAKLAND: The expression “half a loaf” epitomized last year’s Raiders — a pathetic offense and an awesome defense. In the same manner as the early Tampa Bay Buccaneers teams were skewered in spite of great defensive efforts, Oakland’s talent on defense seemed wasted in the confines of the Black Hole. A sub-par offensive line won’t enable whoever ends up under center to run the five and seven step vertical patterns that signature swashbuckling, old-style Raider football — nor does it seem to get proper production on the ground. DE Derrick Burgess, however, will get the quarterback, and Warren Sapp, SS Michael Huff, and CB Nnamdi Asomugha are great in run-support and coverage.
X-empt: One day someone may remember that Art Shell was not only a great player, but a good coach as well. Even with the season he had, his coaching percentage is still above .500 — a lot higher than a lot of so-called experts conveniently forget. (Total: 0 points run, 3 defend, 3 pressure, no X point = 6)
Next time: The NFC.