View Full Version : Weaknesses of AFC North Teams (Wanna guess what ours is?) :)

06-10-2009, 01:57 PM
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson is doing this for every team in the NFL on ESPN.com. Here is the AFC North.


Steelers' weakness: Offensive line

June 5, 2009 11:00 AM

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Choosing offensive line as the Steelers' weakest unit shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, even though the Steelers are returning their entire starting five from last season, when they won the Super Bowl.

It is safe to say that no one in that group of five starters is among the upper tier (or maybe even the second tier) of players in the league at their respective positions. As a unit, they do play better than the sum of their parts, and they came together as the 2008 season went along, but no one on this line should be contending for Pro Bowl honors in 2009.

Pittsburgh does not have an offensive lineman who was a first-day draft pick. The Steelers have dedicated their resources to surrounding quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with weapons and building a stout defense. When selecting their front wall, they put size at an absolute premium. Starting right guard Darnell Stapleton fell into their lap as an undrafted free agent and he is really the only starter who cannot be considered well above average in size for his position. Stapleton is expected to have to fend off recent third-round selection Kraig Urbik, another king-sized specimen who plays a rugged style.

Roethlisberger has been hit and sacked an inordinate number of times over the past two seasons. That has to change for the Steelers to better insure their long-term success with their franchise quarterback. Of course, even if Roethlisberger had Pro Bowlers at each of the five line spots in front of him, he would take more hits than guys such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who are far quicker to get the ball out of their hands. Still, the protection hasn't been good enough of late -- Steelers quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 49 times last year.

Now if you are going to employ a big heavy line that struggles with quickness and isn't collectively light on its feet, you would think that you have the makings of a dominating power blocking scheme in the run game. But that has not been the case in Pittsburgh. Their once-vaunted rushing attack is nowhere near where it once was. The Steelers averaged a measly 3.7 yards per rush last season. Even more troubling, this is an offense that really has a tough time converting in short-yardage situations, particularly at the goal line.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.


Browns' weakness: Pass rush

June 5, 2009 10:00 AM

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

The Browns got to opposing quarterbacks only 17 times last year -- only the lowly Chiefs were worse. New coach Eric Mangini and new GM George Kokinis brought in a lot of new players this offseason, but the pass rush really doesn't look to be vastly improved.

On the defensive line, Shaun Rogers is a beast. As a pass-rusher, he can push the pocket, disrupt throwing lanes and occupy interior blockers. But his stamina is an issue and he often leaves the field on clear throwing downs. In his first season in a 3-4 scheme since coming to the Browns from Green Bay, Corey Williams registered only half a sack in 16 games. Learning a new scheme or not, that is unacceptable. Williams had seven sacks in each of his final two seasons with the Packers; expect his production to improve in 2009. Also struggling in 2008 were Sean Smith and Robaire Smith, neither of whom had a sack. Kenyon Coleman will factor in this year, but he had only two sacks in 32 games played for the Jets over the past two seasons.

Cleveland also needs to generate a much better pass rush from their linebackers, particularly on the outside. The biggest culprit here is Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley is proving that he cannot be the top pass-rusher; he's only equipped to be a secondary option. While his get-off and closing speed are very good, he relies too much on his speed rush and once stymied, doesn't adjust with counter moves. He also doesn't set up his opponent well throughout the game and becomes too predictable. Maybe the new coaching staff will get more out of Wimbley.

One player to watch is Alex Hall. Hall got to the quarterback three times in limited action in his rookie season. He has great body length and excellent natural pass-rushing tools. Hall, David Bowens and second-round selection David Veikune should compete for the starting spot opposite Wimbley.

Veikune is a tremendous hustle player -- another quality this defense has lacked at times -- but adjusting to the new scheme may not be a quick transition. Veikune still could factor in off the edge on passing downs, but expect his rookie year to be a learning process.

Bowens was a good pickup. He is not an upper-tier pass-rusher, but he is a veteran with strong intangibles and should help Hall and Veikune transition. Bowens has appeared in all 16 games in each of the past five seasons and in that span he has 24.5 sacks. That isn't elite production, but he has been consistent. Consistency is something the Browns need more of.

Still, no one on this defense presents a serious challenge to opposing pass-protection schemes and there isn't one guy who needs to be game-planned around on throwing downs. If they don't improve the pass rush dramatically, the Browns will be in for another rough year.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.


Bengals' weakness: Running game

June 4, 2009 11:00 AM

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Only three teams averaged less than the Bengals' 95 rushing yards per game in 2008. The inability to run the ball allowed opposing defenses to take away the deep pass with a deep safety rolled over Chad Ochocinco.

Obviously, having Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center instead of Carson Palmer didn't help either, but the lack of a rushing attack for the majority of the season too often put the Bengals' defense in compromising situations and didn't allow that side of the ball to get enough rest.

Cedric Benson is going to carry the load for Cincinnati this year. He far exceeded my expectations last year and surely I was not alone in thinking he would not make a major impact in Cincinnati after being signed off the street. But he certainly can do some good things. He is a workhorse runner with excellent size and above-average power. His vision is good and he runs behind his pads. Benson is not a heavy-footed runner and does have some ability to turn the corner. He also is an adequate outlet receiving option out of the backfield.

However, Benson did average only 3.5 yards per attempt, which is actually even worse than the paltry 3.6 the Bengals managed as a team. He has reached the end zone just twice in his 12 games with the Bengals. In those 12 games, Benson had 747 rushing yards, but 282 of those yards came in the last two games of the season; so for the first 10 games, Benson averaged just 46.5 rushing yards per game.

That can be looked at two ways. In a glass-half-full scenario, maybe Benson finally hit his stride with his new team and it is a sign of great things to come. In a glass-half-empty scenario -- which is where I am leaning -- Benson accumulated that yardage against the hapless Browns and Chiefs in the final week of the season. In Benson's three appearances against the Steelers and Ravens, he carried the ball 30 times and mustered only 104 yards. The Bengals lost those three games by a combined score of 99-23.

Other than Benson, the Bengals have a few options, but no one to get overly excited about. They recently traded defensive tackle Orien Harris for Brian Leonard, a fullback/running back tweener who plays hard but is far from a dynamic option. The other most prominent candidates for carries include DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott.

Dorsey flashed a little with the Colts, but his five carries for eight yards last year isn't particularly enthralling. Although he is a good guy to have on the roster and can contribute in a variety of ways, Watson was handed the ball only 13 times last year. At best, he is a below-average No. 2 runner, but is really a third running back with special-teams abilities. Scott, on the other hand, does have some intriguing abilities. He is a rookie who has a very lengthy list of off-the-field indiscretions, but as the season rolls along, Scott might be getting significant carries.

Although the drafting of offensive tackle Andre Smith should greatly help pave the way up front, Cincinnati is extremely weak at center. That is a massive problem, especially with Benson being far better suited to run inside than on the edges. Why is it such a massive problem? Well, the Bengals play six of their 16 games every year against the likes of Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata and Shaun Rogers. Enough said.

Cincinnati also plays five other teams that use the 3-4, along with the Vikings, who feature dominating defensive tackle Pat Williams. That is 75 percent of Cincinnati's schedule against a powerful nose tackle-type opponent. Like I said, this is a massive problem.

Having Palmer back and a vastly improved passing game will open up some running room. However, there is no way around it -- this running game is a weakness right now.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.


Ravens' weakness: Receivers

June 4, 2009 10:00 AM

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

In a somewhat shocking lack of moves, the Ravens did not sign a wide receiver in free agency. They also did not select one in the draft. L.J. Smith was signed to add into the tight end mix, but that is hardly the major pass-catching upgrade that many expected to help aid second-year quarterback Joe Flacco improve upon a successful rookie season in which Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Derrick Mason rarely gets mentioned as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but his consistency and numbers are outstanding. Flacco leaned on him heavily -- sometimes too heavily -- last season and clearly this is the go-to option in Baltimore's passing attack. While Mason remains very effective, he is a niche player who doesn't create a lot of big plays. He's also coming off a shoulder injury, which cannot be overlooked at 35 years old. This offense needs to showcase Flacco's giant right arm more frequently, while forcing opposing coverages to honor the deep ball more than they have in the past.

Mark Clayton had somewhat of a bounce back season in 2008, re-establishing himself as a vertical threat, averaging 17 yards per reception. Clayton isn't the most physical player, but he is good with the ball in his hands and has big play ability downfield or after the catch. While this former first-round pick progressed last season, he does need to step up further and take advantage of the favorable coverages he faces, as nearly every defense stacks the box against Baltimore and also tends to put their best cover man on Mason. There is a lot of pressure on Clayton to come through in what is his contract year. He is capable, but must be more consistent on a week to week basis.

Demetrius Williams missed much of the 2008 season and he could compete with Clayton for the starting spot opposite Mason. Durability is a major issue with Williams, but he has much better size than Mason or Clayton and has shown that he can play big with his ability to elevate for the ball. Ozzie Newsome clearly knows his team and is an excellent evaluator of talent. Williams might be someone who Newsome has higher hopes for in 2009 than many realize.

Todd Heap also has major durability issues. Years of battling injuries have slowed Heap even on his best days at this stage of his career. He now blocks more than he has in the past and no longer can be considered a major difference maker as a pass catcher.

Smith is also a difficult guy to count on. Reliability and durability are not his better traits. However, a change of scenery may do this talented tight end some good.

The Ravens' defense took a few personnel hits this offseason and losing Rex Ryan cannot be understated. Baltimore should remain quite strong on that side of the ball -- along with their special teams -- but a minor defensive drop off seems quite possible. While the offense is fueled by a power running game and the offensive line could be even better than a year ago, more will be needed from the passing game for the Ravens to eclipse the Steelers as the top dog in the AFC North. Right now, there is plenty of uncertainty as to whether or not this group of pass catchers is up to that task.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

06-10-2009, 03:39 PM
Pretty accurate assessment of the deficiencies of the o-line, IMO.

For the Browns, I would have thought that their biggest weakness was sterilization of the training room. :lol: :lol:


06-10-2009, 08:53 PM
Pretty accurate assessment of the deficiencies of the o-line, IMO.

For the Browns, I would have thought that their biggest weakness was sterilization of the training room. :lol: :lol:


Yeah. Legacy would have been too harsh.

06-10-2009, 09:26 PM
Insert Rashard Mendenhall and Frank Summers and I doubt we have trouble on the goal line.

06-10-2009, 11:14 PM
Insert Rashard Mendenhall and Frank Summers and I doubt we have trouble on the goal line.

If the line gets pushed back and collapsed as happened on the GL regularly last year, it doesn't matter much who runs the ball, they won't get in.

06-11-2009, 05:50 AM
Insert Rashard Mendenhall and Frank Summers and I doubt we have trouble on the goal line.

If the line gets pushed back and collapsed as happened on the GL regularly last year, it doesn't matter much who runs the ball, they won't get in.

I think the Oline will have to get a better push, sustain blocks, and win one on one battles. The TE's will have to do better job blocking down there. If the Oline and TE's do their jobs, the RB's won't have to many problems scoring down on the goal line.