2012 NFL Stat Predictions: Offenses That Will Take a Giant Step Forward
The following seven offenses fell on hard times during the 2011 NFL season, but are primed to make significant strides forward in 2012.
There are many positive things about the NFL; one main positive being the competitive balance or parity that is possible.
From one year to the next, a team that played less than stellar football can turn into division champs, and vice versa.
That same potential for balance rings true for offenses around the league. Thanks to the draft, and more notably, free agency, a team's offense can go from lethargic one season, to serviceable, and in some cases even explosive, the next.
The offenses on the following list struggled in 2011 for a variety of reasons. Some were bitten by the injury bug, while others just committed way too many turnovers.
Some of the offenses were just plain bad, but have made some additions in key places that makes their outlook for success in the 2012 season a lot brighter.
Here are some offenses that are sure to take some major steps forward this coming regular NFL season:
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 24th (314.1), Points per game - 17th (22.1)
The Chicago Bears may have to prepare for life without running back Matt Forte if he indeed holds out into training camp and beyond, into the regular season.
The Bears have prepared for that loss by signing former Oakland Raider Michael Bush.
Forte's possible holdout is the only real blemish on an otherwise tremendous offseason for the Bears' offense. They finally realized that they need actual receivers for quarterback Jay Cutler to throw the ball to, not kick returners.
First, the Bears traded for Cutler's old running mate, Brandon Marshall. They then drafted Alshon Jeffery, who should be very productive when paired with Marshall.
Last season, the Bears looked poised to make a playoff run as they started the season with a record of 7-3. Their strong offense was a big part of that potential run.
But they were bitten hard by the injury bug, losing both Cutler and Forte to injuries, and the team finished 8-8.
Cutler and Forte coming back could already spell trouble for other NFC defenses, but the addition of Marshall will keep defensive coordinators up even later at night.
Player to Watch: RB Matt Forte - In order for any of this to happen, Forte has to be on the field and happy come week one, when the Bears face the Indianapolis Colts. Forte accounted for a large percentage of the team's yards last season. While Bush is a good running back to give the ball to in the event that Forte stands pat, he doesn't bring as much to the table as Forte does.
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 4th (399.1) Points per game - 8th (24.1)
Key Weapons: QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin, TE Brent Celek
A glance at the Philadelphia Eagles' statistics would say that this offense should not be on this list. It doesn't appear that they had a hard time playing well last season.
But take another glance at their statistics, especially their turnover ratio, and you will see that they indeed struggled at times during 2011. The Eagles finished second to last in the league in turnover ratio, at -14. The offense also struggled to score touchdowns inside the red zone.
Anyone who watched the Eagles last season saw that the offense did not measure up to their stats. Their inconsistency left a lot of room for improvement in 2012.
I believe that the Eagles will improve for a variety of reasons. The offense will have a full offseason to work on continuity, and on getting everyone on the same page.
Also, the team took care of two key players, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, by signing them to new contracts; making them happy and committed to the Eagles.
Finally, the defense made some improvements to their lineup through free agency and the draft. A better defense means more time for the offense on the field, and less pressure to score touchdowns every time they're out there.
Player to Watch: QB Michael Vick - All of the Eagle's potential success is tied to the success and health of Vick. Vick getting hurt has become an annual event in his career, and it clearly hurt the Eagles in 2011. Even when he did play last season, he was only marginally productive. Vick threw 18 touchdowns, but compounded that with 14 interceptions. If he takes a step forward and not backward, the Eagles offense could be flying high in 2012.
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 14th (351.5) Points per game - 14th (23.2)
Key Weapons: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, RB C.J. Spiller, WR Stevie Johnson
The Buffalo Bills started the 2011 season red hot. The team began the year with a winning record of 5-2, which included victories over the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
As hot as the Bills started, they were equally cold throughout the last nine games of the season. They went 1-8, and finished the season with a disappointing 6 wins and 10 losses.
Either the league wasn't caught off guard by the Bills' play anymore, or quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to produce after he got a new deal - whatever the reason, the Bills completely fell a part during the second half of the season.
The Bills' defense was also part of the problem. Their defense finished 26th in the NFL last season, and gave up an average of 27 points per game. Their failure to perform well put pressure on the offense to score on every possession.
In 2012, the Bills were aggressive during free agency, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They signed pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, both of whom should be a big help to the team's offense.
There weren't many additions made to the Bills' offense, but the team kept key players Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson by offering them new deals that should make them happy.
With a solid core of players in place, the Bills seem poised to take strides in 2012 - not only as an offense, but as a team.
In order for that to happen, though, the offense will have to play a full 16 games.
Player to Watch: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick - Fitzpatrick improved in 2011, but was far too inconsistent at times. Fitzpatrick posted eight multi-interception games in 2011, and lead the league with 23 total interceptions. Keeping the interceptions at a minimum will help the Bills remain consistent and successful.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 21st (319.2), Points per game - 27th (17.9)
Key Weapons: QB Josh Freeman, RB LaGarrette Blount, WR Vincent Jackson, WR Mike Williams, WR Arrelious Benn
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took major steps back last year from a solid campaign in 2010. That was mainly due to the regression of quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman went from throwing 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010, to throwing only 16 touchdowns and a whopping 22 interceptions in 2011.
Freeman's 22 picks led to the Bucs finishing dead last in turnover ratio in the league, at -16.
The Bucs organization went out and tried to put a team around Freeman for 2012, starting with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a free agent acquisition. Jackson will team up with Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn to form a pretty potent receiving corps. Signing tight end Dallas Clark could help as well.
The Bucs also went out and got some protection for Freeman with another free agent acquisition, offensive lineman Carl Nicks, from division rival the New Orleans Saints.
With a new coach at the helm, the no-nonsense Greg Schiano, don't expect the Bucs to make too many mistakes on offense in 2012. Instead, expect them to vastly improve.
Player to Watch: RB LaGarrete Blount - Another Buccaneer that took a step back in 2011 was Blount. He went from more than rushing 1,000 yards in 2010 to a mere 781 in 2011. Blount's regression contributed to the Bucs finishing 30th in both total rushing yards and rushing yards per game. Blount needs to become more productive in order for the Bucs to really succeed in 2012.
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 32nd (259.3), Points per game - 28th (15.2)
Key Weapons: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR Justin Blackmon, WR Laurent Robinson, TE Marcedes Lewis
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is nowhere to go but up.
With NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew the lone bright spot on the team, there wasn't much else to speak of with regard to the Jaguars' offense in 2011.
What contributed to their lack of performance was a poorly mishandled quarterback situation, no offensive weapons outside of Jones-Drew, and the team's finishing 25th in the league in third down conversion percentage.
After last season, the Jaguars went out and hired more offensive-minded coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey is expected to help the progression of the offense, and more specifically, the progression of quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Jags also went out and got wide receivers Laurent Robinson from the Dallas Cowboys and Lee Evans from the Baltimore Ravens, and drafted a third receiver, Justin Blackmon, out of Oklahoma State.
With Gabbert being given a full offseason to work with his new head coach and receivers, expect the Jaguars to move the ball with more efficiency in 2012.
Player to Watch: QB Blaine Gabbert - The fate of not only the offense, but the team as a whole, falls squarely on the shoulders of young Gabbert. Whether it is fair or not, Gabbert has to produce more than 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in order for the Jaguars to have chance at succeeding this coming season.
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 16th (336.7), Points per game - 26th (18.0)
Key Weapons: QB Robert Griffin III, RB Roy Helu, RB Tim Hightower, WR Santana Moss, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, TE Chris Cooley
The Washington Redskins are a prime example of how the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
In 2011, the Redskins fielded quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck. Grossman and Beck threw only a combined 18 touchdowns, and the Redskins won only five games.
The Redskins seemed to have won the offseason once again; signing a number of receivers, as well as Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Will a serviceable quarterback make the difference in production for the Redskins' offense? I believe so.
The Redskins have two solid running backs in Roy Helu and Tim Hightower. All Griffin has to do is be consistent, and the Redskins will instantly improve. The team gave away a lot to land Griffin, so he will be given plenty of chances to make strides throughout the season.
Griffin's ability to run will give an added dimension to the offense that the Redskins have not had in a very long time.
Player to Watch: TE Chris Cooley - Cooley is a very productive player in the NFL, but missed a majority of the season last year due to injury. If he comes back as his normal self, he can be the safety valve that Griffin can look to when he is in trouble, the safety valve that rookie quarterbacks always seem to need. During Cooley's last full season of play, 2010, he caught 77 passes for 849 yards.
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2011 Ranks: Yards per game - 19th (324..5), Points per game - 24th (19.5)
Key Weapons: RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Early Doucet, WR Michael Floyd
The Arizona Cardinals simply have too much talent to not make strides in 2012. They have arguably the best wide receiver in the league, solid running backs, and they recently drafted another possible stud receiver.
The only thing that's missing is a quarterback.
John Skelton and Kevin Kolb will compete for that spot during training camp. Whoever wins out will have a solid team to work with out in Arizona.
Last season, Skelton performed admirably in place of the oft-injured Kolb, and even performed a number of late-game heroics.
But Kolb was brought to Arizona after a blockbuster trade, and was the recipient of a blockbuster contract.
Both are capable of being productive quarterbacks, although Kolb did struggle at times in 2011.
But in a less-than-stellar division, the Cards are definitely primed to take steps right in the right direction in 2012.
Player to Watch: RB Ryan Williams - Williams sat out all of last season because of injury, but is expected to be back to full health for 2012. Williams was a very dynamic running back when he played for Virginia Tech, and should create a very potent backfield alongside LaRod Stephens-Howling and Beanie Wells.