All the hoopla and hype in the AFC West is currently on the Denver Broncos. No one is even talking about the Chargers, Chiefs, or Raiders that much. Still, as a Chargers' fan, I say who cares? Thinking long and hard about how I view my team, I figured I would do something fun and write about what issues the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos have going into the 2012 season.
I never thought about doing an article like this but the more I thought about it, the more fun I would thought I would have putting out my view on the AFC West opponents, while playing devil's advocate.
Richard Seymour looking to be the only proven commodity in the Silver and Black this upcoming season on defense against the pass or run.
Reggie McKenzie had a tall task when he hired as GM of the Oakland Raiders. He had to get rid of a lot of overpaid players, restructure many key player contracts, draft capable contributors, and hire a coaching staff to hopefully compete in the upcoming 2012 season. Here are some concerns for the Raider faithful to ponder:
1. Despite having success offensively last season, one has to wonder how will they continue their offensive success under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. The Raiders offense last season ran the Vertical Offense under Al Saunders which by definition is steeped in the philosophy that consist of deep passing routes, forcing defenses to play soft, and when they do, hit them with a power rushing attack.
Knapp is bringing in a different offensive philosophy and scheme. Knapp is bringing in the West Coast Offense and the zone blocking scheme for the rushing attack. So again I ask, will the Raiders take a step back offensively when the personnel fits the Vertical Offense?
2. The Raiders pass defense was pretty bad last season. This offseason, the Raiders lost Kamerion Wimbley, John Henderson, Lito Sheppard, and Stanford Routt amongst most notable names. Additions to the defense included Shawntae Spencer, Philip Wheeler, and Dave Tollefson.
The question remains as to how the Raiders' pass rush will do. From what I understand, the Raiders will employ a 4-3 defense, similar to what the Denver Broncos ran last season as the current head coach, Dennis Allen, was the defensive coordinator for the Broncos last season.
In my honest opinion, I do not see anyone in the pass-rushing side of the game resemble anything close to Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller. Nor do I see anyone in the defensive backs anywhere near Champ Bailey. So one has to ask, if the Broncos did so-so last season in pass defense, in which they will improve this year but besides the point, one has to ask how well will this defense do?
3. The Raiders run defense has not been addressed. Can I blame them for it? Not really as the Raiders did not have the cap space, nor the draft picks to address this issue, along with the pass defense, efficiently. Still, the Raiders have Richard Seymour, who can take on a double team. Problem is, there is only Seymour that is a proven run stuffer. Everyone else are just question marks.
4. Usually when a new head coach is within the division, they have the element of surprise as most teams cannot prepare for an opposing team without tape on the way those teams are ran.
That is not the case here with Dennis Allen. Allen was the defensive coordinator of the Broncos last season. It would have been different if Allen came from another division but the Broncos, Chargers, and Chiefs already know what to expect from his approach to the game. Allen won't have the element of surprise as the new head coach this upcoming season.
In conclusion, the Raiders have a lot of fundamental issues. Many of it is scheme oriented issues. A lot of it is also questionable personnel additions. Without a doubt the Raiders are a wild team that is hot and cold throughout any season but with no continuity from last season in terms of philosophy, personnel, and scheme, I have a tough time seeing the Raiders compete effectively.
Peyton Manning looking to get another ring to add to his already HOF career.
Let's be honest here, the Denver Broncos are the toast of the town. They have been the toast of the town since highly-recruited free agent, and future HOFer, Peyton Manning signed with the team.
Fast-forward to the present, Manning made a mistake, in my opinion, regarding coming into the AFC West. Besides the point, the Broncos do not resemble anything of the team that took the AFC West crown last season. Here are my takes on things they did wrong and concerns they should have moving forward.
1. Peyton Manning, as a QB, is 1-5 against Norv Turner as Chargers' head coach. Manning is also 1-6 against Philip Rivers, QB of the San Diego Chargers. Playing against Romeo Crennel's defense when Crennel is either a HC or DC, Manning is 3-6 against Crennel's defense.
The reason why I'm bringing this up is the fact that both coaches that Manning struggles against are HC's in the AFC West. The AFC West is not going to be a walk in the park like these NFL analyst make it out to be.
2. With the addition of Peyton Manning and the loss of Tim Tebow, one has to ask, where will the running game be? Sure Manning can put up points. The question is whether or not they can close out games with a lead. Having a running game will be an important part of winning games.
With the loss of Tim Tebow and the run base spread-option offense that they employed last season, the Broncos are bringing back the same players that put out a 22nd ranked rushing attack performance last season when the team was 1-4. The Broncos did not do anything to add to the rushing attack and I believe they will be average at best or possibly in the 20s in terms of rankings for the running game.
3. Everyone is expecting big things from Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. My only issue is, no one can know for sure how well they will perform as none of them have done anything significant in terms of a conventional offense in the NFL.
Demaryius Thomas had a good season last year. The problem I have is that he faced single coverage all season with nearly every defense keying in on the run game with Tim Tebow at the helm. We all know Thomas can beat single coverage but that will not be the case, even with Manning at QB, as most defenses will now cater towards defending the pass putting more than one person on him.
The question is, can he be that guy that Manning can rely on to beat double coverage, much like what Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison was to Manning in Indy?
4. The Broncos are returning a very promising group of defenders next season. My only issue is, the Broncos' pass defense will continue to improve, but their run defense is still a liability. Despite drafting a DT in the second round of the draft, Derek Wolfe is still not a strong run defender as he is a promising pass rushing interior defensive lineman.
The X-factor is the defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, who had a great run defense as a HC for the Jaguars and as a DC for the Panthers in 2002. The problem is, the Broncos front seven does not look anything like the front seven that Del Rio had in any of his previous teams.
The Broncos front seven are undersized against the run and it hurt them last season. It will be interesting to see whether or not Del Rio can scheme his way to stopping the run because as of right now, he will not be able to stop anything other than hope for turnovers.
You have to remember that for the Broncos' run defense, they will be facing a healthy dose of some of the top young RBs in the league with Ryan Mathews, Jamaal Charles/Peyton Hillis, and Darren McFadden.
In conclusion, the Broncos look nothing more than the Indianapolis Colts of the AFC West. It is not really a bad thing. Problem for them is what I mentioned above in my first point, Manning historically struggles against Norv Turner as the HC of the Chargers and Romeo Crennel's defense.
The only way I see the Broncos winning the division is if the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders all go 8-8 with the Broncos going 11-5, losing games against the division opponents. Seeing how strong each team got, I believe an 8-8 season is not going to happen to the Chargers or the Chiefs as of right now.
Jamaal Charles is back after a season-ending injury last year. Will he be able to contribute to a team oriented to run the ball?
Of all the teams in the AFC West, only the Chiefs, other than the Chargers, have the personnel that not only fits their philosophy, but also their scheme. Matt Cassel is not a great QB that can pass the ball against a defense expecting the pass.
The thing is, Cassel is a proven QB when passing against a eight-man front which was the case in 2010, when Cassel lit up defenses while having a top-notch rushing attack. The defense looking to be even better with the addition of many players. Here is a look at some of the minor concerns I have with the Chiefs.
1. The Chiefs did address the horrible run defense that they had last season in the drafting of NT Dontari Poe from Memphis. The good here is that the Chiefs looked at finally addressing the foundation of the 3-4 defense, and that's the nose tackle. The problem I see here is that he is very raw.
Poe did not dominate the C-USA that well in college but he has tremendous upside. Even I as a Chargers' fan can see that. Still, until he is a proven run stuffing threat that can demand double or even triple team by opposing blockers, I do not see him improving the run defense. The X-factor is Eric Berry, who was out last season due to injuries, who is a great run stuffer from the safety position.
2. Lets get something straight real quick. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is not Charlie Weis. The reason why I say that is simple, the Chiefs are trying to follow the plan they succeeded with back in 2010 and that is running the football. With the addition of Peyton Hillis and Eric Winston, we all know what the Chiefs are going to do offensively, especially with Jamaal Charles coming back from a season-ending injury.
Daboll's career thus far as a OC is very up and down. He was the OC for the Browns back in 2009 and 2010. Last season, he was the OC for the Dolphins. One can say that he was an OC for teams that lacked talent. True. But I can say, until he proves otherwise, Daboll is still a huge question mark.
3. Injuries are injuries regardless of what it is. The thing is, coming back from injuries such as torn ACL's is different for football players. Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry, and Jamaal Charles are all young promising stars who are starters. Starters who came back from torn ACL's from last season.
Coming back at full strength from a torn ACL may be a bit different for a TE like Moeaki but for Berry and Charles, it is different. Both Berry and Charles rely a lot on their ability to make cuts and sudden movements with their legs in terms of changing directions in a dime.
Injuries to these players, which is at a high concerning the type of injury they are coming from, can be devastating to the team as we all saw last season. Question now is can they last the whole season playing at a high level?
4. The Chiefs, like I said earlier, have a complete team in terms of philosophy and scheme that they are trying to put out on the field. The thing is, the weakness to their game is when they play against a team that can put out a lead on them, forcing their QB, Matt Cassel, to win the game for them. Many of the games that the Chiefs loss in 2010 was because Cassel could not make a comeback against teams expecting the pass after a lead.
In conclusion, I believe the Chiefs will do just fine holding their own. If they lose games, it will be close as majority of their games will be shorten due to their offense being stack to run the ball. They will bring back a very greedy and stout defense under the guidance of Romeo Crennel.
Philip Rivers will have one hell of a season with more weapons to use at his disposal more so than any season he's been in as a Chargers QB.
None of the teams, in my bias unbiased opinion, had done more to be balance and complete in terms of philosophy and scheme than the Chargers this season in the AFC West. The Chargers fixed and addressed every issue they had from last season. Here are the things that they fixed from last season:
1. The Chargers loss Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert. A.J. Smith then brought in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal off of the free agency market. As for Tolbert, the Chargers brought in a run blocking, but versatile, FB in Le'Ron McClain. The Chargers are planning on Ryan Mathews being the exclusive back that he is.
2. The Chargers were 32nd in the league on third-down defense with a 49 percent unsuccessful rate at stopping opposing offenses. A.J. Smith fixed this by firing Greg Manusky who was too passive as a defensive coordinator in his play-calling. The Chargers hired long time LB coach John Pagano. Pagano has been with the Chargers defense long enough to know what works for the current roster and what does not.
3. The Chargers offensive line needs work. That's a horrible perception as the returning offensive line is the same line that helped the Chargers to a 4-1 finish. Helping the passing game average 282.6 yards per game while putting out a total 11 TDs and only three INTs over that span by Philip Rivers.
This was due largely to only giving up two sacks in five games. The rushing attack by the returning offensive line this year put out 130.6 yards per game helping Ryan Mathews lead every game he was in in the rushing column.
4. The Chargers run defense was horrible last season. A.J. Smith addressed this with the resigning of Antonio Garay, Luis Castillo, along with the addition of Jarret Johnson and Atari Bigby through the free agency.
5. The Chargers pass defense was average and are thin at CBs. The biggest help to the defensive backs of the defense is a dominant pass rush. The Chargers got just that in the form of rookies Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes.
The Chargers problems have all been addressed in some form or another. That cannot be said about the Raiders or the Broncos. Not to mention, the Chiefs are complete in terms of philosophy and scheme but their not balanced as the Chargers are, who can attack teams different ways.
The AFC West is the Chargers division to lose and to dominate.
Okay, maybe I did not play devil's advocate with the Chargers, but so what, it is hard to do so. The only question with the Chargers is how John Pagano will run the defense. One thing is absolutely evident, Pagano cannot do no worse than Greg Manusky.
The AFC West is drastically different than last season. That's for sure. Still, the Raiders and Broncos still have a long way to go, Peyton Manning or not. The Chiefs are not balanced on offense but they are not on purpose. The Chargers on the other hand, is hard to argue against, are very balance on both ends of the stick.
I hope you enjoyed the slides in this article as it was fun putting my thoughts on the opposing AFC West teams. If any of the teams in the AFC West besides the Chargers struggle, it would have everything to do with the points I have made earlier about these teams.