Every NFL Team's Biggest Flaw Heading into Training Camps
The advent of the salary cap in the National Football League ended the days where "super teams" consistently vied for a Super Bowl Championship. With this came more parity and more holes for each team in the league.
Last season the New York Giants brought home the Lombardi Trophy despite finishing the season with a 9-7 record. It took an overtime victory over a San Francisco 49ers team led by an enigmatic Alex Smith and a rookie head coach in Jim Harbaugh to get them to that point.
Obviously these two teams had dramatic flaws on their rosters.
The same could be said for the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, two teams that were among the best in the league last season. They finished as the two worst statistical defenses in the league.
This isn't going to change in 2012. The best teams will have some major flaws on their rosters while other teams will have many more. It is just the nature of the game.
Gone are the days of the 1994 San Francisco 49ers and 1995 Dallas Cowboys.
This article is going to focus on each team's major flaw heading into training camp later this summer.
Denver Broncos: Defensive Tackle
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The Denver Broncos finished towards the the bottom third in the NFL last season against the run. They made it a big priority to upgrade the defensive line this offseason in order to improve in that area.
I am not too sure they did.
Derek Wolfe was a perceived reach in the second round of April's draft, but he was pretty stout against the run at Cincinnati in college. Denver also went out and signed Justin Bannan in free agency from the St. Louis Rams.
If both surprise heading into the 2012 season, the Broncos should be fine against the run. That being said, it is hard to count on a marginal veteran and a rookie to dramatically improve a run defense that struggled a great deal last season.
If the Broncos are high on Wolfe, which is is pretty obvious they are, then he should get the reps during training camp opposite Kevin Vickerson at defensive tackle. At they very least, he should be an upgrade over what Denver had last season.
San Diego Chargers: Coaching
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This might sound like a broken record, but it is hard to imagine the San Diego Chargers taking the next step with Norv Turner at the helm.
He has led an under-performing team to mediocrity over the course of the last five seasons and has won a total of three playoff games during that span.
San Diego has regressed in each of the last two seasons, finishing 9-7 in 2011 and .500 last season.
The Chargers' ownership group committed to one more season for both Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. Anything short of an extended playoff run probably won't save their jobs.
The fix could have happened during the offseason if San Diego had turned the page and started anew. Now they have made their bed and must sleep in it.
Oakland Raiders: Defense
It was hard for me to pinpoint one area on the Oakland Raiders defense that should be on this list, so I went with the entire unit.
To say that they are going to struggle would be an understatement.
Oakland was downright dreadful in nearly every defensive category last season as evidenced by the following statistics.
Due to a really bad cap situation created by the previous regime, new general manager Reggie McKenzie was handcuffed in terms of adding talent to this unit. Instead, Oakland had to part ways with two of their better defensive players in the form of Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley.
In short, it doesn't promise to get much better this season.
Play the youngsters and take your hits on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders aren't going to contend for a division championship in 2012, so it makes little sense to play marginal veterans.
Instead, Oakland should focus on the future and give their young core an opportunity to gain experience and seasoning. Doesn't sound too great, but it is something they must do sooner rather than later.
Kansas City Chiefs: Quarterback
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The Kansas City Chiefs have done a terrific job building talent on both sides of the ball via the draft and with opportunistic free agent signings.
For all intents and purposes, this is a playoff caliber team up and down the roster. Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe present tremendous match-up issues for opposing defenses in both aspects of the game. Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are all Pro Bowl performers on the defensive side of the ball.
The major question here is the quarterback position.
Matt Cassel had a breakout 2010 campaign for Kansas City, throwing 27 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions and compiling a 93.0 quarterback rating.
That being said, he struggled with injury and consistency last season. Cassel threw just 10 touchdowns in nine starts and compiled less than 200 passing yards in over half of his starts.
Cassel needs to take the next step in 2012 if the Chiefs are going to win the AFC West and return to the postseason after a year hiatus.
Open up the offense. Kansas City has the skill-position players needed in order to succeed. Additionally, they seem to have the best offensive line this franchise has boasted in a great while. This will enable Cassel more time to throw to better targets on the outside.
They just cannot afford to run a conservative offense, much like the one we have seen over the course of the last couple seasons.
Baltimore Ravens: Outside Linebacker
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The success of defenses that run 3-4 schemes is all predicated on the ability of their outside linebackers to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Terrell Suggs has been one of the best at doing this over the course of his career with the Baltimore Ravens. He has accumulated a total of 25 sacks during the last two seasons and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2011.
So, it doesn't come as a big surprise that Suggs most likely missing the entire 2012 season due to a torn Achilles suffered earlier this offseason is going to hurt the Ravens a great deal.
They now have Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle vying for two starting outside linebacker positions. These three have combined for 6.5 career NFL sacks.
In order for the Ravens to continue their success on the defensive side of the ball, one of these unproven players is going to have to step up and become a consistent pass-rush threat. If not, you can expect their defense to regress in 2012.
Courtney Upshaw was considered a top-15 prospect by many experts leading up to the draft. He fell due to a combination of different reasons, including issues with playing in space.
That being said, the Alabama product possesses natural pass-rush ability and can be an immediate threat off the edge. No one on the Ravens roster or currently available in free agency is going to be able to replace the production we have seen from Suggs. It is going to have to be more of a committee type thing. However, Upshaw acquiring double-digit sacks would come in handy.
Can he do it? That is the major question here.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pass Protection
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Okay, the inserted picture probably isn't going to make me many fans in Pittsburgh. After all, this was a consistent theme throughout the 2011 season for Ben Roethlisberger.
If the Steelers are going to have any chance to win the AFC North and make it back to the playoffs, they are going to have to do a better job protecting "Big Ben." It really is that simple.
Your star quarterback cannot continue to be thrown to the ground by massive defensive ends and linebackers if you expect him to stay healthy throughout an entire season. I fully understand that Roethlisberger is as tough as they come on the field, but he still cannot consistently take that type of beating.
Pittsburgh did a tremendous job addressing this area with their first two selections in the 2012 NFL draft. David DeCastro was an absolute steal in the first round and will immediately come in to be a Pro Bowl performer at the guard position.
Second-round pick Mike Adams has all the physical ability to be a strong pass-protecting offensive tackle in the NFL. However, there are some issues in regards to his technique right now and there is going to be a fairly large learning curve coming out of college.
That being said, Pittsburgh is in a much better situation right now then they were prior to the 2012 draft. They need both DeCastro and Adams to be immediate impact rookies if "Big Ben" is to stay healthy all season.
It really is that simple.
Cincinnati Bengals: Running Back
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BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't the type of running back that many Cincinnati Bengals fans were hoping they would acquire during the offseason.
He averaged just 3.7 yards per rush in 2011 for the New England Patriots and is nowhere near a full-time running back in the NFL. The veteran also sputtered a great deal down the stretch, gaining a total of 82 yards on 31 rushes during the final five games of the season.
Bernard Scott, who was the primary back-up to Cedric Benson last season in Cincinnati, was less than stellar when he saw the field. The 2009 sixth-round pick averaged less than 3.5 yards per attempt on 112 rushes in 2011.
Andy Dalton and Co. need a consistent running game in order to find some resemblance of balance on the offensive side of the ball. The young quarterback isn't at the stage in his career where he can shoulder the load and throw for 4,500 yards and over 30 touchdowns. That just isn't in the cards right now.
Expect the Bengals to employ a running back by committee this season. They will be relying on both Green-Ellis and Scott, among others, to shoulder the load. Late-round pick Dan Herron should also get some action during training camp to see what he has to offer.
Whatever the rotation is, Cincinnati must find consistency on the ground of they are going to take the next step towards elite status in the AFC.
Cleveland Browns: Wide Receiver
It really doesn't matter who the Cleveland Browns have as their starting quarterback if the receivers aren't going to step up to help him out.
This group combined for 162 receptions in 2011, which was just 40 more than Wes Welker put up by himself with the New England Patriots. Cleveland didn't do much to address this position during the offseason, either.
Travis Benjamin has to be considered a reach in the fourth round and still has a whole lot to learn before he makes an impact in the NFL. He was the only receiver Cleveland selected in April's draft, which is astonishing at this point.
I do like 2011 second-round pick Greg Little a lot. He led the Browns with 61 receptions as a rookie last season and will be a major target for Brandon Weeden this year.
That being said, Cleveland just doesn't have the weapons necessary to succeed on the outside.
Another receiver outside of Little is going to have to step up in 2012, but it doesn't look too promising at this point. Mohamed Massaquoi had the worst season of his three-year NFL career in 2011, catching a total of 31 passes. He is a candidate to come through this year, but the same was bandied about heading into last season.
Either Massaquoi or Joshua Cribbs is going to have to step up in order for the Browns to improve on their 24th ranked pass offense from last season.
Houston Texans: Right Side of the Offensive Line
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One of the downfalls of salary cap issues is the possibility of losing important under-the-radar players. This is the situation that the Houston Texans were in this earlier this offseason.
They had to cut ties with Eric Winston, who was a mainstay on the right side of the line as a solid run-blocking and pass-protecting offensive tackle.
Houston also lost Mike Brisiel to the Oakland Raiders in free agency. While many have not heard of the veteran guard, he was a stud in their zone-blocking scheme.
Now the Texans have to rely on two unproven players, Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler, to man the right side of the line. The two have combined for 17 career NFL starts.
The success of Houston's run game was in large part due to both Brisiel and Winston. They are going to need someone to step up in order to continue that dominating run game. Their chances at a conference championship depends on it.
I will not pretend to be an expert in regards to Caldwell and Butler. In fact, I really don't know much about either. What I will say is that they have just 17 starts in nine career seasons, which speaks volumes in regards to their ability to be counted on throughout the duration of a season.
Houston did select Brandon Brooks in the third round of April's draft. I am extremely high on the former Miami (OH) standout and believe he could start at right guard out of the gate. This could lesson the blow of the losses to the two aforementioned veterans.
Tennessee Titans: Secondary
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Cortland Finnegan acted as a shutdown corner for the Tennessee Titans over the course of his six seasons with the team. That loss is going to be huge for their defense.
This doesn't mean that Tennessee is without hope at the cornerback position.
They are going to be relying on Alterraun Verner to take the next step after two solid seasons to start his NFL career. If the former UCLA standout does take that step, Tennessee will be in a good place.
2009 sixth-round pick Jason McCourty had the best season of his career in 2011. The veteran cornerback accumulated 13 passes defended and started 15 games.
That being said, the loss of Finnegan does leave a lot to be desired in regards to this position for Tennessee moving into the season. The major issue here is going to be lining up against slot receivers between the hashes. Tennessee doesn't have anyone on the roster that figures to be able to do this in 2012.
Short of acquiring a veteran presence later in the offseason, I believe this position is going to be a major issue for the Titans in 2012. They are going to be going up against the likes of the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in 2012. This area needs to be fixed if their going to have any chance in those games.
Someone from the group of Tommie Campbell, Chris Hawkins and Ryan Mouton is going to have to step up in order for the Titans to make the postseason in 2012.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback
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When you bring in Chad Henne to challenge for the starting quarterback position it goes without saying that you are not pleased with your current quarterback situation.
This is what the Jacksonville Jaguars did following a horrible rookie season from Blaine Gabbert. The 2011 first-round pick was downright dreadful for the majority of this rookie season. He failed to surpass 200 passing yards in all but three of his 14 starts and accumulated an overall quarterback rating of 65.4.
That just isn't going to get it done.
Henne wasn't much better in 31 career starts for the Miami Dolphins, throwing six more interceptions than touchdowns and posting a quarterback rating just over 75 during that span.
Things are going to have to change if Jacksonville wants to avoid the cellar in the AFC South this upcoming season.
Jacksonville did everything in their power to help this tandem at quarterback by upgrading the wide receiver position a great deal. The additions of Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans through free agency should help.
They also traded up for Justin Blackmon in April's draft, who many had as the No. 1 receiver on the board. However, a serious DUI charge may put into question his ability to make an impact as a rookie.
If a couple of these receivers step up this season it is only going to help Jacksonville. That being said, they must stick with Blaine Gabbert. After all, you don't spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback and bench him after one season.
Indianapolis Colts: Offensive Line
Rebuilding a team that went 2-14 the previous year in one offseason just doesn't happen. The Indianapolis Colts did secure their quarterback of the future in Andrew Luck and provided him with a solid tight end weapon in the form of Coby Fleener.
The rebuilding process is going to be relatively lengthy. After all, Indianapolis did lose their future Hall of Fame quarterback. That being said, they do have some nice pieces in place.
One of the major areas of concern for this team is going to be along the offensive line. They are going to be going into the season with a mix of marginal veterans and unproven youngsters on this unit.
Winston Justice (pictured) is going to have to pick up his game after a subpar career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Additionally, the likes of Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana are going to have to grow from their rookie seasons.
The success of Luck depends on it.
You can fully expect the Colts to employ quick passes in their offensive scheme this season.They will not, and cannot, put Luck in a situation where he is going to get hit on a consistent basis. The offensive line as it is currently formed will not be able to hold up for a great deal of time.
While the aforementioned may be a short-term fix, we all know that it is just a stopgap. Indianapolis is going to have to hit the 2013 NFL draft extremely hard to find a franchise tackle to protect Luck.
New England Patriots: Secondary
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Let's get one thing straight. The New England Patriots are not going to contend for a Super Bowl if their secondary plays as bad as it did last season.
They just cannot rely on Tom Brady to throw for 5,000 yards each and every season. While he may still do it, this isn't a recipe for consistent success moving forward.
New England ranked 31st in pass defense last season, giving up nearly 300 yards per game. While this isn't a huge indicator that they employed a horrible secondary, it does go a long way in understanding why they struggled so much against the pass.
The Patriots also intercepted 23 passes on defense, 16 of which came from the secondary. That being said, opposing quarterbacks did accumulate a quarterback rating in the 85.0 range.
They didn't do much to address the secondary in the offseason either, which should be cause for alarm.
A consistent pass-rush is a direct correlation to strong secondary play. If a defense is able to get to the quarterback in a relatively timely manner it does limit the ability to the quarterback to find an open receiver. This is something that some of the best defenses in the NFL are good at.
New England drafted Chandler Jones in the first round. They are also going to be employing more of a hybrid defensive scheme, something we saw a great deal in 2011. If the Patriots are able to get a consistent pass-rush their pass defense is going to be that much better.
Another factor as it relates to improved secondary play is staying healthy. Ras-I Dowling missed all but two games of his rookie season. He is a talented cover guy that should make an impact in 2012, if healthy.
New York Jets: Quarterback
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As much as I am a fan of Tebow as a person, he just doesn't have what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. It speaks volumes to the lack of confidence the Jets have in Sanchez that they acquired Tebow.
Numbers do more than back me up on this.
Tebow completed less than 50 percent of his passes, averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and accumulated a 72.9 quarterback rating in 2011. These numbers make Sanchez look like Joe Montana.
The former top-10 pick did improve in every major statistical category from his first two seasons, but those improvements are nowhere near what we expected. Sanchez threw 18 interceptions and possessed a quarterback rating under 80.
He needs to improve in order for the Jets to contend for a playoff spot, and to be brutally honest, I just don't see that happening.
Quarterback by committee. Yes, I am going to go there. Tebow does bring a lot to the table in terms of running the ball and utilizing the two-minute drill. New York would be well served to use the physically gifted quarterback in these situations.
It isn't as clear cut in regards to Sanchez. In reality it is all on the young quarterback to take that next step. There is only so much coaches can do to help him out. At some point he needs to perform on the field consistently.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
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Don't expect the Buffalo Bills' defense to be their downfall in 2012. This is a unit that is going to be vastly improved with the additions of Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore during the offseason.
That being said, they do have a major issue on the offensive side of the ball. His name is Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran quarterback came out of the gate like gangbusters last season before dropping off the map towards the last half of the year.
He needs to be much more consistent if the Bills are going to vie for a wild card spot this season.
A direct correlation to Fitzpatrick's late season struggles is the fact that Fred Jackson was injured. This is an offense that needs balance, something they didn't have towards the end of the season.
With a healthy Jackson in the fold, you can expect Fitzpatrick to improve on those numbers and avoid the mistakes that plagued him late in the season.
Either way, a Vince Young sighting on the field for Buffalo will spell doom to their playoff chances. It is all on Fitzpatrick.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
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Don't expect Ryan Tannehill to see the field too much as a rookie in 2012. He doesn't have the technique and experience necessary to be a good quarterback at this point in his career.
Instead, the Dolphins are going to run with Matt Moore, who was decent in 12 starts last season. The veteran quarterback completed over 60 percent of his passes and threw seven more touchdowns than interceptions.
That being said, he is going to have to improve on those statistics if the Dolphins are going to have an outside shot at making the postseason.
This is not a team that is completely void of talent. They have the makings of a solid backfield trio in the form of Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller.
Additionally, Miami does have some nice pieces on the defensive side of the ball in the form of Jared Odrick, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis.
Continued progression from Moore would go a long way in improving on a six win 2011 season.
Just let Moore be a game manager that limits turnovers. If he is able to improve his yardage total from 2011 and continue to make plays the Dolphins could surprise a lot of people.
The absolute worst thing that this team could do would be to throw Tannehill to the wolves. They have to think long-term in regards to the rookie quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers: Right Guard
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The San Francisco 49ers have very few holes on their roster. In fact, a lot of players that don't make the cut during training camp will be picked up by other teams. That happens when you are coming off a 13 win season and had a great offseason.
That being said, their one major hole is enormous at this point. San Francisco appears to be set at four positions along the offensive line, but are going to run an open competition for the right guard spot.
This is an extremely important position considering the 49ers tendency to be a run first offense. They are going to need to open up consistent holes between the hashes if this unit is going to improve.
Right now it appears that Alex Boone, Joe Looney and Daniel Kilgore are vying for the starting spot. None of them have experience starting in the NFL and all of them have severe questions at this point.
We have to understand one thing. Neither Chilo Rachal or Adam Snyder set this position on fire over the course of the last few seasons. So, upgrading here really shouldn't be that hard.
All three of the players I listed above have talent and bring a certain nastiness to the table. I would hedge my bets on Boone winning the job. He has the ability to be a starting tackle in the league right now, which naturally suggests he shouldn't have much of an issue moving inside.
Arizona Cardinals: Offensive Tackle
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The Arizona Cardinals gave up a stunning 54 sacks last season. This really hurt their passing game and caused Kevin Kolb to miss multiple games due to injury.
The addition of Adam Snyder will be huge in regards to depth, but he isn't a long-term answer at either tackle or guard. Other than that, Arizona didn't do much to upgrade the offensive line in free agency.
At this point it seems that Arizona has three question marks along their offensive line, maybe more depending on how Levi Brown performs.
In order for the Cardinals to even come close to contending in the division they need to protect the quarterback much better.
Bobbie Massie has been drawing rave reviews for Arizona during the offseason and could be the starting right tackle out of the gate. While he might struggle early against speed-rushers, Massie has all the talent to be a dominating offensive tackle moving forward.
Additionally, Arizona got incredible steals in the form of Senio Kelemete in the fifth round and Nate Potter in the seventh round.
Considering that Arizona's veteran offensive linemen leave a lot to be desired, they might be well served to go with the youth movement in 2012. After all, that is where the real talent is.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
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This appears to be a consistent theme as it relates to the NFC West. Quarterbacks are going to struggle if the offensive line cannot protect them. Besides being Mr. Obvious here, let me point out exactly where the Seattle Seahawks struggled last season.
Their quarterbacks were sacked a total of 50 times, this despite the fact that Tarvaris Jackson does have above-average athleticism in the backfield.
This just cannot happen in the NFL today.
James Carpenter struggled a great deal early in his rookie season, but seemed to be playing much better as the year progressed.
Russell Okung has everything you look for in a starting left tackle. That being said, he has consistently struggled with injuries and has missed 10 games in his first two seasons. Seattle has major issues at the other three offensive line positions.
They "added" Frank Omiyale and Deuce Lutui in free agency. Don't expect either to make much of an impact as they were among the worst at their positions over the course of the last couple seasons.
Matt Flynn needs to see better protection than what Jackson saw last season if he is going to be successful in his first season in the Pacific Northwest.
It really is simple. Russell Okung needs to play all 16 games, Carpenter needs to continue his progression and one other offensive lineman must step up if the Seahawks are going to contend for a division crown.
If that happens, you can expect Flynn to have a good season and Seattle's solid group of skill position players to step up big time.
St. Louis Rams: Wide Receivers
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The 2011 season was not friendly to Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams passing game. They finished 30th in the NFL in passing offense and threw a total of nine touchdowns all season.
Some of the blame can be placed on Bradford, who regressed a great deal from his rookie season. Some of the blame can be thrown in recently departed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels direction as well, who ran a watered down offensive scheme.
That being said, the Rams receiving corp was horribly inconsistent last season. Their leading receiver from that position was Brandon Lloyd, who only played in 11 games and signed with the New England Patriots this offseason. After that it was slim pickings.
The Rams receivers need to step up big time in 2012 if they are going to avoid the cellar in a much improved NFC West.
One of my favorite players in the entire 2012 NFL draft was Brian Quick, who the Rams selected with the initial pick of the second round. He has all the possible ability that you look for in a true No. 1 receiver and should be an immediate impact rookie.
St. Louis also drafted Chris Givens. The Wake Forest prospect promises to stretch the field a great deal in 2012, something the Rams didn't have last season.
Green Bay Packers: Running Back
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What I wrote about Tom Brady earlier rings true for Aaron Rodgers here too. The Green Bay Packers just cannot depend on the quarterback to repeat his amazing 2011 performance. Those types of seasons come along once in a blue moon.
On that note, Green Bay is going to have to possess a more balanced offensive attack this season. It appears that Ryan Grant will not be returning, which places the onus on a couple unproven backs.
James Starks was their leading rusher in 2011, accumulating less than 600 yards on the ground. It remains to be seen if he can be a full-time running back in the NFL, but the Packers will give him every chance during training camp to earn that role.
This could be a relatively easy fix if everything turns out the way Green Bay hopes. Like I noted above, Starks will be given every opportunity to earn the starting job. If he performs up to level this whole slide will prove to be moot.
Green Bay also has an under-the-radar performer in Brandon Saine, who I really like. The former Ohio State running back had less than 20 rush attempts last season, but figures to play a much more prominent role this year.
If the Packers can get a consistent running game from this duo then they are going to be incredibly hard to beat in the NFC. If not, it is back to hoping Rodgers surpasses 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns once again.
Detroit Lions: Running Back
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This was one glaring weakness for the Detroit Lions well-oiled offensive attack last season. It was more about their running backs not being able to stay healthy.
It started with a season-ending injury to rookie second-round pick Mikel Leshoure in training camp and continued with concussion issues for Jahvid Best, who missed the final 10 games of the season.
At one point Detroit had to go to the scrapheap and sign Kevin Smith. The veteran running back performed extremely well all things considered. He gained nearly 400 rushing yards in seven games, while averaging about five yards per attempt.
It is important to note that Matthew Stafford, despite having an amazing season, did attempt 663 passes, fourth most in NFL history. This just isn't sustainable if the Lions are going to become an elite team in the NFC this season.
In short, they need more balance.
It doesn't get more straight forward than this. The Lions need to stay healthy at running back. If both Leshoure and Best play the entire season their running game will be a strength, not a weakness.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Line
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Sorry for the unflattering picture, Mr. Cutler.
This was a consistent visual for Chicago Bears fans last season and it ended up costing Jay Cutler the final six games of the season. It also probably cost Chicago a shot at the postseason.
They need to do a better job protecting their franchise quarterback.
This is a team that went out and acquired tremendous skill position threats in the offseason. Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Alshon Jeffery will make them much more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball.
It wont matter if Jay Cutler is continually harassed. On that note, Chicago didn't do much to improve their offensive line. Well, short of letting Frank Omiyale walk.
Their only free agent addition to this unit was Chilo Rachal, who was nothing more than a joke for the San Francisco 49ers over the course of the last couple seasons.
You cannot get water from a rock. If the Bears offensive lineman don't have talent it is hard to imagine them performing relatively well on the football field.
That being said, 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed all but two games of his rookie season and appears to be back at full health. The Wisconsin product performed well in a pro-style blocking scheme in college and should be an immediate upgrade at right tackle.
Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback
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Christian Ponder did make dramatic strides as his rookie season progressed. It might not show up on the stat sheets, but he was a much better quarterback late in the year.
Now it is up to the young quarterback to take that next step. He must limit his mistakes, make more plays down field and become more confident throwing early in his progressions.
This is the natural growth for a young quarterback. It is also something that the Minnesota Vikings are relying on a great deal heading into the 2012 season.
The Vikings did a great job acquiring weapons for Ponder in the passing game this offseason. Both Jarius Wright and Greg Childs should help out a great deal after being selected in April's draft. Additionally, Jerome Simpson might be one of the most under-the-radar signings of the offseason.
That being said, the onus is on Ponder to take that next step. All indications are that he is ready to do just that.
New Orleans Saints: Coaching Staff
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Say what you want about Sean Payton, he was one hell of a head coach for the New Orleans Saints over the course of the last few seasons.
His suspension for the entire 2012 season is going to hurt their game plan a great deal.
Payton was a genius when it came to calling offensive plays and worked extremely well with Drew Brees to form one of the best passing attacks in the modern history of the league.
It is now up to Joe Vitt and a combination of different coaches to pickup where Payton left off.
The game plan isn't going to change, but the execution might suffer. It is going to be up to the Saints players to use the continuity factor to their benefit on the football field come Sundays.
This might be tarnished the longer Brees doesn't show up for offseason activities.
Atlanta Falcons: Left Tackle
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Sam Baker just isn't that good. He had major issues protecting Matt Ryan last season and has struggled since the Atlanta Falcons selected him in the first round of the 2008 draft.
Either Baker needs to step up big time or the Falcons need to find a replacement from their 53-man roster in the form of Will Svitek or Garrett Reynolds. It goes without saying that the Falcons aren't too enamored with any of these options.
Despite all this, Ryan was only sacked 26 times last season. This is a testament to his ability to get rid of the ball in relatively quick fashion. That being said, a strong pass protecting presence from the left tackle position will help out the Falcons ability to remain consistent down the field on offense.
Max protect the right side of the line. The Falcons did a good job installing this type of scheme for the most part last season. They could easily employ the same blocking packages more consistently, which would give Ryan more time to find Roddy White and Julio Jones down the field.
Carolina Panthers: Run Defense
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The Carolina Panthers were downright dreadful in this category last season. They gave up more than 100 rushing yards in all but five games and yielded over 200 yards two separate times.
Overall, Carolina ranked 25th against the run in 2011.
There were multiple reasons for this. Jon Beason and Thomas Davis played in a total of three games last season. This forced the Panthers to play inexperienced linebackers, who struggled a great deal between the hashes against the run.
Secondly, the Panthers struggled penetrating the line from the interior of their defensive line. Once again, it was the injury bug that plagued them here.
Carolina just cannot rely on Davis to come back to full health in 2012. He has missed the better part of the last couple seasons with multiple torn ACL's. That being said, Beason appears to be back healthy.
The big difference here is going to be 2012 first-round pick Luke Kuechly. He is a tackling machine that does a great job drawing out runs between the hashes and towards the sidelines. His mere presence on the field is going to help out a great deal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive Line
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Make no bones about it, Gerald McCoy has been an absolute bust for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The former No. 3 overall pick has recorded a total of 37 tackles in two seasons and is just too inconsistent to be relied on.
Fellow 2010 draft pick Brian Price hasn't been too solid against the run either.
Tampa Bay ranked dead last in the National Football League against the run last season, yielding a total of 156 yards per game.
This must change is they are going to turn things around this season.
Tampa Bay did acquire a couple veteran backups at the defensive tackle position in the form of Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson. While they are not going to be starters, the two do represent good value in the form of rotational players.
It is all about keeping this unit fresh throughout the game an implementing certain players in specific situations. Expect Tampa Bay to do this a great deal in 2012.
Who knows? It might just work.
New York Giants: Offensive Line
The New York Giants won the Super Bowl last season after an amazing postseason run. Hidden in that four game playoff stretch if the fact that New York won nine games during the regular season and needed to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the final week of the season to make the postseason.
One of their major downfalls in 2011 was the offensive line. They didn't do a good job opening up holes in the running game and struggled to protect Eli Manning on a consistent basis.
Despite only being sacked 28 times, Manning was under terrible pressure throughout the 2011 season. He did a great job releasing the ball early and avoiding sacks in the backfield.
Don't expect that to be the case this season if the Giants aren't able to hold up along the exterior of their offensive line.
Continue to run the intermediate routes to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, hoping they rack up the YAC (yards after the catch.) Additionally, employ max protection behind Will Beatty at right tackle and David Diehl at left tackle.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker
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The Philadelphia Eagles couldn't tackle anyone if their life depended on it last season. This facet of their defense cost the team multiple games.
The combination of Brian Rolle (pictured), Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney just weren't up to snuff last season.
In order to be a decent defense you need to make the easy tackles between the hashes. Moreover, you must penetrate the line of scrimmage and force the ball carrier to the outside. These are two things that Philadelphia struggled with last season.
While DeMeco Ryans might be regressing a little bit, he was still a relatively strong pickup for the Eagles in a trade with the Houston Texans. Ryans is a sure tackler and can hit the line of scrimmage with the best of them.
The biggest addition Philadelphia made at the linebacker position this offseason was drafting Mychal Kendricks in the second round of April's draft. He can absolutely fly to the ball, does a great job closing off the edges and is a sideline to sideline player.
These two additions will help the Eagles fix their tackling problems. You can count on that.
Dallas Cowboys: Interior Offensive Line
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You had to feel bad for Tony Romo last season. How many times did Phil Costa and Co. snap the ball over his head or bounce the ball to him? It was like a disastrous highlight reel of bloopers.
However simple this job might sound, they struggled a great deal with it.
Moreover, Dallas released Kyle Kosier during the offseason and are planning to go with a couple of unproven interior linemen heading into the 2012 season.
Romo might do a great job avoiding sacks in the backfield, but in order for the Cowboys offense to run fluidly they need to allow him time to pass. In fact, the success of their passing game relies on it.
There are a ton of veteran centers remaining on the free agent market. It might behoove the Cowboys to go out there and sign one of them. Short of that happening, I wouldn't be too confident in their ability to actually open up holes between the hashes, snap the ball cleanly and protect Romo from the interior of the line.
Washington Redskins: Secondary
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Jeez, this is pretty bad. The Washington Redskins top two safeties on their depth chart appear to be Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson, both of whom are extreme liabilities in coverage.
This is going to be a consistent concern for a Redskins defense that appears relatively strong in every other aspect. I just cannot see these two marginal players stepping up and performing like starting caliber safeties in 2012.
I am not sure where to begin here. The Redskins don't really have much in the form of backup options outside of Meriweather and Jackson. Madieu Williams is long past the point of being a productive safety. The Redskins also lack depth and talent beyond that.
The onus is going to be on DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson to do their part on the outside.