Wednesday, October 05, 2005

LOOKING AT THE NFC NORTH

So... Viking owner Zygi W. came out in support of his teams' coach, Mike Tice. It's no surprise that "The Zyg-ster" refuses to kick Tice to the curb. What IS surprising, however, is just how bad the Minnesota Vikings actually are. Over the off-season, all we heard from the Vikings was "the defense has been addressed, what was a weakness will now be a strength." Uh-uh, nothing could be further from the truth. The Vikes' are susceptible to the run; before the Atlanta Falcons took flight last Sunday, Minnesota was surrendering 145+ ground yards per game. AFTER Vick and company took the Viking D' out to the woodshed... and hung 200+ rushing yards on 'em, the Minny' is allowing 175+ rushing yards per contest. As for the passing defense? The additions of S Darren Sharper and CB Fred Smoot were supposed to bolster an iffy defensive backfield. Well, Sharper's missed the last 2 contests due to injury... and Smoot has tallied a total of 4 Tackles, 4 passes defended, and 1 pick. Co-corner Antoine Winfield remains a force against the run with 20 tackles... but he has yet to defend a pass. Sharper, who notched 12 tackles, defended a pass, and returned an INT 88 yards for a score... in 2 games, is expected back after the Bye. Look for Minny's secondary to improve upon his return. How much it will improve remains to be seen. The real trouble with the Minnesota D lies in its poor Linebacking unit. The group can't tackle and lacks the ability to diagnose opponents' plays. The much heralded off-season addition of LB Sam Cowart (14 tackles and a sack) has done little to improve that group... and much to the dismay of the team, DT Pat Williams hasn't strengthened a poor defensive line. Williams has a total of 11 tackles and a single Sack.
The NFC North is a ghastly division. With the exception of the VERY impressive Tampa Bay Buccaneers ... ("hey, where are your "Buccaneers? ... They're on my "Buckin' Head!") ... the teams stink.
The Chicago Bears? A stout defensive unit cannot off-set a leaderless offense. While young QB Kyle Orton has shown promise... far too much has been thrust upon him far too soon. RB Thomas Jones has been the lone offensive bright spot... and even he can do only so much. Jones is not LaDainian Tominson, Jones isn't the 2nd coming of Jim Brown, and defenders will jam the box and dare Orton to beat them. Rookie runner Cedric Benson was a pre-season fantasy darling, and many owners drafted him thinking he'd be a goalline force. While rookie runners can make an instant fantasy impact, as Bucc' back Carnell Williams has, Benson has been a huge disappointment.

The Bears are 1 of 2 NFC north teams that MUST start thinking about securing a franchise QB. While the injured Rex Grossman has flashed ability... he's shown zero durability. Chi-Town is looking very
5-11-ish right about now. While they won't be in the "Matt Leinart Sweepstakes," they might be eye-balling another 1st round signal calling talent. The trouble is... right now, NO other college thrower is within hailing distance of Leinart. Leinart, a rare talent, is atop a very thin QB class. Chicago may be better served trying to trade for a guy like San Diego backup Philip Rivers or Washingtons #2, Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey's never really been given a fair shake by Joe Gibbs, and might well reward the team that seeks him out. The Bears signed WR Muhsin Muhammed to a HUGE, multi-year, multi-skillion dollar deal. With no one to throw him the ball, Muhammed's talents are wasted. Another consideration is Muhhamed's age. At age 32 and in his 1st season with the Bears, Muhammed won't be improving any. If the guy isn't challenged or forced to use his speed and abilities... those abilities and that speed will atrophy. At this juncture, the signing of Muhammed is looking even more foolish than it did initially.

The Detroit Lions are the other leader-less North team. Like a ship without a rudder, the Lions are adrift. Drafted in the 1st round of 2000, QB Joey Harrington was signed to much fan-fare. The interesting thing is that Harrington possesses all the physical tools. He can throw the ball, scurry out of the pocket when needed, and he's intelligent. The trouble is that while those talents may manifest themselves on the practice field, they don't translate to Sundays. Harrington doesn't seem to have any meaningful relationship (on or off the field) with his teammates, and he has a poor sense of the field around him. Although the erstwhile QB has developed a modest rapport with stud receiver Roy Williams, WR Mike Williams is developing slowly and, after violating the leagues' drug policy for the 4th time (according to reports, Rogers tested positive for a street drug on 4 occassions), Charles Rogers is eye-balling a 4 game suspension. Due to the teams' anemic passing game, RB Kevin Jones hasn't been effective. What a shame, as KJ is the most talented runner to don the Lion uni' in years.
As for the D-Troit D-Fense? It's largely over-rated. CB Dre' Bly was afforded a big dollar free agent contract and he has a nose for the ball... but Bly's an all or nothing kind of player. If he misses the pick... Bly generally whiffs on the tackle. In the 3 games the Lions have played, Bly has a total of 9 tackles and 3 passes defended. The Lion 'Backers have been pretty solid; MLB Earl Holmes has recorded 24 tackles, and OLB Boss Bailey has notched 21 tackles and a sack. From a fantasy standpoint, FS Terence Holt has hung the most impressive IDP numbers. Holt has a scant 9 tackles, but he DOES have 2 picks, 2 passes defended, and a pick. Look for the Lions to vie for a top 3 draft pick.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look a whole lot like a SuperBowl contender. Head coach Jon Gruden developed a near schoolboy crush on rookie back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams during Senior Week '05, and Williams has rewarded Gruden's affections. Although the rook' was shutdown this past week, he's been more "Indy' Pace Car" than beat up Cadillac. Williams broke former Colt Al Ameche's 30+ year old record, and seems to be a legit' 1,400 yard, feature back. The rookie has been run hard, however, and Gruden would be best served by spelling the young back with veteran Michael Pittman. The brutish Pittman took hold of the running back reins this past week when Cadillac was hobbled by hamstring and foot injuries, and averaged 6 yards per carry and caught 6 balls for 96 yards and a TD. The outstanding run game has been complemented by the play of QB Brian Griese. Griese will never be confused with Peyton Manning... Griese may never be confused with ELI Manning, for that matter. But, supported by a top defensive unit, and with a solid run game and with savvy pass catchers such as Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton at his disposal, Griese is more than serviceable. If you recall, the '00 Ravens brought a back-breaking run game and scary-good defense onto the field... and won the SuperBowl with Trent Dilfer at the helm. Dilfer was merely a signal calling caretaker. It would come as NO great surprise if this dynamic Bucca-D convenes in Detriot for SuperBowl 40.

Next up... we'll review the AFC North!

1 Comments:

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