If the adage about defense winning championships is true, the league should pencil the Jets in as title contenders. Building on the solid foundation former coach
Ryan's defenses excel at suffocating opponents and creating turnovers. During his four-year tenure as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Ryan oversaw a squad that ranked in the top five in total defense three times and led the league in takeaways in 2008. The unit perennially ranked among league leaders in rush defense and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in its last 35 regular-season games.
While Ryan has been lauded for his innovative game plans, it was his superb use of the Ravens' personnel that truly made Baltimore difficult to attack. From flip-flopping
With the Jets adding Scott,
In the back end, the Jets have the pieces in place to produce turnovers at a high rate. Pro Bowl corner
Leonhard's experience in the defense means Rhodes won't have the burden of making the checks in the backend, freeing him to concentrate solely on making plays on the ball. In addition, he will have the opportunity to become more involved in the rush scheme on safety blitzes. Rhodes had only one sack last season, but made a career-high five sacks in 2006, when he was used extensively in the Jets' sub-package.
With the personnel and scheme in place to field a stellar defense, the only thing keeping this unit from achieving greatness is the nasty attitude typically associated with dominant defenses. However, if Scott's comments at his introductory press conference are any indication, the Jets aren't too far off from developing that swagger.
"We won't back down from anybody," said Scott. "We won't take a step back from anybody. You guys can expect to see a very physical, violent defense. I don't know if this division has ever seen a violent defense."
They're only two seasons removed from breaking numerous records with a wide-open offense, but the Patriots' recent activity indicates the team may be shifting to a more balanced, two-tight-end attack in 2009.
Though the decision to move away from an offensive system that set a league record for points scored (589) in 2007 is difficult, it is necessary given
Although Brady was only sacked 21 times during the 2007 regular season, the Giants made four sacks in their upset Super Bowl victory of New England, and teams successfully copied that aggressive game plan last season to slow down the Patriots' offense (
Thus, the Patriots' decision to incorporate more two tight end sets makes perfect sense. First, using their "12" personnel package (one back, two tight ends and two receivers) allows the Patriots to protect Brady in the pocket by incorporating more max protection schemes. Second, double tight ends allows the Patriots to put their most dangerous weapons on the field at the same time. A lineup with
Throw in the fact that
Furthermore, the use of the package gives the Patriots the flexibility to attack defenses in a variety of ways from the same personnel grouping. The team is able to show a two-back look by using Baker or Watson as a quasi-fullback in a formation. The Patriots could also use Watson, an athletic tight end with outstanding speed, as a slot receiver in a three-receiver set. This formation would put the defense in a predicament as most linebackers are unable to match Watson's speed or athleticism in space. Thus, the Patriots would still have the ability to incorporate their favorite spread passing plays into their game plan without using a true three- or four-receiver set.
Count me as one who believes the Cowboys made a major mistake by releasing
In spite of his antics, Owens was clearly the team's best offensive player the past three seasons. The six-time Pro Bowl receiver caught 235 passes for 3,587 yards with 38 touchdowns during his tenure with the Cowboys. His 38 touchdown receptions were the most of any receiver during that span, and his 139 touchdown receptions rank only behind
While some have suggested Owens is a player on the decline, the numbers don't justify that sentiment. Owens' 2008 yards per catch average (15.2) was higher than his career average (14.8), and his 10 touchdowns ranked fifth in the league overall.
Some would point to Owens' high number of drops as an indication of his skills deteriorating, but it should be noted that he has always ranked among league leaders in drops since entering the league in 1996. Therefore, the move makes little sense from a performance or production standpoint.
Maybe the Cowboys are of the opinion that
He created opportunities for
In regard to the locker-room effect, I think Owens has shouldered far more blame for the Cowboys' woes than he deserves. While he is clearly a divisive and polarizing force, he is not the reason the team underperformed in the playoffs two of the past three seasons. A leaky defense and an overhyped quarterback who shrinks in big games contributed more to the Cowboys' playoff failures than the loudmouth receiver.
Sure, Owens' demonstrative sideline antics exacerbated the situation, but his heated exchanges were no different than the countless sideline debates that occur between other players and/or coaches throughout the season. Though I don't condone players handling disagreements in a public forum, the highly competitive nature of pro sports often brings out that ugliness in the midst of games. However, most teams eventually squash those debates and patch up the chemistry between the involved parties with the guidance of strong leadership.
Maybe that's what's at the heart of this perplexing decision. The Cowboys simply lack the leadership inside and outside of the locker room to handle a complex personality like Owens. For as talented as the Cowboys' roster appears, there is not an accomplished winner on the team or a strong leader capable of getting the petulant playmaker to fall in line. Typically, the quarterback would command that kind of respect, but Romo's reluctance or inability to be a forceful leader has resulted in the owner having to establish order in the locker room.