Wednesday, August 05, 2009

NFL SWOT Analysis: AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Strengths – The Ravens have an offensive line that coaches dream of. They are versatile. They are mostly young, having yet to scratch the surface of their potential. With the addition of Matt Birk, they get a savvy veteran leader who will make all the line calls. In the next 2-3 years, Jared Gaither and Michael Oher could be the top tackle tandem in the NFL (they’ll get an early start with Adam Terry going down for the year). Ben Grubbs and Marshel Yanda have been in the trenches since they were rookies. The RBs could be very strong this year, if McGahee and Rice return in full health. Le’Ron McClain moves to more of a non-traditional FB role after leading the team in rushing last season. On defense, they still have monster talent in Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed.

Weaknesses – The CBs are in a transition. While Fabian Washington was a breath of fresh air last year, teaming him up with Dominique Foxworth doesn’t make up the most desirable CB tandem. Samari Rolle, knee deep into his decline, will be the nickel back. At TE, Todd Heap took several steps back last season, as did new arrival L.J. Smith when he was in Philly. Will the two TEs together be enough to make up for last year’s void?

Opportunities – McClain’s move to the hybrid RB/FB role could make him one of the most valuable assets on offense as both as a blocker and runner. Tavares Gooden has an opportunity to prove that he is every bit as good as Bart Scott at freeing up Ray Lewis to wreak havoc on opposing defenders.

Threats – In my opinion, Joe Flacco has a stronger chance, than most would like to admit, at having a sophomore slump. Making a trade for Brandon Marshall would make a lot of sense (except for the fact that he’s a bit of a head case). Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce are up there in years. While Pryce has a decent backup, Gregg does not. Haloti Ngata may be able to slide inside. This should have been addressed in the draft.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – This could be the year that Terrell Suggs finally takes over for Ray Lewis as the Defensive Stud of the team. On the offensive side, Mark Clayton should be ready to take on the #1 WR role previously held by Derrick Mason.

Position Battle – WR3: Demetrius Williams vs. Yamon Figurs vs/ Kelley Washington all have their strengths and weaknesses. One must emerge as the playmaker in 3-WR sets. Williams has the early lead, and the team would love that to be Figurs, with his blazing speed. However, a rejuvenated Kelley Washington is the dark horse.

Rookie Contributor – Michael Oher was in line for a camp battle, but with Adam Terry going down to a season-long injury, Oher has an open shot. Oniel Cousins seems too much of a project to push Oher. A vet could be signed as well. RB Cedric Peerman could get some playing time IF there are injuries at RB much like last year. He’s not a bad prospect, he just slipped a little low in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

Strengths – The passing offense could be the one of the few bright spots for this team. Carson Palmer feels like he did before his injury. Ocho Cinco has a lot to prove. Last year was a dismal year for him, and with Houshmandzadeh gone, Chad will have every opportunity to resurrect his stature as one of the top WRs in the league. Laveranues Coles usually does great in his first year with a new club. Chris Henry might have actually matured this time around. The defense is young with veterans where leadership where it needs it most. The defense may be forced to carry this team if the passing game falters.

Weaknesses – The top two RBs on this team are under-achievers. Cedric Benson and Brian Leonard could give this team fits at the RB position all season. But, both have potential. The offensive line looks like it will be shaky this season. The one player returning the the same position as a starter is RG Bobbie Williams. The Andrew Whitworth LT project could be disastrous. Andre Smith needs to prove that he can eventually play on the left side.

Opportunities – Keith Rivers looked like a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate before his jaw got busted. He has every opportunity to be the leader of this defense. Chris Henry seems to have learned from his past mistakes. If he can avoid distractions off the field, he has the talent to be a top-flight WR on it.

Threats – This one is very simple. As long as this front office and coaching staff is in place, the norm is that the inmates will run the asylum.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – IF Henry matures and Chad doesn’t, Henry will become Palmer’s favorite target. Forget Coles.

Position Battle – SS: Roy Williams vs. Chinedum Ndukwe. Ndukwe is more rangy and has some effectiveness in pass coverage. Roy Williams can step up and help against the run better than most safeties in the league.

Rookie Contributor – RT Andre Smith will start this season, and should eventually (over the next couple of years) slide over to LT and settle there for the long-term. TE Chase Coffman may be in line for a bunch of snaps, now that Reggie Kelly went down for the year.

Cleveland Browns

Strengths – This team is very lucky to have the offensive line that it has. They would be a much worse team without them. From Joe Thomas to Eric Steinbach to Alex Mack, this line is deep and has a nice mix of young and old players. The defensive line, led by Andre The Giant clone, Shaun Rogers is flanked by a deep set of LBs, that must come together and try to lead this defense. If Mangini can tap into some of the potential in the front seven, they could be effective.

Weaknesses – Who are they kidding with Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald as their starting CBs? Those are nickel backs on most teams. Who do they think they are? The Patriots? The RB corps is weak. Jamal Lewis is 29, old by RB standards, especially when you consider his running style. James Harrison didn’t scare any defenses when filling in. Nobody else is worth mentioning. Losing Kellen Winslow will be a pretty big blow to this team. While it’s nice not to hear his lip, the team will miss his playmaking abilities.

Opportunities – Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson still have a somewhat healthy competition. However, last year cannot happen again, with both of them underachieving. For Kamerion Wimbley, it is “Put up or Shut up” time. He’s on the verge of being a bust, however is being counted on as a defensive playmaker. Alex Hall will get opportunities on passing downs. He could be the pass rusher that Wimbley was supposed to be.

Threats – The Braylon Edwards situation could become a distraction. Edwards is the most talented skill-position player on offense. However, at this pace, he could continue his regression that started last season. Couple Edwards’s situation with the fact that Joshua Cribbs is in his own contract dispute with the team, and there is a recipe for disaster.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – If Cribbs is in camp and Edwards is not, expect Cribbs to take the offensive playmaker torch and run with it. He’s a home-run threat. Now if he can just get his contract situation figured out.

Position Battle – There are many. However, all eyes will be on the QB battle. The race is neck and neck at this point.

Rookie Contributor – Alex Mack if he can beat out Hank Fraley. If Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi end up getting a lot of work during the season, it’s possible the team isn’t doing so well.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Strengths – Where don’t the Super Bowl Champs have strengths? The offensive skill position starters (Roethlisburger, Ward, Holmes, Parker and Miller) have started together for many years and work very well together. With playmakers like James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley playing outside of James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers could have the best set of 3-4 LBs in the league. The DBs are an underrated crew led by a beast, Troy Polamalu. Ryan Clark is no stranger to enhancing a beast safety (Sean Taylor). He is a great complimentary player.

Weaknesses – The offensive line gave up a lot of sacks during the season. The team didn’t do a good job of addressing that in the draft and free agency. The only good thing is that the line came together and did well in the playoffs.

Opportunities – Limas Sweed gets a nice shot at taking the #3 WR spot. Sweed might have been regarded as the top WR in the 2008 draft had it not been for the wrist injury. Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a major injury last season, but will have every opportunity to beat out Mewelde Moore for the back up RB spot.

Threats – This is the default for any Defending Super Bowl Champ. Teams will bring their best against the Steelers this season. It’s rare that a defending champ does better during their title defense.

Passing/Receiving the Torch – Santonio Holmes (gradually) from Hines Ward, as the #1 WR on the team. Holmes’s spectacular playmaking ability is much greater than Ward’s.

Position Battle – WR3: Limas Sweed vs. Shaun McDonald. The 3rd WR for the Steelers is always known for making big plays in clutch situations. Nate Washington was a perfect example. Sweed may be the favorite, but Shaun McDonald may be ready to do better now that he’s had a breath of fresh air outside of Detroit.

Rookie Contributor – Ziggy Hood should battle Brett Keisel for the starting DE spot opposite Aaron Smith. There are reports that Hood may already be penciled in as the starter.

1 comment:

Clement said...

Solid work.

1) Trading for Brandon Marshall in Baltimore is a mistake. He is one of those players who I think would ignore Ray Lewis and try - and fail - to potentially divide this locker room. Flacco needs an upgrade at WR, but not Marshall.
2) Cleveland is going to see an early boost from Mangini, but will suffer as he rubs veterans the wrong way. The secondary will enjoy him, though.
3) Inmates running the asylum. Perfection when it comes to describing Cincinnati. Benson for 16 games? No chance.
4) Pittsburgh is going to be rock solid. I see them having a MUCH better chance to repeat than they did a few years ago. However, they can't afford to meet the Patriots in the Playoffs. They won't beat Bellicheat in January.

A few random thoughts...
A) I don't like Mendenhall, but Pittsburgh will get as much out of him as possible. Moore's impact last season was HUGE. Seriously.
B) Keith Rivers has every right to take out Hines Ward, but he won't.
C) Chris Henry will never be dependable week in and week out.
D) Cribbs is fascinating to watch. I'd still take Leon Washington, but both are stick contracts (to say the least); especially with the CBA. Each team, Browns and Jets, MUST sign these guys.