Taking the good with the bad (cont.)
Posted: Thursday August 30, 2007 1:44PM; Updated: Thursday August 30, 2007 2:27PM
Rex Ryan's Baltimore Ravens are the league's best defensive unit. Led by perennial Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Chris McAllister, the Ravens have the most complete defensive unit in the league. Throw in up-and-coming stars Haloti Ngata and Dawan Landry; the Ravens overwhelm offenses with their talent. Even with the loss of Adalius Thomas, this unit will continue to wreck offenses with its aggressive blitz packages. There are other defenses that can dominate games occasionally, but none can match the Ravens' dominance on a weekly basis.
Despite Rod Marinelli's best efforts, the Detroit Lions' defense is the league's worst. The Lions lack the personnel to successfully run the "Tampa Two" scheme that Marinelli favors and will continue to struggle until that problem is fixed. Shaun Rogers, Cory Redding and Ernie Sims are solid building blocks up front, but there are still huge holes at cornerback and linebacker. Without additional playmakers in the backend, the Lions will not hold up versus good offenses. The Lions will be an improved team in 2007, but their explosive offense will have to carry a sagging defense.
Best running back combo
This proved to be more difficult than imagined after studying the top combinations throughout the league. I settled on New Orleans' combination of McAllister and Bush over the Chargers' pairing of LaDainian Tomlinson-Michael Turner, the Cowboys' tandem of Julius Jones-Marion Barber III and the Jaguars' dynamic duo of Fred Taylor-Maurice Jones-Drew.
McAllister's power running skills, combined with the dynamic versatility of Bush, gives the Saints a productive and powerful 1-2 punch that drives defensive coordinators crazy. While those other tandems pose interesting challenges as well, Bush's receiving skills help set the Saints' duo apart. With 88 receptions as a rookie and countless highlight plays, Bush's flash is the perfect complement to McAllister no non-sense running style.
Worst running back combo
Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency and Noah Herron are slated to handle the running back duties for the Packers, but the trio enters the season with only two career starts between them. With so much inexperience at the position, it is hard to imagine this bunch capably filling Ahman Green's role as the starter. Jackson and Herron have only averaged slightly over three yards a carry during the preseason while Morency has missed the majority of training camp due to an injury. With the season a little over a week away, the inexperience at the running back position should be a major concern in Green Bay.
Best receiving corps (tight ends included)
Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark give the Indianapolis Colts the league's top receiving corps. Harrison and Wayne give Peyton Manning two receivers with the ability to dominate the game. Both have gone over 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons and Clark is enough of a threat over the middle to keep defenses out of Cover Two. There are a few receiving corps (Cardinals, Patriots and Bengals) that have the talent to challenge the Colts as the top unit, but consistency of the Colts' crew sets them apart as the best.
Worst receiving corps (tight ends included)
It is not a surprise to see the Tennessee Titans top this list. After watching Bobby Wade and Drew Bennett leave during free agency, the Titans are depending on their youngsters to step up as big time players. Brandon Jones, Roydell Williams, Courtney Roby and Justin Gage do not strike fear in many defensive coordinators. And late offseason pickup Eric Moulds is on the downside of his career and does not have much left in the tank. With so few options in the passing game, it will be miraculous to see Vince Young improve his passing numbers.
Best offensive line
While Tomlinson is one of the most talented runners to ever play the game, his offensive line deserves credit for doing an outstanding job of creating huge running lanes for him. Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, Mike Goff and Shane Olivea may not be the best collection of individual talent at their respective positions, but collectively they play as one and few can dispute their effectiveness. There are several offensive lines (Colts, Bengals, Saints and Eagles) that play well, but the Chargers are the most effective as a unit.
Worst offensive line
The Miami Dolphins enter the season with the prospect of lining up with three first-time starters on opening day. Rookies Samson Satele, Drew Mormino and second year offensive tackle Anthony Alabi have struggled adjusting to the speed of the pro game, and the offense has struggled because of that. Cam Cameron has tried to mask their deficiencies by using a lot of three- and five-step drops, but defensive pressure has resulted in a several sacks and a number of tipped passes.