SI Vault
AFC east
Paul Zimmerman
September 07, 1992
Bikers and Philosophers, fun lovers and deep thinkers—the defense sets the tone for the New York Jets. In pass rushers Dennis Byrd, Jeff Lageman and Marvin Washington, weakside linebacker Mo Lewis and right cornerback James Hasty, who is ready to step into the ranks of the NFL's ultra-elite, there's a frenzied kind of talent at work. And all of it is brought to a high, overachieving level by coordinator Pete Carroll, 40, who's almost as free-spirited as the guys he coaches.
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September 07, 1992

Afc East

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Are we laying too much on a rookie? Probably, but this is an operation that desperately needs a shot of adrenaline. In the next few seasons Don Shula should pass George Halas as the winningest NFL coach of all time, but the Dolphins have missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons. They could see postseason action this year.

If front-office turmoil had a direct relationship to performance on the field, then the New England Patriots would be in a deep hole. The interim owner, James Orthwein, wants to sell the team or move it to St. Louis or something. The club's CEO, Sam Jankovich, has front-office personnel terrified of him. But what does this all mean when the Pats are digging in to stop an opponent on third-and-one and second-year coach Dick MacPherson—Coach Mac to his players—is running up and down the sideline, jacket Happing in the wind, screaming to hold them just this once? Or when the Pats need to drive the length of the field to get back in the game?

Coach Mac's enthusiasm was a burst of sunlight in '91, and New England responded by stealing a few games and winning some others on pure intensity. But how long does that last? Talent is thin. The defense is spirited but unsound. The offensive line is subpar, and tackle Pat Harlow's lingering back problem, combined with top draft choice Eugene Chung's slow start, doesn't help.

Laboring behind one of the worst offensive lines in recent memory, quarterback Jeff George of the Indianapolis Colts played at a high level in all 16 regular-season games last year. Then on Aug. 22 he went down with a stretched ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand in a preseason game against the Bengals, and hearts stopped until the news came that he was not lost for the season—but probably for the first two games. His injury, though, sent a grim reminder to the Colts: Get some protection for the franchise player before it's too late.

If you look at recent NFL disasters, teams that were supposed to be decent and then nose-dived (last year's 1-15 Colts certainly qualify), you'll usually find that one of two things caused the crash: a bad offensive line or no capable backup for an injured quarterback. Shortcomings such as these must be addressed.

Yet Indianapolis general manager Jim Irsay stuck to his premise that you win with defense, and he used the first two picks in the draft to take defensive tackle Steve Emtman, who was forceful in the preseason, and linebacker Quentin Coryatt, who was hampered by a bum ankle. Ordinarily those picks would make sense, but Indy shouldn't have shrugged off the miseries of its offensive line. Suddenly quarterback Jack Trudeau, who in 1989 was voted the team's MVP by his teammates and who was still a holdout when George went down, found himself bargaining for more than a backup's pay.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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