Monday, August 12, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC EAST

    Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC EAST

The AFC EAST has always been known as the New England Patriots division. They've dominated this division for years, always coming out on top. But things maybe different this season as the Patriots lost a lot of their offense in the offseason. Wide receiver Wes Welker bolted to the Denver Broncos. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski, hasn't participated in any offseason activity due to back surgery and Aaron Hernandez had been released due to being arrested on murder charges. Quarterback Tom Brady is going to be looking to other receivers and tight ends to fill that void and keep this offense elite. The Miami Dolphins are looking to build off their 7-9 record a year ago, by adding key pieces in the offense, such as receiver Mike Wallace and security blanket tight end Dustin Keller. Wallace stretches the offense with his big play ability and Keller is a reliable pass catcher. His previous Jets team, just didn't have a good offense, but he should rejuvenate his career in Miami. Speaking of the Jets. Coach Rex Ryan announced a week ago that he was going to start former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first pre-season game over rookie second-round pick Geno Smith. I think Ryan has been affected by running with the bulls, because the previous four years Sanchez showed one thing. The ability to throw interceptions and run into his own lineman putting the ball on the ground. Smith should be name the starter for the season and I'll explain later. The one team I am excited about in this division are the Buffalo Bills. C.J. Spiller has finally been named the starter over, "I walk with a limp Fred Jackson." Literally Jackson is always hurt, so Spiller gets his shot as the starter. Although no quarterback has been named the starter yet, I expect rookie E.J. Manuel to get the nod over high priced and no delivery Kevin Kolb. Can you say read-option? This division needs offensive help, so I'll look at just the offense.

When it comes to the Patriots, you never know what to expect because they're so secretive. Like I never would have expected former receiver Wes Welker left because coach Bill Belichick put him on blast. Who knew Gronkowski, who is the Patriots bigger weapon played on special teams, in which he broke his fore-arm protecting a field-goal attempt that required four surgeries. Who Knew! I did know that I can save money on my car insurance by switching to Geico! Overall the Patriots are in trouble. They like to run a two tight end offense and its safe to say that without any of their two weapons available, the offense is going to look a lot different. The Pats have three reliable running backs in Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen, and LeGarrette Blount. They all scored touchdowns in their first pre-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They ran the ball 31 times for a total of 258 yards. Yes I know its the pre-season but if the backfield can help Brady move the ball. It will help take pressure off  of the 36 year-old quarterback. They ranked second in the league with 32 rushes per game, averaging 134 yards per game. With three reliable backs, that shouldn't be a problem. But who am I kidding, the Patriots go as far as Tom Brady takes them. Its going to start in his hands and end in his hands. With free-agent Danny Amendola on board, all is well with a go-to guy right? No, there is only one problem. He is injury prone, missing 20 games in two seasons. If healthy he would be a slight downgrade from Wes Welker. Bringing in quarterback Tim Teebow and letting him learn under Brady was smart. Of course he wont see tick at quarterback, but maybe as a tight-end or fullback. He is a big guy who would be a good blocker, just use him as a player and not as a moneymaker.

The Dolphins are a wild-card team. They may not have scared opponents in the past with no big play abilities, but that should change now. With second year head coach Joe Philbin being under Green Bays pass happy offense for years, things were bound to change. Bringing in Mike Wallace is the start of having big play abilities. Teams will have to watch film on him, as well as keeping a safety near by. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill now has that outside threat. A fast playmaker, who has the ability to score touchdowns in one catch. Catching 27 passes that were 40 yards of more, since he entered the league in 2009. He just needs a quarterback to get him the ball. Tannehill is that guy to help Wallace increase those stats. The Dolphins haven't had a good receiver since Brandon Marshall who was the pro-bowl MVP his last year in Miami in 2011. Wallace is not as big as Marshall, but he is more of a threat down the field. For those big plays to open up, the Dolphins need a threat in the back-field. That's where second year running back Lamar Miller comes into play. Even though he only had 51 carries his rookie year, he averaged 4.9 yards a carry. The highest on the team. Can he replace Reggie Bush? No, but he is a good runner with upside. The former hurricane will lead the attack with Daniel Thomas, spear-headed by what Miller does. If he moves the ball, it opens up play-action for the quarterback to find Wallace downfield. The Dolphins ran the ball 45 percent of the time and I expect that to go down slightly. A pass happy coach produces a pass happy offense, they just needed a catch-happy receiver. I also expect the 1.9 touchdowns a game to go up.

As much as I would love to talk about G-5s, this is a sports story, so I have to talk about a different kind of Jets. The once-pro-claimed ground N pound team, has seem to lost its way. No one respects the run game because of Sanchez not taking pressure off them. The defense can just stay in the box. Right now third year running back Bilal Powell is number one on the depth chart. He ran nine times for a total 14 yards, averaging 1.6 per carry. This is not ground N pound, but more like ground N punt. If there is any hope of reestablishing themselves as a running team, it will be behind Chris Ivory, who they traded for in the off-season. When healthy Ivory is the key to the Jets success. He is a big power-back who has the ability to push the pile. He runs hard and breaks tackles. In New Orleans, when he played, he played like a full-back. Someone who you give the ball to on third and short. What you didn't know is that he had six runs of 25 yards or more. A break-out player who was buried on the depth chart. This guy is hard to bring down and has the quickness to make people miss in the open-field. A three-down back that you feed the rock to on the goal-line. He will thrive in the ground N pound system. In his first series against the Lions on Saturday, quarterback Mark Sanchez throws a pick six. This tells me and should tell Rex Ryan, this guy hasn't learned anything since he came into the league and is picking up where he left off last season. When quarterback Geno Smith came into the game, he threw for six completions on seven attempts for 47 yards. Then he left with an apparent ankle injury, but was back on the practice field the next day. Smith secured the ball the time he was on the field. He made Sanchez look like a rookie and Smith the veteran. He made that statement early on by not participating in Sanchez' quarterback camp. His senior year at West Virginia, Smith threw for over 4000 yards on 71.8 completion percentage. Totaling 42 touchdowns and throwing 6 interceptions. This man is bound to be a good starter who makes accurate throws. Oh yea, he can run the read-option as well. A great way to succeed in the ground N pound. It would be nice though if the Jets had good receivers, because right now Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Ben Obomanu, are not number one receivers and who knows if Santonio Holmes will be the same coming off a gruesome foot injury.

The Buffalo Bills have finally promoted running back C.J. Spiller to being a starter. Last season Spiller backed-up Fred Jackson and went on to start due to Jacksons injuries. Spiller had a great season. Reaching 1000 yards on only 154 carries. The fewest since Bears running back Beattie Feathers in 1934. Spiller had a total of 1,244 yards averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Just imagine what he does from the get go. Right now Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel are battling for the starting quarterback position. Like the Jets, the Bills should know what they are going to get out of Kolb. A quarterback who misses games and  throws a lot of interceptions. He has a career completion percentage of 59.6 and 78.9 quarterback rating under 80. He doesn't get rid of the ball fast enough and takes a lot of hits because of it. He doesn't see the field well, as he has as many picks as touchdowns for his career. Manuel started the game on Sunday and threw for 107 yards on 16-21 passing with a touchdown. Manuel should be the starter as he showed great passing accuracy, as well as when to tuck the ball in and run. He also added 28 yards on three carries. A perfect read-option mix with Spiller. He has the ability to throw the ball very well, as he had a career completion rating of 66.9. He also threw 23 touchdowns in his senior year at Florida State. Manuel has talent around him, besides Spiller, he has receiver Stevie Johnson. A quick and athletic pass catcher. He runs routes good and has good hands. He just needs to stay healthy. He also needs a partner in receiving so the defense wouldn't play heavy on one side of the field. That's where the drafting of Robert Woods comes in handy, a second round pick out of USC. He had four catches for 32 yards in the win over the Colts on sunday. At USC he had 76 receptions for 846 yards. He also averaged 11.1 yards a catch. Will just say move the chains. At 6 ft 1 he has the style of play that will make him succeed in the NFL. He is not that fast, but he has the height and is reliable.  This will be a sleeper offense, under new coach and former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. I do know they will run and I believe they can win the AFC EAST.

With the Patriots lacking offensive weapons, seeking a fifth division title, seems highly unlikely. You can bet Belichick is cooking up something to keep that number one ranked offense afloat. Right now, Amendola is the number one pass catcher on the team. As long as Brady and Amendola stay healthy and have a great connection in timing, the offense should keep moving. Add the three running backs and this team can be a top 10 offense. Gronkowski, will be back sometime this season, which will make this offense take a leap forward. The Dolphins will challenge the rest of the AFC EAST. This young team with promising talent still has a lot to prove, to help this offense score. Tannehill, now has a go to receiver and tight end. Can he avoid the turnovers and become a consistent quarterback will be the headline heading into the season. Running back Miller has the keys to the backfield. Can the Former Hurricane prove his fourth round talent. The Jets need Ivory to make this offense work. If he is healthy, than he can definitely help out in the run game. Quarterbacks Sanchez and Smith still have time to persuade Rex Ryan their worth. In the end, Smiths accuracy and precaution of turnovers gets him the starting job. Word broke this past weekend that receiver Santonio Holmes is milking his injury. Its been 10 months since his Lisfranic injury and he hasn't practiced since. Maybe he is waiting until after training camp or even in the middle of the season to return. This team will have lingering turmoil questions all year if this happens. The Bills offense will have a lot to prove; after replacing the coach, running back and quarterback, this offense will have a whole new look. One that will compete and score points. As long as Kolb is out and Manuel in, the offense will pick up as the season goes along. The rookie quarterback has the weapons for any fight.

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