AFC West Preview

Posted: August 30, 2011 by Kodi in NFL

AFC West Preview

What moves did the Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers make this off-season?

Who’s going to win the AFC West?

 

Denver Broncos

The Josh McDaniels experiment started off incredibly well, going 6-0 in his first 6 games as the Head Coach in 2009. Since that start McDaniels went on to go 4-17 until getting fired and replaced by Eric Studesville with 4 games left in the 2010 season. The Broncos were a wreck, finishing the year 4-12 and winning just 1 of their last 7 games. They had the 13th overall offense, ranking 7th in passing yards and 26th in rushing yards. They were unable to find any balance, replacing Kyle Orton with Tim Tebow for the final 3 games of the season and giving Knowshon Moreno the opportunity to be THE option in the running game.

The Broncos offense was pathetic, hopefully Knowshon can stay healthy and prove to John Fox that he is a sustainable option at RB, but former Ravens/Bills RB Willis McGahee was brought in as a safety blanket. Knowshon produced similar numbers as the feature back and in a split backfield, recording 947 rushing yards, 7 TDs, as well as another 213 receiving and 2 more TDs in ’09, compared to 779 rushing yards with 5 TDs and 372 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs in 10. Brandon Lloyd had an unbelievable year averaging nearly 19 yards per reception, he gave the Broncos offense a solid threat in the passing game. Jabar Gaffney was the second leading WR and left town, but I expect Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas to battle for that position in the pre-season, with Decker a slight favorite because of his solid hands and route running.

The Broncos had a very bad defense and it was a huge drop-off from ’09 to ’10, ranking 7th in overall defense, 3rd in pass defense and 26th in rush defense in 2009, compared to dead last in overall defense, including most points allowed, 25th in pass defense and 31st in rush defense. The Broncos knew that they needed some things to change and tried to fill some of their team needs in the NFL Draft, taking LB Von Miller, S Rahim Moore, LB Nate Irving, S Quinton Carter and LB Mike Mohamed. They also signed for Patriots DE Ty Warren, ex-Jaguars DE Derrick Harvey and traded Jabar Gaffney to the Redskins for DL Jeremy Jarmon. The Broncos need to stop being the sieve defense they became in 2010 and know if they want to improve, it begins with defense.

There has been a QB controversy in Denver since McDaniels reached on Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2009 draft. If the Broncos start slow the fan base will look for Tebow to get a chance, but realistically he shouldn’t, he might be the fourth best QB on the team. I know for a fact that Orton and Brady Quinn both deserve a spot in front of Tebow, but think that former Gopher QB and undrafted rookie free-agent Adam Weber may be better suited to play in an NFL offense right now, rather than Tebow. I highly doubt that Lloyd will have a season anywhere near the one he did last year, but think that the RB tandem of McGahee and Moreno will be better than the Broncos situation in 2010. I think that the AFC West is used to a certain team finishing 5-11 but this season I think it’s going to be the Broncos and not Raider Nation.

Key Arrivals: Ex-Patriots DE Ty Warren, TE Dante Rosario, TE Daniel Fells, WR David Anderson, RB Willis McGahee, DE Derrick Harvery, DL Jeremy Jarmon.

Key Re-Signings: DT Marcus Thomas, OLB Wesley Woodyard; K Matt Prater.

Key Departures: OT Ryan Harris,DT Ronald Fields, WR Jabar Gaffney, RB Correll Buckhalter, and unsigned players RB Kyler Eckel and Laurence Maroney.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs had a great year on the way to winning the AFC West, winning 5 of their final 7 games to ensure a division title. The Chiefs went on to be embarrassed by the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round of the Playoffs, losing 7-30. The Chiefs were a well balanced team both offensively and defensively, but were able to have some big playmakers on offense and a balanced defensive scheme. Their offseason was also a balanced attack, bringing in certain players from the Draft, others from the free-agency, but also spent a lot of money resigning players that fit the Chiefs mold.

The Chiefs offense ranked 12th in total yards and 14th in points scored, but a lot of their yardage came from the running game, which ranked 1st, but usually punched it in with the passing game, throwing for 27 TDs compared to just 13 rushing TDs. The Chiefs passing game scored a lot but didn’t rack up much yards, ranking 30th in passing yards in 2010. Jamaal Charles rushed the ball 15 less times than Thomas Jones but outrushed him by 571 yards. Charles had a break-out year rushing for 1467 yards, but just 5 TDs, although he did catch another 45 balls for 468 yards and 3 more scores. 15 of the 27 passing TDs were caught by Dwayne Bowe who had some huge games for Kansas City and hauled in 72 balls for 1162 yards. The offense is looking to get better in the passing game, while stabilizing the line and they did both in the Draft. They selected Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin in the first round and OL Rodney Hudson from Florida St. in the 2nd round. They also signed former Cardinals WR Steve Breaston and former Ravens FB LeRon McClain.

The Chiefs defense was more balanced than their offense, ranking 11th in points allowed, 14th in total yards, 17th in pass defense and 14th in rush defense. Their defense had Tamba Hali who recorded 14.5 sacks and forced 4 fumbles, Derrick Johnson who had 94 solo tackles and Eric Berry a rookie Safety with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, 4 INTs and even returned 1 of those for his first career TD. The Chiefs brought in former Chargers ILB Brandon Siler, but was surprised to see Georgia LB Justin Houston fall to them at 70 in the 3rd round of the Draft. They drafted Miami DT Allen Bailey just 16 picks later and along with the signing of former Ravens DT Kelly Gregg, the Chiefs hope they can become a top 10 rush defense.

The Chiefs have made all of the right moves during the off-season, but they still need to produce on the field. I am wary of K.C. strictly because its been so long since they were a contender and I feel that although they have talent, they don’t have consistency, yet. I think that the Chiefs will contend for a title, but I don’t think that 9-7 will be good enough to take the AFC West. Sadly I don’t think the Chiefs will repeat as division Champs, but they will be in the mix and could surprise us once again.

Key Arrivals: OLT Jared Gaither, DL Amon Gordon, S Sabby Piscitelli, FB LeRon McClain, ILB Brandon Siler, DT Kelly Gregg, WR Steve Breaston.

Key Re-Signings: CB Brandon Carr, OLB Tamba Hali, OT Barry Richardson, DE Wallace Gilberry, Jackie Battle, Terrance Copper, FB Mike Cox, CB Travis Daniels, S John McGraw, OT Ryan O’Callaghan,  TE Leonard Pope, C Casey Wiegmann.

Key Departures:  WR Kevin Curtis, QB Brodie Croyle, C Rudy Niswanger, TE Brad Cottam, DT Shaun Smith, DT Ron Edwards, OG Brian Waters, CB Maurice Leggett.

Oakland Raiders

After 7 long seasons with a record of 5-11 or worse, Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders finished 2010 8-8. What is even more amazing is that they were 6-0 against the NFC West, that’s right the Raiders didn’t lose a single game against the Chargers, Broncos, or Chiefs all year long. 2010 was the first season without Jamarcus Russel and Jason Campbell looked good during the 12 games he started, going 7-5, but it was the Raiders rushing attack that was key to their success. Darren McFadden blew up showing the NFL what he could do when healthy and the Raiders pass defense was yet again one of the best in the league.

The Raiders offense was fueled by McFadden’s huge season, although he only played in 13 games he had rushed for 1157, 7 TDs and caught 47 balls for 507 yards and another 3TDs. Michael Bush was no slack either, starting the 3 games McFadden missed and coming in during 3rd down and short yardage situations Bush had over 650 yards and had 8 rushing TDs. The Raiders ended up ranking 2nd in rushing yards and TDs, but ranked 23rd in passing offense and finished with the 6th most points scored and 10th rated overall offense. TE Zach Miller was the leading receiver for Oakland and he won’t be back with Raider nation in 2011, hoping to replace him with former Giants TE Kevin Boss. The Raiders do still have Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, and Darius Heyward-Bey and can hope that one of them pans out. Oakland did lose long time G Robert Gallery and having to fill some holes in at offensive line through the draft. They picked G/C Stefen Wisniewski with their first pick, a 2nd rounder, then picked LSU T Joe Barksdale in the 3rd. Al Davis went back to his trusty adage of picking players with speed and he found a couple players that fit the mold perfectly, RB from Eastern Washington Taiwan Jones and WR from Tennessee Denarius Moore.

The biggest challenge for the Raiders is going to be replacing perennial Pro-Bowl CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the off-season. The Raiders had a top rated pass defense for the last few seasons since half of the field is blanketed by Asomugha, ranking 2nd in pass defense in 2010. They ranked 29th in rush defense and the Raiders need to find more balance. Oakland hopes to find a replacement CB in one of their recent draft picks, but it will be interesting to see how Miami’s Demarcus Van Dyke and Ohio St.’s CB Chimdi Chekwa can live up to the expectations. The Raiders must think that they have the pieces in place because they didn’t go out and sign any big defensive free-agents, unless this is 2003 and Lito Sheppard counts.

Oakland finally had a season with a record of .500 or better for the first time since their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Sadly I don’t think that the Raiders success isn’t going to continue in 2011 as they rely to heavily on young inexperienced talent. QB Jason Campbell’s favorite target split town for Seattle and their defensive star that covered half the field is no longer in town either. The Raiders will find out how hard it is to replace players like Asomugha and Miller and finish the season 7-9. It is nearly impossible for the Raiders to sweep the AFC West again, but they won’t be the Raiders team that rolled over for all those years.

Key Arrivals:  CB Lito Sheppard, WR Derek Hagan, TE Kevin Boss,OG Justin Smiley, OT Stephon Heyer, QB Trent Edwards.

Key Re-Signings: RB Michael Bush, C Samson Satele,OLB Sam Williams, S Michael Huff, DE Jarvis Moss, OT Khalif Barnes, LS Jon Condo.

Key Departures: MLB Ricky Brown, TE Zach Miller, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, QB Bruce Gradkowski, WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, OG Robert Gallery, OLB Thomas Howard

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers entire season was a disappointment after they started just 2-5 and making it nearly impossible to make the playoffs. San Diego did finish the year 7-2  to end the 2010 season  with a record of 9-7, but were left on the outside looking in for a division title and playoff berth. It was also the first season the Chargers played without LaDainian Tomlinson, but it turned out to be a more difficult job than Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert could expect. It might have been the offense was slowed down because TE Antonio Gates was hampered by his foot injury and WR Vincent Jackson decided to selfishly sit out 2/3rds because of a contract dispute. Nonetheless if the Chargers would have just started the season off one game better, they would have been representing the AFC West in the playoffs last year.

San Diego was the 2nd highest scoring team in the NFL and the top rated offense, ranking 2nd in passing yards and 15th in rushing. The passing attack was led by Philip Rivers and he had all but three pass attempts last season, on the way to throwing for over 4700 yards, 30 TDs and 13 INTs. Rookie RB Ryan Mathews had a difficult time transitioning from Fresno St. to the NFL, rushing for 678 yards and 7 TDs, but only playing in 12 games due to injury. Mike Tolbert took his opportunity and ran with it, literally, for over 700 yards and 11 TDs. The Chargers offense is one of the best in the league, but that’s when Rivers has Gates and Vincent Jackson. Both players missed a big amount of time and people like Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton had to step up, but those players aren’t near the talent level of Jackson and Gates. The only offensive player brought in through free-agency this year was former Rams WR Laurent Robinson, but the Chargers did draft Connecticut RB Jordan Todman in hopes of replacing Darren Sproles.

The Chargers focused on improving defensively this off-season, spending most of their attention in free-agency and the draft on the defensive side of the ball. San Diego actually had the top rated overall defense, with the best rated pass defense and 4th best rated rush defense. The Chargers did lose their leading tackler LB Kevin Burnett, along with their starting ROLB Antwan Applewhite, but they signed LB’s Travis LaBoy, Kevin Bentley and Takeo Spikes along with ex-Colts S Bob Sanders. San Diego spent their 1st round pick on Illinois DT/DE Corey Liuget, 2nd round picks on Clemson CB Marcus Gilchrist and Michigan ILB Jonas Mouto, as well as a 3rd round pick on USC CB Shareece Wright. There seems to be a youth movement going on in San Diego on defense and I believe they still have veterans in key roles to make sure this squad has the experience necessary to win a division.

The San Diego Chargers should be viewed as the front-runners in the AFC West because they have the best QB and most reliable defense. They have a solid WR, TE and a two-back platoon in the running game that makes their offense versatile and dangerous. With the way San Diego came out to start the 2010 season, I believe that the Chargers know what they don’t want to do to begin 2011. Look for San Diego to start fast and finish strong, I think this team can easily be a 10 win team, but their ceiling is closer to 13 games. I am going to say that the Chargers win the division, but will predict a safe 10-6 record for them to take the AFC West.

Key Arrivals:  ILB Kevin Bentley, WR Laurent Robinson, OLB Travis LaBoy, LB Takeo Spikes, S Bob Sanders.

Key Re-Signings:  ILB Stephen Cooper,WR Malcom Floyd, QB Billy Volek, WR Vincent Jackson, OT Jeromey Clary, TE Randy McMichael, S Eric Weddle, OLB Antwan Barnes, DE Jacques Cesaire FB Mike Tolbert, OG/C Scott Mruczkowski, CB Dante Hughes, WR Kelley Washington.

Key Departures: WR Legedu Naanee, CB Paul Olier, ILB Brandon Siler, OLB Antwan Applewhite, ILB Kevin Burnett, RB Darren Sproles, WR Craig “Buster” Davis, LB Brandon Lang, CB Donald Strickland, TE Kris Wilson Jyles Tucker.

 

 

 

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