|Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson (from left to right) make Houston's offense a three-headed monster.|
With the NBA playoffs down to four teams, much of the discussion centers around talented trios, particularly in the Eastern Conference Finals, where Boston's original Big Three faces off against Miami's new-school Big Three ... minus one (Chris Bosh).
This got us thinking: Which team has the best "Big Three" in the NFL today?
No trio is scarier than Carolina's Newton, Stewart and SmithNo trio in the league scares defenses more than quarterback Cam Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart and receiver Steve Smith in Carolina. They can attack you in so many different ways.
Newton was already one of the top 10 pocket passers as a rookie, and his size could make him the best goal-line runner in the league. Stewart gets the nod here over backfield-mate DeAngelo Williams because he's a scarier runner. There aren't many pros who combine his size, versatility and speed. He could be a top-five back if he didn't split his carries with Williams. Smith is savvy enough to run any route and explosive enough to still get deep. The Panthers make defenses prepare for so much because they have guys at quarterback, running back and wide receiver who are all capable of dominating a good defense.
Give the Texans' trio some loveNot many teams have a quarterback who once led the league in passing, a running back who led the league in rushing and a receiver who led the league in receiving yards. One would think such a team would be swamped with publicity, but the Houston Texans have that, and they aren't.
The league's best triplets are under-the-radar stars Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Schaub rose to prominence by passing for 4,770 yards in 2009; Foster did his work in 2010, with 1,616 rushing yards; and Johnson topped his peers in 2008 (1,575) and '09 (1,569). The Texans are rebuilding their defense, but there's a reason they are a trendy Super Bowl pick. If healthy, there is no better trio.
Baltimore's defensive trio (plus one) can bury teamsLet's hear it for the defense! The Baltimore Ravens have a "Bermuda Triangle" of triplets -- plus one -- with Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata (the "plus one"). With Suggs' injury possibly sidelining him for the 2012 season, my "plus one" model does not need to be enacted ... yet.
These "triplets" will happily take on the challenge of any high-powered offensive combo in the league!
Patriots' unconventional trio is topsThe New England Patriots' "triple threat" is a bit different from the typical quarterback/running back/outside receiver combination -- but is no less deadly.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is, of course, the ringleader. His accuracy and pocket poise allow him to distribute the ball to slot receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski, two of the top six pass catchers in the league in receptions and receiving yards last season. Welker and Gronkowski are considered "inside" players, but can work all levels of the field to stretch defenses horizontally and vertically.
Tough call: Schaub & Co. or Vick's running crew?It is a toss-up to me between two teams: the Eagles and Texans. I think Houston's "Big Three" of Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Arian Foster are more consistent over time, while their Eagles counterparts, Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, are more dangerous on any given play because of their greater speed.
Andre Johnson provides greater route flexibility than Jackson because he can go over the middle and is better in the red zone. The runners are close, based on how they are used in their schemes, but McCoy is faster than Foster. Schaub executes Houston's system very well, but from a defensive perspective, Vick is harder to contain because of his running ability.
Giants' three-headed pass rushIf defense wins championships, then how about the New York Giants' three-headed pass rush? There's strip-sack king Osi Umenyiora, the freakishly athletic and still raw Jason Pierre-Paul and of course Justin Tuck, the captain and most well-rounded of the three (and husband of a newly minted Wharton MBA!).
Tuck and Umenyiora are so in tune with each other, Tuck can call stunts on the field with a subtle move of his head. Pierre-Paul is so dogged, he can run from across the field to make a sack. All three can line up on either side or they can line up all together, making it possible for them to completely mess with a quarterback -- just ask poor Tom Brady.
And P.S. If Umenyiora's contract desires lead him out of town, Mathias Kiwanuka can take his place. Remember, the defensive end/linebacker/joker does make up one fourth of the Giants' NASCAR package.
Texans will go as far as Schaub, Foster and Johnson take themThe Cowboys were such the rage in the 1990s, with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, that one would think teams would be modeling themselves after Dallas, but that's not the case in the NFL today. There are so few mail-carrying running backs, and the ranks of sure-fire receivers are dwindling, as well, leaving teams to focus on outside depth. But there is one squad that relies solely on its "Big Three."
The Houston Texans will go as far as Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson take them. Yes, Johnson's getting older, but he's still in his prime window. Of the three, he's probably the least valuable, simply because we've seen the Texans win games without him. Meanwhile, Foster has become the best back in the game.
Ultimately, of course, this team rises and falls with Schaub. If he had been healthy, Houston would have beaten Baltimore last season in the playoffs, and possibly gotten past New England, as well. Which, oddly enough, would have been a better outcome for both Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff.
Baltimore's defensive triplets reign supremeIt's hard to argue with the triumvirate of Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore. Lewis and Reed are both headed for the Hall of Fame, and Ngata could be, too, if he keeps up his current level of play.
The Ravens are a contender every year, and it's because they are great up the middle. Offenses do not have an easy time making big plays between the hashes against this imposing D. All quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense has to do is hold up its end of the bargain.
Any year could be the year that Lewis and/or Reed finally hit "the wall." But up to this point, Ngata, Lewis and Reed have been the best threesome in the league.
Manning, Nicks and Cruz brought another title to New YorkThe newest generation of fans might not believe this, but there was a time when the NFL used feature running backs. In fact, it was seemingly impossible to win a Super Bowl without one. Now that notion seems as antiquated as a leather helmet.
Today's game is all about the second and third options at receiver. Just look at the Patriots, who rely on Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. But how could I put them ahead of the trio of Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who actually won the Super Bowl?
And yes, that's the same Eli Manning I suggested the Giants would be better off without last year. But as long as they are the champs, their trio reigns supreme.