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Pats' D getting too old?
Question: Even with the recent re-addition of Asante Samuel into a secondary that needed some help, the Patriots still have an aging defense in the linebackers/safety area. No doubt newcomers Brandon Meriweather and Adalius Thomas can help, but don't you think that by the time the playoffs come, those old legs of Tedy Bruschi or Mike Vrabel are going to slow down even more? What are the Pats' chances of another Lombardi Trophy if they implode again like the second half of the conference championship game last year? -- Howie
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First, I don't buy your assessment that the Patriots' defense is in danger of collapsing because it has too many older players.
Even if they've lost a step or two, the veterans on the unit are still capable of consistently performing at a high enough level to complement the strength of the team, which is the offense.
The Patriots' defense has never relied too heavily on superior athleticism. It is defined by elaborate and ever-changing schemes being properly executed because core players such as Bruschi and Vrabel have the experience and knowledge to do so. And that will only enhance the playmaking skills of Samuel, Thomas, and Meriweather.
If anything, the Pats' defense should be greatly improved. My expectation is that the team will again reach the AFC title game, and then proceed to win a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Titans playoff contenders?
Question: There is a lot of talk and hype of the Tennessee Titans maybe being a wild-card team this year. I am loving Michael Griffin's play at safety, and Vince Young is playing amazing ball, too. But the D seems lacking all in all. Do you think they can actually get to the playoffs this year? -- Nicky M.
I'm not loving the Titans' playoff chances. I just think they have lost too many key people on both sides of the ball to be a serious contender from what should be an extremely competitive AFC South.
I agree that Griffin looks like the real deal at safety. Of course, as a rookie, he will make his share of mistakes and opponents are going to do everything they can to get him isolated in pass coverage. A classic example was when Buffalo's Lee Evans ran past Griffin like he was standing still on a 64-yard touchdown catch on Aug. 24.
And, yes, Young has been amazing this summer. His performance against Buffalo was the most impressive of the preseason by any at any position. He continues to demonstrate that he will evolve into a complete quarterback who is every bit as dangerous throwing as he is running. However, I question whether Young has enough pass-catchers to take full advantage of his talented arm or that the Titans will be able to mount a strong enough rushing attack to help ease the pressure on him.
I can see why the defense makes you uneasy. Although the Titans are capable of generating good pressure and forcing turnovers with an aggressive blitz package, they are just as capable of allowing too many back-breaking plays. And my sense is that, without an effective running game and a consistent big-play passing attack, the Titans' offense won't be able to overcome those defensive shortcomings.
Chargers Super Bowl bound?
Despite his poor head-coaching record, Norv Turner will prove to be a strong replacement for Marty Schottenheimer. The Chargers' offense that Cam Cameron ran through last season is essentially the same one that Turner put in place when he was San Diego's offensive coordinator. Turner certainly knows the right buttons to push to continue to get dominant production from LaDainian Tomlinson while also using his considerable quarterbacking expertise to help Philip Rivers to continue to evolve into a top-flight passer.
The defense will be every bit as aggressive as it was when Phillips was in charge. New coordinator Ted Cottrell has a thorough understanding of Phillips' defensive concepts, which he learned when they worked together in Buffalo. Cottrell also has plenty of his own ideas of how to run a 3-4 scheme, but he will maintain continuity and continue to do what is already second nature to Shawne Merriman and the Chargers' other defenders rather than re-invent the wheel.
Do Eagles need power runner?
Question: It seems to me that despite a couple of games when Ryan Moats looked strong last year, the Eagles have lacked any definitive runner. Brian Westbrook is always strong catching out of the backfield, but they have only gained 45 yards in their first two preseason games on the ground. And 19 of those came from Kevin Kolb. Do you agree that they might need a bruising runner in the Brandon Jacobs/Deuce McAllister mold who are unafraid to run between the tackles? I feel this would take all the pressure off Donovan McNabb and open up the longer passes. -- Olly C., London
I don't believe they need a featured back with the extra-large physical dimensions of a Jacobs or McAllister. That sort of player doesn't fit Andy Reid's scheme. Westbrook does because of his exceptional receiving skills and can operate from a variety of spots in the offense to create matchup problems. And a running back will always catch plenty of passes in Philadelphia's offense.
I also don't think you're giving Westbrook enough credit for his rushing skills. He is an extremely explosive runner who could go the distance on any carry. Donovan McNabb might have been exaggerating recently when he said he could envision Westbrook as a 2,000-yard rusher, but I thought the quarterback was right on the mark when he said Westbrook could have "2,500 to 2,700 yards in total offense."
What's up with the Redskins?
Question: I'm a big Redskins fan and I wanted to ask what you thought about the direction of the franchise. It seems like Joe Gibbs has had a positive influence on Dan Snyder in that we are building a team rather than just signing high-profile guys. I think we are better than we were last year and love the LaRon Landry signing. I think the defense should be much improved. Is nine or 10 wins out of the question? Are the real problems with the O and D lines and not the skill positions? -- Jimmy S.
The Redskins have been sounder in their approach to acquiring talent. They've figured out that continually pursuing big-ticket free agents eventually backfires in terms of salary-cap implications.
I agree that the defense has a chance to get better. After finishing 31st in the league last season, it certainly couldn't get a whole lot worse.
A nine or 10-win season could be asking too much, especially with Jason Campbell likely to experience more growing pains as a young quarterback. And if, as you point out, the offensive and defensive lines are the team's "real problems," they could do plenty to compromise the effectiveness of the skill players.