Each offseason NFL teams have to reload via the draft, free agency or trades. With these moves bring new issues every year, which is part of the reason fans love the build-up to the next season. In this series of blogs I'll address an issue facing each team in the NFL. Some may be bigger than others and some teams may have more issues to deal with as well, but I'll only focus on one for now.
The Denver Broncos boasted the best rushing attack in the NFL last season and one of the worst passing attacks. Both were directly linked to quarterback Tim Tebow, who is now in New York. While Tebow was a fan favorite in Denver, the die-hard fans have a lot to look forward to in 2012. They now have future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, under center and those passing numbers should go up substantially for the Broncos. So the big question is how effective the rushing attack will be without Tebow?
The Broncos have veteran Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno as a nice one-two punch. With McGahee getting up there in age for a running back and Moreno being injury-plagued so far in his young career, and the Broncos have some question marks in the backfield. Denver does have bruiser Lance Ball in the mix. He proved to be valuable last year as he rushed for 402 yards, the most in any of his three years in the league. The Broncos also drafted Ronnie Hillman out of San Diego State in April's draft in hopes he will be a spark plug in 2012. As long as Denver gives Manning some decent outings on the ground, he should be able to work his magic.
The Chiefs have multiple issues entering the 2012 season, but the No. 1 focus is quarterback Matt Cassel and the offense. Cassel played in nine games last year, going 4-5 for the Chiefs. Considering Kansas City won just seven games on the year, the team's success is directly linked to Cassel. The Chiefs ranked 25th in the league in passing last season as well, so if they want a shot at the division that will have to change. Granted the team did suffer a myriad of injuries last year, so it was difficult to overcome the loss of the leading rusher Jamaal Charles, a stellar defender in Eric Berry and having Cassel for just nine games.
It will be an uphill battle for the Chiefs, but as long as the core comes in healthy they'll have a shot at the division. Again, with the passing game lacking last year, the Chiefs need someone to step up to be Dwayne Bowe's sidekick. Jon Baldwin and Steve Breaston haven't panned out yet, but they both will be given every opportunity to show what they bring to the table this season.
All teams in the NFL have guys entering the 2012 season looking to rebound from an injury-plagued season. The Raiders are no different, but there is a much bigger issue facing this squad than an injury. The defense was plain awful last season, ranking 27th in the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed. The Raiders gave up 27.1 points per game, which was third most in the league. And what did Oakland do to address the defense this offseason?
Not much. They didn't have a pick in the draft until the third round as they traded multiple picks for quarterback Carson Palmer last season. Granted four of the six picks did go to bolster the defense, none of the selections are expected to be big-time contributors. In free agency the Raiders brought in some help in the secondary, but will it be enough. Chances are the Raiders stay at the bottom of the division as it doesn't seem like the defense has changed enough to make them contenders in 2012.
Last, but certainly not least is San Diego. The Chargers are usually perennial playoff contenders, but last season they fell short of the postseason. A big reason for San Diego's .500 record was they couldn't close out games. Many teams in the league rely on a strong running attack at the end of games to seal the win. The Chargers had a nice one-two punch with Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert last year, with Mathews surpassing 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in his short NFL career. He found the end zone just six times for the Chargers, and fumbled five times.
To be the primary ball carrier, Mathews has to hold on to the ball and excel in the red zone. With Tolbert out of the picture this season, the Chargers drafted two running backs in the draft – Edwin Baker and Michael Hayes. It's unclear at this stage of the offseason which back will step up during training camp. So the big issue for the Bolts is this – can Mathews be the main back and stay healthy throughout the 2012 season? He has yet to play in all 16 games in either of his first two years in the league, giving him an injury-prone label by some circles in the NFL.
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