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Crossing the Line - Week 1
By Fritz Schlottman
September 5, 2003
 

(2002 Regular Season Statistics)

St. Louis vs. NYG  

St. Louis Offense

Sacked/G= 2.875

Rush TDs/G= .69

Rush Avg.=4.1

NYG Defense

Sacks/G=2.3

Rush TDs Against/G=.75

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

St. Louis Defense

Sacks/G=2.4

Rush TDs Against/G=.94

Rush Avg. Against=4.1

NYG Offense

Sacked/G=1.5

Rush TDs/G=.875

Rush Avg.=3.9

When the Rams have the ball-Considering that QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk only played 11 quarters together because of injuries, the Rams have a lot riding on their offensive line this season. Last season's starting right tackle, John St. Claire was nothing more than a turnstile prompting the signing of Saints T Kyle Turley. The NFL leader in the helmet toss will get a test right out of the gate when he faces off against Giants DE Michael Strahan. St. Claire has moved back to center, his natural position, where he will play as a reserve.

Newcomer C Dave Wohlabaugh should be available for the opener. He busted a thumb in the second preseason game. LG Andy McCollum has also struggled. The big man had a rough preseason notably against the Raiders defensive tackles.

If the Rams are going to regain their explosiveness on offense they have to get better protection. Much of what the Rams do depends on letting Bruce and Holt stretch the defense with their speed. St. Louis dumped the ball off early and often in preseason inflating Warner's QB rating to a degree. Warner does not handle pressure well and protecting the St. Louis QB is the key to their season.

When the Giants have the ball-With T Mike Rosenthal (Vikings) and G Jason Whittle (Buc's) moving on, New York will have to repeat their miracle of the 2002 season. Replacing the entire right side of the offensive line won't be easy, but given the job Giants coach Jim McNally did last year, it's not beyond the realm of possibilities. Rookie David Diehl will get the start at guard and free agent Ian Allen will be the first choice at tackle to start the season. With five of their eight offensive linemen new this year, chemistry will be a big issue Sunday.

And they will get tested this week against the Rams speed rushers. Pass rushing specialist DE Leonard Little who had a breakout season last fall. He will test Giants T Ian Allen right away.

C Chris Bober is still suffering from broken ribs. He's expected to suck it up and start this week. The Giants will need strong play from their interior line to take advantage of St. Louis' weakness in the interior defense. The Rams have spent three number one picks on their interior defense and have nada to show for their efforts.

New England vs. Buffalo  

New England Offense

Sacked/G=1.94

Rush TDs/G= .56

Rush Avg.=3.8

Buffalo Defense

Sacks/G=1.93

Rush TDs Against/G=1.17

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

New England Defense

Sacks/G=2.125

Rush TDs Against/G=1.06

Rush Avg. Against=4.7

Buffalo Offense

Sacked/G=3.34

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Patriots have the ball- It's going to be interesting to see how much the loss of former S Lawyer Milloy will hurt New England. Not only does he know all the defensive calls and alignments, but he practiced against the starting offense every day. The Bills will be debriefing him all week, hoping to get a tip-off on the New England play calling.

Recognizing the play even before the snap would put New England's marginal offensive line under even more pressure. Other than Pro Bowl C Damien Woody, this is a unit of journeymen that have struggled through injuries. G Joe Andruzzi is the next best player, when he's on the field (and that's not often). The big guard is coming off another knee injury. Adrian Klemm is a very marginal right tackle that has to be looking over his shoulder every week. Klemm replaces Kenyatta Jones who is on the PUP list to start the season.

The Bills, on the other hand, made a number of big additions to their defense this off-season. Besides the recently acquired Milloy, Buffalo went into the free agent market and landed big-ticket free agent LB Takeo Spikes (Cincinnati), then found a big (and we're talking visible to orbiting Russian cosmonauts here) DT in Sam Adams. Adams will park his big butt right in the center of the line and absorb blocks, freeing up LB Spikes and LB London Fletcher to run to the ball. Spikes is a big boy and can handle guards but the diminutive Fletcher would hold up better if he weren't whacked every down. The new zone blitz scheme will also give the Buffalo linebackers more shots at the quarterback, and they need it. The Bills were among the worst at rushing the quarterback last year. With the new additions, Buffalo's defensive squad should be much better than their 29th against the rush standing of a year ago.

When the Bills have the ball-The Bills offensive line is big, young and strong. That's good because QB Drew Bledsoe has zero mobility in the pocket. The one change this season is the addition of G Mike Pucillo to the starting line-up at right guard. They will be under pressure to protect Bledsoe all season if the Bills continue to throw the ball all over the field.

The Patriots defense has made the switch to a 3-4 alignment in an attempt to fix their rush defense woes. When this didn't appear to be working the team went out and got their own Sam Adams to absorb blocks. There are few defensive tackles as big and as strong as the 6-7 375+ lb., 35 year old Ted Washington. The former Bill, former Bear battled injuries last year, but when he's healthy it's like trying to move a cement truck. That big, old body seems to have done the trick.

With a stopper in the middle of the line, the Patriots defensive ends and linebackers can get up the field. LB Roosevelt Colvin may have been the biggest free agent signing of the year. Playing next to Pro Bowl DE Richard Seymour gives the team two pass rushing options on the quarterback's blind side.

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh  

Baltimore Offense

Sacked/G=2.56

Rush TDs/G=.56

Rush Avg.=4.2

Pittsburgh Defense

Sacks/G=3.125

Rush TDs Against/G=1.0

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Baltimore Defense

Sacks/G=2.06

Rush TDs Against/G=1.06

Rush Avg. Against=3.7

Pittsburgh Offense

Sacked/G=2.125

Rush TDs/G=.94

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Ravens have the ball- Protecting a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start against the Steelers blitzing defense should be a big challenge for the Ravens offensive line. Pounding the ball and playing tough defense seems to be the order of the day and that will require a lot from an over-matched offensive line.

Other than Pro Bowl LT Jonathan Ogden there are few standouts on the unit. Not exactly the best athletes on the field, the Ravens blockers are stocky guys that use angles to open holes rather than overpowering the opposition. This squad was adequate last year, but struggled down on the goal line when brute force was needed.

The Steelers stood pat on their front seven from last season, but they will be without LB Joey Porter who had a bullet pulled out of his ass this week and will miss the first few games of the season. He will be gone, but not forgotten.

When the Steelers have the ball-The Steelers offensive line is a mess already this season. Both offensive tackles were question marks entering camp and now the team has problems with the rest of the starters.

G Kendall Simmons was diagnosed with adult diabetes, dropped a ton of weight and missed the first half of training camp. The second year player is clearly not well and not the powerful drive blocker he was as a rookie. C Jeff Hartings has knee problems that aren't going to get better without major surgery. He's run out of cartilage in one knee and has missed over a week's worth of practices. T Marvel Smith's move from RT to LT has not gone well, but the team is hoping he will become more consistent after a few regular season games. RT Oliver Ross blew his chance at being the solid starter, opening the door for Todd Fordham who hasn't exactly been overpowering either. Fordham will get the start.

Problems on the offensive line may have led to changes at runningback and tight end. If Pittsburgh doesn't think they can dominate the opposition on the ground, then RB Zereoue and TE Riemersma make a lot of sense. Zereoue is a better receiver than Bettis ever was and Riemersma is a liability as a blocker, but is one of the better receiving tight ends. The Steelers may air it out this week and take their chances with the Ravens secondary rather than pounding the ball at Baltimore LB Ray Lewis.

Jacksonville vs. Carolina  

Jacksonville Offense

Sacked/G=2.63

Rush TDs/G=1.2

Rush Avg.=4.6

Carolina Defense

Sacks/G=3.25

Rush TDs Against/G=.75

Rush Avg. Against=3.7

Jacksonville Defense

Sacks/G=2.25

Rush TDs Against/G=.875

Rush Avg. Against= 4.3

Carolina Offense

Sacked/G=2.75

Rush TDs/G=.69

Rush Avg.=3.5

When the Jaguars have the ball- Opening up against the Panthers defense on the road should not be pleasant this week. Carolina's ferocious pass rush will be ready to tee off on a Jaguars offensive line that lost three of their top seven linemen from a year ago.

This is not a strong unit and the lack of a credible receiving threat (J.J. Stokes and Matt Hatchette are the starters) means they will certainly be facing eight in the box this week. Without a franchise receiver to take the heat off the often-injured RB Fred Taylor and QB Mark Brunell, the Jacksonville backfield will be under siege.

Leading the Barbarians at the gate will be 2002's outstanding rookie defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers should be well rested after missing the final four games of last season with a suspension. When he isn't in the backfield expect DE Mike Rucker to be raising hell. Rucker has a slight ankle injury and is probable for the opener.

When the Panthers have the ball-Carolina had the second best defense last year. Unfortunately, they also had the second worst offense as well.

Having Stephen Davis carrying the old pig's bladder certainly will help. Davis is a major upgrade form the journeymen that have started for Carolina in the past. Head Coach Fox intends to use him to pound away at the opposition's interior defense.

The Panthers made a point of upgrading he line in front of the big back. OL Doug Brzezinski was signed from the Eagles. Carolina was expecting him to start, but Jeno James won the job in camp. Brzezinski will have to be content as a highly paid back up for now. Rookie first round pick RT Jordan Gross will start right away and should get up to speed fairly quickly.

The Jaguars only hope of winning this football game is to play conservative on offense and play tough defense. Former Eagle Hugh Douglas will have to carry this defensive squad for a while. Jacksonville has all sorts of questions on the defensive front seven and the secondary is inconsistent at best. The Jags are going to need some big plays and some turnovers to compete this week.

Houston vs. Miami  

Houston Offense

Sacked/G=4.75

Rush TDs/G=.375

Rush Avg.=3.2

Miami Defense

Sacks/G=2.94

Rush TDs Against/G=.56

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Houston Defense

Sacks/G=2.19

Rush TDs Against/G=.875

Rush Avg. Against=4.1

Miami Offense

Sacked/G=1.56

Rush TDs/G=1.5

Rush Avg.=4.7

When the Texans have the ball- Who would blame Texans QB David Carr if he developed a nervous tick. The Houston signal-caller just got hammered last season. Playing back up at the tackle position. Just Carr's luck, he's got to open on the road against the Dolphins and their third ranked defense.

LDE Adewale Ogunleye and RDE Jason Taylor must have been anticipating this game all off-season. The Texans struggled all season to get their sacks against per game under six and they may give more than the average to start this season. Taylor may jump start his bid to beat the current season best sack mark of 18.5 and even Pro Bowl LDT Tim Bowens, not normally a pass rusher, may get into the act.

The Houston offensive line wasn't just bad last season. it was record setting bad. Seventy-six sacks against will be hard to beat this season, but they may give it a run.

C Steve McKinney has already been injured. The starting center missed preseason with a sprained knee. Tackles Tony Boselli and Ryan Young are long gone. Chester Pitts will be under siege at left tackle and Greg Randall won't have it any better on the right side. Pitts got thrown to the wolves last season when Boselli took a powder; hopefully the scars have healed. Randall's lack of conditioning led to his departure from New England. Aside from journeyman signing RG Zach Wiegert (perhaps), this Texans team just doesn't have a lot of experience or talent up front. Get comfortable with the fetal position and don't let that insurance lapse, David Carr.

When the Dolphins have the ball-The Dolphins have gone through their annual loss of their starting left tackle. This time it was Mark Dixon who got the whammy. The good news is that he should be back in a few games rather than missing the season, which is the status quo in south Florida. Wade Smith will take his spot this week and should do fine against a Texans' front that will be missing its best defensive lineman.

Gary Walker made the Pro Bowl in the franchise's first season. Unfortunately, a sprained right shoulder may keep him out of this week's action. Houston's other two defensive line starters are.uh, well they're out there. Seth Payne and Jerry DeLoach aren't great, but they're head and shoulders above the rest of a very thin defensive line. Don't expect a lot of help form the returning linebackers, they managed just 11 sacks last season.

Indianapolis vs. Cleveland  

Indianapolis Offense

Sacked/G=1.44

Rush TDs/G=.75

Rush Avg.=3.6

Cleveland Defense

Sacks/G=1.75

Rush TDs Against/G=.75

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Indianapolis Defense

Sacks/G=2.25

Rush TDs Against/G=1.0

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Cleveland Offense

Sacked/G=2.18

Rush TDs/G=.63

Rush Avg.=4.0

When the Colts have the ball-Another disappointing playoff loss may have led to major restructuring on the Colts offensive line. Former starting right offensive tackle Adam Meadows is now a backup and former starting right offensive guard Ryan Diem moves in to Meadows' old spot. Rookie Steve Sciullo takes over for Diem at right offensive guard.

Sciullo was the team's fourth round draft pick this year. Difficult to say this is an upgrade as the unit uses more finesse than brawn.

The Browns have nothing, zip, nada on defense. No pass rush, no coverage, and God-awful linebacking play. Steve McNair, Brett Favre and Joey Harrington all made them look bad this preseason.

DE Courtney Brown missed the first half of preseason while recovering from microfracture surgery and DT Gerard Warren didn't have a tackle for three games, and he played! These are two former number one picks. Brown has frustrated Cleveland fans for years with his play and poor health and Warren, by his own admission, spent his first two years in the pros partying. Unless you're name is Lawrence Taylor, hitting the hippie lettuce and playing pirate with Capt'n Morgan isn't going to make you a better ball-player.

And the defensive line play is good compared to the linebackers. After releasing he team's top four players from a season ago (Earl Holmes, Jamir Miller, Darren Hambrick, and Dwayne Rudd) the Browns are starting Ben Taylor, Andra Davis and Kevin Bentley in their places. A complete meltdown on defense is possible this season.

When the Browns have the ball-And there are more problems here. T Russ Verba is toast and C Jeff Faine became the defacto starter the second he was drafted. RG Shaun O'Hara isn't the kind of power-blocking guard that's favored in the AFC North and gets pushed into the backfield too often. The other starters are serviceable, but nothing to jump up and down about. LT Barry Stokes (Verba's replacement) hasn't played the position since 2001 and he'll draw the Colts best pass-rusher (Freeney).

The Colts will come at the Browns offensive front by moving personnel around and confusing he blocking assignments. Cleveland will have to account for Colts DE Dwight Freeney on every play. Freeney set a team record 13 sacks despite starting for only half the season. DEs Brad Scioli and Chad Bratzke move in and around the line-up playing both tackle positions and end. T Larry Tripplett will look to make an impact after an injury-plagued 2002 campaign.

Denver vs. Cincinnati  
Denver Offense

Sacked/G=2.88

Rush TDs/G=1.3

Rush Avg.=5.0

Cincinnati Defense

Sacks/G=1.5

Rush TDs Against/G=1.0

Rush Avg. Against=4.0

Denver Defense

Sacks/G=2.5

Rush TDs Against/G= 1.3

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

Cincinnati Offense

Sacked/G=2.31

Rush TDs/G=.81

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Broncos have the ball- Denver stood pat on their offensive line, and who can blame them? When you're getting five yards per carry, you can jam the ball down the opponent's pie hole any time you want. C Tom Nalen and G Dan Neil have their injury problems, but when healthy they can leg-whip with the best of them.

The Bengals, somehow, some way, must find a pass rush. Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis has made special teams and improving the defensive line his top priorities. To that end, he brought in three free agents, two of which (DE Duane Clemons and DT John Thornton) are expected to start and contribute right away. Thornton is a big body who will absorb double teams and Clemons will team with DE Justin Smith to put pressure on the opposing quarterback.

With the loss of Takeo Spikes, the Bengals have gotten smaller and faster at the linebacker positions. Kevin Hardy will get OTJ training at the middle linebacker position where his sideline-to-sideline speed is most useful and returning starter Brian Simmons will move over to fill Spikes' old job.

When the Bengals have the ball-Cincinnati is experimenting once again on the offensive line. The jury is still out on the move to G Mike Goff to center and the play of rookie starter Eric Steinbach at the left guard position. The Broncos will test the center of the Bengals offensive line for weakness early in this game. If Bengals RB Corey Dillon has to bounce runs outside, the Broncos speedy linebackers will eat him alive.

Denver will have to stuff the run with two newcomers at the tackle spot. Daryl Gardener is a solid player, but gets injured too often. Last season, it was his back. This year, he'll start with a cast on his wrist. Dorsett Davis looks good at the other tackle, but there's no clear answer at the right defensive end. The linebackers (SLB John Mobley, MLB Al Wilson, and WLB IAN Gold) can flat-out fly. If the defensive line can get a little pressure on the passer and keep guards off the linebackers the Broncos should be solid up front.

Arizona vs. Detroit  

Arizona Offense

Sacked/G=2.56

Rush TDs/G=.63

Rush Avg.=4.4

Detroit Defense

Sacks/G=2.06

Rush TDs Against/G=1.2

Rush Avg. Against=4.0

Arizona Defense

Sacks/G=1.3

Rush TDs Against/G=1.06

Rush Avg. Against=4.4

Detroit Offense

Sacked/G=1.25

Rush TDs/G=.56

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Cardinals have the ball- While Arizona is waiting to build some chemistry between QB Jeff Blake and his no-name receivers, the Cardinals will pound away at the opposition behind their huge offensive line.

G Leonard Davis and T Anthony Clement are big enough to tilt the field. If 270 lb. FB James Hodgson is on their side of the field they will seriously outweigh any opposition. Davis has had a broken hand throughout the preseason. Former guard Pete Kendall will play center this year. Cameron Spikes will hold down the fort at the other guard position until Frank Garcia finishes his Ephedra suspension.

The Lions have some big boys of their own. Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson was signed after being let go by the Redskins in a salary dispute. He'll rotate in with a slimmer DT Shaun Rogers, who looks to rebound after a disappointing sophomore campaign, and DT Luther Elliss who is recovering from a torn pec. Detroit will also rotate at both end positions with speed rusher Kalimba Edwards subbing for veteran Robert Porcher and James Hall.

When the Lions have the ball- QB Joey Harrington can sleep easy this week. The Lions gave up the fewest sacks last year and the Cardinals' pass rush was extinct in 2002. T Jeff Backus is a solid pass-blocker that played like a veteran from the get-go. C Dominic Raiola is the tough-guy of the bunch and RT Stockar McDougle is another big guy with an attitude. 40-years old Ray Brown with start his 18th season at guard. He's a better leader than a player at this point in his career.

The Cardinals are in deep poo-poo on defense. They lost their two best starters (DT Kyle Vanden Bosch and LCB Duane Starks) before the start of the season. This team has been last in the league in sacking he quarterback for two years running and a starting front four of Fred Wakefield, LT Wendell Bryant, RT Russell Davis, and RE Calvin Pace isn't going to scare anyone. The linebackers won't be much help early as Ray Thompson and Levar Fisher are both rookies. Undersized MLB Ron McKinnon will have to anchor the group.

Minnesota vs. Green Bay  
Minnesota Offense

Sacked/G=3.06

Rush TDs/G=1.63

Rush Avg.=5.3

Green Bay Defense

Sacks/G=2.69

Rush TDs Against/G=.875

Rush Avg. Against=4.8

Minnesota Defense

Sacks/G=1.69

Rush TDs Against/G=9.4

Rush Avg. Against=4.2

Green Bay Offense

Sacked/G=1.69

Rush TDs/G=.75

Rush Avg.=4.3

When the Vikings have the ball-This offensive line should be called big and bigger. T Mike Rosenthal was the biggest Giants offensive lineman last season. He's now the smallest Viking blocker. Hard to imagine that 6-7, 315 rates you as the runt of the litter, but that's the way it is among the Vikings. LT Bryant McKinnie is the biggest of the bunch, tipping the scales at 6-8, 346 while LG Chris Liwienski is in the 6-5, 325 range.

Expect these big boys to pound on a Packer defense that was 31st against the rush last season. DE Joe Johnson has been a huge disappointment after signing from New Orleans for a chunk of change. Johnson had a torn triceps last season and now is 31 years old. NT Gilbert Brown is playing through a biceps tear the team thought would keep him out for the season. That leads DT Cletidus Hunt and RE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as the only solid starters. KGB (255 lb.) can't go all game because he's giving up serious tonnage to Vikings T McKinnie (like 120 lb.). The Vikings massive tackle will wear him out without frequent rests. Green Bay will be searching for bodies to rotate through the line as the beating begins to take its toll.

When the Packers have the ball-Nearly all of the Packers offensive linemen are coming off some kind of injury. LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher just returned to the starting line-up. Clifton is recovering from a separated pelvis and Tauscher blew out a knee. RG Marco Rivera tore a MCL in his knee in the fourth exhibition game and is 50-50 to play this week, and if he plays he won't be near 100%. Only LG Mike Wahle and C Mike Flanagan are truly healthy.

The Vikings put a lot of effort into upgrading their defense this off-season. If they're twice as good as a year ago they're still among the league's worst units.

Minnesota will start rookie DE Kevin Williams at left defensive end. The 315 lbs project is big enough to be a run-stopper and his progress prompted the team to move LE Kenny Mixon to the right side. Williams replaces Lance Johnstone who had been a disappointment after being signed from the Raiders. Johnstone, the team leader in sacks, will come in for pass rush duty. Williams will also play some tackle. Hovan is just plain nuts and will be counted on to rush the passer.

The Vikings linebacker situation is also in the air. Chris Claiborne, the Lions starting middle linebacker from 2000, was supposed to start on the strong side but was changed to the weak side during camp. Henri Crockett was supposed to play middle linebacker but was switched to the strong side. MLB Greg Biekert is 34-years old and needs a nap a half time, but the rookies haven't come along strong enough to replace him yet. The Minnesota secondary is a mess, as usual.

San Diego vs. Kansas City  

San Diego Offense

Sacked/G=1.5

Rush TDs/G=1.2

Rush Avg.=4.6

Kansas City Defense

Sacks/G=2.125

Rush TDs Against/G=1.2

Rush Avg. Against=4.8

San Diego Defense

Sacks/G=2.44

Rush TDs Against/G=.94

Rush Avg. Against=4.2

Kansas City Offense

Sacked/G=1.625

Rush TDs/G=1.63

Rush Avg.=5.1

When the Chargers have the ball- A very underrated group, the San Diego offensive line was among the league leaders in sacks allowed and averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. With a few free agent signings, they should be better this year.

Solomon Page and Kelvin Garmon were signed from the Cowboys to play guard and each has become an instant starters. They'll bracket last year's best offensive lineman C Jason Ball. Ball won the honor playing in his first season. Tackles Damion McIntosh and Vaughn Parker are solid, if unspectacular linemen that fit well into the Chargers system.

The Chiefs had the worst defense in the league last season. They exposed their secondary to a weekly beating by generating only 34 sacks last season.

To get a pass rush, Kansas City made several moves during the off-season. RE Vonnie Holliday joins the squad from the Packers. Holiday has the size to stop the run and the ability to pressure the quarterback from the strong side of the formation. Holliday gives the Chief another pass rush threat to go along with LE Eric Hicks and LT John Browning. If they can't get it done, look for LB Shawn Barber to come off the corner on a blitz.

When the Chiefs have the ball-The Chiefs made no changes to the offensive line. When you start two guys that went to the Pro Bowl and one that probably should have gone, you wouldn't expect a lot of changes to the line-up. Top to bottom, Kansas City has the best, although they're thin, offensive line in football.

The Chargers don't know what they have yet on defense. After finishing dead last in pass defense last year, the broom came out and 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau and two-time Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison were gone.

The defensive line remained in place through the changes. DE Marcellus Wiley and RE Raylee Johnson had disappointing seasons in 2002. Wiley was coming off a 13 sack 2001 season and played through injuries last year. He finished with only six sacks for all of 2002. He will have to return to his 2001 form to protect the very young San Diego secondary.

Atlanta vs. Dallas  

Atlanta Offense

Sacked/G=2.25

Rush TDs/G=1.44

Rush Avg.=4.5

Dallas Defense

Sacks/G=1.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.625

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Atlanta Defense

Sacks/G=2.94

Rush TDs Against/G=.75

Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Dallas Offense

Sacked/G=3.375

Rush TDs/G=.44

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Falcons have the ball-Atlanta's running game has been dead on arrival this preseason. Without Vick at quarterback, there's little mystery about the Falcon offense. Atlanta with 4th in the NFL in rushing last season, but managed only 49 total rushing yards through their first three preseason games.

The tackle play has been average, but the interior line play has been awful. None of these Falcons (LG Travis Claridge, C Todd McClure, and RG Kynan Forney) are maulers and their lack of physical play is disturbing. Vick's rushing on broken pass plays was a good chunk of the number four rushing rating. Now that Vick's on the shelf for a while, the big guys are going to have to step up and give the opposition a reason not to tee off on QB Doug Johnson.

The Cowboys are going to come after them this week. In 2002, this unit had a total of 23 sacks, and that isn't going to cut it with Parcells. Former number one pick, DE Ebenezer Ekuban is dead meat if he pulls another one sack season, and he knows it. DE Greg Ellis led the team with 7.5 sacks and DT La'Roi Glover had 6.5 as well, good enough for a trip to the Pro Bowl. The pressure is on the defensive line to improve or else.

Dallas is one of the few teams that starts two linebackers under six feet tall. Nguyen (5-11, 243) and Coakley (5-10, 236) have a lot of heart and speed but they can't stand up to the weekly pounding they receive from 300 lbs. linemen. The Cowboys defensive line must do a better job of tying up blockers if their linebacker are flow to the football.

When the Cowboys have the ball-The good news is that it can't be worse than last season. The bad news is that it might not be much better.

Dallas was chewed up by injuries on the offensive line. By midseason they were signing guys off the practice squad and starting them on Sunday. If one player got injured, the least banged up player on the sideline had to go in and play. The Cowboys played nine different units in the first ten games.

There's still a lot of patching up going on. G Larry Allen is feuding with his new coach and coming of a series of injuries including a hamstring injury. He's questionable for Sunday. C Matt Lehr wasn't supposed to be the opening day starter and Andre Gurode wasn't supposed to be starting at guard next to him. But injuries and poor play have taken their toll on the favorites. Only T Ryan Young looks like an upgrade and that is assuming that he can return to his pre-Texans form.

The Falcons have questions of their own on defense. Questions like, other than DE Patrick Kerney can any defensive lineman stay healthy? RE Brady Smith is always fighting one injury or another and DT Ed Jasper had off-season back surgery that hasn't completely fixed the problem. Once these guys are out of the starting line-up it's anyone's guess. It's a good thing Atlanta's got one of the better linebacking corps.

New Orleans vs. Seattle  

New Orleans Offense

Sacked/G=2.31

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=4.1

Seattle Defense

Sacks/G=1.75

Rush TDs Against/G=1.125

Rush Avg. Against=4.9

New Orleans Defense

Sacks/G=2.44

Rush TDs Against/G=1.125

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

Seattle Offense

Sacked/G=2.06

Rush TDs/G=1.06

Rush Avg.=4.0

When the Saints have the ball- Wayne Gandy replaces Kyle Turley in the line-up. Gandy came over from the Steelers after the Rams signed Turley. The new starting left tackle has been a disappointment so far. RG LeCharles Bentley may be the best of the bunch and that is if he can stay healthy. LG Kendyl Jacox is another physical guard that pounds away at defensive tackles. C Jerry Fontenot continues to get by on technique and brains rather than brawn. This squad should be a solid foundation for the Saints high-powered offense.

Can the Seahawks stop the rush? They were dead last at stopping opposing ball carriers last season and the 31st team was nowhere in sight.

Ray Rhodes was brought in to fix the problem ASAP. He brought in DT Norman Hand and DE Chike Okeafor to upgrade the defensive front, and they are tougher than last year's bunch but injuries are already a factor.

With the loss of CB Shawn Springs, the Seahawks may be playing two rookies in the secondary. Seattle needs to get pressure up front to cover up for their inexperience in the secondary, but injuries to have already hit the front seven.

You either love or loath Rhodes' defense because it so disciplined and passive that it's a lot like slowly bleeding to death on the field in order not to give up the big play. It's not my cup of tea, but given Seattle's injury problems it may be what the doctor ordered.

When the Seahawks have the ball- Well, T Walter Jones signed early this year. The Pro bowl offensive lineman has a habit of missing camp then signing a one-year deal so that he can miss next season's summer practices. 2003 was no different.

Assuming that Jones is up to speed this week, the Seahawks have another problem. T Chris Terry will begin serving a four-game suspension this week leaving Seattle short-handed right out of the gate. G Steve Hutchinson is expected to have fully recovered from his season ending injury of a year ago and is the best interior lineman.

The Saints have their own injury woes. Both Saints defensive ends Darren Howard and Charles Grant have been banged up in preseason. They were numbers 1-2 on the squad in sacks last season (15). Howard suffered a bruised bone in his right knee in an exhibition game with the New York Jets on Aug. 16 and Grant strained a calf muscle in the final practice before training camp ended on Aug. 21. Both will play hurt this Sunday, if they play at all. DT Henry Ford is out three games after surgery. He had bone spurs removed from his ankle late in August.

Chicago vs. San Francisco  

Chicago Offense

Sacked/G=2.75

Rush TDs/G=.5

Rush Avg.=3.5

San Francisco Defense

Sacks/G=2.0

Rush TDs Against/G=.875

Rush Avg. Against=4.2

Chicago Defense

Sacks/G=2.19

Rush TDs Against/G=.82

Rush Avg. Against=4.1

San Francisco Offense

Sacked/G=1.38

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=4.6

When the Bears have the ball-It's game one and the Bears have already lost one side of their offensive line. RT Marc Colombo, 2002 number one draft pick, is a long way off from starting. He suffered a dislocated kneecap and has been slow to heal. Aaron Gibson, who ate himself out of a job in Detroit and Dallas, becomes the starter. The left tackle, Mike Gandy, got banged up at the end of August and Terrence Metcalf broke a finger, but is expected to be available. LG Rex Tucker is fighting to come back from his own season-ending injury, and the beat goes on.Expect nothing out of the Bears offense this season and you won't be disappointed.

The 49ers have done little to improve a defensive line that failed to pressure the quarterback without bringing supporting blitzers last season. RE Andre Carter is the best of the bunch and will need a Pro Bowl year if San Francisco is to return to the playoffs. LDE John Engelberger has no pass rush at all and comes out in favor of Chidi Ahanotu on passing downs. Rookie LT Anthony Adams will be playing his first regular season NFL football game this Sunday. LB Julian Peterson may play quite a bit of defensive end if the front four can't get pressure on their own. The 49ers are so deep at linebacker that they can afford to play backups in nickel situations.

When the 49ers have the ball-The 49ers offensive line remained intact from 2002 despite C Jeremy Newberry playing the season with a torn ligament in his ankle. This is a deep unit that has overcome injuries in he past and performed. San Francisco's pass protection is among the best in the league.

Chicago has rebuilt their defensive front and should be better up front then they were a year ago. Bryan Robinson moves inside from defensive end to defensive tackle and gives the Bears new attacking defense some penetration in the interior defense. T Keith Traylor will be the run-stopper in the center of the line, so long as he stays healthy. Alex Brown takes Robinson's place at end and is expected to generate more pressure on the quarterback than his predecessor managed. Even with all the moving around, Chicago hasn't replaced the production they got from LB Rosevelt Colvin.

Oakland vs. Tennessee  

Oakland Offense

Sacked/G=2.25

Rush TDs/G=1.3

Rush Avg.=4.3

Tennessee Defense

Sacks/G=2.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.44

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Oakland Defense

Sacks/G=2.69

Rush TDs Against/G=.875

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Tennessee Offense

Sacked/G=1.31

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=3.8

When the Raiders have the ball-C Barrett Robbins made the team despite being AWOL from the Super Bowl. Robbins came into camp overweight and coming off knee surgery but was too good to let go. His starting center position was a three-way battle all camp and will be fought out through the first month of the season. Matt Stinchcomb won the starting center job.

Robbins wasn't the only player to come to camp with baggage. Guards Frank Middleton and Mo Collins put on a few extra pounds doing the off-season banquet circuit as well. They were big to begin with and now NASA is sending satellites to map the surfaces of these new planets. Good thing they have game.

Titans DE Jevon Kearse just can't seem to stay healthy. Maybe it's his head and maybe it's his contract situation, but he picked up injuries to his foot and ankle during camp. If he ever returns to "Freak" form, the combination of Kearse and DE Kevin Carter would ravage NFL offensive lines. LT Robaire Smith and RT Albert Haynesworth are battling injuries although mobility on the Titans defensive interior line isn't necessary as long as they continue to hold runners to under four yards per carry.

When the Titans have the ball-The Titans made no changes to their 2002 offensive line. They're a physical unit that enjoys pounding on the opposition for four quarters. They're not the most skilled at pass protection, but QB McNairs ability to take off when the protection breaks down limits the number of sacks the team will take.

The Raiders defense is much more aggressive than a year ago. With DT Sam Adams anchoring the line, they played gap control and reacted to the offense. This year, they're getting up the field and causing havoc in the backfield.

The Raiders go at least seven deep on the defensive line. DT John Parrella is just a monster when his motor is on. A run-stopper, he's showing more of a pass rush this season. DT Dana Stubblefield will be expected to stay home and play the run while Parrella attacks the offense. Stubble will sub out on passing downs and Rod Coleman (11 sacks in 2002) will come in. DE Kenyon Coleman will see action on first down and rushing situations. He'll tag off to the veteran DE Trace Armstrong on passing downs.

Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia  

Tampa Bay Offense

Sacked/G=2.56

Rush TDs/G=.375

Rush Avg.=3.8

Philadelphia Defense

Sacks/G=3.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.31

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Tampa Bay Defense

Sacks/G=2.69

Rush TDs Against/G=.50

Rush Avg. Against=3.8

Philadelphia Offense

Sacked/G=2.25

Rush TDs/G=.94

Rush Avg.=4.5

When the Buc's have the ball-Can Tampa Bay run the ball? Well, with the addition of two free agents to the center of the Buc's offense, Tampa may just improve on their anemic 3.8 yards per carry average.

C John Wade and RG Jason Whittle are supposed to be the answer for the Buc's running game. But there are issues. Wade will start but Whittle broke a leg during the off-season Cosey Coleman will take over the guard position on Monday. Regardless of who starts, Tampa desperately needed depth on the line. The starters need to stay healthy because Tampa is really thin behind them.

The Eagles lost a number of key starters on defense, but seem to have recovered nicely. DT Corey Simon is one of the league's best run defenders at his position. He'll team with Darwin Walker at tackle with Hollis Thomas and Paul Grasmanis rotating in. DE Derrick Burgess is coming off a major injury that kept him off the field in 2002 and RE Kanu gained enough weight that the team believes he can be more than a pass rush specialist. First round draft pick Jerome McDougle will also get playing time this season.

When the Eagles have the ball-What can you say about an offensive line that sends three members to the Pro Bowl? Maybe giving up just 13 sacks in their last 9 games would have something to do with their selections?

Ahem, speaking of Pro Bowl appearances.The Buc's defense led them to the championship and their defense will have to lead them back. DT Warren Sapp is probably in his last season with the team and will want to make a big splash before trying his luck in the market. DE Simeon Rice, over thirty and playing defensive end, had 15.5 sacks last year, but the years have to start taking their toll some time. LB Derrick Brooks was the Defensive Player of the Year and LB Shelton Quarles made it to his first Pro Bowl. They might be pretty strong up front this year.just a guess.