AFC East: Ndamukong Suh

Houston Texans Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt became the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL last year when he signed a six-year, $100 million contract. Earlier this month, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh surpassed Watt with a six-year, $114 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Why is this relevant?

Well, this week Watt restructured just one year into his record-setting agreement. According to ESPN's Field Yates, Watt converted a $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus to free up $8 million of cap room for Houston.

The move might be a prelude of what's coming down the pike with Suh's monster contract with Miami in the coming years. Suh is projected to have very high cap numbers of $28,600,000 in 2016, $15,100,000 in 2017 and $22,100,000 in both 2018 and 2019.

Similar to Houston's situation with Watt, Miami may need to restructure Suh's cap figures in order to create the necessary space it takes sign other good players and be competitive. The Texans had to do it with Watt after one year. Therefore, it won't be shocking if the Dolphins have to do the same with Suh in 2016 or beyond.

The difference between the two situations is Watt's money went from one type of bonus to another. Much of Suh's money after this year is in base salaries, which also can be moved into bonuses that Suh would get upfront.

All of this doesn't mean much for the Dolphins today. But Watt’s restructuring certainly provides a potential blueprint that Miami may need to follow with Suh in the future.

What should Miami Dolphins fans make of Monday's news that coach Joe Philbin received a one-year contract extension?

Not much.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins have extended coach Joe Philbin through the 2016 season.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix that Philbin will be extended through the 2016 season. In a league where perception means plenty, Ross essentially admitted he gave Philbin an extension to avoid the label of a "lame duck" coach. Philbin was entering the final year of the initial contract he signed with the Dolphins in 2012.

However, the extension is merely window dressing and doesn't change Philbin's situation. This remains a playoff-or-bust year for him and for many on his staff.

Philbin must win this season after posting an overall 23-25 record. He promised Ross upon his hiring to "compete for championships" in Miami. Instead, Philbin posted three consecutive non-winning seasons, including back-to-back 8-8 seasons. The Dolphins have been the definition of mediocre the past three years. They haven't been awful, but they haven't been consistently good, either.

Everything will fall into place if the Dolphins end their six-year postseason drought. There is certainly enough talent to make a playoff push, headlined by the recent acquisition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

This is Philbin's fourth chance in a league where many coaches get three or fewer. The only difference after today's extension is Ross most likely would pay Philbin not to work in 2016 if things go poorly.

The Buffalo Bills finally put in their offer to Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay -- and it’s a strong one.

Buffalo is offering Clay a five-year contract, a source told ESPN. The total value of the contract is $38 million, according to the Buffalo News.

The Dolphins currently have the transition tag on Clay and have five days to match the offer. But here is the important question: Should they match?

Miami doesn’t want to lose Clay, but letting him go would be in the best interest of the team’s long-term plans.

Clay is a good tight end. But he’s not elite, and Clay certainly isn't irreplaceable in the Dolphins’ offense. The Dolphins signed quality insurance in former Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract last week. Backup Dion Sims also is a budding tight end with potential, and he filled in well when Clay was injured last season.

The Dolphins do not need Clay nearly as much as the Bills do. Buffalo let both of its top tight ends -- Scott Chandler and Lee Smith -- go in free agency. That is why the Bills anted up for Clay in a big way, despite the possibility of Miami matching the contract.

But here is the key figure that should help make this decision for the Dolphins: Clay's cap hit will be about $12 million in 2016, according to a source.

That 2016 season is important because Ndamukong Suh's cap charge will be huge with a value set at $28.6 million. The Dolphins also are expected to dole out new money to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Pro Bowl offensive lineman Mike Pouncey and starting defensive end Olivier Vernon by that time.

Miami can’t pay everyone. The team would not be wise to pay Clay at the expense of any of these aforementioned players.

I have plenty of respect for Clay, who worked hard and earned his way in Miami as a former sixth-round pick. He has good character on and off the field and did a lot for the Dolphins during his tenure.

But the NFL is a business, and Clay did what he had to do to get a quality offer on the open market. A parting of ways is best for both parties.

New Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh played with good teammates on the defensive line with the Detroit Lions. But none of his former Detroit linemen have the extensive pedigree of Miami's four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

Wake
 
Suh
 Suh's face lit up during Wednesday's press conference when asked about playing next to Wake, who recorded 11.5 sacks in 2014. The two have met at Pro Bowls in the past but will be spending a lot more time together as teammates after Suh signed a $114 million contract to join the Dolphins.

“Man, I’ve been watching that guy for many, many years, he’s a special defensive end,” Suh said. “I look forward to, one, playing next to him, but opposite of. Because if you understand this game and understand how it works, when you have a dominant defensive end on the other side of you and you guys are meeting at the quarterback, it’s really tough for that guy on the side of the ball who’s trying to throw it and hand it off to the running back. I’m excited to be lined up next to and opposite of Cameron Wake.”

With Suh and Wake as anchors, Miami's defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. Fourth-year defensive end Olivier Vernon and starting defensive tackle Earl Mitchell will join the Pro Bowl pair to make up a formidable group next season.

Wake has been the subject of many double teams and still averaged 10.5 sacks per season in his six-year career. Suh now will help occupy most of those double teams while allowing Wake and Vernon, who has 18 sacks the past two seasons, more opportunities to get to the quarterback.

Suh believes the Dolphins have good talent and are a team on the rise in 2015.

“I think there are a handful of guys that I know that are down here that are quality guys on the team,” Suh said. “Jason Fox, Brent Grimes, that young man is very special, [Mike] Pouncey, playing against him and interacting with him at Nike with our other endeavors. For me, I feel like this team has a great nucleus, and it’s about finding some other pieces to help us get over the hump and then continue to make a run.”

It's been seven years since the Miami Dolphins last made the playoffs. Chad Pennington was the quarterback in 2008, head coach Tony Sparano was in his first season and the Dolphins started a new NFL trend called the Wildcat formation.

The Dolphins haven't posted a winning season in a long time. But Wednesday's landmark signing of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is potentially the turning point Miami needs to end its streak.

There are certain responsibilities that come with signing a $114 million contract, which is a new NFL record for a defensive player. Suh is just one player on a 53-man roster, but, rest assured, he will get a lot of credit or blame for Miami's successes or failures during his tenure.

During Wednesday's news conference, Suh said the Dolphins are heading in the right direction. He is the type of game-changer that can take an 8-8 team potentially to 10-6.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsNdamukong Suh notched 8.5 sacks in 2014 and has averaged more than seven sacks per season.
"I'm excited about the pressure," Suh said. "I don't necessarily look at it as pressure. I look at it as doing something I'm built for."

The elite play on the field is already there. That is what earned Suh reportedly $60 million in guaranteed money. Since 2010, Suh leads all defensive tackles in sacks (36), disruptive plays (50 percent) and total snaps (4,107). He is one of the top free agents, in terms of pure talent, to hit the open market in a decade.

However, Suh must come of age in other ways in Miami. It starts with leadership.

Suh was not a vocal leader with the Detroit Lions, which he admitted Wednesday is an area in which he must evolve. Suh also has developed a label around the league as a "dirty" player. He has been fined or suspended in each of five seasons of his NFL career. Most recently, he was fined $70,000 for stepping on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Being a leader in Miami includes cleaning up his play -- especially when the Dolphins are making Suh their highest-paid player. Suh believes he was "misunderstood," which is a word he used twice during his news conference.

"I think for me being misunderstood is kind of related to people having their own opinion and kind of sticking to that rather than getting to know me like these gentlemen [Dolphins leadership] have," Suh said. "They've done their research and really seen the kind of person I am. Like [Dolphins owner] Mr. [Stephen] Ross spoke, people make mistakes and they grow and get better and become better human beings at the end of the day."

I had a good chat Wednesday with Suh's father, Michael, who said candidly his son "is not a monster" and people in South Florida will get to know the real Ndamukong Suh. He's done a lot of charity work in Detroit and for the University of Nebraska, his alma mater. But Suh's on-field incidents earned the most publicity over the years.

"It's just a label that some people just don't know how to let go," Michael Suh said. "Go meet him on the street, talk to him and see what kind of person he is."

The Dolphins already have several good pieces in place. They have three Pro Bowl players in Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes and Mike Pouncey and a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 4,045 yards.

As long as Suh lives up to his end of the bargain -- and past performance strongly suggests he will -- the Dolphins could be on the verge of building a strong franchise.
The Miami Dolphins filled arguably their biggest need over the weekend by agreeing to a six-year, $114 million contract with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The move will take up a majority of Miami’s free-agent spending this offseason, but there is still some cap space to make moves, especially if the team releases defensive tackle Randy Starks ($5 million) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe ($8.45 million).

With that in mind, let’s revisit Miami’s biggest remaining needs heading into free agency, which officially begins Tuesday:
  • Linebacker: The Dolphins still need at least one linebacker (maybe two). Last week they cut former starter Philip Wheeler to save $3 million on their salary cap. Fellow former starting linebacker Ellerbe also is expected to be cut. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi are capable starters, but Miami has at least one starting job open for next season. This could be a need filled via the draft.
  • [+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounAntrel Rolle could be a candidate to fill Miami's need for a starting safety.
    Safety: Miami is in the market for a starting safety for the third straight year. Chris Clemons re-signed with the Dolphins for one year in 2013, and Louis Delmas also signed for one year in 2014. Delmas tore his ACL in December and is not expected to return. There are reports linking Miami to former Buffalo Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy. I also like the match of former New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who is a Miami native and played his college football for the Hurricanes. Those are two affordable options the Dolphins could still handle after Suh’s monster contract.
  • Guard: The Dolphins haven’t done anything as of yet to address their guard position. Former starter Daryn Colledge is a free agent not expected to return and fellow starter Mike Pouncey will be moved back to center next season. The Dolphins may try to fill this position in-house with young, inexperienced offensive linemen Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. But that’s a risky proposition. Protection for quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a high priority. He’s tough and durable, as evidenced by his 48 consecutive starts. But Tannehill has been sacked an astounding 139 times in three seasons. One issue is there are not many top-flight guards on the market in free agency.
  • Cornerback: The Dolphins are in an interesting position at cornerback. They released veteran starter Cortland Finnegan in order to save cap room, but the Dolphins do not currently have a replacement. There are some veteran options in free agency and quality corners in the draft. However, my take is Miami should save its resources to address other areas and fix this problem in-house. The Dolphins have two high draft picks from 2013 in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. With proper coaching and good health, Miami should be able to mold one or both of these young corners into contributors.

These are the top needs for Miami heading into free agency. But things always remain fluid this time of year. The Dolphins could have additional needs at tight end and receiver depending on what happens with the contracts of starters Charles Clay and Mike Wallace, respectively.
Here is an important fact: No team in NFL history ever had two $100-million players under contract in the same season. It is very difficult to manage a successful, 53-man roster when two players are eating up such a large chunk of the salary cap.

But can the Miami Dolphins be the first team to accomplish that feat? It's possible if Miami continues to push forward with discussions of a long-term extension this offseason with starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsQB Ryan Tannehill is in line for a contract extension, but the Dolphins will have to figure out how to divvy up their cash following free-agency signings.
The Dolphins reached an agreement over the weekend with free agent and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh that will pay him $114 million over six years. Miami will make Suh the NFL's highest-paid defensive player, surpassing J.J. Watt ($100 million) of the Houston Texans, and my take is he's worth every penny.

According to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, Suh is guaranteed $60 million over the first three years, which makes you wonder if it's possible to also work out a second large extension this offseason for Tannehill. The 2012 first-round pick is coming off a career season where he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and had a 92.8 passer rating.

A multiyear extension should get Tannehill in the range of $100 million. Recent free-agent quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick all recently received contracts exceeding $100 million. Tannehill's numbers were comparable -- and in some cases better -- than his three counterparts.

Having both Suh and Tannehill under contract for more than $200 million combined would not leave much wiggle room for the Dolphins to spend big on other parts of their roster. But these are Miami's two franchise building blocks on defense and offense.

The Dolphins also have the choice of using their fifth-year option if they want to reserve cap room this year. The option would keep Tannehill's salary at just $2.117 million for 2014, which is extremely modest for his production at the NFL's glamour position. But Tannehill's salary would balloon to $15 million in 2015 under the fifth-year option.

Miami would like to give Tannehill a well-deserved raise this year. But the team may have to get creative now that Suh's mega-contract is on its books.
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New Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the consensus No. 1 player in free agency. Suh is viewed as a rare free agent who doesn't hit the market often, which is why Miami will make him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player at $114 million on Tuesday.

How dominant has Suh been in his first five seasons?

Suh
Here are several telling statistics from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Since being drafted in 2010, Suh leads all NFL defensive tackles in quarterback sacks with 36. Geno Atkins (32), Marcell Dareus (28.5) and Gerald McCoy (27) round out the top four.
  • Suh leads all defensive tackles in snaps (4,107) and disruptive dropbacks (50) since 2010. He is also third in tackles (238) at his position.
  • With Suh, the Detroit Lions led the NFL last season in run defense (63.9 yards per game) and yards allowed before contact (1.51). The Dolphins were 24th in run defense (121.1 yards per game) and 28th in yards allowed before contact (2.96).

My take is Suh is worth every penny for the Dolphins. Not only will he fix Miami's leaky run defense, but Suh's presence and overall dominance will make the other 10 defenders around him better.

The Dolphins arguably have the NFL's best defensive line on paper with the addition of Suh. However, Suh, fellow Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell must quickly establish their chemistry and prove it on the field this season.
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The Miami Dolphins have been the definition of mediocrity in recent seasons. It is indicative in their 8-8, 8-8 and 7-9 records over the past three years under coach Joe Philbin.

Perhaps the biggest issue is Miami put together a roster filled with solid -- but not elite -- players. But the Dolphins finally got the game-changer they were seeking Sunday by agreeing to terms with free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reports the deal is worth $114 million with $60 million guaranteed.

The Dolphins made Suh the highest-paid defensive player in the league -- surpassing Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt -- and the investment is worth every penny. Signing Suh makes sense for the Dolphins on so many levels. He cleans up many of Miami's issues on defense.

The Dolphins were 24th against the run last season, and defensive tackle was their biggest need. Suh, who helped lead the Detroit Lions to the NFL's No. 1 run defense, immediately fixes Miami's run defense and plugs its biggest hole.

A strong case also can be made that the Dolphins now have one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. Suh and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake are two of the best at their respective positions. Fourth-year defensive end Olivier Vernon registered 18 sacks the past two seasons, and Earl Mitchell is a solid No. 2 defensive tackle. The Dolphins also have former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan coming off the bench as a pass-rusher. Despite Jordan's flaws, he has enough talent to make an impact next season.

Suh brings a mean streak to Miami that its defense lacks. He also brings national relevance, which cannot be ignored. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross likes to make splashy moves and is spending about $400 million in upgrades to Sun Life Stadium over the next two seasons. Ross and the Dolphins need an elite player like Suh who puts fans in the seats.

The only downside is this major move ties up most of Miami's free-agent spending. The Dolphins were a flawed team last season and still have needs at linebacker, safety, cornerback, guard and possibly tight end and receiver, depending on what happens in the next week or two with the contracts of Charles Clay and Mike Wallace. Mortensen reports Suh will get $60 million over the first three seasons of his contract, which means most of these needs must be filled in the draft.

But that is a price worth paying to secure one of the NFL's most dominant defenders. Suh is a free agent who doesn't come around often, and the Dolphins were fortunate to make this landmark deal.

I recently asked Dolphins offensive tackle -- and former Lions teammate -- Jason Fox what Suh brings to the table, and Fox had nothing but good things to say.

"He's obviously a dominant player," Fox said. "He's one of the best defensive tackles, if not the best defensive tackle in the NFL. He's a game-changing type of player. He's not the 'rah-rah' guy, and he speaks up when he feels like it's necessary. He's one of the guys that leads by example. He's a hard worker, and obviously that shows."

Suh is the type of elite player who can turn Miami’s run of 8-8 seasons into 10-6. The Dolphins need more than one elite player to win a championship, but simply getting over the hump and into the playoffs next season would make the large investment in Suh well worth it.
The Miami Dolphins reportedly are one of several teams with a chance to land huge free-agent prize Ndamukong Suh. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle is expected to get the biggest offseason contract in free agency this year that could start at approximately $15 million per year or more.

 But Thursday's news of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots not picking up defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's option for 2015 is an interesting curveball. Wilfork will become a free agent on Monday and is a significant addition to the market at defensive tackle, which is one of Miami's biggest needs.

Could Wilfork fit with the Dolphins? He is certainly a more cost-effective option than Suh.

Wilfork, 33, is no longer in the prime of his career and can be signed on a short-term contract. The market for Wilfork will not be nearly as busy at Suh's market. An educated guess is Wilfork could garner a two- or three-year contract ranging about $5-$7 million per season. Suh will require double or even triple the annual salary and a longer-term deal.

Wilfork also is a Boynton Beach, Florida native and played his college football for the Miami Hurricanes. He knows South Florida well, and the Dolphins could provide an opportunity for Wilfork to finish his career at home. Another good selling point is Wilfork spent his entire career in the AFC East with the Patriots and knows the division well. He recorded 47 tackles for the reigning Super Bowl champions last season and still has something left in the tank.

However, there are questions about this scenario. After winning two Super Bowls in New England, does he want to play for a mediocre team like the Dolphins at the tail end of his career? Miami went 8-8 the past two seasons, and there is a huge gap between the Dolphins and Patriots. Wilfork said in the past that he does not like the rival Dolphins. There’s also the possibility that Wilfork can return to New England at a discounted rate.

The Dolphins were 24th against the run last season and need help at defensive tackle. Suh clearly is the top of the market and where Miami could start in free agency. But Wilfork would not be a bad fallback option in free agency.
The Miami Dolphins were ranked 24th against the run last season and are in desperate need of a stud defensive tackle.

Pending free agent and Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh is set to hit the market next week as the most dominant defensive lineman available.

Are the two sides a match?

Suh
According to ESPN analyst and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general Mark Dominik, the Dolphins have “a real shot” at landing Suh. Dominik's theory wasn’t based as much on team fit or a chance for Suh to compete for championships in Miami. Dominik believes the lack of state taxes in Florida puts the Dolphins in the running for a player such as Suh, who is expected to get one of the riches free-agent deals this offseason.

“When you’re talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida and you’ve got that up your sleeve, any one of those teams has a real shot,” Dominik said, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Although I agree the absence of state taxes is an advantage, the bigger question is whether the Dolphins can afford to pay for a big-ticket item like Suh. He is expected to garner a contract in the range of $100 million or more.

It is doubtful that the Dolphins dish out a $100 million contract to land Suh. Miami spent the past three days clearing about $13.5 million in cap room by releasing veterans Cortland Finnegan, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Nate Garner. There will be more cuts, but it’s highly unlikely this is to set up a megadeal to get Suh to Miami. The Dolphins were big spenders in free agency the past two years, and this is the offseason the team is expected to take it easy and focus primarily on the draft.

If the Dolphins spend $100 million on one player this offseason, it would be starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, not Suh.

Bills vs. Lions preview

October, 2, 2014
10/02/14
8:00
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This is the Jim Schwartz Reunion Show.

For the Detroit Lions head coach turned Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, seeing Detroit at 3-1 and playing well heading into October must bring back some memories.

While it’s unknown exactly how Lions fans will treat Schwartz when he enters Ford Field on Sunday for a game for the first time since cursing at some fans in last season’s home finale, former players will almost definitely be cordial to him.

ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down this week’s game.

Rothstein: So this is the Jim Schwartz homecoming game. How much similarity is there in what Schwartz is running now and what he ran the past couple of years in Detroit?

Rodak: It’s almost uncanny how similar the blitz numbers are between Schwartz’s defense so far this season and his defense in five seasons with the Lions. From 2009-2013, the Lions blitzed on 23 percent of plays. Through four games with Schwartz as defensive coordinator this season, the Bills have blitzed 22.7 percent of the time. Over that time, the Lions had an identical QB pressure rate of 23 percent, while the Bills have a 24.4 percent pressure rate this season. Schwartz’s defensive line is again the strength of his team, and he’s able to use Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes in some of those wider alignments that were part of his scheme in Detroit. Schwartz has also been known for his defense’s ability to stop the run. That hasn’t changed, either; the Bills rank second in the NFL behind the Seattle Seahawks, allowing just 2.89 yards per carry.

On the flip side, how much has changed for the Lions since Schwartz left? This always seemed like a talented team that underachieved during Schwartz’s tenure. The Lions are now 3-1, so what has been different?

Rothstein: A lot has changed. Schematically, the Lions are using two tight ends a lot more than they did under Schwartz and Scott Linehan. Defensively, Detroit is blitzing a lot more than it did last season, when the Lions blitzed less than any team in the NFL. More important, though, there's more accountability this season than there was in 2013 under Schwartz. Schwartz never belittled his star players -- particularly Matthew Stafford -- publicly, but multiple players have pointed out this season that it feels like every player is treated the same under this coaching staff.

Also, Jim Caldwell is not a yeller. Not even close. He has a very calm demeanor, and with this team right now, it appears to be working. Detroit's players are buying into that and it's a big reason the Lions are 3-1. It also helps that Stafford is playing extremely well right now and the defensive front is making it hard for teams to run on the Lions. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has also been a big factor. His ability to scheme despite losing starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch and a multitude of defensive backs over the first four weeks of the season has been impressive.

Since we're talking about switching personnel, what does Buffalo get with Kyle Orton that it didn't have with EJ Manuel?

Rodak: I wouldn’t go as far as to say Orton can take over and win games where Manuel was unable, but it gives the Bills a better shot. The Bills felt as though they surrounded Manuel with plenty of weapons for him to succeed -- a strong running game with two showcase backs, a top-flight talent in Sammy Watkins, and two other capable receivers in Robert Woods and Mike Williams. It just never came together for Manuel and a shake-up was inevitable. The Bills’ hope is that Orton can take advantage of those weapons. He’s not going to be Aaron Rodgers, but if he’s better than Manuel, then the move was worth it. The Bills’ passing “attack” was the main contributor to their last two losses. It may not be the main reason why they win -- if they do with Orton -- but it takes some pressure off the defense to do all the work.

The Lions’ offense gains 76 percent of its total yards through the air, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. Even with Calvin Johnson hobbled lately by an ankle injury, how have Stafford and others been able to get it done?

Rothstein: A lot of underneath routes and Golden Tate. The Lions signing Tate gave them a legitimate No. 2 receiver and a player who could pick up the targets effectively for this particular scenario. Detroit also added Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, and while he hasn't done much so far, his role appears to be expanding by the week. But a lot of it has to do with Stafford. He's making smarter decisions, finding the open player and showing more patience than last season, even as his line is not protecting him nearly as well as a year ago.

We talked about the defense at the top of this, so let's come back to that for this final question. The Bills are second in the league in run defense, allowing 2.89 yards a carry. Is this a defense better at stopping between-the-tackles runners or can they handle an edge guy like Reggie Bush as well?

Rodak: It starts up front with a defensive line that is unmatched. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, both Pro Bowlers last season, clog up the middle better than anyone, while Mario Williams and Hughes have buttoned up the outside. The problem, however, is a knee injury to Kyle Williams in last Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans that could threaten his availability in Detroit. If the Bills need to turn to backups Stefan Charles or Corbin Bryant, they’ll be more prone to runs up the middle. On the second level, they added Brandon Spikes this offseason, and while he has been limited in his playing time, he has brought some physicality that has added another dimension to the run defense. The Bills don’t have the fastest group of linebackers, so if the Lions want to find a way to exploit that, they should give the ball to Bush in space and see if he can make some plays.

One of the Lions’ strengths is their defensive line, and we know the impact Ndamukong Suh can have on a game. Yet the Lions' defense as a whole has allowed only 15 points per game, fourth fewest in the NFL, so surely there’s more to the defense than the front four. Where else have they excelled?

Rothstein: Teryl Austin has done a great job masking any issues the Lions may have because of injury (linebacker, slot corner) and has come up with different ways to pressure opposing offenses. It has probably helped some that there hasn’t been a ton of film on Austin’s tendencies yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if this keeps up. But four weeks in, it has been tough to face the Detroit defense. DeAndre Levy is a major reason for the success, too. He’s still pretty underrated nationally, but is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and is always around the ball. Having a guy like that in the middle third of your defense can hide any problems.

No Lion, Patriots talk up road test

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
9:22
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The third preseason game is often considered the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, and that’s the way it seems coach Bill Belichick and Patriots players are treating Thursday’s road contest against the Lions in Detroit.

“It’s the game you get to play the most in, so we’ll see how our conditioning is,” said guard Logan Mankins, one of the team’s captains in 2012. “We’ll play more than we have in the past and I’m sure they’ll play more. It’s always a good challenge.”

Mankins added that players watched some Lions film on Monday morning, with linebacker Jerod Mayo saying, “Each and every week is big, but this third game we really get into studying our opponent.”

The Patriots also turned up the noise at practice Monday. Preseason or not, they expect a loud atmosphere at Ford Field, which puts more stress on an offense that often relies on the silent snap count while on the road.

Then there’s personnel, such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

“That’s the strength of their team, I think personally, their defensive line,” Mankins said. “They have good tackles and good ends. They put a lot of pressure on you in the run game and pass game.

“Suh is probably one of the strongest tackles you’re going to find in the league and very athletic for his size also. They’re good at what they do and they’re always a handful for whoever they’re playing.”

This marks the second time in three years that the Patriots will visit the Lions for the third preseason game. In 2011, the Lions rolled, 34-10.

“We’re going on the road, tough environment; we went there a few years ago and didn’t do very well, which we’ve already heard about for three days now,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “So we’re going to have to do better than we did the last time.”


Scouts Inc. on Devin McCourty

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
2:30
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No player in the AFC East is suffering from a sophomore slump more than New England Patriots second-year cornerback Devin McCourty.

Last year, the 2010 first-round pick recorded seven interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl as a rookie. This year McCourty has zero interceptions and often gets beat in coverage, which includes last week's touchdown catch by Washington Redskins receiver Jabar Gaffney.

What's happened to McCourty this season? We check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get his take.
"I thought McCourty was great last year, and I don't know what his issue is this year. I thought he was going to be a star in this league when the season ended last year. If it wasn't for [Detroit Lions defensive tackle] Ndamukong Suh, McCourty was right in line for Defensive Rookie of the Year. But McCourty is just a step behind now. It's not like I can say 'He's doing this wrong or he's doing that wrong.' But he’s clearly not the same player he was a year ago, and the Patriots were counting on him. McCourty was going to be the foundation of their defense."

New England's defense is ranked last in the NFL, allowing 424.4 yards per game. The Patriots are also last against the pass, in large part because McCourty hasn't developed into the shutdown corner New England expected in his second season.

AFC East links: Rex not worried about 'D'

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
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Buffalo Bills

Alex Carrington is still adjusting to his new role as a linebacker.

Kraig Urbik knows he'll have to be on top of his game Thursday night when the Bills face Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions.

Miami Dolphins

Running back Larry Johnson hopes he gets a chance to show what he can do Thursday in the Dolphins' preseason finale.

Jake Long says he's not optimistic that he'll see the field Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys.

New England Patriots

Wide receiver Wes Welker remains hopeful that he'll be on the field for the regular-season opener after injuring his neck on Saturday.

Owner Robert Kraft shared his thoughts of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth.

New York Jets

Coach Rex Ryan on his defense: "I wouldn't trade this defense for anybody's in the league. You're not going to be perfect, but will we end up being the best defense in football? I think so. Believe me, the least concern I have is about our defense. I think our defense is going to be outstanding."

The offense, on the other hand, still has some work to do.

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