Friday, July 3, 2009
Who has the best offense in the AFC West?
By Bill Williamson
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Let's rank the offenses in the AFC West.
In making our decision, we considered every aspect of the unit. We took into account the passing game, the running game, blocking and coaching. Here is how we saw it:
San Diego: The Chargers, by far, have the best offense in the division. It is a complete unit. San Diego has a ton of weapons and can win games either in the air or on the ground.
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| ||Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images |
| ||The Chargers' offense runs through Philip Rivers. |
Of course, it all starts with quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers, 27, is emerging as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL after three seasons as a starter. He threw for 4,009 yards last season.
His top targets are tight end Antonio Gates, who remains a premier player at his position, and receiver Vincent Jackson. A big receiver, Jackson is a deep threat who has a penchant for making big plays in important games.
Rivers works well in Norv Turner's system. Turner might have his detractors based on his work as a head coach, but his prowess as an offensive coach cannot be denied. Rivers has made strides under Turner.
The Chargers' run game is also top notch, even though superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson is showing signs of decline. Still, Tomlinson, who turned 30 in June, has to be counted as a 1,100-plus yard rusher until he proves he can no longer produce. His backup, Darren Sproles, is a key.
The diminutive Sproles is a terrific change-of-pace back who has proven he can help win games when Tomlinson is out. Expect to see Sproles get more carries this season as Turner tries to utilize both running backs.
San Diego's offensive line isn't as strong as it was a couple of years ago, but if the unit can stay healthy and rookie Louis Vasquez can come along at guard, it should be fine.
Overall, this is a strong group and the best offense in a division that is fairly decent on that side of the ball.
Denver: The Broncos' offense would have been closer to San Diego's had it not shocked the league and traded unhappy quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago.
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| ||AP Photo/Ed Andrieski |
| ||Josh McDaniels, left, is counting on Kyle Orton to lead his offense this season. |
Denver still has dangerous weapons on offense, but it has lost some panache without the strong-armed Cutler. He was always a scoring threat. Now, with the more limited Kyle Orton taking over, the Broncos won't be as scary. It's just a fact.
But Denver's offense can still be productive. Coach Josh McDaniels is confident the game-managing Orton will be able to succeed in his system. Matt Cassel played well for McDaniels last year in New England and the coach thinks Orton can have similar success.
The Broncos have a good receiving corps. The team doesn't plan to trade Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, despite his request to be dealt. So, unless Marshall doesn't want to get paid this year, you can expect him to play in Denver. He might not get his third straight 100-plus catch season, but he'll still be productive.
No. 2 receiver Eddie Royal could have a Wes Welker-like effect in McDaniels' system, and third receiver Brandon Stokley still can produce. Add in blocking tight end Daniel Graham and receiving tight end Tony Scheffler, and Orton has a nice passing offense.
That said, the key to Denver's offense could be the running game, starting with rookie Knowshon Moreno. He was the No. 12 overall pick in the draft and McDaniels envisions him as a three-down back. The Broncos have several other running backs who will fill key roles. A successful running game would help Orton's transition to Denver immensely.
The Broncos continue to have a strong offensive line. It is anchored by fantastic second-year left tackle Ryan Clady. He excelled in both run and pass blocking as a rookie.
Denver's offense has punch and the innovative McDaniels should have fun with it. It just would have been more dangerous with Cutler.
Oakland: There is a fairly large drop-off here. I gave Oakland the edge over Kansas City for one reason: The running game.
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| ||Kirby Lee/US Presswire |
| ||Darren McFadden rushed for 499 yards and four TDs last season. |
Oakland's offense has flaws. But the running game can be top notch and gets the nod for that reason. The Raiders have three solid rushers in Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas. Alone, none has proven to be a Pro Bowl runner. But in a committee, they can be a major headache for defensive coordinators because of their complementary skills. McFadden is a game breaker, Bush is a pounder and Fargas is a consistent yard-getter.
aiders didn't do a good job of using this threesome last year when everyone was healthy. If Oakland -- which added fabulous fullback Lorenzo Neal to the mix this offseason -- can figure out a way to get maximum use out of all three tailbacks, it could have a special running game.
It better be, because there is trouble in the passing game. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell has made some strides, but he is still trying to find his way. His inconsistencies likely will continue to some degree in his second full season as a starter.
The Oakland receiving group is unproven. The team has hope for youngsters Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens and Johnnie Lee Higgins. But the unit is a work in progress. Russell does have a bail-out option in tight end Zach Miller.
The Oakland offensive line has been re-tooled some and the team is hopeful it will get more production. The key, though, is the running game. If coach Tom Cable can get the most out of the running backs, the unit could be decent.
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| ||John Rieger/US Presswire |
| ||Quarterback Matt Cassel hopes to build on the success he had in New England in 2008. |
Kansas City: We are not saying the Kansas City offense is going to be awful. The competition is tough in this division.
The Chiefs just have more question marks and holes than Oakland. Had catch-machine Tony Gonzalez not been traded to Atlanta for a 2010 second-round draft pick, we'd probably have the Chiefs ranked No. 3. You can't lose all that production and maintain the same productivity.
New head coach Todd Haley is a dynamic offensive mind, and he will find a way to get the most out of his offense.
New quarterback Matt Cassel will be a good fit. Top receiver Dwayne Bowe is good, but he has to keep his hands on the ball. He can take the next step with Haley as his coach. Haley is hoping Bobby Engram still has something left in the tank.
It does seem that Larry Johnson will be the Kansas City running back, which appeared to be a long shot early in the offseason. Johnson can help this offense.
If Cassel adjusts quickly and he gets decent protection, this offense will have its moments. It's not a bad offense. There isn't a bad offense in the division.