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Football Changes and Shifts

   by Scott Spreitzer - 09/01/2008

The NFL preseason is over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything about the upcoming season. Quite the opposite. There were plenty of changes that took place that required notice. For instance, the Colts defensive line was thin in preseason with the retirement of Quinn Pitcock, creating a void at defensive tackle. They gave up 153 rushing yards in the opener to Washington. Raheem Brock, a 27-game starter at tackle the past two seasons, has been moved to left end in the base defense and apparently will remain there even with Pitcock's decision. As the season gets going, keep an eye on the Colts run defense.

In New York, new QB Brett Favre has created some excitement coming aboard for the Jets. Jets coach Eric Mangini and OC Brian Schottenheimer like to spread the field on offense, throw the ball deep downfield to keep secondaries honest, which will create bigger gaps on the defensive line with which to run. In theory, this makes sense as Favre has a stronger arm than departed QB Chad Pennington. Favre also admitted the Jets offense 'is totally different' from the Packers system he was in the last 16 years.

However, Favre is past his prime and has had a reputation the last few years of throwing it up for grabs downfield too often. He had an impressive 2007 campaign, but that was with a trio of young, talented and fast Green Bay wideouts. The Jets don’t have that. Let’s see what Favre brings to the offense in September and if the Jets running game finds bigger holes – or if Favre returns to his turnover prone ways. Whom do the Jets face in September? Back-to-back games against stellar defenses New England and San Diego.

Stopping opponents on their first possessions of halves was a consistent problem last season for the Arizona Cardinals, and it continued through the first two games of the preseason. The Saints and Chiefs each scored on their first drives of the game and of the second half. In all, the Cardinals yielded touchdowns on the two possessions against the Saints, and field goals against the Chiefs. Poor tackling, penalties and a bad kickoff have all contributed to the Cardinals problems. They got better in Week 3, though, on ‘defense.

Baltimore has the same problem as last year – no QB. Second-year QB Troy Smith showcased his mobility in preseason, but is still raw. In one game, he rushed for 35 yards, or 10 more than he passed for. He threw just five passes - and one interception - in four series. On the pick, he threw behind Mark Clayton, who deflected the ball to Minnesota's Darren Sharper.

Kyle Boller, meanwhile, didn’t have a good preseason and the third alternative is rookie QB Joe Flacco. No matter how much talent on the field a coach is given, so much hinges on the man behind center.

Seattle became a passing team first in the second half of last season behind QB Matt Hasselbeck. However, Hassellbeck had back spasms in preseason and missed time. Plus, they also have WR concerns: WR Bobby Engram will miss six more weeks with a cracked bone in his right shoulder and WR Deion Branch is seven months into what is typically a nine-month rehabilitation following reconstructive knee surgery.

All this cropped up in preseason and is worth watching. Remember that one year ago the Jacksonville Jaguars changed their offensive philosophy in preseason.

Head coach Jack Del Rio junked the old offense by adding offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the former Boise and Arizona State head coach. Koetter brought in a wide open spread offense and improved the attack considerably. The Jags were a good bet over the total last preseason and that carried right over into the regular season.

The Carolina Panthers have made changes on offense. They asked their offensive linemen to bulk up this offseason, as coach Jon Fox is a proponent of a power running game. They are loaded in the backfield and the Panther running game was dominant this preseason. A year ago they changed to zone blocking under first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, but it’s clear they are returning to a more smash-mouth style in 2008. Changes and shifts in August can help handicappers with keen eyes at the betting windows in September!

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