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NFC Teams With New Looks
by Bryan Leonard - 08/30/2011
The NFL regular season is approaching. Time for players, coaches and teams to turn over a new leaf. General managers have hired some new coaches, while coaches have added some offensive and defensive assistants to try and improve things. Here's a look at some changes to look for with some teams in preseason.
Redskins: Mike Shanahan looks to bounce back from a lousy first season, a coach Bill Belichick has said many times is the best in the league. He certainly is an above average offensive coach, and that will only help what has been an anemic Washington offense. The Donovan McNabb experiment was a failure, but for 2011 Mike and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, are very high on newcomer QB John Beck.
Beck played well in his first preseason start, a 16-7 win at Indy, completing 14 of 17 passes for 140 yards in the first half, and played well again against the Eagles. The Redskins are working on more two tight end sets to improve the running game and the short passing game of Shanahan's West Coast offense. Beck spread the ball around, connecting with 10 pass-catchers (Terrence Austin’s three catches for 23 yards led the way), but he didn’t test the Colts’ defense deep, instead remaining content to hit receivers for short, quick gains that averaged 10 yards per completion.
The revamped offensive line has been playing well. “We’re a better football team,” Shanahan said when asked about the play of the line. “With the addition of [guard Chris] Chester, [new center] Will Montgomery." Last preseason, the Redskins had Santana Moss, an aged, unmotivated Joey Galloway and a bunch of unproven guys to round out their receiving corps. Now they are better with Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong, Terrence Austin and Donte Stallworth.
Before Shanahan arrived the Redskins allowed more sacks than all but two NFL teams, so last year they took left tackle and No. 1 pick Trent Williams to shore up the line. Getting a healthy TE Chris Cooley back will help, too. Cooley amassed a career-high 849 receiving yards in ’08 and looks healthy for the first time since.
Cowboys: Dallas has new looks with coach Jason Garrett, in his first preseason as head coach, plus new DC Rob Ryan from the Browns. QB Tony Romo looks to bounce back after an injury plagued season and they dumped lazy WR Roy Williams (who is taking a PR beating in Chicago for being an underachiever). Rookie WRs Dwayne Harris and Raymond Radway looked good in the first preseason game, but they are young.
They are healthy at RB: Rookie RB DeMarco Murray is back practicing, since the Cowboys drafted him in the third round. Murray and Tashard Choice are competing for playing time behind Felix Jones. Garrett has brought in a more serious, focused approach, unlike the fired Wade Phillips.
Note that after four weeks of training camp the Cowboys are still having trouble talking to each other on defense. "Our defense is definitely a communication-driven defense," linebacker Bradie James said. "We're still working out some kinks." Rex Ryan is taking the blame because he knows he's asking a lot of his players right now. They have a new defense to learn, and he's not going slow with them. All of that is going to take time to learn, but this defense has plenty of talent.
Arizona: The Cardinals had a miserable offense last season, but when they had a QB (Kurt Warner) they made the playoffs, including a Super Bowl run in 2009. Now they hope they have won in new QB Kevin Kolb, learning the new playbook with offensive coordinator Mike Miller. They had a 24-18 win preseason win at Oakland with 400 yards and a 28-20 loss at Green Bay, so at least they offense has some punch. Teamed with WR Larry Fitzgerald and new TE Todd Heap, this offense could be very good, giving the Cardinals two proven threats in the red zone.
But what about this defense? Cornerback is wide open: The Cardinals are playing without cornerback Michael Adams, one of their best cover men on special teams. Adams is out for at a few weeks after undergoing knee surgery and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is gone, traded to the Eagles as part of the deal for quarterback Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals had only one sack against the Raiders, and that was by Brandon Sharpe, a fourth-team outside linebacker. The lack of a consistent pass rush was a big factor in the team's 5-11 record last season, so it's a point of emphasis this off-season. So the Cardinals could be a team to look at over the total in September with an improved offense but suspect defense.