Ell’s NFL Playoff Breakdown: Strengths and Weaknesses
(OLB Brian Orakpo)
Strength: Running Defense/ Running Offense
The run defense has been solid all season behind: star OLB Brian Orakpo who plays sideline to sideline and rushing the passer, star DT/DE Jurrell Casey with an unstoppable motor up the middle, run stopping NT Sylvester Williams, OLB Derrick Morgan who can also rush the pass, ILB Wesley Woodyard who is also good in coverage, and even DB’s that love to hit in CBs Logan Ryan and rookie Adoree’ Jackson, and FS Jonathan Cyprien. This unit plays very physical behind longterm Steelers DC and now Assistant Head Coach for the Titans the legendary Dick Lebeau who has really turned this unit around over the last few years. However, the physical play of this unit helps mask another problem listed below.
(RB Derrick Henry)
The Titans are a team that relies on the running game to get things going behind RBs DeMarco Murray and power runner Derrick Henry. Murray and Henry have been hard to stop again, however this year the reigns have gone more to Henry, as he can cause more problems with his size and speed. They have found success running behind LT Taylor Lewan and RT Jack Conklin, after both struggled with penalties early in the season. Keeping things on the ground will be the Titans’ best strategy, as you can read below about the passing game.
(QB Marcus Mariota)
Weakness: Passing Offense/ Passing Defense
The Titans passing offense has really struggled behind QB Marcus Mariota, as he has thrown 13 TDs to 15 INTs this season. Mariota continues to make poor decisions with the football and seems to be best just using his athleticism to extend plays and help the run game. The two problems that could excuse his play are that the offensive line struggled with pass blocking early in the season, before Offensive Line Coach and Hall of Famer Russ Grimm motivated the unit and the obvious lack of weapons in the passing game. Mariota’s best receiver has been undersized and underrated TE Delanie Walker, big-play WR Rishard Matthews, who is very athletic, but inconsistent shouldn’t be a #1 WR, while also receiving inconsistent play from veteran WR Eric Decker and oft-injured rookie WR Corey Davis, who was supposed to fill in the #1 spot. This unit has a tough task ahead with the Chiefs and CBs Marcus Peters and Darrelle Revis.
(FS Kevin Byard)
The Titans passing defense has struggled mightily, except for one bright spot in surprise 2nd year FS Kevin Byard who has tied the league lead with 8 INTs. Outside of Byard, no player has more than 1; of course, limited takeaways mean extended drives and the defense always being on the field. High priced free agent CB Logan Ryan, although I’ve always liked his physical play at Rutgers and with the Patriots, along with fellow starter rookie Adoree’ Jackson have 0 INTs combined, and the team released longtime #1 CB Jason McCourty, who has been a solid find for the Browns. Ryan has been more of tackler, which is not good if the coverage isn’t there, and Jackson has been better in the return game than at his position. The team can’t rely on Byard to cover the whole field, so someone needs to step up.
(RB LeSean McCoy)
Strength: Running Game/ Passing Defense
This Bills team starts with RB LeSean McCoy who can make plays on the ground and in the passing game, making him twice as dangerous, as he is a serious homerun threat at all times. McCoy had over 1100 yards rushing and was the 2nd leading receiver on the team; he couldn’t be stopped even when teams knew he was getting the ball. The offensive line has led the way despite injuries to huge LT Cordy Glenn and run blocking RG John Miller, but rookie LT Dion Dawkins and veteran RG Vladmir Ducasse have filled in nicely. The team still has one of the top Centers in Eric Wood and physical LG Ritchie Incognito who will always make sure the line plays with toughness. The run game was also helped by QB Tyrod Taylor who can also make plays with his feet to keep drives alive with over 400 rushing yards and 4 TDs. FB/RB Mike Tolbert has filled in when needed as a power back and spell back very rarely, but he may be called on for bigger duties as McCoy suffered an injury Week 17.
The passing defense has been way better than expected, as rookie CB Tre’Davious White has been better than expected at the #1 spot, after the team loss #1 CB Stephen Gilmore to the Patriots and #2 CB Ronald Darby was traded to the Eagles for a 2nd round pick. Safeties Jordan Poyer, formerly of the Browns, and Micah Hyde, formerly of the Packers have been great pickups really turning over an inconsistent position prior years. #2 CB E.J. Gaines, another smart pickup in a trade with the Rams, has been a surprise with his physical play and 3 FFs. The coverage and versatility of this unit has made the Bills very tough to score on or pass on.
Weakness: Run Defense / Passing Weapons
(DT Kyle Williams)
The Bills team has been surprisingly good at every spot except, stopping the run and passing options for QB Tyrod Taylor. I don’t know if the declined run defense was linked with to the Bills giving up DT/DE Marcell Dareus for a very low draft pick, despite his star potential and contract. The team is undersized on the D-line led by DT Kyle Williams, who has always been a very tough and physical player despite his size, but they have a task ahead of them with Jacksonville who loves to pound the ball.
QB Tyrod Taylor has been overly criticized about his ability to throw the ball, despite the obvious lack of weapons available. The most consistent pass catcher has been RB LeSean McCoy and outside of him it has been TE Charles Clay, who leads the team in receiving yards, but he has suffered injuries along the way. WR Jordan Matthews was brought in to be a feature weapon, but has suffered injuries and ineffective play, as well and the same can be said about a late trade for Kelvin Benjamin to save the unit as a #1 WR, but he has since returned giving them hope. TE Nick O’Leary has filled in well when Clay is out and rookie WR Zay Jones has stepped up at times with flashes up potential, but he wasn’t ready for a big role; however, this unit needs to find production somewhere.