Fillability Index: AFC North

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 24, 2008



 
The Fillability Index is our annual look at each team's off-season acquisitions and departures.
 
We continue today with the AFC North, a division in which Pittsburgh has held a stranglehold since, well, about 1972, when it was called the AFC Central. The 2007 season was no exception. The Steelers won the division crown and went 5-1 against divisional opponents. It probably would have been 6-0, had Pittsburgh not rested almost all its best players in the season finale, a 27-21 loss to the sad-sack Ravens.
 
But the AFC North also has the feeling of a division at a tipping point: the Steelers narrowly edged out the Browns for the division title last year. Both went 10-6, but Pittsburgh took the two head to head meetings, including a 31-28 Week 10 battle in which the Browns missed a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Cleveland looks poised to surpass the Steelers as the class of the AFC North. But a lot of bettors have gone broke making that kind of gamble over the past 36 years.
 
The Fillability Index is the best way found anywhere in the seedy underworld of online football analysis to measure the off-season moves of each NFL team. Its brilliance is found in its simplicity: we size up each team based upon their statistical strengths and weaknesses last year, as measured by their rankings in all of our Quality Stats, and then determine whether they made the necessary off-season personnel moves to shore up those weaknesses.
 
Pretty simple. Yet nobody else does it.
 
So on to the Index.
 
(Index Key: Bend = Bendability Index; Score = Scoreability Index; PYPA = Passing Yards Per Attempt; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; Big Play = Big Play Index; Relativity = Relativity Index; ST = Special Teams)
 
BALTIMORE (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
30
27
29
24
18t
2
31
26
15
 
Additions:
CB Fabian Washington (Oakland)
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (Chicago)
CB Frank Walker (Green Bay)
S Jim Leonhard (Buffalo)
 
Subtractions:
QB Steve McNair (Retired)
OT Jonathan Ogden (Retired)
C Mike Flynn (Unsigned)
RB Mike Anderson (Unsigned)
WR Devard Darling (Kansas City)
DB B.J. Sams (Kansas City)
RB Musa Smith (New York Jets)
 
Draft Picks:
1 (18) Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware
2 (55) Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers
3 (71) Tavares Gooden, LB, Miami
3 (86) Tom Zbikowski, S, Notre Dame
3 (99) Oniel Cousins, OG, UTEP
4 (106) Marcus Smith, WR, New Mexico
4 (133) David Hale, OT, Weber State
6 (206) Haruki Nakamura, S, Cincinnati
7 (215) Justin Harper, WR, Virginia Tech
7 (240) Allen Patrick, RB, Oklahoma
 
Ravens Fillability Overview 
The Ravens succeeded in one area only last year, with a group of Defensive Hogs second only to those of the world champion Giants.
 
The rest of the team was such as disaster that it led to the dismissal of their former Super Bowl-winning coach.
 
Evidence that former coach Brian Billick lost all control of the team last year is found in the Bendability and Scoreability Indices, our measures of defensive and offensive efficiency.
 
The Ravens ranked 30 in the former and 27 in the latter, which means that only the true dregs of the league last year were less efficient on both sides of the ball combined.
 
But inefficient football was only part of the problem. The Ravens were also among the league worst in Passing Yards Per Attempt (29th) and our Big Play Index (31st). And, despite one of the best defensive fronts in football, Baltimore was a mere 24th in Defensive Passer Rating.
 
When a team struggles in so many areas, it almost doesn't matter what they do in the off-season: virtually any step will be an improvement.
 
But, clearly, the Ravens are desperate to solve the quarterbacking issues that have plagued the organization since it moved to Baltimore 12 years ago. They devoted their first pick to 1-AA superstar quarterback Joe Flacco – just one year after grabbling 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith with a late-round pick in the 2007 draft. Clearly, the Kyle Boller experiment is at its end, and Smith and Flacco will fight it out to become the future leader of the Ravens offense. Smith made some very limited appearances last year, and perhaps the most promising outcome was that he didn't throw a single pick in 76 pass attempts. It's consistent with the care he showed with the ball at Ohio State, where he crafted a TD to INT ratio of greater than 4 to 1 (54 TD, 13 INT).
 
The Ravens also picked up explosive Rutgers running back Ray Rice with their second pick in the 2008 draft, who could provide another boost to the offense. But they went almost exclusively with defense in free agency.
 
For a team that needs to improve in virtually every area over last year, almost any move could prove to be a good move.
 
Baltimore Fillability Grade: B
 
***
 
CINCINNATI (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
21
14
7
27
10t
30
15t
18
32
 
Additions:
TE Ben Utecht (Indianapolis)
DE Antwan Odom (Tennessee)
LB Darryl Blackstock (Arizona)
 
Subtractions:
S Madieu Williams (Minnesota)
C Alex Stepanovich (Atlanta)
DE Justin Smith (San Francisco)
DE Bryan Robinson (Arizona)
WR Tab Perry (Miami)
LB Landon Johnson (Carolina)
 
Draft Picks:
1 (9) Keith Rivers, LB, USC
2 (46) Jerome Simpson, WR, Coastal Carolina
3 (77) Pat Sims, DT, Auburn
3 (97) Andre Caldwell, WR, Florida
4 (112) Anthony Collins, OT, Kansas
5 (145) Jason Shirley, DT, Fresno State
6 (177) Corey Lynch, S, Appalachian St
6 (207) Matt Sherry, TE, Villanova
7 (244) Angelo Craig, LB, Cincinnati
7 (246) Mario Urrutia, WR, Louisville
 
Bengals Fillability Overview
Is Carson Palmer a great quarterback victimized by a mediocre coach, a lousy organization and a piss-poor defense?
 
Our Quality Stats would certainly say yes.
 
The Bengals were a defensive disaster last year, 21st in our Bendability Index, 27th in Defensive Passer Rating and 30th in our Defensive Hog Index. They were noticeably better in each and every corresponding offensive Quality Stat.
 
Hell, the Bengals were even dead last on our Special Teams Index.
 
So what did the Bengals do? Their biggest off-season free-agent acquisition was a tight end, their second draft pick went to wide receiver and two of their two four draft picks went to wide receiver.
 
Sure, there's been attrition at the position, namely in the form of the troubled Chris Henry, who's been suspended for the first four games of the season. And, sure, Cincy at least had the sense to devote their No. 1 pick to a linebacker, Keith Rivers of USC.
 
But the team expended all that energy on wide receivers for an offense that was No. 7 passing the ball last year. But they did not grab a single DB in free agency, and waited until the sixth round of the draft to add someone in the secondary, for a pass defense that was among the very worst in football last year.
 
It's bad news: as Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know, you can't win in the NFL if you can't stop the pass. We don't care how many Pro Bowl wide receivers your offense can put out on the field – if you can't shut down the other team's passing attack, you're all done.
 
Rivers might prove to be a nice addition to the team. But this isn't a club that needs some help on defense. It's an organization that needs a major overhaul on defense, probably a new coach, and maybe even a clue.
 
Paul Brown can't be happy looking down upon his Cincinnati experiment from that great big gridiron in the sky.
 
Cincinnati Fillability Grade: F-
 
 
***
 
CLEVELAND (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
18
9
6
18
3
24t
20t
17
6
 
Additions:
DT Corey Williams (Green Bay)
WR Donte Stallworth (New England)
DT Shaun Rogers (Detroit)
C Rex Hadnot (Miami)
LB Shantee Orr (Jacksonville)
CB Terry Cousin (Jacksonville)
 
Subtractions:
C LeCharles Bentley (Unsigned)
CB Leigh Bodden (Detroit)
CB Ricardo Colclough (Carolina)
DE Simon Fraser (Atlanta)
LB Matt Stewart (Arizona)
LB Chaun Thompson (Houston)
WR Tim Carter (Houston)
DT Orpheus Roye (Unsigned)
 
Draft Picks:
4 (104) Beau Bell, LB, UNLV
4 (111) Martin Rucker, TE, Missouri
6 (190) Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Iowa State
6 (191) Paul Hubbard, WR, Wisconsin
7 (231) Alex Hall, DE, St. Augustine's College
 
Browns Fillability Overview
Much like the burning filth that was slowly cleansed from the Cuyahoga, it seems the Browns are taking steps to clean up the organization and become like, you know, an actual resource the people of Cleveland can be proud of once again.
 
Last year was clearly a turning point: The Browns went 10-6 and narrowly missed out on the playoffs and a division crown by the thinnest of margins. If kicker Phil Dawson had converted a 53-yarder at the end of regulation in a November game against the Steelers, they might have captured a division title for the first time since, oh God, 1989.
 
The Browns also appeared to make all the right moves here in the 2008 off-season. Cleveland's clearest weakness in 2007 was a defensive front that ranked 24th on our Defensive Hog Index. Romeo Crennel and company attacked this weakness with great vengeance and furious anger over the past seven months, grabbing defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, along with linebacker Shantee Orr, in free agency. Williams has registered seven sacks each of the past two seasons – solid numbers from the DT position – and, at 320, brings considerable heft to the middle of the Cleveland defense. But that's not as much heft as the 350-pound Rogers, who also chalked up seven QB takedowns with Detroit in 2007.
 
(Ironically, Rogers had originally been dealt to the Bengals, but the trade was ix-nayed by the league for, apparently, some inappropriate trade language. The bad day for Cincy was only compounded by the fact that Rogers ended up with a division rival, further enhancing the Bengals organization's legendary futility.)
 
The Browns did not have a single pick in the first three rounds of the 2008 draft. But when their picks did roll around, they again attacked the defensive hogs, grabbing linebacker Beau Bell with their first pick of the fourth round, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin in the sixth round, and potential sleeper defensive end Alex Hall out of little St. Augustine's College in the seventh round.
 
The Browns still need to improve in pass defense (18th last year in Defensive Passer Rating). They also need to prove they can make those all-important, game-breaking Big Plays (20th last year in our Big Play Index).
 
But, overall, Browns management displayed a clear understanding of the team's weaknesses in 2007 and made a slew of efforts to show improvement there in 2008.
 
Cleveland Fillability Grade: A-
 
 
***
 
PITTSBURGH (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
12
5
14
9
14t
21
7
7
20
 
Additions:
LB Keyaron Fox (Kansas City)
C Justin Hartwig (Carolina)
RB Mewelde Moore (Minnesota)
 
Subtractions:
OG, Alan Faneca (New York Jets)
LB Clark Haggans (Arizona)
CB Allen Rossum (San Francisco)
QB Brian St. Pierre (Arizona)
TE Jerame Tuman (Arizona)
WR Cedrick Wilson (Unsigned)
 
Draft Picks:
1 (23) Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
2 (53) Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
3 (88) Bruce Davis, LB, UCLA
4 (130) Tony Hills, OT, Texas
5 (156) Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon
6 (188) Mike Humpal, LB. Iowa
6 (194) Ryan Mundy, S, West Virginia
 
Steelers Fillability Overview
The Steelers weren't as bad along the defensive front as the Browns were last year. But, as was the case in Cleveland, Pittsburgh's biggest statistical weakness in 2007 was clearly its defensive hogs (21st in our Defensive Hog Index).
 
But for some reason, the Steelers took few major steps to shore up this area. They certainly didn't attack this weakness the way Cleveland did.
 
In fact, they seem strangely fixated upon offensive skill players, grabbing free agent running back Mewelde Moore from Minnesota, while selecting running back Rashard Mendenhall and receiver Limas Sweed with their first two draft picks.
 
Both Mendenhall and Sweed are very talented players who could become big-time NFL performers. But the Steelers simply had more pressing needs. Pittsburgh also devoted a mid-round pick to Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, who was a Heisman favorite last year before blowing out his knee late in the season. Seems like a lot to expend for a team that's already secure at its No. 1 QB position and needed only back-up help.
 
All these resources went into an offense that was 5th last year in our Scoreability Index and was no worse than middle of the pack in most areas. The Pittsburgh defense imploded late in the 2007 season, meanwhile. And, based upon off-season acquisitions, there's little reason to believe the defense will improve in 2008.
 
Pittsburgh Fillability Grade: D

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