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Pro football teams with new looks

Jul 6, 2004 4:24 AM

It’s never too early to talk football and preseason is just four weeks away.

In 2002, the defending champion New England Patriots defense got old fast and fell apart, finishing 31st in the NFL against the run. If you can’t stop the run, why would opponents even try to pass? Last year New England’s defense was seventh overall (3rd against the run) and the "D" was the cornerstone of its run to another Super Bowl title.

The difference was that the Pats addressed major weaknesses from the previous season, drafting DT Ty Warren, bringing in LB Rosevelt Colvin and run stuffer Ted Washington along with hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison.

Head Coach Bill Belichick recognized the problem and addressed it, which helped lead to another championship. The defensive improvements were dramatic and the Patriots went 7-3 under the total at home where they allowed 9.6 points per game. Let’s take a look at some teams that have made offseason moves they hope will tighten up some weaknesses.

Philadelphia: It’s tough to find fault with winning 13 games in each of the last three seasons, but losing three NFC Championship games in a row has left a sour taste for players and fans. The Eagles rolled the dice and brought in free agents Jevon Kearse and WR Terrell Owens. Owens provides much-needed help for talented quarterback Donovan McNabb, while Kearse adds a pass-rushing ability they lacked in the playoffs.

Despite these big name additions, Philadelphia also lost some important players, most noticeably starting cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. The Eagles slipped from eighth in overall defense in 2002 to 20th last year. Are they moving sideways or forwards? Remember that over the last three seasons the talented Eagles have been a remarkable 19-5 straight up and 18-6 against the spread on the road!

Minnesota: Minnesota enjoyed a brilliant start (6-0 SU/ATS) and a cataclysmic finish (3-7 SU, 2-8 ATS) in 2003. With the top offense in the NFL, it’s clear the Vikings have little trouble moving the football. The defense, however, was a brutal 23rd overall and 26th against the pass. Minnesota Âí­allowed opponents 4.9 yards per rushing attempt, second worst in the league. Allowing a stunning TD pass on the final play of the regular season against Arizona kept them from the playoffs.

Head Coach Mike Tice used the draft to beef up the "D," adding DE Kenechi Udeze (USC), LB Dontarrious Thomas (Auburn) and DE Darrion Scott (Ohio St). The secondary added cornerback Antoine Winfield (Bills) and hard-hitting safety Âí­Tyrone Carter. They’ve upgraded and added depth, so now it’s up to first-year defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell to coax some improvement.

Detroit: The word for the 2004 Lions might be "infusion." In this case, it’s an infusion of offensive speed. Head Coach Steve Mariucci, never one much interested in defense, knows what sells tickets. The Lions have ignored defense in the draft the last two seasons preferring to load up on offense.

Rookie wide receiver Roy Williams (Texas) and running back Kevin Jones (Virginia Tech) will team with newcomer WR Tai Streets and last year’s No. 1 pick, WR Charles Rogers, to aid the development of QB Joey Harrington. While the young Lions were 0-8 SU on the road last fall, they were very good at home (5-3). With the infusion of offensive talent, they may be able to alter the 10-6 UNDER the total, too.

San Francisco: Talk about a makeover — this facelift is so complete there’s hardly a face left. Dennis Erickson begins his second season in San Francisco and has been taking a blowtorch to the 49ers offensive roster. This team was 6-2 SU/5-3 ATS at home where the offense averaged 29.5 ppg. On the road, an entirely different club showed up (1-7).

This wasn’t a bad team, but they’ve jettisoned QB Jeff Garcia, WR Terrell Owens, RB Garrison Hearst and WR Tai Streets. On top of that, anointed starting QB Tim Rattay had surgery in May and they’re hoping he’s available to play in September. With either Rattay or Ken Dorsey at QB and new skill position players, the Niners will have a very different look on offense — and a lot of question marks.