AFC West offenses may have more bite in ‘07

The 2006 season brought with it a welcome change for Chiefs fans. Kansas City's defense, the laughingstock of the league for the better part of the new millennium, was finally respectable – especially against the AFC West.

Denver's dreaded bootleg? Ineffective. Oakland's Randy Moss? Nonexistent. San Diego golden-boy Philip Rivers? Running for his life.

Yeah, it was a fun season for KC's defense. In six games against the AFC West, the Chiefs permitted just an average of 14.6 points per game, allowing only seven touchdowns. They forced 14 turnovers in those six games – impressive indeed.

So the average fan might think that with the additions of Donnie Edwards, Napoleon Harris and a slew of talented rookies (not to mention the subtractions of Ryan Sims and Eric Hicks), the Chiefs' defense will be AFC West savages again in 2007. Full steam ahead!

Not so fast. I know last season was a welcome change, but I don't think it will be so easy this year. Let's take a look around the division and analyze the offensive changes made that might make life a little more difficult for Gunther Cunningham and company.

Denver Broncos – 2006 stats – 309 ypg, 19.9 ppg

Under 20 points a game? A Denver offense led by Mike Shanahan hadn't suffered that kind of production since 1999. And before that, it had never happened, so last season was indeed unfamiliar territory for the Broncos.

Why did it happen? The answer is clearly Jake Plummer, who stumbled through an average-at-best season after playing so efficiently a year ago. The Broncos also had few options at receiver outside Javon Walker.

Quarterback Jay Cutler changes all of this. This offseason there have been rumblings around Dove Valley that the deep pass is back in Denver's playbook - and it's not coming off the bootleg, either.

It's straight drop-back, torch-the-corner, hide-the-women-and-children deep passing. Few can throw that big, beautiful bomb as well as Cutler.

This is a scary proposition when you consider how well the Broncos annually run the ball. If Cutler opens up the field with his incredible arm (and he showed it off numerous times last year after replacing Plummer), it makes that cutback running game even more dangerous.

Throw in the underrated Travis Henry (the Broncos said goodbye to the inconsistent Tatum Bell) at running back and a developing prospect in wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and Shanahan has all the weapons at his disposal to return to form on offense. Remember, this is a head coach who once fielded the league's second-ranked offense with half a season's worth of Gus Frerotte starts.

No longer will the Chiefs be able to count on relentlessly blitzing from all angles, as they did a year ago in shutting down the bootleg. Cutler will make them pay as Plummer was never capable of doing.

Oakland Raiders – 2006 stats – 246 ypg, 10.5 ppg

Be honest. You were disappointed when the Raiders actually scored a touchdown on the Chiefs last season. I know I was.

I'm not going to put number-one draft pick JaMarcus Russell in the Pro Bowl or anything, but such disappointment may have to be grudgingly accepted in 2007. The Raiders will be better on offense this season. There's nowhere to go but up.

Before we even begin to discuss the talent, consider the new offensive braintrust. Gone is head coach Art Shell. Gone is offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, a man who was quite literally better suited to coordinating a bed-and-breakfast inn than an NFL offense.

In fact, it appears the Raiders have replaced their entire 2006 offensive staff. And none of them were driving trucks or flipping burgers or doing anything unrelated to football a year ago.

Someone tell KC's defenders to watch their knees, because that's exactly where Oakland's offensive linemen are heading this year. The Raiders hired Tom Cable to coach their offensive line after he helped the Atlanta Falcons lead the NFL in rushing a year ago in the same position. That means more Denver-Bronco style zone blocking, and the Raiders even got some linemen to fit the scheme.

Guard Cooper Carlisle spent six seasons in Denver before signing with the Raiders this offseason. Former Bronco tackle Cornell Green is also well versed in the cutback-running scheme. Throw in the addition of former Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry and rookie Mario Henderson, and Oakland might just have a respectable offensive line in 2007.

The Raiders added a pair of running backs to their backfield in fullback Justin Griffith (an extremely reliable performer in Atlanta over the past four seasons) and halfback Dominic Rhodes (a solid player in Indianapolis). Former first-round draft pick Mike Williams was added to the wide receiver corps.

Coordinating all of this will be Greg Knapp, another Atlanta retread who served as the Falcons' OC over the last three seasons. If Knapp and Cable can successfully implement the running game and new head coach Lane Kiffin can help Williams to produce in the passing game, look out. Russell might get some consideration for rookie of the year.

San Diego Chargers – 2006 stats – 365 ypg, 30.8 ppg

The Chargers did lead the league in scoring a year ago, but even so, the Chiefs had some success against their offense. Philip Rivers fell victim to the Arrowhead mystique in Week 5, and was downright awful in San Diego later in the year.

It would be foolish to count on Rivers being so wet behind the ears again this season. He will undoubtedly be improved with a full season under his belt, and the addition of head coach Norv Turner certainly won't hurt.

Turner might be a bust as a head coach, but that's no reason to expect San Diego's offense to fall off this season. Turner has a long history of developing quarterbacks, including Troy Aikman, Trent Green, Brad Johnson and Alex Smith, who threw 16 touchdown passes a year ago after throwing just one as a rookie.

Throw in the development of a giant receiver like 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson and the addition of first-round receiver Craig Davis, and this Chargers offense won't be lacking any weapons in 2007.

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