NFL

JUDGE: Comparing the Bay Area's finest

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Clark Judge

 
   
 
The Oakland are the best team in the AFC. The San Francisco are one of the best teams in the NFC. The two are separated by the San Francisco Bay, but it's not water or a pro football conference that keeps them apart. It's talent. Both of them have it; only Oakland has more. At least that's the judgment of NFL scouts and personnel directors asked to compare the two clubs, position-by-position. The results were conclusive and unanimous, and I'm afraid that even couldn't dig the out of this hole. With the exception of running back and the defensive line, the came out ahead everywhere — with the most decisive advantages in the offensive line and secondary — and I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise. Oakland had four players on this year's All-Pro team. My only question is this: If Oakland's talent is so superior how did the lose to San Francisco ... at home no less ... when the two met in early November? I guess that's a subject for our next debate. For now, here's how NFL talent scouts divide the Bay Area's playoff teams.

QUARTERBACK

was the league MVP, with a career-high 4,689 yards passing — including an NFL-record 10 300-yard games. Since joining the in 1994 the guy's been remarkably consistent, throwing for 105 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. Garcia, on the other hand, was all over the place this year, throwing 11 fewer touchdowns than last season and for 934 fewer yards than in 2000. His completion percentage was down. His yards per attempt were down. And his overall passer rating was down. Still, it was Garcia who pulled off a 24-point comeback last week, earning him NFC Offensive Player of the Week accolades. "I'll take Gannon," said one scout. "He's more consistent, and that's the important thing here." "I like Gannon's overall game management," said an AFC pro personnel director. "The guy's experienced, and he doesn't make mistakes that kill you." The Verdict: Gannon

RUNNING BACKS

The have one of the league's most underrated running backs in . The have the league's most underrated fullback in . But the difference maker here is neither of those guys; it's the ' , who's superior to Oakland's No. 2 back, , and who gives San Francisco a solid one-two punch with . The were sixth in rushing. The were 18th. Garner had 11 touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. Hearst and Barlow had 14 touchdowns and combined for 1,647 yards. "Hearst and Barlow are a wash," said one scout. "But Barlow's better than Wheatley, and I'd much rather have Beasley than . Plus, the , as a whole, catch the ball better out of the backfield than the ." The Verdict:

WIDE RECEIVERS

There's not a more dominant receiver in the game than , and skeptics can consult the ' . So Owens had 43 fewer catches than . He had three more scores and one more signature moment. But we're not talking about individuals here. We're talking about the wide receivers as a group, and the drop off considerably after Owens. is their No. 2 receiver, while the have , and — with Porter the deep threat. That group combined for 224 catches, 2,550 yards and 18 touchdowns. Owens, Streets and had 204 receptions, 2,388 yards and 19 scores. "Individually, you'd much rather have ," said our scout. "But, collectively, the are better. , Porter and Rice have size, speed and experience, with Porter a starter with Owens if he's on San Francisco." The Verdict:

TIGHT ENDS

Here's something that went overlooked last weekend: The ' had more catches (8) and more yards (78) than All-Pro tight end . A seventh-round pick in the 2001 draft, Johnson was a steal. But he's been bothered by back problems this year, reducing him to 36 catches. ' rookie was close with 32 catches and two scores, but combine him with , and the tandem is more effective as receivers and as blockers than Johnson and . "I think Jolley's going to be a terrific player," said one personnel director. "I like Johnson, but the guy's been hurt. Jolley can run, has good hands is hard to tackle." The Verdict:

OFFENSIVE LINE

There aren't many coaches out there who do more than San Francisco's Pat Morris, one of the league's unheralded assistants. The don't have high draft picks on their offensive line, yet each year the club is among the best running and protecting the quarterback. This year was no different, with their quarterbacks sacked 22 times and their rushing game the sixth best in the league. However, the are loaded, with two All-Pros (Lincoln Kennedy and ) and no weak links on one of the biggest and baddest offensive lines in the NFL. I dare you to find me one better. "I think the are vastly underrated," said an NFC scout. "But there's no one better than the . The only clubs that give their offensive line trouble are the ones with speed, but they generally dominate up front. My only question is: If the aren't that good here, how come didn't make a play last weekend? They pay the guy $20 million to sign, and they couldn't get one pressure out of him." "It's not close," said another scout. "Everywhere you look the are just better. You'd take Robbins over Newberry. Kennedy and (Barry) Sims are better than (Derrick) Deese and (Scott) Gragg. And I like their guards. This is a mismatch." The Verdict:

DEFENSIVE LINE

Our board was split here, liking San Francisco's defensive ends but preferring what Oakland has inside. Nevertheless, it was the ' ability to rush the passer with and that swung the vote. Oakland produced little pressure on the outside, but the were solid with their tackles — with leading the club with 11 sacks. Coleman, and outplayed the ' , and , but the held the upper hand outside — and that made the difference with our panel. "Okeafor and Carter were much better pressuring the pocket than anything the got out of their ends," said our pro personnel director. "I give the the nod because they're better on the edge." The Verdict:

LINEBACKERS

Where is Katherine Harris when you need her? This one's too close to call, and there weren't even chads to misinterpret. The ' had a marvelous season, but so did Oakland's . and San Francisco's Derrick Smith are close, too — with Romanowski second only to Barton in team tackles, and Smith leading the . Rookie was the ' fourth-leading tackler but had only one-half sack. The ' had two and was the ' fifth-best tackler despite missing two games. "It's a push," said one scout. "If I were to pick one, maybe I'd lean toward the , but I think the two teams are even." So did everyone else. The Verdict: Hung jury

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Imagine if the had rookie cornerback . They'd have one of the best secondaries in the business. As it is, they're not all that bad without him ... with an All-Pro in safety and a four-time Pro Bowl choice in cornerback . and cornerback have been hurt, so they haven't been as effective -- or as visible -- lately. But they're more experienced and just plain better than the ' and . The helped themselves with at safety, but Woodson had a better year — leading the team in interceptions (8), fumble recoveries (3) and defensive scores (2). San Francisco safety is a playmaker, but he missed most of the season. Oakland has the advantage at nickel back, too, with the choice over rookie . "Let's face it, the have better quickness and better cover guys back there," said one scout. "I love them at the corners, and I'd rather have Woodson and (Derrick) Gibson at the safeties. Sure, Parrish played well, but nobody made more key plays at safety this year than . I'd take him over anyone there." The Verdict:

KICKING

The went through two punters and two kickers, and that should give you a clue about their special teams: They struggled most of the year. and missed 10 of 36 field goals, while the team's punting average of 38.4 yards was among the league's lowest. There's nothing certain about Oakland's either, especially on field goals outside the 40. And his 26-of-33 performance was down from last year. Still, he led the league with 22 touchbacks on kickoffs. Oakland punter averaged 42.5 yards a kick, which isn't bad, but had a net of 32.7 yards, which is. It had him ranked 25th in the NFL, with a league-high 12 touchbacks. Still, the were worse, with a 31.6 net. "This isn't really close, either," said our pro personnel director. "Both teams are struggling with their return games, but Oakland would be in a lot different shape if it had (Terry) Kirby or Buchanon. Still, I like the ' specialists, just because they're more experienced." The Verdict: Senior writer Clark Judge covers the NFL for FOXSports.com and can be reached at his e-mail address: cjudge@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Colts, Raiders, Giants, 49ers, Redskins, Tony Parrish, Jon Ritchie, Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler, Eric Johnson, Jerry Rice, Charlie Garner, Charles Woodson, Roland Williams, John Parrella, Ahmed Plummer, Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich, Jose Cortez, Jason Webster, Chike Okeafor, Andre Carter, Terrell Owens, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Doug Jolley, Napoleon Harris

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