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SCOUT'S HONOR: NFC teams' keys to success

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foxsports admin

 
   
 
Here's a look at three keys to success this season for each team in the NFC. Also:
Keys to success: NFC
NFC EAST
Dallas
  • Development at the quarterback position. made some strides near the end of last season, but his future is still uncertain due to the presence of Chad Hutchinson. Hutchinson could quickly gain ground on Carter and has the tools to become a productive passer in the NFL. But youth also means inconsistency.
  • More diversity within the passing game. This should be one area the make some progress. Antonio Bryant will play a big role as a rookie and is developing into an intriguing option. They also have former Bengal at tight end, although he's been erratic throughout his career.
  • More effective pass rush. To become a playoff team again, the must generate more plays on the defensive side of the ball. Tackle and linebacker were added to the mix. will return from an injury-ravaged year. Look for these three to make a difference.
  • New York
  • Reliable offensive line play. This will be one of the more interesting units to follow this season. The replaced three veterans with young backups that most fans never heard of before now. Despite the questions, coaches are optimistic about molding together an effective unit. If they struggle, the ' offense could have many ups and downs.
  • progressing into a steady running back. Dayne was a disappointment after failing to build off his rookie year. If Dayne can't be relied on, it limits the ' run game. Another issue is working to find the proper balance between Dayne and .
  • Maturation within the secondary. Cornerbacks and William Peterson had their moments, but they also suffered growing pains last season. It also didn't help that had more injury problems. Look for Allen and Peterson to make solid progress while emerges as a solid reserve. Free safety is also a big concern with atop their depth chart following ' move to strong safety. Stoutmire is smart and plays hard, but also has limitations.
  • Philadelphia
  • must return to form. Expect to see the old this season if he can remain healthy. Look for his short-area burst and pop to return since he's fully recovered from past injuries that plagued him in 2001. Regaining production on the ground is critical for establishing the right balance within this offense.
  • Young wide receivers must continue developing. had a productive year after a slow start, but the keys for taking this offense to the next level are and . Pinkston made strides last season and has shown he can make big plays. Mitchell will likely make significant progress this season.
  • More consistency against the run. The have an aggressive defense that makes a lot of things happen, but their run defense must strive to play at a steady level. won't make as many plays like did at middle linebacker, but they expect him to play with more discipline. It wouldn't be a surprise to see another addition up front to addresses the run defense.
  • Washington
  • Steady play at quarterback. Patrick Ramsey will likely be brought along slowly, which means veterans and will be atop the depth chart to begin the season. Neither will make anything exciting happen, but both are intelligent guys who just need to execute the game plan.
  • More production from the pass rush. There's no question that Marvin Lewis will focus on finding ways to put pressure on the quarterback. With their aging perimeter players up front, it was difficult to generate consistent pressure last season. Former Jaguar adds some youth, but there are skeptics that don't view him as a true pass rusher despite his numbers with Jacksonville last season. Look for to post big numbers as their top up-field performer.
  • Find productive return specialists. After electing not to bring and back, the must address this area again. There has been some talk of returning some punts, which would be intriguing, but there's debate on whether to risk him to potential injuries. could be a sleeper here.
  • NFC NORTH
    Chicago
  • Produce more plays within the passing game. The had a respectable offense last season, but must push the ball downfield more often to complement their short passing and power run game. Having back should help if he returns to form.
  • Consistency against the pass. The had a solid pass defense, but gave up too many plays at times. Now they are breaking in two new starters and a rookie among their top five or six defensive backs. is really going to be the "X" factor here. He has excellent speed, but must avoid breakdowns in coverage.
  • More production from their return units. The have a couple guys who could be adequate return specialists, but they don't have anyone who really scares opposing teams. That's something the need to reach a higher level of the playoffs.
  • Detroit
  • Stability along the offensive line. That's something the haven't had in a long time as they have made many attempts to address this unit. They need to evolve into a consistent performer, and center must assert himself as a starter so can be used elsewhere.
  • Develop chemistry within the passing game. The made a lot of changes within their passing game, but breaking in two young quarterbacks means the offense will work through growing pains. The like their added speed with and Az Hakim joining at wide receiver, but it's questionable whether they can put it all together.
  • Improve production within the secondary. This unit was a liability in 2001, but they added veteran safeties and Corey Walker to stabilize things inside. Unfortunately, a lot of problems remain at cornerback. If 's foot problem keeps him off the field, their top cover guys are aging and along with raw rookie Andre Goodman. Ouch. I am sure doesn't mind.
  • Green Bay
  • Development of and Javon Walker. The will have a new look at wide receiver led by veteran , but Ferguson and Walker must prove they can be reliable stage partners with Glenn. Ferguson is making strides and has the raw tools to present intriguing possibilities for the offense. Walker will likely have some erratic moments as a rookie, but has the tools to make big plays.
  • Steady run defense. Behind , the are young at defensive tackle. Veteran arrives at middle linebacker and should be reliable.
  • Regain past production on special teams. The kicking game certainly needs to rebound, but the biggest focus remains on the return units. When wasn't active on the roster, the never found a suitable replacement.
  • Minnesota
  • evolving into a big-play runner. Bennett had a rough rookie season behind a struggling offensive line, but also was still honing his instincts as a running back. The will spread the offense out and create more lanes for Bennett to attack. That should provide the balance missing from last season's offense.
  • 's development. Culpepper's own injury problems and the loss of key veterans made his sophomore season a nightmare. He must prove he can bounce back mentally and prove he's a mature leader for the future.
  • Upgraded production against the run. The can't get any worse against the run. Former Falcon should do a solid job at middle linebacker. The also expect former Dolphin to upgrade their perimeter run defense. and are among the young guys working to solidify themselves alongside inside.
  • NFC SOUTH
    Atlanta
  • Finding the right mix in the run game. escaped the constant controversy in Tampa Bay with . And the drafted T.J. Duckett in the first round, which will spark uncertainty again for Dunn. Dunn will get a lot of touches, but the must be careful in finding the right balance between Dunn and Duckett to maximize their production on the ground.
  • 's development. There's no question Vick is the ' heartbeat. Luckily he's taking a proactive approach toward learning. That should be reflected in his play this season. He'll make some mistakes as a young quarterback, but he's also going to make a lot of plays. Unfortunately, he'll face some limitations until the upgrade at wide receiver with a few playmakers.
  • Stability in the secondary. The didn't get much production from their safeties and cornerback depth was even worse last year. They won't win games until they make strides here. Adding cornerback and safety should help build some respectability at those spots.
  • Carolina
  • Develop a steady run game. The are going in a new direction and will also rely heavily on the run game. could be decent if he gets blocking up front, but don't expect much production. Rookie DeShaun Foster has potential to solve Carolina's problems on the ground. Unfortunately, he must be more consistent than he was in college.
  • Productive quarterback play. looked horrible at times last season, but the organization likes his ability as a drop-back passer. He should feel more comfortable with Dan Henning, but there are questions as to whether Weinke is the long-term answer.
  • Improvement by the front seven. There are expected to be problems at cornerback this season, which makes the front seven's development that much more important. The two things the must see is continued development from Julius Peppers and throughout the year.
  • New Orleans
  • Good team chemistry. Talking about a team unraveling at the seams, the did just that last season. Their personnel shakeup should help, but the first sign of adversity will be the true test of whether those ghosts are behind them. Unfortunately, ownership's instability doesn't create the greatest environment.
  • Limit turnovers. This should happen as matures at quarterback. The offensive line broke down after was out, which placed a lot of pressure on Brooks. The line should be solid with upgraded depth. Also, a few skill players were added to create better matchup opportunities. They just need to maintain efficiency throughout the season.
  • Dominant defensive tackle play. is working himself back to form, which should help him regain his form from 2000 when he overpowered opponents. The attention Hand drew freed the rest of the front seven to make plays. They also have former Raider to clog up holes, with an underrated providing some interior quickness against the pass.
  • Tampa Bay
  • Improve red-zone production. had some solid games statistically, but the couldn't put the ball in the end zone. Opponents were able to key on because he was the club's only true red-zone threat. They should have more balance after tweaking the run game and adding more size in the passing game.
  • Consistency along the offensive line. had his expected rookie breakdowns at left tackle. They also received sub-par production at center and left guard. Looking ahead, Walker should progress, but will be pushed by . has arrived from the to play left guard and will challenge in the pivot. It's questionable whether that results in a significant upgrade of personnel, but having line coach Bill Muir on board helps.
  • Finding someone to emerge as a return specialist. Nothing is certain here. They had , , and return kicks last season. Rookie Aaron Lockett could emerge as a punt returner with . The club really needs one or two of these guys to break away from the pack and become a consistent threat to score.
  • NFC WEST
    Arizona
  • must produce on the ground. Jones has been a flop for various reasons, but began showing some progress near the end of last season. Jones may never be a difference maker, but they need him to be steady and keep defenses honest. At the same time, he must remain durable.
  • Consistency from the tight end position. The passing game's balance has been limited by the lack of steady production at tight end. Former Charger has the ability to solve those problems with his athleticism, but must produce more consistently than he did in San Diego.
  • Containing the run. The phrase, "You can't stop them, but can only hope to contain them" fits here. The certainly won't shut down the opposition, but must hope for some progress as Wendell Bryant joins the front line along with the maturity of several other young guys the club has added here in the past year.
  • St. Louis
  • Consistent special teams' play. Visions of Az Hakim and company have been haunting visions for the . Look for (return specialist) and (punter) to make a noticeable difference this season. Losing games on special teams is less likely to happen now.
  • 's development. The right tackle position was the least stable across the offensive line last season. Mike Martz doesn't like using extra guys in pass protection, which puts a lot of pressure on the front line to get the job done. Face it, can't afford to receive many more vicious hits. St. Clair has the size and feet to become the best right tackle the have had during their current Super Bowl era.
  • Limit turnovers. Anytime a team plays as aggressively as the , there are bound to be turnovers. They had 22 passes intercepted and lost another 22 fumbles. Both marks must improve, especially the fumbles. They need to cut that by at least 40 percent this season.
  • San Francisco
  • 's development. Carter progressed throughout the 2001 season and looks primed to take his game to another level. The still need more overall production from their pass rush. If Carter develops into an elite performer this season, the rest will fall into place a lot easier.
  • More consistency from the nickel defense. The have one of the top emerging defensive backfields in the NFL, but didn't have the depth to match up with certain teams like the . If rookie Mike Rumph develops quickly and can make progress, their pass defense will be significantly improved.
  • Improved production on special teams. Kicker didn't provide enough consistency and will be challenged by rookie Jeff Chandler. It's no secret they need some reliability here because games are usually tight in the playoffs. They also need more production from the return game. didn't get the job done and must prove he's an answer for the long term.
  • Seattle
  • Smart quarterback play. never found his groove last season, which held the offense back. That's why enters training camp as the starter. Dilfer has learned to see the big picture in recent seasons and that's helped him develop into a reliable passer. All Dilfer needs is to make good decisions given the excellent talent developing at the skill positions.
  • Avoid breakdowns in pass coverage. They have two savvy veterans at cornerback with and providing insurance, but it will be the play of and that determine whether the make the playoffs. Springs must re-emerge as a shutdown corner who can create turnovers. Meanwhile, Lucas must avoid the mental breakdowns that result in big plays for the opposition. Keeping healthy at free safety is another key. His experience and savvy to make things happen is valuable here.
  • Consistency on special teams. Injuries resulted in sub-par numbers from return specialist last season. He's now gone and will be replaced by and . Engram won't make plays, but can be steady with punts. Williams could develop into a threat on kicks. They also need more production from . He'll be pushed in training camp after an erratic season.
  • Brian DeLucia is a respected college and pro personnel consultant around the NFL. Formerly a consultant with Rivals.com and current editor of Pro Football Digest.com, Brian heads into his third season with FOXSports.com providing commentary around the NFL and NFL Draft.
    Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Chiefs, Rams, Vikings, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Cardinals, Michael Vick, Keion Carpenter, Jerry Azumah, Bobby Engram, Shane Matthews, Dominic Raiola, Robert Ferguson, Allen Rossum, Grady Jackson, Kurt Warner, Kenny Mixon, Randy Moss, Mitch Berger, Michael Bennett, Fred Robbins, Chris Hovan, Norman Hand, Willie Roaf, Martin Chase, Aaron Brooks, Will Allen, Ralph Brown, Tiki Barber, Shaun Williams, Barry Gardner, Freddie Mitchell, Jeremiah Trotter, James Thrash, Duce Staley, Jose Cortez, Andre Carter, Willie Williams, Shawn Springs, Rian Lindell, Matt Hasselbeck, Ken Lucas, Frank Murphy, Aaron Stecker, Karl Williams, Todd Washington, Champ Bailey, LaVar Arrington, Kris Jenkins, Kevin Hardy, Renaldo Wynn

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