In our previous installment of Around the AFC East, we rated running backs in the East. Today, we switch over to the defensive side of the house and tackle linebackers (get it? Tackle. Badum-tsssss...I'm here all week). This is, admittedly, more difficult than I thought it would be. Other than tackles, sacks, and interceptions (usually very few, I might add), there's little to go on, so I relied heavily on, I'm ashamed to admit, Football Outsiders's DVOA stats. Without further delay, Linebacker Rankings.
- Miami Dolphins - Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele anchor the inside of Miami's 3-4 and are nothing to get excited about. They do a solid job, but won't be seeing a Pro Bowl any time soon. Things change when you get to the outside of this unit. Matt Roth is, like Crowder and Ayodele, a solid player, but we're talking a different animal when we get to Joey Porter, the mouth of South Florida. As much as we Pats fans hate to admit, Porter can back up his big mouth with big plays. Second in sacks during the 2008 regular season with 17.5, Porter is a quarterback's nightmare. So why, given that Porter is the only standout, does Miami deserve to be first? Jason Taylor, that's why. I know, he's a defensive end, but he's a monster at generating pressure and if Porter was able to garner 17.5 sacks with little help, just think what he'll do with Taylor there to assist.
Jets/Patriots - It was extremely difficult to pick one over the other. In my opinion, the two are so close that it's almost a tie. However, I place a lot of significance on pass rushing OLB's and I think the Jets have a slight edge.
- New York Jets - I like pass rushing outside linebackers and the Jets have one in Calvin Pace. Pace will be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance enhancing substance policies, but I don't think that was enough to knock the Jets down to #3 and make NE a clear #2. Using DVOA, NY's rushing defense was -7.7% vs. NE's -4.7%, a full 3% better (negative is good in defense). A good rushing defense is all about tackling and I attribute a lot of that to the "four" in a 3-4, the linebackers. Their pass defense was significantly better, which could be linked to good, pass rushing OLB's generating pressure, but pass defense is more of a defensive backfield stat.
- New England Patriots - NY edged out NE by a hair because of the Patriots' lack of a true pass rushing outside linebacker. Now don't get me wrong - I think Adalius Thomas and Pierre Woods will do a great job, but I'm not, as of yet, convinced they'll scare quarterbacks by generating tons of pressure. ILB is in good shape with DROY Jerod Mayo, but he struggled with pass protection and reading offensive schemes; word is he's spent a ton of off season time in Foxboro. Those issues may be fixed for 2009, but next to him are the soon-to-retire Tedy Bruschi and the stable Gary Guyton as his backup. There's nothing beside Mayo that's grabbing me saying, "I'm great, I'm great."
- Buffalo Bills - While the Bills' pass defense DVOA was better than the Patriots, their run defense struggled, ending up in the bottom third of the league. MLB Paul Posluszny could be a major contributor, but it's unclear right now. I believe he struggles from the same issues as our Jerod Mayo - he simply needs NFL reps to get better. The inconsistent Kawika Mitchell and the "should be a backup" Keith Ellison, both on the outside of the 4-3, sealed the deal for me. I think Buffalo Rumblings' Brian Galliford said it best when he stated, "In this defense, linebacker is low in the pecking order in terms of importance - but that doesn't mean that mediocre-to-average play is acceptable. This group needs to be more productive, starting at the top."