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Responding to the Run: Changes in the AFC West

I hope we're responding in the right way. And certainly, the powers-that-be are more intelligent and paid quite a bit more to figure these things out before I write about them here. But I can't help but notice (and therefore comment) on the winds of change in the AFC based on this season's, or rather off-season's, acquisitions within the division.

Specifically, I'm referring to the now run-heavy opponents occupying the AFC West. We've always been used to the Insert Name Here approach in Denver and their zone blocking schemes. And, of course, one of the best in the business - namely, LaDanian Tomlinson, has kept San Diego dominating (depends on your definition, I realize) for years. But now, more perhaps than ever, we're seeing the shift to run-oriented offenses by opponents we face 6 times each year.

This is a new thing, at least on this level. After all, Phil Rivers Pro Bowl season last year created a new level of momentum and scoring opps for the Chargers, so while LT was fading a bit (thanks, injury), they could still put points on the board. The drafting of Jamarcus Russell's rifle of an arm by the Oakland Raiders was intended to stretch defenses within the division. And let's not forget the fact that we thought Jay Cutler was going to be throwing all over K.C. for years to come.

So the former defensive back (Herm Edwards) drafted well in the defensive backfield. And heading into this offseason, if there was any part of the defensive side of the ball to feel good about, it was our DB core. And our focus, therefore, was to generate a dominant pass rush (or really any pass rush will do at this point) to allow our secondary to do their job.

But, as we've seen in the over-analysis of draft prospects, pass rushers don't tend to play the run well. You draft for one or the other. Everette Brown was rumored as high as the top 10 in the draft and that was on his pass rushing skills alone. Finding gifted two-way players (as in run and pass rush) are rare gems and teams don't easily let them go.

So what are we to think when Denver drafts this year's Adrian Peterson in Knowshon Moreno? The Raiders hold some impressive cards with Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. The Chargers report LT looks back to his old self again, and retained the sparkplug known as Darren Sproles. As Denver has lost Cutler, there's no doubt that the running game will establish the Mile High offense. Russell looks just as bad as ever in camp, so the Raiders are forced to think ground game most of the time (especially with Tom Cable calling the shots). San Diego will at least be balanced, but will prove to be trouble on the ground nonetheless.

The Tyson Jackson pick looks much more valuable from this perspective, as his high draft value came from the fact that he does all things well. But I wonder about older linebackers who might lack the speed to plug the holes created from only having three guys up front. I like the bigger guys on the line, but how does the 3-4 hybrid we apparently have going affect the run defense?

So what do you think? How do we stack up considering the divisional changes? Are we thinking in the right direction or does the lack of Russell's progression and the trade of Cutler shift things?

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