Published: December 28th, 2010 | Tags: New England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez, Chicago Bears, Danny Woodhead, Dwayne Bowe, Julius Peppers, Kansas City Chiefs, Mike Martz, Rob Gronkowski, Solomon Wilcots, Todd Haley
From start to (almost) finish, the 2010 season has provided us with several dramatic transformations. We’re talking about a few teams that underwent dramatic growth and improvement during the season to win their divisions, outcomes that no one would have predicted.
New England Patriots: The Patriots have had transformations on both sides of the ball this season and now feature several elements that just didn’t exist last season. Offensively, Danny Woodhead and rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have all carved out roles. Woodhead has been a factor since the season-ending injury to Kevin Faulk, and allows the Patriots to be more versatile in packages and play-calling. Along with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, another player who has transformed the look of the offense, the Patriots have rushed for more than 100 yards in seven straight games. Hernandez and Gronkowski have become factors in every element of the offense — run blocking, pass protection and route running. Tom Brady’s leadership is another aspect that has evolved this season. His leadership and work with young receivers has been in the forefront, and he’s been the one to pull all of these elements together.
Defensively, there’s no doubt that a secondary that had been the Achilles’ heel of the defense has improved, and the young core of the group has played better throughout the season. Second-year guys like Darius Butler and Patrick Chung are better. Devin McCourty was added in the draft, and veteran Jarrad Page has had an impact.
Kansas City Chiefs: A number of factors have contributed to what we’ve seen out of the Chiefs this season. The drafting of Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster improved the overall playmaking ability and speed. The hiring of coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis has made a major impact. Jamaal Charles showed flashes last season, but he’s flourished in the 1-2 punch with Thomas Jones and in the passing game under Weis. The Chiefs started the season leading the league in rushing, but late in the season Matt Cassel has putting up big numbers and the Chiefs are winning in all phases of the game.
Defensively, the Chiefs moved to a 3-4 defense full-time this season, another change. The defensive front is big and physical, Derrick Johnson is a playmaker and the presence of Berry helps make Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr better. Flowers is one of the better corners in the league right now. Perhaps the biggest transformation of all is Dwayne Bowe, which is a microcosm of the bigger transformation of the whole team. Bowe has always been talented, but he could never focus long enough or work hard enough to be consistent. That’s the Todd Haley effect. His fingerprints are all over the whole thing, starting with Bowe.
Chicago Bears: The Bears’ transformation this season is a direct result of two acquisitions: Julius Peppers and Mike Martz. Peppers, in my mind, is one of the best players in the league and the cornerstone of the defense. He allows the Bears to play the Cover 2 scheme that Lovie Smith wants because they don’t have to blitz to get pressure. He’s the best all-around defensive end when it comes to playing the run, the pass, and impacting the game. He’s the straw that stirs the drink and makes every other player on Rod Marinelli’s defense better.
Martz turned out to be the perfect medicine for Jay Cutler, who is allowed to play aggressive. Matt Forte has been an all-around weapon under Martz, no one wants to give Devin Hester credit for his improvement as a receiver, and Johnny Knox is proving himself again. The part of the transformation that is the biggest surprise, though, is the offensive line. They were horrible in September, but have improved to the point where they’ll be capable in the playoffs. The Bears have improved from the one of the worst in the NFC North to the absolute best. No one had this team out dueling Green Bay or Minnesota for the division title.
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