Each NFL Team's Weakest Positional Unit Thus Far
Football is an imperfect sport.
All members of NFL teams' front offices are continuous in the process of evaluating something, whether it's their own personnel, opposing teams or college football players. The best are the ones that can quickly identify their weaknesses and turn them into a strength by season's end.
Finally, league officials recognized that the replacement referees were the league's weakest unit and quickly came to a contract resolution with the regular NFL officials.
Here is each NFL team's weakest positional unit thus far.
Expectations are heating up in the desert, as the Arizona Cardinals are undefeated to begin the football season. However, there are still plenty concerns about the consistency from the quarterback position.
Once John Skelton returns from injury, will head coach Ken Whisenhunt put him back into the starting lineup or stick with Kevin Kolb.
Just start the best quarterback who can get the ball out to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and let him do his magic in the open field.
The 2012 Atlanta Falcons defense is fun to watch, as new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has installed an amoeba defense to help protect an undersized defensive line.
But the concern is whether or not they can maintain this high pace. And the jury is still out on whether or not standout defensive end John Abraham can play at this level all season.
The Falcons defensive line must generate some form of a pass rush, or the secondary will be forced to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.
They're undefeated, but quarterback Peyton Manning did make an impressive second-half comeback through the air against the Falcons.
The Baltimore Ravens are a true Super Bowl contender, but their postseason fortunes will be determined by the play of their safeties.
Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are important pieces to the puzzle. If either misses significant time due to injury, then the Ravens will show their lack of defensive secondary depth. Reed and Pollard are excellent pass defenders who can create havoc in the backfield on blitz schemes, and both will lay out opposing receivers coming across the middle.
The Buffalo Bills are an up-and-coming team in the NFL.
Their offense has good balance between the passing and running game. But their main problems are on the defensive side of the ball, especially with defending the pass.
The Bills defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, but you hold your breath with their secondary. In the opening week of the season, it allowed New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to throw the ball all over the field. This was the same offense that didn’t score a touchdown in the preseason
Bill fans have a reason to be worried.
Defense, defense, defense.
Carolina Panther fans are asking if anyone on the defensive line can generate a consistent pass rush, as they haven’t had a legitimate pass-rusher since Julius Peppers.
The defensive coaching staff must refrain from placing the back seven in a zone and allowing opposing quarterbacks to pick them apart. Young defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy will need to add 10 lbs of muscle to become better pass-rushers. Both have the speed to get around the tackles, but neither has the strength to go through a blocker.
The value of an offensive left tackle shouldn’t be taken lightly in the NFL, as they need to be effective run- and pass-blocker. Often, they're lining up across from the opposing team's best pass-rusher.
Every football fan has seen or heard about the on-field flare-up between Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and left tackle J’Marcus Webb from Week 2. Cutler was frustrated with the lack of time given to effectively throw the football downfield.
It may be best for the Bears to get rid of the ball quickly with a short passing game. This forces the secondary to move closer to the line of scrimmage, and this could open the field deep for a home run ball by Cutler.
One of the early surprises to the season has been the play of the Cincinnati Bengals defense. The one blemish to this unit has been a lack of a consistent pass rush.
A combination of blown assignments and poorly-designed blitz schemes have allowed opposing quarterbacks to patiently wait for a receiver to get open downfield. You have to expect a breakdown in pass coverage if the quarterback has all day to throw the football. The middle of the field has been a haven for 15-yard catches by Bengal opponents all season.
The quarterback position is the weakest positional unit on the Cleveland Browns roster, as Brandon Weeden lacks the experience and consistency to lead an NFL team to victory each week.
At 29 years old, it’s tough for Weeden to learn his trade on the job. The speed of the defense is confusing his reads in the pocket, thus Weeden's passing accuracy is near the bottom of the quarterback ratings each week.
Colt McCoy outplayed him in the preseason and should have been named the starting quarterback. But the Browns front office feared severe criticism on the wasting of another first-round selection if they went that direction. McCoy doesn’t have arm strength, but he’s a true leader in the locker room. That's been lacking in Cleveland for a long time.
The problems with the Dallas Cowboys offense run deeper than the play of quarterback Tony Romo.
The offensive line has been a major problem for two seasons, as it cannot consistently open holes for an effective running game or protect the quarterback. Cowboys fans are just hoping Romo remains in one piece for the entire year.
Yes, the front office improved the defensive secondary in the offseason, but it failed to make one significant change to the makeup of the offensive line. Head coach Jason Garrett may need to use more pro sets or shotgun formations to assist with their run-blocking and pass-protection schemes.
The entire Denver Broncos season rides heavily on the health of quarterback Peyton Manning. Through three games, he has looked marginal at best.
Is it more a rusty quarterback losing two close games in back-to-back weeks or a Hall of Famer playing past his prime. Right now, I’m on the latter side.
Manning has looked good throwing the football in brief stretches of the early season, but he hasn’t completed a meaningful pass in a game yet.
Shortly, some Bronco fans might be longing for days of Tim Tebow running in the backfield.
The talk of free agency was which team defensive end Cliff Avril would play for this season. Instead, he went back to the Detroit Lions for another year by agreeing to the franchise tender offer.
This move was supposed to elevate their defense into the top echelon of the league. Unfortunately, the defensive ends are highly overrated, and neither can consistently pressure the quarterback this season.
Maybe expectations were too high, but Kyle Vanden Bosch and Avril haven’t made a single adjustment to the three-step drop used by quarterbacks to combat against their pass-rushing skills.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers went 15-1 in the regular season last year, but the amount of passing yards given up by the defense was the sole reason why they didn’t advance in the playoffs.
Changes had to made to the secondary. Now, the Packers have plenty of inexperience at the position, but each player seems to react quicker to the ball. Their young starters have to iron out chemistry issues with the veterans. But over time, this unit could turn into a strength for the Packers.
It’s pretty obvious that the Houston Texans are the class of the AFC. They’re loaded with talented on both sides of the ball, and their remaining schedule is conducive to a 12-win season.
But ineffective play from the Texans secondary could spoil a run to a Super Bowl appearance. In Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, the defense missed two interceptions and allowed quarterback Peyton Manning to throw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes that turned a blowout into a tight, one-possession game.
This unit won’t be put under the spotlight much this season due to its great pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks' completion ratio has been greatly affected by the pressure generated by the Texans' non-blitzing front seven.
The play of the Indianapolis Colts has far exceeded the preseason expectations of most prognosticators. But the offensive line is a major question mark and is the weakest link on this young roster.
As a group, the offensive line has no problem protecting the quarterback on passing plays. But it has trouble holding blocks to establish the running game. The team is relying on size rather than technique to control the line of scrimmage.
You have to expect growing pains with a young football team.
With the exception of the offensive line, the weakest unit on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster is the safety position.
Excluding Dawan Landry, the Jaguars lack a player with the athleticism needed to cover stronger and faster tight ends downfield.
The position will likely be upgraded during the next offseason, either through free agency or the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs
If the Kansas City Chiefs are going to become a true playoff contender, then the front office will have to replace Matt Cassel from the quarterback position.
Cassel is a true career backup quarterback, as he performs better when there’s no pressure on him. In New England, if he won a game then that was great, and if not, then the Patriots waited for Tom Brady to return from injury.
With the Chiefs, Cassel is expected to make plays. But he forces too many throws in double coverage that are often intercepted. If running back Jamaal Charles isn’t effectively running the football, then the Chiefs have no shot of winning the game.
In the modern NFL, rookie quarterbacks are expected to have instant success on the field. Entire game plans are centered around their strengths, with the hope of maximizing on their talents.
It has been a rough debut for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as he doesn’t have a true playmaker at the wide receiver position. Brian Hartline is a nice complimentary piece in a passing game, but he has trouble creating separation from defenders.
If the Dolphins are going to be competitive football team, then they will have to upgrade their wide receiver position.
Quietly, Minnesota Vikings Christian Ponder has become a component quarterback. He's completed the majority of his passes attempted, and more importantly, he rarely turns the ball over.
Ponder is doing all of this with one of the least dynamic receiving corps in the NFL. He has only two reliable options (wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph) in the passing game. Eventually, the Vikings will have wide receiver Jerome Simpson return from a league suspension, and they hope he becomes another target in the passing game.
New England Patriots
The state of the New England Patriots offensive line has every Northeasterner worried this season.
The team's postseason success depends heavily on the health of Sebastian Vollmer, the progression of Dan Connolly changing positions (moving from guard to center) and the development of Nate Solder. All have taken their lumps, but they need to develop some chemistry as the season progresses.
The line depth couldn’t withstand an injury or two, as the Pats would have a patchwork line trying to protect their prized possession, quarterback Tom Brady.
It might be better for them to implement more quick screens and running draw plays to help offset the early-season deficiencies of the offensive line.
New Orleans Saints
Do the New Orleans Saints have a weakness?
Yes, and how long do have to list them?
Offensively, the running game has been subpar all year. But the Saints' biggest weakness has been the defensive line trying to stop the run. Opposing backs are going through the line untouched, as the Saints have given up over five yards per rushing attempt this season. In Week 3, the lowly Kansas City Chiefs carved up the defense for 270 rushing yards as part of their over 500-yard total-offense performance.
Switching defensive coordinators hasn't resolved this deficiency. The Saints potent offense has been covering up for this liability, and it finally caught up to them.
New York Giants
Super Bowl champs shouldn’t have any weaknesses on their roster, but the New York Giants aren’t your typical defending Super Bowl champs. They barely made the playoffs last season.
They have flaws; they’re a passing team desperately searching for some sort of a running game. The current state of the offensive line is influx, as the Giants have been negligent integrating young talent into a veteran unit.
Is the problem that the line isn’t maintaining its blocks long enough, or are the backs not recognizing the holes fast enough? Either way, the offensive line is always the first to be blamed.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are in disarray. The offense isn’t sure if its a passing team or a ground-and-pound running attack. The play of the offensive line has been the main source of the team's demise, as its execution has been poor and has shown a lack of confidence to dominate the line of scrimmage.
What’s frustrating is this unit has talent, highlighted by center Nick Mangold and tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The line needs to start winning some battles off the snap of the ball and keep moving the chains downfield.
The Oakland Raiders defensive secondary has been decimated by injuries all season, and they’re using special team performers to replace their starters. They just don’t have the skill set to cover top-flight receivers.
Instead, the Raiders' game plan has the secondary giving up the underneath route and hoping for a short gain.
Raiders Nation is calling for their heads, but no reinforcements are expected this season.
It’s not a major revelation that the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line isn’t very good at blocking.
All season, the revamped line has had trouble picking up the blitz and being called for penalties that stalled drives. Often, quarterback Michael Vick is running for his life after being flushed out of the pocket by oncoming pass-rushers.
It’s tough to place all of the blame on the offensive line for the Eagles' offensive struggles, as the team might be better served with a more conservative play-calling until the offensive line shows some improvement.
In its current state, the Pittsburgh Steelers entire defense is pathetic. Normally, I would single out a position that is struggling, but all 11 starters have shown little effort this season. That's unacceptable from the storied franchise.
No one besides linebacker LaMarr Woodley has shown the ability to put any pressure on the quarterback this season.
In Week 3, the Oakland Raiders, one of the league’s worst offenses, scored 34 points against the Steelers. This is worrisome, as they will face more proficient offenses later in the season.
San Diego Chargers
The formula for offensive success by the San Diego Chargers is simple: protect quarterback Philip Rivers in the pocket.
Last season, the offense finally clicked once it resolved the offensive line situation. And the additions of tackle Jared Gaither and guard Tyronne Green to the starting lineup provided better pass protection.
This year, Gaither is having a hard time getting on the field due to a recurring back injury. The Chargers replaced him in the starting lineup with undrafted rookie free agent Mike Harris, who has struggled adapting to the pro game. Harris' learning curve has been accelerated, but he has shown good technique in certain blocking situations.
San Francisco 49ers
It’s tough to find a weak spot on a team that lost an overtime conference title game. The San Francisco 49ers recognized that their receiving corp was lacking a playmaker who could single-handedly challenge a defense late in close games.
The past offseason, the Niners signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to bring that attack mode to a one-dimensional offense. Unfortunately, they aren’t the right players to provide that killer instinct to this passing game.
Moss has a reputation of taking plays off if the ball isn’t coming his way. Manningham has never been the main option in a passing attack, as he played a supporting role with the New York Giants. The 49ers will never become a pass-happy offense, but they must show some semblance of a passing game if they plan to go deep in the playoffs.
The Seattle Seahawks have been looking for a veteran influence to help nurture their young, talented wide receivers. They had Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards battle it out in training camp for this roster position, with Edwards winning the competition.
Come the regular season, where’s Braylon Edwards?
He hasn’t played much at all, as the Seahawks have chosen to use Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu more in four-wide passing sets.
If they honestly were looking for an experienced wide receiver, then Owens and Edwards were poor choices to bring into the fold. Neither has much game left. Edwards is prone to dropping easy passes, but his speed still makes him a big-play threat.
Unfortunately, you cannot make plays from the sidelines.
St. Louis Rams
I expect this comment to create a stir in St. Louis, but it’s time to realize that running back Steven Jackson is the weakest link on the Rams' roster.
No question that Jackson has been a workhorse for the last five seasons, as he battled through nagging injuries and was still a productive back. But this season, Jackson hasn’t shown the same burst of speed through the line like in seasons past.
Right now, the Rams need a young, quick decisive runner who can turn a two-yard run into a game-breaking touchdown with his outstanding speed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Heading into the regular season, the defensive secondary was supposed to be the strength of the Buccaneers' roster. But collectivity, the secondary has played as poorly as any secondary in the NFL.
The unit is too aggressive at the line of scrimmage, and that leaves it vulnerable deep if there’s no pass rush.
Clearly, the Tennessee Titans are having trouble with their running game. They love running Chris Johnson in the middle and then using his speed to get outside for a big run. But the defense is penetrating too far in the backfield for yard-loss tackles.
The coaching staff hasn’t been creative in changing their blocking schemes to better utilize Johnson’s speed, as running off-tackle will offer more space to the outside.
The highlight offseason acquisition for the Washington Redskins was trading up in the NFL draft to select quarterback Robert Griffin III. Quickly, he has shown the ability to be a phenomenal athlete. But RGIII cannot make plays on his back.
Team owner Daniel Snyder and his crack staff of talent evaluators felt it would be better to use their limited cap space on often-injured wide receiver Perry Garcon rather than signing a couple of quality offensive lineman.
Redskin fans aren’t asking for five Pro Bowlers in front of Griffin III, but adequate backups are needed in case a lineman or two go down with an injury. At this stage of his career, RGIII doesn’t have the experience to put a team on his back and win a game. He cannot avoid the oncoming rush without some good lineman leading the way.