The NFL's Biggest Busts: Letdown Players and Teams Through Week 4
Now that Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season is officially in the books and Week 5 is on the horizon, it’s about that time to discuss early-season busts and letdown players for some underachieving NFL clubs.
While some teams have their stars and other playmakers to thank for a strong start to the season, other teams can only search for answers while fans and the media point the finger.
For those finger-pointing, answer-searching folks out there, this article is for you.
Here are some of the biggest disappointments thus far through the first four weeks of the season, focusing in particular on key disappointing players on disappointing teams.
Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions
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Widely considered to be a legitimate threat to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions have sputtered through the first four weeks of the season.
Not many people would have believed they’d be 1-3 heading into Week 5, but that’s the way it stands.
At center stage is quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has just three passing touchdowns compared to four interceptions in the first four games. After passing for more than 5,000 yards and tossing 41 TDs last year, this isn’t exactly the start that many fans and analysts predicted.
Detroit’s defense wasn’t exactly its strength heading into the year. Rather, everyone knew the Lions would rely on an explosive offense led by Stafford and the elite wideout known as Megatron, Calvin Johnson.
Johnson will always be productive because of his immense talent, but his one touchdown so far is a reflection of the problems Detroit has had on offense.
While they lost a shootout to the (ahem) Titans, the Lions lost Week 2 and Week 4 by putting up just 19 and 13 points respectively against the 49ers and Vikings. For comparison’s sake, Detroit scored 19 points or less just five times in all of 2011—all losses. They’ve already done so twice in 2012 and lost another game after putting up 41 points.
If the Lions are going to turn things around, it starts under center with Stafford and the passing game. The QB was supposed to build on his terrific 2011 season, but so far he’s been inconsistent.
Their schedule certainly doesn’t do them any favors, either. The Lions still play Green Bay twice, Houston, Atlanta and Minnesota once more among other games against Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia.
Darren McFadden and the Oakland Raiders
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While the Oakland Raiders may not have generated a lot of buzz during the offseason, there was a sense of optimism surrounding the organization heading into 2012.
The AFC West was essentially up for grabs, and the team was starting with a largely clean slate.
Oakland cleaned house, bringing in Reggie McKenzie from Green Bay and naming him as GM. McKenzie subsequently fired head coach Hue Jackson and hired Dennis Allen to replace him.
As part of the process, the Raiders also cut ties with offensive coordinator Al Saunders and hired Greg Knapp to fill his position. These moves have proven to be critical thus far in 2012, as the change in offensive philosophy has created a struggle to produce points.
Say what you will about Hue Jackson, but the power-blocking scheme he implemented helped ignite the Raiders offense during his tenure—both as offensive coordinator and as a head coach. Running back Darren McFadden benefited most, totaling 1,771 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 336 carries from 2010 to 2011 (5.27 average).
Now, Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme has gotten off to a rocky start. The Raiders have struggled on offense, and perhaps the most important fallout is that the team’s most valuable player—McFadden—has looked uncomfortable and is feeling the effects. In four games this year, he has just 201 yards rushing and one touchdown on 57 carries (3.5 average).
The passing game has struggled, too, because of the ineffectiveness of the run game and injuries to players like Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey. But ultimately, the running game’s ineffectiveness is hurting the entire offense.
It’s not entirely McFadden’s fault, as he’s working to adjust to the new reads and system. However, he’ll have to figure it out soon if this offense wants any chance of winning the division.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers were supposed to challenge the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South crown this year. And with the Saints currently sitting at 0-4, Panthers fans couldn’t have asked for a better setup.
Well, except for the fact that the Falcons have looked outstanding so far.
Nevertheless, the Panthers need to take care of their own business, and much of that falls on second-year signal-caller Cam Newton.
After breaking out as a rookie in 2011, many wondered whether Newton would suffer a sophomore slump or overcome the odds and prove he’s the real deal. While his talent would suggest the latter, his production and performance so far suggest the former.
In four games, Newton has completed 68-of-107 passes for 1,013 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also added three rushing touchdowns.
The stats aren’t terrible, but the major issue has been consistency.
After looking dismal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on opening day, Carolina took care of business against the Saints. The Panthers then got obliterated by the New York Giants on Thursday Night in Week 3, only to rebound with a strong showing against the Falcons in Week 4.
The key, folks, is Newton.
In the team’s two strong showings (against the Saints and Falcons), Newton is 29-of-44 (70 percent) with 468 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also has 22 carries for 157 yards (7.14 average) and two rushing touchdowns.
In the team’s two poor showings, Newton is 39-of-63 (62 percent) with 545 passing yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. He also has 11 carries for 10 yards and one touchdown.
Newton needs to continue to be efficient and play to his strengths if the Panthers are going to turn around their 1-3 season. With Atlanta still undefeated at 4-0, that turnaround needs to happen now.
Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills
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After the Buffalo Bills landed free-agent pass-rusher Mario Williams in free agency, Bills fans were elated and had legitimately high expectations for 2012.
One of Buffalo’s biggest weaknesses last year was the pass rush, and signing someone of Williams’ caliber—in addition to signing defensive end Mark Anderson away from New England—was unanimously seen as a great move that would provide immediate results.
Fans are having a difficult time, though, finding those results through the season’s first four weeks.
Williams has recorded just nine tackles and 1.5 sacks through four games with the Bills. After a disappointing debut against the New York Jets in Week 1, he got in the sack column against the Chiefs in Week 2, albeit when Kansas City had its back against the wall and was forced to pass consistently.
The primary reason Buffalo signed Williams was to put pressure on Tom Brady and establish an advantage in the AFC East. Divisional games have been the Achilles' heel for Buffalo in recent years. In fact, over the past four seasons, the Bills are just 4-23 against division opponents.
That certainly isn’t going to help end their 12-year playoff drought, which is the longest in the NFL.
Needless to say, Williams’ three total tackles in two division games this year—both big losses—are glaring with mediocrity.
The blame for the Bills’ struggles certainly do not fall solely on Williams’ shoulders, but he does deserve to be under the microscope after signing a six-year, $96 million contract. For the Bills’ sake, hopefully he turns things around sooner rather than later.
Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans
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Nobody really expected any team to challenge the Houston Texans for the AFC South division, but if there was one team that was a remote possibility, it was the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans opted to roll with Jake Locker at quarterback this year, who is an athletic, strong-armed, mobile passer with some liveliness at the position. It was an exciting move that sparked intrigue in the fanbase.
Considering the offense featured playmakers like running back Chris Johnson, wideouts Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright and emerging tight end Jared Cook, there was a chance this team could put up some points.
Unfortunately, things haven’t panned out so well, no thanks to a pretty tough schedule.
Regardless of Britt’s situation and Cook’s inconsistency, the focal point continues to be Chris Johnson.
No matter how you spin it, Johnson’s numbers have been atrocious. Prior to Week 4, when CJ2K blew up for 141 yards on 25 carries, he had just 55 rushing yards on 33 carries through the first three weeks (1.6 average). This is the same guy who has gone for more than 1,000 yards in every season of his career and even broke the 2,000-yard mark in 2009.
And if you’re wondering why I haven’t listed his touchdowns, it’s because he doesn’t have any—rushing or receiving.
The Titans are currently 1-3. Considering their first four opponents, some might say they’re lucky not to be 0-4. Nevertheless, they have a lot of work to do before the bye week in Week 11.
It all starts with Chris Johnson and the running game. Without success in that regard, the offense will continue to be one-dimensional and pose little threat to opposing defenses.