One Weakness Every NFL Team Must Fix Before Being a True Contender
The NFL is definitely in the era of parity. Through the first six weeks of the 2012 season there are 15 teams with either three or four wins. There are no teams without a win and the Atlanta Falcons remain the only undefeated squad in the league.
Heck, there are only two teams in the AFC over .500 at this point in the season.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins might be able to breath easy relatively soon, while the 2008 Detroit Lions are still losing across the board.
What does this mean?
Every team in the National Football League has a major flaw. We recently saw this first-hand with the performance of both the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans, who are considered two of the best teams in the league.
Today's article is going to focus on one weakness from each NFL team that is holding them back from what I consider "legit" title contender mode.
Offensive Line Woes
Adam Schefter at ESPN is reporting that Kevin Kolb is going to miss "several" weeks after he had "multiple ribs detached from his sternum" in Sunday's home loss to the Buffalo Bills.
This is just another example of Arizona not being able to protects its quarterback from opposing pass-rushes. It really doesn't matter who is behind center if the quarterback is continually running for his life. That throws off timing routes, makes the defensive secondary that much better and causes injuries like the one we saw occur on Sunday.
Kolb has been sacked 27 times in the first six games, which put him on pace for going down a total of 72 times during that season. That just isn't sustainable.
John Skelton will replace Kolb, but it is hard to imagine this changing anytime soon.
Matt Ryan has won 49 games and possesses a .721 winning percentage during the regular season since joining the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. He his among the leaders in the NFL in each category during that span.
So we probably shouldn't be too surprised that Ryan has the Falcons at 6-0, the only undefeated team remaining in the National Football League.
The only constant as it relates to poor performance is the fact that Atlanta is 0-3 in the postseason under Ryan. It continually under performs when all is on the line in January. Ryan sees his quarterback rating drop from nearly 90 in the regular season to a pedestrian 71.2 in the playoffs. Moreover, Atlanta put up a total of two points in it's postseason loss to the New York Giants last season.
There becomes a point where a coach and his quarterback are going to be defined by postseason success. It seems that we have reached that point with Mike Smith and the aforementioned Ryan.
No more excuses. They just need to get it done in the second season.
Cam Cameron's Offensive Philosophy
I just don't understand for the life of me what Cameron is thinking during a game when he consistently takes Ray Rice away from the Baltimore Ravens offense.
Seriously? Forgive me for sounding a bit sarcastic, but Flacco hasn't all of a sudden morphed into Dan Marino. Has he?
With Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis joining Terrell Suggs on Baltimore's sideline due to injury it is going to have to come up with some sort of game plan that masks the issues we see on defense. Of course that includes managing the field possession battle and running the ball.
I just don't see Cameron changing this flawed philosophy moving forward.
The Buffalo Bills are giving up 173.5 rush yards per game this season. That is the highest number in the NFL, even worst than the likes of the New Orleans Saints. They yielded a ridiculous 182 yards against an Arizona Cardinals team that was without the services of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, their top two running backs.
This is pretty simple.
If Buffalo wants to contend for as much as a postseason spot it needs to get these issues fixed in relatively short order. The problem is that the Bills just don't seem to have the necessary personnel to improve aa great deal against the run.
Cam Newton might be one of the most electrifying quarterbacks to come down the pike in a long time, but the 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year needs to mature a great deal before he can even think about leading the Carolina Panthers into contention.
Even Newton's teammates seem to understand that his natural progression as a NFL quarterback needs to include maturity.
Panthers' wide receiver Steve Smith had the following to say about Newton after their 36-7 loss to the New York Giants a few weeks back.
I lit into him because I thought it was an opportunity for him to see and understand what was going on. This is more than about playing football. It's about becoming a man and understanding what this is.
That is about all we need to know here.
The Chicago Bears have improved in pass-protection for Jay Cutler this season, but they are nowhere near the level of a championship team in this aspect of the game.
While Cutler has been sacked only 14 times in five games, it is readily apparent that Chicago struggles when it goes up against above-average pass rushes. They yielded seven sacks in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
In coming to a conclusion about how the Bears offensive line might have improved, we cannot look at their performance against lackluster opponents. The Jacksonville Jaguars defense ranks dead last with just four sacks thus far this season. Additionally, three of the Bears four wins have come against teams that rank in the bottom half of the league in getting to the quarterback.
Let's see how they perform going up against Green Bay (once again), Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. Those will be the real tests.
The Cincinnati Bengals just need to gain more experience before they are considered legit title contenders. The talent is definitely there on both sides of the ball. It is all about Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, among others gaining a bit more seasoning.
Defensively, it is the same issue.
Cincinnati has a whole host of wet-under-the-ear youngsters. This list includes: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Brandon Thompson, Brandon Still, Vontaze Burfict and Dre Kirkpatrick, who have a combined 27 starts under their belt, 22 coming from Atkins alone.
Give this unit more experience and they will definitely be vying for a Super Bowl in the not-so-distant future. That much is assured.
I started this article prior to the announcement that Mike Holmgren would not return as the Cleveland Browns President.
New owner Jimmy Haslem made the announcement on Tuesday, in a less than surprising move. Haslem, the newest owner in the National Football League, wants to put his own imprint on his new franchise. That cannot be seen as a bad thing.
Whether it was Holmgren or any other official atop the Browns' front office, this organization has struggled for the better part of the last quarter-century.
Most of their issues have to do with player personnel decisions. Just take a gander at the photo embedded at the top. Cleveland has probably been one of the worst teams in terms of making draft day decisions.
While it is too early to draw a conclusion about Cleveland's 2012 draft class, most would conclude that it leaves a lot to be desired. Trent Richardson will most likely become a Pro Bowl running back in relatively short order, but Brandon Weeden is the primary issue here.
Cleveland made the decision to select a quarterback in the first round of April's draft that will turn 30 halfway through his sophomore season. That makes absolutely no sense to most experts outside of the Browns' organization. They could have just given Colt McCoy another season to prove he can be a franchise guy. If not, the 2013 NFL draft class is loaded with younger quarterbacks that could have given the Browns some hope moving forward.
While we have no idea what this front office shakeup means as it relates to Pat Shurmur, I can utilize pure conjecture to indicate that he will not return in 2013.
If so, that probably isn't the worst thing in the world. Cleveland, like it has done so many times in the past, just need to start over. At least, it has a new owner that seems committed to doing that.
Leadership From top Down
Whether it is Jerry Jones making some disastrous player personnel decision or Jason Garrett not being able to utilize the talent to the best of his ability, the Dallas Cowboys are a complete mess right now.
While some will conclude that it starts and ends with Tony Romo, there are a lot more issues as they related to Dallas right now.
The core group of Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin just don't seem to be getting it done on the offensive side of the ball.
Dallas, who is in less than an enviable salary cap position, might just want to think about blowing this whole thing up. It has a wide array of talented youngsters upon which to build on both sides of the ball. Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray come to mind on offense as do Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne on defense.
At some point it becomes readily apparent that you are just not going to contend for a Super Bowl with your current personnel. It seems that the Cowboys have reached that point.
Of course it will take leadership from the top down to make the less than popular decision to rebuild. At this point I am not sure that Dallas has that in the form of Jerry Jones, who just seems to be in his own little oblivion right now.
Consistent Rushing Attack
There is no doubt in my mind that the Denver Broncos are Super Bowl contenders this season. First, they play in a division that seems to be ripe for the picking, as evidenced by the San Diego Chargers complete meltdown on Sunday night. Secondly, Denver plays in a conference that only has two teams above .500 through the first six weeks of the season.
The Broncos have rushed for 70 yards or less in half their outings this season and are averaging less than 95 yards per game, ranking them 24th in the NFL.
Peyton Manning has proven that he can lead a team to a Super Bowl Championship with a less than stellar running game. That being said, a more consistent running game would help the future Hall of Fame quarterback a great deal.
Talent Outside of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson
Unlike the NBA, you just cannot win on a consistent basis with two superstar players. This is the situation that the Detroit Lions finds itself in right now.
Where are the second-tier players on either side of the ball? Ndamukong Suh just seems to be regressing as a player, while the likes of Nick Fairley don't seem to be getting it done.
Offensively, there is little to see here outside of the aforementioned Stafford and Johnson. Detroit lacks any type of a solid running game, it has an under performing tight end in the form of Brandon Pettigrew as well as an aging and pedestrian offensive line.
They really don't have a great deal of talent or depth at the linebacker position or in the secondary either.
If Detroit wants to take that next step towards elite status it needs to actually build a solid team around these two superstars. Until then, the Lions will be nothing more than an average football team.
Green Bay Packers
As well all know, a defensive secondary is only as good as its pass-rush. We saw that first hand with the Green Bay Packers last season. When you have the likes of Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson in the back end of your defense there is no reason why you shouldn't be solid against the pass.
That being said, Green Bay continues to struggle in this aspect of the game in 2012.
Their last three games are prime examples of this. The New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans averaged 335 passing yards per game over that span.
I want to see how Green Bay performs when it goes up against the likes of the Detroit Lions (twice), Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
Consistency in the Passing Game
This is not an indication that Matt Schaub is holding the Houston Texans back from being legit Super Bowl contenders. In fact, this franchise is indeed on the right path.
Instead, this is an indication that the Texans' primary weakness on either side of the ball has to be considered the passing game.
The Texans rank 18th in passing offense with under 230 yards per outing. While a lot of this has to do with a stellar running game, they struggle with consistency at the wide receiver position. Outside of Andrew Johnson, their wide receivers have a total of 23 receptions in six games.
This needs to improve.
Lack of a Supporting Cast
Don't get me wrong, the Indianapolis Colts are definitely on an upward trajectory. This point probably cannot even be debated.
With that in mind, this organization is in the first stage of what promises to be somewhat of a lengthy rebuilding process. It took the first step in acquiring a franchise quarterback in the form of Andrew Luck as the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.
Still, Indianapolis just doesn't have the talent to be considered a contender at this point. It needs to add talent to nearly every aspect of the roster.
There are issues on the offensive line, at running back, linebacker and in the defensive secondary. Look for the Colts to attempt to solve these deficiencies in upcoming drafts.
It is definitely hard to pinpoint just one person as the primary reason a franchise is not in contention, but Gabbert just doesn't appear to have what it takes to lead the Jacksonville Jaguars out of the abyss.
Selected prior to Shahid Kahn's regime, the former first-round pick from Missouri is never going to be anything more than a pedestrian starting quarterback in the National Football League.
While Gabbert has shown flashes during his sophomore season, consistency remains a primary issues for the young quarterback.
Gabbert has thrown for less than 160 yards in 11 of his 16 starts, a figure that represents just how much he has struggled making the adjustment to the NFL. It isn't just passing yards that reflect poorly on the young quarterback. His completion percentage is under 52 and quarterback rating sits at 67.5 in his short NFL career.
Kansas City Chiefs
Missing a Decent Passing Game
There are so many different things wrong with the Kansas City Chiefs organization. They have the talent to contend on both sides of the ball, but consistently perform at a disastrous level.
Seriously, the likes of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles on offense should be more than enough to make that unit decent. Defensively, they possess a whose who of talented youngsters. Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry form one of the most talented cores in the entire National Football League.
So what is wrong here?
They lack a quarterback that can do even the bare minimum as it relates to managing the game and limiting mistakes. Matt Cassel has been nothing short of horrendous for this franchise over the course of the last two seasons, turning the ball over at a record clip.
The good news here is that Kansas City has to understand that it isn't going to be a viable contender in the AFC with Cassel under center. Instead, it is going to look to replace the struggling quarterback in the offseason.
Let's see where Kansas City finishes the season before we draw any conclusions, but I am sure it believes Geno Smith would look damn good in red.
It is safe to say that the Miami Dolphins have surpassed any previously set expectations for the 2012 season. Through six weeks they are in a four-way tie for first place in the AFC East.
Ryan Tannehill, who many experts believed would struggle a great deal as a rookie, has looked damn good up to this point this season. While the numbers aren't there as they relate to touchdowns or quarterback rating, anyone that knows anything about football has to realize that the Texas A&M product has the look of a damn fine starting quarterback in the NFL.
If Tannehill and Miami's young core can mature together as a unit it will definitely be a team to watch moving forward. I am extremely interested to see how their offense progresses throughout the season.
Another solid offseason of building young talent and Miami could be considered a serious contender to unseat the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Imagine that!
Young Playmakers on Defense
It's safe to say that the Minnesota Vikings made the right decision to select Matt Kalil or Morris Claiborne in April's draft. They needed to get a franchise bookend to protect Christian Ponder, and the young tackle as by dynamite as a rookie.
They have everything you look for on offense to lead the team forward, but lack young talent on the other side of the ball.
Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Chad Greenway may be really good veterans, but they don't figure to be a part of the Vikings in a few years. Meanwhile, Minnesota just doesn't have the youngsters to replace them.
Of course when you are going through the draft to build a team you need to set priorities. For Minnesota those priorities were giving Adrian Peterson more talent on offense. Expect them to address the other side of the ball this offseason.
New England Patriots
Talent in Defensive Secondary
Chandler Jones and Donte' Hightower were mighty fine additions to the New England Patriots front seven this season. Those two rookie have played damn good football through the first six game. Heck, even Tavon Wilson, who many considered a reach in the second round of April's draft, has looked solid at free safety.
The simple fact that Wilson is the Patriots best young defensive back might tell us more about that unit than it does about the Illinois product.
New England is yielding nearly 290 passing yards and a 101.1 quarterback rating to opposing quarterbacks this season. No matter how much improved its front seven might be, New England needs to start focusing on upgrading what is a lackluster secondary.
New Orleans Saints
Ability to Stop Anyone on Defense
Simply put, you just won't win many games in the National Football League without a defense that has the ability to stop offenses on anywhere near a consistent basis.
The New Orleans Saints have been downright disastrous on this side of the ball through the first five games of the 2012 season. Hell, disastrous is probably putting it too kindly.
They are giving up 456 total yards and nearly 26 first downs per outing this season, both the worst figures in the National Football league.
More importantly, New Orleans just doesn't seem to have the talent on that side of the ball to succeed moving forward. There is a major talent gap between this unit and the rest of the NFC at this point.
New York Giants
Consistency on Defense
If the New York Giants defense plays the way it did against the San Francisco 49ers on a consistent basis, this team will repeat as Super Bowl Champions. They were downright dominating in nearly every aspect of the game.
Again, it is all about consistency for New York's defense. It plays one good game and then follows it up with a horrible performance. This has been a continuing theme for the Giants over the course of the last couple seasons.
New York Jets
It would be easy to pinpoint Mark Sanchez as the sole reason why the New York Jets are not legit contenders right now...Too easy.
With that in mind, the Jets just don't have a young core to lead the team forward and their veterans seem to be regressing a great deal.
Who is going to anchor New York's front seven when Bart Scott calls it quits? Do the Jets have a solid young running back? What is going to happen at quarterback? What about the linebacker position?
New York was built to win right now, but that obviously hasn't worked out. Outside of the offensive line, it seems that Stephen Hill and Demario Davis are the only two really good young core players on the Jets roster.
Obviously, that just isn't going to get it done.
The Ghost of Al Davis
While I don't want to tarnish the good name of Al Davis, who was one of the standard-bearers for the National Football League and the Oakland Raiders, he didn't have much success as a player personnel guy in his latter years.
Instead, it seems that the Raiders' organization was poorly run from the top down. They went through head coaches as quickly as Jessica Simpson seems to go through athletes. Their recent drafts didn't provide much in terms of a building block and horrendous free agent decisions led to a disastrous salary cap situation.
New general manager Reggie McKenzie did a great job cutting the fat from the roster and attempting to rebuild what had been a struggling organization. However, the Egyptian Pyramids weren't built overnight, and neither will the Raiders.
It is one thing to fire your defensive coordinator, which Andy Reid did on Tuesday when he gave Juan Castillo his walking papers. It is a completely different thing to expect the turnovers that have seem to plague this team all of sudden change with one obvious move on the other side of the ball.
Let's get real here. The problem with the Philadelphia Eagles is the lack of smart football on both sides of the ball. Turnovers on offense and penalties on defense.
Michael Vick remains on pace for a total of 35 turnovers and possesses the 26th best quarterback rating in the National Football League. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is fourth in penalties on defense and sixth in that category on offense.
Winning on a consistent basis just isn't sustainable with the type of football Philadelphia is playing. In short, the Eagles need to turn it around if they plan on making the postseason, let alone win a championship.
Longer term, Reid might see his grasp on being the longest tenured head coach in the NFL end relatively soon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rank 31st in the NFL in rushing at less than 75 yards per outing and dead last at three yards per attempt. These numbers have had a serious impact in terms of balance on offense. Ben Roethlisberger is attempting about 40 passes per game, fifth highest in the National Football League.
While we all know Big Ben is a winner, I highly doubt that this lack of balance is sustainable moving forward. That is only magnified by the poor pass-protection that Roethlisberger has in front of him.
Of course this could change when Rashard Mendenhall returns to full-health, but as of right now the Steelers are definitely lacking in the run game.
San Diego Chargers
Norv Turner and A.J. Smith
It would be too easy to blame the players on the field for the meltdown we saw from the San Diego Chargers on Monday night...Way too easy.
As many of my longtime readers know, I am not a fan San Diego's head coach. Turner has been given chance after chance to prove skeptics, including myself, wrong, but has failed at every turn.
With the talent that San Diego has there is no reason why it is 20-18 since the start of the 2010 season. It is easy to blame a head coach in this situation, but Turner definitely deserves a majority of the blame here.
He just hasn't gotten it done, really is that simple.
Meanwhile, the Chargers continue to struggle on draft day, a situation that is a direct result of the incompetence of A.J. Smith in the front office.
San Francisco 49ers
As I noted in an earlier article, it seems that inconsistency seems to be a major issue for the 2012 version of the San Francisco 49ers.
They started out with two impressive wins against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions before falling completely apart against the Vikings in Minnesota. Deciding to remain back east in preparation for the New York Jets game, San Francisco came out firing on all cylinders in its next two games. Overall, the 49ers outscored the Jets and Buffalo Bills to a tune of 79-3.
All seemed right with San Francisco again as it headed home with a 4-1 record. Instead of continuing what seemed to be solid momentum, the 49ers laid an egg against the New York Giants on Sunday.
The common theme here is a lack of consistency. I am not sure whether it is the coaches not able to get their players up for some game or just a pure lack of a game plan, but these issues start at the top with Jim Harbaugh.
If the 49ers are right, there is no team in the NFL that can beat them. We just need to see more consistency from this squad.
Performance on the Road
Unless the Seattle Seahawks plan on getting home-field advantage throughout the postseason, which is always an unlikely scenario, they are going to have to get better on the road if they want to be legit contenders in the NFC.
Seattle has only six of its 19 games on the road under Pete Carroll, the latest coming in a close victory against a poor Carolina Panthers team. While they are 13-7 at home under Carroll, Seattle just needs to start playing more consistent football on the road.
Of course the Seahawks are going to get their chance to prove skeptics wrong tomorrow night in San Francisco against the 49ers. A win in that hostile environment in front of a national T.V. audience will sway a lot of skeptics that say they're nothing more than an average team that uses one of the loudest venues in the NFL to their advantage.
St. Louis Rams
Talent on Offense
Yes, I am talking about talent clear across the board as it relates to the St. Louis Rams offense. They rank 27th in pass offense, are in the middle of the pack in terms of rushing and are 28th in overall offense.
Outside of Danny Amendola, who is averaging just 12.3 yards per catch, St. Louis wide receivers have combined for 40 receptions in six games.
Sam Bradford has thrown just 12 touchdowns in his last 16 starts, leading many to speculate that he will never live up to that No. 1 hype. More importantly, the struggling young quarterback has been sacked 54 times during that span.
Needless to say, the problem here is talent more than anything else.
St. Louis possesses a strong young core on the defensive side of the ball in the form of Chris Long, Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis and Janoris Jenkins. The Rams needs to start building more talent on the other side of the ball in order to be considered serious contenders.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This has been a common theme in today's article. Though there is a difference between lack of experience and immaturity. While teams like the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals need to gain more experience, these Tampa Bay Buccaneers must start maturing as a unit.
Tampa Bay cannot use that experience card anymore. It has a quarterback that is now in his fourth NFL season and has started 45 career games. The Buccaneers also added the likes of Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright, all proven veterans, to the mix on each side of the ball.
While a young core that includes Doug Martin, Mike Williams and Mark Barron might have to gain more experience, the Buccaneers as a whole just need to mature.
With maturity comes more consistency. They need both ends of the spectrum to improve if they're going to have a shot at winning a title anytime soon.
That is fact.
Defense, Defense and More Defense
The Tennessee Titans seem to have a solid young group on the defensive side of the ball. They have players such as Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin, Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy in the front seven, all of whom should be solid building blocks to the future.
My major issue as it relates to Tennessee's defense is its lack of experience and talent in the defensive secondary. It makes absolutely no sense that they gave Michael Griffin a long-term contract extension, he is never going to live up to that price tag, Meanwhile, outside of Alterraun Verner, they just don't have the necessary talent to cover anyone on the outside.
The Titans are giving up an average of 422 total yards per game, including nearly 300 through the air. Of course some of that has to do with an inability to get to the quarterback as Tennessee has accumulated a total of eight sacks in six games.
Either way, this unit needs to improve if Tennessee has any shot at contention in the near future.
Robert Griffin III is wise beyond his years on the football field. The talented young quarterback seems to have as good of a grasp for the game as any rookie quarterback I have seen in a long while. He possesses tremendous pocket awareness, understands when to step up in the pocket, and does read defensive sets pretty darn well.
As with the Redskins' young core on offense, it is all about gaining experience in the system for RGIII. Once he is able to audible to certain formations, utilizing athletic wide receivers and tight ends, the Redskins offense is going to be much more dynamic than it is right now.
Additionally, the likes of Leonard Hankerson and Alfred Morris as skill position guys, just need to start utilizing the experience that they have already gained and bring that into the field on Sunday's.
Either way, the future is as bright as its ever been in Washington and RGIII is a primary reason for that.