NFL: The Biggest Problem Plaguing Each NFL Team Heading into Week 10
Heading into Week 10 of the NFL, (yes, it brings a tear to my eyes too) we are beginning to see a model form of what the playoff brackets will be looking like.
It's a safe bet that the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears will be playing postseason football, and it's a safer bet that the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs will not.
Still, no matter how good a team may be, no NFL franchise is ever free of problems and shortcomings, and in the case of some of the teams in the league, picking out one problem is a trying task.
With a number of tight wild-card races likely to take place, every correction, minor as it may be, can be crucial in guiding a team to the postseason.
Here are the most major areas in which each NFL franchise needs to improve.
Arizona Cardinals: The Offensive Line
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There isn't much any quarterback can do when they get sacked 41 times in nine games. (Yes, that's the worst in the league.)
People can blame John Skelton and Kevin Kolb all they want for their inaccuracies, but at the end of the day, these guys rarely have enough time to throw the football.
Arizona got off to a hot start, yet reality has since set in that the offense is often nonexistent due to the lack of protection. If the line can tighten up and provide Skelton (or Kolb) with the ability to hit their talented wide receivers, Arizona could make a late-season run.
The bye week could help them readjust, but the trends are not moving in their favor.
Atlanta Falcons: Run Defense
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At 8-0, there isn't a ton to criticize about Atlanta.
They aren't a flashy football team and they tend to play their opponents very close, yet they are extremely well coached and very poised amid pressure. Matt Ryan is having a career season, and the offense has had few blunders.
The only area to be critical of the Falcons is their run defense. They've surrendered, on average, 127.5 yards/game, and this is eighth worst in the NFL. It's not a travesty, but they better look out if they plan on playing, say, the Houston Texans in this year's Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens: The Passing Game
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Joe Flacco started the season very hot and looked to finally be making a case for himself in what seems to be the very popular debate of whether or not he is an elite NFL quarterback.
He was loving Torrey Smith and his new tight end, Dennis Pitta, and the Ravens were winning on both offense and defense, which is rare for them.
Recently, however, Flacco has been trending downward, throwing for under 200 yards in three of his last four games and completing less than 50 percent of his passes in two of those games.
You may be able to beat the Kansas City Chiefs with nine points, but most opponents do not crumble so easily.
Buffalo Bills: Run Defense
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The Buffalo Bills may as well not put a team on the field when trying to defend the run. Even the least threatening of NFL runners have exploited the Bills run defense as they've given up almost 170 yards/game.
The only defense that has given up more than the 1,356 yards that the Bills have given up on the ground is the New Orleans Saints, but they haven't allowed opposing running backs to find the end zone 14 times. It isn't helping this unit's case that the passing defense and pass rush is virtually invisible as well.
Moral of the story: If a running back is facing the Bills, start him in fantasy.
Carolina Panthers: Three-and-Outs
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Despite winning last week's battle of "young quarterbacks who hate to stay in the pocket," Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are not in a good place on offense.
Tensions have run high in Carolina after veteran wide receiver Steve Smith was not happy with how Cam Newton sulked and appeared apathetic after rough loss earlier in the year.
Newton is frustrated, not surprisingly, since the Carolina offense has gained only 152 first downs this season, which puts them in a tie for sixth worst with the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns (not who you want to be tied with in an offensive stat line).
Defenses are onto Newton after his killer rookie year last season, and Carolina is struggling to find a balance of pass, rush and quarterback sneak. The honeymoon is over, and Newton now needs to groom himself into an NFL quarterback if he wants to be a winner.
The team also needs to establish who its go-to running back is and provide Newton with a more solid receiving option than the aging Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.
Chicago Bears: The Offensive Line
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At times, Cutler hasn't done much to help his case—launching passes into triple coverage and going off, publicly, on his offensive lineman is not a solution.
Nonetheless, it's tough to get an offense moving when you have one reliable receiving option and a pocket that collapses almost instantly after the hike.
For Chicago fans, thank goodness its defense is so damn good.
Cincinnati Bengals: Third-Down Conversions
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A lot of people saw this year going better for the Cincinnati Bengals than it has. I was one of them.
The Bengals, after surprising many last season with a playoff run, have tailspun as of late, losing their last four games to fall to 3-5.
One area where they have really struggled is in keeping the offense moving, and they (not too proudly) boast the third-worst third-down conversion rate of any team in the NFL at 29.4 percent.
Whether it's the stagnant running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an errant throw by Andy Dalton or a drop by a wide-open receiver, there is always something that isn't clicking, and you'll never win with that formula.
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden
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I haven't been too player-specific in these critiques, yet this is one case where I must be.
Let me just say off the bat that I like Brandon Weeden's upside. I think his age (28), while not an asset in terms of longevity, can lessen the learning curve of rookie quarterbacks. I also think his arm strength and gunslinger approach can yield positive results. Right now, however, Weeden does not have it.
The Browns have a lot of upside. Trent Richardson is a great young runner and the defense plays teams surprisingly well.
Weeden has clearly been the short straw. You can cite, in his defense, that his receivers are not the most reliable, and Greg Little particularly has had "the drops" this season, yet 12 picks in nine games is not cutting it.
Right now, Weeden is nothing more than a gunslinger with a strong arm who is untamed and sporadic.
Dallas Cowboys: Drops
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I could make a 32-slide slideshow about problems facing the Cowboys effortlessly, so narrowing it down to one was a difficult task.
The Cowboys have been underwhelming so far this season and once again appear to be more talented than they are successful. The defense hasn't been great, quarterback Tony Romo has certainly had his bad games and many critics have questioned Jason Garrett's ability to manage a game and a football team.
Above all, however, I think drops have been the most costly problem for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten have six each, and Bryant dropped a two-point conversion that would have sent their 31-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens into overtime.
In the NFL, it needs to be almost a given that receivers will catch the football; this is elementary.
Denver Broncos: Third-Down Defense
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Overall, Denver is a very complete football team that has really jelled in past weeks. They are the clear front-runners in their division and can ride Peyton Manning and his awareness far into the playoffs.
One area where they have struggled in their losses was third-down defense.
In their losses to the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans, Denver put itself in an early hole and fought its way back in the second half. In both games, they needed to defend a 3rd-and-5 in order to get the ball back and allow the offense to score another touchdown. In both games, they failed.
Denver has looked stronger on plays like this since, and cornerback Chris Harris has proved to be a better defender, both on receivers and in a zone defense, than Tracy Porter.
Nonetheless, Denver faced a very tough schedule early in the season, and it cannot let its relatively easy second half get to its head. The Broncos may finish the season 12-4, but they will be facing the teams that beat them in the playoffs.
Detroit Lions: Defending Kick and Punt Returns
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The Detroit Lions have allowed four touchdowns to returners in eight games this season.
They've also given up the fifth-most kick return yards (658) and the seventh-most punt return yards (224).
Football is a comprised on offense, defense and special teams, and the Lions are failing badly in that last department.
In giving up these yards and scores, the Lions are putting a huge burden on both their offense and defense, neither of which are playing great.
Green Bay Packers: The Run Game
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With under 900 total rushing yards on the season, the Green Bay Packers are basically playing one-dimensional football.
While they are extremely successful in passing the ball thanks to five great receivers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the lack of a running game is, no doubt, detrimental.
It's very easy for defenses to predict the Packers' play call, and since the running game is so ineffective, defenses don't need to overly worry about it.
There's nothing too scary about handing the ball off the Alex Green.
Houston Texans: Defending Kick Returns
Better than a photo of the Texans trying to defend a return.
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While it's a good thing that they Houston Texans have kicked off 37 times this season (second highest in the league after the New York Giants with 44), it's a bad thing that they've given up 924 on these returns.
Obviously, this is far from something to cry about, but since the Texans are playing such great football, one must look in the least obvious spots to find a critique.
This isn't a problem that's going to plague the Texans too much for the duration of the season, but giving up a long return in the playoffs could prove to be very costly.
Indianapolis Colts: Pass Defense
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The Indianapolis Colts are the feel-good story of the NFL right now, and rightfully so. They are playing fluid football and their coach, Chuck Pagano, is admirably fighting cancer. You can't not be happy for the Colts.
While they are a very balanced football team, their pass defense has failed them a bit this season.
They have given up an 11th-worst 2,072 yards through the air and an eighth-worst 15 passing touchdowns.
With the playoffs in their grasp, they need to tighten up this element of their game, since their offense, while effective, does not score the most points.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Offense (All of It)
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Picking out one problem on the Jacksonville Jaguars offense is a daunting, near impossible, task. The whole unit is an atrocity.
Blaine Gabbert's been sacked 25 times, they average just under 264 TOTAL yards/game, they score just 14.1 points/game and their franchise running back is injured.
But Blaine Gabbert has 10 passing touchdowns, so that's kind of...not terrible, I guess.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Coaching
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Kansas City, on paper, should not be this bad. Dwayne Bowe is one of the league's most threatening wide receivers. Jamaal Charles has more speed out of the gate than a race horse. Eric Berry is one of the better strong safeties in the league. Hell, even Matt Cassel has shown he can be better than this.
I blame the coaching.
Okay, to blame solely the coaching is outrageous, but overall, I think this unit is not being well organized. They are playing significantly less-motivated ball than they played under Todd Hailey, and there is just no sense when they take the field that they care to be there.
Keeping Romeo Crennel seems like a mistake. He doesn't seem to have the respect of his players, and it looks like the Chiefs must now go into full-on rebuilding mode in a season where they should have competed for the AFC West title.
Miami Dolphins: Scoring Through the Air
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Ryan Tannehill is having a great rookie season, and I love the looks of him moving forward. He's more poised and accurate than many expected him to be walking in.
In general, Miami has exceeded expectations this season and has a defense that has quietly played very well, holding teams to 18.6 points/game.
Where Miami struggles most is scoring points, particularly through the air. With the stats that Tannehill has put up, it's shocking that he only has six passing touchdowns.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Play-Calling
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I really don't like the job that Bill Musgrave is doing with the Minnesota Vikings offense. After a hot start, the Vikings are falling quickly, and it's in large part due to the offensive game plan.
Obviously, Adrian Peterson should be a priority option on offense, and he is. So that's good.
When they aren't handing Peterson the rock, however, Musgrave seems to prefer very ambiguous receiver routes that rarely result in anyone getting open. As a result, Ponder usually winds up scrambling, leaving the pocket and dumping a pass off to Percy Harvin.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is a huge body and has proved himself to be a reliable receiver, yet the Vikings seem to ignore him except in the red zone, a place where they haven't been often.
With Harvin injured, I see things only getting worse in Minnesota, as it faces a very daunting schedule moving forward.
New England Patriots: Pass Defense
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New England, as per usual, has a terrible pass defense. They've given up 17 touchdowns already and are sure to give up 17 more en route to a winning season for New England.
No on really cares, though, because the New England offense is so good.
It's the same story every year. Moving on.
New Orleans Saints: Defense (All of It)
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The Saints defense has gone from threatening, to scandalized, to demoralized, to just plain-old terrible.
It appears that the stress of Bountygate has hit them, as they now have an inability to stop any form of offense.
They've given up 16 passing touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns and a whopping 471.3 yards/game.
It's a laughable unit that puts the Saints immediately out of the playoff race. It doesn't even matter that Drew Brees is killing it.
New York Jets: The Passing Offense
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The Jets passing offense has had brief moments of looking brilliant, but for the most part, the unit has been a turnover-ridden disaster.
They are averaging just over 200 yards/game, but this isn't even the worse statistic. The worst statistic is that they've completed only 53.1 percent of their passes, worse than even Jacksonville.
I'm not saying it, but Tebow time?
New York Giants: Tackling
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The Giants defense isn't the worse unit in the game, yet they are giving up the majority of their yards after the play should end.
The Giants have allowed only 197 completions this season, which isn't great, but isn't as bad as the 2,379 yards they've given up to receivers.
They are struggling to bring receivers down after the catch and are struggling also to bring running backs down on first contact. Isaac Redman, the Steelers' third-string running back, just embarrassed the Giants last week, breaking tackles left and right.
With the Giants pass rush not what it has been in past years, the rest of the defense needs to step up.
Oakland Raiders: Run Defense
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Two words sum up the Raiders run defense this season: Doug Martin.
The Tampa Bay running back exploited Oakland's run defense for what it really is—terrible.
While the Raiders can brag about containing Michael Turner and Jamaal Charles, these guys both got less than 15 carries when they faced the Raiders.
The secret is out now: run a lot against Oakland. Eventually they will give up the big runs, like they did with Martin, Willis McGahee and Reggie Bush already this season.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Offensive Line
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Like the Cowboys, you can make a long list of problems with the underperforming Philadelphia Eagles.
Andy Reid must have one chafed bottom with how hot his seat is right now, yet many of his woes and the Eagles' woes would be eased if the offensive line could just block for Michael Vick for, I don't know, more than a second and a half.
The pressure Vick has faced has been absolutely pathetic, and while he would no doubt toss his fair share of picks even when he has plenty of time to throw, it's very tough to win when your quarterback gets knocked down 103 times in eight games. Twenty-eight of these hits have been sacks, and the rest is misery.
That line needs fixing, end of story.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Injuries
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The injury report is growing longer by the week for the Pittsburgh Steelers, yet as they always seem to do well; they have overcome the adversity.
First they lost star safety Troy Polamalu, and they've since lost all of their running backs for some length of time and second-string receiver Antonio Brown.
The Steelers are one of the best teams at adjusting to change, yet they will fare much better moving forward if some of these crucial players can get off the sidelines.
San Diego Chargers: Turnovers
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While the Chargers' 17 turnovers looks great compared to the 29 that the Kansas City Chiefs have given up, (how is that even possible?) it's still a huge area that needs improvement.
The Chargers play in one of the worst divisions in football, and they are probably the second-best team, which is truly saying something.
Losing the ball an average of more than twice a game is not the formula to a winning offense, which the Chargers don't have anything close to right now. They need to secure the football in order to score, and score in order to win.
San Francisco 49ers: Scoring
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The San Francisco 49ers are scoring 23.6 points/game, and while this, coupled with their defense, will allow them to cruise into the postseason, it may not be enough come January.
The 49ers, much like the Chicago Bears this season, are operating on a defense-first basis. The defense is winning them the games while the offense is providing a positive complement. This is a fine formula, (see: 2000 Baltimore Ravens) yet eventually, the offense is going to need to be relied on, and I'm not so sure this unit is ready to step up.
Seattle Seahawks: Gaining Passing Yardage
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I love the transition that Russell Wilson has made to the NFL. Since he's part of a quarterback class with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, however, it may take him longer to get the recognition he deserves. In the meantime, he and his receivers need to devise a plan where they can pass for more than 173 yards/game, a league low.
Wilson has been solid in the red zone, throwing for 12 real touchdowns and one fake one (the Green Bay/replacement ref debacle). He's also shown a great amount of poise on the field and has a fantastic safety net to rely on in Marshawn Lynch.
If Seattle wants to go anywhere besides its standard 7-9, however, it needs to pass for more than 173 yards/game.
Oh, and win on the road.
St. Louis Rams: The Offensive Line
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It may seem like the offensive line has been my go-to too often in this article, but unless you have a quarterback with the skill set of Aaron Rodgers, a bad offensive line is crippling to success.
Sam Bradford has been sacked 23 times this year, and when you couple this with an inconsistent receiver base and a constantly injured running back, there's not much for him to do.
I don't think Bradford has NFL greatness in his blood, but if you put him behind a better line, I'm confident the Rams would win a few more games than they currently will this season.
Tampa Bay Bucs: Pass Defense
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The Tampa Bay Bucs have given up the fewest rushing yards among any team this season, yet that's probably just because every team has decided to go all pass crazy on them.
Honestly, why shouldn't they? The Bucs pass defense has only been outdone in mediocrity by the Washington Redskins. They give up 321 yards/game and have already given up over 2,500 yards on the season.
I don't care how good Josh Freeman gets or how many yards Doug Martin rushes for, the Bucs will not be winning consistently with this unit.
Tennessee Titans: Putting Pressure on the Quarterback
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Besides the cheerleaders, pretty much everything looks terrible in Tennessee right now. The defense is horrendous, the offense has been a turnover machine and word on the street is that Jake Locker is back to starting this week (*crickets are heard chirping in Nashville*).
One of the many areas where Tennessee has struggled is in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They only have 14 sacks on the year, and pressure has rarely come in between those sacks. This is a major attributing factor to their awful pass defense, but honestly, is just one of their many, many problems.
Washington Redskins: Scoring in the Red Zone
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In a similar case to Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins, Robert Griffin and his offense has been pretty good at getting the ball up the field and pretty terrible at scoring touchdowns.
RG3 has certainly electrified audiences, yet he still only has eight passing touchdowns through the air.
Adding to their scoring troubles are penalties and third-down conversions. Washington leads the league with an amazing 75 penalties on offense alone, and are better than only Jacksonville (that's always embarrassing) in converting third downs (28.6 percent).
It's certainly fun to see RG3 juke and scramble, yet it's not too fun for Washington fans when Kai Forbath comes on to attempt another field goal because the Redskins, once again, could not find the end zone.