Assigning Blame for Struggling NFL Stars

Sean ODonnellContributor IIINovember 25, 2013

Assigning Blame for Struggling NFL Stars

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    We are now a full 12 weeks into the 2013 NFL season, and several big-name players just can't seem to get it going. Their struggles have been reflected both in their team's production and their fantasy football owner's frustration.

    One question must be asked in this situation: What is the root of the cause regarding their lack of production?

    Each of these players are in different scenarios and different places in their careers. Some of their struggles have obvious conclusions—others are a bit under the radar.

    Every facet of every situation must be looked over to identify exactly why some of these top performers are stuck in their respective slumps.

    Let's take a look at 10 players who find themselves in this type of situation heading into Week 13 of the 2013 NFL season.

Victor Cruz

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    Looking over Victor Cruz's 2013 season statistics, it's tough to tell that the wide receiver is in a bit of a slump. After all, Cruz has recorded 60 receptions for 851 yards and four touchdowns this season. However, looking in depth into his performances reveals a lack of production later in the season.

    Cruz started the season with a bang, piling up 118 yards and three touchdowns during a Week 1 loss against the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 4, Cruz caught 10 passes for 164 yards and a score. It seemed as though he was in for a monster season.

    Not so fast.

    Over the next seven games, Cruz has reached the century mark just once and has failed to score another touchdown.

    Why is this the case?

    Simply put, he has been forced into uncomfortable situations in the Giants offense due to a constant rotation at the wide receiver position.

    On Sunday against the Cowboys, the Giants were without Hakeem Nicks, a big wide receiver who complements Cruz nicely. Cruz was forced to shift out of the slot and saw additional coverage rolled in his direction.

    This forced quarterback Eli Manning to search for another target. Cruz was only targeted four times in the game and finished with just two receptions for 27 yards.

    The Giants can expect to see more of this against Cruz over their last five games and must game-plan accordingly. Throwing the ball in Cruz's direction and affording him the ability to gain touches in space must be paramount.

    After all, Cruz will not be able to produce if he is not given the opportunity.

Maurice Jones-Drew

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    2013 has been a rough year for Maurice Jones-Drew thus far. An anemic Jacksonville Jaguars offense has not been able to afford him much room to maneuver on the ground. As a result, the eight-year veteran has only rushed for 539 yards and five touchdowns on 171 carries—a dismal average of 3.17 yards per carry.

    Jones-Drew has a rather obvious situation on his hands. There is hardly a glimmer of a passing attack in Jacksonville this season. When an opposing defense does not respect the passing game, attention is moved to the running game.

    The struggles Jones-Drew has endured in 2013 are a direct result of a dismal aerial attack.

    Jacksonville is ranked 22nd in the league in average passing yards per game—a mere average of 216.3 yards per game. Simply put, Jones-Drew will not be able to flourish once again until the Jaguars are able to find a legitimate signal-caller.

    With just two wins this season, the Jaguars have a legitimate shot at a top quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft. Once a change is made in that department, Jones-Drew should see better days.

Dwayne Bowe

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    After putting together some nice season-long performances over the past three years, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has not been able to recreate his past production in head coach Andy Reid's new offense with Alex Smith at the helm.

    Bowe has only been able to muster 42 receptions for 477 yards and four touchdowns this season. The largest contributor to the wide receiver's lack of production is the new offensive scheme in Kansas City.

    The Chiefs have been predominantly focusing on the run this season, as Jamaal Charles and Co. are now ranked 11th in the league in average rush yards per game. The passing game has been effective; however, the West Coast style is not conducive to Bowe's skill set.

    In the past, Bowe has been able to stretch the field and create big plays for the Chiefs offense. Now, the short-to-intermediate passing game produced by Reid and Smith is hindering his production.

    Bowe is averaging just 11.35 yards per reception this season—a career low. The offense must be able to take some shots downfield to Bowe if they are to utilize his full skill set.

    Until that happens, Bowe will continue to post mediocre numbers in Kansas City's offense.

Matt Ryan

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    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan just has not been the same over the course of the 2013 season. For Ryan, this is a situation that is easily broken down.

    The six-year quarterback has been fortunate enough to share the field with one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL—Julio Jones and Roddy White.

    Unfortunately, this season has not been kind to the Falcons in terms of injuries.

    Jones was lost for the season in October after suffering a foot injury. White has been battling ankle and hamstring injuries throughout the duration of the season. Even when he has played, White has not been anywhere near 100 percent.

    This has left Ryan with Harry Douglas as his primary wide receiver and a group of unproven wide receivers behind him. Chemistry between Ryan and his offensive weapons has been iffy at best this season. Without a great amount of confidence in his receivers, hesitancy comes into play and timing is thrown off.

    For Ryan and the Falcons offense, this cannot be remedied until White and Jones return to the field healthy next season.

Ray Rice

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    Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice may have the most intriguing season-long slump of any NFL player in 2013. After many years of success in Baltimore's backfield, Rice seems to have hit a wall this season.

    There have been multiple factors that have played a part in Rice's decline this season. It appears as though the running back just can't seem to catch a break.

    Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reported earlier this season that Rice's lingering injuries may have been worse than he let on. It seemed as though Rice was poised for a stellar second half of the season after he regained his health.

    During his 25-carry, 131-yard performance against the Chicago Bears in Week 11, signs were looking to point in that direction.

    Unfortunately, just one week later, Rice posted a dismal performance, carrying 16 times for 30 yards—an average of just 1.9 yards per carry—against the New York Jets. Granted, the Jets boast the best run defense in the NFL this season; however, Rice's performance was absolutely lackluster.

    So, why can't he get going?

    Baltimore's offensive play-calling has been completely lopsided this season. Rice has only carried 25 or more times twice this season—both resulted in his best performances.

    The Ravens have relied on the arm of quarterback Joe Flacco to gain offensive production in 2013, which is not a recipe for success.

    Flacco has attempted 403 passes this season, compared to Rice's 140 carries. Relying on the running game more often going forward will surely help balance the offense and reflect nicely on both Flacco and Rice—especially with the cold weather rolling in.

    Once the play-calling evens out in Baltimore, Rice will have a much better chance to regain his form and increase his production in dramatic fashion.

Colin Kaepernick

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has lost his luster over the course of the 2013 season. This quarterback was a defensive coordinator's nightmare in 2012; he was virtually impossible to game-plan against.

    2013 has been an entirely different story.

    Opposing defenses have focused on taking away the read-option running game from Kaepernick by consistently assigning a defender to go after him when he sets up in that scheme. This has limited Kaepernick's ability to run and has forced him to win games with his arm at times.

    Kaepernick has not been able to do that on a regular basis.

    Only eclipsing the 100.0 passer rating mark three times in 2013, Kaepernick has severely dropped off as a passer. He now has a passer rating of just 81.8 on the season—a huge drop from his 98.3 rating in 2012.

    Now that the read option is no longer as effective as it once was, offensive coordinator Greg Roman must add new wrinkles to the offense. Whether it comes from moving around personnel or adjusting schemes to fit Kaepernick's game, these changes are necessary to get the quarterback back on track.

    Once Michael Crabtree—Kaepernick's favorite target from one year ago—returns, an increase in the quarterback's production should be expected. However, if other changes are not implemented on the offensive side of the ball, Kaepernick may not be given the opportunity to regain his 2012 form.

Mike Wallace

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    Possibly one of the most disappointing free-agent acquisitions over the offseason, wide receiver Mike Wallace just hasn't been able to put anything together in 2013.

    With a total of 95 targets on the season, Wallace has only been able to reel in 49 receptions for 661 yards and two scores. This was not the kind of production the Miami Dolphins had hoped for when signing Wallace to a very lucrative deal earlier this year.

    Miami's play-calling and offensive schemes are not the source of Wallace's struggles in 2013. In fact, the only one to blame is Wallace himself.

    Lesser-known players like Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Brandon Gibson have all been able to make the most of Miami's offensive scheme and the direction offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is taking. Each of them have been able to jell with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and produce at a solid level.

    Wallace, on the other hand, has not been able to get on the same page as Tannehill throughout the course of the season, and his lackluster stats have been the result. It could be fair to say the Dolphins offense has produced in spite of Wallace so far.

    Yes, Wallace is learning a new offense that differs greatly from the one he ran in Pittsburgh over the first four years of his career. However, after 11 games in 2013, the learning curve should no longer be an issue.

    Wallace must make it a point to sit down with Tannehill and Sherman before the final five games of the season and figure out a way to increase production.

    If he remains too stubborn to ask for help to overcome his flaws, Miami will continue to regret his $60 million contract.

Trent Richardson

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    Trent Richardson has been a very curious case throughout the 2013 NFL season. After rushing for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2012 season, he seemed to be the savior of a dismal Cleveland Browns offense.

    That did not turn out to be the case.

    The new Browns regime decided that it would be better to offload the running back early in the 2013 season. They obviously saw something in Richardson that did not fit with their plans going forward.

    Just two games into the 2013 season, Cleveland decided to trade Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick.

    Now, 12 weeks into the regular season, it appears as though the Browns made the right move.

    In nine games with the Colts, Richardson has only mustered 287 yards and two touchdowns on 103 carries. He has been accountable for a dismal average of 2.8 yards per carry in that span.

    It could be easy to blame the Colts offensive line for Richardson's woes; however, they are not the culprits. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) the Colts offensive line ranks 15th in the NFL blocking for the run.

    Granted, that is only average, but taking into consideration the stellar play of Donald Brown, the offensive line is doing enough to create success for their running backs. Brown has averaged 5.7 yards per carry this season. He has rushed 57 times for 324 yards and three scores behind the same offensive line.

    Perhaps Richardson just is not as explosive or decisive as many thought when he entered the NFL two years ago.

    This lack of production completely falls on Richardson's shoulders. Changes must certainly be made. Possibly there is a change in running style that must be applied. But the struggles of this second-year running back cannot be pinned on anyone but Richardson at this point in time.

Matt Schaub

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    Over the past six seasons, Matt Schaub has been a large factor in the Houston Texans' resurgent offense. Granted, the offense relied mainly on the run with talented backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but Schaub has always been able to manage games well enough to ensure success.

    In 2013, however, that has not been the case.

    Schaub's strength has always been his ability to take care of the football. In 2011, he threw 15 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, and in 2012, he threw 22 touchdown passes compared to 12 interceptions.

    Unfortunately, in 2013, Schaub was benched for unproven second-year quarterback Case Keenum after throwing just eight touchdowns against nine interceptions.

    After maintaining a steady streak of season-long 90.0-plus passer ratings over five seasons, Schaub's 2013 production dropped him to a dismal 77.8 rating over seven games. A game-managing quarterback must be able to maintain his efficiency—Schaub has not been able to do so this season.

    So, what has changed?

    Simply put, absolutely nothing.

    Rick Dennison has been the Texans offensive coordinator for four years, and Schaub was given more offensive weapons than he had last season after the addition of rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the 2013 NFL draft.

    Even after the loss of tight end Owen Daniels to injured reserve, Garrett Graham has proven to be a very viable replacement.

    There comes a time in an NFL player's career when a wall is hit and performance drops off. This is what Schaub is facing in 2013. The 10-year veteran cannot count on his accuracy any longer as his skill set begins to diminish.

    Schaub's career as an NFL starter seems to have come to an end. He could potentially prolong his career by accepting a position as a backup, much like veteran Matt Hasselbeck in Indianapolis.

    Schaub has had a great run as a starter, but it is inconceivable to see him in that position at any time going forward.

C.J. Spiller

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    Fourth-year running back C.J. Spiller was viewed by many as one of the top NFL running backs heading into the 2013 season. After his electrifying 1,244-yard, six-touchdown performance in 2012—in which he averaged 6.0 yards per carry—he was expected to surpass those numbers by a great margin heading into 2013.

    However, that has not been the case.

    Spiller was battling with a lingering ankle injury early in the season. Even in the first week of November, he admitted that he was not yet 100 percent.

    Despite his lingering injury, Spiller has been able to shine at times this season. He rushed for 103 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and rattled off 116 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9.

    Unfortunately, Spiller's amount of carries in each contest this season have been dictated by his health. Over the 10 games in which he has played, he has carried as many as 23 times but has also received a low of just six carries in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins.

    What has made matters worse for Spiller is that the Buffalo Bills do not have a dire need to rush him back into action. Veteran running back Fred Jackson has been very solid in 2013, rushing 141 times for 591 yards—an average of 4.2 yards per carry—and six touchdowns. Jackson is also a serviceable receiver as well, as he has accumulated 33 receptions for 257 yards this season.

    Simply put, the Bills know that Spiller is their future at the running back position. After all, Jackson is a seven-year veteran, and the shelf life of an NFL running back tends to be rather short.

    With this in mind, the Bills know they can continue to limit Spiller's carries to avoid any costly injuries going forward.

    With a 4-7 record, the Bills are a long shot to reach the playoffs this season. This could prompt them to shut down Spiller for the remainder of the season. Even if they continue to allow him carries, he will be placed on a pitch count until fully healthy.

    Chalk up Spiller's 2013 struggles to an unfortunate lingering ankle injury to a running back who relies heavily on elusiveness and agility.