The 2011 season is three-quarters done. There are no more surprises. What you see is what really is. The best are there for a reason, and the ineffective and the unlucky have to pay the price. When you get this deep into the season, the reasons for a team’s performance may be many, but there are always one or two that bring about a host of problems.
Funny thing about the NFL, though. The teams with the best records right now seem to have quarterbacks playing at their best or near-best.
Teams in the middle and below seem to have quarterbacks who are either replacing starters or are rookies.
In this rundown of the offensive weakness of every NFL team, you’ll get a quick answer insight into why and maybe a little idea of what to do about it, if there is anything that needs to be done.
Where to start? A winless team ranks 29th in points scored and is dead last in points allowed.
And in that sentence you have the reasoning why Peyton Manning, who hasn’t taken a snap this year and may never play again, might be the true MVP of the 2011 NFL season.
With Manning being Manning—calling plays at the line of scrimmage, deciphering defenses as the play clock winds down and then getting the ball to the right player at the right time—there’s little doubt that the Colts would have had more wins. I’m not saying they’d be a playoff team, but they wouldn’t be winless.
So, again, we learn a critical lesson about the NFL: When your offense is good enough to get early leads, your defense becomes so much better. Put another way: Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are much better chasing down comeback-focused quarterbacks than they are gearing up to stop the power off-tackle play on first-and-10.
The defense is 30th in yards per rush attempt and last in turnovers with 10.
What does it all mean? The glaring weakness of the Colts is that they are not the Colts of the last 10 years without Manning, which also is something that Denver might learn all too quickly.
In other words, no one does what Manning did. Few ever could. Now that this Hall of Famer has to face the possible end of his career, it’s time for the Colts to look elsewhere around their team.
The defense is built for speed and the pass rush. The Colts get more runs against them than any other team, which is the result of many things, but two stand out: The offense can’t stay on the field and the defense can’t stop anyone, nor force a turnover.
The result is an offense that plays from behind with a quarterback who is incapable of doing what has been done to make it successful, a la Manning.
Oh, and one other thing hurts the Colts. A decade’s worth of double-digit wins eventually takes its toll; their draft position is always in the high 20s, so the team has little chance of getting that elite left tackle, the first-rate receiver, the stud running back.
So, in all, overall weakness: Letting too much success catch up to an aging team.
Warning: Why would Andrew Luck want to come to Indy? The offensive line needs help.
Not that this will happen, but consider that Luck is smart enough to do his own negotiating. He doesn’t need marketing via the combine. He won’t need to hire an agent, therefore keeping his eligibility for his final year at Stanford alive.
The Colts may draft him, but he can use a return to Stanford as a chip to get him shipped to another team. This happened to a team waaaaay back in the past. The coach was Frank Kush. The team was the Colts. The player was John Elway, who had no more eligibility but he was a good enough baseball player to be drafted by the Yankees.
Here’s another team that has great weapons (Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin) but ranks 31st in points allowed and has the worst pass defense in the NFL.
With a defense that cannot stop anyone (c’mon, even Tim Tebow passed effectively on the Vikings, which is saying something), it’s up to rookie Christian Ponder to make things happen? No wonder Peterson is hurt.
This team has the potential to be explosive. Or it has the potential to be a disaster. And it comes down to coach Leslie Frazier. If the team doesn’t believe in him, it heads south for years to come.
Betting on Donovan McNabb to run the team and tutor Ponder was a mistake. McNabb’s done. The Vikings need to buckle the chin straps and embrace their weaknesses. They do that in the 2012 draft with good offensive linemen and lots and lots of defensive help.
The Rams have one of the best running backs in Steven Jackson. They ranks last in points scored and second-to-last in yards gained.
Jackson is playing behind an offensive line made up of castoffs and also-rans. When Tony Wragge is starting for you at guard, issues abound. Coach Steve Spagnuolo and the front office will get to address this issue in the offseason, as the Rams, even if they finish with the worst record, don’t need Andrew Luck.
Weakness: Terrible offensive line.
With two draft slots in the top 35 players, they could get two first-rate linemen. That would help.
This is a team with Maurice Jones-Drew and yet is 31st in points. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has no confidence, and that’s no way to build a promising player for a long-term career.
Weakness: The Jags have eight TD passes in 12 games. Need more to be said? Mike Thomas and Jason Hill are the receivers, and they have done very little. Mercedes Lewis apparently has disappeared, and this was a Pro Bowl tight end last year.
Note to Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State: Do you like north Florida?
When you play in the tough AFC North, four games against the Ravens and the Steelers will bring out your weaknesses. For the Browns, that comes down to four words: Peyton Hills and Montario Hardesty. Neither stayed healthy in 2011 and the Browns average 3.1 yards per rush attempt, second to last in the NFL.
When you can’t run, other teams get to focus on the pass rush and that’s bad news for second-year QB Colt McCoy. It doesn’t help that his receiving corps is one of the worst in terms of drops. Nor does it help for the offensive coordinator to call a draw out of the shotgun formation when it's second-and-goal from the 4 with under four minutes on the clock.
You know, in case you want to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. But, noooooo.
With a defense ranked eighth in the league, there’s great potential. Finding ways to fend off Terrell Suggs and his like on both the Ravens and the Steelers would do well. More offensive linemen and better receivers would be a start.
The Eagles rank third in yards gained and 16th in points scored. That means…something. Maybe it’s lack of brains. Maybe more.
The Eagles have the worst set of linebackers in front of the best secondary; understandably, the defense has been poor and that puts so much pressure on the offense.
What’s more, the offense is built around a fleet, run-oriented quarterback whose accuracy is good but not great. Oh, and he’s not all that durable. That leads to inconsistency.
The offense is good enough to win games but not so good to overcome 30 turnovers. An inability to stop the run and a minus-14 turnover ratio leads to playing from behind too many times.
With DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin, this is an explosive team. It’s also a team that is going to explode from the wrong chemical compounds, namely Jackson’s willingness to focus on his “health” for a better free-agent contract in 2012.
With four wins so far, the issue for the Redskins is how to schedule the in-house tryouts for Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Robert Griffin and anyone else who can throw a football.
Does that mean QB is the weakness of the Skins? Perhaps the weakness is that Mike Shanahan isn't that good at developing quarterbacks. Tony Romo went undrafted and now plays at a high level. The best quarterback that Shanahan had was a young Jay Cutler in Denver, though I think Jake Plummer was better.
Nonetheless, the Redskins have talent, but not enough talent at the key position. Rex Grossman and John Beck are not the answer. But then, a healthy Santana Moss would help, as well as another standout wide receiver.
This is one of those turning points in the organization. The Bucs are free falling. Questions abound, with the first being whether coach Raheem Morris has lost the team?
They have a good, young, strong quarterback in Josh Freeman and a first-rate runner in LeGarrette Blount. They have given up only 18 sacks.
What’s missing? Points, perhaps. They’re 16th in yards, but at 18.2 points they rank 25th. Thirteen TD passes and only six rushing scores equal a team that cannot punch it in.
Weakness: Start with defensive coordinator Keith Millard. The team ranks 30th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. It’s giving up nearly five yards a run. In other words, get this team to play even or in front, and its offense becomes much, much better.
Cam Newton is Rookie of the Year and would be MVP if Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers weren’t doing to the pass defenses what Skil® saws do to plywood. The Panthers are scoring 24 points a game, which is amazing for a rookie QB.
Of course, it has to be said that Newton doesn’t face the tough defenses like fellow rookie Andy Dalton does in Cincinnati, but still.
Now, if only Newton played middle linebacker, too. And defensive end. And strong safety.
You get the point: The Panthers are weak on defense. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, the Panthers have plenty of firepower.
At 27 per, Carolina ranks 29th in points allowed. It has lost four games where the margin of defeat was seven points or less.
The weakness of the Dolphins appeared to be quarterback, but Matt Moore proved that that issue was a tepid argument against the team’s 0-7 start. Since then, they’ve won four of five and even Reggie Bush is having a good year.
The weakness of the Dolphins is one of identity. They’re still trying to figure it out. And much of that goes with having Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator.
He knows defense, and he knows defensive personnel. The Dolphins give up only 18.3 ppg, ranking them fifth in the league. It’s remarkable because they have to play the Patriots and the Bills, two very good offensive teams (well, at least the Bills were early in the year).
That said, head coach Tony Sparano had a hard time figuring out how to shape the team. With Moore playing well, this is a solid team that needs more weapons other than receiver Brandon Marshall and Bush.
A heavy-hitting back like Michael Bush from the Raiders would be a great complement to Reggie Bush; and more offensive line help as well as a second and third receiver capable of making big plays.
With more offense, Nolan’s defense gets much better, and that is a good combination.
This has been a real wakeup call for the Chargers. They have so much talent in key positions: Philip Rivers slinging it around at quarterback, Vincent Jackson scaring defenses at WR, Ryan Mathews, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates. And the offense has played nearly up to expectations, as they score 24 a game.
But something’s missing, and Rivers’ 17 interceptions is an easy target. But it’s more than that. This was once a dynamic, multi-dimensional offense. Now it’s a scatter-brained affair—though at times amazingly effective—that relies too much on Rivers; hence 17 interceptions.
It comes down to an offensive line that’s weak and beaten up. The minus-nine turnover differential is the result, I believe, of a struggling offensive line that cannot produce a consistent running game.
Two years ago, the Chargers could play anyone anywhere and have a chance. Now, against the best defenses, they still get their big plays, but the defense and the offensive inconsistency are too much to overcome.
Gates is getting old; Floyd hasn’t been able to stay healthy for an entire year. The defense is getting worse. Everyone wants to blame Norv Turner, yet it’s Norv Turner who’s keeping the team together with duct tape and mirrors.
This is a team on the verge of an overhaul.
There was a time when the Bills looked like they belonged in the Mid-American Conference—they scored a lot and had a lot scored on them. They’d fit right in with Toledo and Western Michigan. And that speaks to their weakness, which might be youth.
The Bills have lost five straight and gave up an average of 32 points doing it. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Scott Chandler, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson…there’s plenty of offense. But the defense…ah, the defense. Buffalo’s giving up 25 points a game and can’t stop the rush.
Even having to play from behind so often, the Bills have only allowed 15 sacks remarkably. So the problems with the Bills offense lay in not scoring enough. They lost five games by six points or less.
It’s hard to say without watching a lot of tape, but Fitzpatrick has to avoid the critical interception and Fred Jackson has to make the critical catch. If so, the Bills are 8-4, not 5-7.
Three weeks ago, with Cutler clicking and Forte cutting, the offense looked like a rising power. Cutler’s and Forte's injuries have taken care of that.
Caleb Hanie proves how difficult it is to play quarterback in the league. In just over two full games, he’s thrown six interceptions, been sacked 11 times and suffered various indignities, not the least of which is losing to somebody named Palko.
Mike Martz is a good offensive coordinator. Rod Marinelli is a very good defensive coordinator. Lovie Smith appears capable of handling all matters regarding his team, except one: He didn’t tell the front office he needed a better backup quarterback.
Ahh, remember September? At 5-0, the Lions were the delight of the bandwagon crowd. Matthew Stafford was good, but Calvin Johnson was going to be the next Big Thing. Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch were ripping up offensive lines like fifth-graders at the class Christmas party.
Then came The Handshake.
Since Jim Harbaugh vexed the Lions and outcoached Jim Schwartz, the Lions have gone 2-5 and are on the verge of falling out of the playoff race. Suh is suspended, the defense is losing its cool and Stafford can’t settle his feet long enough to find Johnson.
That said, it’s the coach’s responsibility. And thus the weakness of the Lions is Schwartz.
Oddly, six seeks ago you’d say the strength of the Lions was Schwartz. He instilled that attitude of take-no-prisoners. Well, since then, discipline has fallen off and so has the team’s confidence level.
This is a young, talented team that might have suffered the worst of injury of all, the loss of Mikel Leshoure, the running back out of Illinois. With his inside running to go along with the explosiveness of Jahvid Best, the Lions would have been even more deadly.
It’s up to the coach to adjust. The loss of Best to injury isn’t easy. Keeping the team under control isn’t either, but that’s why Schwartz gets paid the big bucks.
The weakness of the Chiefs is not that they lost Matt Cassel and now have to play Tyler Palko, and perhaps now Kyle Orton. Rather, the weakness is a coaching staff that didn’t realize Tyler Palko was that bad or it did realize it and said nothing to the front office to do something about it.
The Chiefs started off badly, then won two games against Minnesota and Indianapolis, two teams with a combined record now of 2-22. They beat the Raiders and the Chargers before falling back to Earth, and you have to say their win over the Bears last Sunday had everything to do with luck on offense but even more to do with guts on defense.
Nonetheless, the Chiefs suffer offensively, averaging 13 points a game and 4.7 yards per play, which puts them among the worst in the NFL.
It’s an offense that cannot be blamed on injury alone; this is a Todd Haley fiasco.
Marshawn Lynch finally rose to a level of play many have expected for four years. The Seahawks have won three of their last four, including wins over the Ravens and the Eagles. Now if they can just get Tarvaris Jackson to reduce his mistakes and Sidney Rice…wait, hold it right there.
Rice has been a flop due to injuries in his free-agency transfer to the ‘Hawks. Jackson is going to be Jackson: sometimes brilliant, sometimes maddening. And with the loss of tackle Russell Okung, the offensive line just got a lot weaker.
Jackson has 10 TDs against 12 interceptions, and he’s been sacked 31 times in 10 games. Needless to say, improved play along the offensive line will be critical. Good defensive teams like the 49ers can shut down Lynch, so it comes down to Jackson making plays from the pocket. Having the time to stand up and find someone downfield goes a long ways to making that happen.
When the passing game ranks in the mid- to high-20s in attempt, yards, TDs and interceptions—and this is with Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps the best receiver in the game—the focus goes to two areas: quarterback and offensive line.
Kevin Kolb has been hurt, not that his play prior to missing games with injury was all that indicative of anything superlative. Backup John Skelton has been poor. And perhaps the reason for all this is the Cardinal offensive line has been, shall we say, challenged.
The Cardinals suffer nearly 3.5 sacks a game and have thrown 16 interceptions. And this is a team that got Todd Heap to help out its passing game.
The real factor has been the lockout.
A new quarterback needs time to get used to the system. Kolb didn’t have that, and he didn’t have very good protection.
So, in a way, the real weakness of the Cardinals is the front office and the coach, Ken Whisenhunt.
For a team with limited time for assimilation due to the labor issue, the Cardinals needed a coach that could implement something basic and simple and then make it work. Not only that, he had to coach the offensive line to keep the quarterback standing. The latter didn’t do all that well.
With Fitzgerald, Heap and Beanie Wells, the playmakers are here. The offensive line is what holds this team back.
For all the talk/reportage in the New York region about how the Giants under Tom Coughlin have been struggling in December of late, this team has an offense that can play with anyone.
The weakness this year is the running game, but Eli Manning more than makes up for it.
Along with Eli Manning, receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham have been strong, capable targets.
Deduction tells us this is a Giants team needing help on the offensive line.
Injuries have decimated the team, yet Manning continues to excel. With 23 TD passes and a 7.7 average per attempt, he’s playing great and it seems hardly anyone notices because of the sterling play from the likes of Brees, Rodgers and Brady.
The Giants need new blood at left tackle, right tackle and at running back. They don’t have any speed out of the backfield—a Darren Sproles or a Jahvid Best-type that would put too much pressure on linebackers.
But with Jake Ballard at tight end and this solid corps of receivers, a little offensive line help would do wonders for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, making the running game a force again.
Ahh, the Raiders. Things just don’t change that much in Oaktown.
The biggest weakness of the Raiders is the Raiders. That is, the self-immolation they perform on themselves in the form of 119 penalties for over 1,000 yards. Or, about 90 yards a game. That’s like starting the game down minus-7 and the only way to get back to 0-0 is to drive the length of the field and score a TD.
The Raiders have trouble against teams that handle their front four on defense, which exposes their weak linebackers and their so-so secondary.
What does that mean?
It means that the offense has to score and score often. But as Miami showed, when the running lanes are blocked up and the element of surprise is eliminated from the passing game, the Raiders have trouble.
It would be just so much easier of they didn’t hurt themselves so much. The Raiders can point to the fact that the least penalized team in the league is the Colts, and look how that’s worked out for them. But the Raiders should be better than that. Coach Hue Jackson has said so.
The Titans, at 7-5, have been improving, but the lack of a big-play receiver and the slow-to-almost full-speed play of running back Chris Johnson has kept this team from being much better.
The Titans are in the middle of the league in point and first downs and third-down conversions, but don’t score enough. That’s because they’re getting very few big plays. With 32 plays over 20 yards, they rank 23rd.
In other words, without a game-breaking wide receiver and with a less-than-stellar Chris Johnson, the Titans have to earn every yard for their TDs. Defenses know this and can outwait them.
Andy Dalton has been more than adequate, especially for a rookie QB. It’s just that this is another team that is lacking that 1-2 punch in the big-play department. A.J. Green has been everything a team would want as an outside threat.
But the Bengals have had a hard time running the ball when it needs to be run.
This is a team with more than 40 plays longer than 20 yards. It’s fourth-best at keeping Dalton upright in the pocket. Yet the Bengals only convert on 31 percent of their first downs. Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott haven’t been all that effective in short-yardage plays, and the team has only seven rushing TDs.
Getting a road-grader right guard might help or more tight ends for super-heavy formations to give the running backs more mass at the point of attack.
The Jets rank 26th in yards gained, yet are eighth in points scored. That’s efficiency. That’s also getting easy TDs from either defensive returns or short fields.
That Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight average just under 3.9 yards a carry is one reason why they stand 26th in yards. It’s a team that, when facing another real good offensive team, doesn’t have the firepower to stay up, as seen in the two losses to the Patriots and a loss to the Raiders.
Ryan loves the brash, in-your-face style, but he might have a quarterback who is more cerebral than muscle. And so many times you find the Jets, having failed to contain teams with its defense and struggling to run, relying on quarterback Mark Sanchez to pull it out in the fourth quarter, which he has done four times.
Imagine if Sanchez didn’t have to play from behind all the time. That’s why Rex Ryan might be the weakness on this team.
The Tim Tebow sensation is just that, a sensation.
His 5-1 record as a starter is a credit to coach John Fox, who switched tactics and personnel to the style that favors Tebow, a 6’2", 236-lb tight end who plays quarterback.
OK, everyone knows that Tebow does not have a classic passing release. He’s not that accurate. But he’s a great runner and he’s also very competitive—all of which is commendable.
Yet I have to say that the weakness of the Broncos is Tebow, in that if he goes down with injury, backup Brady Quinn cannot do what Tebow does. No one can.
Whether it was Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino (especially Dan Marino), Troy Aikman or even Tom Brady went down with injury—and they all went down with injury—the system enabled a capable backup to step in and continue to run the same system.
The line, the backs and the receivers just had to get used to a different cadence and different release, but the plays were the same.
That’s perhaps the greatest reason why someone like Tebow, as successful has he has been, isn’t good for the Broncos in the long run.
He’s a horse and a good runner and a helluva leader, but when he gets hurt—and for a running QB in the NFL the odds are pretty high—the Broncos will have to revert to something they haven’t practiced.
One other note about Tebow: In their last six wins, all led by Tebow, the records of the Broncos’ opposition adds up to 30-42. So it’s not like he’s knocked off the Steelers and the Ravens twice.
The Steelers give up the least amount of yards and rank 11th in yards gained, but are 18th in points. Part of that can be traced to the fact that the Steelers play the Bengals, whose defense is much better than people think, and the Ravens, whose defense is like the Russian front in winter—intolerable.
So, it’s an offense that has a pretty steep slope to work on. Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman don’t average four yards between them. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 34 times.
Yet the Steelers have a real game-breaker in receiver Mike Wallace. No one’s better at keeping a pass play alive than Roethlisberger, which is one reason why he takes so many sacks.
And therein lies the Steelers weakness: They depend on Roethlisberger to hold the ball, avoid the sack and make the big play.
Now that Roethlisberger has a very tender ankle that limits his mobility, that may be a real factor in the Steeler offense. Against tough, disciplined defenses that can backfire, yet the Ravens only sacked Big Ben twice in their two wins over the Steelers.
This is a team that is still evolving and seemingly capable of beating teams with the run or the pass. The Dec. 19 game in San Francisco will be a good indicator.
Joe Flacco is the weakness of the Ravens. Well, it’s really the words that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron puts into Flacco’s helmet that makes Flacco, well, Flacco.
Against the tough San Francisco defense, Flacco was efficient and deadly, completing four passes on third down for the Ravens’ only TD. Two weeks prior, after a tough win over Pittsburgh, he wasn’t so hot against Seattle.
What Flacco does is essentially what Jim Harbaugh wants Alex Smith to do—get enough offense to rest the defense, push the opposition down the field and don’t turn it over. Smith has done that. Flacco does as well, having just eight interceptions.
Add to that Ray Rice and his 4.7 yards per rush attempt, and it’s an offense that can be physically draining. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are a deadly pair outside. So where’s the weak point in this offense? Tight end Ed Dickson isn’t that reliable go-to guy like Jason Witten of the Cowboys nor the dynamic inside playmaker like Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley or Jimmy Graham.
But that’s picking nits. The Ravens are the best team in the AFC.
Oh, Matt Schaub, where art thou?
The weakness of the Texans is quarterback. Schaub was already recognized as perhaps the AFC’s second-best quarterback. With his 7.7 net yards per attempt, Schaub is one of the deadliest long throwers in the game. It helps, of course, to have Arian Foster and Andre Johnson as weapons.
But, alas, Schaub has a bad foot. Matt Leinert has a free pass to the nearest hot tub to soak a broken shoulder. T.J. Yates is going to carry the Texans, and that says it all. They should win the AFC South, and with it get a home playoff game.
With Schaub, this team gets dangerous. Without him they’re just another good team.
Injuries are holding back Dallas right now. Felix Jones, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are all injured or banged up to the point they’re not even close to 100 percent. With the way Tony Romo is playing, this team could really be something if those three were in good standing.
The defense has been ragged all year. And Romo has been able to overcome its shortcomings, for the most part. But this is a fragile team whose offense has come to rely way too much on Jason Witten. Teams will start double-teaming him, and that leaves the hobbled Austin and Bryant to make plays.
Against good teams in the playoffs, that’s not usually enough to win games. Dallas should make it there, but this weekend’s game against the Giants will be a good indicator of whether Dallas’ offense, which is getting more and more one-dimensional, can overcome the defense’s shortcomings.
In the end, the weakness of the Cowboys might be Dallas.
The Cowboys fade in December. Maybe this year is different, but over the last three years the final month of the year kills the Cowboys and their chances for a Super Bowl.
This is a team that averages a well-above average six yards per play, converts 47 percent of its first downs and racks up nearly 400 yards a game. And yet it has lost five games? People point to coach Jason Garrett and his misuse of timeouts in the overtime loss to Arizona. No one says anything about the defense not tackling anyone.
Four of their five losses have been by six points or less. It’s a gutsy team, one that needs to be healthy to be appreciated.
In passing the 49ers rank 29th in passing yards, and their offense is 24th overall. Yet it’s 10th in points. It throws the fewest amount of passes and thus the fewest amount of interceptions. But it is a passing attack that good defenses feel less than threatened. No receiver cannot be covered with one man. And thus that leaves defensive coordinators lots of options in how to stuff the run.
This is a team which, prior to last Sunday, had its longest pass play be a 42-yarder to Kendall Hunter on a short dump improvised by Alex Smith. Last week, the Niners finally got two big plays.
Thus, when the Niners take over in their own territory, there are so many defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, it looks like the front doors of a Wal-Mart right before a Black Friday sale.
Good thing Frank Gore trained as a contortionist; otherwise he’d never get back to the line of scrimmage on many run plays.
This is a team, however, that appears ready to drop some big play-action passes, as seen in Michael Crabtree’s 52-yard TD catch versus the Rams. Or it’s a team that if it falls behind early will look like a man trying to run uphill through sand to catch up.
The Falcons are 5-1 indoors and it should be 6-0 if you go back and let coach Mike Smith not go for it in overtime on fourth-and-inches inside the 30-yard line against the Saints. Wait, check that. It was the Saints. Never mind.
Indoors, this is a strong, diverse team. But fresh air seems to have kryptonite effect on the Birds as they average 29 points under a roof and 17.5 under God. Could it be the wind, the softer footing of grass and the glare of the sun (and you laugh). Just check out the 17-10 loss to the Texans and that famous camp arm of quarterback T.J. Yates.
The Texans have a good defense, but the Falcons should have reversed that score.
Due to their allergies to blue sky, this team will, if it makes the playoffs, get either Dallas or New Orleans on the road. Both of those games will be very much indoors, but it won’t help. This is a team that loses something when it plays in the yard.
The weakness of the Saints on offense right now is that the front office has not been able to convince the NFL administrators to let them use two or three footballs per offensive snap. That’s how many open receivers Drew Brees appears to have on every play.
In back-to-back games the Saints, in the Superdome, hung a combined 80 points on the Giants and the Lions, teams whose defenses are not used to being outclassed. Brees is on his way to breaking Dan Marino’s all-time passing yardage mark. They’re second in points, first in yards and on their way to the Hall of Fame in terms of how many headaches defensive coordinators get when breaking down their films.
OK, here’s a weakness: The Saints don’t have any warm clothes.
They’ve only played five games out of a dome. They’ve lost two of those five, at Green Bay and Tampa Bay. They’re averaging 21.4 on stuff cows eat. In the five games indoors, the Saints average 46 a game. So, maybe its sunshine that robs the Saints of mystical powers.
One thing about the NFL is no one cares about an old-time sacred tenet. You see it in the Saints and the Packers too, but perhaps no one embodies the mentality of the current state of the pro game than what occurs under the auspices of Bill Belichick.
Coaches since the dawn of the inflatable bladder ball have always said balance is the key to an effective offense. Of course back then, from Knute Rockne to Woody Hayes, balance meant two runs for every pass.
Now, when you have a sniper like Tom Brady getting his hands on the ball 64 plays a game, it just doesn’t make any sense to have him hand it off 60 percent of the time. Belichick, whose defenses in New York terrorized opposing passers, knows that putting some air under the rock about 60 percent of the time improves one’s chances for victory.
And so we’ll say it right here that the offensive weakness of the Patriots is the running game.
The power running game. To which Belichick would spit out a masticated sunflower seed and say, “And your point is?”
This is a team that averages nearly 400 yards a game but doesn’t have a runner who gets more than 50 a game. But when you have Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, et al, who needs running backs.
They might need one in a wintry day in Pittsburgh, however.
Well, the Packers can’t run the ball (See Belichick, Bill and the Patriots). That’s it. They can’t run as well as they would like. They rank 29th in rushing offense at about 90 a game. They have only nine rushing TDs. Oh, the horrors.
But then again, some guys, if they had the shot, would expect Jennifer Aniston to cook. Aaron Rodgers is making longtime NFL insiders swoon. No one throws the ball with such accuracy and such velocity.
No one embodies cool in the pocket like Rodgers. He runs out of trouble. He audibles to the right play. He hits Jordy Nelson up the sideline. In fact, no quarterback is as good as throwing up field outside the numbers—the toughest throws in the game—better than Rodgers.
This is a quarterback whose 106 passer rating against the Giants was his worst of game of the year. His current rating of over 125 would shatter modern records. Rodgers right now could put a Wilson through a front-door mail slot from 40 yards. And no one’s better throwing on the run.
So the Packers can’t run. Well, Mozart didn’t mow lawns but he sure knew a thing about making those 88 keys on the piano sound magnificent. Rodgers does the same with his offense.