The Dolphins have been struggling with a basic football concept for over a decade, so let's spell it out for them.
This is how you build a football franchise:
- First, you hire a chief administrator of some kind to oversee all football operations. This person can either be a general manager or an imperial head coach in the Mike Shanahan or Jim Harbaugh class.
- Next, that chief administrator hires a head coach (if he is a general manager) or a personnel-scouting-cap management director (if he is a head coach).
- Next, the decision-makers select a quarterback and other core roster personnel, as well as assistant coaches and the like, based on their shared philosophies about scheme, budgeting and so on.
The Dolphins fired Joe Philbin late on Monday morning, according to multiple media reports. The firing was anticipated, with speculation throughout the weekend that a lopsided loss and a flat performance by the Dolphins would force owner Stephen Ross' hand. The Dolphins provided both in a not-that-close 27-14 loss to the Jets in London. Philbin told reporters that he met with Ross after the Dolphins game, and while that meeting was inconclusive, you don't generally fire someone you are about to share a transatlantic flight with. Tight end coach Dan Campbell takes over as the interim head coach.
With Philbin gone, the Dolphins brain trust can begin a three-month search for a replacement. Unfortunately, the brain trust may be part of the problem.
Now, the three-step approach to building a franchise listed above is not foolproof. The Ryan Grigson-Chuck Pagano-Andrew Luck marriage appears to be on the rocks in Indianapolis. The Trent Baalke-Jim Harbaugh-Colin Kaepernick bromance got all Batman v Superman grim-dark last year. Sometimes, the handpicked executive-coach-quarterback combo turns out to be a dud.
Then again, the Colts have been to the playoffs three straight times, reached the AFC title game last year and are 2-2 despite themselves. The 49ers came within a few plays of a Super Bowl ring before things unraveled. The Dolphins have reached the playoffs once since the 2001 season.
A neat executive-coach-quarterback/core arrangement guarantees nothing. But a situation in which a coach who wasn't hired by a general manager tries to lead players who were not selected by either of them guarantees failure. Sometimes, it's a dull failure like the Dolphins have endured for years. Other times, it's the spectacular 2015 Eagles situation: The coach ousts the general manager and moves mountains for a quarterback, and everything comes unglued quicker than a no-huddle offense.
The Dolphins have had a bad case of "too many cooks" since Jimmy Johnson left town. They always have a general manager veering in one direction and a coach heading in the other, often with a quarterback situation held over from the last regime. The list of Nick Saban, Randy Mueller, Cam Cameron, Jeff Ireland, Tony Sparano and other would-be power brokers is both lengthy and constantly overlapping. General managers select coaches, who then outlast the general managers, whose successors then fire the coaches.
Ireland hired Philbin and drafted Ryan Tannehill in 2012. Ireland also brought in coordinator Mike Sherman as a Tannehill whisperer and went on a spending spree, muddying the clarity of his plan. Were the Dolphins in win-now mode or rebuilding with a rookie quarterback? Whose offense were they running? They paid Mike Wallace HOW MUCH?
Ireland, a leftover from the Bill Parcells experiment who outlasted everyone above and below him, is now gone. Dennis Hickey is now the Dolphins general manager, with Mike Tannenbaum on board as executive vice president of football operations.
Hickey and Tannenbaum were not hired together; Tannenbaum advanced from a vague consulting role. Their division of responsibilities is not 100 percent clear to outsiders. One of them, with input from Ross, team president Tom Garfinkel and perhaps silent partner Fergie (no, it's not really that bad), will make the final decision on a head coach.
That coach will be required to build his program around Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh and their salaries (six years, $114 million for Suh; six-year, $96 million extension for Tannehill). There are worse fates, but it's hard to put your stamp on a team when two core players are signed for the foreseeable future. And judging by Tannehill's performance against the Jets and Suh's nigh invisibility, they may not be a pair of wise investments.
This is a self-perpetuating problem: The Dolphins never have direction because one decision-maker is always trending upward when the others are trending downward. The Dolphins have tried everything over the last decade from a half-interested Parcells to Dan Marino as figurehead. Everything, that is, except creating a coherent front-office structure.
For now, the Dolphins just have to muddle through with Campbell calling the shots. It's the third time since 2004 that an interim coach has finished a Dolphins season. The 2015 season is a lost cause, though interim coaches often prompt brief winning streaks or short-term improvements due to simple human nature. (How do you react when the boss gets fired? You probably work a little harder for the new chief).
Once the season ends, however, the Dolphins must:
- Fire the entire coaching staff. No "let's keep some positional coaches because we like them" bet-hedging allowed. Holdover coaches send mixed messages. Philbin retained several assistants from the last administration when he was hired. Unless the new coach pounds the table for some incumbent, let that coach clean house.
- Fire Tannenbaum. Or fire Hickey. Or fire both. Tannenbaum appears to be the guy who negotiated the Tannehill and Suh deals, and Jets fans can tell Dolphins fans what it's like trying to crawl out from under Tannenbaum's credit debts. But whomever the Dolphins choose as the showrunner, it must be one individual with final say over the organization, not two people locked in a power struggle.
- Acquire a coach-executive package. It can be some coach Hickey or Tannenbaum love if one of them is retained, the choice of some newly hired personnel guru or a big-name coach worthy of "buy the groceries" status. (Careful with that: Chip Kelly's groceries are leaking out of the bag.)
- Create an actual plan: The Dolphins may need to overhaul the whole roster and wait for some major pieces to become cuttable. They may just need a few changes. Maybe Tannehill needs a new system, maybe a new line, maybe a new address. Whatever the new brain trust decides, it must have the power to act on its decision. When the coach, general manager and super-secret general manager come from different worlds, every big decision is likely to step on someone else's toes, and the result is a team that spends $60 million guaranteed on a defensive tackle but cannot stop the run.
The perfect coach-executive-quarterback mesh is difficult to get right. But it's easy to get wrong when you try to do it piecemeal. Firing Philbin isn't the right move for the Dolphins; it's just a first step toward the right move. If they don't take other steps, they will be right back in this position in three years.
More Real Than For Real
True Hangover confession: I have been in this business for over a decade and still have no idea what "for real" means.
Does proclaiming "the Falcons are for real" mean that you think they will win the Super Bowl? If the Falcons and Panthers are both "for real," what happens when they face each other in Weeks 14 and 16? Explosions that destroy the solar system?
Can a 3-1 team be "for real"? The Bengals make the playoffs every year; does that make their "for real" different than the Falcons' "for real"? Do fans around the country really wait for sportswriters and talk show hosts to proclaim their team "for real" instead of, say, enjoying a month's worth of thrilling football victories?
"For real" seems to mean "actually good," and it goes without saying most 4-0 teams are actually good. Some are 2007 Patriots good, others are 9-7 wild-card competitor good, most are in between, and parsing out which is which after four games isn't really possible.
With that in mind, instead of declaring some 4-0 team a fraud in the name of generating lots of arguments from their angry fans (tempting as that may be), let's focus on what each 4-0 team must do to silence any lingering doubters:
How to Silence the Doubters: You know...Sunday night, Nov. 29, at home against the Patriots. Win the game. 'Nuff said.
How to Silence the Doubters: Improve the fit and finish.
The Packers don't really have doubters. We all know Aaron Rodgers is tremendous, the Packers pass rush is nasty and the organization always does a solid job developing injury replacements. Sunday's 17-3 win over the 49ers was closer than it had to be, though winning on the road after a short week isn't easy.
But with Rodgers throwing to a shrinking cast of skill-position characters, the Packers need to tighten some nuts and bolts before they face their next round of top competition:
- The Packers committed eight penalties against the 49ers and have 36 fouls for the season, the fourth-highest total in the league. The offensive line needs to cut down on holding-related penalties (seven holds or illegal uses of hands this year); the defense on offsides, encroachment and neutral-zone flags (seven).
- Play selection on 3rd-and-short should be reviewed: Rodgers is enduring sacks and incomplete passes even though Eddie Lacy and James Starks are running well. Third-down bombs make more sense when Jordy Nelson-types are available to beat one-on-one coverage and make tricky catches.
- The secondary gives up big plays a little too generously too soon when the Packers are playing with a lead.
This is all nitpicking. But rest assured head coach Mike McCarthy is picking at nits like these.
How to Silence the Doubters: Win in prime time.
The Bengals have a pair of prime-time games in Weeks 9 and 10 against the Browns and Texans. Both games are in Cincinnati, and both opponents are highly beatable.
The Bengals can absorb a loss against the Seahawks next week or in Pittsburgh in Week 8 without catastrophe. But a pair of prime-time wins would help demonstrate that this really is a different Bengals team from the one that has been getting stage fright for four years.
Yes, the Bengals beat the Broncos on national television in Week 16 last year. They also lost 24-3 to the Browns and 43-17 to the Patriots. Let's see if they can establish a pattern of looking as good in national games as they look on Sunday afternoons.
How to Silence the Doubters: Stay the course.
The Falcons look great in all three elements of the game right now. Sunday's 48-21 win over the Texans wasn't competitive. The Falcons have solid fundamentals: an excellent quarterback, an expanding battery of weapons, several draft classes full of good prospects finally heading in the right direction. They also have an easy schedule: Redskins, at Saints, at Titans, Buccaneers, at 49ers, bye. The Falcons should be at worst 7-2 after that slate.
The Falcons' top priority, however, should remain the big picture. They aren't building for one 11-win season, but a string of playoff appearances and Super Bowl contention. If the Falcons lose a game or two because of young-player growing pains, it will be worth it as long as the young players actually grow. As long as the Falcons don't suddenly decide they need Wes Welker or Chris Cooley, they should be fine.
How to Silence the Doubters: Develop at least one offensive weapon.
The Panthers look like the most likely 4-0 team to fall off the pace. They can't expect to keep winning games with Jonathan Stewart-to-Ed Dickson fumble-recovery touchdowns and pick-six interceptions.
Cam Newton led the Panthers with 124 passing yards and 51 rushing yards in the 37-23 win over the Buccaneers, and neither total will get the job done against better competition.
Whether it's Devin Funchess, Cameron Artis-Payne or someone lurking on the practice squad, the Panthers need a player who can provide a 40-yard chunk of yardage once in a while so Greg Olsen can be a possession receiver instead of an everything receiver.
No, Ted Ginn Jr. does not count.
Bonus Non-Undefeated Team: Cardinals
How to Silence the Doubters: Beat someone good...we're waiting.
Stock Watch: False Dichotomies
This week's Stock Watch is awash in either/or scenarios that aren't really either/or scenarios. You know: If you had no other choice, would you watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or A Good Day to Die Hard? (Why can't I just take a walk or read a book?)
Anyway, the NFL is a zero-sum game, where one team only wins if the other loses and Tom Brady can only be an all-time great if Peyton Manning is some all-time chump. With that in mind, choose wisely when faced with false dichotomies like these:
Old Like Peyton or Old Like Peterson?
May you have the chance, grow old like either of these guys. It's too late for me. I am older than Peyton and get tired walking to the fridge to fetch whipped cream for my Oreos.
Both Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning showed a few signs of wear and tear Sunday. Peterson gained just 28 yards on his first 10 carries in the Broncos' 23-20 victory, adding a reception for a loss of two. Manning threw a pair of interceptions and displayed more of the rickety dink-and-dunk routine we've been watching since late last season.
Yet there they were, looking fresh late in the game: Peterson ripped off a John Riggins-like 48-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 to cut the deficit to 20-17 after the extra point, and Manning answered with one of those pesky field-goal drives he has been winning games with for millennia.
Given the choice, you want to be Old Like Peyton. First, your team is undefeated, not .500. Second, you aren't expected to slam into the line 20 times per game. Third, you are surrounded by guys who know this is the team's last chance to win a Super Bowl, as opposed to talented youngsters who might not be ready to close out road wins against contenders. Old guys don't want to hear about how good a team might be in a year or two.
Lots of Weapons or Lots of Ways to Use Three Weapons
A Hangover riddle: How can you tell the Chiefs are running a two-minute drill?
Answer: When Charcandrick West runs off tackle for four yards.
Head coach Andy Reid was back to his running ways during two-minute drills in the Chiefs' 36-21 loss to the Bengals. At the end of the first half, Jamaal Charles needed a breather, so Reid grabbed a character out of an old Dungeons & Dragons manual. Reid eventually allowed Alex Smith to throw to Jeremy Maclin, but only after burning timeouts on runs between the hash marks. So the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal.
The Chiefs offense remains the dollar-store Swiss army knife your great uncle gave you for eighth-grade graduation. It only has the blade, the flat-head screwdriver and the nail file. Granted, that's one more feature than the Chiefs had before Reid finally took the restrictor plates off Maclin.
Maclin delivered an 11-148-0 stat line, Charles gained 145 yards from scrimmage and Travis Kelce caught five passes. But Charles caught a 13-yard pass on 3rd-and-18 while the Chiefs were playing catch-up, and Kelce fumbled away a dump-off on 3rd-and-30, allowing the Bengals to pull away. The lack of playmakers is ruining the Chiefs' season. (If you are seeing Chris Conley's 44-yard catch on the stat sheet, that occurred when the game was out of hand.)
Meanwhile, the Bengals got big games from both their running backs and big catches from Brandon Tate, Mohamed Sanu and Rex Burkhead, their third and fourth wide receivers and designated sneaky slot guy.
A.J. Green was a rather quiet 7-82-0, but when the Bengals were near the goal line, the Chiefs dispatched two defensive backs to jam him on the line. This wasn't "bracket coverage"—it was a playground strategy used against the older brother on the field. Green essentially became an extra blocker, making it easier for Jeremy Hill to score three touchdowns and Giovani Bernard a fourth.
That's what happens when you have Lots of Weapons.
Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel?
McCown was 32-of-41 for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (but one fumble) in a 30-27 loss to the Chargers. Adjusting for the fact McCown is McCown and the Browns are the Browns, that production is equivalent to about 975 passing yards and 14 touchdowns by a quality quarterback with real skill-position talent.
The Browns allegedly have a Manziel package (here we go again) in reserve for when their offense needs a jump start. But McCown led several productive drives and even hit Gary "Big Play" Barnidge for a touchdown and Taylor Gabriel for a two-pointer to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The Browns lost, in part, because of 12 penalties, one of which gave the Chargers a second chance on a game-winning field goal.
So yes, this was a fine game by McCown and an inconsistent team effort by the Browns, and it had nothing to do with John...oops, my imaginary cellphone is lighting up with imaginary texts from imaginary Browns starters!
Put f*&^%n' Johnny in! This s^&* is tearing the team apart! He makes me a better person. He makes the world a better f$&^%n' place. Johnny can't make no magic sittin' on the bench. OMG. LOL. This is how real NFL players talk and text. Johnny Football. F^&* yeah. – Imaginary tweet from imaginary Browns starter.
Stop the presses.
Healthy Cowboys or Injured Cowboys?
Just when it looked like things couldn't get worse for the Cowboys, linebacker Sean Lee left the Saints game with a concussion, and Lance Dunbar fell to the ground screaming as if his leg had just been eaten by an alligator.
Dunbar and Lee joined Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Randy Gregory and Orlando Scandrick on an ever-expanding Cowboys injury report. Dunbar is technically a third-down back and return man, but Cowboys observers know he has played a critical role in the passing game with Bryant out. Lee is the injury-prone heart of the Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys somehow managed to force overtime against the Saints despite a complete lack of passing weapons. (Anything is possible when the Saints defense takes the field.) But Drew Brees easily connected with C.J. Spiller for an 80-yard overtime catch-and-run, with Lee's replacement Damien Wilson unable to read and react to Spiller coming out of the backfield.
The Injured Cowboys are the ones the team needs right now, but instead of returning, they are growing in numbers.
Texans' Running Back Controversy or Texans' Quarterback Controversy?
Arian Foster returned to action for the Texans, so Bill O'Brien naturally tried to force-feed him the ball so he wouldn't have to watch Ryan Mallett throw with his shirt tail untucked. Foster carried eight times for 10 yards and had the ball knocked from his hands by his own lineman before the Falcons built a 42-0 lead that made the running game irrelevant.
As for Mallett, he completed 12 of 27 passes with an interception (to a double-covered DeAndre Hopkins underneath) and his usual collection of late and inaccurate throws. Brian Hoyer led three meaningless drives late in the game, just as Mallett led some meaningless drives in Week 1 to replace Hoyer.
Let's see if O'Brien keeps mistaking the guy who threw over the middle against a prevent defense for the guy with the hot hand for three more months.
Foster will come around. For pure entertainment value, nothing beats the Texans' Quarterback Controversy right now.
Smart Giants or Fourth-Quarter Giants?
The Giants did all the fourth-quarter stuff they usually do Sunday. They let the Bills march down to their 1-yard line. They gave up a 54-second touchdown drive. Eli Manning threw an interception in the red zone.
There was no philosophical discussion among the offensive linemen about whether a game situation called for blocking or waving at defenders as they ran past, but otherwise, all the makings of a Giants collapse were there.
Luckily for the Giants, some of their players kept their heads. Kerry Wynn and other defenders delivered some red-zone stops as Tyrod Taylor tried to scramble and option his way into the end zone. Rashad Jennings rumbled 51 yards for a touchdown after a third-down swing pass and a nifty start-stop juke of the first tackler. The Bills pitched in with a missed field goal late in the third quarter and a dumb Richie Incognito penalty to negate a touchdown.
The Smart Giants are on the rise after a 24-10 win, though it was a little hard to determine where they started and the Dumb Bills ended.
Colts Without Andrew Luck or Jaguars?
After a 16-13 overtime Colts victory so ugly that Redskins-Eagles belongs in the Louvre by comparison—a game the Jaguars would have won if their kicker didn't look like Adam Vinatieri's preteen son—let's call this one Even. Scary, isn't it?
Pride or Surrender?
The Bears traded away several defensive players during the week, and there are rumors Matt Forte is on the block, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Under the circumstances, the Bears could have given Jay Cutler more time off, shipped Forte to the Cowboys at halftime and surrendered as quickly as they typically surrender on a Sunday.
Instead, Cutler threw two touchdowns, Forte gained 155 scrimmage yards, the remaining defenders played fairly well and the Bears came back late in the fourth quarter for a 22-20 win. It wasn't pretty, but it counts.
A pessimist might point out the Bears are better off losing games right now. Young football players cannot develop in an atmosphere of complete indifference and failure. Bad habits fester when everyone is either loafing or compensating for the guys who are loafing.
The Bears need to rebuild, but they also need to win enough—and care enough—to make sure their building blocks know how to prepare and compete. They can trade away veterans if they like. Those left behind, however, must play with Pride.
Culture or Scheme?
The Redskins culture is less like the Patriots culture than, say, a sideshow attraction where yokels can arm wrestle the bearded lady for a dollar. That said, the Redskins assembled a tight, no-nonsense game plan for a windy day against the Eagles.
Kirk Cousins handed off to four different backs and did most of his passing in favorable down-and-distance situations—even during the game-winning drive of the 23-20 game—while Joe Barry trusted his defensive front to rush Sam Bradford and bottle up the run while the secondary played it safe.
Chip Kelly's culture warriors, meanwhile, grumbled about their carries (DeMarco Murray), looked downfield like they were staring at a solar eclipse (Sam Bradford), committed rookie mistakes in bunches (Nelson Agholor, Eric Rowe) and suffered a variety of injuries.
Byron Maxwell was the latest Eagles acquisition to suffer an injury, while Bradford limped off at one point with a foot injury. Let's hope Kelly's sports science is like The Martian science and he can somehow grow potatoes to replace injured starters.
Maybe culture doesn't trump scheme. Or maybe Conventional Wisdom actually has some merit the Redskins figured out but Kelly overlooked.
Offensive Line Bonus
The much-maligned Rams offensive line helped Todd Gurley rush for 146 yards while allowing the Cardinals to sack Nick Foles only once. The Cardinals blitzed early and often, and while the Rams line reminded no one of the 1992 Cowboys, they picked up blitzers well and made the Cardinals pay for their aggression.
So let's hear it for Greg Robinson, Jamon Brown, Tim Barnes, Rodger Saffold and Rob Havenstein. That's two rookies (Brown and Havenstein) and the second-year Robinson. Maybe more games like this are coming.
Special Teams Bonus
Adam Vinatieri wins this award for three field goals, including an overtime game-winner.
Robbie Gould could have earned the award with his game-winning Bears field goal, but he had a blocked extra point and an out-of-bounds kickoff.
Cairo Santos could have earned the bonus, but he kicked off out of bounds while the Chiefs-Bengals game was close, and Andy Reid appeared to want Santos to kick seven field goals even when the game was decided so casual observers would think Chiefs wide receivers caught three touchdown passes.
Justin Tucker could have earned the bonus, but he has to do more than kick 52-yard field goals in overtime on the road to impress us these days.
Unsung Defensive Hero Bonus
Kerry Wynn is one of those players the Giants keep finding lying in patches of Meadowlands marsh and developing into pesky role players who help them to bumble and tumble their way into the Super Bowl every four years.
Wynn, an undrafted free agent from the University of Richmond in 2014, recorded seven solo tackles and two tackles for a loss. With the Bills threatening to score late in the third quarter, Wynn stuffed Karlos Williams for a seven-yard loss, then helped corral Percy Harvin on a short third-down pass.
On the next drive, Wynn chased Tyrod Taylor out of bounds on a keeper from the 1-yard line. Wynn was consistently in great position as the "stay at home" defender when the Bills ran keepers or misdirection.
Wynn must share this award with Giants teammate Nikita Whitlock. No, he's not the child of a famous sportswriter and a Russian femme fatale who is secretly an assassin. Whitlock is a practice-squad fullback the Giants pressed into service as a linebacker. Whitlock recorded a 14-yard sack late in the game, when the Bills still could have forced some kind of Giants fourth-quarter catastrophe.
Move over, Henry Hynoski, the Giants have a new fullback crush.
Fantasy Leech Bonus
Jake Stoneburner is the ultimate fantasy leech. He's a backup tight end. His name sounds like something Homer Simpson would make up.
He exists on the fringe of our football consciousness: You might remember his Ohio State career, because "Jake Stoneburner" sticks in the memory in a way that "Chris Fields" or something does not.
Stoneburner, a former Packers practice-squad citizen, scored the short touchdown that briefly made a game of the Dolphins' Failin' to Flip Philbin loss to the Jets. He took away a potential touchdown from Lamar Miller, Jarvis Landry or any other semi-viable Dolphins fantasy producers.
Will the next coaching staff make a star of Stoneburner? Maybe not, but he is already more productive on a per-catch basis than Mike Wallace ever was.
Mysterious Touch Bonus
This bonus usually goes to an offensive lineman or linebacker who caught a pass at the goal line or something. But Texans guard Derek Newton gets the bonus this week for swatting the ball out of Arian Foster's hands. This is Newton's fifth season with the Texans, so it's not like he didn't recognize Arian Foster.
No, Derek, stripping the ball from Texans running backs is bad. Stripping the ball from a Texans quarterback? Well, that just saves the quarterback the problem of doing something that gets them benched.
Gonzo Fantasy Waiver Bid Bonus
While Ted Ginn Jr., Tavon Austin, Gary "Older Gronk" Barnidge and every kicker who didn't embarrass himself will all see some waiver action this week, there is a chance your league fell asleep on rookie Duke Johnson on draft day. Johnson was hurt for most of camp and was part of a crowded Browns backfield, after all.
Johnson caught nine passes for 85 yards and a touchdown Sunday, adding eight carries for 31 yards. He's by far the most talented running back the Browns have. Gobble him up unless the prospectors in your league are bidding their 401(k).
If your league somehow slept on Todd Gurley, pick him up too. And stop playing fantasy football with sixth-graders!
Last Call: Kicker Travesty Roundup
The Steelers lost to the Ravens on Thursday night because Josh Scobee missed a pair of makeable late-game kicks, making the Steelers so skittish about Scobee that they kept going for it on fourth downs in overtime.
But the Steelers at least got a head start on the kicker stampede. They grabbed Chris Boswell off the kicker rack. The unknown Boswell is their fourth kicker since the start of the preseason, but he is presumably someone they can live with. The other kicker-desperate teams around the NFL will have to round up the usual suspects and hope for the best.
Listing all of the missed field goals of Week 4 would be depressing and dull. Instead, let's rank the five worst kicking situations in the league. None of these teams would trade a first-round pick for Stephen Gostkowski or Justin Tucker, but they might pause for a split second if the deal were offered.
5. Bengals: Mike Nugent has lost his deep leg. He only produces touchbacks on half his kickoffs (11 of 23 this year) and was 0-of-3 from 50-plus yards last season. Nugent has two missed mid-range field goals and a blocked extra point this season. He's better than the guys below him, but he is also more likely to impact the playoffs with a bad game, and the Bengals cannot even think about upgrading in the current kicker environment.
4. Saints: Zach Hocker missed a short potential game-winner Sunday night to go with another miss and a blocked extra point earlier in the season. Hocker also had to punt and kickoff (not his usual job) when Thomas Morstead suffered a thigh injury. Kicker problems are bad enough without kicker and punter problems.
3. Steelers: I have no idea who Chris Boswell is. But I know Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley, and they are one missed field goal away from Le'Veon Bell/Antonio Brown Wildcat plays for every fourth down and two-point conversion.
2. Eagles: Caleb Sturgis replaced injured Cody Parkey this week and promptly missed a short field goal and an extra point. Strurgis, a former fifth-round pick by a Dolphins team that always has more important things to do with midround picks than draft kickers, has never been consistent.
1. Buccaneers: Kyle Brindza, a rookie the Buccaneers traded for at the end of camp, has missed six field goals and two extra points. Brindza will probably be released soon, but it's never a good sign when an organization trades for a player they have to cut in a month. Also, the Buccaneers have more important things to do than audition kickers: Keep Jameis Winston from committing five turnovers per game, for example.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.