Every NFL Team's Biggest Achilles' Heel

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystSeptember 22, 2017

Every NFL Team's Biggest Achilles' Heel

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    For some teams, a season is derailed long before it even begins. For example, watching an entire New York Jets game is already an act of bravery.

    But for many others, there's one landmine lurking that could blow everything up and ruin an otherwise talented roster. For example, have you watched the Seattle Seahawks offensive line try to block anyone?

    The bottom-tier teams have more weaknesses, but the championship contenders don't dodge the Achilles' heel bullet. The problem with winning is a general manager has to pay his star players with lucrative extensions, and that can make it difficult to reel in top talent.

    Which is what has happened to the Seahawks. They needed to retain core defensive pieces but were then forced to try to solve offensive line issues through the draft. A few draft whiffs later, and quarterback Russell Wilson is still frantically having to avoid pressure.

    Offensive line issues threaten to torpedo several other teams too, like the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals. And there are dire problems at quarterback facing the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.

    Our trip around the league to dig deeper into the Achilles' heel of each team begins with those Cardinals, and a rapidly aging Carson Palmer.

Arizona Cardinals: Are We Watching Carson Palmer's Final Days?

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    Carson Palmer is getting old fast.
    Carson Palmer is getting old fast.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Injuries are very much a part of football, but some can't be shrugged off easily. Losing running back David Johnson for most or possibly all of the 2017 season takes away the soul of the Arizona Cardinals offense.

    Johnson recorded 2,118 yards from scrimmage in 2016, meaning he accounted for 36.1 percent of the Cardinals' offensive yards. His wrist injury hurts for reasons that stretch beyond Johnson's offensive output though.

    His absence has shifted the burden of moving the offense back onto quarterback Carson Palmer's arm, and the results have predictably been disastrous.

    Even in his prime, Palmer was never very nimble in the pocket while trying to escape a pass rush. His imitation of a statue isn't about to improve now at the age of 37, and that contributed to the four sacks Palmer took in Week 2, when Arizona edged out the lowly Indianapolis Colts in overtime.

    Palmer still has the strong arm to complete deep passes, and he showed it by averaging 9.2 yards per attempt during that win over the Colts. But his accuracy has dwindled, with a completion percentage that now rests at 54.8. Too many of those wayward throws have ended up in the wrong hands, with Palmer throwing four interceptions, three of which were clustered in Week 1.

    Everything the Cardinals do offensively is rooted in a quarterback who can throw deep, and do it accurately. But everything falls apart when there's a disconnect with the latter half of that equation.

Atlanta Falcons: Is the Run Defense Still Mediocre?

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    Linebacker Deion Jones finished 2016 with 108 tackles.
    Linebacker Deion Jones finished 2016 with 108 tackles.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    There are a handful of teams that don't really have an Achilles' heel worth your panic just yet, and the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons are one of them. But in true paranoid fan fashion, we can reach desperately to find something.

    And oh, look, the Falcons defense has given up 5.4 yards per carry and 184 rushing yards overall after two games. That's not woeful, but it gives Atlanta a pedestrian 17th-ranked run defense at this early stage.

    Which normally wouldn't be concerning at all. But it comes after defending the run was also a sore spot for the Falcons in 2016, when they gave up 104.5 yards per game and 4.5 per carry. So seeing that weakness continue is worth at least an eyebrow raise.

Baltimore Ravens: Pass-Catching Depth Is Still a Concern

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    Jeremy Maclin has six catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
    Jeremy Maclin has six catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Despite their perfect record, it's still hard to gauge where the Baltimore Ravens stand.

    Yes, their defense is intimidating and has somehow created 10 turnovers already. The Ravens have also allowed just 10 points.

    And yes, their rushing offense is still strong, rumbling for 293 yards. But they've done that against the struggling Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, and it still feels like the Ravens offense will be exposed at some point due to its lack of reliable pass-catching options.

    Through two games, quarterback Joe Flacco is averaging only 6.6 yards per pass attempt. As expected, his main target among the Ravens wide receivers has been Jeremy Maclin. But then behind him, Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace have combined for only 20 yards on three receptions.

    Elsewhere, tight end Benjamin Watson has had a fine start to his season with 91 receiving yards. But leaning heavily on a 36-year-old might not end well.

    The Ravens could struggle if they have to play from behind often. But that might not be something they need to worry about with such a strong defense.

Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor Might Not Be a Long-Term Solution

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    Tyrod Taylor has averaged only 6.6 yards per pass attempt in 2017.
    Tyrod Taylor has averaged only 6.6 yards per pass attempt in 2017.Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    A heavy dose of running back LeSean McCoy will be necessary for any Buffalo Bills win in 2017. Because it's tough to feel confident in both the short- and long-term future of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

    The 28-year-old is impressive as an athlete and scrambler, and he has used his mobility to run for 1,241 yards over 31 starts for the Bills. But his accuracy as a downfield passer has been inconsistent.

    Taylor went from averaging 8.0 yards per attempt in 2015 to 6.9 yards in 2016. His passer rating also fell from 99.4 to 89.7. And now early in 2017, he struggled during his first real challenge in Week 2, finishing with only 5.0 yards per throw against the Carolina Panthers.

    Taylor can dazzle with his footwork to avoid the rush, and often enough he'll turn what seemed like a lost play into a positive gain. But his accuracy could limit the ceiling for the Bills offense.

Carolina Panthers: What's Up with Cam Newton?

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    Cam Newton has struggled after offseason shoulder surgery.
    Cam Newton has struggled after offseason shoulder surgery.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    At least Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is ahead of the Colts' Andrew Luck in that he's playing, and actually functioning on the field in some capacity. But the real Newton still hasn't shown up yet, and it's fair to wonder when that guy is going to make an appearance in 2017.

    Newton had offseason shoulder surgery and didn't start throwing at full strength until just before training camp. Even then he was still on a highly regimented throwing schedule throughout camp, with the Panthers closely monitoring their prized pivot's progress. The 28-year-old made just one preseason appearance, trotting out briefly in Week 3 to throw only two passes.

    So to the surprise of no one, he's started off slow now when games matter. He's missed a few key throws that were routine for him in the past, including opportunities to connect with tight end Ed Dickson and running back Christian McCaffrey for touchdowns.

    "Missing layups like that, it’s uncalled for," Newton told Bill Voth from Panthers.com. "I wish I had about two or three balls back.”

    Newton is still going through his own personal training camp, and getting his timing back. Doing that when the games are meaningful isn't ideal, of course, and now he'll be trying to find his MVP form without tight end Greg Olsen, who's out for the next six to eight weeks after suffering a broken foot.

    Eventually, a Panthers defense that's given up only six points so far will be tested by stronger offenses. And then we'll see if Newton can muster the firepower to respond.

Chicago Bears: Where Have All the Receivers Gone?

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    Cameron Meredith's 2017 season didn't last long.
    Cameron Meredith's 2017 season didn't last long.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears didn't have much wide receiver depth to begin the season. And now every source of hope and youthful intrigue has been lost.

    Another dose of despair came after Kevin White suffered a broken shoulder blade. The Bears selected him seventh overall in 2015, but White will end his third season having appeared in only five games due to injury.

    Counting on much from White was never wise. However, the Bears were banking on a major contribution from Cameron Meredith, the third-year receiver who broke out in 2016 with 888 yards on 66 catches. But his 2017 season was also erased early due to a torn ACL.

    Now the Bears are forced to roll with Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson and Markus Wheaton as their top three receivers. Only one of those three wideouts has recorded 800-plus single-season receiving yards: Wright, all the way back in 2013.

Cincinnati Bengals: Pocket Pressure and Poor Play from Dalton

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    Life in the pocket has been miserable for Andy Dalton.
    Life in the pocket has been miserable for Andy Dalton.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    You're about to notice a recurring theme that begins here: Offensive line play has been atrocious early in the 2017 season.

    That problem has been especially glaring for a few teams, and the Cincinnati Bengals are first up.

    The Bengals are one of six teams that have given up eight-plus sacks over just two games. That's a large number over such a short period, no matter how the team in question arrived at it.

    For the Bengals, their plunge to O-line mediocrity has been punctuated by five sacks given up in Week 1. That was a shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and then Cincinnati scored only nine points in Week 2.

    So we're through an eighth of the season and still waiting on the Bengals' first touchdown. The reason for that has largely been the offensive line play, and the offseason departures of guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Andrew Whitworth. However, quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't exactly helped with his poor decision-making and overall inaccuracy even when given some time.

    Dalton threw four interceptions in Week 1 and has completed only 54.5 percent of his throws. He's already halfway to his interception total for the entire 2016 season and is looking more like the 2013 version of himself, the version that threw 20 picks.

Cleveland Browns: The Search for WR Depth Continues

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    Kenny Britt has done little for the Browns after signing as a free agent.
    Kenny Britt has done little for the Browns after signing as a free agent.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns are another team that's given up far too many sacks at this early stage of the season. Rookie DeShone Kizer has already gone down nine times, seven of which came in Week 1 during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    But the Browns' offensive line should recover well from that stumbling start. After all, it's a unit still anchored by Joe Thomas, one of the league's best blindside protectors. Cleveland also added guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter.

    The Browns installed other intriguing pieces elsewhere during the offseason to finally fuel hope for the future, including safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end David Njoku. But the most significant area of weakness that will lead to more losing in 2017 lies on the wide receiver depth chart.

    The Browns' lack of depth to support Kizer at that position is about to be exposed. Corey Coleman, a first-round pick in 2016, has been fragile early in his career. He's now back on injured reserve after breaking his hand for the second time in two seasons.

    Combine that with Kenny Britt giving little effort while catching only two balls for 15 yards, and suddenly Rashard Higgins, a fifth-round pick in 2016 just promoted from the practice squad, may be Cleveland's best receiver.

Dallas Cowboys: Still Trying to Find a Consistent Pass Rush

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    Demarcus Lawrence has 3.5 sacks already in 2017.
    Demarcus Lawrence has 3.5 sacks already in 2017.George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is already almost halfway to his career high single-season sack total of eight. He's recorded 3.5 sacks in two weeks, and getting the good version of Lawrence back will be a major boost to the Cowboys defense.

    But it's difficult to say if that Lawrence will stick around. He played nine games in 2016 and finished with only one sack. Which is still concerning, because right now the Cowboys' pass rush lives and dies with him. All other Cowboys defenders have combined for 1.5 sacks.

    A lack of pocket pressure was a common problem for the Cowboys in 2016. It was a season when their secondary was exposed and Dallas allowed 260.4 passing yards per game. They used a first-round pick on defensive end Taco Charlton, hoping he could address the problem of pass-rushing depth. But Charlton may need time to find his legs at the NFL level after starting just 15 games for Michigan.

    If either Lawrence slumps or Charlton doesn't develop quickly, the Cowboys defense could be in trouble again.

Denver Broncos: Are Offensive Line Problems Coming?

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    Left tackle Garett Bolles is week-to-week with a bone bruise.
    Left tackle Garett Bolles is week-to-week with a bone bruise.Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    There really isn't a whole lot to worry about with the Denver Broncos yet.

    They still have a shutdown secondary and one of the league's most ferocious pass-rushers in outside linebacker Von Miller. And so far, the main leak in their defense from 2016 has been patched up. The Broncos have allowed only 104 rushing yards through two games after giving up 130.3 per week in 2016.

    But a problem could be lurking for the Broncos, one that might put a dent in an unblemished record.

    Garett Bolles, their first-round pick in 2017 who had been inserted as the starting left tackle immediately, left Week 2 with what looked to be a serious injury at the time. Needing the assistance of the cart is never good. However, optimism soon won the day with Bolles, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported he has a bone bruise and is week-to-week.

    Still, there's some uncertainty surrounding how much time he could miss. So, a Broncos pass-blocking unit that's already struggled is down one foundation piece after giving up six sacks over two games.

    The Broncos have a run-oriented offense, and they don't ask quarterback Trevor Siemian to do too much. But coming from behind will get difficult without the proper pass protection to look downfield.

Detroit Lions: Still Searching for a Rushing Offense

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    Ameer Abdullah has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.
    Ameer Abdullah has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions appear to have a familiar problem in 2017.

    The Lions offense became a one-dimensional unit in 2016 because of the near-complete absence of a reliable rushing attack. No Lions running back finished with even 400-plus yards on the ground, and consequently the team averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.

    Now in 2017, the same dust clouds have been hovering not far from the line of scrimmage.

    Running back Ameer Abdullah has returned from injury to show some burst at times. But he's still averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. Toss in the totals of Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington, and Lions running backs have totaled a mere 166 yards on 51 carries (3.3 yards per carry).

    Their backfield needs to wake up from its long slumber soon. There's only so much late-game magic that can reasonably be expected from quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Green Bay Packers: A Secondary That Can Still Get Torched

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    Davon House was brought back as a possible solution for the Packers' problems in the secondary.
    Davon House was brought back as a possible solution for the Packers' problems in the secondary.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Green Bay Packers have recently dedicated a lot of valuable draft picks to improve their secondary. The results have been inconsistent at best.

    Since 2014, they've selected five defensive backs in the second round or higher. And yet in 2016, they fielded a secondary that allowed a league-worst 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

    In fairness, the little resistance put up by the Green Bay secondary in 2016 was partly because of injuries. But now in 2017, all the key pieces are healthy, and the Packers also brought back cornerback Davon House during free agency.

    But the same holes appeared in Week 2 when the Packers faced a top-tier offense. They were beaten deep by Atlanta Falcons receivers, with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu alone combining for 193 receiving yards. The Falcons gained 6.3 yards per play, and quarterback Matt Ryan completed 67.9 percent of his pass attempts.

    The Packers need to tighten up in their secondary, because the alternative could be wasting another prime year of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career.

Houston Texans: Maybe Block Someone?

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    Deshaun Watson is beginning his career behind the league's worst offensive line.
    Deshaun Watson is beginning his career behind the league's worst offensive line.Associated Press

    The Houston Texans offensive line hasn't even bothered to be a nuisance for opposing pass-rushers. The five pylons up front have allowed an astronomical number of sacks through two weeks.

    They've given up 13 of them, which includes an absurd 10 in Week 1 alone. Predictably, the offense was crippled during that loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game when the Texans average just 2.9 yards per play.

    Clearly, the absence of left tackle Duane Brown is leaving a deep wound right now. But there may not be an easy solution since his contract holdout could extend well into the season, as CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora recently reported.

    The Texans have been given a breath of life by rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, whose mobility allows him to maneuver around the constant barrage of pass-rushing bodies he faces. Still, he wasn't initially ready to start after training camp, so trotting out an underdeveloped rookie behind a woeful offensive line is a good way to shatter your young passer's confidence.

    Watson was throttled multiple times by Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins in Week 2. His first NFL start was highlighted by 67 rushing yards but only 5.2 yards per pass attempt and a passer rating of 75.9.

Indianapolis Colts: A Secondary That's Still Leaking

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    Malik Hooker will eventually be the solution for the Colts secondary.
    Malik Hooker will eventually be the solution for the Colts secondary.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    One day in the not-so-distant future the Indianapolis Colts might have a fine secondary, and maybe even a feared secondary. But that day still isn't today.

    The Colts invested heavily in their defensive backfield during the 2017 draft. They had two picks in the top 50 and used them both on defensive backs, selecting safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Quincy Wilson.

    Maybe the unit takes a bounding stride forward once those two mature and develop at the pro level. But for now, the Colts defense has a familiar problem: It's getting shelled by footballs that are sailing deep.

    The Colts' winless record is largely tied to the continued absence of quarterback Andrew Luck. However, a secondary that's allowing an opposing passer rating of 98.7 and has given up 15 completions for 20-plus yards (only one other team is even in double digits) is making life difficult for a sputtering offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles Isn't an NFL Starting Quarterback

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    Blake Bortles has now thrown 53 interceptions over 48 career games.
    Blake Bortles has now thrown 53 interceptions over 48 career games.Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars should be quickly rising.

    They should be riding the defensive muscle assembled throughout the offseason after the additions of defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church. They did that for one week at least when they stomped on the Houston Texans in Week 1, winning 29-7 while recording 10 sacks.

    Their offense should also be cruising while powered by rookie running back Leonard Fournette. That happened in Week 1 too when he posted 124 yards from scrimmage.

    But the soul-shattering problem at quarterback hasn't gone anywhere.

    Blake Bortles will take a torch to all the talent elsewhere on the roster. He's been doing that for three years now, and eventually the Jaguars will find a temporary upgrade. The bar for improvement at quarterback in Jacksonville is so low that it's buried 12 feet underground. And yet Chad Henne still couldn't clear those minimum expectations during training camp to beat out Bortles.

    A fine career as a backup awaits Bortles. The Jaguars have been pumping out quality first-round backups for a while now, with Blaine Gabbert still pinballing around the league and on his third team. But Bortles' time as a starter needs to mercifully reach an end. He's thrown 53 interceptions over 48 career games.

Kansas City Chiefs: Leaning a Little Too Heavily on Tyreek Hill?

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    Tyreek Hill has caught 11 passes for 176 yards.
    Tyreek Hill has caught 11 passes for 176 yards.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It takes a bit of creativity to locate the Kansas City Chiefs' Achilles' heel.

    In past years we could apply that label to quarterback Alex Smith, who has often come to define the game manager label. Maybe he will again later on in 2017, but for now a new and different Smith has risen for the undefeated Chiefs. He's passing deep with precision and has averaged 9.8 yards per attempt while throwing five touchdown passes over two games.

    Smith has been supported by white-hot rookie running back Kareem Hunt and his 355 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns. And the Chiefs' pass rush is a daunting challenge for any opposing offensive line with its nine sacks already.

    If there's one grasping weakness that could become trouble later, it lies in the lack of wide receiver depth. Tyreek Hill leads that group, and he's a primary target along with tight end Travis Kelce. But Chiefs wide receivers not named Hill have combined for only 155 receiving yards after two weeks. Hill alone has recorded 176 yards.

    That potentially limits the Chiefs offense, and being predictable in the NFL often doesn't end well.

Los Angeles Chargers: A Troubling Habit of Crumbling Under Pressure

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    Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in Week 2.
    Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in Week 2.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Since the beginning of the 2016 regular season the Los Angeles Chargers have lost six games by a field goal or less. That includes two straight to begin 2017, as the Chargers have started out 0-2 by losing two games by a combined five points.

    Which is simply maddening, especially for a team with a quarterback in Philip Rivers who isn't exactly young anymore at the age of 35. Not every passer is Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who's still going strong at the age of 40. Rivers may only have a few years of quality play left in him, and the Chargers are still tossing away winnable games on a weekly basis.

    That's maybe only a slight exaggeration. An inability to close out games is in the Chargers' DNA for some mysterious reason, and it won't go away no matter how many times the coaching staff is changed.

    Looking back to the beginning of 2016 again, the Chargers have lost 13 games during that span, which makes their performance sound much worse than it's actually been. Of those losses, 11 have been by a eight points or fewer.

    The Chargers keep wasting a talented roster by crumbling at the end of games. 

Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff Is Still Wildly Inconsistent

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    Jared Goff averaged 5.3 yards per pass attempt as a rookie.
    Jared Goff averaged 5.3 yards per pass attempt as a rookie.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    There was a simple reason Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff waited until Week 11 in 2016 to make his first start as a rookie. He wasn't ready, and the 22-year-old first overall pick is still going through wild inconsistencies now in his second year.

    As a rookie, Goff needed just seven starts to throw seven interceptions and get sacked 26 times. The game moved at warp speed for him, and he wasn't able to see the field well. Now the pieces are in place for Goff to take significant strides in his second season after the Rams added wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the draft and traded for Sammy Watkins.

    But just when it looks like Goff might be taking that leap, an awful decision comes. The most recent step backward was an interception thrown with less than two minutes remaining in Week 2. The Rams trailed by a touchdown, and Goff had a chance to be the hero and force overtime. Instead he locked onto a receiver, and Washington Redskins linebacker Mason Foster easily read Goff's eyes while jumping the route.

    There's still plenty of promise and hope with Goff, particularly from his per-attempt average of 9.8 yards so far in 2017, showing an improvement as a deep passer. But ultimately, if he doesn't start playing and looking like a first overall pick regularly, the Rams are destined for more disappointment.

Miami Dolphins: Stopping the Run Could Be a Challenge

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    Raekwon McMillan's rookie season was over before it started.
    Raekwon McMillan's rookie season was over before it started.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Stopping the run was probably always going to be a challenge for the Miami Dolphins defense in 2017. But they were set up for that weakness to only be a brief one while rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillan adjusted at the pro level.

    McMillan finished his final season at Ohio State in 2016 with 102 tackles, seven of which went for a loss. He hammered home a fine end to his college career with 25 defensive stops over his final four games, per PFF.

    The hope and intention was for McMillan to slide in and be a run-stopping solution early on in the 2017 season. He tore his ACL in early August, long before his first meaningful snap.

    That left the Dolphins with a black hole at linebacker, and now veteran Lawrence Timmons has also been suspended indefinitely. For now, Miami is stuck rolling with second-year undrafted free agent Mike Hull and Rey Maualuga, who was signed out of desperation. Their run defense could get roasted up the middle.

Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes Might Officially Be a Bust

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    Trae Wayne has been a mess early in the season.
    Trae Wayne has been a mess early in the season.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings have a shutdown cornerback on one side of their defense. That's Xavier Rhodes, the 2016 Pro Bowler who is worth every penny of the five-year contract worth $70.1 million the Vikings recently gave him.

    But supporting Rhodes has been an ongoing struggle, with Trae Waynes the latest to flounder.

    Waynes has given up a 50-plus-yard reception in two straight games, and he also had a 51-yard defensive pass interference penalty. He's allowed 11 receptions on 12 targets in coverage, per Pro Football Focus (via Matthew Coller of ESPN 1500).

    Eventually the Vikings will have to think about replacing Waynes and admitting he's a first-round draft bust. But the improvement from his replacement may only be marginal.

    The candidates to step in are Tramaine Brock and Mackensie Alexander. Brock allowed six touchdowns in 2016 on just 94 targets, per PFF. And Alexander is inexperienced after being a second-round pick in 2016 and playing only 26.4 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps as a rookie, per Pro Football Reference. 

New England Patriots: A Secondary That's Been Picked On

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    Stephon Gilmore was the Patriots' major offseason free-agent signing.
    Stephon Gilmore was the Patriots' major offseason free-agent signing.Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    Something strange is happening in the New England Patriots defensive backfield.

    Maybe soon enough we'll look back and chuckle at the first two games and marvel at the strangeness the NFL can produce. But the early indications are the secondary might be a weakness on the Patriots' otherwise deep roster.

    New England made a rare free-agency splash during the offseason, signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore. They paired him with Malcolm Butler, a Pro Bowler who was nearly traded away but still remains a key cog in a defense that allowed a modest 237.9 passing yards per game in 2016 (12th).

    Now early in 2017, the deep aerial bombs have been dropping often and landing for critical hits. The Patriots defense has allowed 700 passing yards, which includes 368 yards and four touchdowns to Smith in Week 1 during an upset loss to the Chiefs. They're also giving up a passer rating of 122.1.

    Of course, a pass rush that stumbled out of the gate a bit didn't help. Now that issue is being addressed with the emergence of rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. and his two sacks.

New Orleans Saints: A Secondary That's Still Circling the Drain

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    The Saints secondary has been torched.
    The Saints secondary has been torched.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    An NFL team has to try hard to be consistently awful in one area every year, especially when high draft picks are thrown at the weakness in question. But the New Orleans Saints are destined to have an inept secondary until the end of time.

    They've already been wasting prime years of quarterback Drew Brees' career, so why stop now? The Saints have given up 777 passing yards already, which is 77 more yards than any other team. That includes coughing up 177 yards and three touchdowns to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in just the first quarter of Week 2.

    Overall, the Saints have also allowed six passing touchdowns, and they're giving up a laughable 11.2 yards per attempt. Remember, this is all coming from a team that's used four picks in the third round or higher on defensive backs over the past three drafts.

    So the Saints are well aware of the thumping their secondary has taken in recent years. But general manager Mickey Loomis has failed spectacularly with his drafting, and now the Brees era is slowly grinding to a halt.

New York Giants: Pass Blocking Just Doesn't Exist

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    Eli Manning has faced constant pressure.
    Eli Manning has faced constant pressure.Al Bello/Getty Images

    The New York Giants are among a handful of teams set to see their season spiral fast because of offensive line issues. But they're closer to the Seahawks than the Bengals in this simple sense: We actually expected them to be good.

    The Giants are fresh off a resurgent 11-win season, and it feels like they have the talent both offensively and defensively to be that team again.

    Their pass rush continues to be lethal while powered by defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. They also have one of the league's fastest-rising young safeties in Landon Collins and an offense loaded with pass-catching talent, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram, who were both key offseason additions.

    But much like what we're seeing with the Seahawks, none of that matters if the quarterback can't breathe for a second in the pocket and scan downfield.

    Offensive line play is perhaps a part of football that comes with less sex appeal. We're drawn to the spectacular catches and running backs who juke defenders out of their underpants in the open field. But an offense can go south in a hurry if the five large men up front are pushovers.

    That's happened with the Giants. Quarterback Eli Manning has been sacked eight times. Manning is averaging 6.6 yards per pass attempt, and the Giants have scored only one offensive touchdown.

New York Jets: A Sputtering Rushing Offense

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The 2017 version of the New York Jets doesn't have one Achilles' heel. The entire team is just one giant, throbbing heel.

    But if we have to pick one, let's go with something a little less obvious than the fact their quarterback is Josh McCown, or Jermaine Kearse is one of the top receivers.

    How about this one for a change then: Their rushing offense is providing little support for a quarterback who desperately needs it.

    Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, the Jets' top two running backs, have combined for only 105 rushing yards so far. It's easy to wonder what Forte, who will turn 32 years old late in the season, is still doing on a rebuilding team clearly trying to lose games. That's a fair and fine question, but even awful teams cling to a shred of self respect, and Powell is averaging 2.7 yards per carry.

    Of course, the strength of the Jets' backfield likely won't matter much since they'll be playing from behind so often. Which is also why so little about the 2017 Jets will matter. This is a team holding one long audition for 2018 and trying to win by losing to secure a high draft pick.

Oakland Raiders: Mack Needs More Support

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    The Raiders hope Mario Edwards can be the ideal complement across from Khalil Mack.
    The Raiders hope Mario Edwards can be the ideal complement across from Khalil Mack.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Raiders' main issue is that they're about to win a whole lot of games over the next few years and then leave Oakland forever.

    That's still a depressing and slimy day far off in the future, though. For now, the undefeated Raiders remain dominant and have won 14 of their last 18 regular-season games. Their only pressing area of concern going forward is the pass rush beyond defensive end Khalil Mack.

    Mack is still a terrifying pass-rusher, and he led the league with 74 hurries in 2016, per PFF. But that was a year when his 11 sacks were nearly half of the team's total (25). The hope going forward is that Mario Edwards will continue to grow into a larger role after missing most of 2016 with a hip injury. That looks promising early, as Edwards has recorded two sacks through the first two games.

Philadelphia Eagles: Little Running Room Available

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    Guard Isaac Seumalo has struggled to create running room.
    Guard Isaac Seumalo has struggled to create running room.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles have another one of those eight-sack offensive lines through two weeks. However, that might be an early-season blip, as the Eagles have a solid offensive line centered around Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, their sturdy tandem at tackle.

    The real weakness is their run blocking, and by extension the Eagles' rushing offense.

    Eagles running backs posted only a combined 52 rushing yards during a Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Overall, Philadelphia has piled up only 165 rushing yards in two weeks, which is even more troubling when you see that 61 of those yards have come from quarterback Carson Wentz.

    A lumbering and plodding LeGarrette Blount leads the team in carries with 14, and his longest has gone for only seven yards. There's been little explosion through holes, but in fairness, the lack of running room provided has also been an issue.

    The Eagles' interior blocking has lagged, and the main issue lies with left guard Isaac Seumalo. As PFF noted, he missed the same assignment three plays in a row late in a Week 1 win over the Washington Redskins and was given a 34.1 grade for that game.

    Seumalo also struggled to handle Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones on passing downs and gave up three sacks to him. Chance Warmack is expected to replace Seumalo this week, per NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks, but he isn't likely to be a major upgrade after flopping in his four seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden Will Get Picked On

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    Joe Haden lost his Pro Bowl form a long time ago.
    Joe Haden lost his Pro Bowl form a long time ago.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is overflowing with talent at the skill positions. And on the other side of the ball, the pass rush has just been given an injection of energy from rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who has nine tackles, two sacks and an interception through two games.

    But the one area where the Steelers can be beaten hasn't changed.

    They have concerns at the cornerback position, and especially on one side after inserting Joe Haden. The days when Haden could seal off half the field are well behind him, and now he's a liability. In 2016, the 28-year-old gave up six touchdowns in coverage, which was a league high among cornerbacks, per PFF. He also allowed a lowly 1.48 yards per cover snap.

    Both Haden and the Steelers' secondary overall have been fine so far. But the unit hasn't been challenged yet after facing the Browns and a rookie quarterback in Week 1 and Vikings backup Case Keenum in Week 2. So the yards, touchdowns and points could soon be coming, along with the need to win shootouts.

San Francisco 49ers: Brian Hoyer Shouldn't Be a Starting Quarterback

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    Brian Hoyer has recorded just 292 passing yards in 2017.
    Brian Hoyer has recorded just 292 passing yards in 2017.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers had a long list of problems to fix when new general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan took over. They weren't impressed with the quarterback class in the 2017 draft, so Lynch decided to trade down, collect picks and prioritize other areas of improvement.

    Which is a fine strategy, but it was likely to produce plenty of embarrassment in 2017, a season when the 49ers are earnestly attempting to call Brian Hoyer a starting quarterback.

    Initially, it seemed like Hoyer would be fine for what the 49ers wanted out of him. And really, all they wanted was this: Please don't fall on your face and embarrass us too much.

    Hoyer and Shanahan had been paired previously in 2014 when they were both with the Cleveland Browns. Back then, Hoyer was serviceable enough while starting 13 games and averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

    Now the journeyman has become the go-to placeholder option who keeps the seat warm until someone better is ready. The problem is that he can't even do that well anymore, as Hoyer is already looking hopelessly inadequate.

    He didn't throw a touchdown pass during the 49ers' first two games, and in Week 2 finished with only 99 passing yards. Before long, the 49ers will be seeing what they have in third-round rookie C.J. Beathard, though by then the season will surely be a lost cause.

Seattle Seahawks: An Offensive Line That Could Derail the Season

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    Russell Wilson has dealt with offensive line problems throughout his time in Seattle.
    Russell Wilson has dealt with offensive line problems throughout his time in Seattle.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The total sacks given up by the Seattle Seahawks offensive line doesn't give the full impact of how much that unit could make a championship contender crumble.

    Quarterback Russell Wilson has gone down six times over two games. That's not great, and remarkably, Wilson has been sacked three-plus times in 11 games since the beginning of 2016, playoffs included.

    But those hits alone can be managed. It's what happens between the sacks that makes the Seahawks offense crumbled.

    Wilson is under constant duress, and it usually starts the moment he touches the ball. Behind even average offensive line play, a quarterback can typically complete his dropback and then at least glance downfield. Wilson doesn't have that opportunity, and it's making the Seahawks offense dangerously one-dimensional.

    He faced pressure on a whooping 46.7 percent of his dropbacks against the 49ers, according to Pro Football Focus. As a result, Wilson has averaged just 5.4 yards per pass attempt over two games, and the Seahawks didn't score their first offensive touchdown until late in Week 2.

Tennessee Titans: A Secondary That Still Could Be Vulnerable

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    Logan Ryan was one of a few key offseason additions in the Titans' secondary.
    Logan Ryan was one of a few key offseason additions in the Titans' secondary.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans secondary was lit up on a weekly basis in 2016, allowing 269.2 passing yards per game (30th) and 25 touchdowns. It was an inferno in the defensive backfield that prevented the Titans from making the playoffs.

    Tennessee addressed the issue during the offseason by adding two cornerbacks: Logan Ryan through free agency and Adoree' Jackson with its first-round pick. The early returns on those investments have been mixed at best.

    The Titans have allowed 63.6 percent of the passes by opposing quarterbacks to be completed. And after two games, they've also allowed three pass-catchers to finish with 75-plus receiving yards.

    The Titans defense was tested by Derek Carr and the Raiders in Week 1, and it eventually will be again by a higher-caliber passing offense. However, that litmus test might not come for a while with the Seahawks and their non-existent offensive line up next, followed by the Texans and their rookie quarterback. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston Is Still Having Mental Hiccups

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    Jameis Winston has the talent to make a leap, but ill-advised throws have held him back.
    Jameis Winston has the talent to make a leap, but ill-advised throws have held him back.Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Sometimes it's easy to forget how young Jameis Winston is as he begins his third NFL season. He's only 23 years old, yet he has already thrown 1,132 regular-season passes.

    For perspective, the Eagles' Carson Wentz is 24 years old, and he's attempted 692 passes over two years.

    In theory, experience should age a quarterback faster in terms of his on-field comfort. Often that's true with Winston, who has delivered several pinpoint lasers deep downfield. But just as often his age shows up, and we see rookie-level mistakes.

    That's primarily what led to his 18 interceptions in 2016, the league's second-highest total. He tries to do too much and forces throws during situations when putting a ball in the 10th row is the better option.

    Or there are also times when taking a sack is better than losing the opportunity for three points and a field goal. Winston should have done that in the preseason, but instead he lofted up a throw while nearly on his backside and staring at the sky.

    That came against the Jaguars, and the play was overturned with Winston ruled down. But it is still another shining example of the boneheaded decisions Winston needs to put behind him.

Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed's Health Is Always a Concern

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    Jordan Reed is in his fifth NFL season, and he's already missed 18 games.
    Jordan Reed is in his fifth NFL season, and he's already missed 18 games.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Jordan Reed has teased us with his talent and annually made some ask this question: What would happen if he could ever stay healthy?

    That's a scary thought for opposing linebackers and safeties. Reed is an athletically gifted tight end who becomes a red-zone magnet with his size (6'2" and 246 pounds) and leaping ability. That's led to 20 touchdowns, including a single-season high 11 in 2015.

    His speed allows the Redskins to be creative and use him both in the slot and out wide. A blend of athleticism and quickness has translated to two straight years with 600-plus receiving yards, with a high of 952 yards that again came in 2015.

    The problem is that all those numbers could be much higher if Reed stayed healthy. And clearly, any absence from Reed has a dramatic impact on the Redskins offense.

    Reed has missed 18 career games already, including four in 2016. The Redskins' per-game passing average dropped from 324 yards to 263 after Reed suffered a shoulder injury in Week 12, according to Rich Tandler of CSN Mid Atlantic.

    He's a catalyst for everything Washington does offensively. So, of course Reed is already missing practice time as he nurses chest and toe injuries heading into Week 3.