Every NFL Team's Biggest Early-Season Disappointment

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2018

Every NFL Team's Biggest Early-Season Disappointment

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    There are still 12 weeks left in the 2018 NFL regular season, but the optimism has started to fade in certain areas. Coaches have benched players because of low productivity. Entire units have either regressed or stagnated despite offseason additions.

    In the list of disappointments below, you'll see players who should be making strides during contract years, draft picks off to slow starts, free-agent acquisitions falling short on projected returns and established talents struggling to stay healthy. 

    We'll focus on the most notable letdowns with an emphasis on unforeseen hardships as opposed to predictable deficiencies.

    Who hasn't pulled their weight on the field through five weeks? Let's take a look.

         

Arizona Cardinals: LB Deone Bucannon

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    Steve Wilks accepted the Arizona Cardinals head-coaching position and brought the 4-3 base scheme with him. But the changes have affected player roles in the front seven. Linebacker Deone Bucannon saw a sharp decline in his playing time after taking the field for 79 snaps in Week 1.

    In Week 3, Bucannon played one defensive snap and took the field for four plays Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. It's a frustrating transition for a player used to a bigger role, but he plans to work his way back into the rotation, per the Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman

    "It's tough," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like, 'Oh, it’s all cool,' "But it's about the team. It's not about me. If we're going to go undefeated and it takes me sitting on the bench the whole time, that's what I'll take. That's not going to be the case. I'm going to do everything I can to get on the field."

    In the past, Buccannon filled the hybrid linebacker-safety role, also known as the moneybacker position, under the Cardinals' last defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who's currently serving in the same capacity with the New York Giants. Once a primary starter, the 26-year-old must work to earn the new coaching staff's trust.

Atlanta Falcons: Rash of Injuries on Defense

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    After the first week, the Atlanta Falcons placed safety Keanu Neal (torn ACL) and linebacker Deion Jones (foot) on injured reserve. The latter could return Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns.

    Safety Ricardo Allen tore his Achilles during a 43-37 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 3. He's also done for the season. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett will miss multiple games because of a sprained ankle. 

    Atlanta's defense lost multiple key starters, which will inevitably affect the unit's performances going forward. The Falcons rank 31st in scoring defense, and their depth will continue to be tested. It's a significant collective blow to this club's Super Bowl aspirations in a tough division.

    Head coach Dan Quinn came to the Falcons with an established defensive resume from Seattle, but it's a tough task to plug the holes in his pass defense for the long term. Atlanta fielded a top-10 defense last year and may finish as one of the worst units in 2018.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Michael Crabtree

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    Michael Crabtree leads all Baltimore Ravens wide receivers in targets (46), but he's been uncharacteristically inefficient.

    Crabtree has only converted 52.2 percent of his targets into receptions. Through five weeks, it's the lowest catch rate of his career in a single season.

    Yes, John Brown hauls in just 43.2 percent of his targets, but he's logged catch rates below 48 percent in two out of four seasons before this year. It's also easier to excuse his inefficiencies because he leads the team in receiving yards (396) and touchdowns (three).

    Crabtree dropped what could've been a game-winning touchdown Sunday against the Browns and took the blame for the loss, per Garrett Downing of the team's official website.

    "I put that on me," he said. "I had a game-winner I could have caught. I put that on me. I'm a team player, so letting them down, that kind of hurt me. I need to go back to the drawing board and get my [stuff] together."

    We should allow an adjustment period between quarterback Joe Flacco and Crabtree. The Ravens likely expected more from a wideout with 25 touchdowns and many clutch receptions with the Oakland Raiders over the last three seasons.

Buffalo Bills: DE Shaq Lawson

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    The Buffalo Bills lost guard Richie Incognito, center Eric Wood and traded left tackle Cordy Glenn, who played six games with the team last season. The offensive line went through major changes, and it's not a surprise to see the unit struggle to protect the quarterback so far this year. 

    Defensive end Shaq Lawson changed his diet to prepare for a critical year, per Fox Carolina's Aaron Cheslock. The front office has a decision on a fifth-year option built into his rookie contract. Through five weeks, the Clemson product hasn't shown any reason to exercise the clause during the offseason. 

    Lawson dealt with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games. He's logged four solo tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

    For those hoping to see the same player who led Clemson's defensive line with 12.5 sacks during the 2015 season, think again. After starting 10 games last season, Lawson takes the field as a role player providing minimal impact.

Carolina Panthers: WR D.J. Moore

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    The Carolina Panthers selected wideout D.J. Moore with the No. 24 overall pick in the draft. He turned heads during the offseason, per MMQB's Albert Breer, but he's disappeared for most of the first four games of the season.

    Quarterback Cam Newton connected with the rookie on a 51-yard touchdown pass against the Falcons in Week 2, but that was one of just six catches for the season so far.

    It's unfair to compare Moore to Calvin Ridley, who's off to a strong start with 302 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but the pass-catchers will be linked as the only two selected at their position in the first round. 

    Head coach Ron Rivera hinted at an expanded workload for Moore, per Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. In Week 5, he played 40.8 percent of the offensive snaps against the Giants. 

    Moore should have plenty of opportunities to justify the front office's decision to choose him as the top wide receiver in the 2018 class. Right now, he's coming along slowly with eight targets in four contests.

Chicago Bears: RB Jordan Howard

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    The Chicago Bears rank 10th in rushing yardage, but there's more to the story. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has contributed 117 yards to the team's total on the ground—24.1 percent.

    Running back Jordan Howard has flashed his ability to catch out of the backfield, but he's averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Although Tarik Cohen handles a significant role as a ball-carrier, the Pro Bowl running back's workload remains consistent compared to previous years. 

    Despite his steady workload, Howard is averaging a career-low 50.8 yards per contest. He's eclipsed 65 rushing yards once—in the opener against the Green Bay Packers.

    Cohen logged more carries than Howard in Week 4, but the third-year ball-carrier doesn't seem concerned, per the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane.

    "I wasn't frustrated. I was happy," he said. "We won. You see how much we won by. So there's really nothing to complain about." 

    Howard's slow start could lead to more rushing attempts for Cohen going forward. After performing at the level of a featured tailback for two seasons, the Indiana product could find himself in a 50-50 share under new head coach Matt Nagy.

Cincinnati Bengals: WR John Ross

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    Wide receiver John Ross reached the end zone on a 39-yard touchdown reception in a Week 4 victory over the Falcons. The Washington product didn't score the game-winner, that was A.J. Green, but the Bengals needed his contribution to win the contest. 

    But Ross hasn't popped like most would expect from a No. 8 overall pick. He's recorded just seven catches for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The second-year pass-catcher also suffered a groin injury during his highlight play against Atlanta and missed Sunday's outing with the Miami Dolphins.

    Fellow wide receiver Tyler Boyd has emerged as the No. 2 option to Green in the passing attack, logging two 100-yard performances in the last three games in a starting role.

    Ross could turn the corner once he's back on the field, but his early struggles and sporadic production suggest the Bengals probably picked him too high in 2017.

Cleveland Browns: Receiver Drops

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    Baker Mayfield completed 21 of 41 pass attempts against the Raiders in Week 4, but the box score doesn't tell the full story.

    According to Patrick Maks of the team's official website, Browns pass-catchers accounted for nine drops in that game. Head coach Hue Jackson called out his receivers in the postgame press conference.

    "We had way too many drops. We had nine drops yesterday. Period. We had nine drops. Nine. That’s not winning football," he said.

    The drops didn't start with the Raiders game. Wideout Antonio Callaway mishandled a wide-open pass in Mayfield's debut against the New York Jets in Week 3. Jarvis Landry also failed to bring in a routine grab in that contest. 

    Callaway's critical drops may eventually cost him some snaps going forward. Jackson discussed the possibility of reducing his time on the field, per Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot.

    After dealing Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots, the Browns opened the pathway for Callaway to shine, but the opportunity may slip through his hands.

Dallas Cowboys: Passing Offense

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    Quarterback Dak Prescott isn't making poor decisions with the football, but the Dallas Cowboys cannot be satisfied with the Pro Bowl signal-caller averaging 192.2 passing yards per game. He's thrown five touchdown passes in as many contests. 

    Cole Beasley leads the team in receiving yards (193) through five weeks. It's the Ezekiel Elliott show until further notice. He's No. 1 in rushing yards with 480 and leads the team in receptions (22).

    The Cowboys passing offense ranks 30th in yards. Wideout Allen Hurns, whom the team signed in the offseason, caught his first touchdown pass of the season Sunday against the Houston Texans. Rookie third-rounder Michael Gallup has six receptions for 82 yards.

    Dez Bryant, an available free agent, expressed willingness to return to Dallas.

    "I'll rather it be the Dallas Cowboys if not I'll be ready to play somewhere else," he tweeted

    The 29-year-old could potentially help the offense, but owner Jerry Jones closed the door on the idea. 

    "Trust me, if it were in our best interest, his and ours and the teams, then he would be on the field for the Cowboys," Jones told Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Clearly, Jones isn't interested in Bryant, and Prescott will have to continue to build chemistry with the assets in place, barring a trade.

Denver Broncos: QB Case Keenum

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    Typically, the head coach takes the most heat after a team blows a double-digit lead and loses.

    The Kansas City Chiefs completed a full comeback after trailing the Denver Broncos 23-13 in the fourth quarter in Week 4. Head coach Vance Joseph became the target of blame, but quarterback Case Keenum deserves scrutiny. He went three games without throwing a touchdown pass before tossing two against the Jets Sunday—one in garbage time.

    The Broncos signed Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal during the offseason, hoping to see more of the player who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last season. Instead, it seems like the journeyman version has re-emerged in Denver.

    The Broncos have a high-end wide receiver trio featuring Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Courtland Sutton. But they have four touchdown receptions combined. Keenum looks more like a backup signal-caller similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick best-suited for short stretches under center as opposed to a long-term starting role. 

Detroit Lions: Run Defense

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    There's a common thread in all of the Detroit Lions' losses: a run defense that's allowed at least 169 yards.

    Running back Matt Breida of the 49ers talked about his team's focus on the Lions' weak area back in Week 2, per ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein

    "We kind of knew that was a weakness in their defense, getting outside runs," he said. "So you know, that's kind of what we focused on. Not all of our outside runs [Sunday] hit outside. Some of them bounced back inside."

    Lions defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois added further context to the issues up front in Rothstein's report:

    "It's just big plays we're giving up," he said. "We're right there. It's not like we can't stop the run. It's just little plays, just here and there, that we're not either making the tackle or we're not in our gaps or we're just shooting ourselves by not doing our assignment." 

    In each of their two victories, the Lions ceded under 100 rushing yards.

    As a defensive coordinator for the Patriots over the last six seasons, head coach Matt Patricia must come up with a solution to plug the holes in the league's worst run defense. His background suggests that unit should have stronger performances under his watch.

Green Bay Packers: Undisciplined Play

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    The Green Bay Packers wasted one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' better passing performances with special teams issues and costly penalties. In Week 5, kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point, but we're all allowed to have a bad day at work, right?

    According to Team Rankings, Green Bay has averaged the second-most yards lost in penalties (82.6), and it committed 12 infractions Sunday. Head coach Mike McCarthy pointed to those errors and turnovers as critical miscues in the 31-23 loss to the Lions, per Jason Wilde for the Journal Times

    "[Not] taking care of the football and the penalties was a huge part of our not reaching the goal we set out to accomplish," he said Monday.

    McCarthy also voiced his confidence in Crosby. "He's a proven, highly successful kicker. I still believe in him," he said. 

    There's no doubt Crosby's kicking performance let down the team, but it's far more disappointing to see consistent mental errors under a head coach who's been in place for 13 years.

Houston Texans: Pass Defense

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    The Texans offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Deshaun Watson. He's been sacked 18 times this year. However, it's an expected weakness on the roster.

    Houston's pass defense, on the other hand, came into the year looking promising on paper. The front office signed cornerback Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu. The coaching staff had an entire training camp to prepare Kareem Jackson for an expanded role at safety following Andre Hal's Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis in June. Rookie third-rounder Justin Reid saw immediate playing time.

    Despite the changes and additions, the pass defense has allowed 12 touchdowns through five weeks, ranking 28th in the league. The team placed cornerback Kevin Johnson on injured reserve after he suffered two concussions in a three-week span. Colvin will miss at least six weeks because of an ankle injury, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle

    The Texans front seven has provided pocket pressure with defensive end J.J. Watt's six sacks, but the push up front hasn't done much to help the leaks on the back end.

Indianapolis Colts: Rushing Offense

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    Quarterback Andrew Luck still needs help on offense. This year, we can't point fingers at the pass protection. He's playing with the 29th-ranked ground attack in the league.

    Projected lead running back Marlon Mack hasn't been healthy because of foot and hamstring injuries. Head coach Frank Reich used a committee approach in Philadelphia last year, but it's not working out right now in Indianapolis.

    The Colts drafted two running backs, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively. They're the top two rushers in the backfield, and neither has cracked 65 yards on the ground in a single game. 

    Luck missed the entire 2017 campaign recovering from shoulder surgery, and he threw the ball 121 times over the last two games. It shows great confidence in his conditioning but little faith in the running backs.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette's Recurring Hamstring Injury

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    It's too early to label running back Leonard Fournette injury-prone, but it's frustrating to see him in and out of action with a hamstring ailment after he battled ankle and quadricep injuries in 2017.

    The LSU product hasn't started and finished a game but made two starts in Weeks 1 and 4. T.J. Yeldon leads the Jaguars in rushing attempts (59) and yards on the ground (258).

    The offense will need quarterback Blake Bortles to continue making strides in the passing game, specifically in the red zone, to compensate for Fournette, who's a solid asset near the goal line. He scored nine rushing touchdowns last year. Yeldon has one score on the ground in four games. 

    Thus far, Leonard's absence hasn't cost the Jaguars on a large scale, but there's no doubt the team would like the league's eighth-leading rusher from last year back on the field as soon as possible.

Kansas City Chiefs: ILB Reggie Ragland

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    Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland hasn't fared well in the middle of the defense, and he acknowledged his mistakes, per Kansas City Star reporter Lynn Worthy:

    "I know I had a couple bad plays with my eyes," he said. "I need to do a whole lot better, really. Like I said, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We've just got to keep on building. We've got the pieces, so we've just got to keep getting better."

    In Worthy's report, head coach Andy Reid mentioned missed time during the exhibition period as a reason for Ragland's subpar play. The second-year linebacker started 10 games alongside Derrick Johnson last year.

    Now paired with Anthony Hitchens, who came over from Dallas, Ragland must build a rapport with his partner at inside linebacker to limit second-level runs and tighten pass coverage in the middle of the field.

    Kansas City has allowed a league-worst 5.8 rushing yards per play, so ball-carriers have clearly found room to run beyond the line of scrimmage. 

Los Angeles Chargers: Pass Defense

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    The Los Angeles Chargers have a young star in safety Derwin James who can cover deep, supplement the run defense and rush the pocket, but he cannot mask all the holes on the back end alone.

    In 2017, the Chargers pass defense surrendered 17 touchdowns, which ranked third in the league. This year, the unit has allowed 11 through five weeks.

    Opposing quarterbacks have more time to scan the field and pick apart the Chargers secondary without a fierce pass-rusher on the chase. Defensive end Joey Bosa has been sidelined with a foot injury; he's yet to play a down. 

    Looking at the game tape, the Chargers have allowed extra yardage because of poor tackling. In other instances, the defensive backs haven't been in position to make stops. Tight end George Kittle of the 49ers scored on an 82-yard reception. Safety Jahleel Addae took a poor angle and didn't come close to bringing him down in the open field. 

    It's baffling to see a talented unit commit fundamental errors following a solid 2017 campaign.

Los Angeles Rams: Tight End Production in Passing Attack

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    Two tight ends with pass-catching potential have been lost in the Los Angeles Rams' highly productive offense.

    Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett barely see any action as pass-catchers. The former logged 563 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as a senior at Western Kentucky; the latter recorded 717 yards and four scores in his final collegiate season at South Alabama.

    In 2018, Higbee and Everett have a combined 17 targets, 11 catches, 121 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Rams' top-three wide receivers all have 33-plus targets and 400-plus receiving yards. 

    During the offseason, Los Angeles Times reporter Gary Klein profiled the element of the tights ends as contributors in the offense. Thus far, it hasn't come to fruition, but the Rams offense keeps rolling as the No. 3 scoring unit in the NFL.

    As a 5-0 team, it's best to win with the methods in place, but eventually, head coach Sean McVay will have to figure out how to involve his big-body pass-catchers when defenses have the personnel to match up with the wideouts on the perimeter.

Miami Dolphins: Kenyon Drake's Production on the Ground

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    Running back Kenyan Drake led the league in rushing yards (444) in December last season. His late surge should've preceded a sizable role this year, but the third-year ball-carrier hasn't logged more than 14 carries in a game. 

    Head coach Adam Gase pointed to the lack of plays on offense for the recent dip in Drake's involvement during a press conference last week: "If we get our play count up, I think things will get a lot better as far as dividing the touches up and guys having more opportunities to make some plays."

    In Week 5, quarterback Ryan Tannehill targeted the Alabama product 11 times in the passing attack, but he carried the ball six times for 46 yards. Frank Gore led the ground attack with 12 carries for 63 yards against the Bengals. 

    Gore still serves as a productive tailback capable of breaking off 4.3 yards per carry, but it's a letdown to see Drake take a backseat after his strong finish last year. Sunday marked his third consecutive contest with single-digit carries.

Minnesota Vikings: Pass Defense

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    In 2017, the Vikings fielded the No. 2 pass defense but started this year as a vulnerable unit unable to prevent big plays. According to Team Rankings, opponents have averaged 12.7 yards per pass completion against Minnesota—31st in the NFL.

    After making life difficult for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the Vikings didn't have an answer for rookie signal-caller Josh Allen. He ran for two scores but also threw one touchdown pass and logged a 111.2 passer rating.

    The following week, Minnesota's pass defense allowed 465 yards to Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Anthony Barr found himself in poor coverage matchups against wide receivers and running back Todd Gurley. Cornerback Trae Waynes struggled to stay on the field with knee, ankle and concussion issues through the first five weeks. 

    Depth at the position, with rookie first-rounder Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander in the slot, hasn't helped the group maintain its spot as a top pass defense in the league. 

    It's inexplicable how quickly the Vikings' top-notch pass defense fell to 25th in yards allowed this season.

New England Patriots: WR Chris Hogan

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    Wideout Julian Edelman served a four-game suspension, leaving targets to go around the New England Patriots receiving corps.

    Chris Hogan's three-year tenure with the team should've led to a more productive September considering the other receivers on the depth chart, but he logged eight catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns through Week 4.

    Hogan caught one pass in two out of the first four games without Edelman. Both his scores came against the Jaguars. 

    Aside from Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady heavily relied on running back James White to catch out of the backfield. Phillip Dorsett picked up his production following a disappointing first year in New England.

    Through five weeks, Hogan is fourth on the team in receptions (11) and yards (143). For those who expected him to jump out to a quick start with the early opportunities, it's been the exact opposite. 

New Orleans Saints: Pass Defense

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    The New Orleans Saints pass defense didn't shut down teams last season, but the unit improved considerably with rookie talents Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams playing major roles in the secondary. The pair combined for nine interceptions and 25 passes breakups.

    With that level of production, it's logical to expect progression under the same defensive coordinator this year. Instead, the Saints took a major step backward under Dennis Allen. New Orleans ranks 30th in yards allowed through the air per game and has only two interceptions. 

    As a result, the pressure falls on the offense to score 35 or more points per contest. Head coach Sean Payton has the assets to win in that fashion, but the advancements on defense put this club in the Super Bowl conversation.

    If the Saints can't stop opponents on the back end, those championship aspirations take a moderate hit.

New York Giants: QB Eli Manning

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    The New York Giants signed left tackle Nate Solder, drafted top-notch pass-catching running back Saquon Barkley and made wideout Odell Beckham Jr. the highest-paid player at his position on a five-year, $95 million extension. Yet, Big Blue have seven passing touchdowns in five contests.

    The Giants' aerial attack lacks consistency and ranks as an average unit in yardage (17th) despite the star power, the high potential and the new addition to the offensive line.

    Steve Serby of the New York Post underlined issues with Eli Manning's play, and Beckham shared some candid comments about his quarterback in a recent interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson:

    "Like I said, I feel like he's not going to get out the pocket. He's not—we know Eli's not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it's been pretty safe and it's been, you know ... cool catching shallow [routes] and trying to take it to the house. But I'm, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody." 

    We can look past the numbers and take note of Beckham's disappointment in the Giants' passing attack. Big Blue exploded for 31 points in a loss to the Panthers on Sunday, but the output looks like a blip compared to what spectators should expect from the offense on a weekly basis.

New York Jets: Tight End Production in the Passing Attack

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    As quarterback Sam Darnold goes through the ups and downs of his rookie campaign, he could use some help at the tight end position, specifically in the aerial attack.

    The Jets carry four tight ends on the depth chart: Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, Chris Herndon and Jordan Leggett. The front office acquired Clive Walford off waivers during the offseason, but he didn't make it through the final roster cuts. 

    With the untapped potential on their roster and their move to pick up a veteran, the Jets clearly made a concerted effort to find a playmaker at tight end. No one has emerged through five weeks. Tomlinson leads the group in receiving yards with 60. 

    Darnold has a big-body target in wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (6'2", 225 lbs), but a dynamic tight end would give the rookie signal-caller another option in the red zone, where the Jets are last in scoring percentage at 35.71, per Team Rankings.

Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr

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    Quarterback Derek Carr has completed 71.3 percent of his passes, but the statistic doesn't tell the full story behind a disappointing start to the season. He leads the league in interceptions (eight) and struggles to finish drives. 

    According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Carr has thrown three interceptions in the end zone this season—a mistake he's committed four times in his first four years, according to ESPN Stats and Information. 

    Despite working with a dynamic receiving corps featuring Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant and tight end Jared Cook, Carr's inexcusable errors in critical moments have cost the Raiders points and changed the complexions of games.

    Carr improved every season following his 2014 rookie campaign up until the 2017 season. The Raiders' entire offense took a step backward under former offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who was calling plays for the first time in his coaching career. 

    Now, with experienced play-caller and head coach Jon Gruden in control, it's logical to expect better results. Instead, Carr continues to make poor decisions at inopportune times. He's thrown five of his interceptions on first downs, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press.

Philadelphia Eagles: CB Jalen Mills

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    As a seventh-round pick from the 2016 draft, cornerback Jalen Mills exceeded expectations last year. He held down a starting role and helped solidify a pass defense that vastly improved as the season progressed.

    But the LSU product has struggled at the beginning of his third campaign, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    "Mills has become the subject of fan criticism after an inconsistent start to the season in which he has been in coverage on big plays and big penalties. There had been curiosity about whether the Eagles might demote Mills or adjust his role after [head] coach Doug Pederson did not rule out personnel changes earlier in the week." 

    Berman noted Pederson isn't likely to make drastic changes involving the 24-year-old, while defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also voiced his confidence in Mills, per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    "There have been inconsistencies all around, but it's our job to help him through that," Schwartz said. "It's his job to get out of that, and I'm firmly behind Jalen Mills."

    The defensive personnel with the two most important opinions didn't sour on Mills, but he gave up a big play to wideout Adam Thielen in the last outing with the Vikings. The coaches may have to revisit their thoughts and go in another direction.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Pass Defense

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    We shouldn't link the Pittsburgh Steelers' issues in pass defense solely to the absence of linebacker Ryan Shazier. The front office had an entire offseason to compensate for the indefinite loss. Still, the unit ranks 29th in yards allowed through the air.

    The Steelers have surrendered 300-plus passing yards in three of their last four outings. Despite showing flashes with one interception and two pass breakups, rookie safety Terrell Edmunds hasn't provided enough to plug the holes in the secondary. Cornerback Artie Burns has struggled through stretches; he yielded his starting spot to Coty Sensabaugh in Week 3 following a subpar performance against the Chiefs.

    The Steelers have the depth to shuffle the personnel on the back end. Cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Mike Hilton and Sensabaugh, along with safety Morgan Burnett when he's healthy, allow defensive coordinator Keith Butler to show different looks. 

    As Jeff Hartman of SB Nation's Behind the Steel Curtain noted, even the "dollar" sub-package, primarily designed to thwart passing attacks, couldn't stop quarterback Patrick Mahomes in his third career start. 

    Pittsburgh may have to depend on its pass rush, which logged six sacks Sunday against the Falcons, to mask poor pass coverage downfield.

San Francisco 49ers: DL Solomon Thomas

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    Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has played 58.19 percent of the team's snaps through five weeks. Play-caller Robert Saleh justified the reduced role with an argument for fresh legs and efficiency, per Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee.

    "I'm trying to make sure that those guys are fresh, not only for the fourth quarter in pass-rush mode, but as the season wears on," he said. "It's the same plan for Solly. He'll still play base downs outside. [We're] trying to find opportunities for him to rush inside on obvious passing situations."

    Pass-rushers have tough assignments in banging bodies with 300-pound offensive linemen, but it's not a good sign when the play-caller is concerned about preserving a 22-year-old's legs. A top-three draft pick expected to rush the quarterback should see an uptick in snap count. Thomas' workload has slightly declined between his rookie and sophomore years. 

    Thomas doesn't have a sack this year, and he's in a rotational role as an afterthought. The 49ers pass rush doesn't have any playmakers on the edge. It seems the Stanford product has to improve leaps and bounds to contribute in that area.

Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny

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    When the Seattle Seahawks selected running back Rashaad Penny with the No. 27 overall pick, it seemed as though the rookie would have a fair shot at a sizable role in the backfield. Instead, he may be third in the pecking order at his position.

    Running back Chris Carson sat out Week 4's game against the Cardinals because of a hip injury, and Mike Davis handled the lion's share of the carries, notching 21 rushing attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Penny logged nine carries for 49 yards; he's yet to record more than 10 rushing attempts in a game.

    In Week 5, the rookie ball-carrier didn't take a handoff, while Carson (19) and Davis (12) split duties. Penny played one snap on special teams against the Rams. It's a notable role reduction for a first-round pick. 

    Penny has 11 weeks to make up ground, but his snap count is trending in the wrong direction prior to Seattle's Week 6 home matchup with Oakland.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rushing Offense

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    During the preseason, head coach Dirk Koetter expressed confidence in running back Peyton Barber and saw him as a featured back in the offense, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

    "He's doing everything he should be doing right now, and I think if we went out there and gave it to Peyton 20 times, we'd like what he does," Koetter said.

    When Fitzpatrick had some magic in his arm during the first two weeks, Barber logged 35 carries for 91 yards. He couldn't find much space on the ground even with the aerial attack moving the ball up and down the field. The third-year running back has yet to reach pay dirt. 

    The Buccaneers selected running back Ronald Jones in the second round of April's draft. He hasn't made a significant impact on the season after nondescript performances during the exhibition period. The USC product suited up for one game against the Bears, logging 10 carries for 29 yards. 

    Despite a productive summer for Barber and a premium pick used to bolster the backfield, the Buccaneers rank 30th in rushing offense (69.5 yards per game).

Tennessee Titans: Matt LaFleur's Offense

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans games don't look pretty on tape, but they're 3-2 going into Week 6. All of their victories have three-point margins, partially because the offense doesn't have the firepower to pull away.

    The Titans have the 29th-ranked scoring offense with a bottom-half passing and ground attack. Based on the production, it's difficult to figure out this team's offensive identity. 

    Head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will have to find an answer in order to beat some of the better defensive groups in the league.

    Running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis can offer a mix of physical runs between the tackles and speed on the outside. Right now, they're both averaging fewer than 3.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has two touchdown passes to four interceptions. 

    LaFleur spent time with McVay in Los Angeles last year and eight years on the same staff as Kyle Shanahan with the Texans, Redskins and Falcons. There's still time, but we're all waiting to see what he's sponged from those two offensive gurus.

Washington Redskins: WR Josh Doctson

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Quarterback Alex Smith connected with wideouts Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson for scores against the Packers in Week 3. Josh Doctson didn't log a catch.

    Last year, head coach Jay Gruden decided to feature Doctson, the No. 22 overall pick from the 2016 draft, and the TCU product showed flashes. He finished with 35 catches for 502 yards and six touchdowns.

    Doctson started the 2018 term in the slow lane. He's caught five passes for 48 yards in three outings and missed Monday's contest with the Saints because of a heel injury.

    During the offseason, the front office will decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. At the moment, he's expendable, especially with Smith's tendency to look toward his tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

    Chris Thompson (31 targets) and Jordan Reed (22 targets) lead the team as the top two options in the aerial attack. Doctson's injury could force him to play catch-up in a critical year.