Every NFL Team's Biggest Early-Season Disappointment
The 2019 NFL season has certainly been full of surprises.
More than a month in, only two teams are 5-0, while four others remain winless. Several star players—including quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Nick Foles—are out with injuries. The rise of players like Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater has ensured that not all of these injuries are derailing campaigns.
With surprise often comes disappointment, and each team has endured its fair share through the first five weeks. Whether it's an underwhelming player, a struggling unit or simply a failure to meet expectations, even the top teams have something to be disappointed about.
Let's take a look at what, exactly those biggest disappointments are.
Arizona Cardinals: The Offensive Line
The Arizona Cardinals finally got their first victory in Week 5, but the 2019 season isn't really about wins and losses.
This year is all about developing rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. The reigning Heisman winner and No. 1 overall draft pick is the new fact of the franchise and, along with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, a big part of the team's offensive identity.
Therefore, it's been extremely disappointing to see the Cardinals offensive line struggling to protect Murray. The Oklahoma product has already been sacked an alarming 21 times, putting him on pace for 67 sacks on the season.
Making the jump from college competition to the NFL is tough enough. It's been even tougher for Murray, who has spent the first month of the season just trying to stay upright.
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive Breakdowns
With offensive stars like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper on the roster, the Atlanta Falcons should be able to match points with just about anyone in the NFL. However, they've struggled to do so because of a lackluster defense.
Like last year, injuries are part of the problem. Starting safety Keanu Neal, for example, is on injured reserve. However, poor play has been a bigger overall issue.
Atlanta is allowing an average of 378.2 yards and 30.4 points per game. Just the Miami Dolphins are giving up more points. Big plays, in particular, have been a problem as only four teams are allowing more than Atlanta's 6.1 yards ceded per play.
Even with the aforementioned offensive standouts playing well, the defense is going to prevent the Falcons from being contenders in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens: Pass Defense
There was a time when the Baltimore Ravens were known as one of the top defensive teams in the NFL. Those days, however, are long gone.
The Ravens' identity now revolves around second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and an explosive, run-oriented offense. Baltimore is averaging a league-high 32.2 points per game and sits at 3-2, so the plan appears to be working.
However, it's disappointing to see the once-vaunted defense getting regularly gashed by opposing passers. Only three teams have allowed more than the 280 passing yards per game the Ravens have ceded.
A secondary of Earl Thomas, Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Tony Jefferson looked great on paper, but it hasn't lived up to expectations. With Jefferson out for the season due to a torn ACL and Smith dealing with an MCL sprain, things may not improve in the immediate future.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen's Decision-Making
It's hard to be too disappointed with the Buffalo Bills' season so far.
Buffalo is sitting at 4-1 with its lone loss coming to the undefeated New England Patriots. However, the Bills have to be a bit concerned with the decision-making of second-year quarterback Josh Allen.
Allen is improving as a passer. He's shown better touch and accuracy than he did as a rookie, and that's huge. However, the Wyoming product still has a habit of making poor decisions, taking unnecessary hits and uncorking passes he shouldn't.
Through five weeks, Allen has already turned the ball over nine times. He's thrown an interception in four of his five games. He threw three against the Patriots, and that's perhaps the biggest reason Buffalo isn't undefeated.
Carolina Panthers: WR Chris Hogan
Thanks to some strong play from backup quarterback Kyle Allen, the Carolina Panthers have managed to keep winning without Cam Newton. If they're going to continue winning, they're also going to do so without offseason acquisition Chris Hogan.
Carolina brought in the former Bills and Patriots receiver this offseason, hoping to add a little punch to the passing game. Hogan, who has averaged 13.4 yards per reception during his career, was supposed to provide Newton with another reliable downfield target.
Instead, he has barely been a factor. In four games, he caught just three passes for 24 yards. He was placed on injured reserve after Week 4 with a knee injury.
"He will be a candidate to return later this season under the eight-game rule," general manager Marty Hurney said, via the team's official website.
Given the low level of impact he had, the Panthers probably aren't too concerned with getting him back.
Chicago Bears: The Passing Offense
Last year, the Chicago Bears hired an offensive head coach in Matt Nagy. He was supposed to bring an innovative offense to Chicago and help unleash the potential of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
While Trubisky showed growth last season, he appears to have taken a step back this year.
In fact, the Bears' passing offense as a whole has been a disappointment. Chase Daniel started for an injured Trubisky in Week 5, but the results weren't much different. Daniel threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two picks.
At least Daniel was able to push the ball down the field, which is something Trubisky has struggled with. The typical starter has averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt, and Chicago is averaging only 6.1 yards per pass play as a team.
Just two squads have averaged fewer than the 185.4 passing yards per game the Bears have produced.
Cincinnati Bengals: Zac Taylor's Offense
The Cincinnati Bengals were one of several teams that went looking for the "next Sean McVay" during the offseason. In fact, they just went and hired McVay's quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor.
The belief was that Taylor would be able to rejuvenate Cincinnati's offense and quarterback Andy Dalton. Through five weeks, however, Dalton and Co. look just as bad as last year.
The BengalOffenses definitely have other issues, like a defense that has allowed 411.8 yards per game. However, it's a major disappointment when an offensive head coach comes in and his team produces just 16 points per game.
Only three teams are averaging fewer points than the Bengals. That's not the type of production they expected to get out of Taylor's offense.
Cleveland Browns: Inconsistent Play-Calling
This season was supposed to be all about offense for the Cleveland Browns. The team traded for Odell Beckham Jr. early in the offseason, adding the star wideout to a talented offensive core of Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry.
However, inconsistent play-calling from head coach Freddie Kitchens hurt the Browns in the first month of the season.
Cleveland came into Week 5 averaging just 22.3 points per game. The Browns struggled to move the ball during a Week 1 blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans, and Kitchens couldn't get his offense into the end zone on four tries near the end of the Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. On Monday night, they put just three points on the board.
Given the collection of talent on Cleveland's offense, there's little excuse for the slow start. Shaky play-calling and poor decisions from Kitchens have been the biggest problems.
Dallas Cowboys: The Ups and Downs of Dak Prescott
Over the first three weeks of the season, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott played like an elite quarterback. He flourished in Kellen Moore's offense, and the Cowboys rolled to three decisive victories.
Over the last two weeks, however, Prescott has struggled. He's thrown four interceptions, and the Cowboys have lost by a combined 12 points. He threw for 463 yards against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, but his mistakes proved costly.
"I had three interceptions," Prescott said, via the team's official website. "I don't care how many yards I had or anything else like that. I had three interceptions and a loss. None of that matters."
Prescott was one of the biggest reasons Dallas started out 3-0. He's also one of the biggest reasons the Cowboys are now 3-2.
Denver Broncos: The Pass Rush
Of all the issues the Denver Broncos could have in 2019, a lackluster pass rush wasn't supposed to be one of them. With a defensive head coach in Vic Fangio and the sack-artist tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the Broncos should be striking fear in opposing quarterbacks.
However, a consistent and effective pass rush simply hasn't been there for Denver. The Broncos did produce five sacks against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4, but that's all they have on the season.
Miller and Chubb combined for 26.5 sacks in 2018. Right now, they'd be on pace to produce roughly 10 if both were healthy, and Chubb is out for the season with a torn ACL.
That's definitely a disappointment.
Detroit Lions: Pass Defense
Just as it's been surprising to see a toothless Broncos pass rush, it's been a little odd to see the Detroit Lions struggling to defend the pass. Head coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist, and the Lions have some standout defensive backs such as Darius Slay, Justin Coleman and Quandre Diggs (though both Slay and Diggs have missed time with hamstring injuries).
Yet they've allowed an average of 280.8 passing yards per game, third-most in the NFL.
Detroit has played the pass well for stretches, like the bulk of Week 4's matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. However, it has also broken down far too often, like at the end of said Chiefs matchup.
If the Lions hope to remain in the thick of the NFC North race, they'll need to tighten things up on the back end of their defense.
Green Bay Packers: TE Jimmy Graham
Last offseason, the Green Bay Packers signed tight end Jimmy Graham to a hefty three-year, $30 million contract. They got some decent production from him in his first season—55 catches, 636 yards and two touchdowns—but he has often been a non-factor in 2019.
Through five weeks, Graham has caught just 12 passes for 132 yards. He does have two touchdowns, but he's also gone without a catch on two different occasions.
That is not the sort of production the Packers should be getting out of a tight end making $10 million per year, and Graham's frequent disappearing acts are disheartening.
Houston Texans: The Offensive Line
In Week 5, the Houston Texans finally had a game in which the offensive line didn't give up a sack. Quarterback Deshaun Watson still faced plenty of pressure, though, and he has already been taken down 18 times this season.
That's a major disappointment because the Texans have invested heavily in the offensive line. They used two of their first three picks on offensive linemen in April's draft, then they traded a pair of first-round selections to the Miami Dolphins for tackle Laremy Tunsil.
The good news is that there's still plenty of time for the line to jell and improve. The bad news is that it's still one of the weaker spots on the entire roster.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Parris Campbell
This past offseason, the Indianapolis Colts worked to improve their receiving corps. They signed veteran Devin Funchess in free agency and used a second-round pick on former Ohio State wideout Parris Campbell.
Funchess is on injured reserve, and Campbell has largely been a disappointment on the field.
The rookie missed Week 5 with an abdominal injury, and he caught just 10 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the first month of the season. Perhaps more disappointing is the fact that Campbell is averaging just 6.2 yards per reception.
The speedy wideout was expected to add another downfield element to the Colts' passing attack, but he's struggled to do so.
Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey might be the best cover corner in the NFL right now. However, he's also been one of the Jacksonville Jaguars' biggest headaches this season.
The Jaguars have a chance to win the AFC South this year, but not having one of their best players on the field is hurting their chances. It's not fair to blame Ramsey for being injured, but the drama created by his trade demand is disappointing.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Defense
The Kansas City Chiefs have relied heavily on their offense over the past two years, and it's largely been a successful strategy. However, when the offense is limited, as it was against the Colts in Week 5, their poor defense is a real problem.
So far, the Chiefs have allowed an average of 393 yards per game, 155.8 of which has come on the ground. Sloppy run defense was a particularly large problem against the Colts, as it allowed Indianapolis to sustain drives and keep the Chiefs offense off the field and out of rhythm.
The Colts racked up 180 rushing yards and held the ball for over 37 minutes of game time. The end result was a 13-point outing and a loss for the usually explosive Chiefs.
Los Angeles Chargers: Run Defense
Though the Los Angeles Chargers haven't struggled against the run quite like the Chiefs, they've still had their issues with opposing ball-carriers. They're allowing an average of 119.8 yards per game on the ground and just gave up 191 to the Denver Broncos.
Injuries have hurt the Chargers defense—safety Derwin James, on injured reserve with a stress fracture in his right foot, is sorely missed—but there is still too much talent on that side of the ball for them to be getting gashed for nearly 200 yards.
With a front seven that features Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane, Thomas Davis and Melvin Ingram III, the Chargers should be able to contain opposing ball-carriers. That they largely haven't has been quite problematic.
Los Angeles Rams: Late-Game Defense
From a yardage standpoint, the Los Angeles Rams defense has been above-average in 2019. It's allowing an average of 350 yards per game, which isn't great but isn't terrible, either.
However, Los Angeles has struggled to shut down opposing offenses late in games, which has led to two consecutive losses and nearly produced another.
In Week 3, the Browns had 1st-and-goal late in the fourth quarter. The Rams kept them out of the end zone and escaped with a 20-13 win, but that game easily could have been a loss. Against the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday, the defense didn't hold, and the Rams lost by one point.
Miami Dolphins: RB Kenyan Drake
The Miami Dolphins are seriously lacking in talent, and they have few standout players. One established contributor is running back Kenyan Drake, who rushed for 535 yards and 4.5 yards per carry in 2018.
Drake was one of the few offensive standouts heading into the season, but he's struggled right along with the rest of the team. After averaging at least 4.5 yards per rush over each of his first three seasons, he's now posting just 3.6 yards per carry. His longest run on the year is 10 yards, and he has yet to find the end zone.
You can find disappointments just about anywhere in Miami this season, but Drake stands out because he shouldn't be one of them.
Minnesota Vikings: QB Kirk Cousins
The Minnesota Vikings finally got a good game out of quarterback Kirk Cousins in Week 5. He passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns, and the Vikings won in convincing fashion.
The problem is that one good game out of five isn't what Minnesota should be getting out of its $84 million quarterback. Cousins has had some downright bad performances, specifically against the rival Packers and Bears.
Statistically, Cousins has played at an above-average level. He's completing 68.3 percent of his passes and is averaging over 200 yards per game. However, when the Vikings have needed him to deliver in clutch moments, he's regularly fallen short—a habit that dates back to last year.
The Vikings didn't pay Cousins to be a game-manager, but that's largely what he's been since arriving in Minnesota.
New England Patriots: RB Sony Michel
Last year, the New England Patriots used a first-round pick on former Georgia running back Sony Michel. They got a physical between-the-tackles runner in return, as Michel racked up 931 yards and averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie.
This year, though, Michel has been far less effective.
He still brings a physical presence to the point of attack, but he's averaging a mere 3.4 yards per rush and has frequently given up carries to Rex Burkhead and James White.
Michel is coming off his best game of the year—a 16-carry, 91-yard outing—but he had produced just 171 yards on the ground heading into Week 5.
New Orleans Saints: TE Jared Cook
The New Orleans Saints signed Jared Cook to a two-year, $15 million deal in free agency, hoping to upgrade the tight end spot and add another playmaking pass-catcher to the offense. However, Cook has rarely been a big part of the offense.
In five appearances, Cook has caught just 12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. That puts him on pace for roughly 419 yards in 2019, which is a whole 19 yards more than the Saints got out of Benjamin Watson last season.
Casual fans may point to Drew Brees' injury as part of the problem. However, Cook's best game of the season—four catches, 41 yards and a touchdown—came in Week 5 with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.
New York Giants: The Defense
With rookie quarterback Daniel Jones continuing to develop and Saquon Barkley making progress in his recovery from a high ankle sprain, New York Giants fans have plenty to be excited about. The defense, however, is not among the reasons for excitement.
The Giants have been bad defensively in just about every measurable category. They rank 30th in total defense (409.4 yards per game allowed), 28th in pass defense (279.4) and 24th in run defense (130.0). They've allowed at least 28 points in four of five games.
With the defense playing this poorly, Jones is going to be under a lot of pressure to carry the team moving forward. Fortunately, he should have Barkley back in the near future.
New York Jets: HC Adam Gase
It's easy to blame the absence of quarterback Sam Darnold for the New York Jets' offensive woes. However, New York's issues go far beyond one position.
The Jets rank 31st in scoring offense (9.8 points per game) 32nd in total offense (179.5 yards) and 32nd in passing (113.5 yards). Yes, not having Darnold hurts. But a lot of the blame has to go to head coach Adam Gase.
New York hired Gase because of his offensive mindset, but absolutely nothing about the Jets offense has been creative, different or efficient. Gase has regularly made odd coaching decisions, too, like giving Darnold all the first-team reps leading up to Week 5, only to start third-stringer Luke Falk.
Anyone expecting Gase to make the Jets an offensive powerhouse has been extremely disappointed so far.
Oakland Raiders: DE Clelin Ferrell
Making the jump from college to the NFL isn't easy, so the fact that Clelin Ferrell has only 10 tackles and a sack in four games isn't in itself disappointing. The disappointment with those numbers is because the Oakland Raiders selected Ferrell fourth overall and ahead of pass-rushing prospects such as Josh Allen and Brian Burns.
Burns already has 3.5 sacks, while Allen has 3.0.
Ferrell's production has also been disappointing because he was supposed to be the player who revitalized the Raiders pass rush. Oakland has just nine sacks, tied for 23rd in the league.
Philadelphia Eagles: Pass Defense
The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-2 and tied for first place in the NFC East. That's the good news. The bad news is that staying atop the division is going to be difficult with a pass defense as vulnerable as Philadelphia's.
Injuries have been part of the problem—Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox were both out in Week 5—but poor play has been an even bigger issue. Philadelphia has allowed 271.2 passing yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL.
Turnovers have helped mask the defensive issues—the Eagles have six interceptions already, tied for third in the league—but the secondary has still been disappointing.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Running Game
With Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, one would expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to lean more heavily on the running game. But that hasn't been much of an option because the Steelers have struggled to run the ball.
Starting running back James Conner has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, while Jaylen Samuels has averaged just 2.8. Pittsburgh has averaged 67.0 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry.
Only three teams have averaged fewer rushing yards per game, and just four have averaged fewer yards per carry.
San Franisco 49ers: CB Jason Verrett
The San Francisco 49ers took a chance on oft-injured cornerback Jason Verrett in free agency, signing him to a one-year, $3.6 million deal. In return, they've gotten just one game.
Verrett appeared in Week 3 against the Steelers and was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Signing Verrett was always a gamble. He had played in just five games over the past three seasons because of injuries. However, it was a gamble that might have paid significant dividends had it worked out. It didn't.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks used a first-round pick on former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. Penny didn't play much—he had just 85 carries—but that wasn't a major reason for concern.
Penny was, after all, a rookie.
The fact that Penny still isn't a significant piece of the offensive plan this season, however, is troubling. He's had more than a year to adapt to the NFL and to immerse himself in Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Instead, Penny has carried the ball just 22 times for 98 yards and one touchdown. That's more than disappointing for a player picked 27th overall.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE O.J. Howard
Plenty of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players have benefited from the hiring of offensive-minded head coach Bruce Arians. Tight end O.J. Howard isn't one of them.
The Buccaneers are averaging 250.4 passing yards and 29.4 points per game. Those are solid numbers, especially since only four teams have scored more points per contest. Howard, though, has been an afterthought. He has just 11 catches for 141 yards.
"It's one of those things where you have to keep going and hopefully you get the good looks," Howard said, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times.
Howard has yet to emerge as a star two-plus years after he was drafted 19th overall.
Tennessee Titans: WR Adam Humphries
In the offseason, the Tennessee Titans handed free-agent wide receiver Adam Humphries a four-year, $36 million contract. Humpries was coming off an 816-yard campaign and was expected to give Tennessee a premier slot receiver and a top-tier weapon.
Through five weeks, however, Humphries has been average.
The former Buccaneers standout has caught just 15 passes for 142 yards and zero touchdowns. That's an average of just 28.4 yards per game—disappointing, to say the least.
Washington Redskins: Everything About the QB Position
The Washington Redskins are still trying to solidify their quarterback position. They drafted former Ohio State signal-caller Dwayne Haskins in the first round, but the rookie isn't ready. They acquired journeyman Case Keenum in the offseason, but he hasn't been steady enough to win games.
In Week 5, head coach Jay Gruden started backup Colt McCoy. Washington lost 33-7, and Gruden lost his job.
The position isn't likely to be fixed in the near future, as interim head coach Bill Callahan said Haskins isn't ready to start.
The entire season has been disappointing for the 0-5 Redskins, but the quarterback position has been especially so.