Every NFL Team's Biggest Weakness in the 2021 Season
The 2021 season is to be the longest in NFL history, and while we're 10 weeks in, there's still plenty of football to be played.
Except for perhaps a handful of teams, most of the league can believe in reaching the postseason. The Miami Dolphins, for example, are only 3-7 but have won two in a row and appear capable of going on a run.
Miami's win over the previously hot Baltimore Ravens in Week 10 could be a catalyst for Miami, and it was a perfect example of how the NFL has been this season. No matter how good a team might appear to be, it has a weakness that can be exploited. Miami is far from the only team to take advantage of a weakness and beat a "superior" opponent.
The New York Jets knocked off the Tennessee Titans in Week 4. In Week 9, the Jacksonville Jaguars outlasted the Buffalo Bills, and the Denver Broncos embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys.
Styles make fights, as they say, and teams will spend the last two months of the season largely trying to exploit the weaknesses of others while hiding their own.
What has been every team's biggest weakness so far? Let's take a look.
Arizona Cardinals: Run Defense
The 8-2 Arizona Cardinals are one of the NFL's "good" teams that has found ways to lose in recent weeks. To be fair, their Week 10 loss against the Carolina Panthers might not have happened with quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle) and wideout DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) in the lineup, but there's no guarantee.
Still, the Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers without either player a week earlier.
Carolina, though, took advantage of a run defense that ranks 31st in yards per attempt allowed—and it was not the first team to do so. The Green Bay Packers also beat Arizona by dissecting the defense on the ground.
Green Bay and Carolina rushed for 151 yards and 166 yards, respectively. Expect teams to continue to attack the run D moving forward.
Atlanta Falcons: A Lack of Weapons
For years, the Atlanta Falcons had a reputation for winning with offense while surviving on defense—and no, those 28-3 jokes won't disappear anytime soon.
While Atlanta's defense is still bad, ranking 31st in points allowed, the inability to score has arguably been a bigger issue this season. With receiver Julio Jones gone, Calvin Ridley stepping away to focus on his mental health and receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson serving as the team's best running back, Atlanta lacks the weapons needed to win consistently.
Matt Ryan can still be an upper-echelon quarterback, but he does not have the pieces needed to carry this team. Patterson and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts are his two most reliable options and the only two players currently with the team who had more than 200 yards through the first 10 weeks.
The ground game has also been a disappointment, as no player has averaged more than four yards per carry.
Baltimore Ravens: Pass Defense
Lamar Jackson's evolution as a passer has been marvelous to witness, and he's on pace to throw for a career-high 4,622 yards.
Unfortunately for the Baltimore Ravens, Jackson has been too often forced to carry the offense with his arm, as early-game deficits have become commonplace. The Ravens have struggled to stop opponents' passing games, which has frequently sent Jackson into comeback mode.
In losses to the Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson couldn't do enough, and both teams pulled away. A couple of late mistakes cost the Ravens in Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders too.
Baltimore surrendered more than 400 passing yards to Las Vegas and Cincinnati, plus 290 passing yards to a Miami team that has failed to reach 200 five different times this season. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa entered partway through the third quarter and went 8-of-13 for 158 yards.
The Ravens cannot expect to rely on late-game heroics and win consistently. That's going to be a problem, though, against teams that can move the ball through the air. The Ravens lost star cornerback Marcus Peters to a torn ACL before the season and rank 29th in yards per attempt allowed and last in passing yards per game surrendered.
Buffalo Bills: Turnovers
Schematic weaknesses are few and far between in Buffalo. The Bills rank sixth in yards per rush, eighth in yards per pass attempt, second in scoring and first in both yards and points allowed.
However, the Bills have also had turnover issues—both of the common variety and on downs—that have directly led to all three losses this season. In the Week 9 shocker against Jacksonville, Buffalo turned the ball over three times. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, Buffalo twice turned it over on downs in the third quarter.
A failed fourth-down conversion attempt ended the Bills' comeback hopes against the Tennessee Titans in Week 6.
Buffalo has turned the ball over in six of its nine games this season. The best way to beat the Bills seems to be forcing them into mistakes—which may include overaggressive play-calling on fourth down.
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback
And the 2015 MVP may get the start this week.
"Panthers HC Matt Rhule said it's 'trending toward' Cam Newton starting Sunday vs. WFT but won't make official announcement until later this [week]," NFL Network's Cameron Wolfe tweeted Wednesday.
To this point, though, Carolina's quarterback play has been abysmal. Sam Darnold is tied for the league lead in interceptions (11) despite missing the last game with a fractured scapula, and before that potentially season-ending injury, he held a career-worst passer rating of 71.3. P.J. Walker wasn't much better in his first start of the year last week, throwing for just 167 yards with an interception.
That—along with a lengthy absence by running back Christian McCaffrey because of a hamstring injury—has negatively offset the league's second-ranked defense in yards allowed.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Line
Even at 3-6, the Chicago Bears aren't out of the playoff mix. However, this season is and always has been about developing rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
But the team's biggest weakness—a horrendous pass-blocking line—is a detriment to that goal.
The Bears have been laughably bad at protecting Fields and fellow quarterback Andy Dalton. Combined, the two have been sacked 33 times in nine games. Fields has been sacked a league-leading 29 times.
Things have been exacerbated by Fields' inexperience and some questionable play-calling on the part of head coach Matt Nagy. Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, the Bears rushed only 13 times, while Fields was sacked nine times.
The blocking unit has been bad, though, and has led to Fields being under pressure on a whopping 25 percent of his dropbacks. The rookie can still grow this season, but it will be hard for him to learn much when he's constantly on his back.
Cincinnati Bengals: Risk-Reward Passing
The 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals have been surprisingly competitive and may push into the playoffs. However, they've gotten into trouble a few times with a questionable brand of risk-reward play-calling on offense.
Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow has regularly looked for the home run ball and has hit it frequently—often connecting with rookie phenom Ja'Marr Chase. For the season, the Bengals rank only 24th in pass attempts but second in yards per attempt.
But their reliance on the deep ball has led to miscues too. Burrow tossed two interceptions in the Week 9 loss to the Browns—including one that was returned 99 yards for a score. A late interception led to the Jets' surprising comeback the week prior.
Burrow is tied for the league lead with 11 interceptions, and he's been sacked 25 times. More frequent short passes could help limit his exposure to hits while supplementing a run game that has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.
As long as Cincinnati continues to live and die by the deep ball, it will struggle to win consistently.
Cleveland Browns: The Secondary
The Cleveland Browns can blame their disappointing 5-5 start on many things. Injuries have been a huge problem, including shoulder, foot and knee setbacks to quarterback Baker Mayfield, and the team lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver—which was true even before Odell Beckham Jr. departed for Los Angeles.
However, the Browns have the talent and depth to overcome injuries. No. 3 running back D'Ernest Johnson, for example, has rumbled for 294 yards and two touchdowns despite making just two starts.
The bigger issue has been poor play and miscommunication in the secondary. The Browns have a fearsome pass-rushing duo in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Yet, they rank 16th in passing yards allowed per attempt and have surrendered 21 scores through the air.
Cleveland has loaded up in its secondary since 2018, adding Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit, John Johnson III and Troy Hill. None of that matters, though, when defenders are 20 yards away from opposing pass-catchers.
If the Browns cannot figure out a way to tighten up their defensive backfield, there's no way they're getting to the playoffs for the third time this century.
Dallas Cowboys: Pass Defense
This may feel like an odd choice, as the ability of the Dallas Cowboys secondary to create takeaways is one of the team's biggest strengths. Cornerback Trevon Diggs leads the NFL with eight interceptions, and the Cowboys have logged 14 as a team.
However, when the Cowboys aren't picking off passes, they're often giving up huge chunks of yardage through the air. Dallas ranks 21st in yards per pass attempt allowed, 21st in passing yards per game allowed and 15th in total defense.
As long as the takeaways continue to mount, this shouldn't be a fatal flaw for the Cowboys. However, defenses that live and die by the turnover can be beaten.
The Broncos didn't turn the ball over and had a 30-0 lead over Dallas late in the second half of their blowout win in Week 9. Taking care of the football might be the simplest recipe for success against the Cowboys in the postseason.
Denver Broncos: Run Defense
The Denver Broncos defense has been solid—see the late 30-0 lead over the Cowboys in Week 9 before a pair of garbage-time scores cut the deficit by 16. However, the Broncos have been susceptible to the run at times, and it has cost them victories.
In Week 7, they were facing a Cleveland team missing its starting quarterback and top two running backs. They allowed 182 yards on the ground and lost by a field goal. Two weeks earlier, Denver coughed up 147 yards to an inconsistent Pittsburgh Steelers ground game. It lost by eight points.
Through 10 weeks, the Broncos rank seventh in total defense and fourth in points allowed. However, they also rank 22nd in yards allowed per carry.
This is a defense built to play with a lead. It can limit opposing passers while allowing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to be a game manager. However, teams can run on Denver, and that's a big issue when the Broncos are trailing.
Detroit Lions: Pass Defense
The Detroit Lions managed a tie in Week 10, but they have yet to win a game. It's fair to blame Detroit's struggles on quarterback Jared Goff, as the 2016 No. 1 overall pick has thrown for eight touchdowns, six interceptions and a rating of only 84.0.
He is also dealing with an oblique injury and may miss Week 11.
However, it's hard for any team, regardless of its quarterback, to win when its pass defense has been as bad as Detroit's. No team has allowed more yards per attempt (7.7) than the Lions.
It starts up front, where the Detroit pass rush has generated a mere 14 sacks, which is the second-worst mark in the league. The secondary hasn't been much better, though, and has logged just five interceptions and 33 passes defended—tied for ninth-fewest in the NFL.
Detroit's defense has been particularly problematic in the red zone, where opponents have converted a league-high 77.8 percent of their trips into touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers: Injuries
The Green Bay Packers may have the pieces to win a Super Bowl. They have an elite defense—ranked third in points and yards allowed—the reigning MVP in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, an elite receiver in Davante Adams and a strong rushing attack.
The question is whether the Packers can carry a healthy team into the postseason.
Injuries and illnesses have been frequent and significant for the Packers. Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith (back) remain out. Rodgers missed one game while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, as did Adams. Pass-rusher Rashan Gary (elbow), linebacker Whitney Mercilus (biceps) and running back Aaron Jones (knee) were all injured in Week 10.
Jones, at least, may not miss extended time.
"We'll just monitor it on a daily basis and see how fast he can heal up," head coach Matt LaFleur said, per Mike Spofford of the team's official website. "Because he's certainly a guy you want out on the field."
Injuries are particularly concerning for Green Bay, as the depth at receiver and quarterback are questionable at best. When signal-caller Jordan Love was forced to start against Kansas City, it was a disaster.
Houston Texans: A Lack of Offensive Weapons
We could just say "everything" here and be done with it. The Houston Texans haven't won since Week 1, and they rank 30th in total defense, 29th in points allowed and last in offensive yards and scoring.
But it's worth recognizing that Houston's offensive supporting cast is atrocious. There's wideout Brandin Cooks and...that's about it. No other player has more than 200 receiving yards. Rex Burkhead is the only other offensive skill player averaging more than 4.1 yards per carry.
This is a huge problem as it relates to quarterback play. Neither Tyrod Taylor nor rookie Davis Mills has had a fair chance to succeed with this supporting cast. And it's worth noting that Mills has played well, all things considered—his passer rating of 80.2 is higher than those of fellow rookies Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields.
Houston simply lacks the offensive firepower needed to stay competitive.
Indianapolis Colts: Pass Defense
The Indianapolis Colts have won four of their last five and at 5-5 are right in the middle of the AFC playoff chase. However, the Colts could be even better positioned if not for their lackluster pass defense.
Indianapolis' struggles in that area were most on display during the team's Week 5 overtime loss to Baltimore. The Colts held a 22-3 lead late in the third quarter but coughed up four passing touchdowns from that point and lost. That's not the only time pass defense has been an issue, though.
In Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams, the Colts lost after surrendering 270 passing yards and allowing Matthew Stafford to drive to set up a late go-ahead field goal.
The Colts rank 20th in pass defense, 23rd in yards allowed per completion and have surrendered a league-high 23 touchdown passes. Indy can get into the postseason from here, but winning shootouts and holding late leads could be a recurrent issue.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Inexperience
Let's be honest: The Jacksonville Jaguars are not a good team. They rank 31st in scoring, 27th in points allowed and have won just two games this season.
However, the Jags have won two of their last four and played a tight contest against the Colts in Week 10. The biggest issue for them is that Trevor Lawrence is a rookie quarterback, Urban Meyer is a first-time NFL head coach and both are learning what it takes to win in the pros.
Lawrence has made his fair share of rookie mistakes—he's thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions—while Meyer has made some questionable decisions on and off the field. However, this does appear to be a team finding its way, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jacksonville play spoiler over the last two months of the season.
Teams looking to avoid the upset must concentrate on exploiting Jacksonville's collective lack of seasoning. They must show Lawrence, Meyer and Co. things they haven't seen and create situations they're not prepared to handle.
As the Bills learned the hard way a couple of weeks ago, simply lining up and trying to outplay the Jaguars isn't as easy as it might sound.
Kansas City Chiefs: Defense
The Kansas City Chiefs defense has been better over the last three weeks, allowing just 38 points in that span, but it's been a liability more often than not this season.
The unit ranks 26th in yards allowed per rushing attempt, 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt, 26th in total defense and 20th in points allowed. The Chiefs have also logged a mere 14 sacks and have repeatedly been burned in the red zone.
Only six teams have allowed a higher touchdown percentage inside their 20-yard line than Kansas City (68.8).
The Chiefs can still be a formidable playoff opponent, especially if last week's 41-point onslaught was a sign of the offense righting the ship. However, Patrick Mahomes and Co. will have to shoulder the load.
And if Mahomes goes back to throwing interceptions at a rate of more than one per game? The Chiefs may be cooked anyway.
Las Vegas Raiders: Red Zone Defense
The Raiders' 3-0 start to the season feels like a distant memory. While the Raiders are still 5-4, they've stumbled mightily over the last seven weeks. It's fair to blame off-field distractions or a running game that ranks just 28th in yards and yards per carry, but Las Vegas' red-zone defense has been the biggest problem area.
The Raiders have allowed opponents to convert touchdowns on 75 percent of their red-zone trips. Only the Lions have been worse, and they're still fighting to find their first win. It's a massive problem for any team with playoff aspirations.
Combined with a run defense that ranks 27th against the run and a pass defense that has logged only four interceptions, this could be a season-killer for the Raiders. Good teams are going to reach the red zone, and they're going to score touchdowns once there more often than not.
This isn't to say the Las Vegas' 5-4 record is a mirage. However, it's a sign that their 41-14 loss in Week 10 probably wasn't one either.
Los Angeles Chargers: Run Defense
The Los Angeles Chargers started 4-1 but have learned in the weeks since that when quarterback Justin Herbert isn't at his best, winning can be difficult.
A big reason for this has been L.A.'s inability to defend the run. The Chargers rank last in both rushing yards allowed per game and yards surrendered per attempt. While they rank fourth in passing yards allowed per game, they still field the league's 25th-ranked scoring defense.
When teams like the Patriots and Ravens have limited Herbert and the passing game, they've prevailed. Teams like Cleveland haven't, which is why the Browns lost in Week 5 despite racking up 230 yards on the ground.
Herbert, the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is an ascending quarterback. However, the Chargers cannot expect him to play hero ball every week. But that's been the formula this year, as opponents have regularly controlled the tempo and the clock via the running game.
L.A. entered Week 11 ranked 26th in time of possession, according to TeamRankings.
Los Angeles Rams: Offensive Line
There was a time when the Los Angeles Rams looked like they could be the best team in football. Over the last two weeks, though, they have suffered back-to-back blowout losses in prime time, one at the hands of the rival San Francisco 49ers.
It's no coincidence that Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pick-six and multiple interceptions in both of those losses. It's also no coincidence that each came against a team capable of generating pressure up front.
The reality is L.A.'s offensive line is a liability in pass protection. Stafford has been sacked 29 times through 10 games despite being blitzed just 82 times this season. Combined with a running game that ranks just 23rd in yards per attempt, this could be enough to derail Los Angeles' Super Bowl bid.
In short, when teams don't respect the run, rush four defenders and play well in coverage, they can force Stafford into game-altering mistakes. That's exactly what we've seen over the past two weeks, and it's all because the Rams line has struggled to match up in the trenches.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
There's a reason the Miami Dolphins were so heavily linked to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson ahead of the trade deadline. Second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa continues to fail to play like a future NFL superstar.
Yes, Tagovailoa did enough in relief duty to beat the Ravens in Week 10. He deserves credit. However, Miami's defense won that game, and it's that unit that gives the Dolphins a chance to make a late run.
Tagovailoa may well be the reason the Dolphins don't. He's been largely ineffective, throwing seven touchdowns and five interceptions while posting a passer rating of just 87.3. Jacoby Brissett has been worse, throwing five touchdowns, four picks and posting a rating of 78.1.
Miami's quarterbacks have not been helped by a ground attack that ranks last in yards per game. However, the Dolphins feature talented pass-catchers in Mike Gesicki, Albert Wilson and rookie Jaylen Waddle. They should be getting more out of their passing game than 229.1 yards per contest (21st in the NFL). Subpar quarterback play is the reason they aren't.
Minnesota Vikings: Late-Game Performance
The Minnesota Vikings aren't quite out of the playoff mix at 4-5, but they should probably be deeper in the thick of the postseason race. Minnesota has led by at least a touchdown in every game this season. For one reason or another, it has too often squandered the lead.
"Whatever we're doing those first three quarters, we've got to carry that into the last drive, the last two minutes of the game and find a way to close teams out," linebacker Anthony Barr said, per Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune. "I think we're pretty solid through the first three quarters of the game."
It's difficult to pinpoint the reason Minnesota tends to squander leads, though common sense would suggest a lack of late-game adjustments from Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff.
Minnesota ranks a respectable 10th in passing yards allowed per attempt, so it's not as if the defense is built to allow comebacks. Rather, the unit—which ranks 29th in yards allowed per run—is more of a liability when playing from behind.
Whatever the reason for the late-game collapses, something needs to change. In three of its last five games, Minnesota has allowed a team to score to take the lead or tie within the final two minutes.
New England Patriots: Run Defense
The New England Patriots are playing like a team with no weaknesses during their five-game winning streak. They field a dominant defense, a plethora of quality running backs and a quarterback in Mac Jones who may be close to locking up Offensive Rookie of the Year.
However, the Patriots are vulnerable in one area: run defense. It hasn't bitten them recently, largely because head coach Bill Belichick has done an excellent job of scheming around it. Against the Browns, for example, he gave Cleveland defensive looks—while producing enough points—that got his opponent away from the running game.
The Browns ran the ball only 20 times in Week 10, despite averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
The Patriots must continue forcing foes away from the ground game. It's not a perfect formula, as New England ranks a good-but-not-great 10th in yards allowed per game. Even after allowing a mere 40 yards to the Cordarrelle Patterson-less Falcons, the Patriots are allowing more than four yards per carry on the ground.
The Patriots are 2-3 this season when opponents go over the 100-yard rushing mark.
New Orleans Saints: Wide Receiver
The biggest issue for the New Orleans Saints has been a passing attack that ranks 31st in yards per game. It's easy to blame the loss of starting quarterback Jameis Winston for that, but passing was a problem even before he exited with a torn ACL in Week 8.
In his seven starts, Winston averaged a mere 167.1 passing yards per game. The Saints are 0-2 without him as a starter, so we won't pretend that his loss isn't significant. However, New Orleans' lack of proven receivers has been a season-long weakness.
No. 1 wideout Michael Thomas is out for the year following ankle surgery, and while youngsters Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris have filled in admirably, the Saints lack punch on the perimeter.
Callaway and Harris are the only wideouts on the roster with more than 300 receiving yards, and they've combined for just 753. Harris leads the Saints with 407 yards, and he ranks 58th in the NFL.
New Orleans has had to rely heavily on running back Alvin Kamara in the passing game, and it's been a struggle to threaten vertically and on the perimeter.
New York Giants: Rushing Offense
The 3-6 New York Giants have dealt with injuries to pass-catchers Evan Engram, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard at various points in the season. That's added a lot of pressure on the shoulders of quarterback Daniel Jones.
In turn, the Giants have struggled to support Jones with a quality ground game.
To be fair, star running back Saquon Barkley has missed the last four games with an ankle sprain. However, Barkley didn't exactly spark the ground attack when he was playing. He has averaged a mere 3.6 yards per carry, while New York has averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a team.
The result has been an offense often decent at moving the ball through the air—it ranks 18th in yards per pass attempt—but awful at sustaining drives and scoring points. The Giants rank 24th in scoring and have averaged just 2:40 per drive—also 24th.
If New York cannot find a way to bring balance to the offense, it has no chance of getting back in the NFC East race.
New York Jets: Quarterback
The New York Jets are set to start Joe Flacco at quarterback in Week 11, making him the third signal-caller to start for them this season. Aside from one game from Mike White, it's been mostly a disaster at quarterback for the Jets.
White passed for 405 yards and three touchdowns in an upset win over Cincinnati, but his overall numbers (5 TDs, 8 INTs, 75.1 rating) aren't great. That's largely been the story of the position in New York—and no, we're not counting Flacco going 3-of-3 for 47 yards and a score in garbage time last week.
Collectively, Jets quarterbacks have passed for 2,502 yards with 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a rating of 73.9. Rookie No. 2 pick Zach Wilson has been the worst of the group. He has a team-low 6.5 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, nine picks and a 63.5 rating.
Not a lot has gone right for the Jets this season—they're 2-7 for a reason—but bad quarterback play has by far been the team's biggest downfall.
Philadelphia Eagles: Passing Inconsistency
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to show growth as a dual-threat signal-caller. He has been statistically better than he was a year ago, and significantly so. The 23-year-old has seen a leap in passer rating from 77.6 to 91.9. He's also improved his completion percentage from 52.0 percent to 62.2 percent.
Hurts has rushed for 549 yards and five touchdowns.
But he hinders the Eagles with his inconsistency as a passer. Hurts has had three games with a rating of 80 or below and is prone to up-and-down performances.
Against Denver in Week 10, for example, Hurts was 15-of-20 for 176 yards and tossed two touchdowns in the first half. He was 1-of-3 for two yards and threw an interception in the second. Against the Buccaneers in Week 6, Hurts finished 12-of-26 for 115 yards but was just 5-of-14 for 54 yards in the first half.
Head coach Nick Sirianni has done a good job of managing Hurts' inconsistencies in recent weeks by relying on the run more. Philadelphia was extremely pass-heavy early in the season but now ranks ninth in rushing attempts.
The Eagles have settled into being a balanced team—one ranked 11th in scoring and 14th in points allowed—and they could go on a run. To do it, though, they'll need to continue managing Hurts' tendency to be hot-and-cold as a passer.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rushing Offense
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris had his second 100-yard rushing game of the season in Week 10. He has also been a tremendous all-around back—one with 44 receptions and 963 scrimmage yards—but he has largely struggled to find running room.
Harris has averaged an underwhelming 3.7 yards per carry.
This has been a theme for the Steelers, who are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and 94.7 rushing yards per game.
Pittsburgh's lack of a quality ground attack has compounded the fact that wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster (shoulder) is out for the season and 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cannot threaten secondaries like he once did.
The Steelers rank 24th in total offense and 26th in scoring. While they still have a playoff-caliber defense and sit at 5-3-1, the Steelers will find it difficult to advance deep into the postseason if they cannot get things going on the ground.
San Francisco 49ers: Run Defense
The San Francisco 49ers' ability to generate pass pressure with their front seven has allowed them to find success against pass-heavy teams like the Rams. However, the defense has also been susceptible to the run, which has cost the 49ers games against Indianapolis and the Colt McCoy-led Cardinals this season.
San Francisco ranks 23rd in rushing defense and 20th in yards allowed per carry. It has let teams to go over the 100-yard mark in seven of nine games. The 49ers have also allowed 12 rushing touchdowns, third-most in the NFL.
The 49ers will have an opportunity to pull back to .500 this week against the inconsistent, inexperienced Jaguars. They'll be helped by the fact that star running back James Robinson (knee, heel), has been limited in practice and won't be at 100 percent—if he plays at all.
However, getting to .500 at 5-5 might not mean much heading into December if the 49ers cannot begin stopping the run. When the weather turns sour, running the ball is precisely what teams look to do.
Seattle Seahawks: A Limited Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks have several reasons to be concerned. They struggle to move the ball on the ground (22nd in rushing) and their pass defense is terrible (29th). Their biggest weakness, however, is the absence of a healthy Russell Wilson.
Yes, the star quarterback returned to face the Packers in Week 10. However, he was not his usually efficient self—though he refused to blame his surgically repaired finger.
"My finger felt fine," Wilson said, per Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports. "The problem with tonight was I had two bad plays, you know?"
Wilson tossed two interceptions against Green Bay, his first multi-interception game of the year, and it's unlikely that he would have made those mistakes if he weren't knocking off the rust from a four-week absence.
Seattle went 1-2 without him and is 3-6 on the season. The Seahawks rank 30th in passing yards per game and 30th in total offense.
While Wilson may rebound this week against the Cardinals and drive a late playoff push, it seems more likely that the damage—to both Wilson and Seattle's playoff hopes—is already done.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Pass Defense
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't repeat as Super Bowl champions, it won't be because of some sudden collapse by 44-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. Tampa's biggest weakness and its biggest playoff concern has been its pass defense.
Injuries have played a role, as key secondary members Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, Richard Sherman and Antoine Winfield Jr. have all missed games. However, the issues were present from the get-go.
In Week 1 against Dallas, the Buccaneers surrendered 403 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Tampa has gone on to surrender 14 more touchdown passes and ranks 22nd in passing yards allowed per game.
Opponents aren't hiding the fact that they plan on passing against the Bucs either. They have had the fourth-most pass attempts per game against them.
The Buccaneers can get healthy and tighten things up on the back end before January, of course, but this is a problem for an otherwise well-balanced, talented team.
Tennessee Titans: The Secondary
The Tennessee Titans might be the best team in football. They've consistently beaten good teams such as the Bills, Chiefs and Rams—though they did lose to the Jets—and have survived the absence of star running back Derrick Henry while he recovers from foot surgery.
However, Tennessee's pass defense is a concern. The Titans lost rookie cornerback Caleb Farley to a torn ACL against Buffalo, which only further hurt a secondary that was already suspect.
The Titans rank 27th in passing yards allowed per game and have surrendered 18 touchdown passes in 10 contests.
Tennessee has compensated with a dominant pass rush led by Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry. It has logged 27 sacks and forced opposing quarterbacks into throwing nine interceptions.
However, against a playoff opponent that can hold up in the trenches and push the ball down the field—as the Cardinals did in Week 1—the Titans could struggle.
Washington Football Team: Pass Defense
The Washington Football Team appeared to finally get on the right defensive track in Week 10 against Tampa. It held the Buccaneers to 220 passing yards and forced a pair of turnovers while rolling to a 29-19 win.
However, Washington's pass defense has been surprisingly ineffective. On paper, the Football Team should have one of the best pass rushes in the league, headlined by Chase Young and Montez Sweat—but each is out with a torn ACL and a broken jaw, respectively. Washington has logged just 19 sacks on the season, though, while repeatedly experiencing coverage breakdowns on the back end.
For the season, Washington ranks 30th in passing yards surrendered per game and 26th in yards allowed per attempt.
So a defense that ranked second overall and fourth in points allowed a year ago now ranks 27th and 28th in those categories. At 3-6, Washington has gotten enough out of quarterback Taylor Heinicke to win a few games, but the defense has repeatedly let the team down.
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted and reflective of Weeks 1-10.