Scare Factors: A look around the NFL

 

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Those who braved Thursday night’s contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans were “treated” to some awful football and the Jags’ “Grey Poupon” Color Rush jerseys – pretty scary stuff.

With Halloween approaching, here are the scariest factors facing each team.

 

Arizona Cardinals – Father time

The Cardinals’ offensive-stars aren’t getting any younger. Carson Palmer has shown flashes of superstar-caliber play, but his overall numbers are way down from last season. Larry Fitzgerald is averaging the lowest yards-per-reception of his career. Can the two of them hold up over the full-seventeen weeks?

Atlanta Falcons – Proving they’re not frauds

The Falcons were at 6-1 at this point last year, in head coach Dan Quinn’s inaugural season. Naturally, they went 2-7 the rest of the way to finish at an irrelevant .500.

This year, their offense looks potent as ever. They will have to shore up their defense – especially in the passing game, which ranks in the NFL’s basement in multiple categories.

Baltimore Ravens – Stop the bleeding

With a healthy Joe Flacco and a top-ten defense, the Ravens looked poised for a bounce-back campaign. Instead, they’re in freefall – losers of four-straight games. The defense has done their part, but the offense has struggled to find a consistent game plan.

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was sacked, less than 10 months into the job, but the move has provided little to no spark. The Ravens need to get back to what they do best: stretching the field behind Flacco’s cannon-arm. With Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, they have the receivers to do just that; now they need to execute.

Buffalo Bills – Next men up

Outside of Tyrod Taylor and Charles Clay, the Bills’ injury-battered offense will feature a steady stream of cast-offs and no-names, entering this week’s match-up against the bitter-rival Patriots.

Someone will have to step up, from a cadre that includes Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, Marquis Goodwin, Justin Hunter and Greg Salas.

Carolina Panthers – The state of Cam

The Super Bowl hangover has taken on extended proportions, as the Panthers are 1-5 and in last place. The defense hasn’t been great, but Newton is the true barometer of the team’s success. So far, numero uno has been no bueno.

Newton is dropping back at a career-high rate (36%) and has already taken 15 sacks in 5 games. His interception rate (3.3%) is at its highest since his rookie season. Ron Rivera and company have to get their quarterback’s head on straight, if they hope to right the ship.

Chicago Bears – Quarterback

What a difference a week makes. It seemed the Bears had found their starting-quarterback, in off-season signing, Brian Hoyer. Perhaps finally, they could move on from the Jay Cutler-era.

A week and a broken arm later, Chicago and Cutler find themselves awkwardly-sharing a bed, once again. He may never inspire a locker-room like a star quarterback, but he will have to play like one if he wants to be a starter again, next year.

Cincinnati Bengals – Offensive line

The line has been truly offensive, ranking dead last in pass-protection. They’ve allowed 22 sacks for an abysmal, 9.2% adjusted sack rate. The offense has suffered, as a result. The group, led by Pro-Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth, has the talent and pedigree to be better. There’s nowhere to go but up.

Cleveland Browns – Quarterback(s)

Call it the Curse of Tim Couch. Quarterback has always been a problem for the Browns, but even they’ve never seen this. The carousel has taken on comic proportions, this season. Injuries have sapped the team down to their sixth option.

Cleveland has one of the most-passionate fan-bases in the league. How many, however, could pick Kevin Hogan out of a police line-up?  Fortunately, the Indians are doing well, providing Browns fans a much-needed distraction.

Dallas Cowboys – The rookie wall

So far, the ‘Boys have been rolling. A large part of their offensive success has been due to the rookie tandem of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The worry is that, at some point, they will be bogged down by the long-grind of the professional football season. Keeping them fresh – not only physically, but mentally, as well – will be an important task for Garrett and company, down the stretch.

Denver Broncos – Running back depth

John Elway is a genius, right? So far, the decision to let incumbent quarterback Brock Osweiler walk looks incredibly-fortuitous; Trevor Siemian has looked incredibly-poised for a 7th round draft pick.

This week, the team announced that starting running back, CJ Anderson, will likely miss the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury. It will be up to unproven rookie Devontae Booker to pick up the slack.

Detroit Lions – Defensive front

The numbers don’t exactly play it out, but the Lions’ secondary has been much-improved this year. The problem is that they’ve gotten little to no pressure up front. The defensive line is allowing 4.81 yards per carry and is last in the league at getting to the quarterback (2.7% adjusted sack rate). They miss the physicality of Ndamukong Suh.

Green Bay Packers – Gone stale

This season marks the 10 year-anniversary for the Packers and Mike McCarthy, who is tied with Saints coach Sean Payton for the third-longest tenure amongst NFL head coaches.

It’s been a successful union, one that includes five division-titles and one Super Bowl ring (2010). But, the Packers have been mere shadows of their championship selves, of late. It’s no one’s fault; sometimes, things just go stale.

Houston Texans – Osweiler sucks.

Enough said.

Indianapolis Colts – Roster construction

The Colts’ myriad of roster issues has been well-documented. Their defense has given up 200 points – only the Browns have allowed more in the AFC. Quarterback and mega-investment Andrew Luck has been battered, behind an offensive line that is starting three rookies. I feel like a broken record, but they need to do a better job keeping him upright, or one of these days he’s just going to crumble to dust.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Bad vibes

Other than the previously-mentioned uniforms, the Jaguars biggest problem this season is their offense. Jacksonville was a trendy, pre-season pick among experts and fantasy football players alike.

Bortles has put up respectable numbers, but most of those have come in garbage time, with the games’ outcomes decided. He’s been pretty terrible in other situations.

The Jaguars have drafted well, and have been smart with their cap space. The pieces are in place. Their struggles this season have been baffling. They will have to play lights out football to save coach Gus Bradley’s job.

Kansas City Chiefs – Offensive spark

The Kansas City Chiefs play football like it’s the 1970s all over again. They play punishing defense, try to run the ball down your throat and pass as a last option. They are averaging a pedestrian 347 yards a game, 27th in the NFL. In a league of high-octane offenses, that won’t cut it every week.

Los Angeles Rams – The unspoken question

At what point to the Rams begin to worry about Todd Gurley?

The young man is clearly an elite athlete with elite talents. But, other than a handful of games last year, he looks closer to Trent Richardson than Marshall Faulk, averaging a mere 3 yards per carry, this season. Teams have been game-planning against him but you’d like to see some hints of production.

Miami Dolphins – Quarterback

You know things are bad when your fans are clamoring for Matt Moore. Barring a dramatic turnaround, Miami will likely be among the ranks of those looking for a quarterback, come this off-season. This is year five of the Ryan Tanehill experience, most of which has been forgettable – just like this season.

Minnesota Vikings – Offensive identity

After losing their starting quarterback and running back, the Vikings hardly missed a beat, thanks to good coaching and other-worldly defense. Eventually, their offense will have to put points on the board.

No one has stepped up and definitively taken over as the unquestioned focal point of the offense. Receiver Stefon Diggs needs to step up and prove his early-season success was no fluke.

New England Patriots – Schedule gods

It’s hard to poke holes in the Belichick-led machine. If I had to choose one thing, it’s that they haven’t really been tested yet, outside of a week one visit to Arizona. Games that would have been tough last year (Houston, Cincinnati) were easier, this go-around, due to those teams’ struggles. We’ll see how they look, against tougher competition.

New Orleans Saints – No defense

It’s Groundhog Day, in the Big Easy: the Saints can score with the best of them (176 points for, 2nd best in the NFC), but they can’t stop anybody (195 points against, 3rd worst). They are allowing nearly 300 passing yards a game. Until something changes, they will be hard-pressed to compete with good teams.

New York Giants – Running game

It’s been an injury-marred campaign, for the Giants’ running back corps. Starter Rashad Jennings has missed time with a thumb injury and third-down specialist Shane Vereen is out for the season. New York has been forced to roll out the uninspiring tandem of Orleans Darkwa and Bobby Rainey.

They need Jennings to come back and run-effectively, to take some pressure off of Eli Manning and the passing game. As for the veteran quarterback, he’s been OK but not great.

New York Jets – More consistency

The Jets have taken steps back on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they rank in the bottom third of the league in points allowed. Bad quarterback play from Ryan Fitzpatrick has tanked the offense. He has 11 interceptions already, with passer rating of just 66.4.

The coaching staff even flirted with a move to former starter Geno Smith; that’s never a good sign.

Oakland Raiders – Finding the alpha dog

The Raiders have gone with a committee at running back, mixing in a three-headed monster of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. The rotation has experienced some success, but it’s also kept them from getting into a real rhythm. The team needs to figure out which horse it wants to ride, and stick with him.

Philadelphia Eagles – Adjustments

The Eagles were forced to deploy rookie quarterback Carson Wentz earlier than they probably would have liked. He was the toast of the town after a strong, first three weeks. In the last two weeks, however, he’s completing just 53% of his passes, with only one touchdown pass to two interceptions.

Obviously, that’s not going to cut it. Wentz needs to do a better job of getting his weapons involved – especially number one receiver Jordan Matthews, who has eclipsed 75 yards just once, so far.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Injuries

The offense has been bitten by the injury bug all year, from Sammy Coates to Ladarius Green to Big Ben. Even the bionic Antonio Brown has been banged up. With Roethlisberger sidelined for at least the next few weeks, the Steelers fate rests on the shoulders of back-up Landry Jones.

San Diego Chargers – Cursed

It seems like nothing has gone right for the Chargers, this season. All four losses have been by six points or less. They lost offensive stars Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead to their usual, season-ending injuries. Worse, the team might pack up and leave for another city any day now.

San Francisco 49ers – Bad quarterbacks

Head coach Chip Kelly didn’t wait long to cancel the Blaine Gabbert show. He pulled the plug after week 5, and inserted former-starter and anthem-activist Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2014, and it shows. He looks like, well, a guy who lost his starting job. It is unknown if he has anything left in the tank.

Seattle Seahawks – Offensive malaise

The Seahawks’ offense has looked downright ordinary, this season – including three games of ten points or less. Russell Wilson has been banged-up and looks less-mobile as a result. In the running game, Christine Michael has been solid, but they miss the bruising force of Marshawn Lynch.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Kicking game

The Bucs used their 2016, second-round pick on place-kicker Roberto Aguayo, under the assumption they could pencil in his steady leg for the next decade. Instead, he’s been anything but reliable – with an ugly 6-11 line so far (54%). The team has been patient with the rookie from Florida State, but their tolerance can only extend so far.

Tennessee Titans – Wide receivers

The Titans running game, led by off-season acquisition DeMarco Murray, has largely carried the offense. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has been solid, if unspectacular. He’s done well with the current group of receivers, but none of them are a true, number one talent.

Washington Redskins – Jordan Reed’s health

The Redskins’ star tight end is no stranger to injuries. Through his first three seasons, Reed suited up for just 34 of 48 games. More worrisome is the nature of his current malady – a concussion – an injury that grows more serious each time. Reed has had five.

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