After Week Two of the 2015 NFL season there are nine teams off to a 0-2 start. Many of these teams had pre-season expectations to make the playoffs. So what went wrong between August 1st and September 22nd? Reality hit that being “good on paper” does not equal success on the football field.
So I am going to look at each of these 0-2 teams like a doctor: analyze the symptoms, diagnose the problem, and give a solution/prescription to turn things around. So let’s get started:
Symptoms: The Ravens have been playing inconsistent each of the first two weeks. In week one they limit the Broncos offense and future Hall of Fame Quarterback Peyton Manning to under 20 points then the next week the defense allows 37 points from a Raiders team full of young players. As a team they rank in the lower half of the league in almost every offensive statistical category.
Diagnosis: Injuries at key positions are hurting the Ravens. All-Pro Linebacker Terrell Suggs is out for the season, Pro Bowl Tight End Dennis Pitta is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, starting Offensive Tackle Eugene Monroe is out with a concussion, and rookie Wide Receiver Breshard Perriman is recovering from a knee injury. As a result, the team has been playing guys at these positions who are not at the same level of skill as the injured starters.
Solution: The Ravens do not have a plethora of high skilled players starting at every position. They cannot get away with being the most talented team on the field each week. This team needs to get back to what has served them well in the past, which is being physical on both sides of the ball. If they can physically impose their will on opponents they can win ball games. Neither of their first two losses were blowouts, both games came down to final possessions, so they must execute better in crunch time.
But having to “turn on a switch” and play a certain way at the end of games is a lot harder when the team hasn’t been playing well throughout the game. Starting in the 1st quarter of each game the team needs to impose their will and game plan on their opponents then carry that momentum throughout the rest of the game.
Symptoms: On paper the Houston Texans are one of the most talented defenses in the NFL. Yet they have allowed their first two opponents this season to score 24 points and 27 points in consecutive weeks. This is facing offenses with limited offensive skill players so it would be assumed that a team as talented as the Texans should be able to slow opponents down. Also, Texans have started two different Quarterbacks in both of their games this season.
Diagnosis: The problem is execution. There is no reason why a defense like this should allow a talented Tight End such as Travis Kelce to be so wide open and be able to score two receiving touchdowns. There is no reason why Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton should not be under pressure when he is the most dangerous player on the opposing offense. Also, after the first two weeks the Texans passing offense is top 12 in the NFL in passing yards per game and has 28 first downs on passing plays. Yet they are only averaging 18.5 points per game and their 3rd down conversion rate is a lowly 24 percent.
Solution: The defense needs to stop leaning on All-Pro Defensive lineman JJ Watt. Yes, he is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, but one man cannot do everything. Football is a team game and the other players on the Texans defense need to step up and handle their assignments on every play. On offense, this team needs to balance their attack. They are running double the passing plays versus running plays; they need to be more committed to the running game and not leave so much pressure on the passing attack to convert on 3rd downs to keep drives going.
Symptoms: The Colts have been outscored on the season 47-21 versus teams who when you combine their rosters only have two players on offense who have been Pro Bowl selections. Neither Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor nor Ryan Fitzpatrick are overly difficult to game plan against. Also the Colts offense is bottom in the NFL ranks in turnovers in 2015.
Diagnosis: The Colts offensive and defensive lines have played poorly in their first two games. Neither side of the ball is gaining leverage against the opposition and these guys are being pushed around almost every play. I do not care how great Quarterback Andrew Luck is, or how talented his receivers are. If the offensive line does not hold their blocking assignments, this offense will keep looking putrid. On the flip side, the defensive front is not getting consistent pressure on the opposing offense, leaving the back end of the defense to be taken advantage of from down to down. Opposing offenses are averaging 343 total yards of offense versus Colts in 2015.
Solution: The offensive and defensive lineman need to do their jobs better or this team will continue to flounder. The men in the trenches are the foundation of success for any winning franchise. It doesn’t matter how talented the Quarterback and Wide Receivers are on paper. Poor execution leads to opponents having the upper hand and then the team starts pressing because they are behind on the score board. The Colts need to get back to the fundamentals of football. They signed Running Back Frank Gore for a reason and I am sure it wasn’t to just block for Andrew Luck. They need to stop being afraid to attack on defense, especially when you have guys like Trent Cole and Robert Mathis on the roster. The Colts have to impose their game plan on opponents in order to win games. This finesse style of game play the last two weeks certainly isn’t working.
New York Giants
Symptoms: For two straight weeks the Giants have held the lead in games in the 4th quarter, mismanaged their offense, then allowed opponents to get the ball back on offense at end of the game and score touchdowns. The Giants are outscoring teams 37-23 through first 3 quarters; in the 4th quarter opponents are outscoring the Giants 28-10!
Diagnosis: The Giants are not finishing games with the right attitude. Instead of playing the way they did the first 3 quarters all the way until the end, in the 4th quarter, they are playing overly conservative in effort to “maintain the lead” and “not make mistakes”. A problem in sports is whenever a team or player is worried about making a mistake, those problems manifest themselves during the game and then the worry becomes the nightmare facing them.
Solution: The Giants need to stop letting up on the gas pedal when entering the 4th quarter. They need to be in attack mode all game long, not just 75 percent of the game. They need to treat the scoreboard like no lead is safe and they have to keep attacking opponents on offense while allowing their defense to continue being aggressive until the final seconds go off the clock. They can lay back when the game is over, not in the fourth quarter.
Symptoms: The Eagles offense is averaging only 17 points per game and statistically have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 35 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile opponents are averaging 377 total yards per game and the Eagles defense pressure on the opposing Quarterback is so bad they have only one sack in 2015.
Diagnosis: The Eagles are not just playing poorly, but are misusing players on both sides of the ball. Running Back Demarco Murray is a “North-South” power runner who is great running between the tackles. The Eagles keep trying to run him on stretch plays and hand offs out of shotgun. Byron Maxwell did his best work as a Cornerback in Seattle playing a specific side of the field, not matched up on the opponent’s top receiver all game long. While Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews does his best work on slants and deep comeback pattern passing plays, the Eagles keep running him on deep outs and crossing pick passing plays. Linebacker Connor Barwin is great at blitzing the Quarterback on 3rd down and stopping running plays and screen plays as a power player. Eagles keep sending him into coverage on multiple downs.
Solution: The Eagles coaches need to utilize their players based on their skill sets instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If Chip Kelly is as great a football mind as people claim, he will know how to customize his game plans based around his player’s strengths instead of asking them to run plays they are outside of their comfort zones. Allow the talent on this roster to do what they are best at, then you will have a chance to win ball games.
Symptoms: The Lions are in the bottom half of the league in points per game, rush yards per game, total yards per game and 3rd down conversation percentage. Their offense has been inconsistent despite all the talent they have on the roster. Also, opponents are averaging 29.5 points per game versus the Lions.
Diagnosis: The Lions have built their team around the Pro Bowl Quarterback Matthew Stafford with talented players such as Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Amir Abdullah. But the offensive play calling has been unbalanced. The running game has been so rough that the team’s second leading rusher so far this season is their Quarterback Stafford. Which highlights the other issue. The offensive line is not getting enough leverage at the snap of the ball, allowing opposing defenses to dictate pace and limiting the offense’s ability to execute efficiently.
Solution: The Lions must do a better job at putting the Quarterback in a position to be successful or they will continue to lose games. This team’s defense is built to play when their offense is ahead so they can attack the opponent’s offense. They are not built to play from behind so they need to not start slow as they have the last two weeks. They need to get leads early and execute on offense, giving them a chance to finish the game strong instead of fighting from behind and hope for the best.
Symptoms: The Bears offense is not the problem as they average 23 points per game and statistically one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL. The problem is their defense, as their opponents have score 11 touchdowns in just the first two weeks of this season. The defense has registered zero sacks and their only interception is by one of their pass rushers, Jared Allen.
Diagnosis: Ever since the team fired former Head Coach Lovie Smith a few years ago, the defense has played below average despite the personnel on their roster. When your defense is unable to stop opponents then the offense is put in the dubious position of having to play catch up. Being without starting Quarterback Jay Cutler for a few weeks will further inhibit the team’s ability to keep up in games their defense can’t slow down opponents.
Solution: Talented veterans such as Jared Allen, Antrel Rolle, Lamarr Houston, and Shea McClellin need to take command of the situation and lead this team to play better. These guys know what it takes to be successful in the NFL and without them this team will finish dead last in the division. The Bears do not have the offensive firepower to win only with their offense. The defense must step up, play up to their potential, and keep opponents from averaging 39.5 point per game against them. They need to shave at least 10 points off that average to allow their offense to have a chance to win games for them.
New Orleans Saints
Symptoms: Despite having a future Hall of Famer at Quarterback in Drew Brees, the Saints are averaging 19 points per game and their offensive line has allowed their Quarterback to be sacked six times. Meanwhile, despite having “defensive guru” Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, the Saints are allowing opponents an average of 380 total yards per game.
Diagnosis: The Saints offensive and defensive lines are under performing in 2015. Despite the big trade to bring in Pro Bowl Center Max Unger in the offseason, the line has been unable to keep defenders off their Quarterback consistently. Also the line is not gaining the leverage needed at the snap to allow any consistency play from the running game. On the flip side, the defense is getting almost no pressure on opposing Quarterbacks and the secondary is playing sloppy in coverage.
Solution: The Saints need to pick up their overall play in the trenches. They cannot expect to win games if they are getting manhandled after the snap of the football on each play. Drew Brees reportedly has a bruised rotator cuff, thanks to his offensive line doing a poor job of protecting him. The defense needs to get more pressure on opposing Quarterbacks in order to make life more difficult for offenses they face. The coaches Sean Payton and Rob Ryan need to see what they can do to shake up their game plan schemes so they appear less predictable week to week.
Symptoms: The Seahawks are allowing 30.5 points per game to be scored on them, the highest number in the last 5 seasons. They have only gotten sacks on opposing Quarterbacks 4 times and registered zero interceptions. Meanwhile Seattle has allowed their own starting Quarterback Russell Wilson to be sacked by opponents eight times and their offense is in the bottom half of the league statistically in categories such as total yards per game, passing yards, and total points scored.
Diagnosis: This is not a team right now. Too many players are going onto the field not for the team but playing for themselves and to impress to get contracts. Safety Kam Chancellor has been sitting out, refusing to play, because he wants a pay raise after getting a new contract two years ago. This type of attitude is seemingly permeating the rest of the roster as too many guys on both sides of the ball are playing as individuals instead of executing as a unit. With players such as Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Cliff Avrill, there is no reason why they should be allowing opponents to score as many points per game.
Solution: Protect your Quarterback and get to the other team’s Quarterback. Seattle Seahawks, the solution is simple. Stop worrying about the next contact or what the guy next to you is doing or when Kam Chancellor is coming back. Step up, do your job, support your current teammates. Don’t worry about who is no longer on the team because they went elsewhere and got paid. Also, you acquired one of the top offensive weapons in the NFL, Tight End Jimmy Graham. Get him more involved in the offense. Graham led the Saints in targets on passing plays three of the last four seasons in New Orleans and despite the fact everyone knew the Saints were throwing it to him, he still put up huge statistics every year. There is no reason why he can’t do the same in Seattle.