As each NFL team prepares for training camp, coaches and front office personnel scrutinize their strengths and weaknesses to the nth degree. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be playing devil’s advocate to determine where each NFL team’s greatest weakness lies.
Obviously, some teams are easier to criticize than others. For instance, there’s not much we can say negatively about the New England Patriots, who seem to have all their bases covered. Conversely, it’s almost a pick-em scenario with a team like the New York Jets, which decimated its roster this offseason in favor of a full-blown rebuild project.
However, every team — no matter how strong or how weak — carries a flaw opposing teams can exploit.
So what are those flaws? That’s what we’re going to explore.
Buffalo Bills: Anemic receiving corps
Though on paper the Bills would appear to have an intriguing receiving corps, it’s not as attractive as it seems.
Sammy Watkins might never be able to stay healthy. He’s bordering on wearing the “injury prone” label for good. Which really sucks, because when he’s healthy Watkins is one of the more exciting down-the-field receivers in the NFL. The fact Buffalo didn’t pick up his fifth-year option speaks volumes.
Zay Jones was a record-breaking receiver at East Carolina, and he might become valuable. He’s very quick in and out of breaks but doesn’t play as fast as his 4.45-second 40-yard dash would indicate. If Watkins ends up missing a chunk of time, we’re not confident Jones will be able to take on top cornerbacks and thrive.
Corey Brown can make some plays, but he’s not a centerpiece. The same goes for Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Jeremy Butler, Rod Streater and every other receiver on Buffalo’s roster. What the Bills have is a veritable hodgepodge of JAGS (just a guy) at receiver that isn’t good enough to balance out the offense.
Miami Dolphins: Pass defense
We could have gone with offensive line here. But Miami improved in this area dramatically throughout the 2016 season and should continue improving in the second year of Adam Gase’s offense.
Defensively, the Dolphins have some issues. Featuring a front that is anchored by an aging Cam Wake and Ndamukong Suh, the defense managed just 33 sacks last year, ranking in the bottom half of the league. Because consistent pressure wasn’t there, the secondary gave up 30 touchdowns, which earned it a No. 25 ranking in this category.
Byron Maxwell wasn’t horrid last year like he was in Philly, and he’s the closest thing they have to a No. 1 corner. But tackling has been an issue at times.
Bennett stiff arm pic.twitter.com/v9mdTT5pG2
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) March 15, 2017
Xavien Howard is a significant step down from Maxwell, and he’s the team’s second-best corner. Reshad Jones is one of the better safeties in the NFL, but he’s not good enough to make up for the lack of overall talent on the corner.
Nate Allen is…well, he’s Nate Allen.
Now, it’s true Miami’s offense is better than it’s been in a while and can score points on a regular basis. But in a division with Tom Brady and the Pats, you’re not going to pull ahead if you’re giving up points by the dozens, either.
New England Patriots: Offensive line depth
Let’s be honest. There really isn’t a lot going on regarding New England that we look at and say, “Oh, that’s not good.”
The Patriots are good from top to bottom. Their offense is top notch, and they’ve gotten even better defensively (on paper, that is) since they won Super Bowl LI.
However, the one thing that does stand out a little bit is the team’s lack of depth on the offensive line. While guys like Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason are all working out wonderfully for New England, what happens if one (or more) of them is lost due to injury? There isn’t a ton of solid depth behind them, which is certainly why Bill Belichick and Co. drafted two tackles this past April.
That said, it the Patriots are relying on rookie offensive tackles at some point this season, then Tom Brady better have his head on a swivel. Sometimes even the best teams take precipitous tumbles due to excessive attrition — something that all NFL franchises face at some point.
New York Jets: Starting quarterback…got any you can sell for cheap?
As we touched on in the introduction, the Jets are open for business when it comes to things we could criticize. However, the one glaring thing this team needs above all others is a competent quarterback.
Bryce Petty is rumored to be on the roster bubble heading into camp. Christian Hackenberg has gotten some love from the coaching staff, but this is a kid who continues to pelt media on the sidelines with errant passes. Josh McCown is a career 59.1 percent passer whose record as a starter sits at 18-42, and he’s favored to win the job!
Even accounting for what could be a strong defense, we’re having a hard time envisioning a season that’s any better than 4-12. You just cannot win in the NFL without a quarterback.
Right now, the Jets don’t have one.
Baltimore Ravens: No bell-cow running back
Before we dive into the biggest problem facing the Ravens, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Baltimore’s tight end problem. With Dennis Pitta likely retiring over his hip issues, Joe Flacco’s best options are an aging Benjamin Watson and Maxx Williams, who could start the season on PUP with his knee issue.
So, that’s a problem. However, it isn’t as big a deal as the fact there really isn’t a bell-cow running back on this roster. It was a problem last year, especially because when Flacco was injured the Ravens couldn’t run the ball to protect him or Ryan Mallett.
Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon both showed some sparks of being that guy. But West never showed much real burst, while Dixon is going to be out the first four games after testing positive for PEDs. Danny Woodhead will be a boon in the passing game and as a third-down specialist. But he’s not the kind of running back you want out there toting the rock 20-plus times.
Baltimore might have to rely on the arm of Flacco to close games out. That’s not an ideal strategy, especially in an AFC North division that’s shaping up to be brutally tough.
Cincinnati Bengals: Dwindling offensive line
The past two years has been an exodus of sorts by the top offensive players in Cincinnati not named A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.
The Bengals lost Muhamed Sanu and Marvin Jones ahead of the 2016 season. Then this past spring they lost Pro-Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth and one of the best offensive guards in the game, Kevin Zeitler, who bolted for AFC North rival Cleveland.
The receivers that were lost impacted Dalton in a big way, as his career-worst 18 touchdowns clearly show. Now he’ll be without his two most reliable offensive linemen. The Bengals clearly made a calculated risk to let the veterans go with the intent of letting young guys like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher take over.
Whether it works out or becomes yet another huge mistake by this franchise remains to be seen.
Cleveland Browns: Lack of depth in receiving corps
We all understand the Browns are a work in progress. Part of this has to do with the fact that Cleveland hasn’t had a franchise passer worth a lick in decades. They might finally have something going on that front. Rookie DeShone Kizer has made a huge impression on the coaching staff and media alike, with one prominent reporter saying Kizer has made the biggest leap of any quarterback on the roster.
However, no matter who starts behind center it’s going to be up to the receivers to get open and give their quarterback a chance to have some success.
This is potentially problematic.
Even if Coleman does stay healthy, the Browns’ next-best reciever is Kenny Britt. Now, Britt has the potential to do good things. He proved that last season when he posted career highs in receptions and yards. But will he continue playing his heart out now that he’s been paid? That’s a question that must be answered, because in his previous seven seasons, Britt has been extremely unreliable and inconsistent.
With huge question marks surrounding Cleveland’s two best receivers, and nobody of consequence behind them, it’s not looking like the Browns will have consistent success through the air in 2017.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Where’s the pass rush?
Last season, the Steelers did okay getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ending up with 38 sacks total. But that pressure didn’t come very organically. The top sack man in Pittsburgh was grizzled veteran James Harrison, who had just five sacks all year.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler had to dial up blitzes on a regular basis to keep opposing offenses from getting too comfortable.
General manager Kevin Colbert did some work in the draft to try and fix this issue, selecting T.J. Watt. Now, it’s worth pointing out I’m extremely high on Watt as an NFL pass rusher. But I’m not convinced he’s ready to make a huge difference as a rookie, just a few years removed from being asked to switch from tight end to linebacker.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) June 18, 2017
Bud Dupree has, to this point, been pretty disappointing. The former Kentucky Wildcat tallied just 8.,5 sacks in his first two seasons since being selected in Round 1 of the 2015 NFL Draft.
So we’re still wondering where the pass rush is going to come from. It might be Dupree and Watt who provide it, but that’s far from guaranteed. And as we saw in the AFC Championship Game last year, the lack of production outside was a death knell for Pittsburgh against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Houston Texans: Who’s going to replace A.J. Bouye and Quintin Demps?
The quarterback position was definitely a consideration here. But in the end the Texans did what they had to in the draft to finally make a bold play for their franchise cornerstone. Deshaun Watson will almost certainly will get a chance to play in 2017.
So pushing that in the back of our minds, the next big thing that stood out is that the Texans don’t appear to have a cornerback capable of taking over for A.J. Bouye, who bolted for a cash prize in Jacksonville this past March. Even more of a problem, his loss was compounded by the fact that safety Quintin Demps is now in Chicago.
These to were key players in Houston’s defense last year. And while the likes of Kevin Johnson, Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph can definitely play, it’s hard to imagine any of the guys on Houston’s roster being able to do what Bouye did in the slot.
Houston’s defense is stacked. Especially up front. But great offensive teams can still make plays. Houston will be hard pressed to make up for these losses.
Indianapolis Colts: Still can’t trust that offensive line
Let us hope, for Andrew Luck’s sake, that the arrival of general manager Chris Ballard proves to be the end of Indy’s horror-show offensive line. The Colts have consistently failed to protect Luck. His career took off like a rocket, only to lose fuel pressure at a critical juncture and come plummeting back down to earth in a broken heap.
While there has been some progress made, the offensive line certainly is not fixed. At this point, there are starting jobs up for grabs.
— Zesty NFL Ind Colts (@zesty_colts) June 3, 2017
Hopefully the Colts can trot out a capable unit that can protect Luck. We’re not holding our breath, though.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles and Chad Henne = turnover machine
What the Jaguars have done in free agency and the draft the past couple of years is pretty remarkable. They really do have a complete team.
Well, let me take that back. If you eliminate the quarterback, they have a complete team.
Bortles has already been put on notice — keep throwing interceptions and you’re out. That’s great. The Jags should have a firm line on that. But the issue is that if Bortles ends up getting pulled, Jacksonville’s backup plan isn’t exactly peachy keen when it comes to turnovers, either.
Chad Henne, in 65 career games, 53 of which he started, has thrown 63 interceptions and 58 touchdowns. For comparison’s sake, Bortles, in 46 career games, has thrown 51 interceptions and 69 touchdowns (many of which came during garbage time when his team was already beaten).
So, between these two quarterbacks, we’re looking at 114 interceptions in 111 games.
Tennessee Titans: Need more edge pressure
Tennessee truly could become a juggernaut this season and beyond. On offense and defense, this team is loaded with top talent. However, there is one glaring issue, and it revolves around pass rushers not named Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo.
Morgan and Orakpo combined to accumulate 19.5 sacks. That’s half of Tennessee’s production from 2016. And the nine Morgan registered was his career high. Previously, he’d never gotten more than 6.5 sacks in a season. So was the boost last year a sign of things to come or simply an aberration? If he regresses back to the mean, then Tennessee’s pass defense will struggle.
Aside from Morgan and Orakpo, the next-best pass rusher for the Titans (Jurrell Casey) last year had five sacks. The next-best after him tallied just three.
So if Tennessee really is going to challenge the best in the AFC, it will need to figure out a way to get more pass-rushing production off the edge.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback conundrum
Who’s going to start behind center in Denver? As you’re likely aware, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are locking horns over this battle over the summer.
Will it matter who starts? That’s probably the more salient question to dig into.
Siemian isn’t special. He’s a solid option and has reportedly been described by one anonymous player as a better leader than Lynch. Speaking of Lynch, he’s by far the superior athlete. As such, he has a much stronger deep ball and overall arm strength in general.
We saw what happened when both players took the field last year. They were unable to consistently generate enough offense to keep the Broncos from making the playoffs in the suddenly ultra competitive AFC West.
If Siemian ends up starting, then the offense should be generally pretty boring. If Lynch starts, we’ll get to see more big plays, but likely we’ll also see more mistakes. All things considered, it probably doesn’t matter who ends up starting. But the battle this summer should be fun to watch.
Kansas City Chiefs: Who’ll replace Jeremy Maclin?
It’s no secret Maclin had a rough 2016 season. Hampered by a groin injury, he only hauled in 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. That said, his release came as a shock to everyone around the NFL.
Now that he’s gone, the Chiefs have the tall task of replacing a guy who went for over 1,000 yards and caught eight touchdowns the previous season. Obviously, the Chiefs hope Tyreek Hill can become more than just a big-play, lighting-in-a-bottle home run threat. But it’s not a given he can become a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Chris Conley has shown flashes in his first two seasons but has caught just one touchdown total. Neither De’Anthony Thomas or Albert Wilson have the ability to consistently win on the outside. It’s going to be fascinating to see what Andy Reid conjures this year without Maclin, who was quietly the best receiver on Kansas City’s roster before being jettisoned into the free agency pool.
Oakland Raiders: Defense is squishy inside
The biggest thing standing in the way of Oakland taking the next big step in its development is inside linebacker, and the middle of the field in general.
Last season, tight ends ate the Raiders for breakfast, catching 80 passes for 1,027 yards and seven touchdowns. Oakland’s defense was also poor against the run, allowing 1,881 yards (No. 23 in the NFL) and 18 rushing touchdowns (No. 25).
Making things even more interesting, the Raiders lost starting linebacker Malcolm Smith and defensive tackle Stacy McGee to free agency. Now they’ll be counting on Cory James at inside linebacker (hardly a confidence booster). They team likely hopes rookie Eddie Vanderdoes works his way into the rotation, because he’s a big guy who can make a big difference if he’s motivated and on his game.
But overall, the Raiders are like that super tough candy with a squishy middle. Opposing teams have found a way to punch a hole through the outer crust en route to feasting on the squishy middle. That can’t happen this year if the Raiders have a chance of beating the best of the best.
Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive line is still a question mark
I’ve been watching Rivers play since he entered the NFL back in 2004 as a fresh-faced rookie out of North Carolina State. One of the most entertaining gunslingers around, he constantly amazes by pulling off plays that appear destined to end in disaster.
However, last year was just awful. He led the NFL in interceptions, throwing 21 passes that were caught by opposing teams. It was the culmination of something that he’s largely been able to overcome throughout his career — a lack of protection from his offensive line.
Philip Rivers hasn’t had one season of above average pass protection in the last decade, according to @PFF
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) June 26, 2017
Now at the age of 35, Rivers can’t move as well as he used to move — not that he was ever Cam Newton-esque to begin with. And the offensive line is still a big question mark. Granted, general manager Tom Telesco finally invested some smart draft capital to land offensive guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Lamp could be a star right out of the gate at right guard. Feeney is at worst a solid backup.
The real issue lies on the edge. It’s true that left tackle Russell Okung had a big season last year in Denver. Who knows? Maybe he’ll have another great season in Los Angeles. But Okung has been perpetually injured throughout his career. On the right side, Joe Barksdale was awful last season but remains the best option going forward unless Lamp is bumped outside and Feeney moves into a starting role.
Dallas Cowboys: Pass defense could doom the ‘Boys
What is it about Cowboys defensive ends and the NFL’s PED and drug policies? Yet another defensive end — David Irving — is starting a season on suspension. He’ll be out four games. And it’s not like Dallas was overflowing with talent on the edge to begin with.
The Cowboys managed to generate just 36 sacks last year, and now they are without four of their top secondary defenders. Barry Church, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne are all on different teams now.
Nolan Carol was the only player the Cowboys brought in via free agency to help fill the void left in their absences. No doubt this puts immediate pressure on incoming rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to immediately make a difference.
We’ve predicted that defense will ultimately be Dallas’ undoing this year. Time will tell if we’re right, but on paper the team’s pass defense could spell big trouble for the Cowboys.
New York Giants: Offensive line, running game remains problematic
One of the more remarkable things to think about is that Eli Manning has never missed a start. It’s all the more remarkable because he plays behind what is annually one of the league’s worst offensive lines. However, New York has more than enough firepower when it comes to passing the ball to move the chains and score long touchdowns.
The big issue the Giants face in 2017 is that the team’s running game is garbage. Last year, the Giants averaged a putrid 3.5 yards per carry, scoring just six rushing touchdowns all year — the worst of any team in the NFL.
There is hope that Paul Perkins and rookie Wayne Gallman might be able to spark some sort of running game revival for Big Blue. But quite honestly, given the state of the offensive line, which remains a strong wind gust away from veritable disaster, they might not be able to generate much push.
And when the weather gets cold, the teams that win are the teams that can run the ball and stop the run. New York has one of those things. But the latter continues to evade the Giants.
Philadelphia Eagles: Defensive secondary problems
Eagles fans have a lot to be excited about heading into the 2017 season. The team features an offense that really could take flight, and the team’s front seven is pretty darn loaded with talent.
However, the same cannot be said for the defensive secondary. Quite simply put, it’s awful. Jalen Mills was atrocious as a rookie, Patrick Robinson was also below average, while both Dwayne Gratz and Ron Brooks were unimpressive in limited action.
In time, Sidney Jones will develop into a special player if he can stay healthy. But it’s possible he won’t take a single snap after he tore his Achilles tendon in a pre-draft workout.
So what we have is a rag-tag secondary that desperately needs the front seven to constantly apply pressure. Pressure that would protect those poor back-end defenders from allowing opposing offenses to dominate through the air.
Washington Redskins: Terrelle Pryor does not equal Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson
Washington’s two top receivers from 2016 are going to be catching passes from different teams in 2017. With Garcon and Jackson both gone, Washington brought in Pryor, who had a breakout campaign last year with the Browns.
But nobody should assume Pryor will be able to replicate the numbers those guys put up. He’ll be there in the starting lineup with Jamison Crowder and (hopefully) Josh Doctson.
Of the three, Crowder will probably end up making the biggest impact. Doctson missed his entire rookie year and is quite a wild card in this equation.
In theory, Washington might be able to get away with losing its top two receivers. But theory doesn’t always work out the way it was planned once the real world gets involved. Given the team’s middle of the road ground attack last year, it won’t be all that surprising if Kirk Cousins and his passing attack end up suffering without Garcon and Jackson.
Chicago Bears: The Mitch Trubisky effect
So, we all know what’s supposed to happen this year. Mike Glennon is supposed to run the offense while Trubisky sits on the bench to learn and absorb what it’s like to be in the NFL.
The Bears have said they don’t want Trubisky starting in 2017.
That’s all fine and dandy. But what happens when Glennon starts slipping up and the losses start piling up? Bears fans are going to be awfully loud in their vociferous demand for the rookie quarterback who came to Chicago at a very high cost.
He’s going to be like that mole on the face of Number Three. We all know it’s there. He knows it’s there. But nobody wants to point it out until we just can’t stop saying, “Start Trubisky, for the love of all that is good and holy!”
So it’s going to get pretty darn uncomfortable for those in power this year in Chicago.
Detroit Lions: No starting-caliber running back
No offense intended to Abdullah, who is a very dynamic running back, but he really can’t be the best option for Detroit’s offense, right?
During a solid rookie campaign in which he worked himself into nine starts, Abdullah rushed for 597 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He opened the 2016 campaign as the starter but ended up missing all but two games after tearing a ligament in his foot.
All told, in 18 total games, Abdullah has accumulated just over 52 total yards per game and four total touchdowns. Those are complementary back numbers, not numbers you’d expect from a starting-caliber running back in the NFL.
Yet the Lions expect Abdullah to be their starter in 2017.
They also have Theo Riddick, Matt Asiata and Zach Zenner at their disposal. Essentially, they have four running backs who, if they were merged together into one body would have the requisite set of skills to be a darn good starter.
But apart from one another, the running backs on Detroit’s roster are incomplete.
Green Bay Packers: Secondary could still be shaky
No team was worse during the regular season last year at defending against the pass than Green Bay. The New Orleans Saints gave up more total passing yards, but the Packers allowed a league-worst 8.1 yards per attempt and allowed 32 passing touchdowns (No. 29).
What’s crazy about this is that if you think about the team forcing 40 sacks and 17 interceptions, those numbers could have been a whole lot worse.
Drafting Josh Jones and Kevin King should pay off and could pay off immediately. Both young players had excellent college careers, and they both possess the raw physical tools to excel at the next level.
But let’s be honest, if Devon House and Damarious Randall are the guys starting on the corners (a legitimate possibility), the Packers are in deep trouble.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive line might be improved, but is it good enough?
VIDEO: The #Vikings backfield looking quick in OTA's.
Clips of rookie RB Dalvin Cook and 3rd down RB Jerick McKinnon making defenders miss. pic.twitter.com/7lyWmpxYaN
— PirateLife Football (@PirateLifeFF) June 29, 2017
The biggest area of weakness that affected Minnesota last year was its offensive line. The Vikings were able to generate very little on the ground offensively, and the passing game was almost primarily a dink-and-dunk affair to protect Sam Bradford from getting tagged every other play.
Minnesota did some solid work this offseason to improve in this area, bringing in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers via free agency and drafting highly touted center Patt Elflein out of Ohio State.
Now, Reiff will absolutely be an upgrade over Matt Kalil (more on him later) at left tackle, but the jury’s still out on Remmers. He wasn’t particularly effective in Carolina, and he’ll likely need help to contain elite pass rushers as a member of the Vikings as well. Elfein could be a big deal long term, but he might not be quite ready to start out of the gate.
What we do know is the Vikings really did try to improve the offensive line. Whether that results in a better experience for Bradford and the team’s two new running backs remains to be seen.
Atlanta Falcons: Steve Sarkisian does not equal Kyle Shanahan
One does not simply replace a Kyle Shanahan with a Steve Sarkisian and expect everything to be the same.
While the Falcons will reportedly keep the framework of Shanahan’s offense in place, there is no doubt things are going to look different in 2017 with Sarkisian in charge.
And it’s not all about X’s and O’s, either. Coordinating an offense is just as much about getting into the flow of a game and seeing what opposing defenses are doing. Then attacking those weaknesses, on the fly. This is the aspect of coaching that separates the good from the great.
In his entire career, Sarkisian spent exactly one season coaching at the NFL level. He was the quarterback coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2004 before heading to USC. We have no idea what kind of game plan he’s going to devise or if he’ll be able to help the Falcons come close to achieving what they were able to do last year with Shanahan running things.
In fact, there’s a very real chance Matt Ryan and Co. could suffer a setback similar to the one they suffered in Shanahan’s first year — the setback that had many wondering if Ryan was losing his touch.
Carolina Panthers: Cam coming off surgery, still has no offensive line
The Panthers, like the Chargers and Colts, haven’t done nearly enough to protect their franchise quarterback. Newton was clearly banged up throughout the 2016 season. He ended up hitting the turf 36 times after being sacked and countless other times after he had gotten rid of a pass beforehand.
As a result of all the abuse, Newton underwent offseason shoulder surgery and has just now begun to start throwing again for the first time since the season ended.
Needless to say, he’s going to need better protection to avoid further injury as he moves into the prime of his career. So what did general manager Dave Gettleman do to protect his most priceless investment? Why, he brought in Matt Kalil, of course. You know, the guy who stunk it up so bad in Minnesota the Vikings had no problem letting him hit the open market.
Kalil will be protecting Newton’s blind side, which gives us the willies. Furthermore, the rest of Carolina’s offensive line, minus center Ryan Kalil, is nothing if uninspiring. Keep your head on a swivel, Cam.
New Orleans Saints: Defensive line still extremely underwhelming
No team in the NFL can compete with the Saints in terms of defensive inadequacy the past few seasons. Consistently at or near the bottom of league rankings, New Orleans almost seems cursed as it pertains to defensive linemen, who are the bedrock of any dominant defense.
This offseason, the Saints lost Nick Fairley, whose career is now likely over because of a heart condition.
For a team that was already short on talent up front, this was a crippling blow. Now the Saints will have to use Tony McDaniel and David Onyemata, along with other players, to fill this void.
Cameron Jordan is a stalwart for New Orleans, and Sheldon Rankins is a rising star. If Alex Okafor can rebound from a couple of poor seasons in Arizona, then perhaps the Saints might have something to work with up front. But it’s not looking great, folks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who’s supplying pressure off the edge?
— RealBucsTalk (@RealBucsTalk) June 29, 2017
Playing in the NFC South, it’s absolutely imperative that a defense features some dynamic pass rushers. Players like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton will eat you for breakfast if given time to examine the field without any threat of being hit.
Now, overall the Bucs have some guys who can reliably get to the quarterback. Guys like Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are consistently applying pressure, but mostly they’re doing it from inside.
While inside pressure is great, defenses that can’t consistently get to the quarterback off the edge will be at a disadvantage.
Noah Spence, William Gholston and Robert Ayers are the guys who really need to step up their games. Between them last season, they accounted for just 15 sacks. One dynamic pass rusher will give you 15 sacks in a good year. Three pass rushers should be able to do better than this.
Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer in decline
By the end of the 2017 campaign, Carson Palmer will be 38 years old. And based on what we saw last year, he’s starting to play like it.
His 2016 campaign saw his completion rate drop to its lowest level since joining the Cardinals in 2013. His touchdowns were significantly down in 2016 (26) compared to 2015 (35), while his interceptions went up.
Last season also marked the first time in Palmers’s tenure with the Cardinals that they posted a losing record. While that’s not all on Palmer, he didn’t play like you’d expect from a quarterback who had previously won 29 out of his last 38 games.
If Palmer has another poor season as the starter for Arizona, then it’s time for Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim to find his replacement. That’s kind of an underlying issue that could become a major storyline if the Cardinals struggle again in 2017. There is no other starting-caliber quarterback on the roster (unless you’re willing to bet on Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert), and the Cardinals opted not to draft a passer this year.
Los Angeles Rams: Is Jared Goff a franchise passer?
To answer that question, we’re betting on “No.” No, Jared Goff is not going to develop into a franchise passer.
The biggest reason for this bold statement is that Goff didn’t just struggle to hit his targets last year when he was under pressure. Even when he faced no pressure at all, he stunk.
Difference In Passer Rating When Operating From A Clean Pocket vs. When Under Pressure (2016) pic.twitter.com/IKRyAOtss8
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) March 30, 2017
Last season when Goff came into the starting lineup for good, he consistently struggled to hit open targets and was highly sporadic overall. Given the amount of capital the Rams gave up in 2016 to land Goff, they’re basically screwed if he doesn’t pan out.
There’s always Sean Mannion, Rams fans.
San Francisco 49ers: Wide receiver depth
If not for the familiarity between Brian Hoyer and Kyle Shanahan, we could talk about quarterback here until we’re blue in the face. Because without that connection, the 49ers really would be in bad shape. But Hoyer has done very well playing for Shanahan in the past and knows the system well.
With that out of the way, the biggest concern is, aside from Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, who is Hoyer going to throw the ball to?
There has been some serious buzz surrounding diminutive slot specialist Trent Taylor and tight end George Kittle — both rookies. But aside from them, the Niners’ receiving corps resembles a list of guys nobody’s heard of before, aside from the die-hard 49ers fans who follow their team’s news like it’s catnip.
With all that in mind, don’t be surprised if the 49ers end up handing the ball off to Carlos Hyde and Joe Williams an awful lot this season.
Seattle Seahawks: Poor, poor Russell Wilson still has no protection
Did you realize Russell Wilson has endured 128 sacks the past three regular seasons? Yeah, that’s a lot of abuse, and he paid a hefty price last year when he was banged up multiple times.
It’s really strange how general manager John Schneider continues to fail his quarterback. Wilson isn’t made of glass, but he isn’t big and has taken more abuse than most quarterbacks in the NFL since becoming the starter in Seattle.
This offseason, the best Schneider was able to do for Wilson was sign failed left tackle Luke Joeckel to a one-year deal in free agency and select LSU center Ethan Pocic in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
At least he didn’t do nothing, but the something Schneider accomplished won’t keep opposing defensive ends from snacking on Russ whenever they’re hungry.
The Seahawks better be able to run the ball in 2017, or it could be another long, long season for Wilson.