10 biggest disappointments from NFL’s first quarter

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s fun to have football back in our lives, the NFL, as well as its teams and players, have left us plenty to be disappointed about in the early part of the 2018 season.

Teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations. A quarter of the way into the season, both are far from championship caliber. The Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills have been predictably bad. But despite that, the way they’ve operated on the field has been quite troubling.

Additionally, injuries to two of the NFC West’s best, most exciting players will certainly make their games less enjoyable to watch. And regardless of what teams are playing, the way games have been officiated has been a constant disappointment.

The first four weeks of the 2018 NFL season have brought plenty of disappointments. These are the most notable among them.

Roughing the passer calls dominate the early weeks

This has been a league-wide epidemic. It’s hard enough to hit a quarterback without getting flagged for going too high or too low. But now, defenders have to worry about what happens after the hit. Quarterbacks can’t be spiked to the ground. But defenders also can’t land on them. So, defenders are asked to do impossible things, like change direction in mid-air.

We’re also seeing these penalties alter the results of games. Even worse, we’re seeing defenders change the way they pursue quarterbacks, which increases the risk of injury. Additionally, it’s simply not enjoyable to watch games with so many penalties being called.

The NFL needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. Otherwise, things will get worse before they get better.

Earl Thomas’ injury

On its own, it’s disappointing seeing anyone — especially star players — get hurt. When players like Thomas are sidelined, the NFL is worse for it.

However, this is about more than just the loss of a great player.

Thomas’ contact situation has been a source of contention for a long time. What happened is not only going to cause a further disconnect between Thomas and the Seattle Seahawks, but any player looking for a new contract. Players will now be more emboldened hold out for the long-term deals financial security. They just saw the value of one of their own get greatly diminished with an injury.

On the other hand, teams are going to see this and also dig their heels in. They can look at what happened as vindication for the Seahawks not giving Thomas the contract he wanted. Look what would have happened if they had.

Take whatever side you want in the dispute. But if the ultimate hope is that we’ll see less of these disputes in the future, this isn’t going to help make that happen. If anything, it will to make any future disputes even more difficult to solve.

What has happened to the Vikings’ defense?

Minnesota’s defense looked awfully impressive in a 24-16 Week 1 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But since then, the Vikings have looked a lot like the team that lost 38-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game a season ago.

Minnesota has gone 0-2-1 since that opening win, allowing more than 31 points a game in the process. This included a Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, where Viking defenders were completely overmatched. It also includes a Week 3 shellacking at home against the Buffalo Bills, a team that’s gone 0-3 and been outscored 100-23 in its other three games.

Minnesota’s defense is supposed to be the anchor of a Super Bowl contender. But through the first four games, it hasn’t been close.

Cardinals don’t know how to use David Johnson

In a Week 3 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Cardinals had David Johnson on the bench for one of the game’s biggest plays. The reason he was on the bench was absolutely baffling. But this isn’t about one play, or even one game. This problem goes well beyond that.

Johnson is one of the best overall offensive weapons in the game. His team just doesn’t seem to realize that. He’s received only 56 carries, which is less than 15 a game. Some of that can maybe be attributed to the Cardinals always playing from behind. But he’s also caught only 13 passes.

We can call Arizona’s 0-4 record bad, but it’s not terribly disappointing. This is just a bad team. But the way Johnson has been used has certainly been disappointing. If it continues, it’ll be hard to justify Steve Wilks and the rest of this staff getting a second year.

Bills setting Josh Allen up to fail

Even if the situation was ideal, Allen would be far from a sure thing. He has a big arm, but his well-known accuracy issues will need to be fixed. That said, the situation he’s been put it has been anything but ideal.

The receiving corps in Buffalo is a mess. But the receivers are a stronghold when compared to the offensive line. Through four games, Allen is on pace to be sacked more than any quarterback in NFL history. Given that the Bills figure to be playing from behind a lot over the final 12 games, we don’t anticipate that pace falling much.

Young quarterbacks have to be given a chance. It doesn’t feel like that’s happened in Buffalo.

Reunion between the Raiders and Chucky has resembled a horror movie

Jon Gruden often made mention of his team’s lack of a pass rush. It’s only natural to draw a line between that and the trade of Khalil Mack. Trading Mack will never get less stupid. There’s no doubt about that. But even if we somehow overlook that trade, this situation has been ugly.

Gruden is the man who turned Rich Gannon into a star. He won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson. Gruden is supposed to be the coach who gets the most out of quarterbacks. But that hasn’t happened with Derek Carr. He has completed a solid 71 percent of his passes, but he has a rather unimpressive 89.7 passer rating. The primary cause of that has been his turnovers. He has seven interceptions and six touchdowns.

The Mack trade can’t be undone. The job for Gruden now is to make the best out of what he has. That has not happened.

Texans can’t protect Deshaun Watson

While Watson’s 2017 season was abbreviated, we saw his potential. We also saw how bad the Texans were after his injury. As such, it would only make sense for Houston to find ways to protect him. It just hasn’t happened.

Watson has been sacked only one fewer time than Allen in Buffalo. That doesn’t even factor in how many times he’s been hit, or used his mobility to narrowly get away. That’s a much bigger problem than the 1-3 start.

Plenty of Texans have played below expectations in 2018. But even if that continues, we’re only talking about one season. If Houston can’t find a way to protect Watson, the problems figure to extend beyond this season.

Falcons can’t find Julio Jones in the red zone

It’s not that the Falcons have forgotten about Jones. He’s gone for 502 yards in only four weeks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Atlanta offense still can’t get this guy the ball in the end zone. That’s just confounding.

We’re talking about a 6-foot-3, 220 pound athlete that very few defensive backs can come close to matching up with. He also caught only three touchdowns a year ago when the Falcons generally disappointed. So, we’d figure that Steve Sarkisian would try to get him more involved. That has not happened.

To be fair, Atlanta’s offense has not been bad. But that obviously hasn’t been good enough. With injuries to the defense, the offense needs to take games over. That’s going to require Julio being more than a decoy in the red zone.

Injury to Jimmy Garoppolo halts progress of rising star

Given the way he finished 2017, Garoppolo figured to be one of the game’s rising stars in 2018. But it wasn’t meant to be. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback tore his ACL in Week 3 and won’t see the field again until 2019.

Much like the Thomas injury, it’s just unfortunate to see players like that on the shelf for much of the year. Those two injuries also effectively ended the NFC West race before the end of September. The 49ers and Seahawks already faced an uphill battle to catch the Rams. With these guys out, forget about it.

Injuries happen every year. But seeing one of the game’s bright young stars get sidelined so early is just bad news for football fans everywhere.

Steelers are a mess

It’s not something that we can often say about a Pittsburgh team, but the Steelers have looked completely overwhelmed during their 1-2-1 start. The defense is allowing nearly 27 points a game. Since going for 135 yards in Week 1, James Conner has rushed for a combined 97 yards in three games.

Le’Veon Bell is clearly missed. He’ll be back, but even that won’t be until after a Week 7 bye. Antonio Brown has had his moments. But he’s yet to really step up and take a game over. Some of that is caused by the attention he draws. But he and Ben Roethlisberger seem to be off in their connection. And like Bell, there’s a pretty clear disconnect between Brown and the team.

The AFC North is also much better than we’ve seen in recent years. So, if Pittsburgh has another gear, now is the time to find it.