Players who must step up in NFL’s second half

Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To guarantee they find employment next season…

Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the latter half of the 2018 NFL season, some teams desperately need to see stars step up their level of play. This includes a handful of struggling veteran quarterbacks just not carrying their own weight on a weekly basis.

Aside from that position, there are guys on defense who are giving up the farm to opposing teams each game. This cannot continue to go on.

Additionally, there are various players who need a strong finish in 2018 to guarantee they find employment next season. Starting with a guy from a team that reportedly needs a major overhaul.

Here are 10 players who must step things up for the rest of the season.


Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

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Prescott has not turned over a new leaf thus far, as was expected by Dallas after his down season in 2017. Now, with Jerry Jones talking about wanting to extend his franchise quarterback, it would benefit Prescott to finish this year on a high note.

At the halfway mark, the Cowboys sport a dismal 3-5 record and Prescott has manged to score only 12 total touchdowns. The hope would be that third-year quarterback can start conquering his shortcomings — which would be timing and accuracy, according to former Cowboys quarterback, Troy Aikman.


Malcolm Butler, cornerback, Tennessee Titans

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The Titans signed Butler to quite the lofty five-year, $61.25 million contract in 2018. But, instead of providing top-shelf coverage, Butler is allowing some eye-opening, league-high stats, thanks to failures like this. According to Pro Football Focus, Butler currently has the worst mark among all cornerbacks after giving up 39 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns so far on the season.

This is quite absurd, and Butler needs to provide better coverage. Though, this might not be easy, next facing his former team, the Patriots. And beyond that, Butler has two upcoming meetings against T.Y. Hilton, as well as clashes with DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. Good luck to him.


Eli Manning, quarterback, New York Giants

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Manning is having a brutal season. And, 2018 might just be his last if he does not start performing more productively. For now, he remains the team’s starting quarterback. But, he must find a way to help the Giants start scoring more points. The 37-year-old quarterback is on course to pass for a career-low 16 touchdowns. If the losses keep pouring in, the Giants may eventually choose to bench Manning while they see what rookie Kyle Lauletta (recently in the news for all the wrong reasons) brings to the table.

Overall, the Giants are far out of contention at this point. But to just save some face for the franchise, Manning needs to put forth a better effort.


Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

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The Kansas City Chiefs may have been onto something when they traded Peters to the Rams. Peters has had slouchy season thus far and watching him getting burned by top wideouts this year has been atrocious. The performance that really took the cake was Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas unloading 211 yards and one huge touchdown on Peters and the Rams in Week 9. Peters claims he is still a “top corner” in the league, but he is not fooling anyone.

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On the season, Peters has allowed six touchdowns. Pro Football Focus currently rates him at 106th among his fellow cornerbacks. Overall, the Rams have surrendered the 20th-most passing yards on average per game with a lot of that happening on Peters’ watch.


Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee Titans

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Instead of stepping up and assuming the No. 1 running back duties for the Titans this year, the third-year running back is sputtering. Henry is averaging a meager 37.5 rushing yards per game at a sluggish pace of 3.3 yards per carry. He has beyond disappointed anyone who drafted him in fantasy football, having only scored twice in eight games.

Instead, it has been fellow back Dion Lewis who has been more impressive in both running the ball and catching passes. Though, it is not too late for Henry to attempt to take advantage of the colder weather down the stretch and turn things around.


Josh Norman, cornerback, Washington Redskins

Josh Norman

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Norman has not been making the major impact that was expected when Washington signed him in 2016. Even benched once for poor performance this current season, Norman must better his play. Instead of leading the Redskins in interceptions and passes defended, Norman ranks behind both defensive backs D.J. Swearinger and Quinton Dunbar.

Fortunately, Washington’s defense remains one of the better in the league, currently giving up the seventh-fewest yards on average per game. But, Norman is not living up to being the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL by any means.


Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

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The Jags took a leap of faith and extended Bortles’ contract through 2020 this past offseason. But, should they have done that? Bortles has been floundering around some this season and the Jags are in last place in the AFC South with a 3-5 record. While he is on course to pass for over 4,000 yards, he is also on pace to throw for only 20 touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions.

It also does not help that Bortles has had to play without running back Leonard Fournette who was a great buffer for him in 2017. Nonetheless, the fifth-year quarterback could stand to improve on his error-prone ways to quiet the rumors of the Jags possibly bringing in a replacement for him.


Clay Matthews, linebacker, Green Bay Packers

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Matthews is definitely falling under the “washed-up” category as he plays out the remainder of his last contract year with the Packers. If he wants to hit pay dirt again in 2019, he must rediscover his mojo. Not the scary pass-rusher he once was, Matthews will finish 2018 with only five sacks if he keeps on his current course. This would represent a career-low provided he plays all 16 games.

With 25 combined tackles, he ranks seventh behind his fellow Packers defenders and 242nd in the league. Matthews will need a strong finish for the year to better plead his case for employment next spring.


Joe Flacco, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

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Flacco could be wearing a short leash soon if he returns from his bye week in poor form. In his last performance he offered more blunders than goodness, including missing a wide open Lamar Jackson for a touchdown pass. To date, Flacco is averaging a 61.2 pass completion rate which marks his lowest in five seasons. He also has passed for only 12 touchdowns that accompany six interceptions.

At the start of the season, it looked like Flacco was better poised to succeed with his new cast of receivers. But fast forward to now and Flacco has faded back to his old ways. With Jackson waiting in the wings, Flacco should be feeling the heat to improve as the Ravens chances of making the playoffs continue to slip away.