Mid-season Reality Checks: Part I

So, we are halfway through the season and we have teams already beginning to show us exactly who they are. All of the off-season hyperbole and excitement has finally been tempered by the reality of a league where half of the teams in the league are either, (a) just as doomed as last year, (b) better, but still not quite good enough or (c) even worse than would’ve been reasonably expected.
I have compiled a list of inconvenient truths for all 32 teams, even the very good ones.

Truths that potentially doom them this year. Now remember its the halfway point so I am certain I am probably going to be proven wrong in time, but based on 8 weeks of games here are my top reality checks for every team in the league. I have broken it down into 2 parts for you all. This week A to L.

ATLANTA FALCONS
Reality Check?: “Your defense isnt ready yet”

Your defense is getting much better and is a far “spunkier” ( more violent ) unit than last year. Keanu Neal and Deion Jones were fantastic additions giving your team some toughness and leadership. Also Vic Beaseley and Dwight Freeney are slowly forming a decent pass rushing duo.
However with the best will in the world, even if you make it to the playoffs if your offense stalls, then you simply dont have enough defense to beat a truly elite team. So the reality check is, that you are likely dumped out in the playoffs by the Seahawks. Which isn’t that bad is it really?

ARIZONA CARDINALS
Reality Check?:  “You are having to reinvent your offense mid-season”

Carson Palmer is struggling with accuracy on intermediate and long throws downfield. Unfortunately those are the throws the offense is built on.  Luckily you have David Johnson to help you make that transition. But you still need to get Palmer going and showing the precise ball-placement that has made them a high octane offense in the past. if you want to be playing competitively in January or even February (as much as we all want you to) then this is the key.

BALTIMORE RAVENS
Reality Check?: “Harbaugh has been coaching his arse off for nothing.”

The Ravens have the feel of a team who is utterly snakebitten. Particularly when you look at their immense injury report. That and an offense that is still a work in progress. This year is a write-off I think. However the defensive nucleus (well, the front seven)  is very strong, the young RB’s are promising and the Offensive line is still good. A couple of decent drafts could really transform the team into something great.

BUFFALO BILLS
Reality Check?: “If you cant run, you cant win.”

Simple. If Shady McCoy doesnt get going neither does your offense. And your schedule cant help you.

CAROLINA PANTHERS
Reality Check?: “It’s not just the secondary, people have figured out your offense.”

Since Cam Newton arrived in the NFL he has played in a system that retains a lot of the DNA of the system he ran in College. To this day there are elements of that scheme in todays Panthers offense. The system is built on effective execution of the inside zone-read setting up designed QB runs and play-action. The idea being that they keep the down and distance as low as possible to avoid obvious passing situations and keep the defense honest. Teams defenses are fast working out that eliminating the inside zone read removes the central pillar of the offense. Forces Cam to throw 40 passes a game and allows teams to blitz from the outside with consistent success. They cant retain possession and take the pressure off of that depleted defense and so they end up losing more games than they ought.

CHICAGO BEARS
Reality Check?: “You are 3-4 years away from being good.”

Bears fans You know that. Dont be sad. Move on, you are better than this. Its not 1985 anymore stop ruining your life with unrealistic expectations and embrace the possibilities a Cutler free future will bring. There is no shame in being plucky underdogs. Trust me Super bowl 55 is yours to take.

CINCINATTI BENGALS
Reality Check?:
“The endless annual culling of talent has caught up with you.”

By that, I also mean Hue Jackson. Last year Mohammed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Reggie Nelson also left the team. Couple that Brain drain with the Injury to Tyler Eifert and your team has been a shadow of its former self so far. The brilliant Coaching is seeing a gradual improvement and the new Offense is slowly bedding in so I am confident you will finish strong. I just hope you havent already “cooked your chips” in regard to playoffs. However your competitors in the division seem to all be looking for new ways to crumble, so you never know….

CLEVELAND BROWNS
Reality Check?: ” You have the least talented roster in the NFL.”

I think it would be unfair to rip into them at this point too, because as bad as they are, they are at least the most watchable, competitive team the Browns have sent out since 1999. And they are getting better with every passing week. Hue Jackson deserves your admiration for the culture that he seems to be building there. One thats been missing since Bernie Kosar was a starter. One where the fight hasnt left them inspite of their record.

DALLAS COWBOYS
Reality Check?: “If you mismanage your QB situation it could rip your team apart and kill your season down the stretch.”

Lots of people (Jerry Jones included) are viewing this potential minefield with rose tinted spectacles. Speaking in glib terms about something that if handled badly is the kind of thing that divides teams and creates unnecessary distractions that affect results. Not the kind of thing you want at the back end of the season. This makes me nervous. I only hope Jones and Garrett have a real plan in place.

DENVER BRONCOS
Reality Check?: “The offense isn’t working well enough”

The assertion that “Denver doesn’t need much offense” is only partially accurate. The defense doesn’t score 20 points a game, also there isnt a single defense in the league capable of playing at an elite level if the offense is always stalling (see the Vikings). The Broncos dont need Big plays but they do need a much more consistent push up front in the running game especially with the loss of CJ Anderson. They also need much better pass protection to sustain drives and rack up the 20 points a game they will need to go 12-4. Right now its a lottery which offense turns up. The lottery needs to stop.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Reality Check?: “You need to rethink your offense completely.”

The offensive scheme has become dull, predictable and unfit for purpose. Because of this and key player injuries to key pieces last year and this, Rodgers has been working fast and loose in a broken down structure and had to fix his play mid-season. What is needed is a short term refresh of the system. Followed by a dramatic change in scheme and personel usage next year.

HOUSTON TEXANS
Reality Check?: “You paid a kings ransom for a QB who is a project because he is in a very different system.”

If at an NFL level, all you have ever known is life as a part-time starter is a Gary Kubiak offense, then becoming Bill O’Brien’s franchise QB is always going to be a real shock to the system. The Texans offense is more complex, carroes far more responsibility asking a Quarterback to make quicker decisions and more sophisticated reads. Also the Texans are a team who are considered to be “only a Quarterback away” from being a legitimate contender. All this plus the weapons at his disposal means that the expectation for Osweiler to perform is considerably higher than  most. Unfortunately, it seems that the fruits of this particular investment may take longer to bloom than first thought. They probably will. But it seems naive to have assumed that it would succeed year one.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Reality Check?: “You are a poorly constructed, poorly coached team who is squandering a once in a generation talent and the Coach and GM deserve to be fired.”

But they wont, not yet. Andrew Luck is playing as well as he has in a long time, and TY Hilton is as good a receiver as you will find in the modern game. This papers over a lot of cracks, furthermore they are in a division full of teams that routinely implode from week to week so they will never bottom out at 5-11 or 4-12 as they maybe should have last year. Maybe this is the year that Ownership wakes up to what most fans are telling them?.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Reality Check?. “You probably have a year, to save Blake Bortles career.”

Hopefully, the promotion of Nathaniel Hackett to Offensive Coordinator will have a similar effect on Bortles to the one Jim-Bob Cooter had on Matthew Stafford in Detroit. It needs to. Bortles is something of a sacrificial lamb for an offense that, in general, looks damaged and flawed, particularly in the Run game. Bortles struggles have dramatically exacerbated this and if the 2016 season doesnt transform somewhat for him as an individual, then you can imagine the chatter that will begin to build regarding a change at QB in Jacksonville. Chatter, that by Draft day could reach fever pitch. Or at least opens up the horrific spectre of 10-12 games of Chad Henne next year, with Blake benched after a slow start to 2017.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Reality Check?: “This is not the year to lose Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston to injury”.

Chiefs fans. I really like your team. Your coaches and your massively underrated QB. I also think that in any of the last 3 seasons you would have been good enough to make a deep run into the playoffs even with these two injuries. However, suddenly there are NO Bad teams in the AFC west and you are undermanned in what could be at least a 3 way bloodbath for the division. My gut says you make it to January. But only just.

LOS ANGELES RAMS
Reality Check?: “You cant get Todd Gurley going and don’t have an answer”.

This one is what it is – a waste of natural talent. A poor offensive line performance and lack of imagination in the running game have ruined 2016 for Gurley. He is becoming impatient and rushing his decisions. Something that last year was a non-issue, in fact the opposite was the case, as patience and decisiveness were the key strengths in his game.

Anyway, thats part one for now. More uncomfortable truths next week as I brutalise L-Z.

Bye for now.