Disappointments at NFL’s quarter mark: Eli Manning, Ray Rice and more
With the 2013 NFL season one quarter in the books, Audibles’ Chris Burke and Doug Farrar assess where things stand. Below, a look at the league’s 15 most disappointing players to date.
1. Eli Manning, QB, Giants: While big brother Peyton is setting the NFL ablaze with the Broncos, Eli is perhaps most emblematic of an 0-4 Giants team that seems broken from front to back on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t help that he’s playing behind the NFL’s worst offensive line (more on it in a minute), but the younger Manning’s numbers through four games are alarming — a league-leading nine interceptions, 14 sacks and a 56.3 completion percentage. Eli has never been the best statistical quarterback — his strength has always been in his ability to get things done when the spotlights are brightest — but he won’t have too many important games this season if things keep on like this.
2. Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers: One suspected that things would end ugly between Freeman and Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano when Schiano replaced Raheem Morris before the 2012 season, but few could have predicted the current disasterbacle. Neither man will come out of this looking good — Freeman has missed meetings and played poorly, while Schiano comes off as a guy who burned the ground just to get his own quarterback (rookie Mike Glennon) on the field.
3. Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: When people are burning your franchise quarterback’s jersey in the parking lot of your stadium, that’s not a good sign. The Texans re-upped Schaub with a five-year, $66.5 million extension in September 2012, but the veteran hasn’t lived up to those rich dollars. Everybody’s frustrated with Houston’s limited passing game, and in the Texans’ 23-20 loss to the Seahawks, Schaub threw a pick-six in his third straight game. Perhaps most distressingly, opposing defenses are quite open about how easy it is to decipher Houston’s route concepts. This isn’t all Schaub’s fault, but it’s a bad start for a team many expected to compete for the AFC’s Super Bowl berth.
4. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: Nobody would question the contract given to Flacco after the Ravens’ Super Bowl run — when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during one of the greatest postseason performances in league history, it seemed that everything was lining up perfectly for Baltimore’s 2008 first-round pick. One season later, however, with injuries and roster attrition doing a heavy number on his targets, Flacco has not looked impressive at all. He’s thrown five touchdowns to seven picks (five of those interceptions came last Sunday against Buffalo), and there seems to be a disconnect in the Ravens’ desire to maintain offensive balance.
5. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Rice’s down season has been a major part of the problem in Baltimore. He’s been affected by a hip injury, but the team’s over-reliance on the passing game hasn’t helped either. Baltimore ran just twice in the second half of its 23-20 loss to the Bills, leaving Rice in the game to pass-block, which has always been his Achilles’ heel. This offense simply doesn’t work without Rice at his versatile best.
6. Tavon Austin, WR, Rams: Our own Chris Burke recently went into great detail on how the Rams seem incapable or unwilling to use their first-round playmaker in space — an issue that was shown in glaring detail last Thursday night when the 49ers beat St. Louis, 35-11, and Austin caught two passes on eight targets for six yards. This is less on Austin and more on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who had a full offseason to put together a plan for a player who had electrified the NCAA.
7. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: After a 38-0 Week 3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in which he caught no passes, Nicks told the media that he “couldn’t throw the ball to myself.” Both Nicks and Eli Manning laughed it off after the fact, but it’s tougher to forget the three drops Nicks had in New York’s 31-7 loss to the Chiefs last Sunday. Nick suffered a dislocated finger in the Giants’ 43-21 Week 2 loss to the Denver Broncos, but he refused to blame that for his troubles in connecting with Manning. In any case, here’s one more reason the Giants’ offense is heading right off the rails.
8. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: Pettigrew is an effective blocker, which appears to be the best reason to keep him on the field at this point. Per Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics, Pettigrew has been the least effective tight end in the NFL, both this season and last. He did manage seven catches on seven targets against the Bears last weekend, and any uptick for this former first-round pick would be nice for the Lions to see.
“He hasn’t been doing any work that he hasn’t been doing since last offseason,” head coach Jim Schwartz said of Pettigrew this week. “It’s not like all of a sudden he decided to come up with a new drill or something like that. … I think he went and trusted his technique and went and played football. That’s a good sign for us.”
9. William Beatty and Justin Pugh, OT, Giants: During their recent Super Bowl seasons, the Giants were defined by strong line play — the 2007 team that shocked the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII probably had the league’s best blockers that season. This year, things are very different, and the problems really start on the outside. Both Beatty and Pugh have allowed 22 total pressures in four games — Beatty with four sacks, four hits and 14 hurries; Pugh with two sacks, one hit and 19 hurries. Only Atlanta’s Lamar Holmes has allowed more total pressures this season among offensive tackles.
10. Eric Fisher, OT, Chiefs: The first-overall pick in the 2013 draft may be the latest example of what a steep jump it is from a relatively small college (Central Michigan) to the NFL. San Francisco’s Joe Staley is another former Central Michigan left tackle who took a while to acclimate to his new surroundings, and he’s one of the best now, but … Fisher has been rough at best at right tackle for the Chiefs this season. Not only has he lost battles outside to speed rushers and inside to foot-fakes and counter moves, but also he’s been bullied back too often for a man of his power. Fisher has the talent to be great over time, but this backslide has been a surprise.
11. Mike Adams, OT, Steelers: The Steelers took a second-round shot on Adams in the 2012 draft despite a host of off-field problems, and he rewarded the team’s faith in him by winning the Joe Greene Performance Award as the Steelers’ rookie of the year. But his move this season from right tackle to left has not been a success — Adams has been the latest in a long line of Steelers blindside protectors to disappoint, looking overmatched in most situations and allowing four sacks.
12. Nick Perry, OLB, Packers: The Packers’ first-round pick in 2012 was off to a decent start in his rookie campaign before a wrist injury ended that season after six games. Head coach Mike McCarthy noted that Perry looked faster and more athletic before the 2013 season, but that hasn’t translated to the field just yet. In 147 snaps this season, Perry has no sacks, no quarterback hits and just four quarterback hurries. Green Bay expected the former USC standout to be the perfect pass-rushing bookend to Clay Matthews, but if anything, Perry’s regressed from last year.
13. Aldon Smith, OLB, 49ers: Obviously, production isn’t the issue here. When Smith is on the field and has his head on straight, he’s among the most consistently disruptive pass-rushers in the NFL. But a number of off-field issues have landed him in rehab for now — and the foreseeable future — and the 49ers will have a number of decisions to make regarding him this year and next.
14. Cortland Finnegan, CB, Rams: Finnegan has been burned all season, but at least he’s consistent. According to Pro Football Focus’ game-charting metrics, he’s allowed a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating on 19 targets outside — and a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating on 12 targets in the slot. He’s been dealing with thigh injuries since last season, but the more he plays, the more the Rams’ opponents are going to see how much they can light him up.
15. Tramon Williams, CB, Packers: Now, this is a surprise. Williams has been one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks over the last couple of seasons, but he’s allowed a 115.1 QB rating this season after clamping down on top receivers for a 74.3 rating last season. He’s been dealing with shoulder and knee injuries of late, and Green Bay’s suspect defense will be in a bigger hole if Williams can’t regain his former clampdown status.