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ESPN’s NFL Nation
While the NFL Power Rankings try to see the league through a positive perspective, we do have to visit Negative Town from time to time. This week, we asked our NFL Nation writers to select their team’s weakest element over the course of eight weeks.
Naturally, some teams have more faults to select from than others, and some of those flaws are more damaging to winning games than others. While teams like the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and New York City citizens have a lot more troubles than the NFC’s Fab Five (or six, if you ask the New Orleans Saints), every team has kinks to work out. This week, the whole game experience is addressed, from being unable to rush the quarterback to failing to convert on third down to failing to defend onside kicks (Los Angeles Rams fans know that pain). So, at this point in the 2021 season, here’s what your club, and every other team, is doing badly.
The following is how we rate our Power Rankings: Our power panel, which includes over 80 writers, editors, and TV personalities, assesses how teams perform during the season.
Preseason: 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Previous rankings: 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 |
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN NE | NO | PHI | PIT | SF SEA | TB | TEN | WSH
Previous position: 4
The red zone is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
On both sides of the ball, the Packers were one of the greatest red zone teams last season. They were the best red zone offense in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on 80% of their trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. At 57.6 percent, they’re tied for 20th this season. They ranked seventh on defense in 2020, allowing opponent scores on 57.7% of red zone drives. At 78.3 percent, they’re in 30th place this season. They had a bad streak of allowing 15 touchdowns in a row on opponent red-zone drives. This came to an end in Week 7, when Washington went 0-for-4. However, the same problems surfaced against the Cardinals on Thursday, who went 3-for-4. Rasul Douglas’ game-winning interception in the end zone in the dying seconds was the only stop. Demovsky, Rob
1st place previously
The most serious flaw in the defense is the inability to stop the run.
The Cardinals become susceptible if a team can chew the time on the ground, as the world witnessed Thursday night when the Packers ran for 151 yards. Throughout the season, their run defense has been questionable, allowing an average of 120.1 yards per game but 4.88 yards per carry, which is the second highest in the NFL. In five of Arizona’s eight games, it has allowed more than 100 running yards. Running against Arizona has evolved into a team’s greatest defense against quarterback Kyler Murray, who stands on the bench as opponents pound the ground for yards and time. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
3rd place before.
Special teams are the Achilles’ heel of the organization.
The Rams have been unable to find a reliable kick and punt returner, instead relying on sure-handed receiver Cooper Kupp, which makes it impossible not to hold your breath when the NFL’s top receiver is called upon to do such duties. Jake Funk, Tutu Atwell, and Ben Skowronek, all rookies, have all tried their hand at returning, but Funk’s season was cut short due to injury, and neither Atwell nor Skowronek have shown they are capable of handle the full-time role. The Rams’ return game isn’t the only thing in jeopardy. The Rams surrendered an early onside kick and watched as two fake punts were converted into first downs in a Week 7 triumph against the Lions. Lindsey Thiry (Lindsey Thiry)
Previous position: 2
Penalties are the biggest Achilles’ heel.
If the Bucs’ Achilles’ heel last season was the secondary, penalties are the Achilles’ heel this season. The Bucs have 59 penalties this season, one less than the Philadelphia Eagles, who have 60. The Bucs have the most penalties in the league with 580 yards. Despite losing Jameis Winston in the Bucs’ 36-27 defeat Sunday, the Saints were able to advance the ball thanks to 11 penalties for 99 yards. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Previous position: 6
Big plays are permitted, which is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
To some extent, this seems like a nitpick given the Cowboys’ defense has so far underperformed expectations. They can’t have these sorts of failures when they face better quarterbacks down the stretch — and maybe in the playoffs. In the first seven games, they’ve given up 31 plays of at least 20 yards. They gave up the same number of points in the first seven games of last season. The difference this season is that they are ordering takeout and planning stops. During the bye week, the coaches focused on this, but the Cowboys let up four more huge plays against the Vikings. It has not yet caused them harm, but it may do so in the future. Todd Archer is a writer.
Previous position: 5
Special-teams inconsistency is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
Punting isn’t something Buffalo does all that frequently (third fewest in the NFL with 21). Matt Haack, on the other hand, has been unreliable when called upon, averaging a net of 36.1 yards (second lowest of any team). Only 28.6% of his punts have been returned inside the 20-yard line. The Bills’ kicker Tyler Bass has been excellent this season, and defensive back Siran Neal has been outstanding in kick coverage, but returner Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt against the Dolphins in Week 8, and Jake Kumerow bailed him out. The Bills’ special teams shortcomings have placed them in some hazardous positions. Alaina Getzenberg is a writer who lives in New York City.
Previous position: 8
Tackling is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
Lamar Jackson has the ability to make huge plays, but he lacks the ability to stop them. The Ravens’ pass defense has allowed 15 completions of 20 yards or more in their two defeats. It isn’t because the receivers are getting in front of the defenders. It’s Baltimore’s inability to get receivers on the ground. The Ravens’ shoddy tackling has resulted in 1,200 yards after the catch, which is the most in the NFL. “We’ll be a pretty average defense until we get that [tackling issue] solved,” coach John Harbaugh stated. — Hensley, Jamison
Previous position: 9
Kickoff return is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Titans were hoping for Darrynton Evans to make an impact as a kick returner before training camp started. Evans had a knee injury and was put on injured reserve before the season ever began, so that never occurred. Last month, Evans was reinstated and added to the 53-man roster, only to be placed on injured reserve once again, ending his season. Chester Rogers, Marcus Johnson, Cameron Batson, Jeremy McNichols, and Evans have all had kickoff returns opportunities. The Titans are averaging 17.3 yards per kick return through eight games, which is tied for the lowest in the NFL with the Dolphins. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Previous position: 7
The most serious flaw: offensive inconsistency.
The boom-or-bust offense in Cincinnati is an issue. The Bengals are 31st in the league in terms of plays per drive and have the second-highest three-and-out rate. Despite this, Cincinnati ranks fourth in terms of touchdowns. However, as indicated by the minus-71 play differential, which is also the second most in the league, the team’s inability to sustain drives has proven to be a concern. If this tendency continues, the Bengals’ defense will be put under a lot of stress in December, when they are attempting to make their first playoff appearance since 2015. – Ben Little
Previous position: 13
The passing game is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
Following Jameis Winston’s knee injury, the obvious option is quarterback. Even when he was healthy, the Saints’ lack of proven wide receiver and tight end targets was a major issue. They are 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game (180.9) and completion percentage (58.8), as well as dead last in WR and TE catches (7.9 per game) (2.4 per game). They’re all looking forward to Michael Thomas’ recovery from an ankle injury. Triplett, Mike
This week’s essentials include: • Check out the full schedule » | Check out the standings » • Every team’s depth chart » • Injuries » | Transactions » • Rankings of the Football Power Index » Additional NFL coverage »
Previous position: 11
The offensive line, which is continuously reshuffled, is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
The Raiders’ personal protectors, LT Kolton Miller, LG John Simpson, C Andre James, RG Alex Leatherwood, and RT Brandon Parker, have held Derek Carr upright and sack-free for the last six quarters. The reshuffled O-line, on the other hand, is always in flux and a work in progress. The bye week should have helped with persistent ailments, and veteran left guard Richie Incognito, who has been out since injured his right calf in a joint practice with the Rams on Aug. 19, might return this week. Gutierrez, Paul
Previous position: 10
The biggest flaw on offense is a lack of consistency.
I never thought I’d say this, particularly with Justin Herbert at quarterback and the Chargers’ plethora of great receivers, but they’ve struggled at times, most recently against the Patriots on Sunday. Herbert threw two interceptions against the Patriots, one of which was recovered for a pick-six, giving him a season total of six. As a rookie, he only had ten. His receivers haven’t assisted him since they’ve either dropped the ball (running back Austin Ekeler) or ran the incorrect routes (tight end Jared Cook). Worse still, owing to their inconsistency on first and second down, the Chargers have found themselves in difficult third-down circumstances. Shelley Smith says:
Previous position: 18
Cornerback is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
The Patriots are weak at cornerback after selling Stephon Gilmore and placed top slot Jonathan Jones on injured reserve. J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills are the starters, with opponents often targeting Mills, as the Chargers did on Sunday with their late touchdown. Myles Bryant is the best candidate for the top position. The next two CBs on the depth chart are Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade. Because of their short-handed predicament, the Patriots played more zone than man on Sunday, according to Chargers coach Brandon Staley. — Reiss, Mike
15th place before.
Vertical passing assault is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
As their run game improves, the Steelers are becoming a more balanced offensive, but their greatest flaw remains their vertical throwing assault, especially over the middle. Ben Roethlisberger threw just three throws of greater over 20 yards and one between the numbers against the Browns. Each one was left unfinished. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Roethlisberger has completed just 25.5 percent of deep throws since 2020, down from 30.5 percent between 2016 and 2019. A one-dimensional offense may be created by relying too heavily on passes inside 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. In crunch time, a stronger run game and offensive line will deflect just enough attention away from the quarterback to allow for more effective vertical options. — Brooke Pryor is an actress who plays Brooke Pryor.
14th place before.
Pass rush is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
Prior to Monday night’s game against the Giants, the Chiefs had a league-low eight sacks and a 35.2 percent pass rush victory rate. It’s no surprise that opposition quarterbacks recorded a QBR of 61.4 against them. Unless these stats improve, it’s tough to see how the defense will improve much. Chris Jones and Frank Clark, two of the Chiefs’ highest-paid players, were providing little value to the team. Going into the Giants game, the two had combined for two sacks, with Clark adding none. Adam Teicher’s remark
• Is Giants general manager Dave Gettleman on the hot seat? • Can Mathieu’s zeal power the Chiefs’ comeback? • As a fill-in for Dak Prescott, Rush leads Dallas to victory. • Johnson, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, discusses his nervousness. • Takeaways from Week 8 of the NFL
Previous position: 12
The passing attack is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Browns’ passing offense has plummeted, and it isn’t simply because of injuries, though they have played a role. Baker Mayfield has been up and down with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, and he isn’t receiving much support from his high-paid star receivers. In the defeat to Pittsburgh, Jarvis Landry had numerous drops late in the fourth quarter, as well as a costly fumble. Meanwhile, Odell Beckham Jr. has faded into obscurity. Last season, Cleveland’s passing game progressively improved. It seems to be growing worse this season. Jake Trotter’s remark
Previous position: 20
The turnover fight is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
We could talk about a lot of stuff here, but let’s keep it simple: Through eight weeks, the Niners have a turnover differential of minus-6, which ranks fourth worst in the NFL. This is an excellent pick since it identifies flaws on both sides of the ball and is the one statistic that most closely connects with victory. The offense has 11 turnovers, while the defense only has five, and the Niners have only been on the winning side of this statistic once in seven games. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that San Francisco is now 3-4. Nick Wagoner is a writer.
Previous position: 21
Offense is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Broncos have spent the last six seasons in a high-scoring neighborhood. They are one of ten teams averaging less than 20 points per game this season, with just the Broncos (4-4) and Steelers (4-3) having winning records. In other words, that’s not where a serious playoff contender should be. In the previous four years, the Broncos haven’t averaged more than 21 points a game, and they haven’t scored more than 23 points per game since 2014. Legwold, Jeff
Previous position: 17
Offense is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Vikings’ offense isn’t made out for the contemporary NFL, according to a seven-game sample size. Minnesota has a habit of coming out strong and scoring on its opening drive, but the offense has gone silent after that, with no second-half touchdowns in five of the last seven games. The game plan converted quarterback Kirk Cousins into a predictable checkdown machine in a defeat to Dallas, with an average depth of target of 4.5 yards and just 184 yards passing. In a year, this unit has gone from being explosive to being staid and cautious, and it has been Minnesota’s worst weakness this season. Courtney Cronin (Courtney Cronin)
Previous position: 24
Pass protection is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The offensive line showed it could run block in Sunday’s victory against Atlanta, allowing Carolina to rush for a season-high 203 yards on 47 attempts. That prevented the Falcons from stacking the box like they had done the previous four games, racking up 15 sacks against Sam Darnold. However, opponents will pack the box and force the Panthers to throw, leaving the offensive line susceptible. David Newton is an author.
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Previous position: 23
The biggest flaw: not having a quarterback. Russell Wilson is an American football player who plays for the
Geno Smith had his finest game since Wilson was out with a finger injury in Week 5. However, once Smith took over for Wilson in that game and the next two games, Seattle’s attack only worked in spurts and lacked the finishing touch it had under Wilson. Smith and the Seahawks dominated the Jaguars, but with harder games remaining (at Green Bay after this week’s bye, then at home against Arizona), the Seahawks will need to be better finishers than they have been so far. With no certainty that Wilson will be available for the Packers game, Smith may be forced to take over at quarterback. Brady Henderson’s quote
Previous position: 16
Pass rush is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
With the exception of RB Jonathan Taylor, WR Michael Pittman Jr., LB Darius Leonard, and G Quenton Nelson, Colts general manager Chris Ballard has failed to discover pass-rushers in the draft. With 17 sacks, the Colts are tied for 16th in the NFL. To put things in perspective, the Colts have 18 takeaways, which is tied for first in the league. Mike Wells’ remark
22nd in the previous ranking
Offense is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Bears’ defense crumbled in their defeat to the 49ers on Sunday, but the offense has been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season. Almost every major offensive measure, including scores per game and yards per game, has the Bears at or near the bottom. When scoring 22 points, like the Bears did against the 49ers, is considered an offensive explosion, it says a lot. The Bears’ offense improved a bit in Week 8, but it’s still far from adequate. Dickerson, Jeff
Previous position: 25
Inexperience is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
Nick Sirianni is a first-year head coach who leads one of the NFL’s youngest coaching staffs. Jalen Hurts, the quarterback, has started 12 games in the NFL and does not have a major wide receiver above the age of 23. As a consequence, both the game strategy and performance are inconsistent. The Eagles have defeated two opponents by more than 26 points while also being dominated at times. It’s impossible to predict what you’ll receive. Tim McManus, Ph.D.
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Previous position: 19
Pass rush is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
The Falcons have a lot of problems right now, but one of them is that they have had very little pass rush this season, especially with Dante Fowler Jr. on injured reserve. Only Fowler, Deion Jones, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner have more than two sacks, and only two Falcons have more than five quarterback hits: Grady Jarrett with six and Foyesade Oluokun with five. Pressure is sometimes worth sending only if the guys can get there, which has been a concern for Atlanta, but it also changes the Falcons’ defensive capabilities. Michael Rothstein is a writer and producer.
Previous position: 27
Pass rush is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
Sacks are a thing of the past. Without a high-end edge rusher, the Giants’ defense can’t even establish consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the club was 24th in the NFL with a 25.2 percent pressure rate entering Monday night’s game. It is the Giants’ greatest vulnerability and has stopped this defense from duplicating its brilliance from previous season. Jordan Raanan is a writer.
Previous position: 26
Pass coverage is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
With seven throwing touchdowns of 20 yards or more, Washington is tied for 29th in the NFL, and the majority of them come from a secondary that is out of sync with its reads, resulting in blown coverages. It ranks 26th in yards allowed per pass attempt and worst in the NFL in third-down conversions (56.5%), thanks in part to opponent quarterbacks completing 70.6 percent of their attempts on third down against Washington. There has never been a defense that has allowed such a high amount of points. But it’s not simply on the secondary level. The corners haven’t performed as well as expected, and the linebackers have also botched a few assignments. Also, the pass rush has to improve. ‘John Keim’
30th in the previous ranking
Quarterback inexperience is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
It may seem funny to bring this up now, given Mike White’s recent performance of 405 yards and three touchdowns, but it doesn’t alter the fact that White and Zach Wilson have combined for just seven starts in their careers. Because of their inexperience, the Jets have the most interceptions in the league with 13. There will be good days and poor days, depending on the opponent’s quality and defending style. There’s nothing the Jets can do about it; they’ll simply have to ride it out and hope it pays off in the long run. Cimini, Rich
Previous position: 29
Pass defense is the team’s Achilles’ heel.
In seven games, the Jaguars have allowed more than 300 yards passing four times (Teddy Bridgewater, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa), and opponent quarterbacks are completing 74 percent of their throws, which is the league’s second-highest completion rate. In addition, quarterbacks are averaging 8.94 yards per attempt versus Jacksonville, which is the second-highest number in the NFL, and have a Total QBR of 64.2, which is the most in the league. Mike DiRocco’s remark
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Previous position: 28
The Achilles’ heel of the team is their offensive inefficiency.
This is a question with a slew of possible explanations, but Miami’s offensive woes stick out. In terms of yards per game, yards per play, and scoring, the Dolphins rank 30th, 31st, and 28th, respectively. Miami, while attempting the fourth-most throws each game, ranks 25th in passing yards. Miami can still play outstanding defense, as Sunday’s defeat to the Bills shown, but without an offense that can carry its own weight, the Dolphins won’t win many more games. — Louis-Jacques Marcel
Previous position: 31
The running game’s Achilles’ heel
It’s difficult to single out one category for a 1-7 club, but one area where the Texans have suffered all season — and not due to injuries — is running the ball. Houston is averaging 76.1 rushing yards per game and is dead bottom in Football Outsider’s rush DVOA. Houston now has four running backs: veterans David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead, as well as second-year player Scottie Phillips, thanks to the trade of leading back Mark Ingram II. After Ingram was dealt, Burkhead took over as the team’s leading rusher in Sunday’s defeat to the Rams, but the team was restricted to 44 yards on 14 runs. Sarah Barshop is a writer.
32nd in the previous ranking
Offense is the biggest Achilles’ heel.
The Lions are now 0-8 for the first time since their notorious 0-16 season, after a 44-6 defeat to the Eagles on Halloween. Coach Dan Campbell said that the offense seemed to be “extremely feeble,” as it has all season. Nearly every offensive measure, including offensive efficiency and points scored, has the Lions near the bottom. Jared Goff has lost 11 straight games, including the playoffs, the longest current run of any quarterback. Tight end T.J. Hockenson believes the offense has struggled to overcome self-inflicted wounds like penalties and costly blunders. “That’s what effective offenses do,” Hockenson said, “keep moving the ball and overcome errors you put on yourself.” Eric Woodyard’s remark