[B][I]NFC East: Midseason Report Cards
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
–PASSING OFFENSE: A [/B]- Dak Prescott is not having a sophomore slump. He is having an amazing encore season. He has 16 touchdown passes to just four interceptions and is on pace for more than 3,200 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. He has spread the ball around to 13 different receivers. Dez Bryant leads the way with 38 receptions for 439 yards and four touchdowns. But the Cowboys have five players with 19 or more catches, including Brice Butler and Cole Beasley with 19 and 22, respectively and three players with 30 or more, including Terrance Williams and TE Jason Witten with 30 and 35 respectively. Prescott has only been sacked 10 times on 261 attempts.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: A[/B] – Ezekiel Elliott is back producing like one of the top running backs in the league over the last four games and it has everything to do with the offensive line finally being solidified and developing some continuity after opening the season with two new starters, including a two-man rotation at left guard. La’el Collins is now comfortable at right tackle and Jonathan Cooper has taken control at left guard. Elliott has 783 yards to rank second in the league. He had three straight 100-yard games before being held to 93 yards on 27 carries against the Chiefs. He was still effective and dominant, and the running game remains key to everything the Cowboys do on offense and is the basis of the three-game winning streak.
–PASS DEFENSE: B[/B] – The Cowboys have the 17th best pass defense in the league, but interestingly enough they are second in the league with 27 sacks. That’s huge for a Cowboys defense that has struggled to get to the quarterback in recent years and came into the season wondering who was going to rush the passer. DeMarcus Lawrence has been the leader with 10.5 sacks, ranking second in the league. David Irving has six sacks in four games.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C[/B] — The Cowboys are 12th in the league in run defense, giving up 101.2 yards per game. But this is really about their failures against the run in the three losses to the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers where they allowed 100-yard rushers in all three outings after not allowing one in 16 games last season. It is of note that LB Sean Lee missed the Rams and Packers games and the Cowboys are a much better defense with Lee on the field. The Cowboys give up 164 rush yards per game without Lee and just 80.3 when he plays.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B [/B]- Chris Jones has been a huge weapon, averaging 43.6 yards on 31 punts. Most important, he has had 18 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Mike Nugent and Dan Bailey have made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts. Even safety Jeff Heath has made two of three extra points. The coverage teams have been excellent. However, the Cowboys have been disappointing on returns with rookie Ryan Switzer plagued by a fumble and poor decision-making.
[B]–COACHING: A[/B] – Give head coach Jason Garrett credit for keeping the Cowboys focused and poised through the distractions of the Ezekiel Elliott roller coaster and the disappointment of a 2-3 start. The Cowboys have focused on controlling what they can control and have rebounded with three straight wins. More important, they are coming off their most complete game of the season and are looking like the playoff contender they were supposed to be.
–PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus[/B] – While history might look back at Week 5, the week the Giants lost starting receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall for the season and slot receiver Sterling Shepard for two games, the passing offense wasn’t exactly lighting things up before then. Part of that could be related to Beckham’s preseason ankle injury that cost him the first game of the season and was one from which he never really appeared to fully recover, but quarterback Eli Manning’s declining skill set combined with an offensive line whose pass protection was like a sieve didn’t help matters either. Moving forward, Manning has to work with mostly receivers who initially weren’t good enough to make the roster out of training camp, though the continued emergence of tight end Evan Engram in the passing game and the return of Shepard should help a little.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C[/B] – It took an injury to starter Paul Perkins for the coaching staff to realize that the future of the running game, at least for the rest of this year, is with Orleans Darkwa and rookie Wayne Gallman and that they’re much better off running to the right than to the left. With that said, Darkwa and Gallman’s efforts haven’t been enough to bring the Giants out of the bottom third of the league in team rushing; the 27th-ranked Giants offense is averaging 86.8 yards per game, partly due to the inconsistency on the field and partly due to a coaching staff that seems to look for any excuse to abandon the run and go to the passing game.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: F[/B] – The one-time vaunted New York Pass Defense — NYPD for short — has become a disorganized mess that has seen just about every member of that unit regress from last year. The Giants have now allowed 31 big passing plays this season of 20 or more yards, six of which have gone for 40 or more yards. Add to that a lethargic pass rush that so far has managed just 13 sacks through the first half of the season (tied for 27th in the NFL), and a linebacker/safety crew that has allowed opposing tight ends to score in every game this season, and it’s fair to say the Giants’ pass defense has seen better days.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus[/B] – Gone are the days when the run defense held opponents to under 100 yards collectively in each game. Nowadays, teams are able to have success running against the Giants, a problem that is due in part to the injury-related absences of defensive end Olivier Vernon as well as the revolving door at linebacker. The biggest and most alarming trends have been the missed tackles and poor angles being taken at the second level and the inability to shed blocks. On the plus side, the play of interior linemen Damon Harrison and rookie Dalvin Tomlinson save this unit from a worse grade, but unfortunately two men can’t do it all by their lonesome.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: F[/B] – The Giants’ special teams have had just about everything that could go wrong for them happen: missed field goals, blocked kicks and punts, a punt returned for a touchdown and poor coverage all the way around. The Giants’ special teams were an asset last year with helping the team win starting field position, but this year they’ve been a detriment that is likely heading for a major shakeup.
[B]–COACHING: F[/B] – Head coach Ben McAdoo’s sudden revelation to become a hard-line coach is an approach that should have been in place from Day 1 of his tenure. Instead, what the Giants now have, whether anyone wants to admit it or otherwise, is a brewing mutiny in which the players are rebelling in their own way against a coach who is suddenly the picture of discipline but who has yet to win anything of substance for the players to truly stand up and accept what McAdoo is trying to accomplish. While all teams have had to discipline players for infractions ranging from the minor to the major, most of those issues are kept in-house. McAdoo has now had to suspend two veteran members of his defense, he’s disciplined Eli Apple at least twice, and running back Paul Perkins at least once. Combine that with McAdoo’s struggle to communicate in the way he did last year with his team and his stubbornness to give up the play-calling until his hand was forced, and there is little hope things will get better. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo might be an affable man, but whatever tweaks he’s made to his defense have turned the once mighty Giants into a pile of chumps. And the next time special teams does something that has a positive effect on the outcome of the game will be the first for the season; if anything, Tom Quinn’s unit has been plagued by inconsistency.
–PASSING OFFENSE: A[/B] – Carson Wentz’s 16 rookie starts have paid off big-time for him and the Eagles. He’s having an MVP season. He is fourth in passing and first in third-down passing. He leads the league in touchdown passes through nine games with 23. Tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery both have been extremely productive on third down and in the red zone.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus [/B]– Through nine games, the Eagles are third in the league in rushing (136.8 yards per game) and fifth in rush average (4.3 yards per carry). They headed into the bye with an impressive 197-yard rushing effort against one of the league’s top run defenses, the Broncos. The Eagles averaged 9.4 yards per carry on first down against the Broncos. The addition of Jay Ajayi, who had a 46-yard touchdown run against the Broncos, is going to make the Eagles tough to stop down the stretch.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: B-plus [/B]- After losing their best cornerback, Ronald Darby, to a dislocated ankle in Week 1, the Eagles started playing a lot of off-coverage with the focus being on not giving up the deep ball and limiting yards after the catch. They have one of the best tackling secondaries the Eagles have had in a long time. They have done an excellent job of shutting down teams on third down and are tied for sixth in sacks with 25.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A[/B] – The Eagles have held opponents to a league-best 66.4 yards per game on the ground. They’ve allowed just 16 runs of 10 yards or more in nine games, and 42 of their opponents’ 166 carries have been for losses. Even with the loss of middle linebacker Jordan Hicks to a season-ending injury, they haven’t skipped a beat.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus[/B] – They suffered a couple of big losses early on, losing K Caleb Sturgis and PR Darren Sproles to injuries. But Sturgis’ replacement, Jake Elliott, has been outstanding, hitting five of six field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards. Sproles was one of the league’s top return men, but his replacement, Kenjon Barner, has played well. For the most part, the Eagles’ coverage teams have played well.
[B]–COACHING: A-plus[/B] – Head coach Doug Pederson has proven to be an excellent play-caller. He and his staff have done an outstanding job of bringing along Carson Wentz in his second season. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been without his best cornerback (Ronald Darby) for eight games and has lost his middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks), but has managed to minimize their absences. He’s blitzing more and has been very effective with it. His defense also has a league-high six interceptions on third down.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B[/B] – Continuity with wide receivers Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor has been an issue for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Injuries have struck tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. The offensive line is in shambles thanks to injuries and can’t protect Cousins as it has in recent years. And yet Washington still ranks 10th in passing yards per game (244.4) and ninth in passing yards per play (6.74) with a passing game cobbled together with tight end Vernon Davis and running back Chris Thompson. Doctson is starting to emerge, too.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus[/B] – The Redskins haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground. Rob Kelley has battled nagging injuries, they don’t want to overuse Thompson and rookie Samaje Perine isn’t ready to contribute yet and has struggled with fumbles. Washington ranks 22nd in rushing yards per game (98.7). The offensive line injuries haven’t helped the run blocking.
–PASS DEFENSE: B[/B] – The Redskins rely heavily on cornerback Josh Norman and they still have a hole at strong safety. But corner Kendall Fuller has emerged (three interceptions) in his second year and Quinton Dunbar has impressed again after a rough second season at corner in 2016. That’s helped make up for nagging injuries to Bashaud Breeland. Washington ranks 17th in passing yards allowed per game (226.4) and 18th in passing yards per play (6.18).
–RUSH DEFENSE: B[/B] – This group has slipped some after injuries to promising rookie Jonathan Allen (Lisfranc sprain) and second-year pro Matt Ioannidis (broken hand). But they are still right in the middle at No. 16 in rushing yards allowed per game (110.5).
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C[/B] – Injuries have hurt on special teams, too. Kicker Dustin Hopkins is on injured reserve and so many special teamers have had to play bigger roles on defense, it’s taken a toll on the coverage units. Crowder has muffed three punts. Hopkins and new kicker Nick Rose have hit 13 of 16 field goals, but none beyond 48 yards.
[B]–COACHING: B[/B] – The Redskins are still alive in the NFC playoff chase at 4-4 and just won a huge game in Seattle with nine starters missing, including four on the offensive line. That’s a tribute to the coaching staff finding reserves who can play. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has found ways to generate pressure with a pass rush that still relies too much on Ryan Kerrigan – though Preston Smith has put a rough second year behind him. The offense is still trying to put the pieces together. If head coach Jay Gruden can get Reed, Crowder and left tackle Trent Williams healthy, the Redskins could take advantage of a weak schedule in December.
[B][I]NFC South: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
[B]–PASSING OFFENSE: C [/B]– -The always dependable Julio Jones had a key dropped touchdown pass against Carolina. Jones has 43 catches for 658 yards and one touchdown this season. He had his 37th career 100-yard game against Carolina. Mohamed Sanu has 31 catches for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Taylor Gabriel has 20 catches for 245 yards and one touchdown. Tight end Austin Hooper has 25 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Ryan has completed 177 of 270 passes for 2,155 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 92.8. The seven interceptions ties how many Ryan threw last season on his way to winning the league’s MVP award.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C[/B] — The Falcons’ rushing attack was rolling along just fine with six straight games of rushing for 100 yards or more. However, the Panthers held the Falcons to a season-low 53 yards in their eighth game of the season. Devonta Freeman was held to 46 yards on 11 carries as the offensive line was dominated upfront by the Panthers. He’s on pace for another 1,000-yard season as he’s rushed for 512 yards and five touchdowns over 114 carries. Coleman is averaging five yards per carry.
–PASS DEFENSE: C-plus[/B] – The Falcons are giving up 207.3 yards passing per game. The Falcons limited the Panthers to 137 yards passing and didn’t let any deep passes get over their heads. Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are playing strong in coverage and nickel Brian Poole is also played well. Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed lead the team with three sacks each. The rush was much better earlier in the season.
–RUSH DEFENSE: F[/B] – In all of their losses, the run defense has been shredded. Buffalo (117), Miami (138), New England (162) and Carolina (201) have all rushed for more than 100 yards against the Falcons defense. The did hold the Jets to 43 yards rushing. The Falcons looked like they’ve never seen the zone-read option before and performed accordingly against Carolina. The Panthers averaged just 97.6 rushing yards per game over their first eight games. Newton (nine carries, 86 yards, one touchdown) and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey (15 carries, 66 yards, one touchdown) had season highs. The 201-yard output was nearly twice their 102.1-yard average. The Falcons have been out of position on several running plays all season.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B [/B]– Matt Bryant has made 15 of 18 field goals as he’s been the benefactor of the offense’s repeated stalls inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Matt Bosher is averaging 42.2 yards net on 26 punts and has placed 11 inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Andre Roberts has been a steady returner and has a 61-yard kickoff return to his credit. The coverage units have made too many penalties, including one by Sharrod Neasman against the Jets that nullified a touchdown return by Roberts.
[B]–COACHING: C [/B]- The coaches have not done a good job of getting the team prepared to win games and they are lucky to be 4-4. The Falcons were not ready to play Buffalo and couldn’t defend tight end Charles Clay. The only way they could lose to Jay Cutler and Miami was to let them run the ball. The Dolphins ran for 138 yards. The no-show for the Super Bowl rematch against New England was a low point to the first half of the season. After a win against the Jets, the Falcons looked like they’d never seen zone-read concepts before against Carolina. They over-pursued and were hit with reverses. They left quarterback Cam Newton loose on a naked bootleg that turned into a 34-yard explosive play. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been stymied in the third quarter all season. The Falcons have only 19 points in the third quarter. The special teams have not provided a boost and continue to make costly penalties. The Falcons need to get their ship turned around in the second half of the season.
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus[/B] – The Panthers have failed to reach the 200-yard passing mark in four of their games, though they won in three of those. QB Cam Newton has thrown for 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. WR Devin Funchess has shown promise with a few promising stretches and RB Christian McCaffrey leads the team with 54 receptions. The trade of WR Kelvin Benjamin after eight games leaves lots of questions for the passing attack, which should have TE Greg Olsen back from injury by late November. TE Ed Dickson had a good impact initially after Olsen’s injury, but he has since faded with a total of 78 receiving yards over the last four games.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C [/B]- This has been largely miserable, though QB Cam Newton has saved the Panthers in this category. Newton has led the team in rushing the past four games. Despite the woes in this area, the Nov. 5 game against Atlanta came with 201 rushing yards, marking the most in more than two years. Of course, 86 of those yards were by Newton and another 25 came from WRs Curtis Samuel and Russell Shepard. The running backs rarely get untracked, and that largely could be because of failed blocking schemes. RB Christian McCaffrey has eclipsed 20 rushing yards in only two of the first nine games. Jonathan Stewart, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, has 350 rushing yards with a top game of 68. Stewart also has lost three fumbles on carries.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: B-plus[/B] – The pass rush gives the Panthers an edge in many situations and that has caused some opponents to be erratic. DE Julius Peppers is a weapon when it comes to pressuring quarterbacks. The coverage has wavered throughout the season as CB James Bradberry still tends to get picked on. The Panthers have four interceptions in the first nine games, with S Mike Adams and LB Luke Kuechly with two each.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: A[/B] – The Panthers often receive strong grades in this category as they have been strong across the front. They haven’t allowed an opposing player to gain more than 71 yards on the ground in any game. This is an area the Panthers can count on and it has indirectly aided the pass defense at times by putting opponents in predictable situations.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus[/B] – The Panthers have come through strong in this category. K Graham Gano has made the coaching staff look good by winning the kicking job again and then making 19 of his 20 field-goal attempts so far. P Michael Palardy has been between good and outstanding in most every situation. The Panthers haven’t prospered much in kickoff and punt returns, but they haven’t given up much in return coverage situations either.
[B]–COACHING: B-plus[/B] – The team has a 6-3 record so that should count for something. The Panthers withstood the first month of the season when QB Cam Newton was limited in practices after offseason shoulder surgery. They still haven’t gotten the offense clicking at a high rate, but they’ve usually found a way to generate enough. A few veterans have worked in well on the defensive side. There haven’t been blatant coaching blunders and the staff has found ways to make the parts fit. There have been injuries along the offensive line, but so far Carolina has overcome those.
[B]NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
–PASSING OFFENSE: A[/B] — Drew Brees hasn’t had to carry the team as he generally has, but the passing game still has remained one of the primary reasons for the team’s success. Even with virtually no contribution from Willie Snead IV, Brees have been consistently efficient connecting with Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B[/B] — The Saints quickly figured out there was no room for Adrian Peterson because of the productivity of Ingram and Kamara, so they traded Peterson to Arizona. The Saints rushed for fewer than 100 yards in three of the first four games, partly because of injuries on the offensive line and large deficits in the first two games, but they have run the ball significantly better in the last four games.
–PASS DEFENSE: A-minus[/B] — The combination of very good coverage from the cornerbacks and a strong pass rush, especially from the line, has made this the most improved area of the team compared to last season. Cam Jordan has been outstanding and Alex Okafor has been very good, making things easier for CBs Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley and the rest of the secondary.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus[/B] — Occasional long runs have blemished an otherwise solid performance. Takeaways and playing with a lead have helped, but an upgraded group of linebackers has been the primary reason for improved play against the run compared to last year.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus[/B] — P Thomas Morstead has been outstanding and Justin Hardee’s blocked punt and return for a touchdown against the Buccaneers Sunday was a huge play. But K Wil Lutz has been inconsistent and Ginn has been shaky on punt returns.
[B]–COACHING: A[/B] – Head coach Sean Payton and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the dramatic turnaround after poor performances during a 0-2 start. Payton and Pete Carmichael have coordinated a more balanced offense and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has deftly blended the rebuilt linebacking corps and the young secondary with judicious use of blitzes.
[B]TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: C [/B]– You have to grade on a curve because Jameis Winston has had a bad shoulder for the past four games. He was great at Buffalo despite the injury, throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. But he hasn’t been good the last two weeks. DeSean Jackson has done his job winning on deep routes, but Winston can’t connect with him.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: D[/B] — The Bucs cannot get their running game going. Halfway through the season, they do not have a player who has rushed for 100 yards and the return of Doug Martin to the lineup has been inconsequential. All this despite the fact that the Bucs moved Ali Marpet to center and J.R. Sweezy came back from an injury that cost him the entire 2016 season.
–PASS DEFENSE: D [/B]– The Bucs have given up way too many explosive plays in the pass game. The problem is they can’t get any pressure on the quarterback and only have eight sacks in as many games. DE Noah Spence is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Losing CB Brent Grimes for three games has hurt as well.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C [/B]– The Bucs have been just OK against the run. Adrian Peterson ran wild in his debut with the Cardinals. The Saints’ backs had their way with Tampa Bay as well. But you have to factor in the injuries to both Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, who has forced four fumbles.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: D[/B] — P Bryan Anger is a quality player who can kick his team out of trouble or create field position by killing it inside the 20. But the kicking game got the Bucs off to a bad start. After releasing Roberto Aguayo, Nick Folk melted down and had to be released. They may have salvaged the situation with the signing of Patrick Murray.
[B]–COACHING: D[/B] — The Bucs are not responding to head coach Dirk Koetter or defensive coordinator Mike Smith. They did not show much fight on Sunday and it might be a trend.
[B][I]NFC North: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
–PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus[/B] – The poor grade is more a reflection of Week 1 starter Mike Glennon than current starter Mitchell Trubisky. Although Glennon had a better passer rating (76.9-66.2), he had the entire offseason to work within the Bears offense and the entire support of personnel and the coaching staff. Yet he turned the ball over eight times in a three-week span and lost the job. When the Bears hit the halfway mark, they were tied for third in dropped passes with 14. A lack of any receivers is part of the problem, and this is more due to general manager Ryan Pace putting too much faith in often-injured Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, who had just one strong season. Pace didn’t supply the quality depth at receiver that he had at other positions, like linebacker and in the secondary. In retrospect, the Bears would have been much better off franchising Alshon Jeffery and not signing Glennon. Mark Sanchez could have played quarterback better than Glennon did. Trubisky has been overly cautious, as have the offensive coaches. But a player with four games experience, who had been expected to sit through the entire season, is at least learning what it means to play quarterback even if he has no targets and an offensive approach sometimes borrowed from the team’s pre-Sid Luckman era. Pass blocking has been adequate, with 19 sacks ranking 15th at the halfway point – not a poor effort with the guard positions and center in a constant state of flux due to minor injuries.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus – Ranking fourth in rushing would normally bring a team higher marks, but the Bears have had a sporadic rushing game throughout the first half. Leading the league through eight games with 40 rushes for losses reflects poor blocking and a blocking scheme that takes too long to develop. It also shows how defenses gang up to stop a team that obviously lacks a dangerous pass receiving threat. Jordan Howard’s only real problem has been a painful shoulder and his own hands in the passing game. As a runner, he appears to have avoided a step back in his second season. Tarik Cohen initially proved an effective complementary runner, but has just 47 rushing yards since Trubisky became quarterback.
–PASS DEFENSE: B [/B]- Akiem Hicks has supplied the inside push necessary in this scheme with a team-high seven sacks, while Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho made up for losing the loss of the team’s best overall pass rusher, injured Willie Young. The consistent pressure started in Week 3 and has been elevated through the midpoint. When they combined this with tighter man-to-man coverage and a better understanding by cornerbacks and safeties of Vic Fangio’s zones, the defense made great strides.
–RUSH DEFENSE: B[/B] – Allowing 104.4 yards per rush is solid work, and the Bears would rate even higher if not for the loss of linebacker Danny Trevathan to a one-game suspension, and to both inside linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Jerrell Freeman due to injuries. Christian Jones quickly stepped up his play after one game to get his bearings, and the inside linebackers were again solid. Eddie Goldman’s dominant play at nose tackle and Hicks’ team-high 11 tackles for loss have been the foundation for the stout run defense.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C [/B]- The shuffling at kickoff returner has led to a lack of continuity with blockers, and the Bears have often been better off taking the touchback and the ball at the 25. Cohen’s habit of running laterally instead of taking it upfield before cutting has made him a spotty punt returner, and now the team has been using him as a kickoff returner. If he sticks to the script, he can be a threat regardless of punt or kickoff return. Kicker Connor Barth had four missed field goals, and three proved big plays. Punter Patrick O’Donnell has had bombs when he needed them, and satisfactory production at placing it inside the 20 – although the punt coverage unit needs to help him more in this area than they have.
[B]COACHING: C-minus[/B] — They nearly lost the team when they stuck with Glennon through four turnover-filled games. The best decision made, whether by Fox or Pace, was finally dumping Glennon to go with a rookie quarterback. The worst decision was going with him in the first place. Dowell Loggains’ conservative play-calling with Trubisky at quarterback has been roundly criticized, but has its merits. Trubisky isn’t going to be able to start winging the ball all over the field because he has no targets. It’s better to play to the team’s strength. Then again, seven pass attempts in a game took it beyond extremes. Fangio and other defensive coaches have not only had the right game plans, but have achieved much-needed depth by properly training new players and holdover reserves. When the injury wave hit early on defense, they had an answer this year. There is no doubt head coach John Fox has this team sticking together and progressing. The question the rest of the way will be whether they are progressing enough for Pace to offer Fox a contract extension.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus [/B]- Matthew Stafford has had an up-and-down first half of the season. He played well enough the first two weeks that one Las Vegas sportsbook made him the co-favorite to be league MVP, then he slumped in October with rough outings against the Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, only to rebound with nearly 800 yards passing the last two games. Stafford has played well overall as his four interceptions have been confined to two games, but the Lions have struggled in pass protection and they went through a long stretch earlier in the year where they had trouble sustaining drives. Both Marvin Jones and Golden Tate have had big games at receiver, rookie Kenny Golladay had an impressive debut and TJ Jones has been better than expected as Golladay’s fill-in of late. But the Lions’ problems getting separation against good defenses are problematic, and tight end Eric Ebron and tackles Rick Wagner and Greg Robinson have been disappointments.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: D [/B]- The Lions rank last in the NFL in rushing in Jim Caldwell’s three-plus seasons as head coach, and somehow this might be their worst rushing team yet. At the midway point, the Lions are averaging just 79.9 yards rushing per game and they can’t get out of their own way in short-yardage situations. Leading rusher Ameer Abdullah is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and the Lions have only three rushing touchdowns as a team. The offensive line struggles are an issue across the board, though right guard T.J. Lang has had a consistent season. Abdullah has shown flashes of promise, but he’s still looking for his first career 100-yard game and he fumbled twice in Monday night’s win over the Green Bay Packers.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: B [/B]- The Lions rank 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, but have two defensive backs playing at a Pro-Bowl level in safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay. Quin has three interceptions, two forced fumbles and functions as the soul of a unit that’s overperformed this season. Slay has a career-high three picks and his stifled some of the game’s top receivers, including Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., though he did struggle against the more physical Kelvin Benjamin. Quandre Diggs has played well at the slot cornerback position, but the Lions don’t have much of a pass rush with Ziggy Ansah still battling a knee injury and no other consistent presence off the edge.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus[/B] – The Lions have done a good job of forcing teams to be one-dimensional this year, which is why they’ve allowed so many passing yards. They have shut down good running games in the Arizona Cardinals (before David Johnson got hurt), Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers, but have had a couple lapses against the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints (and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, before he got hurt). Losing Haloti Ngata was a blow to the defensive line, but A’Shawn Robinson has shined in his absence and the Lions are getting good production from linebackers Jarrad Davis and Tahir Whitehead. The Lions have had some issues with their goal-line run defense the last couple weeks, but safety Tavon Wilson is underrated as a run-support defender.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: A [/B]- There might not be a better all-around special teams unit in the NFL than what the Lions trot out on a weekly basis. Matt Prater has made 18 of 21 field goals, and all three of his misses are from 55 yards or longer. Rookie return man Jamal Agnew has two punt-return touchdowns this season, and the Lions survived the loss of punter Sam Martin for six games as fill-in Jeff Locke averaged a net of 42.2 yards per punt. Agnew did have a crucial misplay of a fourth-quarter punt that stalled a potential Lions comeback against the Saints, and the Lions botched a punt and hold in their Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals. But they have solid coverage units and dependable specialists who are a weapon from anywhere on the field.
[B]–COACHING: B [/B]- The Lions are about where most thought they’d be at the midpoint of the season. They’ve struggled against the best teams they’ve played – the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Steelers – beat up on the putrid Giants, Cardinals and Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, and may have caught a break against a Vikings team that was leading in the second half when it lost running back Dalvin Cook to injury. Head coach Jim Caldwell often catches flack for his game management, but he’s handled in-game situations well this year and deserves credit for routinely having his team ready to play (expect against the Saints). Jim Bob Cooter’s offense has been a disappointment, as the Lions have too often struggled to get out of their own way. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin looks more and more like a top-flight head-coaching candidate with the way he juggles personnel and gets the most out of his unit.
[B]GREEN BAY PACKERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus[/B] – Green Bay ranks 21st in passing yards per game (211.5) and 18th in passer rating (88.2). The loss of Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone was devastating, as backup Brett Hundley struggles to find his way.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus[/B] – Green Bay ranks 21st in rushing yards per game (98.6), but fifth in yards per carry (4.5). Packers head coach Mike McCarthy ignored the run game early in the year, but has leaned more heavily on it since the injury to Rodgers.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D[/B] – The Packers are 20th in passing yards allowed per game (239.4) and 25th in opponent’s passer rating (95.7). Injuries have been a small factor, but overall, the unit has just been disappointing.
–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus [/B]- The Packers are 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game (118.0) and 14th in yards per carry (3.9).
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus)[/B] – Green Bay is fourth in net yards per punt (44.1), while kicker Mason Crosby had made 80.0 percent of his field goals. The Packers are on their third long snapper of the season, though, due to injury. And problems with that unit led to a blocked field goal Monday.
–COACHING: F[/B] – McCarthy is 0-3 in games this season that Aaron Rodgers didn’t start or couldn’t finish due to injury. Critics that claim McCarthy has made a living on the right arms of Rodgers and Brett Favre a decade ago have more ammunition than ever. McCarthy, who called himself a “highly successful coach” last year, doesn’t look like one without a Hall-of-Fame quarterback under center.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B[/B] – This isn’t exactly Air Shurmur, but all things considered, the offense is playing exceptionally well under the guidance of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Case Keenum, considered a low-level backup quarterback signing in the spring, has played all but six quarters for a team that is 6-2 and leading the NFC North. The passing offense ranks 14th in the league. Keenum has thrown only three interceptions and has taken only five sacks behind an offensive line that has gone from weakness to strength.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B [/B]– The Vikings are 4-0 since they lost rookie running back phenom Dalvin Cook for the season. Jerick McKinnon has had ball-security issues and Latavius Murray has been stuck in first gear for the most part, but together they’ve kept the Vikings competitive in the run game. A year ago, the Vikings had no run game. They ranked last in the league. This year, they rank ninth with 120 yards per game. Another sign that the offensive line is now a strength.
–PASS DEFENSE: A [/B]- The combination of pressure and coverage has worked exceptionally well together. The Vikings have a shutdown corner in Xavier Rhodes, a versatile safety in Harrison Smith and a superior pass rush led by right end Everson Griffen, who has 10 sacks, including at least one in all eight games. The Vikings rank second in third-down defense as opponents are converting just 27.7 percent.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A [/B]- The Vikings are fourth in yards allowed and third in points allowed because they haven’t gotten sloppy against the run. When this defense slides, it always begins with cracks in gap control. The Vikings rank third against the run (81.3) and third in average yards allowed per rush (3.46).
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C [/B]- The Vikings can do much better here. They’ve proven that for years under special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Losing the league’s best kickoff returner — Cordarrelle Patterson – to free agency sucked the life out of the kick return unit. The kickoff coverage unit also is struggling along at 23rd in the league. Kicker Kai Forbath has been a case study for just how strange kickers can be. In his 15 games as a Viking, he has nailed 36 of 37 field-goal attempts, but has missed seven extra points. He is 21 of 22 on field goals this year, but 12 of 16 on PATs.
[B]–COACHING: A[/B] – Vikings fans have a lot of scar tissue, whether they are old-timers from the four Super Bowl losses to younger fans who usually got what they asked for when they expected the worst in recent playoff losses. So, when Sam Bradford went down with a balky left knee after a stellar season-opening performance, fans naturally took one look at Case Keenum, threw their hands up and surrendered. But overall talent, depth and coaching have the Vikings at 6-2 coming out of the bye. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano meshed four new starters together in a hurry. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has gotten the most out of his depth at quarterback and running back. On the other side of the ball, head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense has been disciplined and sharp against the run and dominant in third-down situations.
B][I]NFC West: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
–PASSING OFFENSE: C[/B] — It was typically hit or miss under Carson Palmer, who is now out for at least the next eight weeks with a broken left arm. Palmer wasn’t as effective as he has been in the past when looking for the deep ball and it didn’t help that he was constantly harried under a relentless pass rush by opposing teams because of a reshuffled and patchwork offensive line that failed to protect him. There have been some bright spots – like the ageless play of Larry Fitzgerald (when they throw it to him) and the emergence at times of Jaron Brown (who returned from ACL surgery) – but it’s clear the Cardinals sorely missed what injured running back David Johnson (fractured wrist) gave to them out of the backfield as a primary offensive pass-catching threat. Drew Stanton played well in his first start, a 20-10 victory over the winless 49ers Sunday, improving to 7-3 when starting in place of Palmer.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: C [/B]– With no David Johnson, there was no rushing attack whatsoever. Well, not until future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson arrived via a very economic trade with the Saints and ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his Arizona debut during a win over the Buccaneers and then, 159 yards on a career-high 37 carries in his third game, a victory over the 49ers. That gives this unit all kinds of renewed confidence and hope. The key moving forward is how well the 32-year-old Peterson’s body reacts to getting so many carries. He better be able to hold up, because it looks like Johnson isn’t about to be activated off injured reserve anytime soon, if at all this season. The run blocking was much better in Peterson’s two big games, but it was far below average in all the others.
–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus[/B] — Outside of Chandler Jones, a pass rush has been virtually non-existent for the Cardinals and even Jones hasn’t actually been all that disruptive. Yes, the outside linebacker has registered nine sacks through eight games, tying a franchise record, but he hasn’t been a game-changer or really helped at all in forcing turnovers. The rest of the team had five sacks combined prior to its win at the 49ers. It hasn’t helped that the team lost its sack leader from a year ago, outside linebacker Markus Golden, to a season-ending ACL injury. Arizona is getting little to no push whatsoever up the middle. The Cardinals are ranked 24th against the pass, allowing an average of 249 yards per game and 14 touchdown passes – tied for the fifth-most allowed in the league. They’ve tried two different corners opposite Patrick Peterson and still aren’t settled at that position. Safeties Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea have played well, but Tyrann Mathieu has disappeared at times and hasn’t been a real factor in terms of consistency.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus [/B]– This unit ranks 11th overall, allowing an average of 100.5 yards. It’s only allowing 3.7 yards per rush, which ranks seventh-best overall. They’ve only allowed one, 100-yard rusher this season to date, the Rams’ Todd Gurley in Week 7, but there’s nothing to make one think that the Cardinals’ run defense is impenetrable. It is, unless inside linebackers Karlos Dansby, Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon pick up their play and the Cardinals get more disruption up front and start making more of a mess in opposing backfields.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus[/B] — Veteran Phil Dawson was brought in to finally bring some stability at kicker and he’s missed six field goals, four of them inside 40 yards. Dawson only missed six field goals the previous two seasons combined. New punter Andy Lee has been consistent, but not as good as he once was with the 49ers. The Cardinals are on their second long snapper after losing Aaron Brewer to a dislocated wrist and newcomer Justin Drescher’s snaps have been low on each of Dawson’s latest two misses. The return game has been null and void, but the coverage teams have been even worse and helped result in lopsided field position. The only real positive has been gunner Budda Baker, the rookie, on punt coverage.
–COACHING: C-minus [/B]- Head coach Bruce Arians has dealt with his share of injuries thus far, but so have several other men in his position this season and he won’t use it as an excuse. The problem was, the Cardinals weren’t very competitive and not nearly consistent enough at all even when they were healthier. Losing star playmaker David Johnson in the season opener seemed to set the tone for the rest of the team, and losing Palmer only made it worse. The team looked much better in Sunday’s win over the 49ers, but that was to be expected. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher needs a reboot of positivity, but it would appear too late for special teams coordinator Amos Jones, who probably should have been let go a year ago.
[B]LOS ANGELES RAMS
–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus[/B] – The Rams have completely altered the narrative of their offense by adding a strong passing game. And in the process, uncovered a franchise quarterback in Jared Goff. The second-year QB has thrown for 2,030 yards and 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions and is the beneficiary of an improved offensive line and a bevy of new wide receivers like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins. All signs are pointing up for the Rams as a result.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B[/B] — The Rams spent all offseason fielding questions whether RB Todd Gurley was nothing more than a one-year wonder after his production dropped as dramatically as it did after a strong rookie season. Those questions have been put to bed with Gurley rushing for 686 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, they’ve figured out a way to spring Tavon Austin, who has 169 yards rushing.
–PASS DEFENSE – C [/B]– The Rams are ranked eighth in pass defense giving up 205 yards per game through the air. But there is a bit of a disclaimer: The Rams’ offense has pushed leads and the defense has been good at run defense. That means opposing offenses have had to play catch-up without the benefit of the run. And that’s driven up the passing yardage, although, of late, the Rams have been able to build a wall at the end zone relative to points given up.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: A[/B] – The Rams are eighth in the NFL giving up just 121 yards per game on the ground, and that’s after a shaky transition to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. But a dominant front line led by DT Aaron Donald and fast, aggressive linebackers led by Alec Ogletree have improved each week and the Rams have now become one of the best run defenses in the NFL.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: A[/B] — K Greg Zuerlein is 21 of 22 on field-goal attempts, P Johnny Hekker is averaging 47.9 yards per punt and the Rams have returned a kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a punt for a touchdown, forced a fumble on a punt and converted a first down on a fake punt. Game in and game out the Rams special teams have been an asset.
[B]–COACHING: A [/B]- The Rams under new head coach Sean McVay have been prepared, efficient and effective in all three phases of the game. A morbid offense is now one of the best in the NFL. The defense has played dominantly the last three games and special teams is among the best in the NFL. Players have bought into the message and improved tremendously.
[B]SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus [/B]- First off, you have to give the 49ers credit for trying. They lead the NFL in pass attempts by more than a game’s worth. But given that he hand-picked the starting quarterback, used a third-round pick on another, and brought in a pair of free-agent wideouts, head coach Kyle Shanahan has to be embarrassed that his club is a catch or two from having the lowest completion percentage in the league. Only Cleveland is worse.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus[/B] – It’s too bad fourth-round pick Joe Williams got hurt in training camp because he might be the starter by now. That’s not to say that Carlos Hyde has done poorly. Just that most holdovers from the previous regime have been pushed aside so that younger players can get a look. Hyde has demonstrated an ability to score touchdowns (he has four of the team’s 13) and catch passes, which has saved his job. For now.
–PASS DEFENSE: B-minus[/B] – By almost all measurables, the 49ers have a below-average pass defense. But they have interceptions in five of their last six games, and have held their last three opponents — including Dallas and Philadelphia — under 250 passing yards. This despite key injuries up front and at the safety position, and now with a rookie starting at cornerback.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus[/B] – OK, here’s where it’s gotten embarrassing at times. They’ve gotten bowled over by Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott (they aren’t the only ones), but may have reached a low point when they watched Adrian Peterson turn back the clock with a monster game Sunday. Their worst days have come after showing NaVorro Bowman the door, so the coach has to take some of the blame here.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus [/B]- The 49ers haven’t won any wars, but they win the special-teams battle almost every week. Not bad for a team that has allowed a pretty good kicker (Phil Dawson) and punter (Andy Lee) to walk in recent years. They’re still waiting for that one big return that might turn a narrow loss into a narrow win.
–COACHING: D[/B] – The new coach cut NaVorro Bowman, and now the team can’t stop the run. He demoted Brian Hoyer, and now the team can’t score. Head coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t appear to be the best talent evaluator, and that might not even be his biggest problem. Why not try for a field goal at the end of the half Sunday against Arizona? Why not go for the win with a two-point conversion at Indianapolis? If he’s conservative with nothing at stake, you have to wonder how he’s going to respond to truly critical situations.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus [/B]– Russell Wilson is well on his way to a third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season. With his mobility back at full speed, Wilson has looked like his younger self and has been able to be effective inside the pocket and as a scrambler. He’s on pace to match a career-high in touchdowns, but is also on pace to set a new career high in interceptions. Pass blocking has been significantly better this season than in years past.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: D[/B] — Without an injured Chris Carson, the Seahawks’ rushing attack has been almost completely ineffective through the first half of the season. Running backs have just one rushing touchdown and have averaged just 3.25 yards per carry as a group.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: B[/B] — While Deshaun Watson carved up Seattle’s pass defense, it’s been mostly an outlier for the Seahawks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 57.7 percent of their passes against the Seahawks, which ranks third in the league. Sacks are up in recent weeks and Seattle is getting more chances for interceptions as well.
–RUSH DEFENSE: B[/B] — Outside of early struggles with a few big run plays, the Seahawks’ rush defense has been strong. They’ve allowed less than 70 yards rushing in three of their last four games and have eliminated the big play. Big runs by Carlos Hyde, DeMarco Murray and Tavon Austin hurt the group in the first quarter of the season.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C[/B] — Blair Walsh’s three missed field goals against Washington on Sunday put a damper on the first half of the season. Return teams haven’t produced any big returns yet this season. In fact, Tyler Lockett returning out of the end zone has been less successful than taking a touchback would be most of the time. Coverage units have been stellar as Neiko Thorpe heads the group.
[B]–COACHING: B[/B] — The Seahawks’ inability to run the football will hurt their chances in the second half of the season if Seattle can’t find a way to be more successful. It’s been an issue Seattle hasn’t been able to solve yet this season but should be helped by the addition of Duane Brown. Defensively, the Seahawks have given up too many explosive plays that have negated strong performances the majority of the time.
[B][I]AFC East: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus [/B]- The Bills have just not been able to sustain any semblance of an aerial game, and there are myriad reasons. First and foremost, the receiving corps is one of the weakest in the NFL, which is why the Bills made the trade to acquire WR Kelvin Benjamin. TE Charles Clay has missed the last three games and his absence has hurt. And the offensive line is struggling to protect QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor has actually played pretty well this season, but he rarely puts up big numbers, though in the same vein, he has turned the ball over only three times.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus[/B] – The Bills have had some games where they looked like the team that led the NFL in rushing the past two years. But there have also been games where they’ve been shut down by opponents who loaded up the box and made a concerted effort to stop LeSean McCoy. McCoy has two 100-yard games, but he’s also had games of 9, 21 and 25 yards, and the Bills lost two of those games. The Bills must run well to be effective on offense, and there’s been too much inconsistency.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: C [/B]- The Bills’ pass rush has been invisible, especially in the second quarter of the season, and they now rank 29th in sacks per pass attempt. On the plus side, the Bills have intercepted 11 passes and also forced a couple fumbles by receivers after pass receptions. Rookie CB Tre’Davious White has played like a first-round pick and he’s been traveling with the opposition’s best receiver in some games. SS Micah Hyde leads the NFL in interceptions with five, and FS Jordan Poyer has been a surprisingly solid player and a playmaker. They have allowed too many yards, though, ranking 29th in that category.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus[/B] – Prior to Thursday night’s meltdown against the Jets when they allowed 194 yards, the run defense ranked third in the NFL, allowing just 80 yards per game. The Bills have gotten solid production from the defensive tackle rotation that no longer includes the traded Marcell Dareus, but still has Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington and Jerel Worthy. DE Shaq Lawson has also been very good against the run. At the linebacker level, Preston Brown piles up tackles, but rarely are they for lost yardage. Ramon Humber has also been reliable, though he missed three games with a thumb injury.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B [/B]- Stephen Hauschka currently has an NFL record-tying streak of 12 consecutive makes from beyond 50 yards. Overall for the Bills, he has made 16 of 18 field goals and all 18 extra points. Punter Colton Schmidt has a 41.4 net average with 15 punts downed inside the 20. The return game has been mostly blase with Brandon Tate serving most of the time on punts and kickoffs; he has a 40-yard punt return and a 26-yard punt return, but that’s about it. The kickoff coverage has been spotty, ranking 20th, but the punt coverage team ranks sixth, partly due to Schmidt’s hang-time skill.
[B]–COACHING: B [/B]- Head coach Sean McDermott has squeezed five victories in eight games from a roster that is not stocked with top-end talent and is painfully thin in several areas. However, it may be difficult to repeat that performance in the second half with two games against the Patriots and one each against the Saints and Chiefs on tap, plus two division games against Miami. The offensive staff hasn’t been able to establish consistency in the passing game, while the defense has been tremendously opportunistic in terms of taking the ball away, but it has also been yielding far too much yardage in recent weeks.
–PASSING OFFENSE: C[/B] – QB Jay Cutler (3 TDs, 0 INTs, 121.3 passer rating) was strong against Oakland. But overall this area has been inconsistent this year as dropped passes and penalties have sent head coach Adam Gase back to the drawing board. And Cutler isn’t exempt from criticism either. He’s been so-so. This area gets revamped with the new running backs.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C[/B] – RBs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams have taken over for RB Jay Ajayi, who was traded to Philadelphia. But Ajayi had two 100-yard rushing games, both coming in victories. The power running game is out and yards from scrimmage is in. So don’t look at rushing yards. Look at how Drake and Williams make life easier for the offense.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D[/B] – Miami was riddled early in the season by QBs Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. The Dolphins have also been susceptible to big plays. DE Cam Wake (6.0 sacks) has been a saving grace. This area is improving, but they must overcome a shaky start, especially in the nickel package.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A[/B] – Miami has surprisingly been among the best in the NFL in this area after being among the worst the last two years. MLB Rey Maualuga and SLB Lawrence Timmons have helped tremendously, and the line, led by DT Ndamukong Suh, have been good all season.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: C[/B] – K Cody Parkey has missed three extra points, but he’s made three field goals that were key to victories. There’s not much to report from the return game or coverage units. P Matt Haack has been decent as a rookie. Kickoff returner Kenyan Drake is now off those duties, leaving the job to WR Jakeem Grant, who has shared punt-return duties with WR Jarvis Landry.
[B]–COACHING: C[/B] – Head coach Adam Gase has been trying to hold it together among a hurricane, a player going AWOL, a scandalous video involving an assistant coach and trading RB Jay Ajayi. With a 4-4 record, he’s done a decent job.
[B]NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
–PASSING OFFENSE: A[/B] – With 40-year-old Tom Brady throwing 16 touchdown passes and just two picks for a 106.5 rating, New England has the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense through nine weeks of action. It hasn’t been perfect – the offensive line has allowed 21 sacks, on pace for the most of Brady’s career – but the addition of WR Brandin Cooks (33 catches, 563 yards and three scores) and return of a healthy TE Rob Gronkowski (34-509-5) as well as pass-catching RB James White’s team-best 43 catches have combined to overcome the preseason loss of Julian Edelman (torn ACL).
–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus[/B] – Restricted free-agent addition Mike Gillislee has been a major disappointment with a 3.6-yard average on his 98 attempts, failing to fill the void of LeGarrette Blount’s departure. Dion Lewis led the Patriots’ 16th-ranked rush attack in attempts in three straight games leading into the bye, with mixed results, though he does have a 4.7-yard average on his 58 attempts. New England averaged below 3.8 yards an attempt in four of its first eight games leaving head coach Bill Belichick declaring that the team needs more production from its ground game.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D-minus[/B] – New England has had the 32nd-ranked pass defense throughout the first half of the season thanks to a horrendous concoction of poor coverage, horrible communication, non-existent pass rush and big plays allowed. A secondary that sports a $65 million addition in CB Stephon Gilmore and three former Pro Bowlers in Gilmore, S Devin McCourty and CB Malcolm Butler has greatly underperformed, although the back end did show some signs of improvement heading into the bye week. New England had just 16 sacks at the bye, ranking 26th in sacks per pass play.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus[/B] – A run defense that was No. 3 in the NFL a year ago struggled up the middle and on the edges to open 2017 ranked 24th in the league. Five of the Patriots’ first eight opponents topped 120 yards on the ground and New England held just two foes to below 4.5 yards per carry as a team. Injuries and a lack of depth on both the line and at linebacker have left the Patriots giving up yards consistently on the ground.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B[/B] – The strength of the kicking game has been the coverage units led by Pro Bowler Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner’s team-best seven tackles. That’s especially true on kickoffs, where Stephen Gostkowski has mastered high kicks to the goal line for the third-best average drive start off kickoffs in the league. Gostkowski has been solid in his placekicking, hitting 20 of 23 field goals and 20 of 21 PATs. Ryan Allen has not been as good, ranking near the bottom of the league in both gross (30th, 43.2) and net average (28th, 39.0). Dion Lewis has been unremarkable with a 24.2 average on kickoff returns, while Danny Amendola has given an occasional boost on punts with an 11.2-yard average and 40-yard long.
–COACHING: B-minus[/B] – Though there have been a few examples of overthinking – including questionable lineup and scheme decisions on opening night – head coach Bill Belichick and his staff have been solid enough overall for the 6-2 mark at the bye despite a number of key injuries and underachieving talent. Coordinator Josh McDaniels has seen his offense evolve into more of a big-play passing attack without Edelman, while defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is trying his best to overcome a lack of talent and depth in the front seven on defense. The veteran staff, like the team itself, has room for improvement.
NEW YORK JETS
–PASSING OFFENSE: B — Josh McCown has had a penchant for fourth-quarter mistakes, as four of his seven interceptions have come in the final period. But he’s also given the Jets some downfield plays they didn’t expect to have early in the season, and he’s developed a nice chemistry with speedster Robby Anderson the last few weeks.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: B[/B] — The three-headed unit of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire has shown flashes, especially Powell, who has four runs of more than 20 yards. But combined they’ve averaged less than 100 yards per game and McCown actually leads the team with three touchdown runs. Maybe Thursday’s performance against the Bills will provoke first-year offensive coordinator John Morton to rely more on the run.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: C[/B] — The Jets have played at least one more game than every team in the league so far, so take this stat with a grain of salt, but they have allowed the third most passing yards at 2,109. They’ve also allowed a league-high 19 touchdown passes. The secondary does have a knack for interceptions, with nine on the season, but the lack of a pass rush (until Thursday night against the Bills) has been an issue.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C [/B]– Like the pass defense, inconsistency has been the problem. They’ve now completely shut down Jay Ajayi, then of the Dolphins, twice, and LeSean McCoy once, but they have been bedeviled by big plays, like Tevin Coleman’s 52-yard run in Week 8 against the Falcons. They’ve allowed 4.2 yards per attempt, which is 21st in the league. The foundation of a strong run defense is there, and it’s been improving in the last few weeks.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B[/B] — Chandler Catanzaro has been a good find. He’s missed only four field goals in 19 attempts, and two were in the driving rain in Week 8 against the Falcons, and has made all 20 of his extra points. Punter Lachlan Edwards is also greatly improved since last season, averaging 42 net yards per punt. This grade would have been an A, but the Jets haven’t got much of anything in their return game. Elijah McGuire has looked spry on kickoff returns, so maybe he can provide a spark back deep.
[B]–COACHING: B [/B]– There have been blown leads, questionable clock management decisions and odd lapses in performance. But the bottom line is this: This team was supposed to be dreadful and they’re not, and that’s a credit to head coach Todd Bowles, no matter how you slice it.
[B][I]AFC South: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
[B]–PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus[/B] – With Deshaun Watson before he tore his ACL, the Texans had 19 touchdown passes and were in a groove. With Tom Savage, they’re back to being awful again.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus[/B] – The Texans have ranked in the top five in rushing offense for weeks, but have now lost the threat of Deshaun Watson due to his injury.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D[/B] – The Texans have allowed a dozen touchdown passes combined to Tom Brady, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson. They’re very inconsistent. The only real pass rush comes from Jadeveon Clowney, who has five sacks.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B [/B]- Despite injuries in the front seven to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and Christian Covington, the Texans remain stout against the run. Especially linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C [/B]- The punt coverage is typically substandard despite the excellence of veteran punter Shane Lechler. New kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has made 11 of 12 field goals and missed two extra points. The return game is average.
–COACHING: C [/B]- Bill O’Brien did a nice job with Deshaun Watson, but he has clock management issues and is struggling again with Tom Savage under center. The defense has regressed, but that’s not his fault.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus[/B] — As QB Jacoby Brissett continues to learn more of the offensive playbook, his overall performance and consistency will continue to improve. Brissett was a late arrival to the roster after being acquired from New England a few days before the season opener. After QB Scott Tolzien struggled in his only start of the season against the Rams, Brissett has taken over as the team No. 1 quarterback for the remainder of the year. He has completed 165-of-270 passes for 1,950 yards with seven TD passes and four interceptions. He has, however, been sacked 32 times. WR T.Y. Hilton and TE Jack Doyle have been the only reliable receiving threats. Hilton has 34 receptions for 702 yards and three TDs while Doyle has added 50 catches for 441 yards and two TDs.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus [/B]– RB Frank Gore leads the way with 455 yards and two TDs on 127 carries. Rookie Marlon Mack has been impressive in limited work and is second on the team with 212 yards on 53 rushes. Mack also has two rushing touchdowns. Brissett has added 147 yards on 34 attempts and a team high three TDs. The team lost RB Robert Turbin to a dislocated elbow a couple of weeks ago and he is out for the remainder of the season. Former Redskins RB Matt Jones has been battling an ankle injury and has seen little work.
–PASS DEFENSE: C[/B] — Opposing quarterbacks have completed 190-of-317 passes for 2,638 yards with 13 touchdown passes. The Colts have picked off seven passes, led by rookie S Malik Hooker’s three. CB Rashaan Melvin has played well this season and has two interceptions. Indianapolis’ pass rush has shown some improvement, but it has come in flashes. The Colts have recorded 18 sacks as a team, led by OLB Jabaal Sheard’s 4.5.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus[/B] — There has been improvement shown in the Colts’ run defense this season, especially in the last few games. Indianapolis has allowed 1,025 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns through the first nine games of the season. The Colts did a nice job of bottling up two of the league’s better rushing attacks in splitting games with Cincinnati and Houston the last two weeks. The addition of DT Johnathan Hankins and NT Al Woods as veteran free agents has helped. DT Henry Anderson has made a nice recovery from 2015 knee surgery and appears to be returning to the form that he showed as a rookie that season.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus[/B] — K Adam Vinatieri continues to climb the NFL’s kicking records list. Vinatieri has made 17-of-18 field-goal attempts this season and is an impressive 4-for-4 from 50 yards or more. Not bad for a 22-year league veteran who is 44 years old. Rookie P Rigoberto Sanchez has filled in admirably for former veteran punter Pat McAfee, who retired during the offseason. Sanchez is averaging 45.4 yards on 50 punts, with 18 of his punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. His kickoffs have been impressive as well. WR Quan Bray is averaging 5.3 yards on 17 punt returns and 23.9 yards on 18 kickoff returns. Indianapolis has not allowed a kickoff return or punt return for a touchdown this season.
[B]–COACHING: C [/B]- Head coach Chuck Pagano continues to try and steer the Colts ship in the right direction. Indianapolis has gotten the 2017 season off to a 3-6 start, however, and the team finds itself in last place in the AFC South. Getting a win at division rival Houston Sunday was big. But things need to improve over the last half of the season. Pagano finds himself once again on the hot seat. Indianapolis has to make a run against a tough slate of opponents if it wants to get back in the playoff picture. It all starts this week with a home game against Pittsburgh. The Colts haven’t fared very well against the Steelers in recent seasons.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B[/B] – It’s a case of less is more. The less Blake Bortles has to pass, the better the Jaguars rushing game and offense has been. In the Jaguars first four wins this season, Bortles threw 31 or fewer passes. In the three losses, he threw the ball 34, 35 and 35 times. In their win over Cincinnati last Sunday, Bortles threw a season-high 38 times, completing a season-best 24 passes. When the running game is going good (177.8 yards per game in the five wins), the Jaguars don’t need to rely on Bortles nearly as much. While he’s improved his numbers this year, including fewer interceptions, fewer sacks and a higher passer rating than a year ago, his yards are also lower. Last year, Bortles had 10 games in which he threw for at least 245 yards. This year he’s had two – a 330-yard effort against the Colts and a 259-performance against the Bengals. The most encouraging thing about Bortles is that he’s been over 63 percent accuracy in his last three games after hitting that mark just once in the first five weeks.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: A [/B]- A quick check of the numbers from a year ago to this season shows the difference in the running game. In 2016, the Jaguars had five games in which they rushed for more than 100 yards, three times exceeding 155 yards. In the first eight games this year, Jacksonville has not only topped the century mark seven times, but in six of the seven games it totaled 155 yards or more and had 148 in another. As a team, the Jaguars are averaging 4.8 yards per carry compared to 4.2 a year ago. Leonard Fournette has been an instant success in his rookie season, breaking out for 596 yards in the first six games before he missed the last two games due to an injury and suspension. The fact that the Jaguars still managed to average 168 yards on the ground in Fournette’s absence shows that the team has strengthened its overall running attack.
–PASS DEFENSE: A[/B] – The addition of cornerback A.J. Bouye and strong safety Barry Church was done to shore up a secondary that has had a lot of difficulties in stopping opposing teams’ passing attacks. Bouye and Church have been a big part of the reason the Jaguars rank first in the NFL in defensing the pass, allowing an average of 156.4 yards per game through the air, a marked difference from their 2016 average of 226.7 passing yards per game. They’ve also dropped the number of touchdown passes allowed, going from 20 for all of last year to just four in the first eight games this season. Same success with interceptions, where a year ago, the Jaguars finished with a total of seven. Jacksonville has already picked off 10 passes – all of which came in the first five games of the season. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is playing at an All-Pro level while Bouye, Church and free safety Tashaun Gipson are all playing exceptionally well.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus [/B]- The one weakness for the Jaguars defense this season has been its inability to shut down opposing ground games. They’ve had some success, like holding four teams to less than 100 yards on the ground. But the other four games, opponents have rushed for an average of 177.9 yards per game. Through seven games, the Jaguars were allowing an NFL-high 138.6 yards a game on the ground. But a superlative effort against the Bengals in which they held them to just 29 yards in 17 attempts lowered their season mark to a more respectable 124.9 average, good enough to get them out of last place. Acquiring Marcell Dareus in a trade with the Buffalo Bills appears to have helped strengthen this unit. One area where the front line has been exceptionally stout is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Jaguars lead the NFL in sacks and are on pace to establish an NFL record if they continue their current mark of just under five sacks a game.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: C [/B]- There have been too many ups and downs from this unit to warrant a better grade. The kicking is the best example. Jason Myers led the team in scoring with 48 points in the first six games, converting on 11 of 12 field-goal attempts inside the 50, but missing all three of his attempts from beyond 50 yards. Replacement Josh Lambo has connected on all five of his field-goal attempts including a 56-yarder against Cincinnati and all five extra-point tries. Punter Brad Nortman has also had his good and bad moments. He’s averaging 44.6 yards per punt, but that includes a 16-yarder against the Los Angeles Rams that led to an easy Rams field goal. The Jaguars have covered kicks well, but had gotten very little out of their own return game until Jaydon Mickens returned a punt 63 yards for a score against Cincinnati.
–COACHING: B-plus[/B] – Doug Marrone has done a solid job with the team in his first full season as head coach. Marrone’s message has stayed consistent all season, placing a special emphasis on solid defensive play, getting off to a fast start and finishing strong. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has done a good job with the play-calling, especially in terms of sticking with a running game that has emerged as the NFL’s best after eight weeks. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash has benefitted from the acquisition of several free-agent additions as well as the improved play of second-year players CB Jalen Ramsey, DE Yannick Ngakoue and LB Myles Jack. Wash’s aggressive style has resulted in a league-leading 35 sacks in eight games. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis hasn’t been as successful as his counterparts and will need to have a better showing in the second half of the season to guarantee his return in 2017.
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus [/B]– Marcus Mariota’s completion percentage is still good at just over 63 percent, but he has only thrown six touchdown passes thus far. His receivers – save for reliable tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Rishard Matthews – have not stepped up as consistently as the Titans had hoped and the play-calling has been pedestrian at times, leading to inconsistency in the passing game.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C[/B] — Tennessee still ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing, but seems to be trending downward, having struggled to move the ball on the ground against Cleveland and Baltimore in recent weeks. DeMarco Murray is banged up and has battled a number of injuries, and Marcus Mariota’s mobility has been limited at times with a hamstring issue that seems to finally be over. Derrick Henry probably needs a chance to carry more of the load, and the offensive line has to show more consistency.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: C-plus[/B] — The Titans made a concerted effort to upgrade the secondary in the offseason, but their best player there has been safety Kevin Byard, a holdover from a year ago, who has made great strides in year two. He leads the NFL with six interceptions, including five in the past two games. New cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson are getting better. Despite sack numbers being down, the pass defense has righted itself after an embarrassing 57-point fiasco at Houston.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus [/B]– The Titans are 10th in the league against the run. The run defense was strong last season, and though not quite as good as last year when it was second overall, has been fairly solid – save for the occasional lapse. The play of Wesley Woodyard, who is rejuvenated at age 31, has been the brightest point for the run defense.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus[/B] — Ryan Succop (21 of 23 field goals) has been about as automatic as can be and deserves a Pro-Bowl berth if he continues at his current pace. The same can be said for punter Brett Kern, who is averaging a career-best 51.5 yards per punt through eight games. The return units have improved with the explosiveness of Adoree’ Jackson. But both the coverage and return units still have too many penalties and mistakes, despite lots of offseason spending there.
–COACHING: C-plus [/B]– The Titans have underwhelmed at times, but still are 5-3 and tied atop the AFC South. So even if the plays aren’t always being made, the message is apparently getting through. The defense came under fire early, especially after the debacle in Houston. But lately things have improved there. On offense, when the Titans have been able to run the ball, it has been good. But that hasn’t happened often enough. The offensive play-calling has been predictable at times, and also there seems to be a reluctance to speed things up with the no-huddle that was so effective last year.
[B][I]AFC North: Midseason Report Card
November 7, 2017[/I][/B]
[B]–PASSING OFFENSE: D[/B] — The Ravens have struggled to move the ball downfield and have one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 1,551 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has been hampered by injuries to his offensive line and drops by his receivers.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: C [/B]– Alex Collins, who was signed off the practice squad in late September, has been the biggest surprise. Collins is ranked in the top 10 in the NFL with 521 yards. Javorius “Buck” Allen has been solid catching the ball out of the backfield. Terrance West, who entered the season as the starter, missed time with a calf injury and will be challenged to win back his job.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: B[/B]– The Ravens’ revamped secondary has been one of the highlights of the team. Baltimore has been consistently ranked in the top third of the league against the pass. Brandon Carr, who was acquired as a free agent, and safety Eric Weddle are tied for third in the NFL with three interceptions. Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey looks like he could be a long-term answer in the secondary.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: C [/B]– Baltimore struggled when defensive tackle Brandon Williams missed four games with a foot injury. But when he is healthy, this unit is one of the better ones in the league. The Ravens have also managed to perform without defensive end Brent Urban, who is out for the season with a foot injury.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C[/B] — Kicker Justin Tucker continues to show he is one of the best kickers in the league. Punter Sam Koch had a couple of uncharacteristic gaffes. Coverage has been mostly solid. Returner Michael Campanaro is struggling with injuries again.
[B]–COACHING: C-minus[/B] — The Ravens are under pressure to avoid missing the postseason for the third consecutive year. The coaching staff has been hampered by injuries and lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been especially under fire for the lack of offensive production. Head coach John Harbaugh has gotten a vote of confidence from ownership, but this team must play better over final stretch of the season or changes still could be made.
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus [/B]– Andy Dalton has passed for 1,739 yards and 11 TDs despite being sacked 24 times and pressured often behind a suspect offensive line. He also has thrown eight interceptions and isn’t the type of quarterback who is comfortable improvising amid heavy pressure. With top pick John Ross working his way back from a knee injury and tight end Tyler Eifert out for the season following back surgery, defenses have been successful at times taking A.J. Green out of the offense. Green leads the team with 578 yards and four TDs, but has expressed frustration with Dalton’s inability to get him the ball.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: D[/B] — This is an area that did not improve measurably after Bill Lazor was hired as offensive coordinator. The offensive line has struggled to open holes and while rookie Joe Mixon has shown flashes, the trio of Mixon, Jeremy Hill, and Gio Bernard have combined to average barely three yards per carry. In Sunday’s 23-7 loss at Jacksonville, the Bengals gained 64 yards on 31 attempts, a 2.1-yard average. This lack of production hasn’t helped alleviate any pressure on Andy Dalton and open things up for the passing game.
–PASS DEFENSE: B[/B] — The Bengals’ pass rush has been bolstered by rookie LB/DE Carl Lawson who has emerged as one of the NFL’s most dominant edge rushers just eight games into his career. Cincinnati ranks 12th in the league in sacks through eight games with its production dipping in recent weeks. The Bengals rank fifth in passing yards allowed, but have struggled to limit big plays and are allowing 41 percent conversions on third down.
–RUSH DEFENSE: C[/B] — In Sunday’s 23-7 loss at Jacksonville, the Jaguars converted a staggering 67 percent of their third downs. Seven of their 26 first downs were converted on the ground. Through eight games, Cincinnati was allowing more than 116 rushing yards per game for a 4.0-yard average. Poor tackling and missed assignments, particularly on third down have plagued this defense all season.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus [/B]– Until recent weeks, this unit was a positive aspect of the season. Kicker Randy Bullock has been steady, connecting on 8 of 10 field-goal attempts before being inactive on Sunday due to a back issue resulting in the signing of free agent Marshall Koehn. But, a blocked field goal and a punt return TD in back-to-back weeks have tarnished this unit. Alex Erickson is among the best returners in the NFL, but even he lapsed with a pair of fumbles in a one-point win over the Colts two weeks ago.
[B]–COACHING: C[/B] — After starting the season 0-2, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and replaced him with Bill Lazor. That only provided a momentary spark for the offense, which hasn’t been able to establish a consistent running game or adequately protect Andy Dalton. The issues aren’t fixable in the short term because they mostly result from a patchwork offensive line with three first-year starters who are struggling. Frustration boiled over on Sunday when A.J. Green was ejected in the first half for fighting and after the game, players challenged both teammates and the coaching staff, questioning their desire to win.
–PASSING OFFENSE: D[/B] – Quarterback DeShone Kizer played four quarters against the Vikings on Oct. 29, the Browns’ final game before the bye, without throwing an interception. That’s a step in the right direction for the Browns. Pass protection has been good since the season opener, but dropped passes and Kizer’s accuracy issues are a major reason the Browns are 0-8. Rookie tight end David Njoku has been encouraging with three touchdown catches, but the bad far outweighs the good when Kizer drops back to pass. He has thrown 11 interceptions.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus[/B] – The Browns’ offense improved steadily over the last four weeks as the offensive line continues to gel. The line took a hit when All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas suffered a season-ending injury in the seventh game. His replacement, Spencer Drango, performed well in his only game so far (against the Vikings), but he will be tested the second half of the season. Running back Isaiah Crowell is in his contract year, but he is off the pace he was hoping for with 351 yards on 102 carries with one rushing touchdown. His backup, Duke Johnson, has only 34 carries, but he leads the Browns with 36 catches. The biggest problem for the Browns is they fall behind early and are forced to abandon the run.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D [/B]- The numbers tell the story. The Browns have given up 16 touchdown passes in eight games. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 68.8 percent of their passes against the Browns and have a 103 passer rating. They have five interceptions and have difficulty covering the tight end on a weekly basis. A healthy Myles Garrett could put more bite in the pass rush, but the Browns severely miss cornerback Joe Haden, who was cut before the season began. It was a move that still defies logic.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus[/B] – Run defense is where the Browns have shown the most improvement. Opponents gained an average of 4.6 yards a carry and scored 18 rushing touchdowns last season. Those numbers are down to 2.9 yards a carry and five rushing touchdowns at the halfway mark. The switch to a 4-3 base defense with Trevon Coley and Danny Shelton starting at defensive tackle has been a big part of the improvement. Neither is high on the Browns’ tackle chart, but they clear the blocking so linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert can get the glory.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus[/B] – Rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez drags this grade down. He missed two field-goal tries in a 17-14 loss to the Jets and he missed an extra point and a field-goal try against the Vikings. Minnesota went on to win, 33-16, but the score was close when Gonzalez missed his kicks. Rookie Jabrill Peppers was timid as a punt returner the first four games. He began to show more confidence starting with the game against the Jets on Oct. 8, but he missed the last two games with a toe injury. The Browns were hoping for more than the 6.4-yard average return he has produced so far. Punter Britton Colquitt has been a huge plus with a 49.3 yards per punt average. He has nailed 13 inside the 20 without one touchback.
[B]–COACHING: C [/B]- This might seem like a generous grade for an 0-8 team, but head coach Hue Jackson can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers, and that is what the front office has given him to work with offensively. The lack of quality receivers magnifies the weaknesses of rookie quarterback Kizer, and that affects the running game in two ways; opposing defensive coordinators can put another safety in the box and the run is abandoned early, which in turn puts more pressure on Kizer. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has had success overall, but pass defense has dragged his unit down. His secondary is short on talent, and that again goes back to the lack of skilled players provided by executive vice president Sashi Brown.
–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus[/B] – Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receiving and JuJu Smith-Schuster has emerged as one of the top rookies in the league, but the Steelers are searching for production from their third and fourth receivers. Martavis Bryant returned from a year-long drug suspension, but he hasn’t looked like the player he was in 2014 or 2015. Bryant has just 234 receiving yards and one touchdown. Eli Rogers, who had 48 catches last season, has just seven catches so far. Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for his lowest number of touchdown passes in a season since 2010 and his lowest completion percentage since 2008.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B[/B] – After a slow start, the Steelers have embraced a running identity on offense. Le’Veon Bell is third in the NFL with 760 rushing yards and has scored five times. He has rushed for 134 yards or more three times this season, with all three coming in the past five games. The Steelers are averaging 108.9 rushing yards per game as a team, which ranks 16th in the league. Rookie James Conner is second on the team behind Bell with 89 yards, and there is a chance the Steelers could turn to him more in the second half in an effort to keep Bell healthy for the playoffs. Bell has not finished the season healthy the past three seasons.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: A-minus[/B] – The Steelers are second in the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 180 yards per game. The addition of cornerback Joe Haden just before the start of the season has made a world of difference. Second-year corner Artie Burns and second-year safety Sean Davis also have played well, as has first-year slot corner Mike Hilton. There is some reason for concern after Matt Stafford threw for 423 yards against them in their last outing, but even in that game there were positives to note. The Steelers did not allow the Lions to score a touchdown and had three goal-line stands in the second half. On one of them, Stafford tried to pass his way in twice from the 1-yard line, and the Steelers forced an incompletion and then sacked him on fourth down.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus [/B]- The Steelers are ranked 16th in the NFL in rush defense at the halfway point, but that’s because of two bad outings against the Bears and Jaguars. The Bears rushed for 222 yards in their overtime victory in September and the Jaguars rushed for 231 yards in their victory last month. Those are the only two times the Steelers lost in the first half and the run defense played a big part in both losses. In the other six games, the Steelers have been quite stingy against the run, including a strong performance against the league’s leading rusher Kareem Hunt, who could manage just 21 yards on nine carries against them. The Steelers need those types of dominating performances in the second half of the season because they are vulnerable when teams have success in the run game.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C [/B]- The Steelers aren’t very dangerous on their return teams. They are dead last in the league in kickoff returns with a paltry 15.0-yard average. Their longest return of the season has been 25 yards. They are 27th in punt returns, averaging just 5.2 yards per return. Kicker Chris Boswell has been solid. He made 18 of his 20 field-goal attempts in the first half of the season. Punter Jordan Berry has been inconsistent at times, but he is adept at pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line.
[B]–COACHING: B [/B]- Head coach Mike Tomlin has rebuilt his defense with young playmakers and they’re the biggest reason the Steelers are 6-2 midway through the season. They Steelers are second in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 16.4 points per game. The offense has struggled to score for most of the season. They have one of the worst red-zone offenses in the league. If offensive coordinator Todd Haley can figure that out, the Steelers have a chance to make a deep playoff run.
[B]–PASSING OFFENSE: D[/B] — After a strong start to the season, the Broncos’ aerial offense has slipped, bogged down by its inability to contain opposing pass rushes and its predilection for turnovers. Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler have combined to throw 12 interceptions, including eight in the Broncos’ last four games, and the Broncos’ team-wide passer rating of 73.5 is the third-worst in the league. Denver is one of just three teams with a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas needs to be a huge part of the offense, but hasn’t been, and didn’t even score a touchdown until garbage time of the Broncos’ Week 9 loss at Philadelphia.
[B]–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus [/B]– When the Broncos run the ball, their offense generally works; it’s not a coincidence that they are 3-1 when they rush for at least 125 yards. Denver ranks a respectable 14th in yardage per carry and 13th in first-down rate; both are substantial improvements over last year’s rankings. But the Broncos struggle to run the football out of three-wide receiver formations and go away from the run when they fall behind, as has been the case for most of the time during their four-game losing streak.
–PASS DEFENSE: B-plus[/B] — The Broncos have generally defended the pass well, limiting big plays for most of the season. But Carson Wentz gashed the Broncos for four touchdown passes in a 51-23 Week 9 thumping in Philadelphia, and the Broncos have struggled to cover tight ends throughout the season as teams typically avoid throwing at Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. The quick throws to tight ends also help keep their edge rushers from being as much of a factor as they would hope.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus[/B] — Philadelphia battered the Broncos on the ground in Week 9, but the Broncos’ performance over the course of the first half of the season has been stellar, thanks in large part to the presence of veteran Domata Peko at nose tackle and the steady development of second-year defensive end Adam Gotsis, who have won most of their battles at the line of scrimmage, allowing the linebackers to attack the gaps and prevent many runs from getting to the second level.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus [/B]– A strength last year has become a weakness this season. Kicker Brandon McManus went through an early-season slump, missing five field-goal attempts in the first five games of the season, although he has gotten out of it with five consecutive successful attempts in the last two games. Isaiah McKenzie has shown some electric potential on punt returns, but has also fumbled four times. The team’s insistence on returning kickoffs out of the end zone remains baffling, and has rarely resulted in good field position. Punter Riley Dixon’s net average is down by 1.3 yards from last year. New special-teams coordinator Brock Olivo tried to justify the decision to return kickoffs from the end zone by citing hang time, but the Broncos’ overall special-teams issues have torpedoed their hopes.
[B]–COACHING: C [/B]– Denver’s issues have been more about execution than preparation. But the Broncos hit the season’s midway point on their longest losing streak since the Josh McDaniels era, and Joseph and his staff appear to be struggling to find answers. In recent weeks, Joseph has pointed to strong practices that have not translated to solid performances on game days, so something is being lost in the translation. If they can’t find a remedy for this disconnection, the Broncos will have their first losing season in seven years.
[B]KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
–PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus [/B]– Quarterback Alex Smith posted among the strongest first halves of his career, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 2,444 yards and 18 touchdowns in the team’s first nine games. All those numbers put him well on pace for career highs. Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill remain on pace for 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and rookie running back Kareem Hunt provides the team with a dual-threat option out of the backfield. The Chiefs lead the league at 6.2 yards per play, and Smith and the passing game are the biggest reason why.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus[/B] — The run game behind rookie Kareem Hunt deserve an A-plus for the first five games of the season, but the last four weeks bring down the average a bit. Hunt leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage, piling up 800 yards on the ground and adding 331 more through the air along with six touchdowns in total. Few running backs in recent weeks bolted out of the gates faster than Hunt. But with just 48 yards rushing per game the last four weeks, Hunt must find a way to make adjustments as the league seems to be solving the riddle he poses.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus[/B] — The Chiefs rank 28th in passing yards allowed per game. The secondary missed two starters most of the first half of the season. Safety Eric Berry went to injured reserve with an Achilles tendon rupture following Week 1, and starting right cornerback Steven Nelson missed the team’s first eight games with a core muscle injury. Perhaps most distressing, the Chiefs’ pass rushing ranks tied for 16th with just 19 sacks through the first nine games. The team’s defense relies on a strong pass rush to disrupt the passing game. When the Chiefs get to the quarterback, the defense can play lights out. When they cannot, opposing quarterbacks have big days.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus [/B]– Even when teams don’t rush the ball particularly well, they still seem to find ways to pile up yards against the Chiefs. The teams ranks 30th in the league with 131.1 rushing yards allowed per game. They also allowed nine rushing touchdowns, showing signs that the bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy needs repairs quickly. The Chiefs seem to have the pieces to be better against the run, especially with the addition of defensive tackle Bennie Logan and linebacker Reggie Ragland. The team again misses the expertise of safety Eric Berry against the run.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus[/B] – The kicking game has been close to perfect with rookie kicker Harrison Butker connecting on his last 19 straight field-goal attempts. Punter Dustin Colquitt carries a less than stellar 39.4 net punting average but his ability to put the ball inside the 20 remains among the best in the league. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub normally hangs his hat on the return game, but the Chiefs have struggled in that area. The Chiefs rank eighth in kickoff returns with a 23.3-yard average. Teams normally avoid punt returner Tyreek Hill, leaving the Chiefs 17th in the league with an 8.2-yard return average.
[B]–COACHING: B[/B] – Head coach Andy Reid and his staff deserve much of the credit for the team’s 5-0 start, but it also holds significant ownership in the 1-3 slump leading to the bye week. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton finds himself the target of much of the criticism with the team ranking 28th against the pass, 30th versus the run and 20th with 23.1 points allowed per game. The Chiefs have a Super Bowl offense and a No. 1 overall draft pick defense. Finding a way to improve the defense in the second half stands between the Chiefs and postseason success.
[B]LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: B [/B]– Philip Rivers has been far from perfect. Just like he’s far from finished as he’s midway through his 12th season in the NFL. Rivers has cut down on his turnovers, especially in the last four games in which the Chargers have won three. His receivers have been solid and Melvin Gordon has proven to be a great option out of the backfield. Keenan Allen is back to his Pro Bowl-caliber play and tight end Hunter Henry has been rediscovered of late. The protection has been pretty good, with the pressures being limited because of steady play from the rebuilt offensive line and Rivers’ knack for getting rid of the ball quickly.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus[/B] — Melvin Gordon has found his mojo, even if some of it is coming from the passing game. But Gordon has been the bell cow that Lynn envisioned as he paces the team with seven touchdowns (four rushing) and 526 yards. The run blocking has been up and down as the team still gets everyone on the same page with a rebuilt line. Now with Matt Slauson (biceps) out, the line will have to prove it can keep plugging along with rookie Dan Feeney at right guard. Rookie Austin Ekeler has the team’s only other rushing touchdown as he went 35 yards with his first NFL carry,
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: A [/B]– The secondary is pretty good with Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams at the corners. But what makes the back end so efficient is what is happening up front as Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa continue to live life in rivals’ backfields. Ingram and Bosa each have 8.5 sacks as they’ve become one of the most prolific pass-rushing tandems in the game. Tre Boston has played well at free safety and Jahleel Addae continues to provide the physical presence that others feed off. The Chargers’ pass defense is No. 8 in the league, with Ingram and Bosa being a big reason why.
[B]–RUSH DEFENSE: F[/B] — There are 32 teams in the NFL and all but one is better than the Chargers in stopping the run. A problem that was especially evident early in the season has helped lead to many of the Chargers’ defeats. Denzel Perryman, probably the team’s best tackler, has missed the first eight games with an ankle injury that has led to the poor play here. But all the blame can’t go there as there has been shoddy tackling and a lack of purpose at the point of the attack that has allowed teams to gain an average of 135 rushing yards per game. But there’s hope here as in the last three games, the Chargers have allowed 92 rushing yards and 3.8 yards per carry. Combined with the return of Perryman, the run defense could continue to trend upward.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-minus[/B] — Travis Benjamin returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown and that is what kept this unit away from a F grade. Otherwise, it has been blown opportunities from the kicking game — rookie kicker Younghoe Koo was replaced — and the coverages have been spotty, too. Penalties? The Chargers got one for lining up offsides on a kickoff. Nick Novak has provided some stability with field goals and extra points, but his leg strength is such that converting a field goal from 45 yards and out is considered a long shot. Punter Drew Kaser is averaging about 50 yards and produced a career-high 69-yard punt this season.
[B]–COACHING: C [/B]– Being a first-time NFL head coach is a tough gig and head coach Anthony Lynn is learning on the run. What’s encouraging is how he didn’t lose the locker room when the squad started 0-4 and there were whispers whether Lynn was up to the task. But Lynn has provided a steady hand, not panicking when things go wrong or doing cartwheels when plans fall into place. He’s been a tad conservative with his play-calling and time and again elects to punt when at midfield or even just in enemy territory. But he’s also keeping everyone accountable as he declines to give free passes for mistakes. Lynn has had a full plate in coaching a team for the first time, especially one that left its home of 56 years for the crowded L.A. sports landscape. Sure he’s made mistakes. But overall, he’s been decent and that’ll get you a 3-5 mark in your first eight games.
[B]–PASSING OFFENSE: C [/B]- So much was expected, and very little delivered. Quarterback Derek Carr is completing 65.2 percent of his passes, but has already exceeded his 2016 interception total (he has seven) and has probably only looked like last year’s MVP candidate in two games. Tight end Jared Cook leads the Raiders in receptions (39) and yards (499). Michael Crabtree remains Carr’s go-to guy in the clutch (six touchdown receptions). Amari Cooper has one big game and has been MIA. Lots of drops across the board, with Cooper (10) the main culprit.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: D[/B] – An anemic 87.6-yard average that ranks 26th in the NFL as the Raiders have struggled to assimilate Marshawn Lynch (323 yards, 3.8 average) to the system. Weeks 1 and 9 were basically it as far as Lynch contributing to a win. The yards per carry are also down for Jalen Richard (4.3) and DeAndre Washington (2.9), the second-year change-of-pace backs. Offensive line hasn’t been the same in terms of pushing other teams back.
[B]–PASS DEFENSE: D[/B] – Nine games without an interception is unprecedented since the 1970 NFL merger. What little decent play the Raiders have had has come during times when they rally up and make the tackle to get up off the field. David Amerson has been injured and inconsistent, and Sean Smith, who has played better of late, probably would have been cut if rookie Gareon Conley was healthy — which he isn’t. Veteran free safety Reggie Nelson is too often a step late. Not nearly enough from the pass rush, with even Khalil Mack disappearing for stretches, mostly because of double teams.
–RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus[/B] – It’s pretty much a middle-of-the-pack effort so far. The grade dropped from low-B status the past two weeks, after LeSean McCoy gained 151 yards and Miami’s non-existent running game averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Strangely enough, those games came after the trade for veteran LB NaVorro Bowman, who is already climbing the charts in terms of 2017 tacklers. Nose tackle Justin “Jelly” Ellis has been a bright spot in his fourth season as an anchor and Mack remains one of the NFL’s top run defenders.
[B]–SPECIAL TEAMS: B[/B] – Punter Marquette King has a 50.3 average, a 45.5 net and has placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line with only two touchbacks. He is one of the NFL’s best. Giorgio Tavecchio may just keep the job for the rest of the season after nailing a 53-yard attempt before halftime against Miami that ended up being the winning points. Sebastian Janikowski is on injured reserve. Coverage has been decent and Cordarrelle Patterson (30.8 average on kickoff returns) has provided good starting points, but Jalen Richard has gotten nowhere in punt returns (5.4 average with a long of 13 yards).
[B]–COACHING: D -[/B] The Raiders have already exceeded last year’s loss total through nine games and are another bad game away from being out of the playoff chase. Lots of blame to go around from the top down. The Raiders have come out flat in some games, have looked unprepared in others and offensive coordinator Todd Downing has struggled to put together a system that can get the best out of Carr and incorporate Lynch. Head coach Jack Del Rio says the buck stops with him, and he’s right.