NFL 2016: 10 Biggest Letdowns at Midseason

Which players have failed to meet expectations in the 2016 NFL season at midseason and let fans down the most?

In the 2016 NFL season, we’ve seen some spectacular surprises, most notably the rookie seasons from quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. But we’ve also been let down by players, teams, and injuries.

Sometimes, being a letdown is on the player himself. Maybe his head isn’t in the right place, or maybe he just isn’t having the year we expected (or have been accustomed to). But there are other times when a player’s below-average season is on the coaching staff, or even on the players around him. Judging by how he has played this season, Sam Bradford knows what it’s like to be unfairly labeled an underachiever.

We still have eight or nine games left to play in the 2016 NFL regular season, but we still have enough data points to examine the league and figure out who’s disappointed to this point. Not all of these letdowns are player performances. Some of them have to deal with teams, and others are more about injuries. I mean, who isn’t bummed out when an NFL icon has to miss a significant chunk of time with an injury?

Here are the 10 biggest letdowns of the season so far.

Oct 23, 2016; London, ENG; Quarterback Eli Manning (10) of the New York Giants hands the ball off to running back Rashad Jennings (23) during the third quarter of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants Offense

Ben McAdoo is supposed to take the New York Giants to new heights, but this team is 4-3 and hasn’t beaten a good team since taking advantage of Terrance Williams‘s blunder to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.

The Giants spent big bucks on defensive players this offseason and it has actually paid off for them. As of right now, the Giants are 10th in the NFL in points per game allowed and all of their new additions on defense have been a big part of that.

Unfortunately, the offense has been a problem. It’s no surprise that Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, or whoever else they throw in as the primary rusher is struggling. What is surprising is the poor season Eli Manning has put together, and I don’t think we’ve made it enough of a talking point nationally.

At the beginning of the season, the Giants passing attack showed promise. Sterling Shepard dazzled, Victor Cruz did not look like he’d lost a step from his injury, and Odell Beckham Jr. made things happen—even against Josh Norman.

Beckham put together a monstrous 222-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Baltimore Ravens burnable pass defense, but that’s the only time he’s surpassed 60 receiving yards since his big 100-yard game against the Washington Redskins in Week 3. His teammates, particularly Cruz, have been worse.

Outside of Beckham, no skill position player on the Giants is standing out. Currently 26th in the NFL in points per game and bereft of a rushing attack, the Giants must figure things out in their Week 8 bye. Most importantly, Manning needs to step it up, because this has been an uninspiring campaign with too many turnovers.

Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) reacts during the second half against the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Hopkins, WR — Houston Texans

I could have put Brock Osweiler on this list, but nobody should have expected a big year from a marginal passer. Osweiler should improve, but he won’t be a standout quarterback for the Texans. What’s been more disappointing is his impact on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is one of the best in the business. Watching his routes, you can see that Hopkins is the same dominant player he’s always been, but the efficiency hasn’t been there.

With Hopkins, delivery from the quarterback is especially important, and Osweiler’s poor ball placement prevents Nuk from making the plays he regularly produced in his elite 2015 season. Hopkins has averaged just 5.71 yards per target, even though he has been doing most of the grunt work for this offense.

Thanks to Osweiler, even early-season rookie sensation Will Fuller has slowed, though that was inevitable based on the former Notre Dame star’s boom-or-bust style of play. Lately, breakout tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz has been the only player in the Texans passing game worth praising statistically.

You have to wonder when Osweiler will help Hopkins out, because there’s no way to pin this on Bill O’Brien. There’s only so much the head coach can do, and the blame has to be on a quarterback with as many touchdowns as interceptions and an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. Brandon Weeden could do better than this.

Oct 27, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is sacked by Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan (91) in the second half at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 36-22. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars Offense

I was tempted to put Blake Bortles on this list, because there’s a chance he has been the second-worst quarterback in the NFL this season behind former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round bust Blaine Gabbert.

Bortles is no bust (yet), but it’s alarming how he’s taken a step back this season. While his statistics certainly flattered him in 2015, the risk-taking Bortles was average at worst that year. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns carried him far, but how come they haven’t been able to do the same this season? The offensive line isn’t the appropriate source of blame, because you could easily argue that they have played better in 2016.

A quick look at Bortles’s Week 7 box score shows that the Jaguars passer threw for 337 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. What it doesn’t tell you is that the Jaguars were being blown out at the half because Bortles couldn’t do anything. He’s becoming a garbage-time, Ryan Fitzpatrick passer right before our eyes, making the notion that he was ever better than Derek Carr seem all the more unbelievable.

As with any struggling offense, most of the blame goes to the quarterback and that is the case with Bortles. However, not everything is on Bortles, because the Jaguars rushing attack has been at least as shameful as New York’s.

Chris Ivory was brought in to partner with, challenge, or even overtake T.J. Yeldon. Instead, the only “challenge” he has provided the second-year rusher from Alabama is for the title of being the worst running back in the NFL this season. Neither player is averaging more than 3.5 yards per carry. And it is disconcerting to see how Ivory has gone from being one of the best backs in the league to one of the worst when the Jaguars offense was supposed to help him.

Before the season, I thought the Jaguars offense could reach exciting heights, even though I was only lukewarm on Bortles. In reality, Bortles has bottomed out, and the Jaguars running game, which was the main selling point for offensive improvement, has made the quarterback’s life more miserable instead of taking some pressure off of his young shoulders.

Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson (29) pushes New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) away as he runs the ball during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets Defense

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s awful season hasn’t been a surprise to anyone who has followed the NFL for more than just the 2015 season, but the regression from the New York Jets defense has been a bit of a shock.

Darrelle Revis’s decline seemed to be in the tea leaves last season, because wide receivers like Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins had no trouble destroying him. This season, it seems like everyone has been putting a clinic on the obviously declining Revis.

The problem for the Jets defense isn’t just Revis, though, because the entire secondary has been lousy. Outside of maybe the playmaking Marcus Williams, I can’t find a defensive back worthy of praising. Since joining the team, Buster Skrine has been a monstrous disappointment, and safety Calvin Pryor isn’t taking the steps forward that I expected.

Through seven weeks, the Jets are 23rd in points per game allowed and 28th in net yards per pass attempt allowed. Even without Damon Harrison, the Jets run defense is still among the best in the NFL, but that is hardly a silver lining in the face of a pass defense that surrenders more passing yardage than anyone else.

Coming into the season, the Jets defense was supposed to be a juggernaut, but it looks like the only player who can stand tall is second-year stud Leonard Williams.

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) eyes Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Carolina won 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Palmer, QB — Arizona Cardinals

Whenever a normally rock-solid quarterback has a poor half-season, it’s a cause for concern. The Arizona Cardinals are right in the thick of the NFC West race, because the Seattle Seahawks have been stumbling without Russell Wilson physically at 100 percent.

Wilson hasn’t been 100 percent physically, but Carson Palmer hasn’t been 100 percent in terms of performance. An MVP candidate last season who thrived off of the type of aggressive passes that can make stars out of players in Bruce Arians’s offense, Palmer’s deep ball has been inconsistent this season. He’s still hitting his receivers with relative accuracy, but the turnovers on those plays have increased. Meanwhile, the rewards have decreased. Palmer has two touchdowns to five interceptions on deep passes.

Palmer has remained productive with nearly 300 passing yards per game and 7.3 yards per pass attempt, but he just isn’t making plays when the Cardinals need him to do something. Starting J.J. Nelson over the underperforming Michael Floyd could pay dividends, but Palmer just doesn’t look like himself. He’s thrown for gaudy numbers in his past two games (a combined 705 passing yards), but he keeps making mistakes on important plays.

David Johnson puts this team on his back and the defense is exceptional (second in points per game allowed), but the Cardinals are 3-4-1. You tell me what the problem is, because it sure as heck isn’t John Brown or Larry Fitzgerald.

Sep 22, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and nose tackle Vince Wilfork (75) sit on the bench during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Watt’s Injury

So this one isn’t about a player or a team’s unit underperforming. This letdown is one that stings the most for fans of the game. Anytime a player is injured, it sucks, but it especially hurts when a future Hall-of-Famer is out for a season in the prime of his career. It robs us of a chance to see one of the best at his best, beyond the fact that J.J. Watt’s back injury has been a tough loss for the Texans defense.

Watt had never missed a game in his entire career and his most famous photo is of him playing on the field with a profusely bloody nose. With 38 sacks in the past two seasons and over 75 tackles in each of them, Watt would have been a good bet to hit 20 sacks again this year. His young supporting cast of Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus is hitting its stride, so the fact that Watt isn’t able to take advantage of that makes us feel even more cheated.

The Texans superstar has the chance to go down as one of the best defensive players in NFL history. That only makes it all the more unfortunate to see him not getting a full season in the prime of his career. Hopefully he bounces back after 2016, but it would’ve been nice to have him dominating this year, as well.

Oct 16, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) catches the ball as Washington Redskins running back Keith Marshall (39) defends in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Ertz, TE — Philadelphia Eagles

He isn’t a huge name, but Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has been one of the best players at the position over the past two years. In 2015, he was the best thing the Eagles offense had going, as he caught 75 passes for 853 yards. This season, Ertz has just 15 receptions for 150 yards. Ertz has played in five games since returning from an early-season rib injury and maybe his lack of production is on the injury. But it’s still disappointing to see that Ertz isn’t at his best.

Ertz has fewer receptions than Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholor, and Dorial Green-Beckham this season. Based on how awful Agholor has been and how “meh” DGB is, the fact that Ertz isn’t doing more is tough to watch.

Hopefully he can get more involved in the offense, because he could have a big second-half of the season. Carson Wentz has been balling out, but his awful wide receiver corps has been failing him. Ertz hasn’t been great when on the field either and there’s no way Jordan Matthews can hold the fort on his own. The Eagles need Ertz to step up, and feeding their most gifted pass-catcher would probably be a good start. Since Week 1, Ertz hasn’t been targeted five times in a single game.

Sep 18, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) defends a pass intended for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Cowboys won 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Bashaud Breeland, CB — Washington Redskins

Though A.J. Green gave him trouble, Josh Norman has been everything the Washington Redskins asked for when they signed him to an expensive contract. While Norman has been the best player on the Redskins defense this season, one of the team’s most impressive players from 2015, Bashaud Breeland, has taken a step back.

Last year, Breeland was always around the ball, making clutch plays. Building on a promising rookie year, Breeland defended 16 passes in 2015, and he established himself as a rising shutdown corner and one of the most active defensive backs in the league.

In 2016, Breeland has been a disaster. He isn’t making as many plays on the ball, and he has been regularly burned by wide receivers. After the best in the business, Antonio Brown, dismantled him in Week 1, it has been the same story for Breeland.

Due to his physical tools, his mental toughness and the experience he’s gained from already being in the league for two seasons, Breeland should bounce back. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with playing across from Norman, but that isn’t the reason why Breeland is struggling. He’s having an off year. He doesn’t look like himself and he needs to figure things out in order for this defense to improve.

The Redskins defense hasn’t been terrible, but they have allowed the third-most first downs in the league. If they can get off the field sooner, that should help the offense, as the Redskins offense is third in yards but only 15th in points.

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera looks at a replay during the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers

Although the Carolina Panthers may have made the first step in righting the ship by defeating the Arizona Cardinals in their first game following the bye, the Panthers still haven’t put together a truly convincing win this season. At 2-5, the Panthers have been one of the worst teams in the NFL, even though they have scored 30 points in over half of their games.

The Panthers defense has looked poorly-run and the execution has been nearly as bad. Everyone talks about the departure of Josh Norman, but people need to spend more time dissecting a hole that was apparent last season.

Carolina doesn’t have much of a pass rush and the players they expected to carry them at defensive end, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy, have done nothing. None of their defensive ends have more than 1.5 sacks this season, and Ealy’s Super Bowl performance is looking more and more like an aberration in what has been an underwhelming career to this point.

As a whole, it has been an underwhelming first half of the season for the defending NFC champs. Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, and Jonathan Stewart have been excellent and the offense is fourth in the league in scoring. This success on offense comes despite the fact that the reigning MVP has been more “good” than “great” and the depth at wide receiver has been worse than anticipated.

The offense is fine, but the defense isn’t. Worse yet, the coaching staff just doesn’t seem to be putting its players in the best positions, which is a far cry from what they achieved last season. Just look at the game Carolina allowed Julio Jones to have. That’s the one guy you can’t allow to run free and the Panthers let him own the deep regions of the field without making any real adjustments during the game. That’s unacceptable and I hope the coaching staff took a long look at its methods during the bye.

October 23, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly (right) argues with NFL side judge Boris Cheek (41) during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi

Chip Kelly’s Creativity

Nobody expected the San Francisco 49ers to be better than a complete disaster—they are the NFC’s Cleveland Browns. Heck, they even hired the defensive coordinator, Jim O’Neil, that tanked the Browns once-proud defense. Combine him with Chip Kelly, who is notorious for leaving his defenses on the field and you have a team that is 32nd in points per game allowed and 30th in yards allowed.

Not only has Kelly teamed up with O’Neil to completely ruin the 49ers defense, which allows 5.1 yards per carry despite getting the advantage of knowing that teams will run it when they are losing (they have faced a league-high 252 rushing attempts), but he’s done absolutely nothing on offense.

Outside of Carlos Hyde, there isn’t a single skill position player on the 49ers worth talking up. After Kelly took so long to finally remove Blaine Gabbert, who is without a doubt one of the worst starting quarterbacks of this generation, he hasn’t exactly done anything innovative with Colin Kaepernick. You’d think that a supposedly good, smart football coach like Kelly would be able to at least somewhat elevate the talent around him, but the 49ers offense looks even more inept than last year.

The 49ers offense has been as boring as you could expect and, if it weren’t for the ridiculously low expectations associated with running Trent Baalke’s dumpster fire of a team, this might actually be an even worse coaching job than the one Kelly pulled with the Philadelphia Eagles last year.

I’m guessing the 49ers expected some innovation and improvement when they hired Kelly. On the contrary, this offense has been more laughable and vanilla than Jim Tomsula’s. Right now, the 49ers passing attack runs almost entirely through Jeremy Kerley, whose 331 receiving yards make him the only player on the team with at least 200 receiving yards.

This, of course, does Hyde and the running game no favors. Currently on a bye, the Niners haven’t won a game since their blowout over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. That result looks even more shocking with each passing week. Just like last year, the 49ers came out hot in Week 1 and fell apart thereafter.

Their loss to the Dallas Cowboys has been the only time they were within one score of an opponent since Week 1 and that also looks like an aberration. I mean, the Cowboys outgained them, had far more first downs, and destroyed them in time of possession. Kelly shouldn’t be at any risk of being fired, but who knows? The 49ers are run by Jed York and Baalke, after all. If Kelly does get canned, then this will likely be his last NFL head coaching position for a long time.

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