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5 Teams set to struggle in 2013

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In this article I look at five teams who may find it difficult to replicate last season’s performance and why that is.

 

1)    Baltimore RavensI know it’s easy to pick the Superbowl Champions, after all anything barring a repeat Lombardi Trophy would be seen as a failure as ridiculous as that is. But I’m looking more at the Ravens season as a whole and comparing what they achieved and how it could be difficult to replicate in 2013.  Having made the playoffs in four straight seasons but never the Superbowl going into 2012 the Ravens were seen as the favourites in the ever tough AFC North but not one of the favourites for the Superbowl. Questions over quarterback Joe Flacco’s abilities in the big games, an aging defense and an offense supposedly lacking big weapons meant that while the Ravens made most experts top 10 teams preseason they didn’t make many top 5s.

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The Ravens jumped out to a bright start, getting to 9-2 and once again proved that they were legitimate contenders yet still they weren’t considered to be as strong as the likes of the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos or Green Bay Packers. When they stumbled to a 10-6 record highlighted by a humiliating 34-17 home defeat to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos they were well and truly out of the discussion as to likely Superbowl winners as the playoffs began. The firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the announcement that inspirational linebacker Ray Lewis was retiring and a collective desire to go one better than the previous year’s heartbreaking defeat to New England in the AFC Championship seemed to spur the Ravens on and they dismissed the Indianapolis Colts easily first up. In the second round however they were huge underdogs in a rematch with the Broncos away at Mile High but after almost six quarters of pulsating, captivating football the Ravens somehow prevailed. When the Ravens followed up with another road upset of their nemesis the Patriots the word destiny began to get mentioned and so it proved. The Ravens won their second Superbowl, holding off a late rally from the 49ers to become world champions.

 

Nobody can take that Lombardi away but were the Ravens truly the best team in the NFL over the whole season? Well the two performances against Denver show that at best the two were equals, they won the Superbowl by just three points and lost six times on the year. The Ravens were and still are a good football team but whether it was destiny or a bit of fortune they won it all without being dominant at any point in the season. The task facing them is clear, only the 2004 and 2005 Patriots have won back to back Lombardi trophies this century and since them no team has even played in yet alone won back to back titles.

 

To look at the problems they are likely to face, Baltimore first of all has a tough slate, staring with another clash with the Broncos at Mile High, fair to say Denver will be up for that one. They end the season by hosting the Patriots then going to their likely chief divisional rivals Cincinnati. The biggest issue the Ravens and their coaching staff must deal with is however the exodus of talent which looks like it will be too much to overcome. Of course the aforementioned Ray Lewis will leave the biggest hole to fill; his leadership especially may be irreplaceable. He is not the only future hall of famer to have gone though; Ed Reed the ultimate ball hawking safety has moved on to a Houston Texans team who are trying to take the next step to become legitimate contenders in the AFC. Also gone are retired center Matt Birk, a six time pro-bowler, outside linebacker Paul Kruger who had a career year in 2012 with nine sacks, emerging star linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, starting cornerback Cary Williams and starting safety Bernard Pollard. With three out of their 4 linebackers and three out of four members of their secondary gone the Ravens defense looks much thinner than in years past and it will be upon Joe Flacco to replicate his playoff form to win consistently.

 

 The Ravens still have elite players, excellent coaching staff and are always a hard team to beat but in 2013 they will have their work cut out to win the AFC North and to make the playoffs and a return to the Superbowl looks improbable at best.

 

2)    Minnesota Vikings The Vikings may have been the biggest surprise team in 2012. In the NFC North containing the mighty Packers, the Bears who were also expecting to make the playoffs after injuries cost them in 2011 and the Lions whose high octane offense also had them considered a dark horse pick for a serious Superbowl bid, the Vikings were most people’s bankers for last place. With superstar running back Adrian Peterson recouping from injury and in doubt for the season opener and the jury well and truly out on sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder the Vikings offense was hardly a source of optimism. A solid defensive unit headlined by Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway was probably the strong point but the age of the unit was cause for concern itself and to many the Vikings were a team destined for a losing record. How wrong they proved to be, Adrian Peterson returned better than ever and had a career, MVP season, the Vikings defense ranked in the top 10 and rookie Blair Walsh had one of the all time great seasons by a kicker.

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On the back of their 10-6 playoff season the Vikings added three first round draft picks, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Two of those were offset however, Rhodes will replace 35 year old Antoine Winfield who left in free agency but was the Vikings best corner once more last year. Patterson meanwhile replaces the explosive Percy Harvin which is a worry because for all of Patterson’s athletic ability he is far from a polished receiver. For the Vikings to be playoff contenders again they need their three first rounders to all start and be productive. This may not seem much of a stretch but in a draft class widely considered short on top level talent hitting on three picks in the 20s is far from a certainty. Adrian Peterson will again be the key to this team, everyone knows about him and exactly what he can do to you but stopping him is another matter. His success is also vital to quarterback Christian Ponder, if teams can slow the rushing attack you would be hard pressed to see Ponder competing in a shootout, especially with any of his three divisional rivals.

To summarise, the issues which concern me most about the Vikings are an over reliance on Adrian Peterson, a passing attack which on paper is amongst the league’s worst and the fact that they are in a division with three teams who I expect to attain a winning record in 2013. This is not a bad team but I don’t see them making the playoffs.

 

3)    Washington Redskins- The Redskins were another huge surprise in 2012. Superbowl winning head coach Mike Shanahan had struggled to make an impact in his first two years in the brutal NFC East but thanks to a blockbuster trade he found that all important centerpiece to success, the franchise quarterback. Trading up to second overall guaranteed the Redskins one of the two blue chip quarterbacks in the draft, Andrew Luck who of course went as expected first overall and Robert Griffin III who they took and never looked back. Griffin threw 20 touchdown passes and staggeringly for a rookie, just 5 picks, he passed for 3200 yards and ran for a further 815 with seven rush touchdowns. In a conservative, run first offense, Griffin’s un-rookie like poise and accuracy just kept the Redskins offense on the field when required and his natural brilliance offered the sprinkling of big plays needed to really make a difference. Another rookie was underrated in the Redskins breakout year, fifth round battering ram running back Alfred Morris, who rushed for 1600 yards and 13 touchdowns. North to South bruiser Morris is a throwback to the rushers of years gone by and his relentless style wore defenses down giving Shanahan the star running back that all of his great teams have had. The Redskins led the league in rushing and their offense ranked fifth overall behind the dynamic duo. Beating the Cowboys in week 17 saw them into the playoffs with a 10-6 record although they were beaten in a bruising encounter with the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round.

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Much of the Redskins focus in 2013 will once again be on their offense and particularly quarterback Robert Griffin III or RG3 as he is more commonly known. The worry for Redskins fans however is that RG3 suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his knee in their playoff defeat to the Seahawks. Although his recovery is ahead of schedule meaning he is likely to be ready for the start of the regular season such injuries often take a full year before they are fully healed and thus one must question whether RG3 will have the explosiveness and willing to be as dynamic a runner in 2013. The other major issue which stands out to me is their reliance on and success with the read-option scheme in 2012. The read-option swept the NFL with huge success and the Redskins deployed it as much as anyone but it is not a new thing. It’s been around for years, a bit like the direct snap/wildcat which was huge a few years back before fizzling out as defensive coordinators worked it out. The same is likely to happen to the read-option as the NFL’s finest defensive minds spend the offseason plotting its demise. If this happens Alfred Morris will suddenly find himself getting hit at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield way more than before and there will be far more asked of RG3 in the passing game. He looks an elite quarterback for years to come but in his rookie year he was able to be successful with a lot of short safe passes. As defensive coordinators do their homework they will push to get him out of his comfort zone with a lot of short zones and man coverage and I think his sophomore season could be a tough one.

 

In the Redskins favour is the return of several starters on defense after they were so injury ravaged in 2012. Brian Orakpo, the Redskins best defensive player played just twice and without his pass rush the Redskins secondary really struggled as they ranked 30th against the pass. Although Brandon Meriweather returns from injury and they drafted three defensive backs in the draft none are exactly the sort of measures taken by Tampa Bay to shore up their secondary and unless the Redskins pass rush is much improved it will again be the defenses Achilles heel in 2013. In a perennially tough, close division which has seen all four teams win once in the last four years and no team defend the title in a decade the Redskins look to be a sitting duck. Overall their roster looks the weakest in the division and unless they have more tricks up their sleeve I think that they will be stripped of the title and it would be no surprise if they saw two or maybe even all three rivals climb above them infact.

 

4)    Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons have become one of the NFC’s most powerful teams in the last few years under head coach Mike Smith. Their emergence really began in 2010 with a 13-3 season, in ’11 they went 10-6 before another 13-3 season in 2012 once again confirming their legitimacy as a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. Perhaps most crucial last year was their first playoff win since 2004 as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks thanks to a brilliant game winning drive as time expired. It seemed that Matt Ryan had finally taken the next step as of course Joe Flacco did but in the NFC championship he couldn’t match his game winning drive as the 49ers made a goal line stand in the last minute. On the face of it the Falcons are among the Superbowl favourites ahead of the 2013 season but I have my doubts.

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The offensive starters are solid but they are heavily reliant on their superstar receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and veteran future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez. Five year veteran Harry Douglas is the likely third receiver but he has just four touchdowns in four seasons and is yet to total 500 yards for a season. Atlanta have been quite fortunate that Jones has missed just three games in his two years in the league and played all sixteen in 2012, White meanwhile hasn’t missed a game in his eight year NFL career. Equally important is Gonzalez who hasn’t missed a game in four seasons with the Falcons. I don’t consider such good health entirely good fortune, the team obviously has a great health and conditioning program but if any of the trio were injured for a significant amount of time it would be a huge concern. Of course the same could be said of quarterback Matt Ryan but who wouldn’t be affected if their quarterback went down? I can’t level that concern on the Falcons any more than any other team.

 

Defensively the Falcons lost their best defensive lineman John Abraham and replaced him with Osi Umenyiora. I don’t like this move, Umenyiora lost his place to Jason Pierre-Paul in New York because he is poor against the run and takes too many plays off, I’m not sure a change of scenery will help either. Losing cornerback Brent Grimes should be offset by adding cornerbacks in the first two rounds of the draft but veteran leadership again is lost. The NFC South could be among the toughest divisions in football this year. The New Orleans Saints are only three years removed from winning a Super Bowl and with head coach Sean Payton back the ‘who dat nation’ and their offensive juggernaut could again be a force to reckon with. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent big to shore up their defense in free agency and will also improve and even Carolina who look the weakest team in the division have Cam Newton  at the helm and on his day he can beat anyone. The Falcons schedule also includes the mighty Patriots and hotly tipped Seattle at home in a repeat of the NFC Championship. On the road they travel to Green Bay and both Super Bowl teams. It is a brutal schedule in a brutal division, a repeat of 13-3 is inconceivable, winning the division will be a whole lot tougher and overall I simply can’t see the Falcons having the success of 2012.

 

5)    Indianapolis ColtsColts fans you are lucky indeed. Future hall of famer Peyton Manning had thirteen highly successful seasons taking the team to the playoffs in nine straight seasons and winning a superbowl. A neck injury cost him the entire 2011 season and the Colts slumped to a league worst 2-14 and the first choice in the draft. Here comes the luck part excuse the pun. That 2011 draft was headlined by quarterback Andrew Luck, widely considered the best prospect in the draft since………………………… you guessed it Payton Manning. With Manning traded to Denver the Luck era began but inheriting a transitioning roster coming off a 2-14 season expectations were low. He guided them to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, far surpassing expectations. The 23 year old was all he was built up to be and more, passing for an all time rookie record of 4374 yards and a single game record of 433 yards.  His seven comeback wins (another rookie record) showed the temperament to match the talent so why then will the Colts not improve again?

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In the long term I believe they will, and emerge again as perennial contenders under their new franchise quarterback but in 2012 several questions stick out. Firstly Luck and the system he ran with such success will have been hyper analysed around the league, teams will be more ready for the scheme and the quarterback than a year ago. Beyond Luck this team is still rebuilding and has plenty of question marks. Reggie Wayne returned to near his best in 2012 but is now 34 and surely in the twilight if his career. On the opposite side T.Y. Hilton was an unexpected success in his rookie year as was running back Vick Ballard whilst second round pick Coby Fleener was looking good until injury. The problem is that the Colts have four contenders for the dreaded, clichéd but too often undeniable Sophomore Slump in their five starters at skill positions and an aging veteran who could easily start to slow down. Their offensive line is still a work in progress but despite getting a couple of new pieces in the draft it still looks an area of weakness. Their first season playing the 3-4 defense under new defensive co-ordinator Greg Manusky saw them ranked 26th overall and the unit were particularly poor against the run. Dwight Freeney struggled with the transition and left for San Diego to be replaced by rookie Bjoern Werner but this unit is still seriously lacking in starting calibre talent and could struggle again. The Colts I expect will level out to around 8-8 with another reasonable schedule to contend with but with most of their toughest games on the road they could fall short of a repeat playoff berth, I’m sure it won’t be long however until they get the talent in place around Luck to once again contend for the AFC South.

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Author: Dave

I have been an NFL fan since my first visit to the USA where I stayed in both Dallas and Houston. I have also visited New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Kentucky. I was hooked the first time I watched a Cowboys game whilst out there although I must confess I had little idea what was going on! Like a lot of British fans I just kept picking more and more up and now follow the NFL news daily and hopefully have a decent level of knowledge myself! I am a Cowboys fan for my sins, I loved the twin cities of Dallas-Fort Worth in my time there and the iconic Cowboys were of instant appeal. First and foremost however I'm a football fan and all my articles will be written impartially. I hope you enjoy our site, feel free to leave us your comments and opinions.

One thought on “5 Teams set to struggle in 2013

  1. extremely good goodthis post deserves almost absolutely nothing hahaha merely joking: S nice write-up: P

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