Degraded Expectations: Four Teams Falling from Grace
by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Showering beneath victory spoils
Painting the glory with resin'd oils
Drink deep the wine from winner's cup
A year removed from rewarding sun
Triumphant's clock strikes fifteen-oh-one
Thus time for celebration is up
It takes a heaping of effort to win my sympathy. Perhaps it's my desensitation, my smeared-away sense of compassion, that causes my callousness. In this line of work, it does no good to be attached to the departed.
Every now and again, however, I find myself jutting my bottom lip in a mournful state when I realize the situation at hand. The ones who pluck my heart strings with a ripping grip are those whom I surmise never saw the reaper approach. The sitting duck, as it were.
In cases like this, I think of Tommy Devito, the ill-tempered mobster in Scorsese's Goodfellas. In good enough standing to become a 'made man', Devito is tricked into believing his ship has come in. In reality, it's all a setup; Devito was executed at point-blank range in retaliation for the murder of a made-man named Billy Batts years earlier.
In his final living moment, Devito excitedly enters a room that he believes his initiation will be consummated in. He then realizes, in his last second, that it's all a ruse Just as he whines the word, "No!', his brains are blown out.
Perhaps it seems saturine to equate an execution-style murder to a football team's downfall, but there's a similarity at play.
Every year, twelve teams make the playoffs, and twenty don't. The fans of those twenty losing teams scrape togther every possible silver lining in the offseason, and hope for a better tomorrow.
The fans of the playoff teams, they're different. They know they fielded a good squad of talent; playoffs are a birthright now. They're going back next year, because they improved upon their slight weaknesses this offseason, and so forth as the confidence goes. They can't possibly lose.
But some of them do.
As it stands right now, four or last year's playoff teams have losing records. Their weaknesses glare with permeating redness, looking nothing like would-be contenders they were. The fact that three of them were division champions a year ago only heightens the despair from their proud fans.
Ahh, the fans. Clad head to toe in team colors through the Christmas season, confidently wearing the team's t-shirts through the spring and summer months, these folks are finding it difficult to dress the part as dying leaves twist around them.
The changing of seasons marks an unshakable sense of death; in their little world, their team is fading away with the light of day. As darkness descends, so too do the chances of a run at Lombardi's treasure.
In between the time Tommy Devito realized the Gambino ruse, and his actual death, perhaps two seconds elapsed. Fans of these four teams may have been surprised by the initial stumbles, not foreseeing the polar switch from great days passed, but they realize it now. They can do nothing but watch the fall into the inevitable muck.
They're forced to see it coming, and to that I take some pity. Helpless at the feet of the reaper, they meekly ask for mercy, always getting none. My heart bleeds for them, as they reconcile this inconceivable spiral.
Here for your voyeurism, four battalions that hemorrhage their winning edge, vainly scanning the grounds for the antidote.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (1-3)
Biggest Change from 2012: Last year, the Redskins pass defense wasn't exactly great; they allowed the second-most touchdown passes with 31 (tied with New Orleans and Tennessee). Diluting this poor showing were 21 interceptions, tied for third most with the Giants.
Overall, the Redskins' defensive passer rating in 2012 was 86.99, good for 18th best in the league. A year later, giving up nine touchdowns in four games, with just two interceptions to offset, bloats the rating to 111.86, second worst behind San Diego.
In the Redskins three losses, they gave up over 440 offensive yards in each, peaking with 580 against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers threw for 480 yards and four touchdowns alone in that one.
In just four games, the Redskins have given up fifteen passing plays of 25 yards or more. The longest was a Rodgers deep ball to James Jones for 57 yards.
Additional Reason for Degradation: It's not just the pass defense that's struggling. The run is also taking hits, thanks in large part to the 263 yards given up to LeSean McCoy and his fellow Eagles in Week One.
The 569 yards on the ground surrendered this season are second most. Their 4.66 YPA given up are seventh worst, and a hike from last year's 4.22 YPA average. Overall, the defense is in shambles, and Jim Haslett will likely be updating his resume before New Years.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-3)
Biggest Change from 2012: You might assume Matt Schaub is more disliked in Houston than Frank Reich these days. After all, Schaub has thrown pick-sixes in four consecutive games, a feat never before accomplished in the NFL.
Schaub's rating is 76.88, ranking him 26th in the league behind rookies EJ Manuel and Geno Smith, and unlikely emergents Brian Hoyer and Nick Foles (though Foles hasn't thrown enough passes to qualify, he does have a 122.4 rating in 30 throws, thanks to no picks and three touchdowns).
Schaub threw just 12 picks last season (90.7 rating), so he's nearing that total already, provided he isn't benched before he passes it.
Worse yet, of his nine interceptions this year, opponents have scored 52 points off them: four pick-sixes, three touchdowns on the ensuing drive, one ensuing field goal, and just one drive that ended with no damage. Houston's given up 139 points in all, meaning 37.41 percent of the Texans' points allowed can be attributed to Schaub's errors.
Additional Reason for Degradation: Notice how four of those afforementioned drives (the non-INT returns for touchdowns) still led to points? Put it this way; it's not as if Houston's defense is playing at a high level either.
The Texans defense has only forced three turnovers this season; a Brian Cushing pick-six against the Chargers, and a couple takeaways vs. the Seahawks. That's tied for the third least amount of turnovers with the Jets, with only the Chargers (two) and Steelers (none) faring worse. A year ago, 29 turnovers for the Texans were tied for ninth most.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-3)
Biggest Change from 2012: Adrian Peterson looks a little foolish in hindsight, after rattling off his dream of a 2500-yard season this summer. With 421 yards in four games, he's on pace for 1684, which is still an excellent season. Problem is, he's not having a pantheon year. You can't expect career-defining dominance every single year, even from Peterson, but Minnesota sure benefited from it last season.
In 2012, the Vikings were 5-2 when Peterson ran for over 150 yards. In those games, Christian Ponder's quarterback rating was 74.22, with seven touchdowns, six picks, and a 60 percent completion percentage. Peterson's YPA average was 7.24 in those games.
In four games in 2013, Peterson's average is 4.58 YPA, which is pretty good, but not jaw-dropping. The most yards he's had in a game so far is 140 vs. Pittsburgh, and that was Matt Cassel at the controls, against a punchless defense.
The most Peterson's gained for Ponder is 100 against Chicago, leaving more of the load on his quarterback. Ponder's rating is 65.91 in 2013, with two touchdowns and 5 picks, indicating just how much of a luxury Peterson's 2012 was.
Additional Reason for Degradation: Thus far, the defense is a few shades off of their overall efficiency last season. The fact that the defense wasn't really efficient in 2012 makes this quite disarming.
Their run defense went from allowing 3.96 YPA to 4.23 so far this season. Their percentage of sacks and interceptions on dropbacks decreases from 8.23% to 8.16. Most critically, their third-down percentage has increased from 41.30% to 47.27.
ATLANTA FALCONS (1-4)
Biggest Change from 2012: It's the second week of October, and the team that went 13-3 last season cannot match that record this year. Worse yet, they're a full four games out of first place in the division, reeling from four close losses.
The biggest dropoff for Atlanta this season has been a lack of defensive guile. On the one hand, they're on pace for 35 sacks, which would be higher than their 29 from a year ago. On the other, they have just four takeaways in five games.
Combining interceptions and fumble recoveries, the Falcons were fifth in turnovers last year with 31. To have only four so far in 2013, three of which are interceptions, imperils a D with a horrid third down percentage (a league-worst 50 percent). They couldn't even make Geno Smith turn the ball over, and he was as charitable as Bono before Monday night.
Critical injuries to the likes of Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon, as well as short-term injuries to Asante Samuel and Akeem Dent, have robbed Atlanta's defense of experienced instinct. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 7.81 yards a pass attempt, among the highest in the league, so it's not as if the Falcons defense intimidates them.
Additional Reason for Degradation: We'll expound further on Atlanta's defensive third-down woes. If you take away their percentage from their lone win (holding St. Louis to seven for 17), the Falcons' percentage increases to 53.06% (26 of 49).
Since that Rams win, the Dolphins went seven for 12 (58.33%), Patriots went seven of 13 (53.85%), and the Jets converted six of 11 (54.55%). The Saints were the only loss where Atlanta managed to hold their opponent under the 50/50 mark.
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