By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)
Starting 0-3 in the NFL is never a recipe for a successful team. This season there are multiple teams that have started 0-3 but some will surprise people more than others. Everyone expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to struggle and most people thought the same of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even with their improved defense; no one saw it coming with storied franchises such as the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. The Giants and Steelers have combined for four of the last eight Super Bowl titles with five total appearances while the Redskins and Vikings both made the playoffs last season so the struggles each are facing are certainly surprising. It will be an uphill battle for any of the four teams to get back into the playoff picture but it is still only week four of the season. It is unlikely but each team has a chance to turn things around and we will break down why.
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New York Giants: The biggest problem with the Giants thus far has been the offensive line. They have been abysmal in blocking for quarterback Eli Manning and even worse in opening up lanes for the running game. The running game has been the biggest disappointment as David Wilson has not performed as well as hoped. After fumbling twice opening week against the Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Coughlin has not shown much confidence in him carrying the ball as the lead back. Giants’ running backs are averaging an unsightly 2.4 yards per carry and 44.3 yards per game, both in the bottom three of the NFL.
Manning has throw for a ton of yards but that is mostly a combination of the Giants almost exclusively being behind every game; the 22 plays the Giants have played either tied or ahead are ahead of only the lowly Jaguars. Manning has been getting battered, as he was sacked seven times against the Panthers and has been sacked on 8.7 percent of his drop backs. To put into perspective how bad that truly is, last season Manning’s sack rate stood at only 3.6 percent.
With the running game struggling the way it has a lot of pressure has been put on the shoulders of Manning and he hasn’t been able to produce. He has thrown eight interceptions already and the Giants have turned the ball over 13 times total in three games, a number they didn’t reach until the 10th game of the season last year. The struggles have led to some animosity it would seem amongst the players, as wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did not seem happy with his targets after Sunday, supposedly responding to a reporter’s question with, “I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
Things are not looking good for the Giants right now, who have lost eight of their last 11 games. The only thing the Giants have going for them right now is being a member of quite possibly the worst division in the NFL. It was not long ago that people thought the NFC East was the most daunting division in all of football but things have changed drastically. Through three weeks the NFC East has combined for a 1-7 record outside of division play. This season has been a rough one for the Giants thus far, punctuated by a 38-0 drubbing at the hands of the previously 0-2 Carolina Panthers. Things cannot get any worse for Big Blue and it is hard to fathom a team led by Coughlin and Manning will underperform like this all season. Of the four teams on this list they have the best chance of turning things around.
Pittsburgh Steelers: There was some writing on the wall last season that the Steelers were in for a fall from grace sooner than later but no one would ever have predicted a fall like this. The Steelers have already lost two games at home this season and are facing a daunting stretch of four of their next five games on the road.
There are a number of areas of concern for the Steelers, with one being the defense. They no longer have the dominant intimidating defense that fans became accustom to seeing wearing Black and Gold. That does not mean the defense is bad, they just do not strike fear into opponents as they once did. They have not forced a turnover yet this season, another sign of a defense that is lacking something to get into the upper echelon of the NFL. This may not be a top defense in the NFL any longer but it is a unit still capable of keeping the Steelers in games.
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The real problem thus far has by far and wide been the offense. Much like the Giants, the Steelers have given no help to their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the way of the run game; the Steelers are the only team in the NFL to rival the Giants lack of running game. For the Steelers the problems are similar to the Giants as well as the offensive line has struggled mightily. Coming into the season offensive line was a question mark for the Steelers and things got worse in week one as All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The Steelers have the second best chance to turn things around of this group. They are going to receive a big boost to the offense with rookie running back Le’Veon Bell returning to the lineup in Week 4 after injuring his foot in the preseason. He is expected to be the bell cow in the Steelers backfield and add a dimension to the offense they are sorely lacking. Bell may be a rookie but holds the key to the Steelers turning around their season as the offense will be much tougher to stop with another weapon for Roethlisberger to use the remainder of the season.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings were a surprise team last season in making the playoffs and came into 2013 with expectations to do the same. They added to an offense that lacked anything outside of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson by signing former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings. No amount of moves will fix the sole problem of this team; quarterback Christian Ponder.
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The Vikings go as Ponder goes and right now he is not going. Since the start of last season the Vikings are 8-2 when Ponder is above 50 QBR, the average rating for a quarterback. In the other games Ponder is 2-7. People believe the formula to the Vikings success is Peterson playing well but at the end of the day it all comes down to Ponder’s performance and currently he is not getting it done. Ponder struggles when he is pressured as he will take off scrambling to throw inaccurately if he feels any type of pressure; things will not get any easier for Ponder as the Steelers and Panthers, the Vikings next two opponents, are as capable as any team at getting after the quarterback.
The Vikings currently are not far off of projections coming into the season, as they started the season on the road for two tough games against division opponents and ran into a Cleveland Browns team that threw the kitchen sink at them in the game plan. Even though they are in projections that is not always a good thing as narrow misses don’t count for anything in the standings. The Vikings last season went 10-6 because of a hot 4-1 start and dominant performances at home; this season they are starting 0-3 and already have lost a home games. Things are not looking good in Minnesota and for them to turn things around looks bleak currently as injuries mounted Sunday on defense and they struggled to ice the game away.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins according to many people were the surprise of the NFL in 2012 by winning the NFC East. Coming into the 2013 season many people expected that to be repeated as the rest of the NFC East was underwhelming but the big difference coming into this season was Robert Griffin III. Griffin suffered a knee injury towards the end of last season and was dealt the devastating blow of an ACL injury in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks. The injury caused Griffin to go through rehab and not be able to practice much with his teammates or get comfortable on the field and it has shown thus far this season.
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Griffin has struggled this year as he looks tentative to drive off of his injured leg equaling some poorly thrown passes. The knee injury has also limited Griffin’s ability to run the ball has he has had only one run play drawn up for him through three games. The real problem is not with the offense of the Redskins though, as Alfred Morris once again is dominating in the running game to the tune of 5.6 yards per carry. Sadly for him and the Redskins he is not getting the ball as often as they would hope as he only has 40 carries in three games because the Redskins have been getting throttled through most of the first three games.
There en lies the problem for the Redskins; the defense. The unit is fresh of an NFL record 1,464 yards through three games, more than the NFL record setting worst defense of the New Orleans Saints last season. The defense is a turnstile and struggles to stop both the run and pass because they are such a poor tackling team.
The Redskins this season would have won at least one if not two of their early season games had Griffin not been hampered with the knee injury. On the bright side for the Redskins Griffin has so much room for improvement this season that after a Week 4 visit to Oakland the Redskins could look like a totally different team when they return to the field Week 6 after their bye. There have been some rumblings that head coach Mike Shanahan and Griffin are not on the same page but when teams are losing it is easy to say things like that. Like the Giants the Redskins have the benefit of playing in the NFC East where the Philadelphia Eagles look far from being a playoff worthy team, the Dallas Cowboys are not a team that screams consistency and the Giants are on this list themselves.