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Losing teams suffer from more than lack of talent on the roster

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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For the first time in NFL history, there are five undefeated teams through Week 5. Conversely, there are four teams without a win and another five squads with just one victory.

Simply put, there seems to be more bad teams this year than in recent memory. But beyond the wins and losses and obvious lack of talent on the struggling teams, there are deeper problems. Five of the bottom-dwellers have new coaches and it will take time to fix all the issues in Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.

Even when taking into account those rebuilding situations, there are some mistakes that drive coaches crazy. Don't look at one category and conclude your team is alright. Instead, think about the whole collection of categories and how they add up to a poor record.

Concentration penalties

Coaches call these "dumb penalties." Lacking talent is one thing, but there is no excuse for mental errors that move teams in the wrong direction. These include illegal shifts, motions, procedures, delay of game, false starts, encroachment and too many players on the field or in the huddle.

Teams struggling to win can be crippled by such flags before the ball is even snapped. Good teams average one of these nonsense penalties a game. Bad teams average three to four a game. Acts of aggression like roughing the passer, illegal hits and pass interference are going to happen. It's the lack of concentration penalties that make a bad team. Still, they can be corrected. The coaches on these teams are harping on these mistakes day and night.

Here's how the nine clubs stack up this season in number of these penalties: Oakland 19, Buffalo 16, Tennessee 16, St. Louis 15, Tampa Bay 15, Kansas City 14, Detroit 14, Carolina 12 and Cleveland with six.

Dropped passes

It's hard enough to get a passing game going without dropped passes. The average team in the NFL has one to two dropped passes a game or five to 10 overall at this point. There is some subjectivity to what exactly a dropped pass is, because some passes are harder to catch than others.

I gave receivers the benefit of the doubt in tallying the drops, and here's how the nine teams stack up: Tampa Bay 14, Oakland 12, Tennessee 11, Kansas City 11, St. Louis 10, Buffalo 10, Cleveland eight, Detroit eight and Carolina eight.

Turnover ratio

Turnovers are the killer for any team and, as you would expect, this group struggles in this area for the most part. The average team is even in turnover ratio, which means they get the ball back as much as they give it away. The best teams in this area are above the plus-5 mark and basically get the ball back an extra time per game from their opponent. Only one bottom nine team has a positive turnover ratio -- Kansas City with a plus-2.

Here's how the nine teams stack up: Carolina minus-9, St. Louis minus-7, Buffalo minus-6, Tennessee minus-5, Cleveland minus-5, Oakland minus-4, Detroit minus-3, Tampa Bay minus-2 and Kansas City plus-2.

Points surrendered off turnovers

What makes a turnover worse is when the opponent converts it into points. The average team this season turns the ball over twice a game and averages three to four points allowed off each turnover. Acceptable numbers after five weeks are six to eight turnovers and 20 to 24 points allowed off them. Eight of the bottom nine teams are behind the pace in this area as well.

Here's how the nine teams stack up: Carolina 14 turnovers/53 points allowed, Cleveland 12/48, St. Louis 12/48, Tennessee 13/42, Oakland 12/33, Buffalo 11/33, Tampa Bay 8/30, Detroit 9/24 and Kansas City 4/10.

Average starting point

It's hard enough to score in the NFL, let alone have to play on a long field. The average starting point in the league is the 29-yard line or 71 yards away from a touchdown. Every yard counts and with each yard added to starting field position, the probability of scoring goes up. Teams such as the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants start out at the 36-yard line. Teams average 12 series a game; when you multiply that by seven yards difference of starting position per drive that's 84 yards in a game.

Here's where the bottom nine teams start their offensive drives: St. Louis 23-yard line, Tennessee 24, Detroit 25, Buffalo 26, Oakland 27, Carolina 28, Kansas City 30, Tampa Bay 31 and Cleveland 32.

Non-offensive touchdowns

Teams that score a defense or special-teams touchdown in a game win 61 percent of the time in 2009. However, five of these nine teams (Carolina, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee) have yet to score a non-offensive touchdown. While Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City have non-offensive touchdowns, their combined record is 1-5 in those games, which defies the odds.

Of course, when taking into account all of the other areas in which these teams are struggling, it makes sense.

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