The Schein Nine  

 

Eagles, 49ers, Patriots and Broncos each have glaring weakness

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John Madden has a great expression when it comes to describing a team's weakness. The Hall of Famer always refers to it as the "yeah, but" for a squad -- as in, "This team is well-coached, they have a good offense, but their 'yeah, but' is the secondary."

It's vintage Madden. And it identifies the area where a team can get exposed.

Three weeks into the 2014 season, we assess the "yeah, but" for a series of NFL teams, Schein Nine style:

1) Miami Dolphins' offensive identity

What Joe Philbin is doing, I will never know.

There is no identity, seemingly no strategy on offense. The Dolphins, in their first season with Bill Lazor at offensive coordinator, looked both inept and ill-prepared against a depleted Kansas City Chiefs team in Sunday's 34-15 defeat, and that's totally inexcusable. Playing at home, Miami was rudderless. Ryan Tannehill was dreadful, completing just 21 of his 43 passes for a putrid average of 4.77 yards per attempt. The game plan was baffling.

And then Philbin made it worse.

On both Monday and Tuesday, the third-year head coach refused to publicly commit to Tannehill as his starting quarterback for this week's London game against the Oakland Raiders. When you're facing these lowly Raiders, don't you want to pump up your struggling QB and fuel him with confidence for a "get well" matchup with a bad team? Apparently, Philbin didn't think so.

On Wednesday, Tannehill named himself the starter and acknowledged this has been a distraction. Oh, good -- just what Miami needs.

With the way this season has opened, it sure feels like the beginning of the end for both the coach and QB in Miami.

2) Philadelphia Eagles' first-half play

This one truly baffles me. And it's not just a knee-jerk reaction; there's a body of work to consider. Yes, Philly is the first team in NFL history to win its first three games after facing a double-digit deficit in each, but why are the Eagles digging themselves such a hole in the first place? Is it the offensive line, littered with backups due to key injuries and a suspension? Is it the inability to establish the run with LeSean McCoy? Is it the up-tempo practices, as cornerback Cary Williams suggested?

I can't imagine it's the opposing defenses, not when you're facing Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Washington. I would wager a guess that this will be corrected at some point soon. Chip Kelly, Nick Foles and the Eagles are too good to keep playing 30-minute games.

3) San Francisco 49ers' second-half play

There are stats and there are stats. Some are overrated. Some are fairly rated. Some hit you between the eyes, like this one:

The 49ers have now been outscored 52-3 in the second half.

That's eye-popping. That's embarrassing.

In Monday's column, I hit on how amazing the Arizona Cardinals have been to start the year. And 'Zona, which just knocked off the 49ers, is legit. But the other side to the story is that San Francisco simply imploded again in the second half. The Niners had foolish penalties and mind-numbing mistakes -- plus, they inexplicably abandoned the run.

You don't ever expect this from a Jim Harbaugh-coached team. But it just keeps happening.

4) New England Patriots' offensive line

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Tom Brady's New England passing attack is stuck in the mud. Now there's a sentence I never thought I would write!

At the moment, the Pats rank 27th in passing offense (and 26th in total offense). There are many theories as to why this is the case. I subscribe to the notion that the offensive line is awful, which precludes Brady from getting into a flow. The future Hall of Famer is taking waaaay too many hits. If this keeps up, he won't last the season.

5) Indianapolis Colts' offensive play-calling

Pep Hamilton needs to repeat after me: "I have Andrew Luck." Say it again.

OK, so the offensive coordinator just allowed his extraordinarily gifted QB to go nuts in a 44-17 win against Jacksonville, but I still can't get over how Indy approached that final drive against Philadelphia in Week 2. With the game tied at 27 and 3:25 remaining, the Colts got the ball, setting the table for another classic, game-winning drive from Luck. Or not. Hamilton proceeded to hand off to Trent Richardson on first and second downs, setting up a third-and-5 that Indy couldn't convert. Of course, Philly got the ball back and drove for the winning field goal.

Why, Pep, why? That's winning time; that's Andrew Luck time. Call plays like you employ Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. The offense -- the team -- should be all about No. 12.

6) New Orleans Saints' defense

This one also confuses me. In Year 1 under coordinator Rob Ryan last fall, the Saints' defense was surprisingly sensational, ranking fourth in total D. Conventional wisdom said the unit would only get better in Year 2, especially after the free-agent acquisition of Jairus Byrd.

Not the case.

The Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan absolutely carved up the Saints in Week 1, to the tune of 448 yards passing and three touchdowns. OK, so Ryan is a strong QB. But then the Brian Hoyer-led Browns had their way with the unit in Week 2, and Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater enjoyed some success last Sunday. Right now, the Saints rank 29th in pass defense.

While I have to believe Ryan's D will get better and New Orleans will win the NFC South, Sunday night provides a huge test, as the Saints hit the road to face Tony Romo and the suddenly hot (and balanced) Cowboys.

7) Denver Broncos' running game

With Knowshon Moreno no longer on the team, Denver can't run the football. The Broncos currently rank 28th in the league in rushing and have notched only one score on the ground.

I still believe this is the best team in the AFC, but establishing the run is a big part of the Broncos' upside. Montee Ball has to do a better job. That's the one "yeah, but" when assessing the Broncos' chances at landing another Super Bowl berth.

8) Cleveland Browns' wide receivers

And I use the term "wide receivers" loosely. Do the Browns really have any you can bank on? Sure, Miles Austin just enjoyed a back-from-the dead fortnight, notching a touchdown grab in each of the past two weeks. And Andrew Hawkins has racked up 21 receptions on the young season. But do either of those guys keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night?

Hoyer's undoubtedly done an outstanding job working with what he has, but until Josh Gordon returns from his 10-game suspension, the Browns will feature one of the most underwhelming receiver groups in football.

9) Cincinnati Bengals' kicking game

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The undefeated Bengals look fantastic to start the year. They look like a complete team -- with one notable exception, at this point. Mike Nugent has already missed four field goals. He missed four field goals all of last season.

The AFC North is tough; tight games will occur. Thus, when the kicker takes the field, he needs to secure three points. And come playoff time, this is increasingly vital.

On the plus side: At least I'm not laying down my usual "Andy Dalton can't win in January" rant ...

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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