Position Power Rankings

Fatal flaws that could sink Jags, Chiefs and six others

Featuring a field-goal offense in a touchdown league, the Cowboys bolstered their anemic aerial attack with Tuesday's blockbuster trade for former Raiders wideout Amari Cooper. A receiving corps that was once a league-wide laughingstock now has a chance to play deep into January, complementing a strong running game and a suddenly stout defense in Dallas.

While the 3-4 'Boys addressed a weakness that haunted their playoff dreams, other teams are still experiencing nightmares brought on by weekly mismatches. With the NFL's trade deadline on the horizon, here are eight fatal flaws threatening to sabotage a season.

1) Houston Texans' offensive tackles

The Texans knew pass protection was a problem when they traded Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown to Seattle at last year's deadline. Entering free agency with a mandate to improve the offensive line, they lost out on veteran tackle Nate Solder and settled for a trio of veterans with spotty track records in Seantrel Henderson, Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete. Henderson broke his ankle in the season opener, leaving Julie'n Davenport, Kendall Lamm and rookie Martinas Rankin as the options at tackle. That trio has taken turns getting undressed by opposing pass rushers, committing ill-timed penalties and being banished to the bench. As a result, Deshaun Watson has been hit a league-leading 68 times in seven games. To put that number into perspective, no other quarterback has absorbed more than 52 hits. This problem isn't going away any time soon.

2) Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback room

Blake Bortles may be the lone NFL quarterback to acknowledge that he's not a natural thrower of the football. The Jaguars have long understood that the former No. 3 overall pick's mechanical flaws, which include shoddy footwork and an elongated hitch in his windup, will lead to inconsistent passing results. Rather than bringing in legitimate competition at the sport's most important position, Jacksonville's brass opted instead to cross their fingers and hope that a strong showing in one-and-a-half out of three playoff games would instill confidence in Bortles going forward. That plan went out the window when Bortles followed a five-turnover performance versus Kansas City with a pair of duds against the Cowboys and Texans. The problem is one of consistency. Bortles' teammates never know which version of their quarterback will show up in a given week: the one who dissected New England's defense, the one who hesitates when he throws, the one who can't take care of the football or a combination of all three.

3) Tennessee Titans' receiving corps

Forget coach Mike Vrabel's controversial decision to go for a two-point conversion with the game on the line last week. The Titans have bigger problems, including an inexperienced receiving corps that has cost the team a pair of victories versus the Bills and Chargers with back-breaking fumbles and drops. Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith, a trio of 2017 draft picks, offer plenty of potential going forward, but they've been found wanting with Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker lost for the season. It's not just the glaring mistakes. Minus Walker and a consistent ground attack, there's simply no chain-moving element to sustain long drives for Marcus Mariota's offense.

4) Kansas City Chiefs' secondary

Led by Dee Ford's impressive contract push, the front seven can hold its own once bookend edge rusher Justin Houston returns from his hamstring injury. Barring a trade for All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, on the other hand, the back end of Bob Sutton's defense looms as a season-long liability. The Chiefs' last-place defense has allowed 435.4 yards per game, a number that has them on pace to threaten the 2012 Saints' record for futility. Can K.C. really count on Eric Berry to be a savior when the three-time All-Pro safety is dealing with a painful deformity in his surgically repaired heel?

5) New York Giants' offense

It's the chicken and the egg. Can we finally put a stop to this ad-nauseam debate over Eli Manning and his pass protection? Lacking even a semblance of mobility, Manning has developed a mutually malignant relationship with his offensive line, each magnifying the other's weaknesses. This has been an ongoing issue since the middle of the 2016 season, through several iterations of blocking units. Manning doesn't seem to trust his protection, much less his own escapability, rendering obsolete the intermediate and deep aerial attack. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has regressed to the Goldilocks stage of quarterbacking: everything must be perfect in order to succeed. Two of the most dynamic athletes on the planet, Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, are going to waste with a quarterback who's no longera confident thrower.

6) Atlanta Falcons' defense

A defense lacking any semblance of a backbone throughout the Matt Ryan era reached a turning point last season, with speedy linebacker Deion Jones and hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal leading the way. When those two cornerstones hit injured reserve in September, though, the Falcons reverted to generous form. Any game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a recipe for a shootout, to the extent that Manning even flirted with the 400-yard mark in Monday night's matchup. Atlanta's defense ranks 31st in Football Outsiders' metrics, ahead of only a Tampa Bay outfit that recently fired its defensive boss.

7) Minnesota Vikings' offensive line

While Watson has been hit more times than any other quarterback, no offensive line has given up more pressure than the Vikings' group. Time and again, Kirk Cousins has stood in the face of that pressure and unfurled beautiful passes to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. The question is how long that formula can last, particularly with a sporadic ground attack that has topped 100 yards just twice in seven games. Getting Dalvin Cook back from a hamstring injury won't fix an offensive line that ranks just 28th in Football Outsiders' run-blocking metrics.

8) Los Angeles Chargers' special teams

The Chargers have had six kickers since the start of last season, when missed field goals contributed to an 0-4 start that ultimately dashed their postseason hopes. They went out and signed Caleb Sturgis away from the Super Bowl champions, only to see the anointed one miss four extra points in the season's first five games before suffering a quadriceps injury. He's going to have a hard time getting his job back, as stand-in Michael Badgley has drilled all 10 of his kicks in the past two weeks. The Bolts' special teams woes aren't limited to the uprights. They rank dead last in Football Outsiders' metrics after finishing 31st last season.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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