*We're only a quarter way through the season, but plenty of NFL teams have already hit the skids. *
How should the NFC's worst squads fix their issues? Here's a few ideas to start:
San Francisco 49ers, 1-3
Experiment, experiment, experiment: The 49ers, like the Dolphins in a way, are in a no-lose situation. After a flurry of retirements and a massive change in direction this offseason, they are left as a team without a true identity. There are some young core players that can eventually serve as building blocks, but what sense does it make for the 49ers to play our brand of football to the bitter end? They have a mobile quarterback, one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and a vertical passing threat at tight end. Why not run almost every offensive set out of a formation reminiscent of Hue Jackson's pistol triple-option from Cincinnati a year ago? Against Green Bay last week, designed runs and reads for Colin Kaepernick were among their best-looking plays. Same with the 44-yard jet sweep to Quinton Patton. Tony Sparano, who is on the 49ers' staff, knows better than anyone the power of throwing convention to the wind every now and then.
Philadelphia Eagles, 1-3
Start Darren Sproles at running back, or anywhere for that matter: Sproles only played in 39 percent of the team's snaps on Sunday, which is not enough. Sproles is second on the team in yards per carry and second in receptions. If nothing else, he's an outlet for Sam Bradford, who is growing increasingly indecisive behind center. On Sunday, the Eagles had Sproles in the slot and DeMarco Murray in the backfield, which was a nice compromise if Chip Kelly can't find a way to put Sproles behind the quarterback.
Detroit Lions, 0-4
Give Matthew Stafford Peyton Power and let him rip: Stafford wasn't in the gun on every snap with four wide receivers against Seattle on Monday. Why not? We're not suggesting this is how Petyon Manning operated during his prime years, but when a team has Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Ameer Abdullah, the perfect running back to leave the shotgun and split out wide, what is the loss in running a simple, high-tempo offense? Install a few plays with option routes and a vertical component for Calvin Johnson and don't look back. Allow Stafford to throw in excess of 50 times per game.
Chicago Bears, 1-3
Trade for Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, EJ Manuel or AJ McCarron: Most of these quarterbacks are from the forgotten class of 2013, but McCarron, a fifth-round pick the year after, is also jammed between a rock and a hard place in Cincinnati. The Bears, not knowing what will happen in next year's draft, should ensure themselves by dealing for one of these unknown quarterbacks -- with Manuel and Smith, give them a chance in a different offense -- and letting them rip. They can spend the weeks leading up to, and including the bye week, learning the system and for the final eight games, the Bears' offense is theirs to mold. What's the worst-case scenario here? The Bears deal a late-round pick on a flier and it doesn't work out? Are they worried about protecting their relationship with Jay Cutler?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1-3
Limit Jameis Winston's passing attempts: The Bucs should take a page out of Pittsburgh's book and never force Winston to take over a game during his rookie season. Blake Bortles threw himself silly during his first year in Jacksonville and is just now starting to settle down. Winston has thrown more than 30 times in a game three times now, and in two of the last three weeks, he's been over 35 attempts. He's not ready to be an air-raid passer. Doug Martin, however, is ready to carry the workload and the Bucs can teach Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (when healthy) the finer points of blocking an agile defender down field.
New Orleans Saints, 1-3
Set the wheels in motion for a complete overhaul: There are times when successful franchises become so tangled in their own power structures and ideas that it takes a new point of view to fix the problem. Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been the face of a massive and wonderful turnaround in New Orleans but a decade later, with a quarterback approaching 37, what is the long-term plan?