The 2011 All-Underachieving Team from season's first half
Too many top quarterbacks have been disappointments in the first half of the year
Chris Johnson's holdout partly explains his troubles, but not entirely
Dominant in his rookie year, Ndamukong Suh has disappeared often in 2011
Seven weeks into the NFL's regular season doesn't begin to tell the whole story, but it's plenty long enough to spot the trends of underachievement surfacing in 2011. This week's Indianapolis at Tennessee game throws a spotlight of sorts on the not-getting-it-done set, what with this year's poster child of underachievement -- Titans running back Chris Johnson -- being on one sideline, and Team Underachievement, aka the winless Colts, occupying the other.
High expectations and low production are the NFL's most dreaded combination, but here's our list of players, coaches and team executives who have clearly underwhelmed us with their work so far this season. We expected better of them, but for a myriad reasons, some of them even understandable, we haven't gotten it. I'm quite sure the shock of making my all-underachievement team as midseason approaches will spur them all to make amends and lead to bigger and better things over the course of the next 10 weeks:
Quarterback -- Philip Rivers, San Diego: There's far too much competition around the league for this spot -- Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and Kevin Kolb come quickly to mind -- but Rivers has earned it. Rivers' sixth season as a starter has been by far his worst, with seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions, equaling his season total of picks from 2009 and putting him on a pace to obliterate his career-high (15) in interceptions with 24. Rivers has had just one game in which he threw more TDs than INTs, and his 82.3 passer rating ranks 20th in the league, after three consecutive seasons of 100-plus ratings.
Rivers says he's healthy, but league sources I talked to say his arm strength looks diminished, and he has uncharacteristically struggled throwing from a muddy pocket, when the pass rush starts bearing down on him. That has always been a strength of Rivers' game in the past, but according to profootballfocus.com, Rivers from a less-than-clean pocket has only a 40.8 completion percentage and a 44.0 passer rating this season. His two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Jets last Sunday were game-killers that saddled San Diego with its second loss this season.
Dishonorable mention: Kevin Kolb, Arizona
Running back -- Chris Johnson, Tennessee: Here's all you really need to know about the guy who ran for 2,006 yards and had 2,509 yards from scrimmage as recently as 2009, but has smashed the dreams of fantasy owners everywhere this year: Among the NFL's top 50 qualifying rushers, Johnson's 2.9-yard average carry ranks 50th, and is almost two full yards behind his career average of 4.8. After producing 38 touchdowns rushing and receiving in his first three seasons, Johnson has just one score in this year's first six games. A preseason contract holdout has obviously had a major impact on his game, but critics say Johnson has started running to avoid contact (in fairness, isn't that the goal of every rusher?) and doesn't hit the hole with the same intensity level that he did before earning his huge new payday.
Dishonorable mention: Peyton Hillis, Cleveland
Receiver -- Chad Ochocinco, New England: I'll grant you that no one really expected a 75-catch, 1,200-yard season coming from the ex-Bengal in New England, but this? Ochocinco has nine catches for 136 yards (15.1) without a touchdown in his six games as a Patriot, and that ranks him tied for 170th overall among the league's reception leaders. That would be 1-7-0. No wonder we haven't heard a peep out of him. And they say he hasn't even fully learned the New England offense yet, which just boggles the mind.
Dishonorable mention: Roy Williams, Chicago; Mike Williams, Seattle
Tight end -- Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville: The sixth-year Jags veteran had a career year in 2010 with personal highs in catches (58), yards (700) and touchdowns (10), earning himself a fat new contract extension from Jacksonville. But now he's in the witness protection program and you can't find him on game days. Through six games, Lewis has caught just 11 passes for 129 yards, without a score. And he's had more than a few drops. Yes, there are some extenuating circumstances involved. Lewis and rookie Jags quarterback Blaine Gabbert have yet to mesh as well as Lewis and former QB David Garrard. But any way you slice it, Lewis has let his game slip.
Dishonorable mention: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis
Offensive line -- Atlanta Falcons: Rather than single out five players at five positions, I'm taking the easy way out and naming one underachieving offensive line as a unit, since they say cohesion and teamwork is more vital on the O-line than anywhere else in football. You're not going to get much of an argument from anyone in Atlanta regarding the struggles of the Falcons up front this season. Atlanta's line started the season by giving up 13 sacks in the first three games, and it had difficulty in run blocking at times as well.
There has been improvement shown of late on both fronts (18 sacks allowed in seven games, and two strong rushing games in a row by Michael Turner), but the Falcons line clearly hasn't lived up to its billing this season. Left tackle Sam Baker, a former first-round pick, has been mediocre at best and steadily gave up sacks early on, and right tackle Tyson Clabo has graded out average. Right guard Garrett Reynolds has been an obvious weak link in replacing departed free agent Harvey Dahl, and the continuity factor took another hit when center Todd McClure missed the first two games after arthroscopic knee surgery and had to be subbed for by reserve Joe Hawley.
Dishonorable mention: Philadelphia Eagles
Defensive end -- Ray Edwards, Atlanta: The Falcons were hoping they filled their need for another pass rusher to complement John Abraham when they signed Edwards away from Minnesota in free agency, giving him a five-year, $30 million contract that included $11.5 million guaranteed. So far, those hopes have been dashed.
Edwards went sackless in the first month of the season, and through seven games he has just two sacks and 18 tackles, which puts him on a pace that won't equal his eight-sack season of 2010, or his 8.5 sacks in 2009. As one NFL personnel evaluator said to me this week: "(Falcons backup defensive end) Kroy Biermann is a better pass rusher than Edwards, who was never more than just a solid player in Minnesota. He just got paid like a top pass rusher.''
Dishonorable mention: Chris Long, St. Louis
Defensive tackle -- Ndamukong Suh, Detroit: For a guy who dominated games during his rookie season, Suh hasn't really delivered the same impact this year. You talk to NFL personnel evaluators and they'll tell you he's getting blocked out of plays more effectively this season and disappearing for stretches of games. The numbers bear this out: After his monster 10-sack, 66-tackle season of 2010, with three passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble, Suh has just three sacks and 23 tackles in seven games, with no takeaways or passes defensed. Suh set the bar very high as a rookie, but he hasn't matched that production level in year two.
Dishonorable mention: Albert Haynesworth, New England
Outside linebacker -- Kamerion Wimbley, Oakland: I predict this will be my most controversial pick, because I had some league sources telling me that it had to be Green Bay's Clay Matthews, given that he only has three sacks and 22 tackles after his stellar 13.5-sack, 60-tackle effort of a year ago. After all, judging Suh by last year's standard means the same for Matthews. But I don't agree with the comparison, and I don't think there's evidence of much underachievement in the lineup of the undefeated Packers these days.
I think Matthews has made big plays this season, even without as many sacks, and I would refresh your memory of his game-sealing goal-line tackle of Mark Ingram in Week 1, and his key fourth-down takedown of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton late in Week 2. Matthews has also been stout on run defense, and recorded five passes defensed. As for Wimbley, his impact has been minimal, with just one sack and 24 tackles, after a nine-sack breakthrough season in 2010 for the Raiders.
Dishonorable mention: Joey Porter, Arizona
Inside linebacker -- Bart Scott, New York Jets: Scott has 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a fumble forced, but he doesn't seem like the same playmaker he was a few years ago. More and more he's coming off the field on third downs for the Jets, so that tells you a little something about how they regard his play. As one club personnel man said of Scott: "He's more of a personality and less of a player these days in New York. He's not the player he was three or four years ago.''
Dishonorable mention: Karlos Dansby, Miami
Cornerback -- Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia: I predicted in the preseason that Asomugha might struggle with the Eagles, and wouldn't live up to the shutdown corner billing that he got in Oakland, and that's pretty much where things stand after his first six games in Philadelphia. Far from taking away half of the field, he has been picked on at times by Eagles opponents, against the likes of less-than-superstars Brandon Gibson of the Rams, Victor Cruz of the Giants and Michael Crabtree of the 49ers. In fairness, the Eagles might not be using him correctly. He's superb in man coverage, but they've had him playing zone a good bit of the time, and Asomugha is not the same player in that scheme.
Dishonorable mention: Devin McCourty, New England
Safety -- Michael Griffin, Tennessee: The sight of Griffin getting blown past on Arian Foster's 78-yard scoring reception last week in Houston's rout of Tennessee is the one that sealed his spot on my all-underachievement team. Griffin's fifth year in the NFL has not been one to remember, and he keeps missing impact-play opportunities. His stats are meager through six games: 30 tackles, one pass defensed, no interceptions and no forced fumbles. Compared to his playmaking form of last year, Griffin has been far too low profile as the last line of Tennessee's defense.
Dishonorable mention: Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans
Head coach -- Andy Reid, Philadelphia: The head man on the "Dream Team'' hasn't done his finest work meshing all his new toys. Starting with the Juan Castillo promotion to defensive coordinator, it's been a shaky effort for Reid in Philly.
Dishonorable mention: Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis
Offensive coordinator -- Josh McDaniels, St. Louis: It was supposed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship/working relationship between him and second-year Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. But the Rams are 0-6, and Bradford has clearly regressed.
Dishonorable mention: Brian Schottenheimer, New York Jets
Defensive coordinator -- Larry Coyer, Indianapolis: The Colts are winless and allowing a league-worst 32.1 points per game, topped off by that 62-point surrender at New Orleans on Sunday night. Need I say more?
Dishonorable mention: Ken Flajole, St. Louis
Bill Polian, Indianapolis: He took the good times when Peyton Manning made everyone look smart, and Polian is now in line to absorb the blame for constructing a one-man team that had no chance once Manning got hurt.
Dishonorable mention: The Eagles' Dream Team of a front office
Indianapolis Colts: No 10th consecutive playoff trip and double-digit win season this time around. The Colts' underachievement is at historic levels.
Dishonorable mention: Philadelphia
Flyers sweep home-and-home from Penguins
Canadiens put together big comeback to beat Senators 5-4 in OT