We are four weeks into the 2021 NFL season, and the strengths and weaknesses of teams have started to show. Here’s a look at each team’s most glaring flaw early in the year.
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It’s tough to find early qualms with the 4-0 Cardinals, but run defense has been a problem early this season. The team is allowing 5.4 yards per carry, and could afford to add some beef on the defensive line’s interior.
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A bad defense has only gotten worse in 2021, as the Falcons have allowed a league-worst 32 points per game, have struggled to rush the pass, and haven’t yet recorded an interception. The struggles have come despite a favorable schedule.
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The offensive line has generally been a strength for the Ravens in recent seasons, but offseason changes and injuries have had a big early impact. Alejandro Villanueva has struggled at right tackle and Ronnie Stanley has missed time to injury, resulting in a poor sack record and fewer holes for the team’s running backs.
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Buffalo has played great since a shocking Week 1 loss at home to the Steelers, but the Red Zone offense could be better. The team ranks just 22nd in Red Zone touchdown percentage (57%), something they hope improves as Josh Allen builds his 2021 resume.
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Sam Darnold’s play has generally been positive since his offseason acquisition, but he hasn’t been protected well. The team’s offensive sack rate is in the bottom half of the league, and they are averaging 3.7 yards per carry on the ground. The left side of the offensive line has particularly been a problem.
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The offensive line looked like a mess on paper entering the year, and it’s performed as poorly as expected. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields has had little chance to succeed with issues all over the line, allowing sacks on a league-high 14% of dropbacks.
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The Bengals were criticized for drafting Ja’Marr Chase instead of offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round of the draft because of how poorly their offensive line has performed in recent seasons. Chase has proven worthy of his draft spot, but the line remains an issue. Cincinnati has allowed a sack on more than nine percent of dropbacks, fifth-worst in the league, and the team is averaging less than four yards per carry on the ground.
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It’s hard to put the blame solely on Baker Mayfield, but Cleveland’s passing game has been inept early in the year. The team’s wide receiver injuries have a lot to do with the struggles, as Odell Beckham missed the start of the year and Jarvis Landry has been injured since then. The pass blocking has also been surprisingly poor, with Mayfield getting sacked on nearly 10% of dropbacks.
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The Cowboys already expected to be worse rushing the pass rusher after offseason losses, and Demarcus Lawrence’s early-season injury has only made matters worse. Dallas had only sacked the opposing quarterback on five percent of dropbacks, in the bottom half of the league. Lawrence’s return from foot surgery couldn’t come soon enough.
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As expected, quarterback has remained an issue for the talented Broncos squad. Teddy Bridgewater has been a marked improvement over Drew Lock, but the Broncos has still lacked explosion offensively with only 232 passing yards per game and 7.0 yards per pass attempt. Injuries to Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, along with Bridgewater’s Week 4 concussion, have only made matters worse for the offense.
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The Lions’ defensive backend has been a mess this season, allowing a league-worst 9.8 yards per pass and losing 2020 first-round cornerback Jeff Okudah to an Achilles injury. The talent deficiency shouldn’t come as a big surprise after the team was quiet in free agency during the offseason.
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Aaron Rodgers has done his best to offset what has been mediocre play by the Packers offensive line, which has struggled while left tackle David Bakhtiari recovers from a torn ACL. The team also replaced All-Pro center Corey Linsley with rookie Josh Myers, which has been a work in progress. The Packers are averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and are in the bottom half of the league in sack rate.
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We focus on quarterback here, but nearly every position group is a “flaw” in Houston. With little offseason movement, the team has been pummeled since Tyrod Taylor’s injury, with rookie Davis Mills looking in over his head. The team’s 40-0 loss at Buffalo is reminiscent of how the team has played since losing Taylor.
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Carson Wentz hasn’t played as well as hoped after suffering a foot injury in training camp and ankle injuries early in the season. He’s protected the ball but is averaging only 6.7 yards per pass, and the Colts’ offense has been inexplosive. The Colts need Wentz to play better soon to have a chance to return to the playoffs.
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The NFL has been rough for Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence early in the year. The Jags defense has looked particularly bad, with the team getting gouged by the pass. Jacksonville has the second-worst sack rate in the league and has allowed over nine yards per pass, with a total of five sacks in four games.
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The Chiefs’ offense has looked great again in spite of some turnovers, but the defense has been the opposite. The Chiefs are allowing 31 points per game, and the lack of push rush has been glaring. Defensive end Frank Clark has barely played early in the year due to injury, and his return would surely help Chris Jones and Jarran Reed establish themselves.
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A series of offseason losses and injuries have really hurt the Raiders’ offensive line this season. It’s been a makeshift unit, particularly on the interior after losing Richie Incognito, and rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood has also struggled.
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New head coach Brandon Staley has clearly had a positive impact on the Chargers’ defense, as has the return of Derwin James from injury, but some weaknesses remain. The run defense was allowed nearly six yards per carry entering Week 4, and the issues could get worse with linebacker Kenneth Murray suffering a major ankle injury.
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The Rams run defense was exposed in Week 4 against the Cardinals, allowing a whopping 216 yards on the ground. For the season, LA is allowing a poor 4.7 yards per carry, and the team has some clear issues at linebacker.
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Miami’s defense has been as vanilla as it gets early in the year between quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett. The team is averaging a pitiful 4.6 yards per pass despite an impressive receiver corps. The Dolphins are hopeful the offense will improve after Tagovailoa returns from a rib injury, but he struggled early in the season.
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The return of Danielle Hunter from injury has been a relief for Minnesota’s pass defense, but the team has been unable to stop the run early this season. The team has allowed 4.8 yards per rush, allowing opponents to close out games.
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The Patriots clearly like what they have in young Mac Jones and Damien Harris on offense, but offensive line issues have hurt their development. Trent Brown’s continued injury issues have been a problem, and the team has also felt the loss of guard Joe Thuney. The Pats average only 3.5 yards per carry and rank in the bottom half of the league in sack rate.
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Michael Thomas’ continued absence has made Jameis Winston’s job as the quarterback far more difficult, and the team has lacked production in the passing game. New Orleans is averaging only 144 passing yards per game, showing inconsistency in the post-Drew Brees era.
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New York has had many issues early in the year, but their lack of pass rush has been glaring. The team has recorded only six sacks in four games, and Leonard Williams has been very quiet early in the year.
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The entire offense has been a mess for the Jets, but the offensive line has been especially bad. Another injury to young left tackle Mekhi Becton has made matters much worse, as the offense has the second-worst sack rate and is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry.
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Linebacker has continued to be an issue for Philly, and it’s glaring with the team’s run defense. Philadelphia has been run against more than any defense in the league and is allowing a mediocre 4.4 yards per carry. It’s a tough place to be with the talented running backs in the NFC East.
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The Steelers front office didn’t do Ben Roethlisberger any favors with the offensive line, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback has also lost another step this year. He’s averaged a pitiful 6.1 yards per pass attempt and has four picks in four games. It’s looking like a long year in Pittsburgh.
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Cornerback looked like an issue for the 49ers even before the team lost Jason Verrett to injury. Star power in other position groups has helped the 49ers’ defense manage, but their lack of cornerback talent could bite San Francisco eventually.
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The loss of Jarran Reed and struggles from newcomer Kerry Hyder have shown up on the Seahawks’ defense. The team is in the bottom half of the league in sack rate and has had trouble stopping the run, resulting in a disappointing start to the season.
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The Bucs have been ravaged by injuries early in the year, particularly at cornerback. The team is now counting on veterans Richard Sherman and Pierre Desir after Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Carlton Davis suffered injuries. Mac Jones’ success passing the ball in Week 4 showed the team’s glaring weakness, but time should heal the issue.
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The offensive line has been one of Tennessee’s biggest strengths over the last several seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has struggled in his return from injury, while the right side of the line has also had major problems. The organization’s whiff on 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson has shown up this season, as the team has allowed a sack on 10% of dropbacks.
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Washington thought they fixed their quarterback issues temporarily after signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he suffered a major hip injury in Week 1. Replacement Taylor Heinicke has done his best and fared well against the Giants and Falcons, but the team probably can’t count on him to lead the team where they need to go.