NFL: The Achilles heel of every Super Bowl contender

No team is perfect, not even those expected to make deep playoff runs. What is the main issue that could bring down each team?


With the new season just around the corner, we all have ideas on which teams will be contending for the Super Bowl come February. There are usually a collection of six or seven teams that most agree have a good shot at walking away with the Lombardi trophy in any given season.

However, none of those teams are without flaws. We all know about the usual speed bumps that can kill a Super Bowl bid, from injuries to suspensions and plain bad luck, but even if everything goes to plan, there are still worrying holes in even the best rosters that could scupper their chances of winning in Super Bowl LII. What are these Achilles heels?

New England Patriots: Pass rush

The Patriots have never relied on a big pass rush, instead they like to control the edge, keep the quarterback in the pocket and play coverage. But at some point you do have to actually hit the guy. Since they traded Chandler Jones in March 2016 they have leaned on a collection of castoffs, from Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to Barkevious Mingo, and the results haven’t been great. However, in the offseason all three of them left, long time edge player Rob Ninkovich retired, they cut Kony Ealy, and top pick Derek Rivers tore his ACL.

The Patriots are down to third-year man Trey Flowers, their sack-leader in 2016 with 7.0, and not a lot else. They will need to manufacture pressure with well-timed blitzes and have truly great coverage if they aren’t to fall when it comes time to play the top quarterbacks in the league.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line

The Seahawks have had a weak offensive line basically since they traded Max Unger in 2015, and they once again did little to strengthen it, relying on coach Tom Cable to turn the likes of third-round pick Ethan Pocic and sixth-rounder Justin Senior into reliable players.

There are some good pieces, like center Justin Britt who has found his groove as a run blocker and second-year player Germain Ifedi who is very talented. However, with left tackle George Fant on the shelf for the season and Luke Joeckel being the only big addition it’s likely to be another year of consistent hits and potential injuries for Russell Wilson, as well as a stifled run game.

Seattle managed just 3.9 yards per carry last season, good for 24th in the league. A long way off from the 4.8 yards a carry they put up in 2012, when they won the Super Bowl. It’s possible that the addition of Eddie Lacy will cover up some of that lack of blocking, but he is a very inconsistent player who has rarely been able to concoct space for himself.

Green Bay Packers: Defense

We all know that Aaron Rodgers has a knack for breaking logic and defenses, but his own defense has been a troublesome thing for more than a few years and often in a few different ways. Last year it was the pass defense that struggled, partly through injuries in the secondary and partly through inconsistent pass rush.

The Packers allowed a league-leading 8.1 yards per attempt last season, but that was last year! Not 2017! Well, there is a deeper issue, and it lies in the coaches booth.

Dom Capers hasn’t been able to put together a consistent defense in years. Last year it was pass defense, in 2015 the Packers were 29th in yards per carry against. The biggest flaw on this Packers roster sits on the defensive benches, and it’s not always the fault of the players there.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Secondary

It’s no secret to anyone who has watched the Steelers over the recent years that for as deadly as the offense is, the secondary can be just as incompetent.

With a consistent zone defense, good offenses have found a way to really exploit the consistency, and lack of talent, in the Steelers defense. Despite all their history and brilliance against other teams, when Tom Brady comes to town he dominates them. Now, that’s Tom Brady and he is great against everyone, but he is markedly better against the Steelers than almost anyone else. He has a 114.2 (second highest), and a 24-3 touchdown to interception ratio.

The Steelers added JJ Wilcox and Joe Haden to their secondary at the deadline, and have the likes of Artie Burns who should improve in his second year in the league, but if the scheme doesn’t become more diverse and unpredictable they will continue to struggle when they play the best quarterbacks.

Atlanta Falcons: New offensive coordinator

On paper, the Falcons are pretty bullet-proof. They are returning basically every piece of their offense and every major piece of their defense. They get Desmond Trufant back on the field, who was missing for their playoff run, and have added pass rusher Takkarist McKinley, run-stuffer Dontari Poe, and end Jack Crawford to boost the defensive line. It all points to a team ready to go one step further, until you look on the sideline and see that Kyle Shanahan is no longer calling the offense.

His departure to take the head coach job in San Francisco has left the Falcons without the most creative offensive schemer and playcaller in football. Now I’m sure there will be a lot of crossover in the 2017 Falcons offense from that of the last two seasons, however we aren’t going to see a 27-play stretch where a formation does not get used a second time, as they did against the Packers in the NFC championship game.

That lack of creativity from the sideline is likely to result in a less dominant offense, which leaves them open to a lot of closer games and thus the influence of luck or poor refereeing decisions.

Dallas Cowboys: Lack of depth

No team is brilliant from #1 to #53 in their roster, but the Cowboys might only be good from #1 to #10. Their salary cap chickens came home to roost in a big way in the offseason. Almost the entire secondary left. Brandon Carr (96% of snaps), Barry Church (63.9%), JJ Wilcox (52.7%), and Morris Claiborne (38.4%) disappeared in free agency. That has left Byron Jones, who was best used as a versatile matchup man rather than pinned to one spot, Orlando Scandrick and not a lot else.

And that’s just the secondary. Left guard Ron Leary left in free agency and Doug Free retired, leaving the brilliance of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin to absorb two new starters and try to maintain the same level of overall production.

Along with the changes on the offensive line, there are suspensions up and down the defensive line, not to mention the likes of Jack Crawford has departed.

While Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant take a lot of headlines and will make a lot of plays, the rest of the roster is dangerously thin and and likely to end up costing them any shot at the Super Bowl.

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Toby Durant

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Deputy Editor at RealSport. A life-long gamer, I have been with RealSport since 2016 and spent time covering the world of Formula 1, NFL, and football for the site before expanding into esports.

 

I lead the site's coverage of motorsport titles with a particular focus on Formula 1. I also lead RealSport's Madden content while occasionally dipping my toe into Football Manager and esports coverage of Gfinity Series events.

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