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:
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.
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.
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.''
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.