The NFL season is approaching fast. Which units that struggled in 2019 will need to improve if their team has any chance of success in 2020?
Miami Dolphins rushing attack
When your starting quarterback (unless he is Lamar Jackson) is your leading rusher there might be a problem. When your leading rusher is a 37 year old journeyman QB who only accumulated 243 yards on 54 rushing attempts there IS a major problem.
That’s right, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins rushing attack in 2019. An eclectic mix of Mark Walton, Kenyan Drake (who left for Arizona after 6 games), Patrick Laird, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Samaje Perine and Albert Wilson (a wide receiver) combined to give the Dolphins a paltry 1156 rushing yards on the whole year.
To put this into perspective 6 players managed to accumulate more yards on the ground on their own, than the Dolphins did as a collective unit.
Brian Flores and the Miami front office have made moves to address this glaring need in the off-season. . Samaje Perine is back with the Cincinnati Bengals and bizarrely the Jets gave up a conditional seventh round pick for Ballage just as he was about to be cut.
In comes Jordan Howard in free agency, and Matt Breida in a trade with the 49ers. These 2 combined for 1148 yards last year
Neither could claim to have been anywhere near the feature back in their respective teams. Automatically this seems a huge upgrade in the Miami backfield. Surely Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t be the rushing leader in South Beach in 2020?
Tampa Bay Bucanners O-line
Excitement is abound in Tampa Bay with the offseason acquisitions of 6 time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady, and his buddy, perennial pro-bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. Adding these two to the dominant wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is a mouth-watering prospect for Bucs fans. A return to the Super Bowl for the first time since their only appearance in 2002 has even been mooted.
However, for all the offensive weaponry available to TB12, his offensive line is going to have to play their part in any success the Bucaneers hope to have in 2020.
Previous starting quarterback Jameis Winston did not have troubles to seek in 2019, throwing an eye-watering 30 interceptions. However, the blame should not entirely lie at the door of the former FSU man.
Winston was sacked 47 times in the 2019 season, 20 fewer than Brady was in New England. The Offensive line in Tampa Bay ranked 22 in pass protection, with an adjusted sack rate of 7.6% (NFL average of 7%)
Whilst Brady is surgical in his precision when passing from the pocket, he is not exactly the most mobile quarterback on the planet. He will being relying on his offensive line to protect him better than they did Winston if the Bucs are to reach the promised land.
The addition of the combine darling Tristan Wirfs on the the right side of the line is a good start, but the returning quarter of Alex Cappa, Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith will have to up their game to keep in Brady’s good books.
Lions pass defence
The Detroit Lions under Matt Patricia have not exactly shone, going 9-22-1 in his 2 season in charge. Coach Jim Caldwell had led the Lions to a 9-7 season in 2017 (and his 3rd winning season in 4 years). However, ownership felt a change had to be made, and Patriots defensive co-ordinator Patricia was the man who got the call.
In 2019, despite a promising start and nearly upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champions the Chiefs in week 4, the Lions limped over the finish line, going 0-9 down the stretch.
Part of this was the Lions inability to defend the pass. They ranked dead last in the NFL with passing yards against, a whopping 4551 over the whole season. (That’s a massive 1800 more than the league leading 49ers).
It is easy to blame the secondary for this. And they were underwhelming, with the possible exception of Darius Slay (who has since been traded to the Eagles). But the defensive front did not make things easy for their defensive backs. Other than Trey Flowers (51 tackles and 7 sacks), the D-line did not do enough to disrupt opposition quarterbacks. The Line-backer corps does not appear to be dynamic enough to cover on short and intermediate routes either.
Standout Ohio State Buckeye CB Jeff Okudah was added with the 3rd overall pick in the draft. But with the aforementioned departure of Slay, I’m not sure the additions of Desmond Trufant from Atlanta and ex-Patriot line-backer Jamie Collins are enough to bolster their pass defence significantly. I think another tough year on defence is in store in Detroit
Eagles wide receivers
The 2019 Eagles receiving unit, to say the least, had a troublesome time. Their receiving yard leaders were Tight end duo Zach Ertz and Dalls Godert, followed by rookie running back Miles Sanders.
They were most certainly hampered by injuries to veteran starters Alshon Jeffery (10 starts) and DeSean Jackson (3 starts). However, those who stepped into their shoes did not exactly set the world ablaze.
Nelson Agholor was often criticised for his drops throughout the season. Rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside featured in all 16 games. However he struggled to make an impact with just 10 receptions for 169 yards on the year. Probably the most impressive of all the stand-ins was Greg Ward. An undrafted free agent who bounced between the roster and the practice squad. As well has having a spell in the ill-fated AAF. Ward though showed glimpses of promise at the back end of the year.
Moving forward, the Eagles were tipped to grab a wide receiver early in the 2020 draft in a class full of talent at the position. The Eagles snared their man in Jalen Reagor out of TCU with the 21st overall pick. They also added John Hightower and Quez Watkins in the later rounds. Free agent pickup, Marquise Goodwin, however has opted out of the 2020 season in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Reagor in the mix, and Jeffrey and Jackson hopefully fit, Carson Wentz will hopefully have more to work with this year.