Through five week of the NFL season, we’re getting a much better sense of the contenders and teams that will be picking high in next year’s draft. Some players’ seasons have taken off, while others are struggling. For those in the latter group, there is still time for a turnaround.
Here’s a look at 10 players who badly need to turn things around.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
The Cowboys looked like they were set at the quarterback position for a very long time when Prescott burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2016, but he has been quite underwhelming since. Dallas has basically had no passing game this season, and that is one of the main reasons they are off to a 2-3 start. Prescott has just five touchdowns compared to four interceptions in five starts. Teams are challenging the Cowboys to throw by loading up to stop Ezekiel Elliott, and Prescott hasn’t looked up to the challenge. That could have a lot to do with not having playmakers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to throw to, but Dak needs to pick things up if the Cowboys want to make a run at the postseason. Luckily the NFC East is in bad enough shape where there’s still time.
No running back is more familiar with the idea of a goal line pass play blowing up in a team’s face than the one Jon Gruden has in his backfield with the Oakland Raiders, but that didn’t stop the coach from trying to get fancy during Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. While it did not work out, Gruden does not regret the play-call.
The Raiders had gone 74 yards in 10 plays before a pass interference call in the end zone placed the ball at the 1-yard line. Rather than handing it to Marshawn Lynch for what could have been an easy score, Gruden called a play-action pass with his team trailing 20-3. The end result was Carr’s eighth interception of the season, but Gruden defended the decision.
“Certainly the call is to hand the ball to Lynch there because of what happened, but first-and-goal at the 1, a play pass, faking to Lynch, has been a great call for a lot of years,” Gruden said, per Jimmy Durkin of The Athletic.
Lynch, of course, was lined up in the backfield when the Seattle Seahawks threw the most infamous interception in NFL history to lose Super Bowl XLIX. Not wanting to sugarcoat anything, Gruden placed the blame squarely on Carr’s shoulders.
“The decision there is to throw it and if it’s not open, you throw it away. It just didn’t work out,” he said. “We expected to have a wide open receiver on the play and obviously that’ll be second-guessed — rightfully so — but shouldn’t have made that throw down there. I’ll live to hand the ball off and the next play possibly.”
Gruden is right that Carr should never have made the throw, and perhaps the coach was trying to design a play that would give his quarterback some confidence. Still, you’d like to hear the coach share some of the blame while speaking with the media — even if everyone knows he is just defending his QB.
This isn’t the first time we have seen Gruden throw someone under the bus this year, so passing the buck is becoming somewhat of a theme in Oakland.
While there were some exceptions, Week 5 was not a great one if you were a quarterback, or especially a kicker. There were a lot of notably underwhelming performances, including a handful of high-profile quarterbacks and a kicking nightmare in Detroit. Those were hardly the only positions to suffer, though, as receivers, defenses, and even coaches were left looking a bit silly after Sunday’s events.
Here’s a look at 15 of the biggest disappointments of NFL Week 5.
Mason Crosby, K, Packers
It’s safe to say Crosby had the worst kicking performance of the 2018 season. His first miss, wide left from 41 in the first quarter, was unusual, but sometimes good kickers just blow one. Then he missed off the right upright from 42, followed by another wide right from 38, and it was clear that something was going on. A missed extra point in the third confirmed that Crosby’s confidence was shot and initiated a Twitter pile-on, and sending him out there in the fourth to miss from 56 — more understandably — felt like cruel and unusual punishment. It was so bad for Crosby that the Packers saw fit to let him hit one from 41 with seven seconds left just so he could see one go through the uprights. Crosby has five seasons, including the previous three, where he missed just four kicks all season. To say this was uncharacteristic for him is an understatement.
Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes tore his ACL while trying to avoid putting his weight on Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr during Sunday’s game to avoid a roughing the passer call under the league’s new rules. That has prompted an avalanche of criticism of the rule, arguing that it’s making other players less safe at the expense of quarterback safety.
Carr, the quarterback involved, thought Hayes should have landed on him, and not because he wanted the penalty yardage.
Raiders QB Derek Carr on Dolphins DE William Hayes, who tore ACL trying not to land hard on Carr when sacking him: “I wish the guy would have just landed on me instead of tearing his ACL. …For him to tear his ACL, nobody wants that. I don’t want that.”
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 26, 2018
Even opponents who benefit have been critical of the rule. While Carr isn’t directly criticizing it, it’s pretty clear he thinks there should be some common-sense limits to what is illegal under the interpretation of the rule.
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Jon Gruden called out his quarterback Derek Carr on Wednesday for passing up throws during the Oakland Raiders’ Monday night loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Speaking with reporters, Gruden said Carr had Amari Cooper open deep a few times and didn’t pass it to him.
Gruden: “Cooper was open deep, he was open a couple times. For whatever reason, we didn’t go there.”
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) September 12, 2018
Cooper had just one catch for nine yards in the game — far below what the former No. 4 pick is capable of. Carr threw for 303 yards but did not have a touchdown pass and was intercepted three times.
Lest you think this is Gruden picking on Carr, keep in mind that former Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio made the exact same observation about Carr last season.
Del Rio said Carr wasn’t under duress yesterday and saw he had more time “to take more shots downfield that we had designed.”
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) October 30, 2017
Carr had a strong rookie season in 2014 and followed that up with even more impressive seasons in 2015 and 2016. He looked like he was well on his way to becoming a franchise quarterback. However, last year he suffered a serious back injury that derailed his play. Some thought he would be improved if healthy this season, but maybe there was more to his struggles than injury.
The observation from Gruden makes one wonder whether the Raiders will consider moving on from Carr if he doesn’t show improvement, which certainly seems like a possibility.
Derek Carr looked at one point like he had the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but his struggles from last season spilled over into 2018 with a rough game against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. If that trend continues, will Jon Gruden go in another direction?
Gruden loves grooming young quarterbacks, and he was not with the Oakland Raiders when they drafted Carr. While he has spoken very highly of the 27-year-old, Will Brinson of CBS Sports raised an interesting point when he noted that the Raiders could save $15 million in salary cap space if they cut Carr before 2019.
Derek Carr's cap hit in 2019 is $22.5 million … but the Raiders could save $15 million in cap space if they decided to part ways.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 11, 2018
Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension last summer, so it seems unlikely that the franchise would just give up on him. However, Gruden already proved he is not afraid to make unpopular decisions when he traded Khalil Mack. Brinson wouldn’t be surprised if he also cut ties with Carr, especially now that Oakland has two additional first-round picks.
If you think Jon Gruden won't convince himself he can find his own QB using 2 first-round picks while saving $71 million in cap space over the next four years you haven't been paying enough attention to Jon Gruden.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 11, 2018
Carr threw three interceptions in a 33-13 loss to the Rams. One game is not going to define his season, but he has fallen off quite a bit since he posted back-to-back productive years in 2015 and 2016. While Gruden had some extremely high praise for Carr over the summer, he’s a quarterback guy who isn’t going to accept mediocrity at the position — especially if it costs more than $20 million a year.
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr found out like everyone else that Khalil Mack was heading to the Chicago Bears on Saturday morning, and it’s fair to say he was a little heartbroken.
Amid reports that Mack was being dealt to the Chicago Bears for a sum that will include two first-round picks, Carr took to Twitter to relay a simple two-word message.
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) September 1, 2018
Carr had made no secret on Twitter of his desire to see the star defensive end return to the Raiders quickly, even as his holdout dragged on toward the regular season. All along, the thought was that Mack wasn’t a trade chip and would probably return to Oakland eventually. Now he’s not, and it’s sinking in for everyone — including Oakland’s quarterback.