Former NFL scout Matt Williamson writes about the league from an X’s and O’s perspective. Here’s his list of 10 underperforming players — five on offense, five on defense.
Philip Rivers, Chargers, QB
BIGGEST ISSUE: Turnovers
This problem was on full display Monday night, when he threw four interceptions in a 24-17 loss to the Chiefs. Sure, the Chargers have done a poor job protecting Rivers over the years, but you can also argue that Los Angeles has possibly the best overall group of weapons in the league this season. Yet Rivers continues to put the ball in harm’s way far too often and has little control of his deep ball. With these weapons, he doesn’t need to be the focal point of the offense. Rivers must be a facilitator and “game manager,” but he doesn’t (and probably never will) take that approach. Rivers has thrown one more touchdown pass than interception (15/14) in 2019. Might be time for a new QB in L.A.
David Johnson, Cardinals, RB
BIGGEST ISSUE: Burst
Early in the season, as Arizona was finding its way with its new offense and dynamic rookie quarterback, Johnson did little as a traditional ball-carrier. But he was still a significant part of the passing game. But even then, Johnson didn’t show an extra gear in the open field or the stop-start burst like he once had. Johnson’s game lately has cratered — in fact, he looks like he’s running in sand. He played just seven snaps in a 36-26 loss to the 49ers in Week 11, opening the possibility that he’s not 100 percent. In December, Johnson turns 28, typically a time when running back production falls off. Johnson’s 3.7 yards per carry (he averaged just 3.6 last year) indicate that the end is near. There is a reason Arizona traded for RB Kenyon Drake.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers, WR
BIGGEST ISSUE: Added Attention
Smith-Schuster isn’t a bad player, and his numbers (38 catches for 524 yards) would be far better if Ben Roethlisberger were his QB instead of Mason Rudolph. But there were huge doubts in the preseason how well this 22-year-old would handle life without Antonio Brown opposite him. On tape, the results have not been favorable. Rudolph should have gone Smith-Schuster’s way far more often, but the second-year quarterback still doesn’t understand what it means for a receiver to be open at this level. Smith-Schuster isn’t getting regular separation against defenses designed to take him away. He’s a good player, not a great one.
OJ Howard, Bucs, tight end
BIGGEST ISSUE: Route Running
Many blame Howard’s lack of receiving production (17 catches for 223 yards) on the offensive philosophy of head coach Bruce Arians, who doesn’t use tight ends much in the passing game. Howard was an excellent blocker at Alabama, but his game in this important facet has declined in the passing and running game this season. Howard is a superb athlete with good size (6-foot-6 and 251 pounds), but he isn’t progressing with the finer points of the position. In particular, I’ve noticed his route running is not sharp. In Week 11 against the Saints, Howard watched much of the game from the sideline as tight end Cameron Brate was targeted 14 times. A change of scenery might be the best thing for Howard. New England, anyone?
Matt Paradis, Panthers, center
BIGGEST ISSUE: Pass Protection
After years of having Ryan Kalil as its anchor at center, Carolina spent big money this offseason to add Paradis, a former Bronco. Despite RB Christian McCaffrey running wild, Paradis isn’t moving defensive tackles off the line of scrimmage consistently. And Paradis’ pass protection is a major problem. He isn’t anchoring well or sinking his hip versus a power rush, and Paradis shows little in the way of change of direction to recover once beaten by quickness. Before he was injured with the Broncos, Paradis was an excellent, young center. Can the 30-year-old get back to that level?