Welcome back to this week’s Four Verts column. The NFL trade deadline is right around the corner, forcing some teams to make tough decisions on what’s coming next in the immediate and long-term future. This week’s column starts off with a team that likely needs to start shipping off players, especially after suffering the worst loss of the NFL season.
The Raiders are in desperate need of a reset
The 2023 season has been fairly weird this year with a handful of bad teams putting together some competitive records in the standings. There might not be a better example than where the Las Vegas Raiders currently reside.
At 3-4, their season is far from over in terms of their ability to compete for the playoffs, but anyone who has seen them play knows they aren’t anywhere close to being a club that can compete for a wild-card spot. This team is in no man’s land, and if Las Vegas can cast aside its record and be honest about the quality of the roster, it’s obvious that the Raiders need to press the restart button.
The Raiders’ loss against the Bears might be the worst defeat any team has endured this season.
Chicago was starting undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent at quarterback, who was most recently the starter for Shepherd University in West Virginia — a Division II program. The Bears won 30-12. Bagent averaged a measly 2.5 air yards per attempt, dinking and dunking his way down the field en route to a blowout win. It was a wholly unacceptable result for a team that came into the season with the plan of competing.
This embedded content is not available in your region.
A loss like that magnifies Vegas’ need to get a head start on 2024 and beyond. The Raiders haven’t appeared willing to trade superstar wide receiver Davante Adams for draft capital, but they really should consider that move. The Raiders rank 26th in point differential (minus-49), which is within the same range as the 1-6 Arizona Cardinals (minus-55). There’s no mistaking what the actual talent level and possibilities for this team are: poor. Keeping Adams when the team is several years away from being competitive doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it would probably be good for the Raiders and Adams to split so they can get out of each other’s way.
The tough part is that outside of Adams, the team might not have many assets it can ship away to start restocking its roster. Defensive end Maxx Crosby is an untouchable player for the Raiders and left tackle Kolton Miller would be handy to have around whenever the Raiders finally invest in a quarterback of the future. Adams and possibly Hunter Renfrow are the Raiders’ best bets to pick up quality capital for the 2024 and 2025 NFL Drafts.
It’s funny to say this about a team that is currently second in the AFC West, but it’s abundantly clear Las Vegas isn’t going anywhere. With less than a week left until the trade deadline, it’s time for this team to take a hard look in the mirror and start building toward the future. There is no coming back from that loss in Chicago and it will be damn near impossible for the Raiders to hold onto their current spot in the AFC West.
Thirty points to Tyson Bagent! It’s done!
Mike Tomlin is doing the thing again
Death, taxes, the Pittsburgh Steelers overachieving. These are the few certainties in life that show up year after year.
It was fair to think that the Steelers might struggle this season considering their roster construction, but head coach Mike Tomlin and his squad once again are in control through the rest of the season. Despite playing some shaky football, the Steelers sit at 4-2 and second in the AFC North, which is quickly shaping up to be the strongest division in the league. Negative point differential? The Steelers don’t care about that and it’s about time we (I) just accept what this team is.
The Steelers sit at a negative point differential this season because in the two games they lost, they got demolished. They lost to the 49ers 30-7 to start their season and got blown out by the Texans 30-6. Those games show this team still has a ways to go before the Steelers can go on a true playoff run, but they’ve definitely positioned themselves to make the postseason at this point in the season.
It’s not rational, but sometimes it feels like the Steelers are enforcing some sort of black magic on their opponent each week. Their 17-10 win over the Ravens was the perfect example of this phenomenon. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson put together one of the most accurate performances of his career, but multiple touchdowns and explosive plays were dropped by his teammates, allowing the Steelers to hang around. Then, T.J. Watt and George Pickens took over the last two minutes of the game and sent the Ravens home with a loss. That’s the type of game Pittsburgh has played for the past few seasons, really since Ben Roethlisberger’s skills started to decline. The combination of Kenny Pickett and offensive coordinator Matt Canada hasn’t been a fruitful pairing, but wins are wins.
One thing the Steelers are displaying, in a more tangible sense, is the benefit of having star players sprinkled over a roster that’s still a work in progress. Watt is a future Hall of Famer and already one of the greatest defensive players in Steelers history, Pickens is developing into a real deal big-play machine at wide receiver and Pittsburgh has just enough supporting pieces to fill in the blanks when games get tight. It pays to have a player who can take over the game and players like Watt, Pickens and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have played a huge role in the Steelers’ recent success — even if the overall product isn’t pretty.
Tomlin is on pace to continue his absurd streak of zero losing seasons over the course of his head coaching career — a position he has held since the 2007 season. Even an offense that’s scoring just 17.2 points per game can’t get in the way of that. Tomlin and the Steelers are doing the thing again and it’s time to accept how they get the job done into our hearts. At least until the playoffs start.
This embedded content is not available in your region.
Chargers are pressing the underachiever button again
Oh, the Chargers. Despite having one of the best quarterbacks in football in Justin Herbert and stars all over their roster, the Chargers find themselves at 2-4 and in third place in the AFC West through the first seven weeks of the season.
The offense is sputtering, Herbert hasn’t been as sharp as he normally is and Brandon Staley’s defense has been a total failure this year. In a division that features the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, what the Chargers are doing now isn’t going to cut it and it has put some heat underneath Staley’s head coaching chair.
The Chargers’ defense being as bad as it is is an indictment on Staley and what he was asked to do when he was hired prior to the 2021 season. Since then, the Chargers have done anything but play defense. According to Ben Baldwin of RBSDM.com, the Chargers rank 28th in expected points added per play on defense (0.038) since 2021 and 25th in success rate (45.8%). It’s not like the Chargers haven’t attempted to add talent. Defensive end Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James are two of the best players in the league at their positions. Khalil Mack has been a great pickup since the start of the 2022 season. They have misallocated some resources in free agency and the draft, but there is a baseline level of talent here that should have L.A. performing better than it is — which points the finger back at Staley.
Staley’s latest disaster came at the hands of the Chiefs, which is understandable by itself, but allowing 7.5 yards per play over the course of an NFL game is a travesty. This was a “get right” game for the Chiefs where Patrick Mahomes finally had his first truly dominant start of the season and everything K.C. decided to run had some success.
Normally, Herbert is good enough to overcome some of the issues that the defense presents this team, but he hasn’t quite been himself over the past couple of games. His outings against Dallas and Kansas City have highlighted some uncharacteristic inaccuracy for the ultra-talented quarterback and the Chargers have managed only 17 points in each of their past two games. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore hasn’t been the godsend he was projected to be upon taking this job, but Herbert has missed some easy throws that Moore has created for him in this rough stretch. Is this going to be a recurring issue for the rest of the season?
This season encapsulates the struggle that this franchise has had during its existence. The top-end talent is as good as any team in the league, but lack of depth and coaching mishaps leave the Chargers at 2-4 with games against the New York Jets (3-3) and Detroit Lions (5-2) coming in two of the next three weeks.
General manager Tom Telesco has his work cut out for him over the next few years, especially once Herbert’s $262 million contract kicks in starting in 2025 — assuming he’s still running the team as GM at that point.
Luckily, the Chargers have the singular quarterback talent needed to turn this season around. Now it’s time to do it.
Packers’ growing pains should have been expected, but this is still rough
Packers fans, welcome back to the gutter of NFL fandom.
After more than three decades of relevancy and Hall of Fame quarterback play, the Packers find themselves facing their first truly strenuous season in quite some time. First-year starter Jordan Love has had his ups and downs as the Packers continue to evaluate if he has what it takes to be their long-term quarterback, and that has matriculated to the rest of the team.
The Packers are 2-4 for the first time since 2006, which is a signifier of where this team is in its current development path. There are going to be growing pains with a young (and injured) offense, but it is still fair to be concerned at the Packers’ performance.
Love has been all over the place in these six games. That should not be that surprising given the lack of true in-game reps that he’s had since he was taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. What is concerning is that there hasn’t been much progress since the first game of the season when the Packers blew out the Bears on the road. Love threw three touchdowns and averaged 9.1 yards per pass in that game. Since then, Love has thrown seven touchdowns to seven interceptions, completed just 57.8% of passes and averaged just 6.1 yards an attempt.
Love is the face of the Packers’ current youth movement on offense. Starting wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are in their second NFL seasons while their third receiver, Jayden Reed, is a second-round rookie. Both of the Packers’ primary tight ends, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, are also rookies. Their current offensive tackle duo of Rasheed Walker and Zach Tom are both in their second year. There’s so little experience on this offense that perhaps it was unfair to have any high expectations for them this season.
Coming off a loss to the Denver Broncos, the Packers’ season is looking bleak with no realistic chance of making the postseason, which would represent the first time the Packers missed the playoffs since 2017-2018. Their youth movement is important context to where the team is right now, but Green Bay’s output up to this point is undoubtedly frustrating — just watch any Matt LaFleur news conference from this year.
It has been a struggle on offense and defense for the Packers and they probably need some time to get better, though they don’t have too many veterans to lean on. Love is likely to be back as the Packers’ quarterback next season due to a one-year contract extension he signed, so the book on him isn’t closed yet.
It’s fascinating to see the Packers in a spot where they aren’t a very good football team.
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.