Five stars deserving of more help from team
Bell column 3C; QB hot sheet 5C; Stars need aid
Not even the brightest NFL stars can go it alone.
For some players and teams, October can lend itself to grumbling about disappointing early results, and soul searching can give way to finger pointing. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. created a maelstrom before last week’s loss to the Panthers by saying he felt he was being “outschemed” by opponents and didn’t know if Eli Manning’s play was an issue for the offense.
Though you likely won’t hear similar complaints from these other players, here are some stars who deserve more help from their teams.
Ezekiel Elliott: This arrangement is not foreign to Elliott, who has been the Cowboys’ centerpiece since he was drafted in 2016. But with Dak Prescott floundering and the team shrugging its shoulders at an acknowledged lack of a No. 1 receiver, Elliott looks increasingly isolated as an offensive savior.
There’s only so much that the Cowboys can do for Prescott — and, by extension, Elliott. Gunslinger-turnedbroadcaster Tony Romo has highlighted the importance of putting receivers in motion to scheme them open more regularly, and more downfield shots could help if the line can provide sufficient protection. But Dallas must also monitor Elliott’s workload, as he had just 54 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Texans on Sunday and could tire down the stretch. Andrew Luck: He has elevated his team in years past, but this might be his heaviest lift yet, as a rash of injuries have left an already suspect depth chart in dire straits. On pace for a recordbreaking 784 passing attempts, Luck has performed admirably. He recorded a career-high 464 passing yards along with four touchdowns in a Week 4 loss to the Texans.
There’s a path to improvement for Indianapolis, as the injury report is dotted with starters who could return in the coming weeks. Still, coach Frank Reich is at somewhat of an impasse. If Luck is to distribute the ball quickly so as to avoid hits as he did in the first three weeks, he needs more assistance from his skill-position players.
David Johnson: It’s difficult for any staff to integrate a star running back when the passing attack ranks secondto-last and has undergone a switch to a rookie passer. But new Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s initial plan for Johnson was downright bizarre even as he re- turned from playing just one game last year due to a wrist injury. The former allpro had just 34 carries in the first three weeks before logging 40 in the last two.
Yet the biggest mistake might be in the passing game, as Johnson has just 15 catches for 120 yards. Former Arizona coach Bruce Arians, under whom Johnson led the NFL with 2,118 all-purpose yards in 2016, believes the new regime was misusing its offensive centerpiece by too often restricting Johnson to the backfield. Russell Wilson: Generating a disproportionate amount of the offensive production has become commonplace for the quarterback, who accounted for more than 80% of Seattle’s yardage last
year. The equation has shifted this year, however, as the Seahawks have passed a league-low 42.9 percent of the time over the past three weeks. But this team can only ride its currently hot run game so far.
One area for growth is the play-action game, which new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has seldom used despite Wilson’s history of success with it. Play-action was a bigger game plan component Sunday against the Rams, and Wilson responded by throwing three touchdowns despite just 21 pass attempts.
Carson Wentz: The Eagles have become increasingly blunt in holding one another accountable. Left tackle Jason Peters sought to spread blame for the protection struggles, suggesting that Wentz is holding onto the ball longer as he tries to recapture his rhythm after last season’s knee injury. Never one to rattle cages, Wentz said that characterization was “fair.”
But that assessment might not be entirely on point. Wentz has already taken
17 sacks despite getting rid of the ball in
2.76 seconds on average this year, according to The Athletic, which is almost the same as last year’s mark of 2.72. The receiving corps has also been a disappointment, tying for the league lead in drops with 11.
The most significant dilemma might be how to equip Wentz with a proper rushing attack after Jay Ajayi was placed on injured reserve. Perhaps Howie Roseman will make another aggressive move and pursue Le’Veon Bell or LeSean McCoy, but giving Corey Clement a larger role seems the more likely option. And while getting Alshon Jeffery fully integrated after he missed the first three games should elevate the team on third downs (24th in conversion rate) and in the red zone, Peters and the rest of the line will have to step up to give Wentz more time.
The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott is the NFL’s leading rusher through Week 5 with 480 yards.