Richard Martin

Underachievers Honor Kotite And Pisarcik

Created on Dec. 26, 2013 4:30 AM EST

One week remains in the season. It’s far too early to assess how good teams were, but the identity of the bad teams is no mystery.

But, beyond being awful, it’s the teams that underachieved the most that I’ll focus on here. Teams that were good a year ago and lost their mojo (and a whole lot of games).

This was a great year for underachievers. The AFC winner is obvious, while the NFC had three worthy contenders and a team that, while not among the league’s worst, deserves an honorable mention for blowing a great chance to make the playoffs.

The inaugural Rich Kotite Award for Underachievement in the AFC goes to the Houston Texans. No surprise there. The team’s 2-13 after losing its 13th in a row. That’s right, they won their first two games and have lost every single one since. Their coach was fired.

Last year the Texans were 12-4 and beat the Bengals in the playoffs before getting bounced by the Patriots. We know how bad their quarterbacks have been. Matt Schaub was awful. In the nine games he played in, he passed for fewer than 200 yards in six of them. He threw pick-sixes in four straight games. But have no fear, the Texans proved they had other inept signal-callers on their lineup.

Against the Rams, Schaub was playing “within himself,” which means then-coach Gary Kubiak (before he was fired to make way for Wade Phillips) wanted his QB to make only safe passes and not screw up. Schaub got hurt and T.J. Yates came in. Incredibly, he continued the streak, throwing his own pick-six. Case Keenum was equally inept.  

Tradition is good, right? And don’t athletes strive for consistency?

Only the Jets had a more incompetent batch of quarterbacks, but Geno Smith did have some good games. Schaub lost games pretty much all by himself.

Pick-sixes are the most demoralizing play in football. One guy can screw up and undo all the good play of the rest of the team. They're a trademark of teams in this column. But look at the good news, Houston fans: You could sure get a Matt Schaub jersey for a good price now.

It wasn’t just the quarterback play. The defense, which had been stellar in 2012, stopped making plays. Though they didn’t give up many yards, they've intercepted a grand total of six passes.

The Texans lost some close games. You can forgive losses in overtime to Seattle, to the Chiefs, to the Colts, to the Cardinals, to the Patriots. But they also lost two close games to the Jaguars and have had five blowout losses. They’re been beaten 25-3 and 37-13 their last two games.

They scored 17.8 points per game and given up 27.5. Ugh.

The Texans had no rival. But three teams share the inaugural Joe Pisarcik NFC Underachiever of the Year award this year. All three deserve this trophy, so let’s acknowledge what they’ve done.

The Redskins, Falcons and Vikings all made the playoffs last year. Many picked the Falcons to be a contender this year. And so they are, for the Pisarcik award.

Atlanta, 4-10, is 32nd in rushing, and they are equally bad in pass defense and run defense, allowing a total of almost 400 yards a game. (That’s not the highest among these three teams.) Matt Ryan has been underwhelming, throwing 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but it can’t be easy when you can’t run the ball. The Falcons picked off only nine passes.

The Falcons lost three close games in a row after reaching 1-1 with a win over the Rams. They lost at Miami and then home games to the Patriots and Jets. The game against the Jets, on Monday night, was a calamitous loss that ended reasonable hopes.

Yes, it’s true the team’s missing Julio Jones, but their problems are all across the spectrum. Their defense is spectacularly bad.

That’s the same thing that could be said of the 4-10-1 Vikings, who are allowing more than 400 yards a game. They’ve been mind-numbingly terrible in a few ways.

Their quarterback play has been mostly awful, though backup Matt Cassel had a few decent games. Christian Ponder can’t read defenses. Josh Freeman had a night of passing so bad he just might get his own award for incompetence, overthrowing receivers 16 times. (Again, consistency.)

But the most serious problem is the defense, which hasn’t stopped anyone. They made Brian Stoyer look like Tom Brady when the Browns came back to win in Minnesota.

They’re been unlucky with injuries in the secondary, but they were bad to start with. Harrison Smith’s a good safety, but he got hurt. The only cornerback they have who can cover is rookie Xavier Rhodes, who’s also been hurt.

Here’s the lead to Joe Souhan’s column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “At halftime of the Vikings’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday, monkeys riding dogs herded goats into a pen. If the Vikings secondary had been asked to do the herding, those goats would have busted out of Paul Brown Stadium, stolen a case of whiskey and commandeered a paddle down the Ohio River.”

So much for Minnesota nice. That’s what a terrible year does.

Another team with bad defense is the Washington Redskins, who are the worst of the lot at 3-12. RGIII gets all the ink, and he played hurt. But the Redskins, like the Vikings, can’t stop anyone.

The Redskins have allowed 30.5 points per game, the Vikings 31.1 (worst in the league). But Washington’s offense hasn’t been that great either, as they’ve averaged only 21.9 points a game (compared with Minnesota’s 25.1).

The Redskins have lost seven straight games. Their previous win was Nov. 3 against the Chargers.

Two of these three teams will lose their coaches, and fans at least won’t mourn. Both are odd in their own way.

Mike Shanahan got a lot of ink for his apparent feud with Daniel Snyder. Shanahan sat RGIII. This after playing him early when he wasn’t ready.

Shanahan said he wanted to play Kirk Cousins so he could gauge interest for a trade. Is that the kind of thing you tell the world?

But Cousins has been underwhelming, so the great plan didn’t seem to be working. If Shanahan was just trying to get fired, he has to wait only another week.

One final note about the Redskins: The team gave up a lot to get RGIII. You might argue that they would’ve done better to take some picks for their defense. My view is that when you give up a lot to get one guy, chances are you gave up too much.

The Vikes’ Leslie Frazier is, to all appearances, a great employer. He stands by you. He won’t throw you under the bus.

But that’s a problem: His coordinators, both of whom have been terrible, deserved to be fired long ago. Play-calling wasn’t very good, and coaching helped the team lose early games against the Browns and Bears.

Frazier’s the kind of guy who’s caught in a driving rainstorm and says it’s only a few sprinkles. He’s like the cop in front of a spectacular car wreck, with dead bodies all over and flames lighting up the sky, who tells everyone, “Nothing to see here.” (Wait, so he’s Leslie Nielsen?)

Well, in his case nice guys do finish last.

Which brings me to my final award. I’ll call it the Alfred E. Neumann Award, and it goes to the Detroit Lions.

The team’s 7-8 and has lost some close games, so you can’t call them terrible. They were 4-12 last year, and they’re not in the level of competition of losers such as the Falcons, Vikings and Redskins.  

The Lions had a lead and a seemingly easy path to winning the NFC North at a time when the Bears and Packers are crippled and the Vikings fielding a Beer League team. Detroit beat the Bears for the second time Nov. 10, and was 6-3.

Nothing but blue skies, right? Surely this was the year, Lions fans thought. And yet at the back of their minds, a voice is saying, “How are we going to blow it this time?”

They’ve gone 1-5 since then, losing at home to the Buccaneers, Ravens and Giants and on the road to the Steelers and Eagles.

The team blew a lead against the Giants in a lackluster performance against a weak team at home. Stafford’s pick-six made it 20-20.

Anyone could lose to a good team like the Seahawks or 49ers. But the Lions’ 1-5 ending has been against weak-to-average opponents. Not one of those six teams they’ve played is assured of making the playoffs.

The Lions have a lot of talent, certainly more than anyone else in their division. A great defensive line. Calvin Johnson. DeAndre Levy, who had a great year.

Yet they keep screwing up. They lead the league in dropped passes, with Johnson’s two drops a major contributor to the loss against the Ravens. Reggie Bush has been a good addition – but he’s a fumbler. They can be counted on to commit dumb penalties. Matthew Stafford’s thrown 28 touchdowns but also 19 interceptions, many of them coming during the six-game stretch of incompetence.

Will they ever win the division as long as Aaron Rodgers is in the league? I doubt it. Not if they can’t do it this year.

Alas, Jim Schwartz won’t have to worry about that. He’ll get the ax as soon as they finish this season. They’ll be either 7-9 or 8-8, but it seems worse.

They have a lot to look forward to: Next year they might well get the Pisarcik award all by themselves.

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