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NFL Panic Index 2019: This is the worst season for kickers in a looooong time

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It’s been a bad week for kickers, the Broncos are starting someone we’ve never heard of at QB, and somehow things just keep getting worse for the Jets.

Bears kicker Eddy Piñeiro superimposed on a blue background with white and yellow designs, and the words PANIC INDEX.
Bears kicker Eddy Piñeiro missed a game-winning field goal try from 41 yards in Week 8.

The NFL has a kicking problem. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve had this same conversation at least once a season since 2015, when the NFL moved extra point attempts to the 15-yard line.

This week alone, three kickers were released: Matt Bryant (Falcons), Mike Nugent (Patriots), and Chase McLaughlin (Chargers).

Bryant missed two field goals in Week 8 and had struggled all season, connecting on just 64.3 percent of his field goals (and his lone extra point misfire was especially costly). Nugent went 2-for-4 in the rain Sunday, with one kick getting blocked. McLaughlin made one of his two field goal attempts in a close game, but luckily for the Chargers, Eddy Pineiro became the latest in a long line of Bears kickers to miss a game-winning field goal.

Not that his coach helped him out much there.

Even the GOAT kicker has had his share of problems, though Adam Vinatieri at least hit the 51-yard game-winner for the Colts this week.

So far, this season has been the worst in recent memory for kickers:

The final number through eight weeks is 121, after Steelers kicker Chris Boswell missed a 54-yard field goal Monday night against the Dolphins.

In particular, field goal percentage across the league has dipped. NFL kickers have made 80.3 percent of their three-point tries, the lowest since a 79.2 percent mark in 2003.

When you just look at the numbers from Weeks 1-8 of the season, it’s worse. The last time kickers have had a field goal percentage less than 80.3 through the first eight weeks was in 2002, according to Pro Football Reference.

In the last five years, the NFL field goal percentage has settled in the 84 percent range by the end of each season. It’d take a lot more made attempts for 2019 to rise to the standard of this decade. So is this year the kicking crisis is real?

Panic index: Kickers can be streaky. Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to turn things around a la Mason Crosby, who went from five missed kicks in one game last year back to his reliable self this year. The league-wide kick percentage might not get to 84 percent, but it can at least rebound in second half of the season.

Besides, it’s not like everyone is missing everything. Kickers have made 94.5 percent of their extra point attempts this season, which is currently the highest since PATs were moved back. And the NFL’s best kickers are still killing it.

But hey, if kickers continue to spiral, then maybe it’ll convince coaches to stop settling for field goals and start going for it on fourth down more. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The Broncos are starting a fourth-year QB who has never played in the regular season

The Denver Broncos are playing the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, and they’ll be starting a quarterback most of us had no idea existed until now. Enter Brandon Allen, Joe Flacco’s backup quarterback who will be making his first career start on Sunday with Flacco out due to a neck injury.

In case you have no idea who this Allen guy is, you would be warranted there. Coming out of Arkansas in 2016, Allen was a sixth-round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the Jags’ third-string QB until getting cut in 2017, and he spent brief stints from 2017-19 on the Los Angeles Rams’ injured reserve and practice squads.

The Broncos claimed Allen off waivers in September. Flacco’s initial backup, second-round draft pick Drew Lock, was placed on the injured reserve roster after suffering a sprained thumb.

But hands down (pun intended) the best fact about Allen is that he worked with a masseuse before the 2016 NFL Combine to make his hands bigger! No, we are not joking! His hand grew 3/8-inch — here’s how Allen explained his hand enlargement treatment:

”Basically, all these muscles in my hand are very tight, the massage therapist told me,” Allen said. “So he’s working out these muscles so that my hand kind of opens up a little more when I stretch it.” And because he is dedicated to this cause, Allen has also done plenty of solo work. “A lot on my own just stretching it out and working it,” he said.

So even though Allen has never played a single snap in an NFL game, maybe the Broncos are in ... good hands after all.

Panic index: The Browns, like the Broncos, only have two wins this season. Still, Allen having to make his NFL debut against a defense led by wrecker of worlds Myles Garrett is no easy task.

That said, Allen insists he’s comfortable in the offense, and even if that offense is too boring for words, he probably won’t look like a deer in headlights as a fourth-year guy. If he does, he’s have to flop pretty hard to give the Broncos their worst quarterback performance this decade.

The Chargers’ offense is hurtling toward a full-scale rebuild

Ken Whisenhunt was fired by the Chargers from his position as offensive coordinator after a 17-16 win over the Bears. Through the first eight games of the year, the Chargers are scoring 19.6 points per game. That ranks 23rd in the NFL and is a full touchdown behind their 2018 average of 26.8 points.

The hope is that a coaching change fixes things. The Chargers better pray it does, because the whole offense may need to go in the trash if it doesn’t work.

Philip Rivers is turning 38 in December and he’s 19th in the NFL in passer rating. He has 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, including a few that were really poor decisions.

Rivers is in the final year of his contract. Melvin Gordon is also due to become a free agent in the offseason, and he’s been even worse. He’s averaging 2.5 yards per carry and has just one rushing touchdown through four games. A new contract from the Chargers looks unlikely after a lengthy, bitter holdout that kept him out of the first month of the regular season.

Other upcoming free agents for the Chargers include receivers Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, and Geremy Davis, as well as tight ends Hunter Henry and Lance Kendricks.

But the bigger issue for the Chargers is an offensive line that hasn’t been able to clear any space. That’s a problem that takes a while to solve.

Los Angeles thought it could win in 2019 right after a playoff season, but the team already has more losses this year (3-5) than it did in 2018 (12-4). Now it looks like the Chargers are headed for a fresh start in 2020.

Panic index: Just a couple years ago, the Chargers started 3-6 and then won six of their last seven to finishing with a winning record. That’ll be a difficult feat to recreate, though. Big changes are probably on the way for the LA offense.

The 49ers finally gave us the Kyle Allen we expected

The Kyle Allen hype bike got the speed wobbles in Week 8, turning off track against the 49ers’ defense before derailing entirely and speeding toward an abandoned quarry in one of 2019’s least efficient passing performances. A brutalizing San Francisco pass rush kept the second-year passer from ever finding his rhythm in the pocket, sacking him seven times and forcing him into three interceptions — the first three interceptions of his career.

That pressure and the Niners’ proficient secondary kept the Panthers from establishing any sort of downfield passing game. Allen was just 9-of-26 when it came to targeting his wide receivers, most notably connecting with Curtis Samuel on only four of 11 targets. He attempted nine deep passes of 15+ yards in Week 8, earning just one more completion (two) than he had interceptions. More than a third of his 19 completions came behind the line of scrimmage. He did this on a completely botched screen pass:

Allen had outperformed expectations in his previous four games starting in place of Cam Newton. Week 8’s performance dragged his season passer rating down from an upper-crust 106.6 to 88.5 — three points behind Marcus Mariota, who will watch Week 9’s Titans-Panthers showdown from the bench after being replaced by Ryan Tannehill.

Panic index: It’s only one game, and it came against a San Francisco defense that devoted its Sunday to grinding him into dust with a bruising pass rush. The young QB has time to put this learning experience behind him — and if he can’t, Newton should be healthy enough soon to take his place in the starting lineup.

The Jets have had a week from hell, and it’s probably going to get worse

After the successful return of Sam Darnold against the Cowboys in Week 6, he had a much less successful appearance against the Patriots, throwing four interceptions in his “ghost” game on Monday Night Football. It was the beginning of a week from hell for the Jets.

Tuesday, Darnold had his toenail removed, another in a long line of weird injuries the quarterback has experienced. On Wednesday, the Kelechi Osemele situation was given national attention when it came to light the team and player were at odds over an injury to the player.

The Jets were accused of mishandling multiple MRIs and reportedly felt that Osemele could finish the season without surgery. After getting multiple opinions, Osemele got the surgery on Friday. Then he was cut on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Jets lost by two scores to the Jaguars to fall to 1-6, and Darnold threw three more interceptions while suffering a thumb injury. On Monday, the Jets traded Leonard Williams to the Giants and learned that C.J. Mosley would miss up to six weeks with his own injury.

Then it was reported that big names Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell were potentially on the trade block in advance of the trade deadline. Neither was traded, and Adams released a statement noting that he did not ask to be traded and was blindsided by the rumors.

So you know, a pretty average week for the Jets.

Panic index: It’s definitely time to panic. Not only is it glaringly obvious that all of these things would lead to morale troubles in the locker room, ESPN went ahead and reported that is, in fact, what is happening. They report that some players “wonder whether the team has the necessary resolve to handle in-game adversity,” which sounds extremely similar to the same types of issues that dogged Adam Gase when he was the coach in Miami.

Being in any comparable situation to that Miami team is a terrible fate indeed.