x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Men in NFL with their backs to the wall

Here is a look at what many of the players, coaches and teams are doing wrong less than a month since the start of the American football season.

Just three weeks into the season, several NFL coaches, players and teams are already feeling the heat.

Chad Ochocinco, the receiver, seems lost with his new team, the New England Patriots, even as Tom Brady, the quarterback, piles up yards like no one ever before.

Kyle Orton, the quarterback, has lost 19 of his last 25 starts and fans in Denver are wondering why John Fox, the coach, is not using Tim Tebow, the back-up, in goal-line situations like the one that cost the Broncos a win at Tennessee last week.

Two quarterbacks feeling the hot breath of pass-rushers have been Michael Vick and Tony Romo. Vick's Super Bowl-or-bust Eagles are battered even if his right hand is not broken. Romo has more to worry about than his fractured rib and punctured lung - the depleted Dallas receiving crops and a centre who cannot snap the ball with any accuracy.

The Vikings would be 3-0 if half-time scores mattered. They do not. And with a tendency of wasting double-digit leads, they are 0-3.

So are Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning is out, Kerry Collins is hurt and Curtis Painter might be in, although Jim Caldwell, the coach, has not said whether his third-string quarterbacks will get his first career start this week.

The winless St Louis Rams are drawing inspiration from the crosstown Cardinals baseball team, who have put on a late-season surge to challenge for the play-offs.

"They scratched, clawed, battled, fought injuries, some tough losses, and yet here they are, with everything in front and a chance to do what they wanted to do at the beginning of the season," Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams coach, said. "I do think there's a lesson for our team there."

The coaches on the hottest seats are in Miami and Jacksonville.

The Dolphins' Tony Sparano might be the first coach to be fired this season, if Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio or Kansas City's Todd Haley do not go first. The public courtship of Jim Harbaugh by Stephen Ross, the Dolphins owner, in the off-season left Sparano on shaky ground and an 0-3 start with tough road games looming against the Chargers and Jets could sink him.

The Jaguars have already switched quarterbacks, but a coaching change might not be far behind if Del Rio's offence stays so conservative. He will have to get more aggressive and catch up to the league's prolific passing trend to keep pace with the high-scoring Saints next weekend.

Haley was hailed as the Chiefs' saviour a year ago when he led them to a surprising play-off berth and ended the Chargers' four-year run as the AFC West champions.

This year, his sour disposition is not so easily dismissed with his team getting outscored 109-27. He has already lost three games and three big-name players, with Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki out with season-ending knee injuries.

Fox's job as the Broncos coach is secure, but he might wear out his welcome in Denver if he does not consider using Tebow at least in goal-line situations. The Broncos' inability to punch it in on four tries inside the two-yard line led to a loss at Tennessee on Sunday. "I'm still figuring out this team," Fox said.

Here is what fans of both the Broncos and Tebow already know: the "Tebow Package" produced four touchdowns last year in goal-line situations like the ones on Sunday in Nashville.

Although Tebow was ill-prepared to compete for the starting job in training camp, Orton has fallen to 6-19 as Denver's starter after winning his first six games for them in 2009.

Ochocinco was criticised by Tedy Bruschi, the former New England linebacker, for his tweet about being awestruck by his team's offensive onslaught in the opener.

Bruschi said on ESPN that Ochocinco should join the pass-catching party instead of being a bystander. He still has not - he is sixth on his team with just five receptions even though Brady's 1,327 yards passing are the most in any three-week span in NFL history.