So many things send NFL coaches into a tizzy. Most of them get addressed immediately.
The one item they can’t get done quickly, and often not at all, is finding consistency.
Rarely have the first six weeks of a season provided so many up-and-down performances, from weaklings to world beaters, from turnover machines to takeaway monsters.
Consider that there are seven teams with 3-3 marks, and another one, Green Bay, at 2-2-1 heading into its Monday nighter against San Francisco. There also are eight other clubs within a half-game or full game of the break-even mark. Had the Panthers and Redskins, both 3-2, and Lions (2-3) not had byes, they might well be .500 clubs now.
Those with a positive approach will call it competitive balance. We’ll stick with mediocrity.
And, most maddeningly, inconsistency.
“Yes, it always hurts more when you know you beat yourself, but that’s part of the game,” Carolina wide receiver Torrey Smith said after a 23-17 defeat at Washington in which the Panthers lost the turnover battle 3-0. “Sometimes you overcome it, sometimes you don’t. There’s no one particular person at fault. We know it’s us as a team.
“Great teams play well all four quarters. Good teams do it sporadically. If we want to be great, we have to be consistent. We had our chances, but we got to be able to do it every Sunday.”
What so many NFL teams do is dominate one week, deliver a dud the next. In Week 6, we had:
—Chicago (3-2), so powerful in its previous game before a bye, blowing a big lead at Miami (4-2), which was coming off messing up a 17-0 edge at Cincinnati in Week 5.
—Dallas (3-3), inept offensively in a prime-time failure at Houston, turning around and pummeling Jacksonville 40-7. The Jaguars seemed like a special group after a 3-1 start that included beating New England. They are now 3-3 with two poor showings in a row.
—Tennessee (3-3), which has followed three successive victories with two awful displays of invisible offense, including falling at Cleveland (2-3-1), a team that was hammered Sunday by the Chargers. Indeed, the Titans, Jaguars and Texans, who lost their opening three before winning the next three games, are tied atop the AFC South. At .500.
—Seattle (3-3), where Pete Carroll is doing one of the best coaching jobs of his career in keeping a retooling — say rebuilding in the Emerald City and you will be thrown into Puget Sound — club competitive. But still inconsistent, despite a 27-3 thrashing of the hapless Raiders.
—Pittsburgh (3-2-1), which once again stole a win at Cincinnati, a regular occurrence over nearly the last two decades. The Steelers have so many issues on and off the field that keeping them from sinking the season is paramount now compared to finding any steadiness.
Don’t expect much of this to change as we move deep into autumn and then into winter. While there are a few teams that are quite good and a bunch that are very bad, the truth about the NFL these days is that the majority of clubs are so-so.
Some can’t find a consistent offense to balance a solid defense, including the three AFC South leaders.
“I also know that we’re not going to be able to be where we want to be unless we figure this thing out on offense,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien admitted Sunday. “And figure out what we have to do to be able to run the ball, throw the ball consistently, and at times we look like a good offense, not really today, but at times we have this season. We have to figure that out.”
Others can move the ball, put up some points, but not regularly stop anybody. The Steelers and Vikings, two teams with a history of strong defense, won’t remind you of the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters right now.
Even some of the true contenders, such as Kansas City and New England, have great offenses and sieve-like Ds.
Injuries always are a plague in the search for consistency. The schedule, especially when weather becomes an issue, can be, too.
Still, the folks at the league offices won’t bemoan ordinariness when it means those teams will be carrying the playoff races down to the end of the schedule. And fans of those teams will be thrilled that, even at 9-7 or 8-8, their guys are in the thick of things, consistency be damned.