– Bill Annechino
With another great football Sunday in the books (and the first official football Sunday of fall!), let’s take a run through the league and see what stood out.
Looking at the box score of this game, the first thing that really jumps out at you is Carson Palmer’s 4 interceptions. After posting 5 TD to 0 picks in the Cardinals’ first two games, Palmer came back to earth with his 0:4 effort on Sunday. It would be lazy analysis to say that these interceptions were the reason that the Cardinals lost the game, because the first one came with 6:30 to play in the 4th quarter, with the Cardinals down 14 points. Each of the ensuing Cardinals drives ended with interceptions, so they did effectively end this game. But the Bills did not win this game on points scored off of turnovers. Tyrod Taylor only threw for 119 yards with a 0:1 TD:INT ration, but he added 76 yards on 8 rushes (with a touchdown). The real damage was done by LeSean McCoy, going for 110 yards on 17 carries (6.5 ypc) and 2 touchdowns. Mike Gillislee even added 20 yards on 3 carries, showing how every Bills runner was gashing the Cardinals pretty much every time they touched the ball. The lone bright spot for the Cardinals was David Johnson, who scored both of their touchdowns and added 111 all-purpose yards. Going forward from here, the 1-2 Cardinals are hosting the 2-1 Rams (weird, I know) in Arizona in what may be the second must-win game (this Bills/Cardinals game was the first) of the young season. The Bills may have saved Rex’s job for now, but they have a test next week as they travel to Foxboro to become the latest sacrificial lamb offered up to the suspended Tom Brady.
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Broncos wide receivers asked for the football more during the week. You are also probably aware that they got their wish. I’m not sure what to think of Trevor Siemian, but I think the bigger story is that the Bengals defense is a far cry from where it was last year. It is possible that losing Reggie Nelson (to Oakland) in the offseason weakened their defense in ways that were not immediately obvious. The big story here was the Broncos’ offense, and Siemian’s ability to get the ball to his receivers deep. This was not the same Denver offense that was making their living with screen plays going for big yardage; this was a genuine, NFL vertical attack. It may not be the prettiest to watch, but Gary Kubiak’s offense is highly effective. Something that’s doubly-funny to me is that the Texans ran Kubiak and Wade Phillips out of town and now they’re winning rings together in Denver. Wild stuff. If you are a Bengals fan, I would be concerned with this team’s lack of ability to do anything on defense, as well as their offense’s poor performance when AJ Green doesn’t go nuts. If not for a last second field goal in week 1, the Bengals (a popular preseason Super Bowl pick) would be 0-3. How big of a part of the team’s success was Hue Jackson the last few seasons? Possibly more than people thought. The time to panic in Cincinnati is now.
Kirk Cousins is Trent Edwards. When was the last time we saw a quarterback lose his confidence so quickly? There were deep balls open in this game for Cousins to try to take advantage of, and he is checking down far too readily. Cousins under threw a wide open Rashad Ross in the end zone early in the second quarter, which is the second straight week that I’ve personally seen Cousins cost his team 6 points. Cousins would rebound and have a pretty nice game, completing 60% of his passes and throwing for just about 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in the process. Hopefully this win was enough for him to win the Redskins
locker room back, if he ever really lost it. In all honesty, this was a must-win game for the Redskins and one I expected them to win. What I didn’t expect was how they won. The Giants were leading 21-9 in the second quarter. They were outscored 20-6 the rest of the game, with Cousins throwing two unanswered touchdowns to bring them back to the lead, 23-21. The Giants also have to be pleased with the progression of their wide receiver unit. After 2 uninspiring games, Odell Beckham broke out in a big way this week, going over a hundred yards. Victor Cruz also seems to be playing at his former level. Sterling Shepard appears to be the real deal, meaning the Giants have one of the better young receiver duos complemented by a veteran who is still playing at a high level. This year’s Giants team really doesn’t look all that different from last year’s, in that last year’s Giants were historically bad in 1 score games (a stat that tends to regress to the mean). Their first 3 games have been decided by 6 total points, this time with the Giants on the winning side of the exchange, going 2-1. That goes to show that a few plays here and there make the difference between 2-1 and 1-2. You may remember they started out 0-2 last year with their games being decided by 5 total points. Eli Manning is a future Hall of Fame quarterback who is occasionally prone to mistakes via trying to do too much. He has two rings and I think most Giants fans will accept the good with the bad with Eli, even though his Favre-ian interception cost his team the game.
Well, it looks like whatever was wrong with Aaron Rodgers isn’t wrong with him anymore. Rodgers was fantastic, throwing 4 touchdowns in the first half before handing the ball off to Eddie Lacy for most of the second half. Also encouraging for Green Bay was that Jordy Nelson looks like he’s back to full strength. Having him back makes everything easier for the Pack. I’m not sure when exactly the Lions plan on going vertical, possibly getting Golden Tate involved, but they should have done it earlier. I like Theo Riddick’s skill set, but he is asked to do too much as the primary running back as well as the pass catching back. This inability to run the football (2.2 yds/carry as a team) took its toll on the Lions’ offense, which became one-dimensional. The Lions’ offense never really got going until the game was out of reach, but once it was, Matt Stafford took over. Stafford has long been a garbage time machine, and this game was vintage Stafford. Somehow this ended up as a one score game, but it never really felt that close.
Has any coach ever had less to work with when starting a career than Hue Jackson? As if the Johnny Manziel nightmare, RG3, Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon weren’t enough, their kicker got hurt in practice this week. Whatever. No Joe Haden in this game meant that the Miami receivers were in a position to put up some numbers, and they did not disappoint. Jarvis Landry went over a hundred yards, and him and DeVante Parker both added touchdowns. Terrelle Pryor had 8/144, which is incredible. I can’t remember a player coming into the NFL as a quarterback and switching positions and having as much success as Pryor is having, but he actually seems to be a viable option at receiver. Cody Kessler completed just about 2/3 of his passes and didn’t turn the ball over, which is about as much as you can ask from your third-string quarterback (well, unless you’re the Patriots). Cody Parkey bailed the Dolphins out by missing what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulations after Ryan Tannehill fumbled on his own 35 yard line with 25 seconds left to play. However, the Dolphins would go on to win in overtime and get their first win of the year in a game that nobody besides the two fan bases involved wanted to see.
Is it possible that Marcus Mariota isn’t very good? He was a high draft pick and yet, his coach came out this summer and said they were going to run the ball as much as humanly possible. Do you think you would hear Chuck Pagano say that about Andrew Luck? Mariota has consistently underwhelmed to the point that it’s beginning to look like the Titans may know something about their “franchise quarterback” that the rest of us do not. It is a legitimate question, especially when you actually put eyes on Mariota. Watching him, I always feel confused as to how he was the second overall pick. Sometimes you will see him rip off a nice run or fire off a good throw, but the consistency isn’t there for him, and I don’t see a real ability to get the ball to his receivers in places that they can do damage. This was the sort of encouraging game for the Raiders defense that they needed after the debacles of their first two games. In particular, Sean Smith finally looks comfortable in Del Rio’s defensive system, and showed that with an interception today. This was actually the most complete game I’ve seen the Raiders play this year, even though it didn’t come with a high point total. The defensive play is very encouraging, and Carr was effective, completing 60% of his passes for almost 250 yards and a touchdown. One thing to monitor going forward is, while Latavius Murray got the touchdown on the ground, DeAndre Washington was clearly more effective running the ball, averaging 9.5 yards per carry to 3.7 for Murray.
What a performance by the Minnesota defense. I really can’t say enough good things about what the Vikings have done since losing Teddy Bridgewater. They brought Sam Bradford along slowly enough to know the playbook before he made his first start (avoiding making the same mistake that they made with Josh Freeman a few years back). They didn’t panic when Adrian Peterson went down, instead trusting their newly-acquired quarterback to make plays. I especially liked Norv Turner getting Kyle Rudolph involved in this game; Rudolph is one of the more underrated tight ends in the NFL and he had a very solid game against the Panthers. They’ve also looked like the best defense in football. That was on display in a major way against the Panthers, who repeatedly failed to protect Cam Newton. The Vikings defense picked up 8 sacks in this game, and even that undersells how dominant they were. Cam Newton simply could not get anything going all game, and I think this is a Panthers team that has some soul searching to do in the next week. A lot can change between now and the end of the season, but they are only projected to have a 36% chance of making the playoffs right now, and must get better in a hurry if they want to buck the trend.
This is one of those games that it’s unfortunate someone has to win. It really was a competition to see who could suck the least. The Ravens advance to possibly the least-inspiring 3-0 start in league history. Although, when it comes time to figure out playoff spots, these wins count the same as any other. According to playoffstatus.com this 3-0 start means the Ravens have a 64% chance of making the playoffs. Seriously, go look at the box score for this game and try to figure out who won this game without looking at the score. You’d probably pick the Ravens because, while Flacco threw two interceptions, Bortles threw 3. Turnovers have been the biggest hole in Bortles’s game since he came into the league, and that has continued into this season. The one bright spot for Jacksonville in this game is that Allen Robinson finally caught his first (and second) touchdown of the season. After falling to 0-3, the Jaguars appear to have around a 12% chance of making the playoffs, which not only signifies another lost season for the Jaguars but, in light of their offseason spending and likely pressure from ownership to make a change, the end of Gus Bradley’s reign as coach, possibly sooner rather than later.
The Colts’ offensive game plan seemed to be exploiting Jason Verrett with T.Y. Hilton and it looks to have worked pretty well. The Colts and Chargers are two classic “good-bad teams” in that they will probably beat the other bad teams, but I don’t see them winning against many teams that are actually good.
The hope for the Colts is that their division is bad, so their 1-2 record is far from a death sentence, especially since I think they have a very good chance of winning 3 of their next 4 games, which would put their record at 4-3.
If they can keep pace with the Texans, who are admittedly a better team but prone to misfires due to their inconsistent quarterback, this Colts team could win the AFC South for the 4th time in the last 5 years. As for the Chargers, the road ahead is not so easy. They play in a division with three teams who are pretty clearly better than them, so they may be headed towards a top-10 draft pick and another miserable year for Philip Rivers, who is a national treasure.
This game was terrible and never had a chance of being competitive, so let’s take this opportunity to think of what the 49ers may need to do to upgrade their personnel in order to become a contender again. First off, they need a quarterback who can actually play NFL football. Blaine Gabbert is a capable backup, but if he’s your starter, you aren’t in good position. Carlos Hyde is a decent running back, although frequently injured. Vance McDonald is an average tight end, so let’s leave that alone. They definitely need at least two more receivers to pair with Torrey Smith who probably kicks himself every day for taking the money and signing with San Francisco. Their offensive line is average, but possibly a position group that’s on the rise, especially once they get their first round pick (guard Joshua Barnett) on the field. On defense, they could use a cornerback or two. The defensive line needs help at pretty much everything from pass rush to interior defense. The linebacking crew besides Navorro Bowman and Aaron Lynch is suspect. Eric Reid is a good safety, but they could use another safety to put next to him. So things are not exactly looking up in San Francisco. One major question is why Colin Kaepernick never saw the field in this loss. People were chanting for it, and Gabbert was clearly ineffective. Kaepernick is not some joke of a quarterback. He may not have been great the last few years, but he has played in a Super Bowl. Does this mean that Blaine Gabbert’s grip on the starting job is absolutely rock solid? If so, why? He has shown me nothing to suggest that his starting job should be so secure and yet there was no motion from Chip Kelly to pull his ineffective starter in favor of the quarterback who has had exponentially more NFL success. That is bizarre to me. Nice to see Seattle breaking out of their funk though. Looks like yet another year of the worst fans in sports pretending they knew Seattle had a football team before 2012.
I don’t know how Jeff Fisher still has a job in the NFL, or why some people consider him to be a good coach. The Rams seemed to win this game in spite of themselves, most notably on a very questionable call by Fisher late in the game. Immediately following the Tavon Austin touchdown, the score was 37-26 in favor of the Rams. Those of you who are mathematically inclined will realize that that is an 11-point differential, or a field goal plus a touchdown with a successful two-point conversion. By kicking the extra point, the Rams would have gone up by 12, which would require Tampa Bay to score 2 touchdowns. By successfully converting the 2 point conversion, the Rams would have gone up by 13, which also requires Tampa Bay to score 2 touchdowns. In other words, there is no fundamental difference between being up 12 and 13, but there is a big difference between 12 and 11 points. In attempting that bizarre two point conversion (which failed, because of course it did), Jeff Fisher was faced with a decision and his choice was the one that did the most possible harm to his team’s chances of winning. It was nice to see the Rams finally score a touchdown, and their offense showed its first signs of life all season in this game. Tampa Bay clearly has a talented quarterback in Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans is an upper-echelon receiver, but this is a team that still needs to make strides on defense to have any hopes of seriously contending at some point.
I had analysis written for this game, but Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 6 interceptions and I don’t really know what else to say about this except that the Chiefs should have had more points because of the 6 picks and also because of a Spencer Ware fumble/touchback that could have been a touchdown. To put that into perspective, in Aaron Rodgers’s two MVP seasons, he threw 6 picks and 5 picks, respectively. Not in a game, all season. Those are obviously incredible seasons, but that should show you what kind of a meltdown happened in Kansas City on Sunday. Last week, I advocated for the Chiefs to throw to Travis Kelce more and, while I doubt they read my column, they did just that. Kelce put up a 6/89/1 line that could have been even better. The NFL is the weirdest professional sports league, and it’s tough to read a Chiefs team that had to mount a furious comeback against the Chargers in week 1, got pushed around by the Texans in week 2 and beat down the Jets in week 3. For this reason, I say that a win’s a win because all that will really matter at the end of the year is who makes the playoffs, because once you make the playoffs, there are an infinite number of ways to lose to the Patriots.
Carson Wentz is undoubtedly the real deal. Every time I watch this kid, not only do I forget that he is a rookie, but I see him making throw after throw that makes me think I’m already watching a top-10 quarterback in the league. The touchdown throw he had to Darren Sproles was everything that makes Wentz special. The pocket collapsed around him, he ran up to the line like he was going to scramble, then took off laterally before firing a strike to Sproles, who did the rest. Jim Schwartz continues to show why he may be the best defensive mind in football, this time holding the vaunted Steelers’ offense to 3 points. This game is of significance for the Steelers going forward because it marks the last game of Le’Veon Bell’s 3 game suspension. Expect the Steelers’ offense to look a lot different the next time we see it, with arguably the NFL’s best all-around running back returning to action. The easy criticism against the Eagles thus far was that they had beat two bad teams (Chicago and Cleveland). Well, after what they did to Pittsburgh, it is finally time to admit that the Eagles have the look of a legitimately good team this year, and appear to be the team to beat in the NFC East. They have their bye next week, but 4 of their next 5 games after the bye are on the road, with the home game being a game against a Vikings team that looks like possibly the NFC’s best. I don’t expect the Eagles to stand at 8-0 after that stretch, but if they can emerge with something like a 6-2 record (the Redskins, Cowboys and Lions games look winnable and the Giants game is a toss-up, so indulge me), then it’s time to start seriously talking about the Eagles as a threat in the NFC. As for the Steelers, they managed 2-1 without Le’Veon Bell, so that has to be considered a moral victory at the very least. Mike Pouncey’s play has been troublesome at the center position, and I noticed many interior rushers coming free in the Eagles game. The Steelers will have to get this under control in order to maintain the level of play we have come to expect from them.
This was a game that the Cowboys dominated from start to finish. I had been waiting for Ezekiel Elliott’s first big game, and this was it. Seemingly gashing the Bears every time he got the ball, Elliott managed 140 yards on 30 carries (4.7 ypc). Dez Bryant made his first touchdown reception of the season, which is an encouraging sign. Dak Prescott continues to impress, meaning that the Cowboys could very well be in good position when Tony Romo comes back from injury. On the Chicago side of the ball, I saw a few things that pleased me and one thing that did not. I have been railing against Jeremy Langford for a while now and it appears that the Bears have finally realized that, while they may not have better options, Langford is not the option and it makes sense to see what you have on the roster. Both running backs had a long run that brought up their ypc, but when you take out the long runs, Howard averaged 1 yard a carry and Langford averaged 2.6 so maybe the answer is not on the Bears’ roster. Either way, it is encouraging to see them trying things out. Another thing I liked to see was Brian Hoyer putting some balls right on the money. Hoyer threw for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns, which is as good as you can ask from your backup quarterback (Hoyer is among the best backups in the league). Which brings me to what I didn’t like: Kevin White, again. Late in the game, Hoyer put a picture perfect 50 yard bomb right in White’s hands, only for the ball to go right through them. His 14 targets were twice as many as he had ever had in a game before and five more than anyone else on the team, which clearly shows that the Bears think he is worthy of being a large part of their offense. Dropping that deep throw from Hoyer was the kind of mental mistake that simply cannot be happening at the pro level from someone as physically gifted as White. If this average (at best) Cowboys defense can hold the Bears to 17 points, that’s probably the strongest sign that this is going to be a lost season for Chicago. Hopefully they make better use of their top-10 pick this year than they did with their last one.
That’s what I saw this weekend. Love it? Hate it? Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments section.
– Bill Annechino (Twitter)