The Flagrant Foul: A Week 4 Preview and a Thursday Night Recap

There was nothing Dolphin corners could do with AJ Green last night. (Getty Images)

There was nothing Dolphin corners could do with AJ Green last night. (Getty Images)

– Bill Annechino

Thursday Night Recap

Bengals 22 Dolphins 7

This was essentially an elimination game for both teams.  1-3 is pretty much a death sentence in the NFL, especially when you play in a division with unbeaten teams, as the Bengals and Dolphins do.  With a short week, couple with a home game, all signs pointed to Cincinnati winning this game (in addition to them being the better football team), and they did not disappoint.  There’s a few reasons you can point to specifically for why the Bengals were able to pull this out.  

The most important reason I saw was the return of Vontaze Burfict.  After serving his 3 game suspension for trying to kill Antonio Brown in the playoffs last year, Burfict was back and the entire defense looked better for it.  Burfict himself only recorded 3 tackles, but he did manage to deflect a pass.  The big defensive playmakers were on the line for the Bengals.  Geno Atkins had 1.5 sacks, an additional tackle for a loss and managed to hit Ryan Tannehill 3 times besides the sacks.  The best game of the night belonged to Carlos Dunlap, however.  Dunlap made 5 total tackles, including 2 sacks and a tackle for a loss.  He also deflected a pass and managed to hit Ryan Tannehill 2 additional times.  Simply put, he was living in the Miami backfield.  If you think all these quarterback hits and sacks translated to a disjointed performance by the Miami offense, you are absolutely correct.

Miami couldn’t get anything going on offense after their first possession.  In fact, this is how each of their drives ended after they found a wide open Kenny Stills for a touchdown on their first drive of the game:  Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception, Turnover on Downs.  That’s probably the worst stretch from a team you will see all year in a game where that team didn’t get shut out.  I think the Dolphins are nearing a decision point with Ryan Tannehill where they are going to have to look hard in the mirror and ask themselves whether or not they actually see themselves being able to contend seriously with a quarterback who really has never looked anything better than league-average at any point in his career.  It must be noted that the Bengals’ defensive line probably wouldn’t have feasted like they did if not for the absence of Mike Pouncey.  Losing a center of Pouncey’s caliber is going to be a negative for any team, especially a team like the Dolphins, whose offensive line has never fully recovered from the insanely stupid Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying saga.  Miami’s offense was terrible in this game, but that doesn’t mean that the team who beat them had a banner day on offense.  

Indeed, the Bengals’ offense left a lot to be desired from me in this game.  As a lifelong football fan, I will never understand why some coaches feel the need to be cute and outthink themselves.  Case in point, Marvin Lewis regarding A.J. Green tonight.  With ten minutes to play in the first half, Green had 123 yards on 8 catches, with a touchdown.  He finished with 173 yards on 10 catches with the 1 touchdown.  My question is:  why stop throwing to Green?  He was clearly on fire in this game, and the Bengals’ offense suffered when he stopped getting the ball.  Green scored the only touchdown of this game, with Cincinnati seeming content to kick 5 field goals and play field position the rest of the game.  Green was catching everything and could have gone over 300 yards in this game if the Bengals really wanted to put on a show and prove why they belong in the conversation in the AFC.  Instead, Marvin Lewis showed us why he makes the playoffs every year and has never won a playoff game:  he went conservative.  I’m admittedly an A.J. Green fan, but you feed the hot hand in sports.  

From here, the Dolphins get the Titans at home, and the Bengals travel to Dallas.  Tennessee is a very winnable game for the Dolphins, but you have to look at the bigger picture with this Dolphins team:  they are not serious contenders for the AFC East or playoffs.  Dallas will be a good test for Cincinnati, since they are playing at a high level with an emerging quarterback.  The Bengals have gotten themselves back to 2-2, so let’s see what their chances of contention look like, realistically.  

To do this, we will go back to our old friends at playoffstatus.com.  They still give the Bengals only a 31% chance of making the playoffs, and if we dig a little deeper, it’s clear to see why.  The Ravens and Broncos have both gotten off to hot starts and seem to be in the driver seat to winning their divisions.  I’ve called the Ravens uninspiring this season, but their defense is playing at a very high level and Joe Flacco simply doesn’t make many mistakes.  In a lot of ways, he is Alex Smith, which brings us to the Chiefs.  Kansas City, as well as Oakland, sits at 2-1.  These teams feature a lot of talent, but they will probably be contending for Wild Card spots with Denver in the lead in the AFC West and doing everything they can to defend their title.  In addition to the Raiders and the Chiefs, the Steelers also are at 2-1 and have the kind of talent that many thought could carry them to the Super Bowl this year.  They are also getting Le’Veon Bell back this week, which is about as impactful of an addition as any team will get this year.  The Texans and Colts may also both finish with winning records, which seems to suggest that there are at least 5 teams contending for 2 Wild Card spots.  This weekend will make the picture a little more clear (or as clear as it’s going to be trying to forecast the playoff picture after 4 weeks of football.  


Week 4 Preview

Colts @ Jaguars (9:30 EST)

Key stats:  Indianapolis is 5th in points scored per game, Jacksonville is 26th.  The Colts are the 30th ranked scoring defense, the Jaguars are 25th.  Both defenses are averaging an even 4 yards per carry on the ground, but the Indianapolis offense is averaging a full yard per carry more than Jacksonville’s.  The Colts are 9th in passing yards per game and the Jaguars are 12th, but the Jaguars have the 7th ranked pass defense whereas the Colts are rolling out the 27th ranked pass defense.

Matchup to watch:  Jalen Ramsey vs. T. Y. Hilton, of course.  Ramsey appears to be a star in the making at cornerback, with the attitude to match.  T. Y. Hilton is possibly the fastest receiver in the NFL and was last seen making a fool out of Jason Verrett (only one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks).  This will be a good one.

Also of note:  Can Allen Robinson build on the success he had last week?  After a pedestrian start to the season, he found the endzone for the first 2 times against the Ravens.  The yardage numbers aren’t there yet, but he could look to build on a nice afternoon.

Hot take:  I hate Andrew Luck and constantly question whether or not he’s a good quarterback, but I hate Blake Bortles more and I’m pretty sure I know for a fact that he is not a good quarterback.

Bills @ Patriots (1:00EST)

Key Stats:  New England is 5th in the NFL in scoring offense and defense. Buffalo is last in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate, but New England is 28th in the NFL in stopping teams on 3rd down.  The Patriots are 28-4 against the Bills since 2000.  

Matchups to watch:  There are three matchups I’ll be watching.  The first is Chris Long vs. whoever suits up at left tackle for the Bills.  Cordy Glenn practiced Wednesday for the first time since he got hurt in week 1, so he may be able to play.  If he does suit up, he would be getting his first game action since his injury.  His backup, Cyrus Kouandjio, is trending towards not playing after suffering an ankle injury.  If neither one can go, look for the newly-signed Michael Ola (from the Giants’ practice squad) to get the reps.  Long is enjoying a career renaissance in New England (to the surprise of no one).  He will be a major test for whoever suits up at left tackle for Buffalo.  The second matchup I will be watching is the New England tight end unit against the Bills’ linebacking corps.  Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski make up what is easily the best tight end group in the NFL.  Likewise, Zach and Preston Brown are playing some of the best linebacking outside of Carolina.  This will be an interesting chess match between Rex Ryan and Josh McDaniels.  The third matchup I will have my eyes on is Jerry Hughes against Nate Solder:  one of the game’s most underrated pass rushers against possible its most underrated left tackle.  Need I say more?

Also of note:  Jimmy Garoppolo is trending towards starting, but neither quarterback appeared to be limited in what they could do in practice, which is a huge sigh of relief for us Pats fans.  

Hot take:  This represents the Bills’ best chance to beat the Patriots in the foreseeable future, getting a crack at them sans-Brady.  If Rex screws this one up, a mob of Buffalonians should take his lap band out and beat him with it.

Titans @ Texans (1:00 EST)

 

Can the Texans survive the loss of JJ Watt? (Getty Images)

Can the Texans survive the loss of JJ Watt? (Getty Images)

Key stats:  The Texans have the best pass defense in the NFL, the Titans have the 23rd ranked passing offense.  The Titans have the 8th ranked rushing offense, the Texans have the 27th ranked rushing defense.  The Texans and Titans are tied for last in the NFL in scoring, at an even 14 points per game.  They are also the 7th (Houston) and 8th (Tennessee) ranked scoring defenses in the NFL.  The Texans are the third-stingiest defense on 3rd down, allowing opponents to convert a mere 26.8% of the time, whereas the Titans allow opponents to convert 41.9% of the time.  On offense, the Texans convert 44% of their third downs (2.1% more often than the Titans allow) and the Titans convert 39.5% of theirs (12.7% more often than the Texans allow).  

Matchups to watch:  Jadeveon Clowney vs. Taylor Lewan.  Lewan has quietly been playing the best left tackle in the NFL, Clowney is finally looking like the player Houston drafted first overall.  Another player to keep an eye on is Jurrell Casey on the Titans.  If interior line play is your thing (and why wouldn’t it be?), Casey is already on your radar.  If not, pay attention if you want to see one of the truly disruptive interior defenders in the NFL at work.  

Also of note:  Marcus Mariota has probably been the worst quarterback in the NFL this year.  Are we sure this guy is any good at all? I’m not, and you shouldn’t be either.  I want you, the reader, to pay attention to any footage you see of Mariota from this game and ask yourself if he looks like an NFL quarterback from a decision-making standpoint.  

Hot take:  In yet another semi-retarded display of misplaced masculinity, J.J. Watt has finally injured himself in an attempt to build his legend even more by returning from back surgery long before his body has healed.  

Browns @ Redskins (1:00 EST)

Key Stats:  Washington is last in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert their third down attempts 54.3% of the time.  The Redskins are 2nd in the NFL in passing offense, the Browns are 24th in the NFL in passing defense.  The Browns are 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt, the Redskins are 24th in the NFL against the run.  

Matchups to watch:  This one is going to be all about Terrelle Pryor vs. Josh Norman.  Norman is playing up to his usual lofty standards as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  Meanwhile, Pryor has emerged as a true weapon and one of the most intriguing stories in the league this year.  His size and speed make him a tough cover for anyone; I will be paying attention to see whether or not he can handle going up against one of the truly elite corners in this league.  

Also of note:  Can Kirk Cousins continue to build on the victory he led the Redskins to last week?  If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum and make the throws he has to make, there is no reason he can’t continue to win back the locker room.

Hot take:  The Browns would probably be better off letting Pryor play quarterback than Kessler, but I think it’s fair to wonder if they should have let Johnny Football work through his drug issues.  Cocaine seems to be to Johnny what spinach was to Popeye, and why not?  We’ve seen great players like Michael Irvin and Lawrence Taylor ride cocaine addictions to the hall of fame; is it such a stretch to wonder if Manziel could have done the same thing?  

Seahawks @ Jets (1:00 EST)

Key stats:  Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 6 interceptions last week.  Did you see this?  Did you hear about this?  The Seahawks are top-10 in both rushing and passing defense, the Jets have a top-10 rushing attack and a league-average passing attack.  The Seahawks and Jets are both top-10 defenses on third down, but the Jets are the third best team in the league at converting third downs, the Seahawks are league-average.  

Matchup to watch:  Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. his wide receivers, offensive playcaller and teammates.  He threw 6 interceptions last week, if you didn’t know that.  Richard Sherman is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Brandon Marshall is one of the league’s best receivers.  Discuss.  Also, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson against possibly the worst offensive line in football.  This isn’t good.  

Also of note:  Last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5 but 6 interceptions.  Russell Wilson is not at 100%, so it remains to be seen what sort of impact his ankle injury will have on this game.  If he takes a few hard hits, that will probably be enough to chase him from the game.  Additionally, the Seahawks signed C.J. Spiller this week, so it will be interesting to see what his role in the offense is immediately and if it portends to him having a bigger role going forward.  

Hot take:  After posting a Delhomme (6 turnovers) in his last game, Ryan Fitzpatrick may be irreparably ruined.  This game could be remembered as the game that spurned the Geno Smith resurrection in New York.  

Panthers @ Falcons (1:00 EST)

Julio Jones will look to get going against Carolina's tough defense. (Getty Images)

Julio Jones will look to get going against Carolina’s tough defense. (Getty Images)

Key stats:  The Panthers are a top-5 passing defense, the Falcons are a top-5 passing attack.  The Panthers are 6th in the league in 3rd down defense, the Falcons are only 20th in the NFL in converting their 3rd downs on offense.  The Falcons are the NFL’s top scoring offense, the Panthers are the 18th-ranked scoring defense in the league.  

Matchups to watch:  Julio Jones against Bene Benwikere.  Julio only had 1 catch last week.  Admittedly, Devonta Freeman was carrying most of the load.  Benwikere has been playing pretty solid cornerback this year.  If Julio is healthy, he’s probably the second-best receiver in the NFL.  If he is truly healthy and not being used as a decoy, this will be quite the test for Benwikere.  

Also of note:  Can Devonta Freeman capitalize on last week’s breakout game and end up with a larger share of the backfield touches?  

Hot take:  Dan Quinn looks like Wolfgang Cutler from Oz.

Dan Quinn

Wolfgang Cutler

Raiders @ Ravens (1:00 EST)  

Key stats:  The Raiders have the worst passing defense in the NFL, the Ravens’ passing defense is the 3rd best.  The Raiders also have the 4th worst rushing defense, whereas the Ravens have the 8th ranked run D.  The Raiders are top-10 offense, with a top-10 passing attack and the 2nd ranked rushing offense in the league.  The Ravens are below-average in both stats.  The Raiders, for all their defensive shortcomings, do boast a top-10 third down defense.  

Matchup to watch:  Ronnie Stanley vs. Khalil Mack.  What a matchup.  Stanley has looked like he belongs as a rookie, tasked with protecting Flacco’s blindside.  You already know what Khalil Mack is and what he is capable of.  This will be a good one.  

Also of note:  If the Raiders win and move to 3-1, it will sure look like they are the contender we all thought they were in the offseason.  If the Ravens win and go to 4-0, they’ll look like the contender none of us thought they were.  This league is so weird.  

Hot take:  Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback.  Kiss the ring.  

Lions @ Bears (1:00 EST)

Key stats:  The Bears are 30th in the NFL in rushing offense and they are 23rd in passing.  That isn’t very good. The Lions are 3rd in the league in passing, and the Bears have the 10th best passing defense in the NFL by yardage allowed, but that’s mostly because they’re facing the 4th fewest passing attempts per game in the league.  The Bears are bottom-10 in 3rd down defense, whereas the Lions are converting their 3rd downs at an elite rate, ranking 3rd in the category.  I don’t think it takes a statistical breakdown to show you how this game will probably go.  

Matchup to watch:  Marvin Jones is leading the NFL in receiving yards, Jacoby Glenn is the best cornerback on the Bears, which is a little bit like being the hottest girl at a Weight Watchers meeting, but here we are.  Can Marvin continue to tear apart the league?  Do you actually care about this game?  Please, God, tell me you don’t.  

Also of note:  Will this be the game that Golden Tate finally gets involved?  I’ve stopped caring, honestly.  With Jeremy Langford out, will someone else on the Bears step up and vindicate me for all of the negative things I’ve said about Langford?  

Hot take:  Here’s a hot take:  the Bears are a steaming pile of shit.  

Broncos @ Buccaneers (4:05 EST)

Key stats:  Tampa Bay is a surprising 6th in the NFL in passing yards per game.  You already know that Denver’s defense dominates, but you probably didn’t know that they’re 30th in the league in 3rd down defense.  In other words, they do most of their damage on the first 2 downs, which is surprising for a team with the pass rush that the Broncos have.  Tampa Bay is just about league average on their offensive 3rd down attempts, so there is an opportunity for them to extend some drives.  

Matchups to watch:  Von Miller vs. anyone trying to block him?  I have mentioned the Buccaneers’ Donovan Smith as a contender for the worst left tackle in football.  Shane Ray broke out in a big way last week, let’s see if he can build on that this week with a very appetizing matchup.  

Also of note:  It will be interesting to see whether or not the Broncos continue the aerial attack they showed off last week.  Honestly, Siemian looked pretty good airing it out, so I see no reason why they wouldn’t.  

Hot take:  This feels like a trap game, doesn’t it?

Rams @ Cardinals (4:25 EST)

Key stats:  The Rams are 31st in passing offense and 22nd in rushing.  The Cardinals are bringing the 11th ranked passing attack and the 20th ranked rushing offense.  On defense, the Cardinals have the 6th ranked passing defense, the Rams are at 17.  The Cardinals, meanwhile, are the 5th worst rushing defense and the Rams are league average.  The Cardinals are actually one of the worst 3rd down defenses in the league, but it’s cool because the Rams are one of the worst 3rd down offenses.  

Matchups to watch:  Aaron Donald vs. the world.  This guy is so much fun to watch, and I don’t think the Rams are in a position to do much stopping him.  Look for Donald to wreak havoc.  If you need to see an outside matchup, Larry Fitzgerald is playing some of the best receiver in the NFL this year; will anyone on the Rams be able to stop him?  

Also of note:  I really hope Carson Palmer doesn’t, you know, throw 4 picks again this game.  It would also be cool if Patrick Peterson had another freak show one-handed interception.  You guys like those, right?

Hot take:  I used to be a Rams fan.  Now I’m not.  I hate them.

Saints @ Chargers (4:25 EST)

Key stats:  The Saints are 0-3, the Chargers are 1-2.  Who saw that coming?  The Saints are the worst run defense in the league and the 8th worst passing defense.  Again, who saw that coming?  The Chargers are actually the 3rd worst passing defense but they’re slightly above average against the run.  

Matchups to watch:  Brandin Cooks against Jason Verrett.  If those two match up, can Cooks do the same things that T.Y. Hilton did last week, Verrett is in for another long game.  Besides that, I’ll be watching Melvin Ingram on the outside, particularly if he lines up against the left side of the Saints offensive line, which has not been very good.  

Also of note:  Both of these teams are pretty similar, although the Chargers are better on defense than the Saints and the Saints offensive weapons are a little healthier and better than the Chargers’.  

Hot take:  This is the “We Should Have Kept Darren Sproles” Bowl.  

Cowboys @ 49ers (4:25 EST)

Key stats:  Dak Prescott is completing 2/3 of his passes this year.  Ezekiel Elliott finally broke out last week, and the 49ers are the 10th worst run defense in the NFL.  The Cowboys are the best team in the NFL at converting their third downs on offense, the 49ers are 19th in the NFL in 3rd down defense.  

Matchups to watch:  Dak Prescott vs. expectations.  Ezekiel Elliott vs. the 49ers defense.  Me vs. watching a single second of this game.  

Also of note:  At one point, this would have been the premiere matchup in the NFL.  Unfortunately for fans of these teams, that point was like 1993.  

Hot take:  Chip Kelly probably ranks last on the list of coaches I’d want to have a beer with.  But he definitely ranks last on the list of coaches I would want to go to a bar with.  Imagine trying to talk to girls with Chip Kelly as your wingman.  You’d be hitting it off with a girl, she’d go to the bathroom with one of her friends, they’d both come out and be like “we have to go, your friend keeps talking to my friend about football and saying he’d love to see her in shoulder pads”.  I hate that dude.  

Chiefs @ Steelers (Sunday Night Football)

Marcus Peters gets the unenviable task of trying to stop Antonio Brown. (Getty Images)

Marcus Peters gets the unenviable task of trying to stop Antonio Brown. (Getty Images)

Key stats:  The Steelers have the 4th best rushing defense in the NFL, the Chiefs have the 8th worst.  The Steelers have the 2nd worst passing defense, the Chiefs have the 11th best.  The Steelers are in the top-10 for 3rd down efficiency, the Chiefs are in the bottom 10.  

Matchups to watch:  Marcus Peters has become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  He will be tasked with guarding Antonio Brown.  I think you’re probably familiar with Brown’s work.  The Steelers’ left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, has been one of the worst offensive tackles in football this year.  He will see a lot of Tamba Hali in this game, who has been playing up to his usual standard of one of the better pass rushers in the league.  

Also of note:  Remember when I told you the Chiefs were a bottom-10 rushing defense?  The Steelers get Le’Veon Bell back from suspension this week, so it will be interesting to see what he does against one of the easier matchups he will face.  Jamaal Charles appears to be trending towards not playing again this week, so it looks like another week of Spencer Ware.  

Hot take:  See I don’t really know where I can go with a hot take here because everything Ben Roethlisberger or Le’Veon Bell-related is pretty inappropriate so I got nothing for you guys on this one.  

Giants @ Vikings (Monday Night Football)

Key stats:  The Vikings have a top-10 passing and rushing defense.  The Giants, meanwhile, have been league-average against the pass, but are actually better than the Vikings against the run.  The Giants have been right about league-average running the ball, but the Vikings are dead last in the category, averaging a measly 2.1 yards per carry.  The Giants bring a top-5 passing attack to this game, whereas the Vikings are bottom-5.  

Matchup to watch:  The Giants have a fearsome defensive line, and the Vikings offensive line has underachieved all year.  So the trenches will decide this, and every other, game.  I give JPP a lot of grief in this space, mostly for blowing off part of his hand with a firework, which will never not be funny.  However, he has been the Giants best defensive lineman this year, and that deserves to be mentioned.  Xavier Rhodes made his season debut last week, and this week he gets to guard Odell Beckham, Jr.  This should be a fun matchup to watch in what promises to be a great game.  

Also of note:  Don’t look now, but Sam Bradford has been playing some of the best quarterback in the NFL this year.  Minnesota trading a first round pick for him was widely panned when it happened but, with the Vikings looking every bit the Super Bowl contender people thought they would be before the season started, nobody is laughing now.  

Hot take:  Ben McAdoo has to go.  He was a great offensive coordinator, but he does not have the look of a good NFL head coach to me.  

Bill Annechino– Bill Annechino (Twitter)

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