Drawing conclusions from a wild week 4
By Zach Miller
We are now four weeks into the NFL season, and there have been two straight weeks of mediocre games. No matchups this week featured two teams that entered the matchup above .500, and it resulted in a slate that was average at best.
That being said, the week four games revealed a fair amount about the teams they displayed, namely the fact that the NFL so far has a lot of good teams and may only have a few great ones. Going through each matchup, this becomes abundantly clear.
Ravens 23, Steelers 20 (OT)
These two teams really are just a tale of disappointment and bad luck. The Ravens began the year as a trendy pick to make the Superbowl thanks to their depth and coaching, but so far injuries, underperformance, and bad gameplans have turned what should have been a contender into a team that could conceivably miss the playoffs.
Their defense has dropped off a cliff so far, notably missing star pass-rusher Terrell Suggs and featuring steep declines in the secondary. Their offense lacks a deep threat, and Marc Trestman turned a running game that was one of the best in the league last year into a unit that doesn’t scare anyone nowadays.
Their win really says more about Ben Roethlisberger than about the Ravens themselves. Roethlisberger’s knee injury has him out 4-6 weeks, turning a team that looked like it could contend heavily for a playoff spot into one that will be lucky if it can win a game until Big Ben returns.
They could have laid claim to the best offense in the NFL with Roethlisberger healthy, but the tradeoff from Roethlisberger to Michael Vick looks like it may already be insurmountable.
Jets 27, Dolphins 14
Just two franchises trending in opposite directions. The Jets turned last year’s toxic team into a solid offense and a fearsome defense, and look like a legitimate wild-card contender through four weeks.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, have to be wondering what exactly this team can really accomplish as currently constructed. Their stars have not carried the team the way management expected to, and Joe Philbin understandably took the heat for it.
However, just to play devil’s advocate for a second: was there really anything Philbin could have done? When given a team built in the extreme stars-and-scrubs fashion that the Dolphins were, is it really the coach’s fault when the stars just might not be as good as everyone thought they were? Brent Grimes has played like a shell of his former self; Ndamukong Suh has fought double teams with little to no help from the highly paid edge-rush duo of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon; Branden Albert has battled hamstring injuries, and Ryan Tannehill clearly is not the type of quarterback that can truly elevate the level of play of his teammates at this stage of his career.
They have had terrible offensive line play, a complete lack of impact or depth in the secondary, and no above-average linebackers to speak of. Philbin’s gameplans and connection with his players may have been in question, but good management holds itself accountable, and the Dolphins front office is not doing that right now.
Jaguars 13, Colts 16
Man, talk about a weak win. There is not much to say about the Colts that hasn’t already been said, but it bears repeating just how terrible they’ve been. The fact that they are 2-2 means they will probably make the playoffs, as they can’t really do worse than they already have in that division, but their defense has not stopped anyone and they just don’t look like a true contender at all. As to the Jaguars, better luck next year.
Giants 24, Bills 10
The divisions in the NFL right now look incredibly skewed; among the teams that look like they are truly contenders, there are none to be found in the NFC East or AFC South.
The Giants’ win over the Bills may say more about Buffalo than the G-men. Buffalo’s offense looked woefully incompetent against a Giants defense that doesn’t exactly strike fear into the rest of the league, and their vaunted defense looks to be simply above average rather than the force of nature many projected it to be before the season.
The Giants would be treading water in any other division, but them being simply average could propel them to the top of the NFC East. At the very least, they will be in the race, which is more than many thought before the season.
Panthers 37, Buccaneers 24
The Panthers look like one of the weakest 4-0 teams in a while. The Jaguars, Texans, Saints, and Buccaneers are four of the worst teams in the NFL, and the Panthers have hardly looked dominant in any of those contests.
Their defense has looked better than expected, thanks in part to the seeming ascension of Josh Norman into a top-tier cornerback, and the capable play basically everywhere. The fact that they have survived in Luke Kuechly’s absence bodes well for their defense overall, but their offense has not really inspired any confidence that they can contend for anything meaningful.
Cam Newton has looked really, really good, but his total lack of support will undoubtedly come back to bite the Panthers once they start playing actual NFL teams. The Bucs, meanwhile, have to be resigned to the fact that they just can’t win with this team. Each game represents valuable experience for their young squad, but wins will seemingly come few and far between in Tampa Bay this year.
Eagles 20, Redskins 23
Sam Bradford looking like an actual NFL player was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing performance for the Eagles. Really, who are they now? They clearly are not a good team on offense or defense, let alone the juggernaut they looked like in the preseason.
Their construction was very specific, and it just doesn’t look like it worked. They were supposed to be a lightning fast no-huddle offense that pounded the rock between the tackles and beat teams deep off of play-action, as well as a defense that could get after the quarterback with the best teams in the NFL.
Does the fact that that they clearly cannot fulfill either of those goals mean Chip Kelly was wrong to try? Not necessarily, but his current team isn’t taking him anywhere near the heights people thought it would. The Redskins seem to be in a similar position, albeit a more optimistic one. They are built to run the football and terrorize teams on defense, and their progress so far is certainly promising, but Kirk Cousins and co. just don’t seem like a contending team this year.
Lions 10, Seahawks 13
Discounting the wild ending here, this had to be disconcerting for Seahawks supporters. They just did not look good on offense, especially along the offensive line. Yes, they were missing Marshawn Lynch, but even with him they’ve allowed far too much pressure this year. When your offense centers on running the football and throwing off play-action the way theirs does, they need to be able to create the space to do so. So far, they haven’t. Defensively, though, they looked great. The Lions had nowhere to go all game, and couldn’t manage a single offensive touchdown. The Seahawks have the same stars they have had in years past, but without the same depth, so now it really looks like they will go as far as their Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the top-heavy defense take them. The Lions just look bad so far this year, which feels odd because they look like they have all the pieces to be in the playoff hunt: a reasonably good quarterback in Matthew Stafford; good skill position players; a serviceable offensive line; a solid defense headed by a few studs like Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Glover Quin. Coaching and just a lack of cohesion has torn it all apart, though, as the offense just doesn’t fit together and the defense really misses the interior presences of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Jim Caldwell took a team with few glaring holes that looked to be at worst treading water and has them as the NFL’s only current team without a win. He has looked not unlike a mannequin for his entire tenure in Detroit, and at some point you have to wonder how long the fact that he once coached Peyton Manning will let him continue to mismanage these Lions.
Raiders 20, Bears 22
These are just two bottom feeders this year. Oakland’s promise on both sides of the ball doesn’t correlate to consistency, while the Bears have a clear lack of talent, especially on defense, but enough coaching to make things interesting every few games.
Texans 21, Falcons 48
The Texans are depressing, and just not befitting of the greatness that is J.J. Watt. Their defense, suffice to say, has not played nearly to the level of its best player, and the quarterback struggles on offense give them a very low ceiling. The Falcons look like one of the best offenses in the NFL, but at some point they’ll have to play a good defense to really convince the world of their legitimacy.
Chiefs 21, Bengals 36
The Chiefs may well be the most confusing team in the NFL. They have all the components of a really good offense, and a lot of intriguing pieces on defense, but the total fit just feels awkward. Jamaal Charles is the rightful star of the offense, but they can’t seem to get Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin going at the same time, and they just cannot stop the run on the defensive side. The Bengals look like one of the best teams in the league, but if Andy Dalton can’t keep up this level of play, it’s all moot. If he is above average and limiting his mistakes, the Bengals look like a true contender, but Bad Andy Dalton has surfaced far too often over the years for four games to erase the doubts of critics. Finally equipped with a healthy offense and a consistent defense, the Bengals would seem to finally have arrived, but four games does not a season make.
Browns 27, Chargers 30
Two teams that just look weak on defense so far. The Chargers have a much better offense, but they have been inconsistent, especially on the ground, and they’re gonna have to score a lot to make up for their porous defense. The Browns’ incompetence is simply astounding; they just never seem to be very good, and that doesn’t look any different this year.
Packers 17, 49ers 3
This game didn’t really show anything of value. The Packers offense stalled at times, but they never really looked in danger of losing because of the total incompetence of the player formerly known as Colin Kaepernick. As good as the Niners were on defense limiting Aaron Rodgers’ offense, they were even worse when they had the football. They just don’t seem to be functional whatsoever on offense, and they had better hope their previous draft magic comes again this offseason.
Rams 24, Cardinals 22
This game just refuses to make sense. The Rams’ defense consistently shows up on big stages, but shrinks against lesser competition, while their offense just comes and goes. They stepped up big this game, though, with Todd Gurley looking like the superstar they drafted him to be. Beating the hottest team in football is no joke, but the Cardinals are probably still a better bet to make a playoff run than the Rams, due to the former’s offense and the latter’s inconsistency.
Vikings 20, Broncos 23
RIP, Peyton Manning. He had a good run, but Peyton’s best years are officially behind him. The Broncos’ insane defense will prop them up for the rest of the year, but this is not the record-setting offense of 2013 anymore. The Vikings, meanwhile, have to see this game as progress for Teddy Bridgewater, who stayed poised against a defense that sacked him seven times and almost pulled out a victory for Minnesota.
Cowboys 20, Saints 26 (OT)
What did this game really mean? Every game from this iteration of the Cowboys should be taken with about four million grains of salt because of all of their injuries, and the Saints looked like a bottom feeder that would have lost to most other teams in the NFL. Watching Brandon Weeden work really is not a pleasant experience.