And just like that, it’s Monday again and Week 4 of the 2015 NFL season is almost over. Word to the wise about the one game we have left: Marshawn Lynch is officially out for tonight for the first time since 2011, so sorry if you don’t have Thomas Rawls in your fantasy line-up. Now, without further ado, the top ten takeaways from Week 4.
1. Brandon Weeden looked like a professional football player. Last night’s SNF match-up between the sad-sack New Orleans Saints and the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys turned into one of the most exciting games of the weekend. Just like we all predicted. Down the stretch, Cowboys back-up Brandon Weeden (who even the Cleveland Browns didn’t want), put together a beautiful 91-yard drive, culminating in a game-tying touchdown pass to Terrance Williams. While Drew Brees's Saints ultimately won in overtime, Weeden went toe-to-toe with the future Hall of Famer and didn’t look half bad doing it.
2. The Denver Broncos defense is no joke. One of my match-ups to watch last week was Adrian Peterson against the Broncos D. While Peterson did have a couple of breakout runs, including a fourth quarter 49-yard touchdown performance, the Broncos kept him impressively under control for the most part. They also racked-up 7 sacks on Teddy Bridgewater, including a TJ Ward strip that tied up the win for the Broncos. These guys are the real deal.
3. Todd Gurley has the makings of a superstar. Say what you will about the St. Louis Rams being Jekyll-and-Hyde or lacking an identity; I don’t disagree. This is the team that lost to the Washington Redskins, yet beat both the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. One member of the team who knows exactly who he is, though, is potential superstar Todd Gurley. There were concerns about how Gurley would perform in the NFL following his college knee injury, but he’s proving he was worth the risk that Jeff Fisher and the Rams’ front office were willing to take. Yesterday, Gurley rushed for more yards against the Cardinals D than Mark Ingram, Matt Forte, and Carlos Hyde combined through the first three weeks of the season. Color me impressed.
4. The Cleveland Browns offense may be the team’s strength. Before you start reaming me for this one, hear me out. I’m not asserting the offense is truly impressive, just that they may carry the team to any wins it does get this year. In yesterday’s loss to the San Diego Chargers, Josh McCown became one of just four Browns quarterbacks (Otto Graham, Brian Sipe, and Brian Hoyer are the other three) to ever throw for 300+ yards in two consecutive games. With only two minutes left to play, McCown tied the game with a gritty drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel. Veteran Gary Barnidge and rookie Duke Johnson also looked impressive for the Browns. The team’s defense, though, simply couldn’t stop Philip Rivers and Co., especially when it counted at the end of the fourth quarter.
5. Chip Kelly’s offense is falling apart. The 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles have looked horrific through four games this year. Kelly completely shook-up his line-up during the offseason and things aren’t panning out at all. Shocking, I know. Sam Bradford and Co. have been held to three points or fewer in 3/4 of the first halves they’ve played, DeMarco Murray, who was signed to a huge contract, doesn’t fit the scheme, and the team’s offensive line looks almost worse than the Colts’. It’s not a good situation in the basement of the NFC East.
6. Joe Philbin’s job is (and should be) on the line. There was tension in Miami last season. There’s really tension in Miami this season. Even the addition of Ndamukong Suh hasn’t done much to inspire confidence. The team has gone 1-3 and is suffering from what we’ll refer to as “Chip Kelly Syndrome”. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who worked under Kelly in Philadelphia last year, is borrowing heavily from Kelly’s system to no avail. While I think a lot of the blame falls on Lazor himself, head coach Joe Philbin is ultimately responsible for his team and he’s doing very little to correct the myriad of issues that are plaguing them. We’ll know later today if Philbin still has a job or not. It’s not a good situation in the basement of the AFC East either.
7. Matt Hasselbeck deserves a great deal of credit. I was at the Colts game yesterday and, while the team should arguably never have struggled like it did against the Jacksonville Jaguars, credit where credit’s due to 40-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck for stepping-up and taking the reigns. Even with next-to-no offensive line (a right guard would be nice, for example), Hasselbeck made intelligent decisions and looked years younger than his age, ending the game with 282-yards and a touchdown pass to Coby Fleener. A world of difference from the Curtis Painter days, people.
8. The Oakland Raiders must learn to cover tight ends. Last week, we looked at the match-up between Martellus Bennett and the Raiders defense, which played out exactly as expected. Bennett gained 83-yards and a touchdown on 11 catches against a team that seems absolutely unable to cover tight ends. There wasn’t a Raider within a mile of Bennett on most of his receptions, for no apparent reason. Oakland’s offense, with the addition of Amari Cooper, has looked respectable this year, but their D has got to get its tight end coverage under control if they actually want to go anywhere.
9. The Cincinnati Bengals may have finally gotten it right. The Bengals haven’t won a play-off game since January of 1991. My 24-year-old sister wasn’t even born yet, to put it in perspective. It’s been a tough two-and-a-half decades for fans. This year, though, it looks like the club may have finally hit its mark. In yesterday’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs, they exhibited their defensive prowess and their smash-mouth running game on the other side of the ball. Oh, and Andy Dalton is finally playing like a franchise quarterback. I’m calling it now that they easily take the AFC North.
10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are suffering from Jameis Winston’s rookie mistakes. In yesterday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers had five turnovers. Four of those were interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston. While the team doesn’t have a lot to work with at the quarterback position (Mike Glennon, as we all know, is far from the face of the franchise), their struggles this season are coming primarily from Winston’s lack of experience at the pro level. Shades of Johnny Manziel last year is all I’m seeing. Lovie Smith and his quarterback coaches may need to admit defeat until Winston gets a year or so in the big leagues under his belt.