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We are through week four with a rescheduled bye week for the Covid-19 infected Titans and their week four opponents the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as first in week game delay. Before all teams are even through a quarter of their season, we have had our first coach firing of the season, there are six unbeaten teams though that is slightly inflated with the Steelers Titans matchup being postponed, and four winless teams that led to the first coach firing.

There’s a fair amount to get through and the NFL is not the only ones having disruption to their routine so let’s get writing whilst I still have time!

What I Saw

Week four may have started with questions still surrounding the Titans and Steelers game, but we got a surprise of the pleasant variety Thursday night when the less that enticing on-paper matchup of the winless Denver Broncos taking on the winless New York Jets turned into an enjoyable game. It was a relatively comfortable 37-28 win for the Broncos in the end, but a close first half saw a truly special run from Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold opened the scoring with a forty-six yard touchdown, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the Jets have been unable to build a team around him their third year quarterback to truly evaluate him. Darnold had to leave this game for a short period having been thrown down on his right shoulder, and whilst he made a go of it on the night, he is now on the injury report with an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder and it is not known if he will be available on Sunday. It feels like only a matter of time before the Jets move on from Adam Gase, who has never really convinced as a head coach, but with the state of roster I don’t know whether they will try to rebuild around Darnold or if they will try something more drastic. The Broncos looked competitive in this game, but we know they were facing a struggling team and it is not too often a quarterback can throw three interceptions and still win the game. Their defence, which ranks twelfth by DVOA gives them something to build off, and Brett Rypien showed some good flashes when he wasn’t getting picked off by Pierre Desir. This was a surprisingly fun game to watch but hasn’t stuck in the memory so let’s move on to the weekend’s game.

Before the Cleveland Browns kicked off in Dallas against the Cowboys, Cam Newton had tested positive for Covid-19 and the Patriots visit to the Chiefs had been postponed in the hope of further testing allowing the game to play. The Browns started off by taking the lead with trickery as Jarvis Landry threw a thirty-seven yard touchdown to his fellow receiver Odell Beckahm and it looked like we could have ourselves a real contest as the Cowboys offence answered with a touchdown drive of their own and then took the lead. However, their defensive frailties started to show themselves at the start of the second quarter as the Browns equalised and as the Cowboys gave the ball away, the Browns quite literally ran away with the game, scoring twenty-seven unanswered points as the Cowboys failed to score until early in the fourth quarter. The pretty startling stat is that the Browns finished with over three hundred yards of rushing in this game and that’s with their starting running back Nick Chubb going down early with an MCL sprain. It is quite remarkable that the Cowboys’ managed to within three points with three minutes to go before a fifty-yard run on a reverse from Odell Beckham sealed the game 49-38. It was quite remarkable touchdown as by all rights Beckham should have been stopped well behind the line of scrimmage, but he managed to escape and got the distance. The Cowboys clearly have a potent offence, but they need the defence to step up so they can win games without the offence being perfect. They are 1-3 for a reason and could just as easily be 0-4. It is somewhat remarkable that are still second in the division and only a tied game by the Eagles from being top but they need to improve fast if they want to make anything of this season as it appears only one team will be coming out of the NFC East this year. As for Cleveland, they have a built a team who looks to have an identity and who can compete. I don’t know that they will push into the playoffs, but they are developing an offence that puts Baker Mayfield in position to succeed and not drive success and they are going to be a handful for anyone.

The other early game I saw was the Jacksonville Jaguars visit to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in a game the Jaguars ultimately lost 25-38. The Bengals were fairly comfortable for a lot of this game with Joe Mixon having a productive game and Joe Burrow looking as good as he has done all season. Things seemed to have cooled off for the Jaguars after a positive opening that encouraged me after their first two games, but if there are some bright flashes from parts of the roster, they look a long way from promising I thought. The Bengals look to be changing generations at receiver and have some talent on both sides of the ball, but the offensive line has to improve as does the defence overall but in a season where I was only looking for hope, Burrow as show me at least that he could be the real deal. I’m just not as sure about Zac Taylor and I wonder if he is going to be hamstrung by his choice of offensive line coach.

The final game that I saw this week was the late game between the Buffalo Bills visiting the Las Vegas Raiders, which was not quite the contest I was hoping for with the Bills running out 30-23 winners and were another team who looked comfortable for a lot of the game. I was really impressed with the scheme of the Bills offence and the difference the addition of receiver Stefon Diggs made. If it were not for several drops Josh Allen could have had an even more impressive day throwing the ball, but Allen still throws some very hard passes at times so there’s still some touch to be developed. Still, the Bills really look like they have taken another incremental step forward with Josh Allen relying on his arm now instead of his legs to make the offence purr and the defence possibly rounding into shape so if they can keep things together they look like they could do more than just make the playoffs this season. Meanwhile, the problem for the Raiders is the same one they have had since Jon Gruden took over, which is that the offence can do as well as it can in the last two season, and is currently ranked tenth in the league by DVOA, but until their defence gets out of the thirties in defensive ranking then the Raiders are not going to be able to get where they want to go. Particularly sharing a division with the Kansas City Chiefs and their duo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Derek Carr might not be the elite quarterback you dream of, but the offence helmed by him is good enough to win if they had more help from the other side of the ball.

What I Think

I have a minor case study in how disruptions can affect your routine and throw you out of sorts. I’m not saying being away for the weekend is the reason my picks were so bad in week four, but it didn’t help, and I have been off kilter all this week for one reason or another.

I mention this not to look for sympathy, but because I am not an elite athlete competing with the world’s best in their field. That is what the NFL is asking of its players in the middle of the pandemic and we really began to see the consequences of that as that reality began to bite.

As of writing we do not yet know what lessons need to be learned about the outbreak in Tennessee, and the early hope of several days without positive tests and the facility opening have been dashed by two more players testing positive. If there is good news to be taken from the Titan’s situation it is that no Vikings seem to have been infected and so it is working in close quarters with team mates and contact outside of the field of play that looks to be driving infection and not the action on the field. However, that will be tested with other teams having positives.

While the Titans are paying the price for this problem with an early week four bye and will now have to play thirteen games straight, whenever they can actually get back to playing. The Steelers who had to deal with uncertainty for a lot of last week ended up with an unscheduled bye week where they were not recovering but preparing for a game that did not take place. They will also face a thirteen-week streak of games for no other reason than a quirk of the schedule. Whether there will be further outbreaks that require move rounds of games I do not know, but even with the other game delay we are asking a lot of the players.

I heard it suggested that one of the reasons the Patriots game was delayed was not because they had lost a quarterback, but because they were the first travelling team to have a positive test at the weekend. In fact the team travelled in two planes to separate the close contacts with Cam Newton from the rest of the team. However, the Chiefs are now being asked to play three games of football in a remarkably short ten days have been moved to this Monday, play again on a short week on Sunday against the Raiders before travelling to face the Bill on the following Thursday night.

If that were not enough, the news broke today that Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore has now tested positive for Covid-19 have played at the weekend and was seen embracing Patrick Mahomes after the game Monday. Mahomes could well be safe, but it is clear that there is still room for improvement in teams facilities for protecting the players from the spread of Covid-19 and it may well be time for the NFL to be more flexible in the approach to scheduling games and stricter on how it isolates teams with positive tests.

What I Hope

I wanted to write about coaches and culture in the wake of the firing of Bill O’Brien in Houston having listened to Peter King interview both beat reporter John McClain on the situation for the Texans, and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule after the Panthers got their second straight win in Rhule’s first year as head coach in the NFL.

It is a hell of a season to be building a new culture when you haven’t done it before and I was impressed by his approach, but with the current situation I cannot focus in on that like I would want.

What I really hope is that we can learn to live with this virus until there is a game changing treatment or a vaccine.

That applies to everywhere and not just to the NFL, and right now we have to take the solace where we can find them. I hope that football can continue to be that in some form, but just like everything else in the world at the moment, it won’t be the same form for a long tiem.