Aaron Rodgers, Alvin Kamara, Andy Dalton, Arizona Cardinals, Bryan Bulaga, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Chase Daniels, Chicago Bears, Christian McCaffrey, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Daniel Jones, Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees, Gardiner Minshew, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jaylen Samuels, Khalil Mack, Kirk Cousins, Kyle Allen, Matt LaFleur, Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Teddy Bridgewater, Vontae Davis
All bar the two teams on a bye last week have sailed past the quarter pole of the season and this Sunday sees the first of the four game London series getting played so we can definitely say that the 2019 season is in full swing, but as so often the case it feels like we know less for certain than ever about how the teams are going. Let’s see if I can explains some of that as I take you through my week of the NFL.
What I Saw
Week four started with one of the more entertaining games we have seen this year with he Philadelphia Eagles running out 34-27 winner in Green Bay against the Packers. The game started out as I expected with the Packers defence looking strong and the packers taking an early touchdown lead but in the second quarter three Eagles’ touchdowns saw them take a lead that they would hold until late in the third quarter and retake in the fourth. A strong offensive line performance enabled the Eagles to rush for one hundred and seventy-six yards and not give up any sacks whilst their defence held the Packers to under four yards per carry until the Packers virtually gave up on running that ball. What the Packers were able to do was throw the ball and it was Aaron Rodgers who kept them in the game (despite losing tackle Bryan Bulaga early) thanks to a four hundred and twenty-two yard passing day. The offence may not be clicking yet for the Packers but I think that Rodgers and Matt LaFleur will find a way and the league had better watch out when they do given how the Packers defence has played. The Eagles meanwhile really needed that win to stay in the NFC East race now that the New York Giants have found two wins in the opening four games. They had some players come back from injury but it was good to see the coaching staff get the win despite the players they were still missing.
The first of the Sunday games that I watched was between the Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers who through a defensive game that saw only two touchdowns but nine sacks as the Panthers ran out 16-10 winners on the road. This win was built on the Panthers’ derfence’s ability to contain the Texans offence, particularly in the passing game where Deshaun Watson only threw for one hundred and sixty yards whilst getting sacked six times and harried a lot more. There are still problems with the offensive line (which might be worth a coaching tape look at some point) and Watson has a tendency to hold onto the ball trying to make a play. You can hear him talk about the coverage in this clip that got a lot of people talking about his honesty so it’s worth having a look. Meanwhile the Panthers have got their second straight win since Kyle Allen has replace the injured Cam Newton, but whilst he was efficient enough to get the win he has to work on his ball security/pocket awareness as you can’t expect to fumble away the ball three times and expect to keep winning games. The defence played well, but in this era of multiple offences and running back by committee special mention has to go to Christian McCaffery who played all sixty-eight of the Panthers’ offensive snaps, amassing ninety-three yards on the ground with the teams only touchdown as well as eighty-six yards catching the ball. The Panthers look to be holding things together whilst they wait for Newton to get properly healthy, but they have an awful lot resting on the body of McCaffery at the moment and I just hope he can keep carrying the load until Newton comes back. Meanwhile the Texans are one of the four AFC South teams that are 2-2, which looks again to be a division that will beat each other up all year and then one or two teams will get hot at the end of the season and make the playoffs. The long term concern is the roster construction given the draft picks they have traded away going into the season as it does not appear that they are as close to challenging for the Super Bowl as the trades would suggest they think they are.
The second Sunday game I watched was another low scoring affair (if I wanted offence the Buccaneers @ Rams was the way to go) as the Dallas Cowboy lost a close one on the road 12-10 to the New Orleans Saints. This was a game that only saw one touchdown and that was for the losing Cowboys as both defences dominated the day. For all their early season success the Cowboys struggled to move the ball, particularly on the ground where they were only able to get forty-five yards as the Saints defence new exactly where to be for each run. The Cowboys were not able to get enough done through the air to win the game with Presscott throwing for two hundred and twenty-three yards and an interception. If the Cowboys didn’t quite look like themselves on the road, the Saints look to have a really good defence that is allowing them to win games without Drew Brees. Teddy Bridgewater threw for under two hundred yards in this game with a long of only twenty yards but the offence managed to rush for over one hundred yards thanks in large part to the power and balance of Alvin Kamara. The Saints will be hoping to keep themselves in the hunt until Drew Brees gets back, but I don’t know if they can keep relying on their defence to play like they did in this game. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have to hope that this was a blip road loss, but the offence did not look like it was flowing properly and that’s something to keep an eye on.
I don’t want to write about the final game of the week, but given that the Cincinnati Bengals were playing in the Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers I have no good reason not to cover their miserable 3-27 loss on the road. The problems are perhaps obvious and to an extent predictable as the Bengals kept losing offensive line starters before the season had even started and four games into the season they are struggling to make room in the running game or protect Andy Dalton when passing the ball. The other worry I have is at linebacker and in particular at the edges of the defence and this came to pass as the Steelers used Jaylen Samuels to take direct snaps and touch passes to attach the edges. It’s hard to tell how much of a turnaround this is for the Steelers given how Bengals have played this season but it’s a step. Meanwhile, the Bengals are facing a huge game this Sunday as in only their second home game of the season they welcome another winless team, the Arizona Cardinals and if they don’t win that one then this thing could get really ugly. I’m probably clinging to tightly the fact that two of the games were really competitive and the Bengals have face three tough road games so far but that comes to an end this week.
What I Heard
There has been continuing conversations about the new wave of quarterbacks and backups as rookies Gardiner Minshew II and Daniel Jones got their second wins as starters, Kyle Allen got a second win with the Panthers whilst Chase Daniels came off the bench to help the Bears beat the Vikings in a performance that has drawn comments about how Daniels was able to at least get the ball out where it was supposed to and accurately on the underneath throws.
The Vikings offence has been another source of discussion given it’s focus on running the ball despite Kirk Cousins being in the second year of an $84 million guaranteed contract. Normally you might question the offensive coordinator’s but given his track record with OCs this really sits with head coach Mike Zimmer who is always talking about running the ball, but it doesn’t make sense to be so focussed on that when you have arguably one of the best receiving duos in the league. There’s been plenty of criticism of Kirk Cousins, but to my mind that feels a lot like the criticism of Andy Dalton and no these are not the elite of the elite, but they are good enough to win if you put the right team around them. I agree with the commentators who say that you can compete by paying elite but were you get into trouble is overpaying for talent. This isn’t a matter of who deserves to get paid as a human being but how you build a competitive roster in a salary cap sport and the I don’t think the problem is necessarily in the roster of the Vikings (their o-line could be better but so could most teams these days) but there is a disconnect in paying Cousins what they are and then not utilising him. I respect coach Zimmer and was reluctant to see him leave the Bengals although happy he was finally getting a chance to lead a team, but I do wonder if he has reached his level if he can’t allow his offence to run as the current version of the NFL dictates. I have a feeling he’s stubborn enough to keep the team playing like this and so the Vikings will be competitive but I don’t know that they are going to maximise this year’s team and that is a worry as the defence is not getting any younger.
What I Think
I have watched the transformation of Vontaze Burfict from a tone setting star of the defence who got the team lined up and played up to the line whilst straying over it occasionally to a liability who seems lost in his own mythos as his time on the field got less reducing both his productivity and conduct. The hit that got him ejected from this week’s game is being legislated out of the game for a reason, but almost as bad was the grin as trotted off as if he was proud of himself. There are team mates and coaches for the Raiders who are unhappy but I’m not sure that feeling will be shared around the league and there are plenty who are happy to see him gone for the season. In fact it’s not hard to find people who don’t want to see him play again. There is an argument about taking away someone’s lively hood but the fact of the matter is that in no other industry would a disregard of the rules be tolerated, particularly in a matter of health and safety. It’s not always possible to adjust when players are going at full speed but when you have the track record of Burfict you lose the benefit of the doubt.
What I Know
That after a thoroughly miserable time watching the Bengals this week I am hoping to both actually get to some coaching tape and to cheer myself up by watching Khalil Mack who is once again showing just how bad an idea it was to trade him away. It should be a fun subplot this weekend in London as the Bears take on the Raiders for the first time since Mack was trade to Chicago last year.
What I Hope
That one of Dan and I get put out of our misery and gets our first win and that the NFL continues to be as unpredictable as it was this week, even if it is terrible for our picks…