Halftime

Maybe the Bills aren’t that bad? And other thoughts from Week 3 of the NFL

Published September 25, 2018


It is Week 3, and the list of division leaders includes Miami, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Chicago. The season is still young, but nobody could’ve foreseen this outcome with three weeks of football already in the books. But perhaps more shocking was the outcome of Bills vs. Vikings, which ended up being the biggest upset the NFL has seen in 23 years. We will take a look at that result, among many other narratives across the league this week.

Bakermania

Look, the Browns have competent management! And it’s clearly showed through three weeks of the season! With GM John Dorsey assembling an all-star player personnel team, including Eliot Wolf (son of the legendary Ron Wolf), Alonzo Highsmith, and former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan, the Browns had an aggressive offseason and draft, acquiring Jarvis Landry, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and many others. Early on Thursday night, an anemic Browns offense led by Tyrod Taylor looked like the Browns of old. Unfortunately, Taylor suffered a concussion, opening the door for Mayfield’s first opportunity. In his first real game action, he didn’t disappoint, completing 3 of 4 passes for 47 yards and leading the Browns to their first points of the night. From there, Mayfield continued the comeback, and the Browns won for the first time in 635 days. 635 days!

It’s important not to lose sight of some pertinent caveats, though. First of all, Mayfield is still a rookie. The easy thing is to assume that he’ll continue to perform at a high level as he did on Thursday, but we know this will not be the case. Mayfield will make mistakes. Just look at the quarterback who was selected two picks after him! Sam Darnold had a brilliant opener against Detroit (after throwing a pick-six on his first pass), yet we’re roundly criticizing him now for his mistakes. These rookies need time to season and become polished passers, so I’m not ready to jump on the hype train just yet. Secondly, the Browns have been in games because of their defense. I am ready to call them a top-10 defense in the league, and Myles Garrett looks ready to become an absolute game-breaker. Denzel Ward is also becoming a nice piece for Cleveland, recording two interceptions and a forced fumble on the season. These foundational pieces, combined with coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressiveness, has the Browns at 1-1-1, which would be 3-0 had they found a kicker.

Maddening inconsistency

There are two teams I want to focus on in this category, because they’ve looked like Super Bowl contenders one week and they’ve lost winnable games the next.

First, the Jacksonville Jaguars. A week ago, they were the toast of the NFL. They slayed Tom Brady in convincing fashion, dominating the first half and riding that success for 60 minutes. By the end of it, most pundits regarded Jacksonville as the class of the AFC, the clear team to beat now that they had felled the Patriots. This week, they lost a 9-6 decision to the makeshift Titans. Marcus Mariota barely threw for 100 yards coming off the bench, yet Tennessee still pulled out the win on the road. I’m a little less concerned about the Jaguars, because we all know that Leonard Fournette is the focal point of their offense, and once he returns he’ll provide a significant boost for them.

The more concerning team is my beloved Washington Redskins. Against Arizona and Green Bay, they looked like a bona fide Super Bowl contender, racking up 21 and 28 points in the first half, respectively. When their offense is clicking, they are borderline unstoppable. Jordan Reed is a top-5 tight end in the league when healthy, and scat back Chris Thompson is a major threat receiving out of the backfield. Add Adrian Peterson’s resurgence and Jamison Crowder over the middle, and you’ve got some really nice pieces for this Washington team. Unfortunately, they also lost a very winnable game against a less talented Indianapolis team, scoring just 9 points in a blowout loss.

The question, thus, has to be asked: who are these guys? Through three weeks, Adrian Peterson is the key to the offense, and the Redskins go as he goes. In the first week, he rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown in a blowout victory, and in the second week, he rushed for 20 yards in a blowout loss. This past week, he rushed for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns in a comfortable victory. If the Redskins can establish a running game, it forces opposing linebackers to overcommit, opening up holes for Reed, Thompson, and Crowder to exploit. As the safeties creep up towards the line of scrimmage, Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson can find deep options for chunk plays. Peterson appears to be the most critical element in the offense, but this is a difficult proposition for the Redskins. It remains to be seen if Washington can have sustained offensive success as they hedge their bets on a 33-year-old running back.

The Undefeated

Two of these teams are real and fearsome. One of them isn’t. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Miami is very fortunate to be 3-0. They’ve been the beneficiaries of an easy opening schedule, and they have not won any of their games with ease. If they can go into New England and beat the Patriots, then I may start to believe in this team. They just don’t seem very exciting, and it’s easy to see them collapsing. Clutch performance is a cruel mistress.

It’s easy to say that Kansas City is the best team in the league through 3 weeks. I certainly believe they are the best offense in the league. Patrick Mahomes II is a perfect example of why rookie QBs should take a redshirt year and learn from the sideline. Coming out of Texas Tech, I regarded him as just another cannon-armed, Big 12 spread quarterback who had a lot to learn. I believe taking the year to learn behind Alex Smith, with a quarterback whisperer in coach Andy Reid, really facilitated Mahomes’ development and made him into the quarterback we see today. Their offensive weapons are absolutely lethal (Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, among many others), but Mahomes clearly has a command of the offense. It also helps that Kansas City’s offensive line is one of the elite groups in the NFL. Compare that with Houston’s line, which has allowed the most pressure in the league on Deshaun Watson, and is a large contributing factor in their 0-3 record. Kansas City’s concerns should be on the defensive side, as they’ve conceded 28, 37, and 27 points respectively. There will be a time where Mahomes will fall, and they will need the defense to step up.

The one truly dominant force in the NFL is the Los Angeles Rams. Through three weeks, they are the most complete team in the league, and the preseason Super Bowl prognostications appear to be right. Their closest margin of victory was 11, and their arsenal of weapons has overwhelmed the league offensively. Their defense is also formidable, conceding 13, 0, and 23 points over three weeks. As it stands, they are the most talented team in the league, and it will take a gargantuan effort to defeat this team.

Fitzmagic runs out…or has it?

Usually, if a quarterback has thrown for 400 yards in three consecutive games, their performance is praised. Actually, it’s never happened until Ryan Fitzpatrick pulled off the feat on Monday night. Yet, they lost, and Fitzpatrick was under duress all night, throwing 3 interceptions along with 3 touchdowns. It’s crazy to think that 411 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions is a relatively poor stat line for Fitzpatrick, but that’s normal for this strange NFL season. This provides us an intriguing quarterback controversy between the supposedly fading Ryan Fitzpatrick and former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. Is Fitzpatrick’s hand still hot? If so, he should be the one to continue playing. I would start Fitzpatrick against Chicago, and another turnover-laden showing would prompt me to start Jameis.

However, another interesting factor has emerged. Jimmy Garoppolo suffered an ACL tear, and San Francisco might be in the market for a quarterback. It’ll be interesting if they try to open negotiations on Fitzpatrick or Winston, as they both appear to be viable options. I’d have a hard time believing that Tampa Bay would deal Winston, as Fitzpatrick has proven over the course of his career that he is not a reliable long-term option. Yet, they’d have to fetch the right price in dealing a darling of the NFL so early, so it’ll be intriguing to see how this saga plays out.

Quick Slants

These are just a few quick thoughts about the rest of Week 3.

  • Atlanta is nearing a crisis point after scoring 37, committing no turnovers, and losing (the second week this has happened)
  • Denver is the most overrated 2-1 team and Baltimore will go as far as the defense takes them
  • Christian McCaffrey is an animal
  • Poor Deshaun Watson
  • Jon Gruden is a fine coach and a terrible talent evaluator
  • Philadelphia might actually be overrated too
  • Khalil Mack is a legitimate MVP candidate
  • Do you hear that? That’s Ezekiel Elliott stranded on an island, crying for help
  • New England is really slow

Allenmania

We started with Bakermania, and ended with Allenmania. Not only did the Bills win, they dominated a talented Minnesota team on the road in all phases of the game. Allen’s passing statistics don’t exactly jump off the page: 15/22 for 196 yards and a touchdown, but he rushed for 39 yards and two more brilliant scores. What’s more important is that he gave Buffalo hope when there was none. Through two weeks, Buffalo was clearly the worst team in the league, with no real contenders for second place.

Now, it’s harder to tell. I was always high on Minnesota because I thought that their coaching staff was among the top in the league, and their talent level was high. Dalvin Cook alone does not explain this game, and I think that it is their offensive line which has undergone a massive downgrade from last year. Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have not played at the level they were previously at, but more importantly, Nick Easton and Pat Elflein have not played. Easton’s season is over, and his replacement Tom Compton has played exactly like that: a replacement. Elflein is set to return next week, bringing the Vikings a much-needed boost, but their replacements were mauled by Jerry Hughes and company. Buffalo’s dominance in the trenches helped them to victory, and was arguably a greater factor than Allen’s performance.

For me, the jury is still out on Allen, because he has strides to make in becoming a polished pro passer. This game was reminiscent of many of his Wyoming games: large chunk completions, quarterback runs, and not very many passes. This strategy has proven unsustainable in the NFL, and Allen’s development faces a rocky road given the dearth of offensive weapons around him. But, for the first time this year, there is hope.

Final Thought

The Browns have a better record than the Patriots. Revel in that fact this week.

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Nathan Chen
is the Sports Executive. He was born and bred in the DC Sports Bog and is ready to die in it.


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