Thursday, July 18, 2024

One thing we learned about each NFL team in Week 3: Dolphins run better than pass, Cowboys’ major weakness

Three weeks into the NFL season can be telling which direction many teams are heading. The 3-0 teams (there are only three of them) appear set to compete for a postseason berth — or more — throughout the year. The 0-3 teams (there are four of them) are in a deep hole they likely won’t get out of.

The 2-1 and 1-2 teams are up in the air, yet each has a trending pattern that could point to the direction they’re heading. The trends are starting to take place around the NFL, even if the “week-to-week” league still applies. 

What did we learn about each team after Week 3’s slate of games? For some teams, the problems from last season still remain. 

Arizona Cardinals

The offensive line took pressure off Joshua Dobbs: Who would have thought the Cardinals could have run the ball that efficiently? Arizona rushed for 222 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry against a Dallas run defense that allowed just 86 yards per game coming into the contest. The line created holes for James Conner all afternoon, while the big play was Rondale Moore’s 45-yard touchdown on a basic counter play. The Cardinals averaged 156.3 rushing yards a game, thanks to an offensive line that allows its backs to go north to south. 

Atlanta Falcons

They shouldn’t pass the ball: While Desmond Ridder had a poor performance (21 of 38 for 201 yards with no touchdowns), the Falcons pass-blocking was even worse. Atlanta’s offensive line gave up five sacks and 17 pressures in Sunday’s loss to the Lions, as Ridder was hit eight times. Ridder was 4 of 9 for 44 yards under pressure, being sacked seven times in the loss. The Falcons tried being a passing offense Sunday, but it’s clear their bread and butter is running the ball. That’s their formula to win. 

Baltimore Ravens

Injuries are beginning to take their toll: The Ravens’ inactive list was very predictable Sunday, as Baltimore had seven starters listed as out. Two were on the offensive line and two more were in the secondary. Gus Edwards (concussion), Rashod Bateman (hamstring), David Ojabo (ankle) and Geno Stone (ribs) added to the injury woes during the game. The Ravens were down to two running backs and three healthy wide receivers in overtime. If Lamar Jackson is healthy, they still have a chance. Those injuries are affecting Baltimore, along with the inability to protect the ball in wet conditions. 

Buffalo Bills

The pass rush thrived without Von Miller: Buffalo put up some gaudy numbers against a Washington offensive line that wasn’t up to the task. The Bills had nine sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and 24 pressures in Sunday’s blowout victory over the Commanders, two of those sacks coming each from Terrel Bernard and Leonard Floyd. Buffalo leads the NFL in sack rate at 13.8%, getting to the quarterback despite having just 37 pressures through three games. Miller will eventually come back, making the unit even better. 

Carolina Panthers

Passing offense got a boost with Andy Dalton: The Panthers needed better quarterback play after Bryce Young struggled in his first two starts. Getting a 13-year veteran in Dalton was the right call this offseason, as he went 34 of 58 for 361 yards and two touchdowns (88.4 rating). Dalton got the ball to his pass catchers, as Adam Thielen had 11 catches for 145 yards with a touchdown and DJ Chark had four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Dalton had more passing yards in one game than Young had in two. Dalton was 12 of 23 for 140 yards under pressure in the game, not turning the ball over. Dalton shouldn’t start over Young, but the Panthers know they can move the ball through the air (it’s not the pass catchers). 

Chicago Bears

Justin Fields is lost: Fields regressed significantly as a passer, bottoming out going 11 of 22 for 99 yards with a touchdown and interception (58.7 rating) — and the touchdown didn’t come until 4:20 left when the score was 41-3. Fields has significantly struggled from the pocket, completing 58.8% of the passes for 470 yards with three touchdowns to four interceptions and a 67.2 rating (5.9 yards per attempt). Fields wanted to play “freer” Sunday and he ended up playing worse. The Bears need to simplify the game for him and allow Field to take shots downfield again. He shouldn’t be this bad. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Ja’Marr Chase finally got going: Why did Joe Burrow look better this week, even with no touchdowns and an interception? Chase became the game-changer he needed to be, having 12 catches for 141 yards. Chase had more catches and yards Monday than he had in his first two games combined (10 catches for 70 yards). The rest of the Bengals receivers had 14 catches for 118 yards in Monday’s win, contributing to the team’s 4.2-yards-per-play average. The Bengals offense still isn’t explosive, but Chase getting back on track with 12 catches (one short of the franchise record in a game) is an excellent sign for Burrow and the passing game going forward. 

Cleveland Browns

Jim Schwartz is the best offseason coaching move: What Schwartz has done for the Browns defense after three weeks has elevated Cleveland’s unit to one of the best in the NFL. The Browns have allowed the fewest yards (491), yards per play (3.2), and first downs allowed (21) by any team through three games since the 1999 Buccaneers. The Browns have allowed just one offensive touchdown, the second-lowest rate (2.6%) through three games since 2000 and haven’t allowed a single play inside the opponents’ 10-yard line. They forced a three-and-out on 61.5% of plays, the highest rate by any team through three games since 2000. The Browns are just a dominant defense, and Schwartz’s system has been the catalyst. 

Dallas Cowboys

The red zone offense isn’t good: Dallas is 6 of 15 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season, as the 40% conversion rate is 27th in the NFL. The Cowboys were just 1 of 5 in the red zone in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals (20%), highlighted by a Dak Prescott interception late in the fourth quarter. Prescott is just 11 of 24 in the red zone, throwing three touchdowns to one interception for a 75.0 passer rating. The play-calling and execution hasn’t been good inside the 20. Perhaps using Prescott’s mobility would help Dallas improve those numbers. 

Denver Broncos

The secondary is abysmal: Denver gave up 70 points and 726 yards on Sunday. While it would be wise to stop there, the secondary is among the worst in the NFL. The Browns allow a league-high 8.9 yards per attempt and opposing quarterbacks have a 133.6 passer rating facing Denver after three games — 17 points higher than the next team. Not only is the secondary bad, but Patrick Surtain has allowed an 81.3 passer rating when targeted (was 51.7 in 2021 and 68.2 last year). No one on this Denver defense has been good, but this secondary is beyond poor. 

Detroit Lions

Sam LaPorta can play: The Lions draft class was maligned for where their players were selected in the draft, but the top selections are proving they can contribute to this team immediately. LaPorta may have made the biggest impact thus far, having 18 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown through his first three career games (including eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win). Jared Goff loves his tight ends and has a passer rating over 120 targeting LaPorta. With Jameson Williams out, LaPorta has been a valuable asset in the passing game. 

Green Bay Packers

Jordan Love does a fourth quarter 180: Love led the Packers to a 17-point comeback against the Saints (tying the largest fourth-quarter comeback by the franchise since 1950), thanks to some impressive numbers in the final 15 minutes. Love was just 7 of 17, but he threw for 104 yards and a touchdown (81.5 rating), leading the Packers on three consecutive scoring drives to pull off the upset. This was one week after Love went 0-for-6 for in the fourth quarter for 0 yards. Love’s stats in the final quarter aren’t gaudy, but he made the throws he needed to make against a defense that just doesn’t allow more than 20 points. That was a franchise quarterback performance from Love on Sunday. 

Houston Texans

C.J. Stroud can ball: Stroud deserves so much credit for how well he’s been playing, especially with four starting offensive linemen being hurt heading into Sunday’s game against the Jaguars. What should be a disaster for a rookie quarterback is the opposite. Stroud has completed 64.5% of his passes for 906 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 98.0 passer rating after three games, including throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns (with no interceptions) in Week 3. His 906 passing yards are the third-most through three career games in NFL history and Stroud is the only player with 900 passing yards without an interception through three games since 1950. The Texans have a quarterback, and he’s not making mistakes either. 

Indianapolis Colts

Matt Gay makes history: Cue up the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor for Gay, who hit all five of his field goal attempts in the upset victory over Baltimore. Gay became the first kicker in NFL history to convert four field goals of 50-plus yards in a single game and became the fifth kicker ever with a game-tying 50-yard-plus field goal in the final two minutes of regulation and a game-winning 50-yard-plus field goal in overtime. The Colts made Gay the highest-paid kicker this offseason for a reason and reaped the benefits Sunday. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Third- and fourth-down offense needs to be better: The Jaguars have struggled on offense through three games, the biggest culprit being on third down. They’ve converted just 29.7% of third-down conversions, good for 29th in the NFL. Fourth down isn’t any better, as the Jaguars are just 16.7% (also 29th in the NFL). Trevor Lawrence is just 15 of 28 on third/fourth down with two touchdowns and an interception for a 72.6 rating, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. The play-calling has to be better in those situations — and Lawrence has to execute. There is plenty of time to correct these issues.

Kansas City Chiefs

Defense playing fearless: The Chiefs defense feasted on a poor Bears offense, finishing with three sacks and 21 pressures in the blowout win. While getting pressure on Justin Fields, the secondary was just as dominant, allowing only 99 yards and a 56.3 passer rating. L’Jarius Sneed allowed just five passing yards and Trent McDuffie allowed two. Kansas City’s defense has allowed just 13.3 points per game and 280.7 yards per game, both top 10 in the NFL. There’s some bad blood in Kansas City. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Josh McDaniels continues to cost his football team: McDaniels just isn’t a good coach, from how his players react off the field (see Chandler Jones and how he handled Derek Carr’s benching) to his in-game decisions. McDaniels’ decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Steelers’ 8-yard line down eight points with 2:25 left was baffling, especially when he went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Steelers’ 22-yard line with 13:18 left earlier in the quarter (the attempt was unsuccessful). McDaniels just isn’t consistent in his decision-making, and hurt the Raiders’ chances of victory by kicking late instead of going for it on fourth down again. Every week there’s something new regarding McDaniels. 

Los Angeles Chargers

Brandon Staley continues to remain aggressive: Staley has never been afraid to be bold, and certainly tried to pull it off Sunday in order to give his team a victory. Staley went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Chargers’ own 24-yard line, holding a 28-24 lead with 1:51 left. A first down wins the game, but Los Angeles didn’t have Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams. Joshua Kelley was stopped, and the Vikings had the ball with 1:47 left at the Chargers’ 24 — in prime position to win. The Chargers defense bailed Staley out by picking off Kirk Cousins in the red zone and getting to 1-2, but Staley significantly put his team at risk by failing to convert on fourth down. Staley is going to coach aggressive and listen to the analytics, no matter the result. He’s going down his way, which deserves respect whether its the right call to be overaggressive or not. 

Los Angeles Rams

The offensive line got Matthew Stafford beat up: Stafford was sacked six times and hit 10 times as the Bengals defense got to him all Monday night. The consistent pressure led to two interceptions and Stafford being careless with the football and his immobility doomed him from making big plays down the field. The Rams didn’t get a touchdown until late in the game when the Bengals were trying to preserve a 10-point lead and kill time off the clock, and they were still getting to Stafford. The Rams quarterback had a long night. 

Miami Dolphins

The run offense may be more lethal than the pass offense: The Dolphins rushed for 350 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry in their demolition of the Broncos. The pass offense is dominant with Tua Tagovailoa, but the rushing attack may actually be better. Miami is first in rush yards per game (188.3), rush touchdowns (eight), and yards per carry (6.1). Raheem Mostert is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and De’Von Achane is averaging 10.9 yards per carry. Chris Brooks is averaging 7.3 yards per carry! These numbers are inflated because of the Denver game, but Miami rushed for 145 yards against New England’s defense the week prior. The rushing attack is just as dangerous as the passing game — and maybe even better. 

Minnesota Vikings

Red zone offense cost them a win: The Vikings were just 1 of 4 in the red zone on Sunday, including a lack of urgency facing a first-and-goal at the Chargers’ 6-yard line with 41 seconds left. That resulted in a Kick Cousins interception on the next play that cost Minnesota the game. Minnesota needed 29 seconds to get set up at the 6-yard line in the final minute down four points, a significant problem for a passing offense that has racked up yards the first three weeks. Minnesota is just 5 of 10 in the red zone after three games, as the 50% conversion rate is 21st in the NFL. The red zone woes play a huge role in the 0-3 start. 

New England Patriots

Scoring points is still an issue: The Patriots played in sloppy conditions Sunday at MetLife Stadium, yet still had problems putting points on the board. New England was able to move the ball against New York, getting into Jets territory seven times — but only getting 13 points. The biggest play was a 58-yard pass from Mac Jones to Pharaoh Brown for a touchdown, and that catch and run looked like a struggle in the sloppy conditions. The Patriots haven’t put up over 20 points in any of the three games, scoring just three offensive touchdowns over the last two games. That’s not a formula to compete for the AFC East, no matter how good their defense is. 

New Orleans Saints

Offense stagnates after Derek Carr injury: The Saints offense hasn’t been explosive through two games, but was able to rack up 17 first-half points against the Packers. Then Carr injured his shoulder and the offense stalled out. Jameis Winston went 10 of 16 for 101 yards, but New Orleans punted on his first four possessions and gained just 69 yards during that span. In fairness to Winston, he did go 4 of 6 for 45 yards on a drive that resulted in Blake Grupe missing a 46-yard field goal — so maybe the narrative is different if Grupe makes that kick. Punting on the first four possessions when Carr was out is a sign the Saints need him to be a contender in the NFC. 

New York Giants

Darren Waller hasn’t been a difference-maker: Every week can be a reminder of the Giants offensive line, but Waller hasn’t been what the Giants traded for this offseason. Waller has just 12 catches for 132 yards and no touchdowns through three games, not exactly the difference-maker the Giants thought they were getting. He’s been largely invisible in two of the three games, more for his drops than making plays and getting open. The hamstring injury may be playing a factor, but the Giants need more from Waller thanks to a poor offensive line and mediocre wide receiver group. 

New York Jets

The run game is suffering thanks to Zach Wilson: Another week to mention how bad Wilson has been in his two starts, but the rushing attack has been affected because of his poor play. The Jets have just 102 rushing yards in Wilson’s two starts, including a dismal 38 against the Patriots. Breece Hall has just 16 carries for 27 yards in the two games while Dalvin Cook has only 12 carries for 25 yards. Combined the two have averaged just 1.86 yards per carry in Wilson’s starts. Wilson has been dreadful, but so has the running game as a result. 

Philadelphia Eagles

They are destroying opponents on the ground: Doesn’t matter the defense the Eagles are playing, they pound the football for 200 yards anyway. They also stop the run just as well, holding opponents to just 48.3 yards per game after three games. They also average 185.7 rushing yards per game to boot. The Eagles have outrushed their opponents 460 to 69 over their last two games, which is the best rush yards margin (+391) in a two-game span for the franchise since 1949. They just bully their opponents in the trenches each week, which is why they are 3-0 to start the year. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

T.J. Watt is still dominant: This can be repeated every week, but Watt had another dominant performance for Pittsburgh. Watt finished with two sacks, six pressures, and three quarterback hits in Sunday’s win over the Raiders. There was no Cameron Heyward on the defensive interior, yet the Steelers forced three turnovers and held the Raiders to 69 rushing yards. Watt has six sacks, 19 pressures, and 12 quarterback hits through three games — making game-changing plays that have driven the Steelers to two wins. Watt has been the MVP on the Steelers through three games and appears poised for another historic season. 

San Francisco 49ers

Brock Purdy’s struggles in the red zone: Hard to find anything wrong in the 49ers’ victory over the Giants, but San Francisco was just 2 of 5 in the red zone. Part of the red zone woes involved Brandon Aiyuk being out, as he has two catches for 27 yards and two touchdowns in the red zone after the first two games. Purdy was just 1 of 6 in the red zone (the completion was a touchdown), and was 2 of 6 in the two games prior. Purdy is 3 of 12 for 36 yards and three touchdowns (79.2 rating) in the red zone through three games, but he’s not turning the ball over. Perhaps Aiyuk’s return will help. 

Seattle Seahawks

Kenneth Walker is back: Walker had an OK start to the season, having 29 carries for 107 yards in the first two games (five catches for 14 yards). He was a game-changer Sunday, having 18 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns along with three catches for 59 yards. Walker had a 36-yard catch midway in the third quarter that put Seattle in the red zone — and he later finished the drive off with a touchdown) to put the Seahawks in control of the game. Walker has four touchdowns and 5.0 yards per touch through three games, but Sunday’s win showcased the game-changing back Walker was in his rookie year. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The run defense may not be as dominant as in years past: The Eagles are a different animal in terms of running the football, but Tampa Bay entered Week 3 allowing just 54 rushing yards per game (second in NFL). Tampa Bay gave up 201 rushing yards to Philadelphia and 5.0 yards per carry, this was after allowing just 108 yards and 3.3 yards per carry in the first two games. The Buccaneers faced a struggling Vikings and Bears team running the football, so the Eagles were going to be a true test. They failed miserably. 

Tennessee Titans

The DeAndre Hopkins effect hasn’t had much affect: Hopkins led the Titans with three catches for 48 yards, or 51.1% of the team’s offensive output on Sunday. Hopkins hasn’t been the difference maker or No. 1 wide receiver Tennessee was hoping for after three games, having 14 catches for 153 yards and zero touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill has specifically struggled targeting Hopkins, going 14 of 25 for 153 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The 40.9 rating is the worst in the NFL this season among duos with 20-plus attempts. Tannehill and Hopkins can’t get on the same page, a microcosm of the offensive struggles. 

Washington Commanders

Pressure got to Sam Howell: The Commanders young quarterback was pressured all afternoon, getting sacked nine times and hit 15 times. Howell throw four interceptions and didn’t look comfortable throughout the game. Howell went 4 of 10 with three interceptions while facing pressure with an 8.3 passer rating. The Commanders did a poor job protecting Howell, giving the quarterback the worst game of his young career. Howell gets the Eagles next week to boot. 

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