One fourth of the season is almost in the books, and it’s been worth it. We’re finding out more who are playoff qualifying teams and who’s done when November rolls around. Almost every game Sunday was competitive and worth tuning in for at least a quarter. So who stood out, positively and negatively for the first week of October in the regular season?
Winners: Tre’Quan Smith
No Michael Thomas? No problem. Saints quarterback Drew Brees knew Emmanuel Sanders was his top target with Thomas out. Inserting Tre’Quan Smith means more to the offense. The Lions targeted him in the second and third quarters after plays to intimidate him, but Smith got the last laugh with four catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns, the second gave New Orleans a 28-14 lead.
Those two touchdowns are his first of the year. His yards per game has doubled in four games than his previous high, which was 28.5 in 2018. Simply put, the Saints have a great third option receiver for Drew Brees to throw to. We know about Thomas and Sanders. Jared Cook is a decent tight end to work with, but New Orleans’ improvement means getting Smith involved, and it seems they’re starting to realize that. The Saints play the Chargers next on Monday night and head into a bye after. With Carolina and Chicago to close out October before their second game against Tampa Bay, New Orleans could have their offense clicking at the right time.
The Ageless Wonder of Tom Brady
Yesterday is a lesson to all you sportswriters to NOT publish pieces on what’s wrong with Tampa Bay at the quarterback position until the game is over, and to not judge Tom Brady until he’s done for good.
Brady did throw another interception for a touchdown, and Tampa was in a deep hole early against the Los Angeles Chargers. Tom Brady is the captain of the offense for many reasons, and he showed leadership driving down the field, connecting with Mike Evans for his second touchdown of the afternoon to close out the second quarter.
Brady threw five touchdowns to five different receivers on his team and wasn’t intercepted again. He broke Warren Moon’s record with this feat, making him the oldest quarterback to throw for five scores in a game. His 369 yards and 117.0 quarterback rating compliment his performance. Most importantly, head coach Bruce Arians put some praise on the team saying, “This is a game we wouldn’t have won last year.” Brady and the offense deserve the praise, but Tampa Bay’s defense played its part and made sure the Chargers stalled in the second half.
Dalvin Cook and Dalvin Cook only on Minnesota
It’s pretty safe to say the Minnesota Vikings will have a hard season. The Texans are a shipwreck thanks to Bill O’Brien. While the win was ugly, Dalvin Cook is a player to feel confident in moving forward.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak isn’t having a premier season, but making Dalvin Cook the focal point of the offense may be the best move the team has. The defense isn’t what it used to be with key players gone and 23 points a game averaged on them. Making the offense run centered takes some of the pressure off. After four games, Cook has career highs in rushing yards/game (106), yards per attempt (5.7), and his second highest number of touchdowns scored in a season (6). Minnesota’s fifth in the NFL running the ball too.
Even at 1-3, this is a game-plan to stick with. The Vikings have a good chance of going 1-1 before their bye week. After their second Green Bay game, Minnesota plays four opponents who struggle to stop the run. Here’s hoping Dalvin Cook continues his career year.
The Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are here for several reasons, and yes, that ugly win is a big reason why.
It’s a good theme to keep up with like Patrick Mahomes’ ugly win in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Not every game will be double digit win margins and pretty statistics. These kinds of games the coaches and players have to dig and grind out.
Yesterday’s win against the New York Giants was a game the Rams could’ve lost last year if Jared Goff threw for 200 yards and one touchdown. They didn’t need much from him, yet they held the lead and did enough. Seattle is undefeated at 4-0, but they were off a good part of their game against Miami (more on that later). The Rams are 3-1 and could remain at one loss until their Week 10 matchup against the Seahawks.
The Rams were gifted with second place yesterday as both the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers took shocking losses to teams with a combined record of 1-4-1. You don’t get that gift every Sunday, so the Rams must maintain the mindset of 1-0 every week.
Losers: Dak Prescott
If I told you that the Dallas Cowboys were number one in the NFL in passing yards and yards per game, what would you think their record is? Probably 2-2 at worst or possibly around 3-1 right? After all, quarterback Dak Prescott has been playing his best football and wants to get a massive contract. My, how wrong you’d be.
The Cowboys are 1-3, tied for second place in the worst division in professional football. We know given those offensive rankings, it’s because the defense plays like legendary bust linebacker John Bosa leads them. Awful coverage in the passing game, bad pass rush, can’t stop the run. That puts a lot on the offense to win high-scoring games. Even if Dallas was 2-2, those wins would be shocking, double-digit comebacks where their opponents couldn’t close out. This Browns team isn’t the Falcons, so 2-2 wasn’t happening.
Before Dak Prescott was picked off twice against Seattle the week prior, he hadn’t thrown an interception in close to a half dozen games. He’s had three in two weeks, two in the fourth quarter alone. The offensive line isn’t his best friend either. He was sacked three times, two of which he fumbled and lost the ball to an improved Browns defense led by former number one pick Myles Garrett. There’s only so much Dak can do and it doesn’t seem to be enough.
The Damning Play of Tre Flowers
Football fans were used to Seattle’s Legion of Boom throwing receivers and tight ends around for most of last decade. The hard hits, shutdown coverage, staying ahead of quarterbacks and route-runners on a scale we hadn’t seen since the 2000 Ravens. And then, there’s this incompetent spineless nut who somehow would make Pope John Paul II look All-Pro if he ever took the field.
Simply put, Tre Flowers might be the WORST cornerback you’ll lay eyes on in the 21st Century, and that’s saying something. It’s shocking how defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. not only made him starter last season, but has him playing major minutes this season. Part of that are injuries to Quinton Dunbar, Neiko Thorpe and half of Seattle’s safeties. Even then for some unknown reason, Norton likes to play Flowers, and opposing quarterbacks love when he’s in.
Last year in the playoffs, audiences wondered how Davante Adams put up a career playoff game against a corner one-on-one. What they should’ve been asking is, “How the hell is this corner in the league playing off of him every five yards?” Flowers’ stats give him 14 total tackles, nine unassisted, which is ok for a corner four games into the season. What the stats DON’T show is the blown coverages on almost all his tackles. In Seattle’s game against Dallas, audiences saw his blooper trying to pick off Dak Prescott, but since he can’t catch, Michael Gallup caught the ball and ran for a first down.
Coach Pete Carroll stated before the season he’d let the defense compete for the first four weeks to see who the best defenders are. Corners Ugo Amadi and secondary specialist Ryan Neal (who had two straight interceptions, the last Dallas possession and the first Miami possession) should be locks for the rest of the season with how well they’ve played. If the rest of the coaches have working eyes, Flowers won’t see another down.
The Jacksonville Jaguars
Every year there’s that stunning upset in the first week of the season. It looks like Jacksonville beating Indianapolis is that one. The Jaguars are 0-3 since and look worse every game.
It’s one thing for the winless Cincinnati Bengals, led by number one pick Joe Burrow and runningback Joe Mixon to beat you. It’s another for them to come out of the locker room after half-time and dominate play. The Bengals went on a 17 point tear in the 3rd quarter, going from a three point deficit to leading by 14. The Jaguars rallied in the fourth, but came up short in an eight point loss, giving Joe Burrow his first career win and the record of first rookie quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards in three straight games.
The Jaguars are in third place behind the team they beat, the Indianapolis Colts by two games. The Tennessee Titans are undefeated at 3-0. COVID-19 or not, that’ll get you the division lead. The Jaguars have four easy games in the next five weeks (that other week is their bye) and need to find a way to reach .500. If they can’t, then that’s a career year of long-term starting quarterback Gardner Minshew wasted and coach Doug Marrone’s job.
A lot of praise and great analysis was put on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady for yesterday’s comeback win. What isn’t talked about is how horrendous the Los Angeles Chargers are at maintaining double-digit leads.
The Chargers are 1-3 after the first four weeks of the season. That one win was in the first week where Bengals kicker Randy Bullock missed a chip-shot field goal, preserving a three point win without having to go to overtime. The Chargers have lost three one possession games since. Two of those they dominated at least two and a half quarters of play.
This last loss, the Chargers scored once in the second half against Tampa Bay. Receiver Jalen Guyton caught a 71 yard catch-and-run touchdown from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert to close out the third quarter, and somehow was their leading receiver off that one catch alone. When Tampa made the game competitive, the Chargers didn’t show up.
Los Angeles had this problem last year. There aren’t fans in the stands to blame for miscommunication to players this time, and this isn’t a new problem. The Chargers are a top ten passing team, and there are worse defenses around than theirs. Losing games to teams like Carolina shouldn’t happen if you’re serious about winning. Anthony Lynn better find an answer quick or this could be his swan song.