After one of the most memorable weeks in football concluding September, the first week of October followed up with a highlighted sequel. Some teams are still undefeated or winless, distancing themselves from those trying to figure out how to have favorable matchups. Time to break down what and who stood out most.
Winners: Dallas Cowboys
Dallas was favored to beat an undefeated Carolina Panthers team that didn’t have their best offensive player and standout defensive rookie. The offense and defense made the necessary adjustments, slamming Matt Rhule’s team in the second half.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw under 200 yards and four touchdowns, three in the third quarter. The runningbacks Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both averaged almost seven yards a carry. Elliott ran over 140 yards and a touchdown. Dallas’ offense may be one of the most balanced and dangerous in the league.
The defense deserves a lot of credit for how the team is alone in first place. Cornerback Trevon Diggs had two interceptions and the front seven sacked Panther quarterback Sam Darnold five times. Dan Quinn’s made the impact and worked well with younger players trying to find their way in the league, and it’ll pay off come playoff time.
Dallas’ biggest test could be in Kansas City November 21st. It’s possible this team could lock up a division title by that time if both the offense and defense keep playing like yesterday.
Credit the Atlanta Falcons for choking away a great Matt Ryan performance. Their defense can’t stop anybody in second halves. However Washington quarterback Taylor Heinecke played better than Ryan when it mattered most.
The Football Team’s defense isn’t close to last year’s credibility and that means the offense has to score more than 16 points to win. Despite a back and forth game, Washington trailed by eight at one point and many expected the Falcons to win. Heinicke wasn’t having it.
He threw the first touchdown with four minutes remaining to Terry McLaurin, one of the best receivers anyone can watch. The two point conversion failed, preserving Atlanta’s lead. After a bumbled drive for coach Arthur Smith’s offense, Heinicke wasted no time. He threw a 30 yard catch-and-run pass to J.D. McKissic, who dove into the endzone for another lead change, this time ensuring a win.
The comeback doesn’t happen without the backup quarterback playing his best football when it matters, getting both runningbacks and receivers involved in the passing game. Ron Rivera’s team has ways to go but they’re comfortably in second place.
Last week on Pro Talk, Wesley Woods and I discussed who the best team in both the NFC, specifically the west was. Most people had the Los Angeles Rams as the best. That’s not true after Sunday.
Last year Arizona had an eye-opening three straight wins to start the season, but collapsed because of inconsistent play and injuries to important players. They’re not in that situation after week four.
Rams coach Sean McVay was 8-0 against the Cardinals since his hiring. The first loss in five years comes at a time when everyone thought Los Angeles was the best. Arizona did any and everything they wanted in a pivotal road win. Quarterback Kyler Murray threw for two touchdowns and posted a 120.3 rating against what’s considered the best defense in the league.
The Cardinal offense gets a lot of credit because of their playmakers but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in less than two years. Los Angeles quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted in the first half and forced passes a veteran shouldn’t throw, frustrated by receivers not getting open. Joseph’s defense controlled the pace and made sure Darrell Henderson Jr. wouldn’t have a career game with a double digit lead on the line.
When Arizona went undefeated after week four a decade ago the team finished up 1-11 because of poor offensive performances. This team won’t fall apart with the talent and leadership. Until the Cardinals host the Green Bay Packers late this month, it’s possible they stay undefeated or in first place. Just don’t tell those who think the Rams took a step forward after beating Tom Brady that.
The Tom Brady-Bill Belichick storyline even through postgame was what everyone wanted to watch, hear and talk about. It’s all football fans focused on, and we got great reactions. Yet the quarterback who stood out was the New England rookie who would have the storylines if kicker Nick Folk didn’t hit the left upright, ensuring Tom Brady’s victory in Foxborough.
Mac Jones tied a Brady record with the Patriots: 19 straight completions. He out-dueled his predecessor throwing for more yards, a better passer rating and two touchdowns. There were questions on how Jones could handle throwing passes more than 40 times every week. Coach Belichick had to let his quarterback play aggressively and they nearly won their first home game with that gamble.
Regarding the other rookie quarterbacks, we don’t know how they’ll perform in pivotal games against playoff opponents a few months from now. We do know that New England has one that can and put them in a position to win.
Losers: Anyone/thing associated with the Houston Texans offense
Last week any professional football fan with a pulse criticized the Chicago Bears for a league worst offensive performance unheard of since 2009. This week the Houston Texans wanted to challenge how bad it could get and they succeeded for two quarters.
The Buffalo Bills defense looks as good if not better than their 2018 and 2019 seasons. They put a beating on the Miami Dolphins in the second week of the season, of which Miami has yet to recover. Houston had a week and a half to prepare for the defense and came up with these stats in the first half: two interceptions, -23 net passing yards, eight total yards and one first down. The second half was better but not much as Buffalo won by 40.
Tyrod Taylor couldn’t come back at a better (or worse) time. The AFC South is terrible this year and most of that is because…
…the teams we thought would make the playoffs aren’t showing up and finishing games. It’s understandable the Tennessee Titans didn’t have their best two receivers Sunday against the Jets. The offense did play well despite that and a porous offensive line.
This is where coaching during the week comes into focus. Special teams knows if the team’s best playmakers are out, pressure falls on them to deliver in every phase of the game. Punting the ball deep in opponent territory helps the defense. Kicking field goals and receiving punts help the offense. Randy Bullock was perfect until overtime when the Titans needed a tie to remain over .500.
The kick went left. The Titans are 2-2 with two one win teams behind. At least they play the Texans twice.
Fans and analysts wasted no time bombarding the internet about how the great Kansas City offense came back and the Chiefs snapped their two game losing streak. The takeaway from their game against the Eagles is how bad Philadelphia’s played two games in one week. They didn’t just lose. They were routed.
Too much credit was put on Philadelphia’s defense the first two weeks of the season. Atlanta can’t run the ball and San Francisco lost three runningbacks. Competent offenses show the Eagles can’t defend the pass nor stop the run. That said, the offensive gameplan from coordinator Shane Steichen was awful.
Kansas City’s defense may be worst in the league at stopping the run. Philly’s leading rusher was Jalen Hurts averaging five yards a carry. The next leading rusher carried the ball three times. Steichen’s gameplan involved Hurts throwing the ball nearly 50 times. The Eagles and Chiefs had multiple lead changes in the first half, and the game was close until the third quarter.
Philadelphia should have kept Patrick Mahomes and company on the bench for longer drives rather than using a pass-first mindset. The result was a highlight day for Kansas City, who had their first blowout win since last November.
San Francisco 49ers strength and conditioning coach Dustin Perry
There’s nowhere like San Francisco where talented players are piling up on injured reserve. Every game the 49ers have played at least three players finish the day going to the locker room before seeing the final score.
This week the unfortunate players were starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and starting left tackle and offensive captain Trent Williams. All injuries were revealed in different ways. No one knew Garappolo was injured until San Francisco’s offense came back onto the field. Kinlaw suffered his injury tackling the grass instead of a speeding Russell Wilson, and Trent Williams carted to the locker room after injuring his shoulder on a Seahawks blitz.
Injuries have been a common theme in coach Kyle Shanahan’s tenure and Perry’s been on staff since his arrival. If the 49ers want to curb major injuries, they need to cast out their strength and conditioning staff. One full season of healthy players out of five is a red flag for any football team.