photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
By Anthony Goss
Week 4 of the NFL season presented major headlines before any players stepped foot on the field for the games, with the COVID-19 outbreak among Tennessee Titans players and staff.
After Tennessee’s game vs. Pittsburgh was postponed, news broke out that Patriots quarterback Cam Newton had tested positive for the virus as well. Luckily, no other outbreaks occurred, and the NFL moved forward with most of its scheduled games.
Three Good Things
4-0 Records and Stellar QB play going hand in hand
There are several undefeated teams left, but the Bills, Chiefs, Packers and Seahawks all sit at 4-0.
The common denominator with all these teams? Excellent quarterback play.
Josh Allen has improved vastly this season and led a poised Bills team to a win in Vegas on Sunday afternoon. With the Patriots vs Chiefs game moved to Monday, the spotlight shifted to Allen and the Bills. Allen took care of the ball and threw for two touchdowns, adding one more on the ground as well.
In a close defensive battle, the Chiefs outlasted the Patriots in a game where Patrick Mahomes was not his usual self. The reigning Super Bowl MVP performed under his standards, but has been great this season.
Aaron Rodgers has turned back the clock for the Packers through four games, after an offseason and draft highlighted by questions about his successor and ability to play at a high level. Rodgers continued to silence the doubters on Monday night, throwing for three touchdowns in the first half en route to a 30-16 win over the Falcons.
Finally, Russell Wilson continued his quest for his first MVP by leading the Seahawks to a 31-23 win against the Dolphins. Like Mahomes, this was not his best performance, but great players find ways to win football games, and that’s what these quarterbacks have done this season.
Browns make a statement
The defense in Dallas is atrocious, but Kevin Stefanski deserves credit for bringing change to a Cleveland Browns team with its first 3-1 record since 2001.
Down early, losing running back Nick Chubb to a right MCL sprain, the Browns held their ground from a furious Dak Prescott comeback and made a statement in Jerry World on Sunday afternoon.
The Cleveland defense, headlined by defensive end Myles Garrett, forced two crucial turnovers that led to great field position and touchdowns on both possessions. WR Odell Beckham Jr made plays all over the field, including a touchdown catch off a creative trick play thrown by his former LSU teammate and now fellow wideout, Jarvis Landry.
QB Baker Mayfield was solid and did not try to force anything downfield or off his legs, something he was criticized for last season. When RB Nick Chubb went down with a knee injury, the rest of the running back committee stepped up and made solid runs to keep the Dallas defense on its heels throughout the game. In a loaded AFC North, the Browns sit at 3-1, but this team has found its identity on the ground and will be a formidable opponent going forward.
Chargers have their guy
Despite the loss to the Bucs on a gloomy Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay, the Chargers have found a bright side in rookie QB Justin Herbert.
In what was supposed to be a learning year on the bench for Herbert, he has stepped in for injured QB Tyrod Taylor and shown some moxie in his game. Yes, there are some mistakes to be fixed, but Herbert provides the Chargers with their best shot at winning football games.
Herbert has shown confidence since stepping in, especially on Sunday as he went toe-to-toe with future hall of fame QB Tom Brady. On Sunday, Herbert went 20 for 25 with three touchdowns, and one interception but a passer rating of 137.9.
The Chargers and Herbert will continue to grow, but if he continues to make plays like he made on the 53-yard bomb to Tyron Johnson, a promising future lies ahead for the Chargers.
Three Bad Things
Dallas Defense in Disarray
Just as I mentioned before, the defense in Dallas is atrocious. Granted, there are some other issues on this team, but man…. this group has been pathetic.
The Cowboys have given up 36.5 points per game through the first quarter of the season, with a run defense that has given up a league-high 172.5 yards per game (last in the NFC) and a passing defense giving up 258.0 yards per game.
Dallas refused to spend money on its secondary in the offseason, and now is paying a hefty price.
The departure of cornerback Byron Jones in free agency has hurt more than expected, leaving a depleted secondary that seems to be a few steps behind receivers on almost every throw.
In the second year of his big contract extension, LB Jaylon Smith has had little to no impact on the field, and DE Tank Lawrence and the “Hot Boys” have been ice cold in the pass rush, doing very little to generate turnovers and stop the run.
Hopefully, the Cowboys defense can find some success when the Giants come into town next week, but after giving up 49 points to the Browns, nothing is guaranteed.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Bill O’Brien is out as head coach, but things do not look good for this team.
The Texans sit at 0-4 after falling 31-23 to the Vikings in a battle of winless teams. After finishing first in the AFC South the last two seasons, Houston looks like a team far from contention this season.
The Texans have an NFL-worst run defense, which Dalvin Cook exposed this week with 130 yards and two touchdowns. Left with little to work with on offense since the departure of WR DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson posted his worst quarterback rating of the season (37.8), and the run game failed to break 100 yards.
The Texans do not have either a first or second round pick this season, thanks to Bill O’Brien, so tanking is not an option either. They will look to turn the page next week against the Jaguars, but their next two opponents have a combined record of 7-0. The road ahead for Houston is daunting, but hey, at least they didn’t draft Mitchell Trubisky.
Cardinals Grounded in Carolina
After two games into the season, many were high on the Arizona Cardinals. Kyler Murray looked like a video game character as he led the Cardinals to two wins to start the season, but since then, they have struggled.
Last week against Detroit, Murray made some questionable throws that hurt the offense, and this week, the defense had issues as the Panthers pounced on a defense that had a hard time finding stops.
The Cardinals are a younger team, but in a season where they are competing with Seattle (4-0) and the Los Angeles Rams (3-1), they need to win games against the lesser teams of the NFC if they want to clinch their first playoff berth since 2015.
Keep an eye on…
Coronavirus measures moving forward
The NFL was doomed for a COVID-19 outbreak from the start.
Just as the MLB demonstrated in its regular season, it is close to impossible to prevent the transmission of the virus without a bubble format.
Now that the Titans officially had an outbreak within the organization and the Patriots and Saints had outbreak scares, fans should prepare for the possibility of a pause in the season. The NFL was able to perform schedule gymnastics this past week and create byes for the teams affected, but this cannot become a continuous response to outbreaks if the league wants to carry out the rest of its season.
The NFL has already had issues coaches wearing their masks improperly on the sidelines, and going forward, they must find a way to keep all players, coaches, and staff safe and healthy.