Arizona Cardinals: The Josh Rosen Era stunningly started late in the Bears game and it looked just like his UCLA days. Under pressure pick 6 that was called back by a penalty. Under pressure throw to a covered out route that was also picked off. When given time he has the perfect mechanics, the ability to read the field and the arm talent needed to pick a defense apart. When pressured, he turns into Jay Cutler. Seattle wisely sat back in their soft zones and man under with 2 or 3 high and rarely brought pressure. It’s a feel good story for the folks in AZ who are sitting at 0-4. When they play a team that can rush the passer or one that goes back to the old school thought of “see a rookie QB, blitz a rookie QB” results will get a bit more worrisome. The next four games are SF, MN, DEN, SF. Not a good stretch.
Atlanta Falcons: You can say the rise of the Falcons in recent years came due to Kyle Shanahan’s offense taking hold. You can point to the additions of Sanu and Gabriel (now Ridley) to expose the space created by Julio Jones. That’s not the case. ATL became a team to recon with when they drafted Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. The most important positions for a defense in the spread happy era are the hourglass. DT’s, MLB S’s. The hourglass. The range those back three hold added with the ability of DT’s to hold up the interior against the run AND push the pocket against the pass made this ATL team go. It’s why they handled Philly’s RPO well, it’s why they slowed down the Rams. It’s why they went to the SB in 17 and, until they ran out of gas, had the Patriots dead to rights. Poe leaves via FA, they lose Neal, Jones and Allen for an extended period of time (if not the year) and this team’s done. It doesn’t matter how many points they score. They can’t stop anyone. Kazee, Riley, Senat are good players. It doesn’t matter. 1-3 wouldn’t be a death sentence if there were issues to work through on defense. Losing three erasers and a linchpin is too much to overcome. Now Garrett is out for week 5. How many points will Vegas put on this ATL Pitt game? 56.5 and climbing immediately. Thought this might be a NFL game that OU’s at 60. Maybe by weeks end.
Baltimore Ravens: Hourglass? Weddle Jefferson Mosley. A back triangle that may be second to none. Top 5 certainly. No surprise that Baltimore’s defense is humming along. The real surprise is that John Brown is healthy for once. Having Yanda back, adding Tree Snead and Brown leaves this team in a great spot as long as Brown can stay on the field. Speed kills but more importantly speed moves S’s out of position and creates space. They can stop with the Lamar Jackson trick plays any time now, but Baltimore is the favorite in this division once again.
Buffalo Bills: Oy. Poor Josh Allen. You beat MN with High School spread offense man coverage beaters and everyone got all excited. I hear you jumped over someone. That’s cool. Man under, 1 or 2 deep, and pressure leaves nothing but a swing route to McCoy. That’s a problem. Your OL is terrible. That’s a problem. Your development is behind rookie Blake Bortles. That’s a problem. At least you are a 1st round talent (22-28 range but a 1st round talent) and you seem tough enough to take the ungodly amount of abuse you are going to eat on the field this year. David Carr hopes his rookie sack record falls by the wayside. That’s one of those odd records that no one ever expected to fall but in this reality, it’s possible. Allen’s been sacked 18 times in the first 4 games and is on pace for 72. Peterman played a half so the team as a whole is on pace for 84 sacks allowed. Carr was sacked 76 times. Let the countdown begin! 77 minus 18 leaves 59 in 12 games. Easy math 5 a game gets the OVER. David, buy a bottle of bubbly!Let’s see if we get to pop that cork. Remember someone saying Peterman needs to be used as a sacrificial lamb? Good news, McDermott has taken over the defensive play calling and he’s a whale of a DC. He’ll also be a whale of a DC in 2020 after he gets fired.
Carolina Panthers: Matt Kalil, Trai Turner and Daryl Williams have two starts between them. They lost Norwell in the offseason. It’s a testament to them that they are still standing but the Atlanta game should be seen as a bellwether. Without the top level OL Carolina will struggle against their division mates.They have the best front triangle in the league. Short, Poe, Kuechly but the Ss are rotten. The sooner Gaulden can start the better. Donte Jackson has been a fantastic pick.
Chicago Bears: What a filthy defense! In a land of overs this teams a joy for my defensive minded self to watch. Eddie Jackson’s range next to the underrated Amos, Trevathan’s leadership paired with the range of Roquan Smith. A DL with their hair on fire and Mack makes everyone else’s job so easy. Trib coming off a break out game. The skies the limit! Hit the breaks Bears fans. Trib is still very locked in on his number one read. He was pre-snap coming out of college and he’s still very pre-snap driven. The reason for last week was Conte more than Trib. I’ll get to that in the TB write up. That being said, Chicago is primed to push for a WC spot this year. The offense is fully weaponized and the defense will carry this team towards their goals. This is a rising wave. The future here is very bright. The Packer fan in me is officially concerned. Coaching matters and the Nagy Fangio pairing is dynamite. It’s on Trib and his development now. Start the clock.
Cincinnati Bengals: Welcome back Burfict! Can you please stay on the field? The rest of the LB’s in Cincy don’t deserve snaps. With you and Jessie Bates this team has a chance. So far, they’ve been the most charmed team in the league. A team that could easily be 1-3 that’s made their own luck.
Cleveland Browns: So you got rid of Josh Gordon huh? Sounds like Dorsey talking in the ear of Haslem to me. The moment Hue got annoyed, there goes your best chance at winning this year. At least Baker beat the Jets. You beat the Raiders too but the refs disagreed. As did Baker’s three dreadful TOs which handed Oakland 21 points. Baker has a bright future but the easier you make it for teams to man cover his WRs the further you delay his development. Taking the double team Gordon would command out of the picture makes this season a lot harder to navigate. That being said all you really need at this point is a new coach, a gm trying to win, a replacement for the #1 WR you just traded away, a replacement for every CB you have save Ward and a SS who can bump Peppers to the 3rd S role. Then Cleveland will be a real football team again.
Dallas Cowboys: Their S’s blow, Lee is hurt again so the defense is gone vs any modern looking offense. Even with the raw LVE, it’s a big problem.At least Garrett and Linehan finally realize who their QB is after a painful year long hiatus. The whole offense is built to be a deep ball decoy to open space for the three pass catchers. Zeke, Beasley and Swaim. Check down city. Deep routes all come off play-action. This is what made Dak a success in year one and also what made Dez pout his way right out of the league. Bryant said they didn’t use him properly and he was correct. Dallas players said Bryant quit and that too was correct. If he isn’t the #1 focal WR he will mail it in. Cleveland will surely sign him the moment they fire Hue Jackson. Hurns Thompson Austin and Williams do not command the same respect from opposing defenses but the biggest issue for Dallas is the center they are missing. Center is a VITAL position in the current game. I argue it has bypassed the LT due to teams shifting their best pass rusher to the right side. Missing Frederick has wreaked havoc on the Dallas OL. This is especially showing up on the road so if Dallas is on the road and play a team stout against the run, you know what to do. Going forward they need a few upgraded speed threats outside, an actual TE and use Gallup in the slot. Using him as a big slot would do wonders for this team.
Denver Broncos: Thank you Mile High! Thank you, I can’t believe I’m saying this, Vance Joseph for finally attacking KC. You know, the way described in the Mahomes piece from week 2.The prevent-like defense the league was playing sure didn’t work. You tried. He beat you, but you tried! Keenum has them playing respectable football and if you don’t love Phillip Lindsey yet I don’t know what it’s going to take. How he went undrafted NFL, shame on you. Denver’s gain. If they’d have kept riding him and Freeman I’d have lost my Monday night bet on KC. It’s going to take more talent than they have to push Keenum into the playoffs. They need a Batman at MLB instead of a collection of Robins.
Detroit Lions: Barkley, Sony, Kerryon was my board and Kerryon looks nasty in Detroit. Enough is enough. Kerryon and Theo only please! Otherwise, this is a transition year for Patricia and the Lions. The NE model defense is very hard to teach, just ask Stephon Gilmore. It’s also very fragile when communication breaks down. Aside from the DETvNE game they’ve been absolutely obliterated on the ground.
Green Bay Packers:GB has a DC that can game plan to an opponent and adapt to what he sees playing out.They have an OC who can do the same. It’s been a long time since GB’s been able to alter their scheme midflight and that puts them back in the elite class in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers and coaches who think is more than most have.
Houston Texans: Another relic of the NE family tree that has more defensive problems than positives. They have Watt Mercilus and Clowney yet they are allowing 27 points a game. They upgraded S speed with Mathieu and LB speed with Cunningham and still, 27 points a game. The Giants, Titans and Colts aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts. Nor is NE without Edelman, pre Gordon. I spent many film reviews yelling at Vrabel for coaching his DBs to give up far too much space. It looks like it was coming from Crennel. Offensively, Watson ended up in the perfect landing spot in Houston. Having Hopkins Fuller and now Keke Coutee (who is absolutely the real deal) plays into his talents beautifully. Defenses, at least the first three he played, did their film study and made him beat them underneath. Everything else on offense leaves a lot to be desired. 1-3 will correct itself, but this is a 500 team.
Jacksonville Jaguars: When it seems the entire league is trying to build a fleshed out WR core of differing talents the Jags have zagged. Speed speed speed. Dominate the OL, push the S’s deep. Make the defense debate the choice to bring eight into the box. No one does it more traditionally than Jacksonville. Heavy run, long “handoff” pass plays with some splash plays built in. It’s Norv Turner roots mixed with bunch stacks. It’s a very simple offense, one that Baltimore should be lining up for Lamar and Buffalo for Allen. The defense is the most talented in the game. Due to this Jax is hard to beat game in and game out. They will be there in the playoffs but then the concerns arise. No team is more matchup dependent. Their problem will be looking at Patmon/Hayden in the slot instead of Colvin, Barry Church being coverage weak, and the fact that Shanahan and Haley have shown the league how to light this defense up. They can not stay as stagnant as they are and expect to win a trophy without the perfect path. Especially, with more teams trending away from their wheel house. Also, use Corey Grant so you know what you have before someone steals him away in FA.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck is healthy. TY Hilton has become an overlooked star. After that it’s easy to overlook the Colts. Don’t. Something is in the water in the AFC South. Jacksonville is a threat in the league. Tennessee grabbed two coordinators from brilliant coaching trees and there’s something happening in the Colts FO. Can’t simply hand all the credit to Ballard but there’s talent in that FO somewhere. Turn over every rock, scrap and claw for the best roster possible. They might be off to a rough start but this team looks very different from the teams that Luck and Manning carried. They are being very patient in the draft and it’s showing promising results. They are filling in the gaps with players who fell through the cracks despite having a spark of untapped talent. They are quietly attacking FA, adding players to instant value team friendly contracts that fit their coach’s system. It’s a patient path but the Colts are on the right one. They are toolboxing every position and their defensive line looks positioned to ascend to the upper levels of the league. Quality players, in the proper scheme fit and coaches who are capable of teaching. The Colts are the third piece that will raise the AFC South to a division where three teams can call themselves a playoff team.
Kansas City Chiefs: This is without Eric Berry. That’s terrifying. I do not believe Sutton’s defense is this bad. I think he has something up his sleeve.
Los Angeles Rams: Goff is the luckiest QB in the league. McVay is fantastic. He’s a thief, but fantastic. I can’t call him an innovator but he’s very good at sampling the leagues greatest hits and blending them into a single system. Despite coming through the Gruden and Shanahan family coaching tree, he’s quickly stolen the things that KC started last season. He was not in the Reid Nagy Childress coaching room but he absolutely studied their tape. You can see their fingerprints in the Ram’s offense. Give credit where it’s due. He sees what’s working and he knows how to use it. He also knows what he needs to have personnel wise to achieve it. The defense, unless you are a Rams fan or football nerd, you probably can’t name who they play at DE and OLB off the top of your head. You don’t know the name of the speed they’ve thrown into the middle LB role. Barron hasn’t played so that’s cheating. You probably don’t know how coverage plus their S’s are. This team is on the front line of positional value analytics. If they are not, they stumbled into it in a big way. DT’s who can push the pocket and hold up vs the run. LB’s who can cover tons of ground. S’s who are coverage plus. That’s an hour glass alright. To top it off, Talib and Peters because why not. It’s hard to see who can stop them at this point. Very few teams can man up across the board, while having an offense that can outscore them. They look like a favorite because they are one.
Miami Dolphins:I wish the Dolphins got more respect this offseason. They are building a very solid team. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they are sitting 3-1 because teams like this beat bad teams and have a few games bounce their way throughout a season. Due to five bye weeks they should have been seen as a dark horse WC contender and they already caught the Titans before they could start rolling. While the Fins lack elite talent outside of their secondary, they are that boring team that could wiggle their way into playoff tie-breaker talk in December. They are solid but nothing points to this team being anything more than solid.
Minnesota Vikings: Zimmer, buddy, you got old fast! No team has been hurt worse by the rise of the spread offense than Minnesota. The defensive line looks terrifying on paper. It would be in reality, if the back seven could cover. The S’s look slow. Barr is getting destroyed in coverage. Teams are running WR’s away from Rhodes. They’ve staved off an 0-4 start to sit 1-2-1. GB choked vs them to draw the tie. Buffalo killed them. They had no chance of stopping the Rams and SF couldn’t convert in the redzone after killing them on misdirection man beaters all game. Cousins was supposed to take them to the next level. Offensively he has but this team will still be fighting for a WC down the stretch. They are very capable of going on a big run after the Eagles send them to 1-3-1 but there are enough games on the schedule to keep them from getting to 10 wins. For a team that was expected to contend for the SB, that’s a big disappointment.
New England Patriots: Four weeks have gone by and it’s all hands on deck. Gordon, Edelman and Sony are jumping into the fray and it looks like they will be needed. There are three models of the NE defense running in the league right now. Despite their talent strengths in differing areas, not a single one of those defenses is succeeding. NE, Houston and DET. All three look awful against any team that has an offense. Except each other. When you look at the rising crop of teams in the AFC you see the problem. Simply playing Jax put two losses on the Patriot’s record. One vs Jax and one because they were beat up from playing Jax. The power, flanking and vert game of Jacksonville is a tough matchup for their defense. KC has every trick in their arsenal. Tennessee and Baltimore have not fully weaponized their offense but the Baltimore defensive scheme has given NE fits in the playoffs. The Chargers speed on defense also gives them trouble. Belichick knows this. His defense will keep the modest offenses in check, but the elite teams leave NE one option. You have to outscore them. The NE defensive model is built to read and react with the reads of the QB. To morph as the play develops. Think of it as a matchup zone in basketball. Man concepts, switching to zone concepts. Jacksonville and KC aren’t making complex reads. Nor was Philadelphia in the SB. They don’t leave the time to switch. They space the field in too many ways to allow for the switching. NE is going to continue to destroy everyone in their division. No one has an answer for them. They will win their last four regular season games. However, they have five games in their next seven that will be very interesting. They’ll beat Buffalo and the Jets with ease but KC, CHI, GB, TEN and MN all pose some very interesting problems. Even 2-3 in those five leaves them at a comfortable 10 wins. That stretch will cement the fact that the AFC has become a conference of landmines for the Patriots.
New Orleans Saints: I won’t even look at this first quarter of the season for the Saints offense. They’ve missed Ingram all four games and Peat for two. They haven’t even picked a direction to go in with their offense. Will they go back to the slot laden approach or the Rb heavy approach? Both? Either way, I hope the Tysom Hill red zone project was an attempted fix to missing Ingram. I love Tysom Hill but I hate this red zone package. Defensively, they have to find an answer to speed #2 WRs. Desean and Ridley absolutely torched them.
New York Giants: Barkley is everything that was promised. Shurmur and Bettcher are very uninspiring hires. Shurmur schemes a strong first 15 plays but after that teams tend to know what they are getting. Their defense does not create. There’s talent, but this team’s going to be taking a hard road to wins with these two coaches. It isn’t going to happen with Eli.
New York Jets: Sam Darnold is Ben Roethlisberger. He was babied for two years out of necessity and was a turnover machine in his third year when the reins were relaxed. After that the story turns out pretty well. Darron Lee has finally arrived. Adams is a monster. Williamson was a great pickup. Williams and Shephard could be downright scary someday. The defense as a whole is growing into a very talented group. The offense is incredibly ho hum. A coaching change should happen at some point and when they stop talking about Robby Anderson as a top weapon the Jets will have a lot of positives going for them. Someday.
Oakland Raiders: 1-3 never looked so bad. Gruden and Vegas have a full rebuild on their hands. At least you’ll have a party on draft night. Trading Mack for anything is inexcusable. He is a cornerstone piece. Their DL has zero gap integrity. You are starting Marcus FREAKING Gilchrist. What in the name of Bacarri Rambo is going on around here? Despite the win, this might be the least talented roster in the league. Yes Buffalo, you have company. Except they’ve played above their talent level every single week and you saved it all for Minnesota.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It isn’t Bell. This team is shot. Haden is aging, Burns is making mistakes, Edmunds is acting like a rookie and Davis can’t cover. Hilton is the only DB you can count on in this secondary and Vince Williams can’t be your #1 LB. The loss of Shazier is like Dallas without Lee. There is no recovery from it. Burnett was supposed to sub in for Bostic as Pittsburgh wanted to play more big nickel. When Burnett is out, that options gone. Worst of all, Ben looks uncomfortable. The 1-2-1 record isn’t an issue. The fact that they look heartless and lost is.
San Francisco 49ers: It was a year too soon for the 49ers but injuries have ravaged them. They need a #1 threat at WR and a high end nickel pass rusher but this is a team that is very close. They won’t unseat the Rams but they can be a WC team in 2019.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fire Mike Smith already! There’s a reason this team pours picks and assets into the secondary only for the results to fail, wash out and repeat. Conte is one of the only players back there that can understand Smith’s defense and Conte is a terrible player. Conte goes out, Nagy makes them think and you have yourself a blowout. Every single camp the defensive buzzword is communication. That is code for “far too confusing.” The team is plagued by blown coverage. The good news is that the talent in TB is amazing. The results are laughable. Get a QB who can play stable football, get a new DC and run the ball for a little balance. You’ll be a playoff team overnight.
Tennessee Titans: When Vrabel was hired as a HC I almost fell out of my chair. I was stunned. Another bad coordinator got a job because he’s a “leader of men.” That rarely works. Then Vrabel hired Dean Pees from the Ravens defensive coaching tree and Matt LaFleur who had recently worked under Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. Talk about winning the offseason! Add in the fact that they’re just starting to groom Evans and Landry. The fact that they have Butler Ryan Jackson and Byard (they had Cyprien too!) and can man up on anyone. One of the best coverage LBs (horribly underrated) in the game; Jayon Brown. Two stud OTs who have missed multiple games. They started week 4 together for the first time this year. LaFleur’s offense, like Shanny and McVay, will take some time to implement. They’ve dealt with a strange injury to Mariota. Taywan Taylor is a stud in the making. They don’t have a TE contributing with Walker hurt and don’t have a true threat opposite the emerging Corey Davis. Yet, despite that, they are 3-1. A real 3-1 in beating both Jacksonville and Philadelphia. This is a monster of a team with phenomenal roster composition. Last year seemed like a playoff spot earned through attrition. This team is good and only getting better. Coaching matters.
Washington: They keep taking baby steps forward talent wise. Slow and steady every single year. Losing Cousins for nothing is a black eye for the FO but Smith replaces him without issue. They still overspend to fill holes but they draft decently. It is a talented team, and while they won’t out last the Eagles, they could edge Dallas and New York and get their nose into the playoff discussion. IF, (and this is always their if) they stay healthy. The OL is always beat up, as is Jordan Reed. If they can avoid that you can put them in a trio with Chicago and Carolina fighting for the six seed.