NFL Week 4: What We Learned from Sunday's Action

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 30, 2013

NFL Week 4: What We Learned from Sunday's Action

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    The Seattle Seahawks are off to the best start in team history.
    The Seattle Seahawks are off to the best start in team history.Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    With the exception of the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, as well as the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers (both off last week), most teams in the NFL are already at the quarter pole.

    So what conclusions can we come up with after most of the clubs have already played four games?

    Well, we do know that the odds of getting to the playoffs with a 0-4 record are dismal, but not impossible. The 1992 San Diego Chargers, for example, won 11 of their last 12 games that season to overcome a 0-4 start and win the AFC West.

    Still, the chances that we see the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2013 playoffs are slim.

    But after four weeks of play, it’s safe to say we have gotten an NFL education. And there’s a lot left when it comes to this season’s curriculum.

The Name…Is Dalton

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    It’s been said and written before that the Cincinnati Bengals could go far in 2013 if their quarterback rises to the occasion.

    Unfortunately, we’ve only see Andy Dalton occasionally play consistent football so far this season.

    Sunday, in Cleveland, proved to not be one of those days. The third-year pro completed just 23 of his 42 passes for 206 yards and an interception in the team’s 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Dalton was sacked twice and also lost one of his two fumbles.

    In four games this season, the Cincinnati signal-caller has thrown for five scores and committed six turnovers. Those aren’t the kind of numbers associated with a quarterback looking to take his team to the playoffs for a third straight year.

    Give the Browns defense its due for holding the Bengals without a touchdown. Then again, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth had his own take.

    “We didn't execute well. We had two plays where half the people know what is happening, half the people don't," said Whitworth, per Joe Reedy of "Then we had a fumble deal where we lost 15 yards on first-and-10, things that happen in high school football, can't happen in pro football."

    But if we're placing blame anywhere, perhaps it’s about time for Dalton to snap out of this early-season funk.

A Little Erie

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Browns had high hopes for 2013, thanks to a new coaching staff, an influx of some free agents and the expected emergence of some of their second-year players.

    To quote the great Willy Wonka, “Scratch that, reverse it.”

    Rob Chudzinski’s team opened the season with losses to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens and scored a combined 16 points and one touchdown in the process. So it made perfect sense when the team dealt running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts just 17 games into his NFL career. And with quarterback Brandon Weeden unable to give the team a thumbs up, Chudzinski went with Brian Hoyer—he of one NFL start.

    So much for that forecasted disaster. The new-look Browns have evened their record with two straight wins, the latest a 17-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Hoyer continues to look comfortable, and he and tight end Jordan Cameron have become BFFs (Best Football Friends).

    Indeed, Hoyer has another person who played for the Browns very excited. 

    "He's fantastic,'' said Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, via Mary Kay Cabot of "He's got a sense of timing. He lit up the city, man. He brought back the spirit.''

    Is it too much to think that the Browns could be a playoff team or even a division champion in 2013? Hoyer is progressing, and the defense is looking good. Ray Horton’s unit is allowing just 291.5 yards per game and has allowed only seven touchdowns in four games.

    For a team that many speculated was just playing out the season, the Browns have a very funny way of showing us that.


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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    A year ago, the Detroit Lions finished at 4-12, thanks to a season-ending eight-game losing streak. Jim Schwartz’s team also went winless within the NFC North.

    Is another 4-12 record within reach? Of course it is. But you can forget getting swept within the division.

    The Lions kicked off the season with a 34-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings and held on Sunday for a 40-32 victory over the Chicago Bears. Throw in that Week 3 road win over the Washington Redskins, and things are looking much better for Detroit than they were late last season.

    The defense harassed Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into four turnovers, and quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Reggie Bush also came up big as well. Head coach Jim Schwartz couldn't be happier with his quarterback.

    “I’ve said so much about Matt that I’ve run out of good things to say,” Schwartz said, per Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. “He’s our leader. We’re never out of a game when he’s in the game. He’s going to lead this franchise to great things.”

    But the Lions are about to get their toughest test to date. In Week 5, they head to Lambeau Field, where they have not won since 1991. Including the playoffs, Detroit has lost 19 straight at Green Bay dating back to 1994's NFC Wild Card Game, and it lost three additional road games in Milwaukee from 1992-94.

    And in case you’re looking for a more modern perspective, the Lions have lost four straight and are 3-22 in their last 25 meetings with the Pack.

    Still, things seem to be changing in the Motor City. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Lions ended their losing ways at Lambeau Field just two weeks after finally winning a game in Washington?

Fly Away

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    Can anyone say they were terribly shocked when the Buffalo Bills defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, on Sunday?

    Doug Marrone’s club is certainly an up-and-coming squad, and we’re still not quite sure what the defending Super Bowl champions are likely to become.

    One thing is for sure: Despite all the changes with the Ravens, their performance between home and away has been anything but consistent as of late.

    Dating back to 2011, including the postseason, John Harbaugh’s team is an impressive 18-2 at home but a less-than-mediocre 10-11 on the road. The team’s 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII came, of course, at a neutral site.

    So far this season, the Ravens are 2-0 at home and 0-2 on the road. They have allowed 15 points in their own building and 72 points in road losses to the Bills and Denver Broncos.

    And that was with nine carries for 24 yards rushing at Buffalo on Sunday. Quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back 54 times, throwing five interceptions while being sacked four times. He appeared to put a lot of the blame on himself.

    “We are definitely going to get better, we have to get better,” Flacco said, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun. “A lot of that falls on me, just throwing the ball to the wrong team. If we don’t do that, this game probably goes a little bit different.”

    That lack of balance “Cam” be disastrous, if you know what I mean.

Any End to the Error(s)

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    Looking to learn something here?

    Let’s try a little trivia. Who is Bill Austin?

    For the first time since 1968, the Pittsburgh Steelers have opened a season with an 0-4 record. That year proved to be the last of three for then-Steelers head coach Bill Austin. And just as had been the case with many of the other numerous sideline leaders in Pittsburgh, there was no winning record (11-28-3) and certainly no playoff victory.

    The following year, the Steelers hired Chuck Noll, and the rest is history—make that unprecedented history. Although he would get off to a slow start in 1969 with a 1-13 mark, the Rooney family would stick with him.

    Since 1969, Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin are the only men to be the Steelers head coach. To put that in some kind of perspective, the Cleveland Browns have had three different owners since returning to the NFL in 1999.

    But these days, the Steelers are trailing those Browns and the rest of the AFC North by two games. In back-to-back losses to the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, Tomlin’s team has allowed 74 points.

    And the mistakes continue to pile up. The Steelers have scored only seven touchdowns this season, while committing 11 turnovers and allowing 15 sacks in those four games.

    Those are some bad numbers. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could only come to one conclusion, per's Dan Hanzus"Right now, you could say we're the worst team in the league, and that hurts. And as a competitor, you don't like that."

    We are not predicting anything here in terms of a final win-loss record. But it should be noted that only four times in the previous four decades (1970-2012) have the Steelers lost at least 10 games. Food for thought as Tomlin and company look to regroup during their time off.

And-D Reid and the Chiefs

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Oh my goodness. The Kansas City Chiefs turned the football over three times on Sunday against the New York Giants. And two of those miscues were courtesy of quarterback Alex Smith, who wound up with his first two interceptions of the season.

    But Smith’s total was one turnover fewer than Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who coughed up the football three times. Manning completed less than 50 percent of his passes (18-of-37) as he was sacked three times and harassed all afternoon in his team’s 31-7 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.

    But it is not his team that we’re talking about here. Yes, the Chiefs are 4-0 for the first time since another one-time Philadelphia Eagles head coach (Dick Vermeil) led the team in 2003. But offensively minded Andy Reid and his Chiefs are really getting it done on the defensive side of the ball.

    In last season’s Week 1 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Chiefs gave up 40 points. In four games this season, Reid’s club has allowed a total of 41 points, the fewest in the NFL. A year ago, Kansas City forced just 13 turnovers. In four games in 2013, they have a dozen takeaways. And no opponent has scored more than 16 points in any game versus the Chiefs this season.

    It’s been quite a start for a team loaded with talent. And Reid’s presence makes this a very dangerous foe, and apparently a very resilient one as well. 

    “There are a lot of things that I don’t know, but I do know this," said Reid, per Vahe Gregorian of The Kansas City Star. "We’re a tough bunch. We’ll keep battling.”

Like Christmas for Carroll

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    Yes, it’s true.

    The Seattle Seahawks are a very different team at home compared to on the road. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially as of late.

    Perhaps head coach Pete Carroll changed the team’s travel plans late last season and now has them staying at a Holiday Inn Express while away from home. Whatever it is, the Seahawks are looking as good as any team in the league at the moment.

    Thanks to their stirring 23-20 overtime win over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, the Seahawks are 4-0 for the first time in the team’s 38-year history, dating back to 1976. Carroll’s team trailed 20-3 on Sunday, but they hung in, made plays and shut out the Texans in the second half and overtime.

    “The mood in the locker room was unbelievable at halftime,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, via Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. “We knew that if we could just hang in there, if we could just play one play at a time, stay in the moment...and we did that, throughout the whole entire second half.”

    How astounding was the victory? Seattle was outgained by over 200 yards (476-270), and Houston ran 30 more offensive plays (88-58).

    Carroll and company have now won four straight regular-season road games and are 5-1 in their last six games away from home over that stretch, which includes a playoff split with the Washington Redskins (win) and Atlanta Falcons (loss). In Week 5, they head to Indianapolis as Carroll will once again get to see his old Stanford nemesis in quarterback Andrew Luck.

    And Seattle is 1-0 versus an old nemesis this season. Just ask Jim Harbaugh.

Ge-No Doesn’t Mean No

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    When the New York Jets drafted quarterback Geno Smith in the second round in April, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the end of the Mark Sanchez era with the Green and White.

    As fate would have it, Smith did wind up as the team’s starting quarterback this season. But there’s still a long way to go for this team as the rookie signal-caller goes through his growing pains.

    Speaking of pain, Smith is probably still licking his wounds following the New York Jets’ disappointing 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Despite completing 23 of his 34 passes for 289 yards and a score, the still-green quarterback was sacked five times and turned over the football four times.

    All told, Rex Ryan's team was off-key all afternoon in the Music City. “We just got our butts kicked today,” Ryan said, per Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything that went right for us.”

    Make no mistake, the Jets look like a better football team than they did a year ago, despite the lopsided loss in Nashville. But it’s worth pointing out that New York has committed a dozen turnovers this season, and Smith has 11 of them. As a rookie in 2009, Sanchez committed 23 turnovers during the regular season, but the Jets did wind up in the AFC title game that year.

    The Jets head to Atlanta next Monday night in what should be an interesting encounter with a bunch of angry birds. Let’s see if Smith can take care of the football a little better over the next few weeks.

Catching On

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    So, perhaps the New England Patriots won’t score at least 500 points this season.

    So what?

    All those points haven’t done Bill Belichick’s team much good as of late. The Pats have scored at least 500 points in three straight years and four of the last six seasons, dating back to 2007. That has added up to a ton of regular-season wins and an 0-2 record in the Super Bowl.

    New England is a perfect 4-0, thanks to a 30-23 Sunday night road win over the Atlanta Falcons. In four games this season, Belichick’s team has scored 89 points. The last time the Pats got off to a 4-0 start was 2007, when they totaled 148 points, including 34 or more in each contest.

    These Patriots are averaging 125 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Tom Brady has thrown seven touchdown passes (two interceptions) and been sacked only seven times. And while veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman has already caught 34 passes, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has awoken to the tune of three touchdown grabs in the last two games.

    “I’m just out there playing football," said Thompkins after the game, per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "I’m just trusting the older guys to put me in the right spot and trusting the plays that are being called."

    And remember the New England defense. It’s looking a lot better these days, as the team has allowed only 57 points in four games.

    That running game, efficient quarterbacking and defense combo has worked for the Patriots in the past. And apparently, it is working once again.


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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    What is it about the NFC South that makes it so difficult to repeat as division champion?

    It is the only one of the eight divisions not to have a back-to-back champion since the league realigned in 2002.

    And unless the Atlanta Falcons don’t reverse things in a hurry, that NFC South oddity figures to hold up once again.

    After amassing a 13-3 record in 2012, tied for the best mark in the NFL, Mike Smith’s team is suddenly 1-3, following Sunday night’s 30-23 home loss to the New England Patriots. Certainly the team didn't expect to be in this position so early, but safety Thomas DeCoud knows there's a lot of season left.

    “This is new territory for us,” said DeCoud, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re a resilient team and we’re up to the challenge. Although we have some injuries, we are a veteran team as well. We have the guys and the leadership to get this job done.”

    For the fourth time in as many games this season, the Falcons scored the first points of the game. This season, Atlanta has outscored its opponents a combined 34-0 in the first quarter.

    But the Falcons have been outscored a combined 104-60 the rest of the way.

    That question of balance that was a bugaboo in 2012 has reared its ugly head this season. Smith’s team has run 255 offensive plays in four games, with 75 rushing attempts and 180 passing plays.

    Yes, the absence of running back Steven Jackson hasn’t helped. But it’s not like Atlanta was pounding the rock when he was in the lineup.

    A win by the New Orleans Saints on Monday night would put the Falcons three games out of first place just four weeks into the season. That’s not to say they can’t bounce back.

    Then again, we know what happens when you assume…and don’t consistently run the football.