NFL NFL Week 4 Takeaways: Kyler Takes Cards to Another Level, Browns D Is Spectacular, Rookie QB Redemption
Welcome to the Week 4 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning…
Things That Made Me Giddy
Kyler Murray Is Operating at Another Level: You can look at what, for instance, Patrick Mahomes does in Kansas City or Josh Allen does in Buffalo, and see how—talent aside—the scheme also lifts them up. In Murray’s case, he is consistently tasked with lifting the scheme to make the offense work. On Sunday, Arizona was staked to a two-possession lead in large part to Murray creating magic to convert two third-and-longs in the first half. He’s carrying his offense in a way that no other quarterback has to, and at the not-quite-quarter-mark of the season, he’s clearly the league’s most valuable player.
The Browns’ Four-Man Pass Rush Makes Everything Irrelevant: They have talent in the back seven, and there’s a chance they’d need some time to build chemistry there, but right now it doesn’t matter. This Cleveland front four is absolutely wrecking opponents through four weeks, and everything they’re doing defensively has a strong “2019 49ers” vibe to it.
The Vikings and Browns Defenses Knew What Was Coming: Those units practice against the exact same offense everyday. That’s how you end up with a 14–7 game.
Zach Wilson, Directing That Traffic: He had some absolutely infuriating misfires on routine throws against the Titans, but he also had a number of impressive—and just downright fun—plays out of structure. These are the actions of an almost delusionally confident quarterback, and considering how the first three starts of his career went, that’s a very good sign:
Packers Show They Can Slog Through One: Granted, this Pittsburgh offense is still very much stuck in the mud. But the Steelers defense made this one ugly, and the Packers were breathing easy after a couple of second-quarter touchdowns.
Clearly, Abracadaniel Has Arrived: In New Orleans, the Giants finally played offensive football like a team with nothing left to lose (mostly because that’s what they were coming into Sunday). You saw more forward-thinking uses for Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney was a big part of the gameplan and was consistently impressive after the catch, and Kenny Golladay looked fully healthy and borderline dominant. You could see the signs even in a disjointed offense through the first three weeks of the season, but after throwing for 402 yards on 40 attempts in the Superdome (his lone turnover was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half), it’s clear: As long as the coaching staff allows it, Daniel Jones is ready to become a franchise QB.
Saquon Barkley, In Full: The Giants used him as a passing-game mismatch piece a couple times on Sunday—not nearly as often as they should, but still… That included a 54-yard touchdown catch on which he caused the coverage bust by lining up wide (in defense of the Saints’ secondary, based on tendencies they were right to expect that he wouldn’t run a route more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage). While his game-winning touchdown run was more traditional, it was a fitting end to the game in which the Giants might have finally discovered how Barkley can and should be used.
The Ravens, In Spite of It All, Are 3–1: With all the injuries and the narrow escapes the past two weeks, it seems Baltimore is walking a bit of a tightrope. But going into Denver (even if the Broncos were a bit of an underwhelming 3–0 and had to go to Drew Lock in the second half) and controlling the game like they did is the kind of thing an impressive team does. The Ravens defense, even with some key players missing, looked like its vintage self on Sunday.
The Seahawks Catch the Breaks They Need: The offense will be fine, but their defense is still desperately searching for answers, and an in-game injury to an opposing starting quarterback (and the four points San Francisco left on the field because the kicker got injured pre-game), was enough to buy them a free win and one more week to look for solutions.
Bears Offense, Better: Still not good, or creative, but definitely better. It helps to play against a team with zero pass rush on defense and an insatiable thirst for empty red-zone trips.
How Many Cordarrelle Patterson Touchdown Catches Are Too Many Cordarrelle Patterson Touchdown Catches?: Let me know, because he had three on Sunday.
Big Ben Going After… Jaire Alexander?: Turning back the clock for career touchdown pass No. 400.
Matthew Stafford and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Pressure clearly affected a few of his throws, but more than that there were simply a couple plays on which he and his receivers (most often Cooper Kupp) were a half-beat out of sync. And with Kyler Murray doing what he did, the Rams didn’t have any margin for error. Some days are like that. Even in Australia.
The Texans’ Offensive Performance in Buffalo: It was so bad that you would’ve thought they were coached by Matt Nagy with a high-first round pick under center. (I kid, Matt Nagy fans!) But Houston truly looked like a hopeless offense, due in large part to a quarterback who was a deer in the headlights against Sean McDermott’s defense.
This Fourth-Down Defensive Holding Call: We see worse on a pretty regular basis, but this is awfully ticky-tack and tastes even worse coming on a fourth down, with a receiver breaking away from his quarterback, on what was pretty much a hopeless play. The Browns scored three plays later and added a two-pointer.
Vikings Special Teams Gives Up an Extra Extra Point: The Browns had run six consecutive plays inside Minnesota’s 3-yard line, so it’s unclear why the Vikings were so unprepared to line up for a PAT. The broadcast put the heat on Sheldon Richardson for calling a timeout before the extra point kick—because Minnesota had none it was a delay-of-game penalty—but had he not it would have been a flag for 12 men on the field. The Browns took the penalty of half-the-distance on a two-point try and converted.
Trent Williams’s Elbow Injury: With Trey Lance potentially having to make his first career start against Vance Joseph’s defense and the unbeaten Cardinals next week, there couldn’t be a worse time for an injury to the all-world left tackle.
The Steelers Throwing Short of the Sticks on Fourth Down: Protection issues or not, at some point that has to stop, right? (Right?)
Lions Finishing Drives: They had goal-to-go situations on each of their first three drives and went lost fumble on botched snap, turnover on downs, lost fumble.
Trey Lance, Not Quite Ready: There were some nice plays late in the down, but Lance was scattershot and overall looked overwhelmed after being forced into fulltime action for the second half against a Seattle defense that doesn’t pose many problems for opposing offenses.
Kenny Young Has Seen Enough of Kyler Murray: The Rams linebacker had a long one on Sunday, zigging almost literally every time he needed to zag.
Sean McVay, Still Frustratingly Conservative on Fourth Down: Not that it would have made a difference on Sunday, but it’s discouraging to see McVay send out the punt team on a fourth-and-4 in Cardinals territory in the first half. Especially now that he has Matthew Stafford under center.
The Dolphins’ Offensive Coordinator Committee Has to Adjust: I realize their play-caller(s) is/are working around a problematically poor offensive line, but in Jacoby Brissett they have a quarterback who has the size and athleticism to survive in a muddy pocket or escape pressure, and the arm talent to push the ball down the field. Through two weeks, it looks like they’re just asking him to operate a Tua Tagovailoa playbook. The Dolphins offense didn’t move the ball on Sunday until they started attacking down the field—after it was already too late.
Mitch Wishnowsky Pinch-Kicking: With Kyle Juszczyk pinch-holding. It was fun when they hit the first PAT of the game, but significantly less fun after a missed 41-yard field goal and subsequent missed PAT.
Randy Bullock Truly Became a Titans Kicker Today:
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
As Busty as Coverages Get: Maybe a case of Jamal Adams staring into the backfield and then giving the “you take him” point once he realizes his mistake, but who can say for sure?
Patrick Mahomes Looks at Receiver and Then Throws to That Very Receiver:
Chris Jones’s Physical Comedy: Fumble Recovery Edition: Nate Herbig falling on this ball at the end of the first half was the difference between halftime and a Chiefs field-goal attempt.
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
How Sustainable Are the Cardinals?: A year ago their fast start that fell apart once Kyler Murray got banged up and his Superman moments dried up. This year looks similar in the early going, with Murray single-handedly lifting the offense in a way no other quarterback in the NFL is tasked with doing. Though this year, Vance Joseph’s defense looks capable of holding up their end of the bargain and then some (to be clear, Joseph did excellent work with a shorthanded unit last year). With a win at Los Angeles already in hand, it will likely come down to keeping their quarterback in pristine condition.
Rookie Quarterbacks, Looking Better: Trevor Lawrence played more than well enough to win on Thursday night, Zach Wilson was both uneven and spectacular in his first win, and Justin Fields was solid in holding serve against Detroit at home.
The ‘H is O’ for Jack Del Rio: There are some defensive coordinators who just don’t have the answers on their roster (for instance, Seattle), but Washington has an all-world defensive line and has made an investment in the back seven. Right now, they’re not getting enough pressure, and they’re busting coverages regularly. This is a team that needs to dominate on the defensive side of the ball, and four weeks into this season they’re not even a good defense, let alone an elite one.
The Colts Will Win the AFC South: Try to look surprised when they do.
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