October football is here! Fall is in full swing, and the NFL continues to provide chaos, intrigue, and drama. Week Four featured more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, but it also offered some clarity on several teams. It is time to see who should be feeling good and who should be concerned.
NFC Stock Up
The Dallas Cowboys’ defense is elite. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is extracting the very best from this Cowboys defense. Through four weeks, the Dallas defense is second in EPA and first in EPA per dropback. Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz endured another miserable day as he threw two interceptions and was sacked twice. Every level of this defense is firing on all cylinders. The pass-rush, linebackers, and defensive backfield are all in unison. Dallas has the best defense in the NFL, and Quinn is the heartbeat. Do not be surprised if his name gets touted for open head coaching jobs in the offseason.
With Amon-Ra St. Brown and D’Andre Swift hurt, the Detroit Lions needed T.J. Hockenson to step up. The Iowa product did just that as he rampaged his way to eight catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Hockenson dominated as he led the Lions’ passing attack. The big tight end averaged more separation than any other Lion. It was awesome. Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller, and Hunter Henry combined had fewer receiving yards than Hockenson.
The Atlanta Falcons are sneakily impressing. Arthur Smith’s side is tough, competitive, and possesses plenty of guts. The Falcons’ running game is well-designed and very efficient. They lead the NFL in yards before contact. Atlanta gashed the Cleveland Browns for 202 yards on the ground. It was a brilliant display. Add that to A.J. Terrell shutting down Amari Cooper, and the Falcons were impressive. Atlanta is 2-2 and 4-0 against the spread. These Falcons are now the loveable underdogs of the NFC.
NFC Stock Down
-Chicago Bears Offense
Special teams, defense, and offense are the three pillars of football. Throughout their venerable history, the Chicago Bears have had a deep-rooted allergy to offense, and the 2022 iteration seems to have developed a malignant disease towards offense. The Bears’ passing offense is plumbing new depths of futility. The offensive line can’t block, and Justin Fields cannot throw beyond the sticks. Fields had 155 yards, a QBR of 35.2, and was sacked six times. Every element of this offense is frighteningly bad.
-Detroit Lions Defense
Pivoting from offense to defense and moving across Lake Michigan, the Lions continue to further the decline of defense. Detroit surrendered 48 points to a Seattle Seahawks offense that averaged 15.6 points through the first three games. Geno Smith posted a Next Gen Passer Score of 91, the second-highest quarterback score this season. The Lions’ defense never forced a punt from Seattle. Defend the Den? No, the Lions could not defend Fort Knox right now.
Do not put any stock into Matt Rhule. The Carolina Panthers are 1-10 in their last 11 games. They are 1-26 in games when the opponent scores at least 17 points. Carolina is the worst team in the NFC, and the only thing saving Rhule is David Tepper’s hardheadedness. The defeat to the Arizona Cardinals was another ugly performance.
AFC Stock Up
Mac Jones had already been ruled out heading into the game for the New England Patriots, which led to Brian Hoyer getting the start. That was until the third offensive drive, when Hoyer took a hit to the head and had to be removed from the game with a head injury. This led to Bailey Zappe, the 2022 fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky, to come in and take over the starting role. Zappe did so with poise, and in a tough environment on the road at Lambeau Field, nonetheless. He finished the game completing 10-of-15 passes for 99 yards, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, and became the first rookie quarterback to throw a touchdown this season. He provided a zap into the offense to keep them in the game against the Green Bay Packers.
The first two weeks were rough for Derrick Henry, only having 82 yards on 21 attempts, and 25 yards on 13 attempts respectively. Week Three he started to look like “King Henry” again with his physical run style and at the time he had a season high of averaging 4.4 yards per attempt. But would he be able to do it on a consistent basis again? The answer is yes, against an Indianapolis Colts defense that had been a top unit in stopping the run. Henry had 22 rushing attempts that went for 114 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. Safe to say we will be seeing Henry on a mission to reclaim his spot as a top rusher in the NFL.
-Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders were finally able to do it, they got their first win of the season! It just so happened to be too against the team Josh McDaniels was the head coach for from 2009 to 2010, the Denver Broncos. For the first time this season, McDaniels ran an offense that was more balanced between the pass and run, instead of heavily relying on the passing game. This led to Davante Adams having his best receiving game since Week One, as he had nine receptions on 13 targets for 101 yards. On the ground, Josh Jacobs had a career high 144 yards that he turned into two touchdowns as well. The defense played complementary football. Maxx Crosby stepped up to get pressure on Russell Wilson, two he turned into sacks. Crosby found his way into the backfield frequently, as he also had four tackles for a loss. Nate Hobbs was good in coverage and also was able to end up with a sack. Then there was the biggest defensive play of the game when Arik Robertson forced Melvin Gordon to fumble, Robertson recovered it and returned it for a touchdown. It was a complete game from the Raiders, and it led to a win.
AFC Stock Down
-Baltimore Ravens Defense
The Ravens did a great job of containing the Buffalo Bills’ offense in the first quarter to only three points. They did allow a touchdown with nine seconds left to close out the first half, but still had a 20-10 lead. That lead quickly diminished in the second half. What had been seen before in Week Two, when the Ravens lost to the Miami Dolphins after the defense allowed 35 points in the second half, happened again. The word that comes to mind here is collapse. It is a recurring theme with the Ravens defense, as they allowed Josh Allen and the Bills to rally back and win the game 23-20. To further show the collapse, up until two minutes in the first half, Allen had completed only five passes on 13 throws for 42 yards while rushing for only eight yards. Allen would go on to finish the game completing 19-of-36 passes for 213 yards and 70 rush yards. The Ravens have plenty to clean up on the defense.
-Denver Broncos Running Backs
The leader for the Broncos rushing attack had been Javonte Williams with 204 yards. In the two games they had won this season against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, Williams was the leading rusher. Williams suffered a knee injury during the game, and in a trend when he is not the leading rusher, the Broncos lost. With Williams now out for the season, Melvin Gordon is the top back, but that isn’t reassuring. Gordon has 139 yards through four games, and through the four games so far he has also fumbled the ball four times. With a crucial fumble in this game, Gordon only had two carries the rest of the game after. Mike Boone came in after Williams went down and saw an increased workload, but he dropped a pass in the open field on a crucial fourth down play that would’ve kept the Broncos’ final drive alive. There are concerns now with this running back group.
-Jacksonville Jaguars Run Defense
85 yards, 54 yards, 26 yards, that is how many rushing yards the Jacksonville Jaguars had held teams to in the first three weeks. The Philadelphia Eagles were going to be a test for this Jaguars run defense, and they were that. The Eagles were able to find the weaknesses in this run defense as they rushed for 210 yards with Miles Sanders leading the way with 134 yards and two touchdowns.