Key takeaways and analysis from Week 4 in the NFL

Key takeaways and analysis from Week 4 in the NFL

Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day’s action and examines their significance moving forward.

The statement of all statements

Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Dolphins were, deservedly, the talk of the NFL through three weeks. Miami looked downright unstoppable to open the season, and a 70-point outburst against the Broncos last week seemed to suggest we were watching an all-time great offense.

That may be the case in the long run, as one game isn’t nearly enough to kill the Dolphins hype. But the Bills were more than happy to serve up a reminder that they’ve got the makings of a wagon, too – perhaps even more so than their division rivals.

Josh Allen led the way with a masterful day behind center. He completed 21 of 25 attempts for 320 yards and four touchdowns through the air to finish with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The star quarterback has suppressed all of the frustrating qualities that showed up in the Bills’ chaotic Monday night opener, and the result has been arguably the most impressive stretch of his career.

Allen and the offense marched down the field early and often, forcing the Dolphins into a rare situation in which they played from behind, essentially removing the run game and putting everything on Tua Tagovailoa.

That’s when the Bills’ defense went to work. The unit consistently put pressure on Tagovailoa (4 sacks, 9 QB hits) while effectively disrupting the timing of the passing game and taking the middle of the field away from the Dolphins’ offense.

That’s the difference between Miami and Buffalo right now. The Dolphins, as we saw last week, can light up the scoreboard like few others. But the defense, despite the addition of respected coordinator Vic Fangio, isn’t doing a whole lot to complement the high-powered offense. The Bills, meanwhile, have one of the most well-balanced rosters in football.

Jalen Ramsey’s eventual return will help the Dolphins close the gap in that regard, but will it be enough?

Either way, we can only hope for a playoff meeting between Buffalo and Miami – we all deserve three matchups between these offensive juggernauts.

Stroud is here

Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The weird pre-draft debates about C.J. Stroud’s upside – including lazy skepticism of Ohio State quarterbacks and insufferable discourse about a supposedly low cognition test score – sure seem silly four games into his pro career. He’s been everything the Texans could have hoped for with the No. 2 pick: a superstar.

The rookie quarterback hit the ground running as QB1 in Houston, throwing for 1,208 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions through the first month. The impressive yardage total puts him second only to Cam Newton for the most across a quarterback’s first four games. He’s also the second rookie passer to avoid throwing an interception over that stretch.

Stroud just keeps getting better. A stunning blowout win over the Steelers on Sunday afternoon was his best work yet: He demonstrated accuracy, anticipation, and poise to pick apart a stout Pittsburgh defense. Stroud finished the day with 306 yards and a pair of scores while avoiding taking a sack for the second straight game.

The outstanding start to his career, particularly in terms of pocket management, becomes all the more impressive when you consider the significant injury issues on the offensive line. His game should go to another level if that group can get healthy in the coming weeks.

DeMeco Ryans seems like a home run hire, and the Texans made some quiet but shrewd moves to begin rebuilding a barren roster. Those factors alone would have been enough to get this team going in the right direction. The quarterback pick was always going to be the true determining factor for their future, though – and it looks like they nailed that, too.

Get excited, Texans fans. It’s football time in Houston.

A moral … loss?

Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Here’s the good: An impressive 21-point comeback against the Bears finally gave the Broncos their first win of the Sean Payton era.

Here’s the bad: The Broncos needed a 21-point comeback to beat the Bears.

Denver will take the result. This team needed whatever positive vibes it could get after giving up 70 points in last week’s howler against the Dolphins. But a toilet bowl victory shouldn’t distract us from the alarming on-field product.

Justin Fields entered this week ranked 33rd in EPA/play, 30th in success rate, and 30th in completion percentage over expected, according to Ben Baldwin’s database. No matter which metric you want to use to evaluate quarterback play, the Bears starter had been one of the league’s worst passers through three games.

But a matchup with the Broncos is evidently a surefire way for even the worst of quarterbacks to fill up the stat sheet. Fields went off to help the Bears build a 28-7 lead, finishing the day completing 28 of 35 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns.

If Fields puts together some similarly impressive performances in the coming weeks and gives us reason to look back on this game as a true breakout performance, we can circle back and cut the Broncos some slack. For now, though, the focus should be on a Denver defense that has somehow fallen off a cliff after finishing ninth in EPA/play last year.

The Denver Broncos now have the worst defense ever tracked by DVOA through 4 games.

(Higher defensive DVOA = more scoring = worse)

— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@ASchatzNFL) October 2, 2023

The stunning regression under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph washes out the very real improvements Russell Wilson and the rest of the Broncos’ offense have made under Payton. The head coach’s hyper-focused role with the offense will make some absolve him of the defensive blame but, ultimately, this is his staff – and one that the Broncos traded premium picks to have him come in and build.

Payton’s decision to publicly trash the job done by former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett last season looks worse every time his team takes the field.

Lamar doing it all

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Don’t count Lamar Jackson out of the MVP race.

Typical counting stats don’t quite support his candidacy through the first month of the season, so perhaps we can consider him something of a longshot at this point. But the plays he’s making tell a much different story.

The Ravens quarterback is taking advantage of a more modern approach under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. In addition to his sublime abilities as an improviser and designed runner, he’s also connecting on some ridiculous throws that demonstrate his underrated passing skills.

Jackson completed 15 of 19 attempts for 186 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Browns. That stat line won’t generate much buzz, but yet another efficient game puts his career-best completion rate up to 74.3% for the season.

The early mastery of a new system is an incredibly promising sign for the season ahead – especially while his top targets rotate in and out of the lineup with injuries. This unit should continue to ascend with more reps and the opportunity to get healthy at the receiver position.

This is by far the best Jackson has played since his MVP-winning season in 2019. It’s only a matter of time before the numbers follow.

Quick slants

Bengals in trouble

Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It’s officially time to panic in Cincinnati. The Bengals had more than earned the benefit of the doubt here: This is a Joe Burrow-led offense that made meaningful midseason adjustments after a tough start just last year. They don’t have much time to get this thing turned around, though. Burrow’s lingering calf injury is a factor, as his mobility and overall comfort level remain severely impacted. But the staff should be seeking out solutions that jive with his current limitations. So far, not so good. Managing just three points in a blowout loss to the Titans is yet another massive red flag.

Mahomes is inevitable

The Jets actually played the Chiefs pretty well on Sunday night. Zach Wilson was better than we’ve ever seen him in the NFL, and the New York defense gave Patrick Mahomes enough issues in the passing game to keep things tight. Just when it seemed like the Jets might give themselves a chance to win it at the end, the Chiefs superstar decided he wasn’t really interested in that option. Mahomes’ scrambling ability served as the dagger twice – both on third-down plays on the game-clinching drive – allowing Kansas City to run out the clock with a three-point lead. It seems unfair that a player with his throwing talents also has such an unbelievable knack for timely scrambles.

Carr playing through injury

Derek Carr probably shouldn’t have been out there for the Saints this week. While he’s no stranger to the occasional stinker, putting up just 127 yards on 37 passes (3.4 yards per attempt) is an especially brutal outing. Maybe the Saints preferred a limited Carr to Jameis Winston, but it’s tough to justify the decision with such poor results.

The ultimate revenge game

Harry How / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Most players can only dream of embarrassing their former teams the way Khalil Mack did on Sunday. Every matchup is likely personal for him: He was traded after four spectacular seasons in Oakland because Jon Gruden was unwilling to meet his price tag. Mack took it out on Aidan O’Connell on Sunday, getting to the debuting rookie for six sacks and two forced fumbles. He came up just one sack short of tying Derrick Thomas’ all-time single-game record in his dominant outing.

Philly defense disappoints

Every win counts the same, but Eagles fans can’t feel too good about their team’s defense after Sunday’s game against the Commanders. The same Washington offense that managed all of three points last week against the Bills – with Sam Howell coughing up four interceptions – stuck with Philly all day. Howell took full advantage of some major shortcomings at the second and third level of the Eagles defense, throwing for 290 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Building through the trenches sounds great until you willingly leave yourself with glaring holes in longstanding areas of concern.

Wasting a rare talent

Anyone who expected Kyle Pitts and Drake London to take off this year (*raises hand*) severely overestimated what the Falcons’ offense could accomplish with Desmond Ridder at quarterback. Atlanta just does not have a professional passing game right now, and it’s tough to see that changing without some sort of quarterback change this year. That seems unlikely, though, so fantasy managers will have to consider more than just the talent level in setting their expectations for Atlanta’s top pass-catchers.

Stat of the week

Brock Purdy’s completion percentage over expected today against the Cardinals (+28.0%) is the highest mark by a quarterback with at least 20 pass attempts in a game over the last 7+ seasons.

Purdy’s previous career-high was +5.1%.#AZvsSF | #FTTB

— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 1, 2023

MNF lookahead

Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Seahawks vs. Giants

If ever there was a time for Daniel Jones to finally take a step forward, this is it. The Seahawks enter Week 4 with the NFL’s fourth-worst defense by dropback EPA. The problem for the Giants, though, is that their defense is one of the three faring worse against the pass. Jones has to go shot for shot with Geno Smith and Seattle’s big-play passing attack if New York is going to avoid dropping to 1-3. It might not be possible to climb out of such a significant hole with the Dolphins and Bills up next on the schedule.

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