Even with 6 teams on a bye, Week 4 flipped the 2014 season upside down. As the first quarter of the season comes to a close, we have just two unbeaten teams (Cincinnati, Arizona), the entire NFC North is above .500, the demise of the 49ers was grossly overstated, and, oh boy, the Cowboys seem …. relevant.
So, what should we take from Week 4? We examine all of that and more in the Rewind.
1. DeMarco Murray is the MVP so far this season.
When Scott Linehan was hired as the new offensive coordinator in Dallas, many expected him to employ the same persistent passing attack that was prominently displayed during his time in Detroit. However, Linehan has flipped the script through the opening weeks and shown a dedication to running the ball. It’s the biggest reason why the Cowboys are a surprising 3-1.
The biggest reason for the Cowboys’ success? DeMarco Murray. With 149 yards and 2 touchdowns on Sunday, Murray is the front-runner for MVP on the young season. The consistency by the former Oklahoma running back is astounding. In 4 games, Murray has had at least 20 carries, 100+ yards, and a touchdown in every game. Thanks to him, the Cowboys have the ability to sustain drives and control the ball at the end of games. While injury concerns about Murray will persist with the amount of carries he’s getting, he has an excellent shot to be the second running back to win the MVP award since 2006.
2. The demise of the 49ers’ defense was overstated.
No team had more pressure on them this weekend than the 49ers. Starting a potential 1-3 start in the face, reports were swirling all week that the team was becoming increasingly frustrated with Jim Harbaugh’s tough attitude. But the Niners answered the bell with the most impressive defensive performance of the season — shutting out Chip Kelly’s offense in San Francisco.
Think about that for a moment. Chip Kelly’s offense didn’t score a single point yesterday. Philadelphia tallied its 21 points thanks to a blocked punt, a punt return, and an interception return for a touchdown. Nick Foles was held in check as San Francisco dominated the time of possession (42 minutes vs. 18 minutes) and ran 20 more offensive plays than the Eagles. Although I still have plenty of questions about Colin Kaepernick’s decision making, Sunday’s performance was proof that San Francisco can still rely on its defense to win games.
3. Bortles and Bridgewater impress.
Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater made their much anticipated debuts yesterday. After watching a decent amount of both in the afternoon, I came away impressed.
Bortles was seen running for his life most of the day behind a leaky offensive line. However, his mobility was critical as he was able to move outside of the pocket en route to completing 78% of his passes — the highest completion percentage for a rookie making his first start EVER.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Bridgewater showed every bit of why the Vikings traded back into the first round of the draft to pick him. His mobility kept plays alive and he displayed impressive arm strength throwing for over 300 yards in an win over the Falcons. If Sunday was any indication of what we’re going to see from these guys, the future is bright.
4. The Falcons cannot be trusted.
There has been no more Jekyll and Hyde team in the NFL so far this year than the Falcons. Coming off a 42-point domination of the Bucs in Week 3, many expected Atlanta to go to Minnesota and come away with another victory. Instead, they wake up this morning at 2-2 after a costly loss against the Vikings.
After Antone Smith rushed off the right edge for a 48-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter to give the Falcons their first lead of the game at 28-27, it seemed that Atlanta would get the win. But Atlanta’s run defense came back to haunt them once again. Overall, the Vikings rushed for 241 yards — led by rookie Jerick McKinnon’s 135 yards. The Falcons invested a lot of money into the defensive line this offseason pledging to “get tougher.” It hasn’t worked so far.
Thanks to a mediocre division, the Falcons are still at the top of the NFC South. But they shouldn’t be trusted moving forward until they show that they can turn in a solid performance on the road. They can start next week by winning in New York against the suddenly hot Giants.
5. It’s time for Michael Vick in New York.
I fully expected the Jets to beat the Lions yesterday. Then Geno Smith happened … again. And again … and again. Albeit being against one of the league’s best defenses, Smith struggled to a 17-for-33 performance, threw an interception, and the Jets lost a very winnable game 24-17 — their second straight loss at home.
The troubling thing about Smith is that he’s missing open receivers. He’s out of excuses. The running game produced 132 yards yesterday against the second best run defense in the NFL. Simply put, Smith isn’t making good reads and isn’t optimizing this offense.
That’s why it’s time for a change in New York. Michael Vick might not be the most efficient quarterback in the NFL. But the last time he played backup quarterback for a team, he entered a game and subsequently led the team to the playoffs. Smith might be the QB of the future, but Rex Ryan is coaching for his job now. He needs to go with the player that gives him the best chance to win every Sunday. Right now, it’s not Geno Smith.
6. Baltimore could be the best team in the AFC.
I’ve been tough on the Baltimore Ravens for years. I don’t think Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback and feel like the Ravens have long been a team that plays down to their opponents. I’m also willing to admit when I’m wrong.
After a 38-10 shellacking of the Panthers yesterday, the Ravens may very well be the best team in the AFC right now. And they’re doing it with a mixed back of parts on offense. Steve Smith got his revenge against his old team going for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. The backfield consisted of two guys that weren’t expected to be major players a month ago – Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliferro. They combined for 124 yards and two touchdowns. After a dismal Week 1 against the Bengals, Flacco has 6 TDs to just 1 interception and is completing over 67% of his passes.
With a defense that can compete with most, the Ravens are arguably the cream of the crop in the AFC right now.
7. The Saints are in real trouble.
Through four weeks, no team has been more disappointing than the New Orleans Saints. A popular Super Bowl pick one month ago, Drew Brees and company are in real trouble after a 38-17 surprise loss in Dallas last night.
One of the biggest problems in the young season has been Rob Ryan’s defense. The Saints have just 5 sacks through four games and a turnover differential of -5. They’ve taken the ball away just one time this season. Meanwhile, Drew Brees and the offense are sputtering in first halves. After scoring 20 points in the first half Week 1 in Atlanta, the Saints have scored just 23 first half points since. They were shutout at halftime last night in Dallas. The slow starts and poor defense are putting Sean Payton’s team in holes that they can’t escape.
Next week’s game against the Buccaneers looms large before the bye week. Afterwards presents a four game stretch against the Lions, Packers, Panthers, and 49ers. If the Saints can’t beat Tampa Bay, they are in real trouble.
8. Final quick hits from Week 4:
A. Is there a more valuable player to his team than J.J. Watt? The guy is absolutely electric on the field. His interception returned for a touchdown ignited the Texans — who are now 3-1 and sit atop the AFC South.
B. Every team in the NFC North is .500 or better. Think about that for a moment.
C. Raiders head coach, Dennis Allen, is likely to be fired by the end of the season. But the blame shouldn’t fall squarely on his shoulders. Take a look at the starting quarterbacks for the Raiders since Allen became head coach in 2012: Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pyror, Matt McGloin, Matt Flynn, and Derek Carr.
D. For the first time ever, the Lions won a game where Calvin Johnson was held under 20 yards receiver. They were previously 0-6. The big guy was banged up, but Detroit found a way to sustain drives and move the ball. That’s the sign of an emerging team.
E. Instead of relaxing, Packers fans are likely spelling R-E-L-I-E-F after a win in Chicago. Aaron Rodgers threw 4 TDs and everything is going to be fine in Green Bay. They are still my leading candidate to win the division.