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Biggest Takeaways from the first four weeks of the 2021 NFL Season

Justin Herbert

After the ending of the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night, the 2021-22 NFL season has (just about) reached its quarter mark. A lot of storylines have come out of the first four weeks that have dominated sports media.

Numerous headlines from the first week of the season were confirmed. Others have been disproven throughout the season so far and appear to make that early performance by a team or player feel like an outlier. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the first four of the 2021-22 NFL season.

Jacksonville is still a long way from escaping mediocrity

Jacksonville Jaguars
This season has been brutal for the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Courtesy of Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

After the first four weeks of the season, there are only two winless teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Detriot Lions are the only 0-4 teams in the league. Out of the two teams, the Jaguars seem the most lost and dysfunctional as a team.

Before the season and after the first week the Jaguars’ new administration and team showed some concerning signs. The first few months of the Urban Meyer-era has not gone over well and is concerning because of the major investments this team made to be better than they played last season. Jacksonville spent over $162.8 million in free agency. They also added five rookies with top-65 picks and nine overall. Jacksonville’s biggest additions of the offseason were highly regarded quarterback prospect Trevor Lawerence and one of the greatest head coaches in college football history Urban Meyer.

Last season Jacksonville was 19th in passing yards, 20th in passing touchdowns, and had the fifth-most interceptions. They also were last in the league in rushing attempts, 28th in rushing yards, and tied for last in rushing touchdowns. Defensively Jacksonville gave up the second-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, sixth-most passing yards, fourth-most passing touchdowns, third-most rushing yards, and fourth most rushing touchdowns.

*On the young season Jacksonville has the 28th most passing yards, is tied for 24th in the league for passing touchdowns, and has the second-most interceptions. They are tied for 27th for rushing attempts, tied for 13th in rushing yards, and are tied for 11th in rushing touchdowns. Defensively Jacksonville has given up the highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, third-most passing yards, is tied for 24rd in most passing touchdowns given up, has given up the 13th fewest rushing yards, and is tied for the third-most rushing touchdown given up.

Those stats do not show much improvement despite the investments this team has made to speed up their rebuild. They were not going to become playoff contenders overnight. But the Jaguars were expected to be better than 0-4 and appear to show signs of improvement from last season.

The most concerning part about Jacksonville is the attitude of their new star quarterback Trevor Lawerence and new head coach Urban Meyer. Lawrence, the 2021 first overall pick, has appeared very relaxed in his postgame press conferences. He doesn’t appear to be distraught despite losing winnable games. Lawerence has even cracked side smirks when talking about losses and appears to have the “we’ll get them next time” attitude when asked about how his team will rebound. This feels like a quarterback who has embraced the mediocrity this franchise is known for rather than trying to rewrite the team’s history.

Head coach Urban Meyer has had as bad of a start as he could since taking over. Meyer has traded away foundational pieces to this team for pennies on the dollar because they didn’t fit his system. On Thursday night football it was said that the Jaguars traded 2019 9th overall pick C.J. Henderson because he didn’t get along with the team’s new coaching staff. He has also publicly called out veterans on this roster and does not know how to comment to the media about matters pertaining to the team. Despite being one of the greatest college coaches of all time Meyer has struggled in his decision-making and is unable to maintain a lead after blowing two straight games where his team was leading at halftime. He appears to be frustrated with this job and may wish he held out for the USC vacancy that just opened up.

On top of what Meyer has done on the field, he completely embarrassed not only himself but the team with his actions following the loss to Cincinnati. According to the Pat McAfee show, rather than fly back with the team Meyer stayed in Ohio. Then Meyer went out to a bar and did some embarrassing actions that social media surfaced to the world. This is a terrible look for the “savior” of a franchise that has lacked winning culture for about two decades.

Overall Jacksonville has a lot of work to do to reach their expectations. After all the investments they made to streamline the process they may have to do work on some things internally to progress and reach expectations.

Kansas City’s defense is holding them back as title contenders

Devonta Smith
The Kansas City Chiefs defense has put the team in a couple of shootouts already this season. (Courtesy of Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The world was put on notice when the Kansas City Chiefs fell to 1-2 after falling to the Los Angeles Chargers at home in Week 3. It was the first time the Chiefs had fallen under .500 since 2015 and the first time in the Andy Reid era. Naturally, their team started to get picked apart. Everyone wanted to know what was wrong with this team. The Chiefs rebuilt their offensive line and still have the same weapons on offense. The biggest reason why the Chiefs are no longer the standalone elite team they were a season ago is because of the play of their defense.

Kansas City has struggled immensely against the pass this season. They have given up the sixth-most passing yards and 15th most passing touchdowns. A large part of why is because they have been without one of their best pass rushers Frank Clark. On top of that their mediocre secondary is finally being exposed.

Despite the team’s great success, their weakest position group over the last three seasons has been their cornerback group. However, it has been masked by the fact that they could outscore anybody and played well enough to keep Kansas City out of shootouts every week. However, after losing their number one cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who wasn’t great anyway, this position group looks like one of the weakest units in the league.

They drafted a young star in L’Jarius Sneed in the fifth round of last year’s draft. But after Sneed, Kansas City has Chavarius Ward, former first-round picks Mike Hughes and DeAndre Baker, and Rashad Fenton. This lackluster group is playing how they should have for the past few years and why many have mocked cornerbacks to the Chiefs early in mock drafts.

The Chiefs have also struggled to defend against the run too. They are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the most yards given up per carry. Kansas City has also given up the third-most rushing yards and tied for the most rushing touchdowns. This may be because they have solid but not amazing linebackers and now have Chris Jones playing defensive end instead of defensive tackle.

Kansas City always has a chance to win any game as long as Patrick Mahomes is under center throwing to their elite weapons. However, if their defense continues to play this poorly they could be involved in more shootouts than they would like to or accustom to this season. Shootouts may be entertaining but not ideal for teams participating in them. The winner of these games is usually the team that gets hot late or has the ball last. So Kansas City’s odds of beating the great offenses in the league just went down because of the chance their defense gives this game away.

Pittsburgh should have moved on from Ben Roethlisberger during the offseason

Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger looks worse than he did down the stretch last season.(Courtesy of Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

One of the more dramatic situations in the offseason came early between the Pittsburgh Steelers and their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers drafted Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He has been their starter for the past 17 years and is 39 years old this season. The two other franchise quarterbacks that came out of that draft Eli Manning and Philip Rivers have retired within the past two seasons.

The Steelers were in a situation where a bunch of their star players was slated to hit free agency and they were limited on cap space. They looked towards one of their most expensive players and their most disappointing expensive player in Roethlisberger for a pay cut. Steelers owner Art Rooney Jr. comments that they would like to retain Roethlisberger as the team’s starting quarterback, but he would have to take a pay cut. He was slated to have the highest cap hit in the league with $41.25 million. Roethlisberger was not open to the pay cut and the Steelers were faced with an uncomfortable situation. Were they willing to cut their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who will be a Hall of Fame for the benefit of the team? Instead, the Steelers and Roethlisberger agreed on a $5 million pay cut.

After the first four weeks of the season, it may have been in Pittsburgh’s best interest to move on from Roethlisberger who had rapidly shown signs of aging and appeared to be finished last season. If Pittsburgh would have freed up that cap space they would have been able to retain major free agents like Bud Dupree Alejandro Villanueva, or Matt Feiler. Roethlisberger has played poorly this season and appears to not have the arm strength to air the ball down the field anymore. It also doesn’t help Roethlisberger that Pittsburgh’s offensive line is in shambles and considered one of the worst in the league. This has shortened his time in the pocket, which is crucial for a pure pocket passer like him. It also has held back a running game that has shown little improvement despite taking a running back in the first round in Najee Harris last year.

Besides Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ options at quarterback are Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs, and Dwayne Haskins. None of those three are likely the team’s long-term starter and could play better than Roethlisberger. If they were in the quarterback market it would have been interesting to see if they would have brought in to replace him. Pittsburgh may have moved up in the draft to take a Justin Fields or Mac Jones.

Instead, the Steelers could have looked towards the veteran quarterback trade market and made a deal for a star quarterback like Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers. That wouldn’t have been shocking considering how aggressive the Steelers have been in recent years with trades especially since they believe they are still a Super Bowl contender. More likely that the Steelers may have looked at acquiring an average veteran or player in need of a change of scenery like Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz, or Teddy Bridgewater. The Steelers are Bridgewater have been linked together since he was drafted in 2014.

Those could have been great options for the Steelers. However, because they retained Roethlisberger they are stuck with an offense that has played like one of the worst in the league despite all the weapons on their roster. Even though they managed to defeat the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, Pittsburgh will only likely have a chance in ugly low scoring games.

Carolina will be in the running for a wildcard spot at the end of the season

Sam Darnold
The Carolina Panthers have emerged as a playoff threat in the NFC. (Courtesy of USA Today)

One of the last undefeated teams this season was the Carolina Panthers. They lost their first game in Week 4 against a tough Dallas Cowboys team. They handily beat the New York Jets in Week 1. Then blew out the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans in Weeks 2 and 3. There were many opinions about the Carolina Panthers coming into the season because it was uncertain how new starting quarterback Sam Darnold would perform with a new team. However, after the first four weeks, it is clear that the Panthers are ready to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC.

Their new quarterback Sam Darnold is a huge reason why they are performing so well. In Joe Brady’s offense with all the weapons Carolina has on their roster Darnold is playing like how many expected he would out of USC in 2018. He had four 300+ yard passing games in his first three years in New York and has three in the first four games of this season. He has developed great chemistry with D.J. Moore, who appears to be in a prime position for a breakout year. Also having Christian McCaffrey has given Darnold a great running game and check-down option that he lacked in New York. Darnold also leads the league in rushing touchdowns with five. The same coach who is responsible for making Joe Burrow a star is doing the same to Darnold. 

Another element to Carolina that has helped them to their 3-1 record is their defense. Until last week the Panthers had the number one defense in the NFL. They have allowed the second-lowest passing yards and are tied for the 12 most passing touchdowns. Carolina has also given up the tenth fewest rushing yards and is tied for the 28th fewest rushing touchdowns given up any team this season. That is despite giving up 245 total rushing yards to Dallas last week. The defensive talent they have drafted early throughout the past two drafts is developing into one of the best young defensive units in the league. 

Carolina is one of the more complete teams in the NFL. The only unit holding them back from being considered an elite team is their offensive line. But if they continue to play the way they have over the first four weeks they will be in the thick of the Wild Card race in the NFC. This will make things even harder for the teams in the NFC West who many assume are shoo-ins for the playoffs. If Carolina is a Wild Card team then at least one team from that division will miss the playoffs.

Zach Wilson has some promise but was not ready to start

Zach Wilson
Jets rookie Zach Wilson has shown flashes but overall has struggled this season. (Courtesy of NBC)

The New York Jets drafted Zach Wilson second overall to be their franchise quarterback. They immediately made Wilson the starter which was a huge jump in the level of competition. Wilson is going from playing at BYU, whose best opponent last season was 14th ranked Coastal Carolina, to be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. New York happens to play in a division with three of the best defensive coaches and overall defenses in the league. 

Through the first four weeks, Wilson leads the league in interceptions with eight. He did not throw a touchdown pass in Week 2 and 3. Wilson currently has a one to two touchdowns to interceptions ratio. The insane part about it was that it is hard to blame him for how he played consider who he played to start the season.

In Week 1 the Jets played Carolina who has a lot of young defensive talent that would make things hard for Wilson. Then the next week he played the Patriots defense that has feasted on both Jets and rookie quarterbacks throughout the years. Bill Belichick’s Patriots teams have outstanding success against rookie quarterbacks. They also are responsible for some of the worst games of Sam Darnold’s career including a game where he “saw ghosts” and threw four interceptions. Wilson also threw four interceptions against the Patriots. In Week 3 the Jets played the Denver Broncos in Denver. The Broncos have loaded up their defense and have one of the best defensive minds in the league in Vic Fangio as a head coach. Things could have potentially been bad in Week 4 in Tennessee who had revamped their front seven to create more pressure on quarterbacks. 

It is almost like the schedule makers wanted Wilson to fail having him start the season against three defenses with high expectations to start the season. However, this blame also falls on the Jets for putting Wilson in a position to fail. They were very aware that they were going to take a quarterback with the second overall pick and had a great idea it was going to be Wilson who has not played anything near NFL caliber talent.

New York could have done their due diligence to bring in a veteran like Jacoby Brissett, Nick Mullens, or Joe Flacco or even trade for Nick Foles to give them a veteran quarterback to potentially be that bridge quarterback until Wilson got accustomed to defenses at the NFL level. They don’t have the upside or playmaking ability that Wilson has shown at moments already this season. However, they are all professional quarterbacks who would have decent stat lines against those tough defenses. 

Also, the Jets could have preserved Wilson’s confidence by sitting him early in the season. It can’t feel great to perform as poorly as he did in the first few games of his career. The Jets got bailed out by the fact that Wilson and the rest of the team played well and pulled a win out last week against the Tennessee Titans. Confidence played a major role in Darnold’s failure in New York. Being constantly set up to fail puts wear and tear on a young quarterback that is hard to shake off. 

The argument for the Jets letting Wilson sit out early in the year is one of his comparisons coming out of college Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City saw Mahomes’ playmaking ability and was drawn to him in 2017. However, they benched him for almost the entirety of his rookie season. Mahomes could have likely been an exciting quarterback his rookie season. But Andy Reid realized Mahomes was a raw prospect and figured it would have been better to wait for growth before thrusting him into the starting lineup. New York should have considered that with Wilson instead of throwing him into the fire. 

The AFC is wide open

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For the first time in a couple of years, the AFC feels completely wide open. Kansas City’s struggles on defense play a huge role in this. However, a lot of the talented teams in the AFC have made major improvements to become legitimate Super Bowl threats. The Buffalo Bills are as dominant as many expected them to be. Buffalo may have wanted more consistent MVP-level play from Josh Allen. But they are getting more production out of their running game and elite play from their defense posting already two shutouts on the year. The Cleveland Browns look like Super Bowl contenders after the additions they made this offseason. Cleveland is extremely loaded on both sides of the ball and could be playing football late in the playoffs this year. 

There are also a couple of surprise teams in the AFC West who have 3-1 records at this point of the season and could be considered Super Bowl contenders. After many predicted the collapse of the Las Vegas Raiders, they have done the opposite and have played extremely well. Las Vegas is finally getting solid play from their defense and their quarterback Derek Carr is an early MVP favorite. The Los Angeles Chargers have been dominant this year. They are a game-winning field goal against Dallas away from being 4-0. 

Besides those teams, there are a few potential wild card teams who have started hotter than many anticipated. Baltimore has been decimated by injuries and easily could have thrown in the towel on this season. However, the Ravens have started the year 3-1 and have won three straight games. The leader of Baltimore’s division the Cincinnati Bengals have emerged as a potential wild card team at 3-1. The Bengals made a statement winning three of their first four games, including a win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow will elevate this team and keep them competitive down the stretch. Also, the Denver Broncos started the year 3-1. It is worth noting that the combined record of the teams Denver played the first three weeks are. 2-10. However, under Teddy Bridgewater this offense looks great and their defense is playing at a high enough level to keep them in close games. As long as Denver stays healthy they could be a wild card team. 

Jameis Winston is not the Saints long term answer at quarterback

Jameis Winston
Since Jameis Winston’s first game against the Packers he has not played great. (Courtesy of New York Post)

There were a lot of questions on how the New Orleans Saints offense was going to look with Jameis Winston under center instead of Drew Brees. After the first game against the Packers, it appeared that their offense would be fine. He completed 14 of his 20 passes for 148 yards and five touchdowns. That is the lowest amount of passing yards from a quarterback who threw five touchdowns. Since then Winston has not played great and neither has the Saints. 

The following week the Saints lost to the Carolina Panthers after Winston completed 11 of his 22 passes for 111 yards and two interceptions. In Week 3 New Orleans won an ugly game against the New England Patriots. Winston completed 13 of his 21 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots. This past week Winston threw for a season-high 17 of 23 completions and another season-high 226 yards and a touchdown. 

It is shocking that Winston has averaged 153.3 passing yards per game and has only thrown three touchdown passes in the last two games. He looks nor is producing like the player that was taken first overall in 2015. It appears that Winston has gone from a loose cannon gunslinger to an extremely conservative passer. This is similar to how Drew Brees played last season but not typically how Sean Payton‘s quarterbacks have looked in the past. 

Winston has the lowest completions, attempts, and passing yards of any quarterback that has started all four games. Part of that could be because of the Saints’ lack of offensive weapons. Outside of Alvin Kamara, New Orleans has not been able to sustain consistent production throughout the first four weeks. Kamara has also been used more as a workhorse running back instead of a weapon in the passing game out of the backfield. Winston would likely have better numbers if he had better receivers. He led the league in passing yards when he had Mike Evans and Chris Godwin catching passes from him. 

It is apparent if the Saints want to have any success in the near future something needs to change. Whether it is an influx of new offensive talent or a quarterback to can succeed in their circumstances. Either way, this current dynamic of the Saints offense is not working. 

Mac Jones has confirmed that he was the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft

Mac Jones
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has impressed this season. His most impressive game came in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Bucccaneers.(Courtesy of Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

There was a lot of hype around the five rookie quarterbacks that were taken in the first round of this past draft. Three of the rookie quarterbacks debuted as the team’s starter, four of them have started at least one game, and all five have played in some capacity. After the first four games of the year, the fifth quarterback selected in the first round Mac Jones has played the best of all five. 

The New England Patriots drafted Jones with the fifteenth pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Jones was the least polarizing of the five but was a first-round prospect because he is a great distributor of the football. He completed a college football record 77.4% of his passes and showed that he was ready to play in the NFL Week One. 

His first few games have confirmed what many thought about Jones. After beating out Cam Newton for the starting job Jones hasn’t been outstanding but he has been the best of all the rookies. Jones leads all rookies in completion percentage, passing yards, and is tied for second in passing touchdowns. He has completed 70% of his passes (8th in the NFL), thrown for 1,012 passing yards (18th in the NFL), and four passing touchdowns (24th in the NFL). He also has only thrown four interceptions which is less than fellow rookies Trevor Lawerence, Zach Wilson, and Davis Mills

Similar to many Alabama players, Jones is exactly what he was in college. Down the road, this may limit Jones’ ceiling as a quarterback. However, right now this bodes well for Jones and Patriots this season as long as they improve their record. Jones should be a favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year at this moment. 

The Tennessee Titans may get bailed out by a poor division

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This past week the Tennessee Titans were the team to give the New York Jets their first victory. However, this may be the second most embarrassing loss they’ve had to date after they got dominated by Chandler Jones and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1. Tennessee has the largest amount of new starters on their roster compared to last season than any other team in the league. This season the Titans have raised questions on whether they are still the contender they have been over the last two years. Their two victories this season came against the Seattle Seahawks in an overtime shootout and against a crippled Indianapolis Colts team. Even though the Titans have been extremely disappointing this season, they still remain the favorite to win the AFC South because of the awful play by their division rivals. 

The Houston Texans were expected to be at the bottom of the league. However, after playing solid with Tyrod Taylor under center the first two weeks and posting a 1-1 record, they seem to be more competitive than most gave them credit for. However, since Davis Mills has taken over at quarterback the Texans have been arguably the worst team in the league. Jacksonville appears to be a bigger mess than last season and unless a miracle helps this organization will be among the worst teams in the league this year. Then there is the Indianapolis Colts. Indianapolis has regressed in a major way now that Carson Wentz has replaced Philip Rivers as the team’s starting quarterback. Wentz is still playing awful despite the change in scenery to a more comfortable situation. The Colts have also been riddled with injuries and may not be able to regain steam down the stretch to make this division race close. 

It is going to be ugly but the Titans should come out as the winners of the AFC South. Until proven otherwise this division is the AFC’s version of the NFC East.

Washington Defensive Coordinator Jack Del-Rio should be on the hot seat

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It is tough to put a coach on a hot seat this early into the season unless their firing is a long time coming. Last year both Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn were let go around this time of year. However, it is unlikely that a coach gets fired soon, regardless of how hard Matt Nagy or Urban Meyer tries to be let go. However, a coach that deserves some attention for underperforming is the defensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team Jack Del Rio. Once a highly regarded defensive coordinator and former head coach of the Jaguars and Raiders Del-Rio became Washington’s defensive coordinator after being out of the league since 2017. 

This season Washington had extremely high expectations on defense especially after the additions they made on that side of the ball this offseason. Washington added potential Pro Bowler William Jackson and first-round pick Jamin Davis to an already loaded defense. So far this season Washington’s defense has not played great. They gave given up the fourth-most passing yards, fourth-most passing touchdowns, 16th most rushing yards, and 16th most rushing touchdowns per game. That is below the standers of a defense that features four first-round pick defensive linemen, a first-round pick at linebacker, an extremely talented number one cornerback, and a solid group of safeties. 

The blame for this unit being underwhelming falls on the defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. This being said Washington is running 4-3 defense and Del Rio has predominantly run a 3-4 with his previous teams. But that doesn’t excuse why his defense has not played anywhere near expectations. This unit was supposed to lead this team to another division championship. If this unit fails to play near expectations all season Ron Rivera may opt to let go of Del Rio and replace him with another defensive coach who is capable of coaching this unit to their expectations. 

The Los Angeles Chargers will be a contender for the AFC Championship

Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers have looked great this year especially on offense. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Chargers)

All three of the Los Angeles Chargers wins this season were against good teams. During the first week of the season, Los Angeles defeated the Washington Football Team at home and Justin Herbert carved up what many thought would be one of the league’s best defenses pretty well. The following week they fell just short against the Dallas Cowboys due to a Cowboys game-winning field goal. Los Angeles put the league on notice when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in Week 3. Then this past week took first place in the AFC West by defeating the undefeated Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. 

The Chargers look like a new and better team under head coach Brandon Staley. The offense looks outstanding. Justin Herbert looks like a veteran even though he is only in his second season. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has Austin Ekeler looking like his former running back Alvin Kamara. The most impressive part of this offense this year is the production they’ve gotten out of Mike Williams. The former 2017 first-round pick has disappointed and not been able to put up consistent production earlier in his career. This season Williams has been a featured part of this offense with an expanded route tree. 

Defensively this team is playing great as well. Los Angeles has given up the fifth-fewest passing yards and ninth fewest passing touchdowns per game even though they’ve played Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, and Derek Carr this season. They need to improve at defending against the run giving up the third-most rushing yards in the league but they’ve only given up two rushing touchdowns this year overall. 

The Chargers are not only trying to escape the shadow of the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC but the shadow of the Los Angeles Rams in their own stadium. After the first four weeks, the Chargers have shown enough to be taken seriously as AFC title contenders with the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Buffalo Bills. 

Takeaways made earlier in the season

Takeaways from Week 1

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