Now that the Green Bay Packers have defeated the Atlanta Falcons, Week 4 is now over and so is the first quarter of the 2020 NFL Season. Some of the takeaways from Week 1 have been confirmed and other story lines seem to have emerged throughout the first four weeks. Some teams have started surprisingly well and may sneak into the playoffs. While others have gotten a start that puts them in a position to play catchup if they want to make the playoffs.
There is a lot of season left and some of the these head lines may not stick, but here are the biggest takeaways from the first four weeks of the 2020 NFL Season.
Outside of Michael Thomas there is legitimate concern for the New Orleans Saints passing game
Coming into 2020 the NFC South was the New Orleans Saints division to lose even after Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It could be argued that the Saints have the most well-rounded roster in the NFL. But after a slow offensive start by the team it looks like if the Saints want to win they may not be able to rely on the passing game.
During their week 1 matchup, with the Buccaneers, Saints star wide receiver Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of weeks two, three and four to this point. But with Alvin Kamara in the backfield, Drew Brees slinging the rock, and the addition of Emmanuel Sanders the Saints offense would be good enough to still play at a high level right? Nope, Drew Brees has really shown his age this season, he has been unable to throw the ball deep down the field as he as he has in past years. Brees averages 251.5 passing yards per game, that is his worst in fourteen years. The last time Brees averaged less than 270+ passing yards a game was in 2005 when he played for the San Diego Chargers. While this has been happening, Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith have not been able to emerge as the teams top weapon in the passing game in Thomas’ absence.
Now Brees is 41 years old so he does have an excuse for the decline in play. Also in Week 4, Brees looks to better than he had in the Weeks prior during the win over the Detroit Lions. However the Saints will likely need better production from Brees in order to follow through on their expectations for the past couple of seasons which is win the Super Bowl. Now there is a good chance Thomas does return next week versus the Los Angeles Chargers. So Brees’ is likely going to see an uptick in production once he returns. However he will have to do his best to return to his form from last season to give the Saints a chance of finishing as the best team in the NFC South and potentially make it to the Super Bowl.
The Houston Texans should have fired Bill O’Brien at the end of last season
Over the past two NFL seasons no other team has made more shocking transactions than the Houston Texans. After their Week 4 loss to the Vikings, the Texans were in the headlines again for letting go of their General Manager and Head Coach Bill O’Brien. It is fair to say they have not had an easy schedule playing the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Vikings in the first four weeks. So going 0-4 isn’t insane, but with the amount of money the Texans have invested in their roster and with a win now quarterback in Deshaun Watson the Texans should at least have one win on the year. Unfortunately, because of the Laremy Tunsil trade both the teams first and second round picks belong to the Miami Dolphins. So this team cannot afford to play awful this season. Since the Texans also lack salary cap space, the team does not have any way to add top end talent to their roster at the end of the season.
The move that made Bill O’Briens move seat heat up was when he traded former All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2020 second round pick (Ross Blacklock) and running back David Johnson. It is debatable what was more shocking about it, why the Houston Texans would trade arguably the best wide receiver in football or how little they got in return. For perennial Pro Bowler the Texans got the 40th overall pick and a running back who had a large contract that appeared to be on a steep decline from what he was in his prime.
The thinking of the Texans in this trade was that rather than their quarterback Deshaun Watson having one favorite target in Hopkins, he could spread the ball out to former first round pick Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, recently acquired Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks who was acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Saints for their other second round pick. Watson is passing for a career high 273 passing yards per game. But to those watching the team, their offense looks out of sync like it is lacking a true number one weapon. Both starting wideouts Fuller and Cooks have been extremely inconsistent as far as production. Neither has emerged as a true number one receiver that Watson and this offense needs.
The idea of turning DeAndre Hopkins into David Johnson and Brandin Cooks sounded good on paper. But overall the team would have been better off keeping Hopkins and possibly drafting a running back. Now that O’Brien has been let go after four games the theory comes up what if the team decided to let go of him after last season. They would likely still have DeAndre Hopkins or would have traded him or market value.
It is sad to say but the Texans are almost at as much fault as O’Brien because if they had this much displeasure in O’Briens job performance to let him go after four weeks, they should have done it at the end of 2020 and brought in a new head coach and general manager instead of letting him stick around and blow up this talented roster the way he did.
Josh Allen is the second best quarterback to come out of the 2018 NFL Draft
One of the more surprising teams to emerge as contenders this season has been the Buffalo Bills. Through out four games this year the Bills are 4-0. This is the first time they have been undefeated throughout the first four weeks since 2008. The player who has taken the biggest leap in the right direction has been their quarterback Josh Allen. In his early years in the league Allen has been called a gunslinger who has been careless with the football at times and has some accuracy issues. But throughout the first few games of 2020 Allen has shaken off that label and emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Throughout four games Allen is completing almost 71% of his passes while averaging 331.5 passing yards and 37 pass attempts a game. If Allen continues this play his Bills will not only make the playoffs, but they will be contenders to make the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994.
Allen was a part of a draft class that saw five quarterbacks go in the first round. Now that they have been in the league for two and a quarter seasons it is fair to rank them as far as they have been preforming this season. There is no argument that the last of the five chosen Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson would be first on that list after his MVP season a year ago. But After how he has played recently Allen can be solidified as the second best quarterback of the class.
Since Week 7 last season, Allen has a 27:3 touchdown to interception ratio. Allen has also shown the ability to move the ball via his legs throughout his career. Earlier in his career it could be argued that Allen was more dangerous as a runner than passer.
Adding Stefon Diggs to the group of weapons in Buffalo was enough of a boost to turn Allen into one of the leagues most dangerous quarterbacks. If this play continues long term it will make people wonder why he wasn’t picked earlier when Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold came off the board.
The Kansas City Chiefs are their own tier
Usually after a team wins the Super Bowl they experience some kind of hangover and appear to be a step or few behind where they were a season ago. However the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs look as dominant as they did last year if not more four weeks into the 2020 season. After adding Clyde Edwards-Helaire to this offense has given them a boost of production at the running back department. While the passing game looks as expected.
The Chiefs defense continues to play at a high level as it did last season. Despite playing well the Chiefs defense does not receive credit for being one of the leagues better units. That is mostly because of how dominant the offense plays. Fifth round pick cornerback L’Jarius Sneed looks like an early favorite for defensive rookie of the year. Before breaking his collarbone Sneed looked like a true number one cornerback that the team had been lacking for a long time.
Kansas City’s 4-0 record is impressive enough, but it is even more impressive when considering the teams they beat to get that record. They beat the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots. Three of those four teams were in the playoffs a year ago.
The most impressive win they have had this season came on a Monday night in Week three when they blew out the Baltimore Ravens 34-20. Coming into 2020 the Ravens were the favorite to come out of the AFC after a disappointing divisional round exit a year ago despite going 14-2 during the regular season. After continuing their dominance throughout the first few weeks the Ravens ran into a wall which was the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimores defense who was considered the best in the league had no answers to Patrick Mahomes and the offense. While the Chiefs defense made last years MVP look average if not below average. If not Baltimore what team has a legitimate chance to over take Kansas City as the best team in the NFL?
Carson Wentz may not be the quarterback people thought he was
The most disappointing player of the 2020 season has been Carson Wentz. Late last season he was being praised for sneaking into the playoffs throwing to Greg Ward with all of his weapons hurt. Four games into 2020 Wentz looks awful. His situation is not ideal he may have more injuries this season than he did late last year. Not only is he missing his top three receivers in DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey, and first round pick Jalen Reagor, the Eagles are without young star tight end Dallas Goedert and and four of their five offensive lineman Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson (in and out of the lineup).
Even though the circumstances for Wentz are severely less than ideal, he is paid to be and is seen as an elite quarterback talent. But throughout the first four games of the year Wentz has looked like a bottom ten player at the position. Among starting quarterbacks Wentz ranks 23rd in passing yards per game with 232.5 passing yards per game, 23rd in passing touchdowns with four, and leads the league in interceptions with seven.
When Wentz plays he looks shooken up or nervous. Many have said that he looks like he “has the yips”. That is exactly what he looks like, Wentz is over compensating and trying to hard to the point where he is messing up is basic fundamentals. Wentz throwing motion and stance seems off and keeps launching the ball at his receivers feet. Regardless of the chemistry of lack there of that he can have with his receivers he has to put the ball in a spot where is receivers can catch it.
One of the reasons why Wentz could be uncomfortable and playing this way could be because rather than get him another offensive skill player to increase their depth in the second round the team decided to draft ‘gadget’ quarterback Jalen Hurts. Historically during NFL history when a team drafts a quarterback early, the previous starter tends to look over his shoulder and is made uncomfortable from the move. In few cases stars like Tom Brady (2014), Alex Smith (2017), and Aaron Rodgers (2020) have been able to play well despite having a quarterback in the waitings to replace them. But overall when a high draft pick rookie quarterback is waiting to play the incumbent starter usually struggles.
What makes this worse is that Wentz is only 27 and has been seen as the Eagles franchise quarterback. This not only took Wentz but everyone around the league off guard. Though Hurts was “brought in to be a gadget player” there was reports that the Eagles were interested in selecting (now Green Bay Packers quarterback) Jordan Love with their second selection. Love is viewed more as a franchise quarterback than Hurts. The Eagles discreetly tried to bring in a potential replacement for Wentz. It wasn’t hard to see it considering they did it in the second round and that could be the reason why Wentz is shook up this year.
Mike McCarthy is the same coach he was in Green Bay
After it appeared that the Dallas Cowboys needed a new voice in the locker room the team moved off of 9 and half year head coach Jason Garrett and looked for a head coach that could take advantage of all of talent on this roster. The team landed one of the most sought after coaching candidates from the year before former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy was let go in Green Bay after his message got stale and a rift between him and his quarterback Aaron Rodgers appeared to make their relationship unsalvageable. What made him so attractive to teams was the Super Bowl victory on his resume and his credit in developing Aaron Rodgers to the star he is today.
During the 2019-20 season and after the hire reports came out about how McCarthy has changed his coaching philosophy and is more modern than he had been in the past. That excited people in the Cowboys organization because for years it seemed like the only thing holding the team back from reaching their true potential was coaching. However that was all a lie McCarthy is still the same coach that got fired in Green Bay and is showing the same tendencies that got him fired from there.
Despite retaining Kellen Moore as the teams offensive coordinator, McCarthy has left his mark on the teams offense. The team has completely abandoned its strength of running the ball, despite having the second highest paid running back in the league Ezekiel Elliott. Elliot has received less than 15 carries a game in each oft he past two games and has failed to rush for 100 yards in a game this season. The Cowboys have been playing a fast paced offense that relies more on quick passes rather than controlling the clock with a running attack. This ultimately tires out the defense, which is part of the reason why the Cowboys defense is the third worst in the league as far as giving up yards. The Cowboys give up on average 430.5 yards per game, the only two teams that give up more are the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.
Dallas’ defense has given up 1,032 passing yards and 690 rushing yards this season. That is the 10th worst pass defense and second worst run defense in the league. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan will receive the blame for their struggles. Nolan hadn’t been a defensive coordinator since 2014 and the last time he was, he coached the bottom ranked defense in the league. But McCarthy’s offensive philosophy is not doing Nolan and the defense any favors.
Overall abandoning the run game and keeping the defense on the field all game was the flaws in McCarthy’s coaching that got him fired in Green Bay. However his appeal is what he does for quarterbacks. By doing this he puts in quarterbacks in fantastic positions to put up amazing stats. Aaron Rodgers played some of the best football ever played by a quarterback under McCarthy and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott just became the first quarterback in NFL History to throw for 450+ passing yards in three straight games. As great as this looks for Prescott and the offense, the teams 1-2 record during that span shows that it will not win them games. Prescott said it best in his post game comments after their Week 4 loss to the Cleveland Browns “I’d give all those yards back for a different record. I care about one stat, and that’s to win. When we don’t do that, no other stats matter” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram). No one should be more accountable for the Cowboys start to the season than head coach Mike McCarthy.
The Chicago Bears should start scouting quarterbacks
The only legitimate quarterback competition between two veterans for a starting job in the NFL this offseason was in Chicago. So it shouldn’t be shocking that the team has the most unstable quarterback situation in the league. What is shocking is the 3-1 record the team has gotten despite their problems at the position. The Bears team has been able to overcome below average quarterback play to assert themselves as a potential playoff team this season.
Throughout the first three games Mitch Trubisky has averaged 186.6 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and an interception a game. While Nick Foles has 437 yards, four passing touchdowns, and two interceptions in one start and two games overall. If both are averaged the Chicago Bears quarterbacks average 249.3 yards, 2.5 passing touchdowns, and 1.25 interceptions a game. That makes them 18th on average passing yards per game, fourth in passing touchdowns, and tied for third highest interceptions thrown.
Their 3-1 record and touchdown production shows that Matt Nagy’s system works, he is not the problem. The problem in Chicago is the quarterback they have under center. The Bears are a quarterback away from being seen as a legitimate contender in the NFC. Though they are off to a great start, the team will likely not be able to keep up its pace and could finish as a middle of the pack team just missing the playoffs. Regardless of where they finish the Bears should look to invest their first round pick in a quarterback. If Chicago gets the right quarterback to play on the opposite side of the field as their high end defense this team could go extremely far in the near future.
Russell Wilson will be receiving MVP Votes this season and could be receiving the most
During the offseason the shocking fact was received that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has never received an MVP vote despite being one of the elite players in the league for a majority of his career. Throughout four games this season that seems to have lit a fire under Wilson because he looks amazing and is the odds on favorite to win the MVP at this point of the season.
Wilson has carried an average roster to a 4-0 record and they appear to be a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl at this point in the season. Wilson has tied an NFL record with 16 passing touchdowns through 4 weeks which leads the league. He is also first in the league with completion percentage with 75.2%, third in the league in passing yards with 1,285 yards, his 83.4 QBR is fourth in the leagues, and he has the leagues highest passer rating with 136.7.
What is spectacular about the Seahawks 4-0 start is how well they have played despite awful defensive play. Their defense is last in the league in total defense and pass defense. So far they have given up 1,907 total yards and 1,604 of those have come through the air. The Dallas Cowboys, who similarly to the Seahawks have a high powered offense and a bottom tier defense are 1-3. So to be 4-0 with this type of team is nothing short of spectacular. Despite not having a defense to back him up Wilson was willed this team to a 4-0 start and appears to be a major contender in the NFC. That is why it hard to picture anyone other than Russell Wilson winning the MVP at this point of the season.
Joe Judge can’t fix all of the Giants problems
After firing Pat Shurmur, the New York Giants went with an interesting candidate to fill their void at head coach. The team hired Joe Judge who was the New England Patriots special teams coordinator for the past six seasons. It is no secret that former Bill Belichick assistant coaches usually do not pan out as head coaches. However there seemed to be something different about Judge. During the offseason Judge asserted his no nonsense attitude to the media. Giving the idea that he will push his players in hopes of getting the most out of them despite what their role was with the team. After some head coaching duds this was a nice change for a Giants organization who as struggled a lot in recent years.
However throughout four games the Giants sit at 0-4 and if not for the team they share a stadium with the New York Jets terrible start of they year they would be getting torn a part by all major sports media outlets. The Giants did do some positive thing the first week of the season. Daniel Jones looked to have developed from where he was a season ago and the offense showed some promise. There was one drive in particular in the third quarter where Daniel Jones was putting together a nice drive against an elite Steelers defense. The offense was five yards away from scoring a touchdown that would give them a one point lead. But instead forced a ball out that was tipped and intercepted by Pro Bowl defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. Since that play the Giants have appeared to have given up on the season. Since that interception the Giants have been outscored 80-37 by their opponents.
The biggest blow to the Giants season came Week 2 when they lost their best player running back Saquon Barkley for the season because of a torn ACL. Despite their struggles it does not make things any easier for them when they lose a player that caliber. Unfortunately for the Giants second year quarterback he has only played in one game since entering the league where the team had all of their stud playmakers Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton. That game was in Week 2 where Barkley tore his ACL.
The early showing by the Giants confirms that they have issues despite their coaching and new head coach Joe Judge cannot fix all the problems for the team, especially in his first season. The team needs to make major personnel changes on both sides of the ball and in order to do that the Giants may have to relieve general manager David Gettleman of his duties.
The New York Jets could have a massive decision to make this offseason
It is no secret that the New York Jets are far and away the worst team in the NFL. However the Elephant in the room is that if the New York Jets do finish with the worst record in football and finish with the first overall selection, they may have to evaluate their quarterback situation. Despite Jets quarterback Sam Darnold showing flashes of being the franchise quarterback that the Jets drafted him to be, the best overall prospect coming out of college this season in Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawerence. Many believe Lawerence is the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since Peyton Manning in 1998.
If that is the case can the Jets afford to pass on Lawerence. The team has been looking for a star franchise quarterback 1976 when Joe Namath took his last snap with the team. The Jets have had phases where Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, and Chad Pennington have been their franchise quarterbacks. Even Mark Sanchez brought the Jets to two straight AFC Championships in the late 2000’s. But the Jets have been lacking a true superstar at the quarterback position for over 40 years. Lawerence may be the teams best option to do so.
Darnold impressed early winning the starting job before Week 1 his rookie season. He became the youngest quarterback ever to start a game at 21 years old. However in year three, Darnold appears to have regressed. Darnold has not taken giant steps forward in his development and appears to be trending in the wrong direction. Head coach and ‘Quarterback Guru’ Adam Gase has not done Darnold any favors. Darnold has not had the weapons, offensive lineman, and coaching that other young quarterbacks have had. His best weapon is running back Le’Veon Bell, who Gave refuses to involve in the offense as much as he should.
If the Jets were to land the first overall pick they could use it to select Trevor Lawerence and look to move Darnold to a team in need of a developmental quarterback. Depending on how desperate the team is, Darnold could likely be acquired for anything between a late first round pick to a second round pick depending on what he does this season. Or do the Jets trade the first overall selection to another team in need of a quarterback and use the draft capital to surround Darnold with the pieces he needs. In 2016 the Los Angeles Rams traded 3 first round picks, 2 second round picks, and 2 third round picks for the rights to draft Jared Goff first overall.
Imagine what the Jets could receive as compensation for a player the caliber of Trevor Lawerence. Fox Sports Colin Cowherd said on his talk show be believes the Jets could receive “three first round picks, three second round picks, and a start ing player (likely offensive lineman)” as compensation for the first overall selection to draft Lawerence. With a quarterback already in place with the potential to make it in this league could the Jets afford to pass up the opportunity to load their roster with young talent. Also despite how good Lawerence is and could be, how well could he succeed in the circumstances Darnold has been dealt with in New York. Lawerence? The answer is not that much better.
General Manager Joe Douglas will make a lot of headlines this offseason from likely replacing Adam Gase to how he will set the team up long term with what he does with the potential Trevor Lawerence selection. The New York Jets next 10-15 years depends on Douglas making the right call this offseason.