With three weeks of action in the books, the actual talent level of teams across the NFL is starting to become more apparent.
For a few teams, things look good so far. Upstart defenses are playing great football and putting their teams in positions to make playoff runs in the future. A few teams like the Rams and Cardinals look to have juggernaut offenses capable of scoring in multiple ways.
But for some teams, what they’ve put on tape through three weeks is enough to hit the panic button, whether it’s a quarterback on his last legs or a team attempting to break in their new quarterback by breaking him.
Here are some cool and alarming trends that Week 3 showed the NFL world.
The Carolina Panthers have gotten off to a somewhat surprising 3-0 start behind a tough, physical defense that ascribes to the most fun defensive philosophy in football: Just blow up the pocket. Make the quarterback’s life hell. Have him questioning his career choice on a down-to-down basis.
So far, defensive coordinator Phil Snow has turned the Panthers defense into something that heavily resembles the old Rex Ryan defenses in New York and Baltimore. They’re covering up almost every gap on the line of scrimmage and demanding the quarterback say a prayer before trying to end his existence with a barrage of defenders flying into the pocket.
In Week 2, they had the Saints offensive line all confused, just spamming blitzes that let their defenders run through the middle of the line of scrimmage and confusing the daylights out of the offensive line.
The Panthers had a sequence where they ran the same blitz three times in a row, with the third blitz resulting in an interception to end the first half in their win over the Saints.
The Panthers followed up four sacks against the Saints with four more sacks against the Texans on Thursday night, giving them a league-leading 14 sacks on the season. Even more impressive is the rate that they’re getting home. According to Pro Football Reference, the Panthers have gotten sacks on a whopping 13.9 percent of their opposing dropbacks.
Part of what makes the Panthers defense so fun to watch is the belief that Snow has in his players to execute what can be a stressful defense to play in. The Panthers earnestly believe in their talent and allow their cornerbacks to play a lot of man coverage and they’ve delivered so far.
The Panthers rank third in expected points added per dropback (-0.185) according to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic and they’ve been utterly demolishing teams on third and fourth down this season. The Panthers have allowed a success rate of just 25 percent on third and fourth and a staggering -0.629 expected points per play, which is by far the best in the league on those critical downs.
They’ll have to adjust their defense with Jaycee Horn out indefinitely with a broken foot, but they just took an upside swing by trading for Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson. Henderson has been a bit of a disappointment up to this point in his career, but if the Panthers can make this work they’ll have two talented, young cornerbacks that they can rely on in man coverage over the next few years.
The Panthers continue to hunt big plays on defense and so far, they’ve been extremely successful. It’s a riveting style of football to watch.
Next week they get a matchup against the Cowboys supercharged offense, which should be a treat considering how much wide receiver and offensive line talent Dallas has.
Ben Roethlisberger, dude, enough is enough. This can’t go on any longer.
Every week Roethlisberger looks worse and worse, playing a brand of football so despicable it must be legislated out of the league. Looking at his stats is one thing, but they only paint the picture of a quarterback who’s merely below average instead of a carbonized mannequin.
6.2 yards per attempt ranks 25th in the league among all qualifying passers, according to Pro Football Reference. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, Roethlisberger ranks 26th in expected points added per play. That’s certainly below average and indicative of a team that needs to find their quarterback of the future before they have to blow up the entire operation.
Reading Roethlisberger’s stats are one thing, but watching him play really shows how dire of a situation this is for Pittsburgh. He can’t do anything out there on the field. He’s inaccurate, immobile and can’t create hardly any offense when the Steelers shaky offensive line allows defensive linemen to run through unimpeded.
Anyone who’s seen Roethlisberger play since the start of last year knows just lethargic his play has been. Anyone who’s been spared the disservice of seeing him on the field needs to look no further than the masterpiece The Ringer‘s Steven Ruiz put on Twitter following the Steelers loss to the Bengals.
Guys like this could never play in today’s league pic.twitter.com/kuFu2PU520
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 27, 2021
After the way Roethlisberger has declined over the past year, there’s really no reason to expect him to suddenly play competent football and drive the Steelers to the postseason. It’s so bad that there’s really only one thing Roethlisberger can do to alleviate the situation.
Retire. Pull a Vontae Davis. At least make some funny content on your way out. The Steelers made a mistake by using their draft capital on a running back when they had a bad offensive line and no quarterback of the future, but Roethlisberger can cement himself as a Steelers legend by just packing it up now and letting them get started with a proper rebuild.
Everyone in Pittsburgh needs to be honest with themselves now. This can’t go on any longer. Mike Tomlin, if you’re reading this just close your eyes, take a deep breath and put Dwayne Haskins in as the starter. Or Mason Rudolph. Or Josh Dobbs. Just anyone that has a better chance of playing competitive football with an expensive roster.
Wow, that was bad.
One net passing yard? One?! When a quarterback throws for 68 yards and losses 67 yards on sacks, everyone is to blame, but no one more than Bears head coach Matt Nagy.
The Bears were entering the game with a banged up, outmatched offensive line against a team that features one of the most athletic pass rushers to step onto an NFL field. This team called 39-year old Jason Peters off of a lake to come block Myles freaking Garrett.
Usually in an event where one player is facing such a disadvantage against a Hall of Fame-caliber player, they’ll send help. Whether it’s moving the pocket or sending chips with backs and tight ends or straight up double teams, letting Garrett nuke the entire game plan was a bit baffling for Nagy.
Nine sacks. Garrett accounted for 4.5 of them.
The Bears basically just let Fields sit in there and get clobbered all game long. Beyond the offensive line and protection disasters, they also had the misfortune of a rookie quarterback looking like a rookie quarterback and their wide receivers unable to generate separation against the Browns’ defensive backs.
Denzel Ward had Allen Robinson in Alcatraz. Browns rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah looked like Derrick Brooks against the Bears. The Browns put together some legitimately impressive performances on defense to pair with the total ineptitude of the Bears offense.
On top of Nagy’s failures, the receivers’ failures, and the Browns defense accentuating these flaws, Fields had moments where he held onto the ball too long, which led to sacks.
A rookie quarterback holding onto the ball too long in his first start is acceptable. Every quarterback in the history of the world has dealt with that early in their career. A supposedly offensive-minded head coach and a general manager fighting for their careers put this around their rookie quarterback to start his career.
Maybe Matt Nagy was right to keep Fields on the bench — not because he’s not ready for NFL action, but to protect Fields from Nagy himself.
Hey now, the Raiders are 3-0 and sit atop of the AFC West standings so far. Derek Carr is playing lights-out football and they’ve managed to squeeze out tight victories against the Ravens and Dolphins in overtime.
Should this Raiders team be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders? It’s too soon to tell, but if the defense can stay on top of its game, this is a team that should have a chance to really compete for a top AFC playoff seed as they enter their divisional matchups with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers —who all have the potential to be contenders this season.
So far, so good for the Raiders defense. They currently rank 10th in expected points added per play (-0.02) and sixth in opposing pass yards per attempt (6.2). Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue have been a fearsome pass rush duo to start the season, but there may be a bit of overachievement with the Raiders defense so far.
They’ve played the Ravens, Steelers and Dolphins to start the season. The Steelers and Dolphins are barely functioning as offenses to this point. To the Raiders’ credit, they did their job and shut down those offenses for the most part outside of the end of the Dolphins game.
To be fair, this can be said about any defense at this point in the season, including the Broncos and Panthers who have feasted on the league’s bottom feeders. However, the Raiders have had such a bad track record of failures on defense that it’s fair to be skeptical over whether this is the team that finally breaks through.
If the Raiders defense can legitimately stay in the 10-15 range as they go ahead and take on the better offenses in the league, the Raiders have a legitimate chance to take their first AFC West crown since 2002. 2002!
Carr and the offense have been productive since Jon Gruden was re-hired in 2018, now the defense has a chance to hold up their end of the bargain.