What Have We Learned From Week 4 of the 2015 NFL Season

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Andy Dalton

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton throws in the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 4 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • The Bengals are 4-0 & they say they are ready to go all the way: Andy Dalton is ready to take the Bengals further than Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.Dalton is off to a great start, the offense is flying and Cincinnati is 4-0. Nevermind the fact Dalton is 0-4 in the playoffs. Book a February trip to Santa Clara, Bengals fans.One quarter of the NFL season is in the books, so let’s overreact to what we’ve seen.

    Sure, Dalton and the Bengals have been impressive. But they have four wins against teams with a combined record of 6-10. Let’s see where they stand after a tough three-game stretch against Seattle, at Buffalo and at Pittsburgh.

    Besides, there’s a pair of unbeaten AFC teams with pretty accomplished quarterbacks who will make the path to Super Bowl 50 tough. Tom Brady and the Patriots are 3-0. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are 4-0.

    The Bengals host Denver on Dec. 28 in a game that could have home-field ramifications.

  • The Packers Defense is the true reason the Packers are 4-0: Defense has been one of the biggest question marks in recent years when it came to the viability of the Green Bay Packers as a Super Bowl contender.So far, it’s not a problem after the first four games of the regular season.Move over, Aaron Rodgers — the Packers’ defense is rolling too.

    “They always say defenses win championships. As long as we’re all playing on all cylinders, we can’t be beat,” outside linebacker Nick Perry said. He had two of Green Bay’s six sacks in a 17-3 win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Packers (4-0) are using a familiar formula on defense in focusing on stopping the run to turn teams into a one-dimensional passing offense.

    When Green Bay’s offense scores in bunches, it helps the defense even more because pass rushers such as Perry can concentrate on getting to the quarterback with the opponent playing catch-up.

    Four weeks of improvement built up to a dominating performance in San Francisco. The Packers held the 49ers to 77 yards rushing and 196 yards overall. The defense has 13 sacks over the past two games.

    Green Bay has come a long way from the season opener, when Chicago’s Matt Forte hurt the Packers for 141 yards on 24 carries.

    A tough defensive front added Letroy Guion back into the mix to join leaders Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji. Clay Matthews is getting more opportunities at rushing the passer the past two weeks after being relied upon more at inside linebacker the first two weeks.

    And the Packers are getting contributions from all their edge rushers, starting with Julius Peppers. Emerging playmaker Jayrone Elliott is getting more snaps in a deep rotation that also includes Perry and Mike Neal.

    Seven Packers have at least one sack, with Peppers (3 1/2 sacks) leading the way. With three sacks, Perry, a first-round pick in 2012, is already just one away from matching his career high.

  • Even with injuries, the Panthers are 4-0:The Carolina Panthers keep finding ways to win football games despite injuries to key players.Coach Ron Rivera’s team enters the bye week with a 4-0 record, matching the franchise’s best start since its lone Super Bowl appearance in 2003.

    That despite star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly being sidelined for the last three games with a concussion, top pass rusher Charles Johnson on short-term injured reserve with a hamstring injury and No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin out for the season with a torn ACL.

    Unheralded players including linebacker A.J. Klein, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Brenton Bersin and last week’s practice squad pickup Ryan Delaire have stepped up and become huge contributors, while veterans such as quarterback Cam Newton, cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker Thomas Davis have taken their games to another level.

    “I think it says a lot about our team — we’re not a team built around individuals,” Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said.

    Every time a player goes down, the Panthers seem to find an answer.

    When Benjamin’s injury in training camp left the Panthers without a true go-to receiver, Rivera expressed confidence Ginn and Philly Brown could handle the load.

    Ginn has been huge for Carolina, just as he was two seasons ago. The journeyman receiver has three touchdowns on the season, including two in Carolina’s 37-23 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday.

    Klein, who has been primarily a special teams player, has been nothing short of stellar in filling in for Kuechly at middle linebacker. While he lacks the sideline-to-sideline speed of Kuechly, teammates have praised his command of the defense and leadership.

    And when the Panthers lost Johnson for eight weeks to a hamstring injury last week, the team traded for Jared Allen and picked up Ryan Daliere off the practice squad. Daliere had two sacks on Sunday.

    Newton has been a steadying force for the Panthers, playing the best football of his five-year career. He has a career-high quarterback rating of 88.5 and has thrown for seven touchdowns with just two interceptions.

    Norman was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September, then backed up that effort with two more interceptions Sunday against Jameis Winston, including his second TD return.

    Rivera said the leadership on the team — led by the team’s six co-captains —has a lot do with the Panthers not falling apart after losing key players.

    Carolina has defeated four teams with a combined 4-12 record, but the schedule is about to get much tougher, After the bye week the Panthers travel to play Seattle, then host Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay.

    Newton said the undefeated start has given the Panthers confidence, but knowing players like Kuechly and Johnson will return at some points is reassuring.

    Rivera said he’s optimistic Kuechly will be back on the field next week in preparation for the Seahawks after he didn’t pass tests in his first meeting with independent doctors last week. Johnson is slated to return in Week 12.

Middle

  • OVERREACTION: Chip Kelly can only win in college. The Eagles blew a fourth-quarter lead and fell to 1-3 with a 23-20 loss at Washington.REALISTIC REACTION: They’re a kicker away from 3-1. Cody Parkey missed a field goal in the fourth quarter in a 26-24 loss at Atlanta in Week 1. Caleb Sturgis missed an extra point and a 33-yarder against the Redskins. The Eagles were 1-3 in Kelly’s first season in 2013 and rallied to win the NFC East. Plus, the division is weak with three teams tied at 2-2.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: The Cowboys are doomed without Tony Romo. Dallas is 0-2 with Brandon Weeden after a 26-20 overtime loss at New Orleans.

    REALISTIC REACTION: It’s not Weeden’s fault. He led the Cowboys to 28 points in a loss to Atlanta and threw a tying TD pass with 1:51 left against the Saints.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: The Fins are fried. A 27-14 loss to the Jets in London dropped the Dolphins to 1-3 and cost coach Joe Philbin his job.

    REALISTIC REACTION: The Dolphins have a bye so it was the best time for owner Stephen Ross to make a change. They have winnable games against Tennessee (1-2) and Houston (1-3) coming up so new coach Dan Campbell has a chance for a quick turnaround.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: Who dat gonna beat dem Saints! Drew Brees returned from a shoulder injury and led the Saints to their first win over Dallas in overtime.

    REALISTIC REACTION: They’re still 1-3 in a division where the Falcons and Panthers are 4-0. It’ll be a tough road for the Saints, who travel to face an angry Eagles team.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: K.C. is cooked. A 36-21 loss at Cincinnati put Kansas City at 1-3.

    REALISTIC REACTION: The Chiefs lost to Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Dalton in the past three weeks. They could be 3-3 after playing the Bears and Vikings the next two weeks.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: Let Johnny Football play. The Browns lost 27-20 at San Diego and are 0-3 when Josh McCown starts. They’re 1-0 when Johnny Manziel starts.

    REALISTIC REACTION: McCown threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers. Blame that loss on the defense. He has completed 66.3 percent of his passes and has a 98.1 quarterback rating. Unless Manziel can also play defense, McCown deserves to stay in there.

    ___

    OVERREACTION: The Lions are going 0-16 again. Detroit is the only winless team in the NFL after a 13-10 loss to the Seahawks.

    REALISTIC REACTION: If an illegal bat on the Seahawks was called after Calvin Johnson fumbled into the end zone, the Lions would’ve upset Seattle on the road. They’re better than 0-4.

Downs

  • The Jaguars have plenty of blame to go around after losing to the Colts on Sunday: The Jacksonville Jaguars have more-than-usual blame to go around for their latest loss.Rookie kicker Jason Myers missed two chances to win the game at Indianapolis, missing right in regulation and then left overtime. The offense mustered just 13 points, including the lone touchdown off a turnover, against a team that had given up nearly 27 a game in the first three weeks. The defense allowed an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first half, with more than half the distance coming because of penalties, and surrendered two big plays on the winning drive in overtime.The result was a 16-13 loss, a complete team loss.

    “It’s a tough game to watch,” coach Gus Bradley said Monday.

    A tough one for Jags fans to stomach, too. Not because it dropped Bradley’s record to 8-28 in three seasons, but because it came against a struggling Indianapolis team that was playing without star quarterback Andrew Luck and with 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck making his first start in nearly three years.

    “I think we had a great opportunity with our team and the way we wanted to approach it and go about it,” Bradley said. “I truly felt we missed it. It got away from us, and it’s very disappointing.”

    Myers was the No. 1 scapegoat. The kicker, who made the team over veteran Josh Scobee, could have won the game in regulation but pushed a 53-yarder wide right. He had a chance to redeem himself in overtime, but went wide left from 48 yards out.

    Bradley said he plans to stick with Myers, who also missed a field goal and an extra point in the season opener. Next up is a trip to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers on Sunday.

    The offense, meanwhile, was supposed to be significantly improved in quarterback Blake Bortles’ second season.

    Instead, the Jaguars rank last in the AFC in scoring with 62 points. That’s 15.5 points a game — slightly less than what the Jaguars averaged last season (15.6) with six rookies playing significant snaps on offense.

    Bradley pointed out that the Jaguars had first-and-10 plays from the Indy 6, 13 and 16, and they came away with a touchdown and two field goals.

    “We’ve got to score more points than that,” he said.

    It will have to happen without a key cog in the offensive line. Right guard Brandon Linder went on injured reserve Monday with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Linder will have surgery later this week.

    Defensively, the Jaguars are getting healthier and could get Sen’Derrick Marks back later this month.

    The unit was mostly solid against the Colts. But it had the penalty-laden drive late in the first half and faded in overtime, giving up a 28-yard passing play and then a 22-yard run that set up the winning field goal.

    “Good teams consistently don’t have even a series like that, so far too many penalties in that situation,” Bradley said

  • Bad Week for Kickers if your name is not Justin Tucker or Cario Santos: All plaudits to Cairo Santos of the Chiefs for making seven field goals Sunday. At least someone was able to kick the ball straight this week.Santos’ club record in a 36-21 loss at Cincinnati — that’s right, all the points were on field goals, not three touchdowns — stands out even more when compared to his peers.Not only were field goals a chore, particularly in crunch time, but the longer extra points were problematic, with four missed. There have been four or more misses every week this year after not having more than three in any week from 2000-2014.

    Unlike in college, where so many kickers are untested or simply not reliable, NFL coaches often play for the winning field goal. It’s a risky philosophy, particularly now with the extra point moved back to about 33 yards.

    “All the kicks are tough,” said Steelers veteran long snapper Greg Warren, “and now that you’re taking (PATs) back, you’re taking the one you could always count on out of the equation. I think it does shake it up. I mean, it’s not just one kick you’re changing, it’s the mental makeup of everything.

    “When that kick gets a little tougher, that job gets tougher. I think it’s definitely going to affect guys more than we anticipate, and it’s interesting how the league reacts to it, if it’s what they were looking to do, to achieve.”

    Long-time placekicker Jay Feely, now retired, tweeted that extra points used to be like warmup kicks, and now that they are more challenging, his former peers are struggling more than ever. It’s beyond a mindset, too.

    “You didn’t have to worry about the results (it was a given) which allowed you to focus on your form and get grooved-in during a game,” Feely wrote about the short extra points.

    “Somewhat of a confidence builder. Like throwing a couple of screens early for a QB. Now the pressure is bigger on Ex Pts than even FGs because there is zero room for error (100 percent success is demanded). The pressure intensifies and it negatively impacts FG performance as well.”

    That certainly was the case this week. It wasn’t the worst kicking performance in NFL annals, but it was a pretty sorry display.

    According to STATS, 57 of 71 field goals (80 percent) were made in Week 4. That’s not awful if most of the failures were from long distance, which they weren’t.

    Only 81.8 percent of the kicks from inside 45 yards were made this week, way lower than the previous three weeks: 88 percent, 89.2 percent and 90.6 percent. That’s the lowest in a week since the final week of 2012 (75.6 percent), when weather was a factor, too.

    Also, take away Santos’ perfecto, and the numbers sink.

    Jacksonville’s Jason Myers, a first-year kicker from Marist who beat out veteran Josh Scobee, missed from 53 yards. OK, we’ll give him that.

    Except that his try with 6 seconds left sailed right, but the Colts had called a timeout. So he got a mulligan — and sailed it right, as well.

    In overtime, he missed from 48 to the left.

    “I put them both down the middle,” Myers said. “I shucked them both well. One just kind of went off to the right on me; one kind of turned left on me. Just trying to make it. Try not to have it in my head about the other one. I wanted that one to go in, but got a second chance. It just didn’t go in.”

    Scobee, with Pittsburgh, had it even worse last Thursday night, twice botching field goals that could have salted away a win over archrival Baltimore. He missed from 49 and 41 yards, the Steelers lost — and Scobee lost his job.

    Tampa Bay rookie Kyle Brindza failed from 43 and 29 yards. Yes, a kick even shorter than an extra point — and he missed one of those, too, in a loss at Carolina. Brindza, out of Notre Dame, missed three field goals and an extra point during last week’s 10-point loss at Houston.

    After strongly backing Brindza following the Texans game, Bucs coach Lovie Smith tempered his support Sunday, and cut Brindza on Monday.

    “We’re not going to start kicking people off in the press conference after the game,” he said. “I’m disappointed in Kyle’s play today; we have to do a better job with extra points, with field goals when we need ’em. Those are critical parts of the game; we need to get more production from there.”

    Someone else will try to provide it.

    Such perennially dependable booters as Mason Crosby (44 yards), Nick Folk (40), Blair Walsh (38) and Dan Carpenter (30) also misfired.

    And the Saints’ new kicker, Zach Hocker, clanged what would have been the winning 30-yarder Sunday night off the goalpost.

    At least New Orleans won in overtime, though on a long TD pass. Sean Payton wasn’t likely to turn to Hocker again.

  • Dolphins coach Joe Philbin fired 4 games into his 4th season: New Miami Dolphins coach Dan Campbell believes his underachieving team needs to show more aggressiveness that stops just short of dirty play, and he looks forward to breaking up a few fights in practice.Joe Philbin he’s not — which was the motive for the Dolphins’ coaching change Monday.Owner Stephen Ross fired Philbin four games into his fourth season, and one day after a flop on an international stage helped seal his fate.

    Tight ends coach Campbell was promoted to interim coach. His only coaching experience is with the Dolphins, who hired him as an intern in 2010, but the former NFL tight end was poised as well as passionate during a 25-minute introductory news conference.

    “I’m not here just to finish the season up,” Campbell said. “That’s not my plan. We’re coming here to win games. It’s still early. We have time to turn everything around. But we can’t wait.”

    The Dolphins (1-3) lost their third game in a row Sunday with their fourth consecutive lackluster performance, a 27-14 loss to the archrival New York Jets in London.

    Midseason head coaching changes are unusual in the NFL, but a year ago the Raiders’ Dennis Allen was fired following Week 4 after losing — to the Dolphins in London.

    In this case, few will accuse Ross of impatience. He ignored calls to fire Philbin in December after the team faded to finish 8-8 for a second successive season. Doubts only grew this season regarding Philbin’s inability to motivate players with his passive demeanor.

    Campbell, who lists Sean Payton and Bill Parcells as mentors, said he respected Philbin but wants to change the culture.

    “My vision is a bunch of hard-nosed guys that go out every day for practice and are ultra-competitive,” Campbell said. “These are guys that are scratching and clawing, very intense, very heated, and on Sunday it’s that same team.

    “We are going to play by the rules, but we’re going to be much more aggressive. There’s always that line: ‘This is OK to do, and this is dirty.’ I’m not saying we want dirty players, but we’re going to walk that line. I don’t want us playing on our heels. I want us playing on our toes.”

    Campbell said he wasn’t ready to make any decisions regarding possible changes in the rest of the coaching staff, which includes embattled defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Miami has a bye this week and next plays at Tennessee on Oct. 18.

    The Dolphins have started poorly in every game and have been outscored 37-3 in the first quarter. They rank last in the AFC in rushing and offensive points per game, and last in the NFL in sacks and run defense despite the offseason addition of $114 million tackle Ndamukong Suh.

    Lack of talent isn’t the problem, Campbell said.

    “This is my sixth season with the Miami Dolphins, and this is the most talented roster we have had in those six years,” Campbell said. “We have plenty of talent. I feel there’s a lot more we can get out of these guys.”

    Campbell becomes the eighth coach since 2004 for the Dolphins, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.

    Philbin, who was hired as a first-time head coach in 2012, went 24-28. He failed to reach the playoffs or even finish above .500, and his job has been in jeopardy since a rocky 2013 season that included a bullying scandal.

    But even after this year’s dismal start, Ross said, the decision to fire Philbin was difficult.

    “I don’t believe we were performing at the potential we have,” he said. “I felt this was the time to make this decision. I haven’t seen a lot of improvement. I see the same old, same old.

    “My goal is still to make the playoffs. I felt this was the best opportunity we have — to pick Dan Campbell as our head coach.”

    Philbin issued a statement thanking Ross, his players and his assistant coaches.

    “It is my hope that the 2015 Miami Dolphins achieve great success both on and off the field,” he said.

    Campbell said the prospect of replacing Philbin and becoming an NFL head coach was “a little surreal,” but he expects to retain the job beyond his interim stint.

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