What Have We Learned From Week 3 of the 2016 NFL Season

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Carson Wentz

Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz (11) passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 3 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Wentz, strong defense have Eagles off to 3-0 start– Carson Wentz has already been compared to Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, the defense is dominating, and the Philadelphia Eagles are 3-0.No one saw this coming except maybe coach Doug Pederson.

    “I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief; belief in themselves, trust the process, believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another,” Pederson said. “Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet, the season is still extremely young. But what they did (against Pittsburgh) just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

    The Eagles dismantled the Steelers 34-3, shutting down Ben Roethlisberger and a high-powered offense and having their way with a defense that’s been cruel to rookie quarterbacks — 19-2 against them since 2004 — not named Wentz.

    So forget about rebuilding. This team is a contender now. Still, it’s only three games.

    “I thought we were very underrated in the media’s eye, which honestly it seems like our team always does better when the media doesn’t expect us to do well,” center Jason Kelce said.

    Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick, gets most of the credit for Philadelphia’s fast start. He deserves praise not only for his performance but his leadership ability. It’s remarkable for a 23-year old who played at an FCS school.

    “Being 10 years in, this kid is inspiring me,” tight end Brent Celek said. “He’s adding youth to my game just by the way he’s acting, being in the huddle, taking command, it’s beyond impressive; it’s great. We have to keep it going. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re the greatest team, but I’m excited with how he’s playing and he’s elevating everybody else’s play by the way he’s handling it.”

    Then there’s Jim Schwartz’s defense. A unit that ranked in the bottom five each of the past three seasons has allowed the fewest points (20) in the NFL, excluding a punt return for a score.

    “The first day, Jim said: ‘This is how we’re going to do it. And I’m going to give you the tools that you need, but you guys need to own this defense. You guys need to take this over,'” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “And I think that’s what we did.”

    The Eagles have an extra week to reflect on their success before entering a tough stretch. After a bye, they’re on the road four of the next five games.

  • Zimmer’s defense has been dominant for unbeaten Vikings– The defense that Mike Zimmer has deliberately built since he became Minnesota’s head coach has been gradually ascending into one of the league’s best.The Vikings have sure begun this season with a bang. For the second straight game, they turned an NFL MVP into a flustered, ineffective quarterback.

    The defense racked up eight sacks and three interceptions of Carolina’s Cam Newton in the 22-10 victory over the defending NFC champion Panthers on Sunday. It was a resounding response by the Vikings (3-0) after having to put running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil on injured reserve earlier in the week.

    “We feel like we can be one of the best ever to wear purple. That’s not taking away from the guys who wore purple before us, but we hold ourselves to that standard,” defensive end Brian Robison said.

    The eight sacks were the most by the Vikings in a road game since Dec. 28, 2003, at Arizona. Newton, the most valuable player in 2015, fared even worse than Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the award winner in 2014, did the week before when the Vikings beat the Packers 17-14.

    The Vikings lead the league with a plus-8 turnover margin. They have a league-high 15 sacks for a whopping 116 yards. Philadelphia is the next closest team with a total of 72 sack yards.

    The engine of the group is in a front four that’s one of the deepest in the league, led by Everson Griffen, who had three sacks at Carolina. The heart rests with young linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the hand-picked high draft picks who run Zimmer’s patented Double-A-gap blitz scheme.

    There are so many athletic, versatile players throughout the defensive lineup that the Vikings are able to apply a pass rush from all corners of the field, making up for it with sound coverage beneath it. Rodgers, who has one of the keenest senses of pocket awareness in the NFL, said he didn’t see the pressure on any of the three times he fumbled last week. Newton sounded even more baffled.

    “These guys are all pretty good players,” Zimmer said. “It’s hard to really confuse guys anymore. We try to do our best and, really, I know people are saying that it’s me against the guy or that guy. We’ve got good players. These guys execute the things we try to get them to do. It’s a players’ game, and these guys have been executing and doing a nice job. I can’t go out there and cover a guy or rush a guy or anything like that. It really has nothing to do with me.”

    Here are three highlights from the game that displayed the defense’s prowess and proved pivotal in the outcome:

    SAFETY FIRST

    Trailing 10-0 late in the first quarter, on a second-and-9 play for Carolina at the 5-yard line, the Vikings rushed only four players and dropped seven into coverage. The Panthers protected Newton with seven blockers. Danielle Hunter still worked his way into the end zone to take down Newton for a safety.

    Hunter knocked over Michael Oher at the line of scrimmage, hurdled over the fallen left tackle and slid past a push by left guard Andrew Norwell to reach the quarterback. This was a prime example not only of the strength and depth of Minnesota’s front four, since Hunter isn’t a starter in the base defense, but of the quality of coverage in the secondary, too. Without anybody to throw to, Newton held the ball too long.

    NEWMAN!

    Late in the third quarter, with the Vikings leading 16-10, the Panthers ran a third-and-11 play from their 33. Barr and Kendricks hinted at a blitz with the Double-A-gap look, but both of them dropped into coverage. Even Robison, who often lines up at defensive tackle in the nickel package in passing situations, hung back in the middle of the field as a spy on Newton, and with only three rushers the Vikings still applied pressure with Griffen and Hunter.

    Newton threw toward the sideline, where Terence Newman jumped in front of Ted Ginn for the interception that set up a field goal by Blair Walsh.

    SNEAKY SACK

    With less than four minutes left in the game, after Walsh’s second field goal had given the Vikings a 12-point lead, the Panthers had a first-and-10 play at the Minnesota 35. Zimmer sent six rushers, with Barr and Kendricks charging through the middle on a Double-A-gap blitz. Robison dropped in coverage, and safety Harrison Smith raced around the edge untouched for the sack.

    The drive later ended with Tom Johnson’s interception of an under-pressure pass heaved by Newton and tipped at the line.

 

  • Trevor on the Road looked good in Cincinnati– There won’t be any griping from Trevor Siemian’s critics this week, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas included.In leading Denver (3-0) to a 29-17 win at Cincinnati on Sunday, Siemian became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in his first road start.

    When coach Gary Kubiak awarded him a game ball in the jubilant locker room at Paul Brown Stadium afterward, Siemian’s teammates acted like they’d just won the lottery .

    “That’s just the type of team that we got, just wild, crazy guys,” said Von Miller, who’s sure this was just the first of many accolades coming Siemian’s way.

    “He’s just got that aura about him,” Miller suggested. “If you would have told me three years ago after Peyton, it was going to be Trevor and he was going to be this good, I don’t think anybody else could have predicted that. It just shows you the type of work that he put in, the type of guy that he is.”

    An afterthought in college, where he only started one full season at Northwestern, Siemian was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and the forgotten man behind the Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler drama during the Broncos’ Super Bowl season.

    Even when Manning retired and Osweiler bolted in free agency, Siemian found himself behind journeyman Mark Sanchez, whom he promptly beat out this summer.

    Any notion that he was keeping the seat warm for first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch fizzled with his play Sunday. It was his second fourth-quarter comeback in three weeks, the kind that marked the careers of both his predecessor and his boss, Hall of Fame QB-turned-GM John Elway.

    Siemian was 8 for 9 for 148 yards and two touchdowns after the Broncos fell behind 17-16 on Mike Nugent’s 34-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

    “He’s got that elite type of feel about him, the same feel that Peyton had about him,” Miller said. “He’s still got a long way to go. But I believe in him. I believe in Trevor all the way. He just makes all the right decisions. He’s got a strong arm. I believe in him.”

    So does Kubiak, as evidenced by the gutsy call he made when the Broncos got the ball back at their 17 with 6:02 remaining. Denver was clinging to a 22-17 lead following eight-year veteran tight end John Phillips’ fifth career TD catch. Rather than take the safe route and play the field position game with Denver’s dynamic defense ready to serve as the savior once again, Kubiak showed faith in his young QB.

    Siemian hit fellow 2015 draft pick Jeff Heuerman with a 29-yard pass for the tight end’s first catch as a pro.

    “Loved it,” Siemian said of the play call. “I thought we were aggressive all game long, and that’s how you have to be against teams like this to keep them off-balance.”

    On the next snap, Siemian dropped back and hit Thomas for a 55-yard, game-sealing touchdown.

    “Your confidence just continues to grow and I’m not just talking about myself, I’m talking about all of us,” Kubiak said Monday. “As coaches we see how he can handle things. … We’re watching him prepare and we watch how much information that he’s able to (process). We’re getting a lot of comfort there watching him keep up and handle the team.

    “With that, there’s growth coming and obviously turning him loose in situations. I’m feeling better about his decision-making process and some of the things that he’s doing. Just have to keep going.”

    Siemian quieted his pair of Pro Bowl receivers who griped last week about not being targeted enough.

    “It wasn’t frustration, we just know what we are capable of doing on the field,” said Sanders, who had nine receptions for 117 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season Sunday. “We’re the best that does it with the 1-2 punch.”

    Thomas caught six passes for 100 yards and scored his first TD of the season.

    “Trevor played outstanding,” Sanders said. “Obviously going in, no one knew about him. But now everybody started talking about him.”

    NOTES: Kubiak said both TE Virgil Green (calf) and RT Donald Stephenson (calf), who missed the game Sunday, are day to day. … The Broncos have outscored opponents 45-13 in the fourth quarter. “We’re playing some good football at the right times,” Kubiak said.

 

Middle

  • Unbeaten Ravens win the close ones against struggling foes– The Baltimore Ravens won’t apologize for beating three teams that have one win between them, and they make no excuses for an offense that’s produced only four touchdowns in 12 quarters.What matters to coach John Harbaugh and his players is that the Ravens are 3-0, alone atop the AFC North and putting a good deal of distance between themselves and the squad that went 5-11 last year.

    Baltimore is one of only five unbeaten teams in the NFL, a distinction that might be more significant if its victories didn’t come against Buffalo (1-2), Cleveland (0-3) and Jacksonville (0-3). While Harbaugh acknowledged that it’s too soon to get an accurate read on the strength of his team, he made a point of quoting an esteemed former coach in assessing the current state of the Ravens.

    “Bill Parcells says you are what your record says you are,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I was reminded about that last year by you guys quite frequently. So I’ll remind you: It’s a pretty good statement.”

    This Sunday, the Ravens will attempt to go 4-0 for only the second time in franchise history when Oakland (2-1) comes to town.

    “They’re a contender in the AFC,” Harbaugh said.

    Maybe the Ravens are, too.

    What’s most impressive about Baltimore thus far is its ability to win close games. During the miserable 2015 season, the Ravens’ six losses by six points or fewer included an agonizing 22-20 defeat at home against Jacksonville.

    In the rematch Sunday, Baltimore pulled out a 19-17 win . Justin Tucker’s fourth field goal, a 54-yarder 1:02 remaining, turned around a game in which the Ravens committed three turnovers and were flagged for eight penalties.

    One week earlier, Baltimore rallied from 20 points down to beat the Browns. That followed a 13-7 win over Buffalo in the opener.

    “Last year we lost a lot of close ones,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “It’s good to come out on the other side of it.”

    Maybe it’s the good karma that John and Jim Harbaugh, currently head coach at Michigan, have seemingly experienced throughout much of their lives.

    “When we go to the mall, we don’t start with the parking spaces in the back row,” John Harbaugh said. “We drive right to the front row. There’s going to be someone pulling out. Yeah, the place is packed and it might say no parking available, but someone’s going to leave as we come in. It’s just always worked out that way for us.”

    It’s been that type of season thus far for the Ravens, who last year fell into the habit of losing close games.

    Now, after winning three games by a total of 13 points despite having nine field goals compared to four TDs, the Ravens are beginning to believe they’re going to win the tight ones.

    “You gain a certain confidence in terms of knowing that you can do it,” Harbaugh said. “When you start having some good things happen for you, like our team has, maybe you can build on those things.”

    That doesn’t mean Harbaugh isn’t working to make the Ravens better. There will come a time when Baltimore will need touchdowns, not field goals, to win. And three turnovers per game is usually a prescription for failure.

    “I am confident the touchdowns are going to come,” Harbaugh said.

    Although the Ravens have thrown 118 passes and rushed only 76 times, there will be no balanced attack in the future. Joe Flacco will continue to sling the ball, and running backs Justin Forsett and Terrance West will be used simply to keep the opposition guessing.

    “I don’t think we’re going to be 50/50,” Harbaugh said. “But you have to be able to run the ball to not be one-dimensional. We’re not happy with our running game in that sense. We’ve got to force people to defend the run because that opens up your passing game.”

    The Ravens came out of Sunday’s game relatively healthy. Rookie guard Alex Lewis is in concussion protocol, Harbaugh said.

 

Downs

  • Jets’ Fitzpatrick has ‘hard day’ coming to work after 6 INTs– Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to quickly move on from one of the ugliest performances of his career.Throwing six interceptions certainly stings. It still did a day after a 24-3 loss at Kansas City.

    “It’s a hard day for me to come in today after, pretty much, we lost that game because of my performance,” Fitzpatrick said Monday. “We don’t really need to pin it or try to put it on anything else. I think that was pretty evident. To walk in today and have to face the guys, it’s not an easy thing to do, but at the same time, I’ve got to be the same guy every day as a leader, as a player, and just come in.”

    The veteran quarterback was one of a very few players in the locker room during media availability. He shouldered the blame for the defeat, as he did after the game, but also insisted he wasn’t going to dwell on it anymore.

    Not when the Jets have a matchup at home with Seattle to prepare for.

    “I think they’re all easy to get over when you have a game the next week coming up,” he said. “But it was so bad, and there were so many poor things on my part that happened in that game that you want to put it behind you as fast as you can.”

    Fitzpatrick finished 20 of 44 for 188 yards and tied a franchise record — shared by Joe Namath, who did it three times — with his six-pack of interceptions.

    One of the picks was returned for a touchdown, and he had three red-zone throws intercepted in a span of five passes.

    “I had the two forced balls in the red area, and that can’t happen,” Fitzpatrick said. “But we did some good things up front that maybe were overshadowed by all the turnovers. But obviously the lesson from that game is you can’t turn the ball over, especially that many times, and expect to win games in the NFL.”

    Fitzpatrick and the Jets (1-2) know they’ve got to turn things around quickly with the Seahawks coming to town, even with Russell Wilson’s availability uncertain with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

    The combined record of New York’s next four opponents is 8-4 — Seattle (2-1), Pittsburgh (2-1), Arizona (1-2), Baltimore (3-0) — so things could spiral quickly, long before the Jets even get to their bye in Week 11.

    “I think we KNOW who we are,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We just have to BE who we are.”

    Things were looking way up for the Jets last week after a 37-31 win at Buffalo in which Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards and was selected the AFC’s offensive player of the week. That seemed so long ago after the clunker in Kansas City, with some fans and media wondering if the Jets’ confidence in Fitzpatrick was shaken.

    “It’s the NFL and I’m a pro, and I’ve played with some good quarterbacks and some not-so-good quarterbacks, and you’ve just got to move on,” said left tackle Ryan Clady, in his first season with New York after eight in Denver. “You’ve just got to move on and try to get better the next week.

    “I’ve got his back, so I’ll still be out there blocking and trying to make sure nobody hits him.”

    Fitzpatrick didn’t address the team as a whole, but said there were “plenty of side discussions” with different players trying to work through the loss.

    “Any time you lose like that,” Bowles said, “you have to have a ‘Come-to-Jesus’ meeting.”

    Bowles made his displeasure clear after the game when he repeatedly used a vulgar word to describe the team’s performance. When asked what his message was to the team when it met Monday morning, Bowles laughed before saying he mentioned accountability and where the Jets need to be, and what to do to get better.

    When asked what made him chuckle, Bowles gave a sly grin and said: “You don’t want to know.”

    Whatever Bowles said to his players made an impact. So much so, that Fitzpatrick thinks it’s something the Jets could build on moving forward.

    “I thought the way that he delivered the message today was great,” the quarterback said. “I thought it was something that was necessary, and potentially a turning point in the season in terms of the focus that hopefully we come with after this game.”

    Clady said Bowles wasn’t necessarily fiery, but “very direct,” adding that the coach isn’t really “a yeller.

    “The biggest thing with him, I think, in the locker room is he’s really respected and his message really rings true with the veteran guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a guy that’s played the game, that’s been through a lot of adverse situations, as a player and coach. So for him being able to speak from experience on both sides of it, I think is really helpful for the players to respect him and to listen to it.”

 

  • A good half game has led to another 0-3 start by Bears– After playing half a game of solid football for the third straight week, the Chicago Bears are searching for a way to play the full 60 minutes.Doing it with a lineup that fluctuates almost daily because of injuries is the tricky part for Chicago after its second straight 0-3 start.

    “Really, in all three phases, I think there’s been some positives,” coach John Fox said. “I don’t think we’ve put a complete game together by any stretch. I think that’s evident. Whether it’s the run game, the run defense, the pass game, the pass defense, obviously none of it’s been good enough.”

    No 0-3 team has made the playoffs since 1998, and the Bears are talking more about improvement than becoming a playoff team as they prepare to host Detroit on Sunday.

    Playing against Dallas without quarterback Jay Cutler (thumb sprain), the Bears started veteran Brian Hoyer and fell behind 24-3 by halftime. They outscored Dallas in the second half of a 31-17 defeat.

    It was the second straight lopsided loss in a prime-time game for the Bears, who fell Sept. 19 to Philadelphia 29-14.

    “You can’t continue to not play well and, for lack of a better word, be embarrassed on national TV,” tight end Zach Miller said. “But I felt like coming out in the second half, it’s there. Everybody played hard and continued to fight until the whistle blew.”

    Injuries have been factors in the inconsistent play, and not just Cutler’s. A patchwork offensive line and now a nicked-up running backs corps have made the running game spotty.

    “Everybody has to elevate their play and be better for the entire team,” Miller said. “That’s professional football and how it goes.”

    Third running back Jordan Howard took over after an ankle injury to starter Jeremy Langford and gained 45 yards on nine carries, but that highlighted the ground attack. Fox wouldn’t commit to Howard for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field, but might not have much choice with second running back Ka’Deem Carey plagued by a hamstring.

    The Bears on Sunday had to activate Raheem Mostert after signing him to the practice squad last week. Fox acknowledged Mostert isn’t exactly “a household name here in Chicago.”

    The injury problem has been more apparent on defense.

    Safety Harold Jones-Quartey suffered a concussion Sunday and is in the concussion protocol. Safety Adrian Amos had just returned from a concussion for the game with Dallas.

    Linebacker Danny Trevathan (thumb), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) remain out. Fuller hasn’t played since August.

    “We’ve got a couple five-star guys down,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “But guys have to come in, step up.

    “I kind of take it personal when the young guys come in and they mess up or something and I’m out there. I’ve got to take that personal. I feel like that’s on me, too. Getting those guys ready, getting them comfortable, I’ve got to take responsibility.”

    While the defense struggled against the run, it also had problems stopping two straight rookie quarterbacks in Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Dallas’ Dak Prescott.

    The defense also gave up 199 rushing yards to Dallas.

    “Teams have been doing a really good job with the young quarterbacks and simplifying the game plans for them, the last two weeks for us, in particular, getting the ball out fairly quick,” linebacker Willie Young said. “In some situations we need to get the rush working with the coverage, and vice-versa.

    “When you look at it, they (the Cowboys) rushed for 200 yards. We have to control the running game first before we can have fun in the backfield.”

 

  • Winless Jaguars looking to spark feeble ground game– The Jacksonville Jaguars have nowhere to run. Inside, outside, regardless of down and distance, the Jaguars are getting stuffed on just about every carry.It’s a significant problem that plagued coach Gus Bradley’s team last year and failed to get fixed in the offseason.

    Now, after three feeble games on the ground, the Jaguars (0-3) are having conversations about whether to “get big to run” or try to spread defenses out in hopes of creating some extra space.

    Either way, Jacksonville needs to improve its rushing attack. Quarterback Blake Bortles’ success might even depend on it.

    “I do think running the ball would help him,” Bradley said Monday, a day after a 19-17 loss to Baltimore. “Obviously, it would take some pressure off of him. I think sometimes when you can run the ball, it can open up some of those play-action passes.

    Opponents “are not honoring the run very much. Then it is tough to run play-action when they are not honoring the run. A lot of times your explosive passes come off of play-action. I think they go hand-in-hand. I think we can take more of a burden off of him by finding a way to run the ball.”

    Nothing has worked so far for Jacksonville, which travels to London this week to face AFC South rival Indianapolis (1-2) at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

    T.J. Yeldon has 84 yards on 34 attempts, averaging 2.5 yards a carry. That’s actually decent compared to Chris Ivory, who missed the first two games of the season because of a “general medical issue” that required a hospital stay. Ivory ran 12 times for 14 yards against the Ravens, averaging 1.2 yards a touch.

    Jacksonville ranks 31st in the league — only Minnesota is worse — in rushing. Take away Bortles’ scrambles and the Jags are averaging 2.4 yards a carry. The issue really became obvious during two late drives against the Ravens, with Jacksonville leading 17-16 and trying to run down the clock. Ivory got the ball three times on first and second downs and didn’t net a yard.

    “We have to be able to be a team that can run it when they know we’re going to run it,” Bradley said. “If you look at the penetration, (it) hurt us. You saw more purple jerseys on our side of the ball than we anticipated. Sometimes that happens with zone schemes. It was just happening too frequently.”

    Although Bradley won’t use it as any excuse, his line was shuffled significantly Sunday. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion) and center Brandon Linder (knee) missed the game, forcing center Tyler Shatley and guard Chris Reed to make their first career starts. Bortles was sacked four times, and Jacksonville ran 21 times for 48 yards.

    Not being able to get much going on the ground, it was up to Bortles to make plays. And he came up short — again.

    Bortles completed 24 of 38 passes for 194 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s clearly pressing and trying to do too much, evidenced by his seven turnovers and nine sacks in three games.

    “Any time you get the run game going, it kind of opens up everything,” Bortles said. “But I don’t think one way or the other it bothers me. I get excited every time he calls a pass play. I think it’s something we have to continue to work on and continue to do. That’s three games in row now that we’ve started pretty slow, pretty poorly. If I knew what we were doing wrong, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

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