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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 4 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Rams aren’t blowing their own horns after 3-1 start– With a powerful defense leading an offense that’s doing just enough to win, the Los Angeles Rams are off to a 3-1 start in their homecoming season.They aren’t blowing their own horns just yet, however.Coach Jeff Fisher mostly noticed the Rams’ problems Monday when he re-watched a gritty 17-13 victory in Arizona. Los Angeles is on just the third three-game winning streak in the past decade for a long-struggling franchise, but Fisher sees nobody getting happy on his unlikely first-place team.
“You have to take a hard look at it, and we did,” Fisher said. “We still have a lot of room for improvement offensively and defensively. Too many big plays (given up) defensively. Struggles versus the run. Lack of a run game offensively, and then an inability to go get points when we got around midfield. The players understand it. They were very receptive today about where we are.”
But the latest victory clearly was satisfying to Fisher because it came at the expense of the rival Cardinals, last season’s NFC West champions. The move from Missouri to California didn’t make anyone forget that Arizona coach Bruce Arians has jabbed at the Rams in past seasons, calling them “a team that is always 8-8” and “that team we don’t like.”
Fisher confirmed telling his players in the locker room that Sunday’s victory was an early “Christmas present” for the Cardinals (1-3), who will visit the Coliseum on New Year’s Day for a rematch in the regular season finale.
“I was complimenting the players. I wanted them to know what a big win it was,” Fisher said dryly. “Oftentimes, Coach Arians is complimenting his players from the same perspective, so we just wanted to let them know that this is a great win for us, so we’ll see them after Christmas. Merry Christmas.”
And while praising the coaching staff of the Buffalo Bills, their next opponent, Fisher appeared to slip in a sly shot at the Cards.
“(Buffalo is) a well-coached team,” Fisher said. “They play good special teams. They’re into special teams, unlike some of the other teams we’ve faced.”
Fisher didn’t specify which teams, but the Cardinals have had a series of special-teams calamities this season. Los Angeles’ Tavon Austin returned an Arizona punt 47 yards and drew a facemask penalty with 5:09 to play Sunday, putting the Rams in position for Brian Quick’s go-ahead touchdown reception.
The Rams’ special teams have been practically flawless during their first 3-1 start since 2006, and they have finished all three games with big defensive plays, including Trumaine Johnson’s game-ending interception in the end zone in Arizona.
Fisher sees those narrow escapes as reasons for concern, but also signs of improvement.
“It’s not easy, but around the league, there are some good teams that don’t have the same record we do,” Fisher said. “Finding ways to win at the end is very important. It carries you a long way.”
Fisher also has no concerns about Todd Gurley, who has 216 yards rushing in the Rams’ first four games. He sees overall flaws in the Rams’ running game, not in the Rookie of the Year’s approach.
“The line of scrimmage was full of Cardinals yesterday, and we knew that,” Fisher said. “That’s why we made our plays down the field. But we’re close. He’s healthy. He’s going good. We’re just going to put a good plan together this week.”
The Bills (2-2) visit Sunday for the second of the Rams’ two games at the Coliseum over the first eight weeks of the NFL season. Even with so few opportunities to make a good impression on their home fans, they’ve still got the town talking.
“We’re looking forward to being home,” said Fisher, whose team still must travel to Detroit and London this month. “It’s been a while.”
- Quarterback Brian Hoyer gives Chicago Bears needed momentum– If quarterback Brian Hoyer continues producing as he did Sunday for the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler could find regaining his starting spot is no mere formality.Bears coach John Fox didn’t want to speculate Monday on how much longer Cutler would be out with a sprained thumb after calling it a “significant injury,” but did say the starting quarterback position is like any other.”I think it’s performance-based,” Fox said. “So anybody that’s performing well, I don’t think we’re going to be likely to change.”
Hoyer, an eight-year veteran, threw for 302 yards on 28 of 36 with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday’s 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Hoyer has yet to throw an interception in three Bears appearances, and is 67 of 97 with a passer rating of 103.3.
Cutler had a 75.7 passer rating and completed 28 of 46 passes for a touchdown and two interceptions. Cutler’s two starts came against Philadelphia and Houston while Hoyer faced Dallas and Detroit.
When Cutler is healthy enough to return, Fox said evaluation of the spot will begin. At least until then, Hoyer is still the starting quarterback.
“I think we’ll evaluate it just like we do every position on the football team,” Fox said. “I think Jay has played a lot of good football.
“In fact in the (film) cut-ups watching Detroit in last year’s two games I thought he played pretty well. We’ll evaluate it like everything. Right now I don’t like getting into speculation and predictions because we’ll know more on Wednesday.”
The Bears are 1-3 after ending a six-game home losing streak and go to Indianapolis on Sunday.
Hoyer was particularly adept at moving and throwing against the Lions. The Bears used a moving pocket or passes off bootlegs to keep Detroit’s pass rush off balance.
“I think we kind of were starting to do more of that anyway, just because we had some (pass) protection issues, and I think any time you can get the quarterback on a different spot is important in football,” Fox said. “So it’s just something we kind of put in the system.”
Another thing Hoyer did well was distribute the ball to different receivers after Alshon Jeffery had been the chief target opponents sought to stop.
Three Bears caught four or more passes and Eddie Royal took a pass over the middle 64 yards to set up a score.
“It makes the defense so that they can’t key on one guy,” Royal said. “They all know how good Alshon is. And when we’re spreading the ball around hopefully it will take away some double coverage from him.”
It didn’t hurt Hoyer to be able to lean on a running attack that featured a back Fox said reminded him of former Carolina running back Stephen Davis.
Rookie Jordan Howard ran for 111 yards on 23 carries in his first start. He had been sharing time as the third back behind Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, who were injured.
“Just being the main guy, you know you can be comfortable and relaxed, sort of,” Howard said. “You don’t have to worry about being pulled very fast, so you can definitely get into a rhythm.”
Fox said he thought Howard tired out Detroit’s defense, and the rookie wouldn’t disagree.
“I felt like they were getting worn down as the game went on,” Howard said. “I definitely try to make the defense not want to tackle me toward the end of the game. So I try to bring everything I have on each run.”
Langford is out with a sprained ankle and Carey with a hamstring pull. So it’s likely Davis will continue to get work.
“He’s got good feet,” Fox said. “He’s got good vision. I think his hands are better than I think we thought, even when we drafted him.
“He does have an even-keel demeanor. He’s not going to go real high. He’s not going to go real low. But he’s a very instinctive football player.”
Fox was also encouraged by another young player, wide receiver Kevin White.
However, White had to have an MRI after suffering an ankle injury in the game and the team will know the extent of the injury later in the week.
White had six catches for 55 yards against Detroit.
“I thought it was by far his best game,” Fox said. “I think he was real aggressive. I think he caught some contesed balls.
“I think after the catch he was aggressive to get extra yards. I thought it was his best performance.”
- Saints catch a break to win their 1st Game– Saints fullback John Kuhn plans to stay in New Orleans during his team’s Week 5 bye and try to get his first real taste of life in the Big Easy.That option became a lot more attractive after he scored three touchdowns in the Saints’ first victory of the season in San Diego.”I won’t feel like I have to have a hood up at all times,” said Kuhn, who joined the Saints in August and knows what it’s like to mingle with a passionate fan base from his nine seasons with Green Bay.
The Saints might be 0-4 now if not for a trio of Chargers turnovers inside the final seven minutes of New Orleans’ 35-34 victory on Sunday . Then again, they were not far off from being 3-1, either.
New Orleans led Oakland in Week 1 until the Raiders scored a touchdown with 47 seconds left, and then added a bold, do-or-die 2-point conversion for a 35-34 victory.
The Saints still had a 61-yard field-goal attempt for the win as time expired, but Wil Lutz’s kick narrowly swerved wide left.
In Week 2, the Saints lost to the Giants on a field goal in the final seconds. Only one of New Orleans’ losses didn’t go down to the wire — a 45-32 setback against Atlanta in Week 3.
So the Saints head into their week off with at least a measure of hope they’ll start winning more during the last three quarters of their schedule.
“We had a couple of close games at the beginning of the season that could have swung the other way,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “When you come out with those wins, it helps build confidence for the young guys and helps mold the team.”
The bye also comes at what appears to be a preferable time for the Saints, who have been riddled with an unusual number of early season injuries to key players.
It is unclear whether starting left tackle Terron Armstead (knee), starting middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (quad), projected starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (quad), tight end Josh Hill (ankle) and left guard Senio Kelemete (hamstring) will return from injuries by the time New Orleans next takes the field at Carolina on Oct. 16. Ellerbe, however, appeared close to returning this past week, and another week off certainly helps the other hobbled players.
Meanwhile, players including safety Kenny Vaccaro (ankle) and receiver Willie Snead (toe) just returned from recent injuries on Sunday. They could use more time to heal.
And in just a few more weeks, starting cornerback Delvin Breaux and first-round draft choice Sheldon Rankins, a projected starter at defensive tackle, could be back. Both of them have fractured fibulas.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that we need to get back healthy, which will make us a lot better team,” said Vaccaro, adding that he’ll be staying in New Orleans this week. “I’ve got to get treatment on my ankle; it was really sore (Sunday), so I’ll have to get treatment throughout the week.”
On Sunday, the Chargers, who led by 13 before their offensive meltdown, lambasted themselves for giving the game away.
For the Saints, it begged the question: Was their first victory cause for validation, or nothing more than a brief reprieve?
Many Saints players saw it as the latter, because they played hard until the end and capitalized on San Diego mistakes in the clutch.
Even before the Chargers’ turnovers, the Saints’ defense bowed up in its territory to force a field goal and keep the game a two-possession affair.
Then came the fumbles, one of which was caused by a heavy hit from safety Vonn Bell, while the other just seemed to slip from the grasp of Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin.
“A lot of times with turnovers, it’s just capitalizing on the offense’s mistakes,” Vaccaro said. “If guys aren’t running to the ball, we wouldn’t have recovered the fumbles.”
Even after the Saints took the lead, the defense, which came in ranked 31st in the NFL, had to stop star quarterback Philip Rivers from driving into field goal range. The Chargers went backward and B.W. Webb’s interception of a fourth-down pass sealed it.
“We needed that win and I don’t care what form or fashion it came in,” Vaccaro said.
- Winston’s turnovers a concern for struggling Buccaneers– Jameis Winston says it’s not difficult to determine why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t winning.The young quarterback has turned the ball over nine times during the team’s three-game losing streak, prompting coach Dirk Koetter to say he’s “very” concerned about the second-year pro’s play.”At times, I do try to do too much and that’s a part of the problem,” Winston said after throwing a pair of interceptions during Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the Denver Broncos.
“I’ve just got to do my job” and put teammates in position to make plays for an offense that been held to seven points twice in the past three weeks.
Koetter said Monday that the 22-year-old, who threw for more than 4,000 yards as a rookie a year ago, has to learn to be more patient in attacking NFL defenses.
Winston ranks among the league leaders with eight touchdown passes, however he’s also thrown eight interceptions and lost two fumbles during the team’s 1-3 start.
Two of the turnovers have been returned for TDs. The Bucs turned the ball over three times in the first half against Denver, which used a pair of interceptions deep in Bucs territory to set up their first two touchdowns.
“I need to protect the football,” Winston said flatly.
It’s a lesson Koetter thought his quarterback learned last season, when Winston rebounded from throwing seven interceptions in his first four games.
Many of Winston’s mistakes occur in situations where he’s scrambling, trying to extend plays that have broken down.
“At that position, taking care of the football is the No. 1 priority. Like I said, I thought we were past this, and I was confident we were past it. But we’re struggling with it right now, and we’ve got to fix it,” Koetter said.
“I think the real trick is Jameis is such a competitive guy and Jameis is always trying to — it’s a positive trait that he has — make a play when sometimes there’s no play to be made,” the coach added.
“And sometimes that’s throwing the ball when he doesn’t need to, sometimes that’s trying to keep a scramble alive too long and taking an unnecessary hit.”
In addition to sacking Winston five times, the Broncos finished with 16 quarterback hits.
Koetter is confident the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner will bounce back. He said Winston is his own harshest critic, and the coach suspects his quarterback will make the necessary adjustments to minimize mistakes moving forward.
“Not every play is going to be a big play. We went through this very similar thing first four games last season. Hopefully, we’ll learn the same lesson we learned last year and we’ll get on a little roll,” Koetter said.
Meanwhile, the coach didn’t offer much of an update on the status of three players injured during the loss to the Broncos — defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Noah Spence and tight end Brandon Myers.
McCoy limped off the field with a left calf injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Although Koetter said he’s not sure if the four-time Pro Bowl selection will be able to play next Monday at Carolina, he conceded there’s chance the tackle could be out a while.
“Obviously when you lose a player like Gerald for any amount of time, it hurts. He usually is going to draw a double team,” Koetter said.
“With that said, though, Clinton McDonald stepped up and had his best game of the year. I also felt like Will Gholston had his best game of the year. Somebody needs to rise up any time a guy goes down, and I thought those two guys did that.”
Meanwhile, the team announced the signing of former Browns defensive tackle John Hughes III. Linebacker Josh Keyes and receiver Freddie Martino were waived.
- Colts return home seeking solutions to litany of mistakes– It is one month into the NFL season, and the concern in Indianapolis is already growing.Coach Chuck Pagano is still trying to get his offense in sync, looking for ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks, working on convincing players to avoid preventable penalties and focusing on getting his team to function well at the same time.If Pagano didn’t have enough to contemplate before last weekend’s trip to London, the eight-hour flight home certainly drove home the point.
“Obviously you can’t keep spotting teams the leads and the points that we do and expect to have these comebacks,” he said Monday.
“(We were) down 11 at half and then got down 17 and then finally caught fire in the fourth quarter and played good football. But you can’t play three quarters of football the way that we played.”
The troubles have become pronounced that even players are speaking freely about what’s gone wrong.
After Sunday’s 30-27 loss to previously winless Jacksonville, Andrew Luck offered a rare, general critique by calling on the Colts (1-3) to “be more professional.”
He also blamed this season’s sluggish start to “bad ball” and a lack of “focus.” Other players shared similar sentiments in the locker room.
And the usually cautious Pagano hasn’t held back, either.
“Too many penalties. Too many missed opportunities. Too many dropped balls,” he said Sunday. “We didn’t tackle well, they ran the ball well. We didn’t do our job on the defensive side when it had to be done.”
For the Colts (1-3), these are not new problems.
Last season, they finished 18th in the NFL in penalties and routinely found themselves trying to dig out of early deficits.
Everyone from team owner Jim Irsay to Pagano’s assistants spent the offseason discussing the need to better protect Luck, and general manager Ryan Grigson responded by using four of eight draft picks on offensive linemen.
So far, little has changed.
Indy has allowed a league-high 15 sacks and Luck is on pace to be hit nearly 200 times this season — far more than anyone wants.
While part of that could be explained by the infusion of rookies, three of whom started Sunday, the bigger concern has been the play of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a six-year veteran. Thirteen months ago, Castonzo signed a four-year, $43 million contract, but struggled most of last season and is off to another poor start this season.
But the problems run deeper on offense.
The Colts have self-destructed often because of bad hands, poor decisions and ill-timed penalties — all of which sabotaged their hopes in London.
“It’s not on one person. It’s on the unit,” Luck said. “It’s sloppy and it has to be fixed. We know that. You overcome it in some games, you don’t in others.”
Defensively, there are other concerns.
Only nine teams have fewer sacks than Indy (seven), only five teams have allowed a higher completion rate than Indy (68.1 percent) and only two teams have allowed more points than the Colts (125).
And they didn’t help themselves with a spate of penalties that included three unnecessary roughness calls plus a pass interference call and a holding call during a four-play sequence that led to a Jacksonville field goal at the end of the first half.
It’s enough to baffle any coach, especially one such as Pagano, who had previously coached the secondary and served as a defensive coordinator.
“Penalties, poor execution, just fundamental things early on got us in the hole that we were in,” he said. “Again, we had opportunities. There were plays to be made and we didn’t capitalize on them.”
So, before the Chicago Bears (1-3) come to town this weekend, Pagano will spend his waking hours looking for those seemingly elusive solutions.
“All you can do is keep coming to work, keep working to get better,” Pagano said. “We’ve got to improve, got to find a way to play better early and you’ve got to finish.”
- Panthers reeling at 1-3; Newton dealing with concussion– The Carolina Panthers are 1-3, their MVP quarterback has a concussion and their young secondary just allowed Matt Ryan to throw for 503 yards and four touchdowns.Yep, the NFC’s best team last season is reeling.The Panthers are 1-3 for the fourth time in six seasons under coach Ron Rivera, but the two-time NFL Coach of the Year said this one feels different.
“I think we should be better than we are,” Rivera said Monday.
Carolina has won three straight NFC South titles, but is two games behind the Atlanta Falcons (3-1) one quarter of the way through the season.
And now there’s a chance they could be without Cam Newton for a while.
Newton left Sunday’s 48-33 loss to the Falcons in the fourth quarter with a concussion and did not return. Rivera said Newton’s status for next Monday night’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is uncertain. The Panthers visit the New Orleans Saints in another division matchup in Week 6 before a bye week.
Derek Anderson, who threw two TD passes and two interceptions against the Falcons, would start if Newton isn’t cleared from the concussion protocol. Anderson was 2-0 as a starter for Carolina in 2014 with both wins coming against Tampa Bay.
Rivera last spoke to Newton after the game at the Georgia Dome and said the quarterback told him, “I’m fine.”
But the coach said he hadn’t spoken to Newton on Monday and that “I have no idea what has come out of the meeting with the doctors.”
The Panthers return to practice Wednesday.
Newton inexplicably slowed down nearing the goal line on a 2-point conversion run on Sunday and took a legal hit from linebacker Deion Jones.
Rivera, a former NFL linebacker with the Chicago Bears, seemed to have no problem with the hit, saying “If I was playing I’d have taken the shot.”
Even before the injury, Newton wasn’t playing particularly smart.
He was flagged for a taunting penalty in the first quarter and finished 14 of 25 for 165 yards and a touchdown with a few overthrows.
Newton has eight combined touchdowns and six turnovers so far this season. At this point last season, Newton had nine combined TDs and three turnovers — and the Panthers were on their way to a 14-0 start and a trip to the Super Bowl. His QB rating (80.2) is at a career low and he’s only completing 57.9 percent of his passes.
The offensive line, which was missing left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) on Sunday, has allowed 13 sacks against Newton, considered to be one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league.
Rivera said the team needs to learn how to better utilize the options they have on offense.
There’s plenty of blame to go around though.
Carolina’s starting defensive ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy have yet to get a sack, and its young secondary allowed Julio Jones to pile up 300 yards receiving — the fourth-most in the Super Bowl era.
The Panthers removed the $13.9 million franchise tag from All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman in the offseason and turned to three rookies to help replace him, including starter James Bradberry. That appears to be a huge mistake for a team well under the NFL salary cap.
Bradberry was outmatched when lined up against Jones, allowing three completions for 51 yards on Atlanta’s first possession before leaving for about two quarters with a toe injury.
When asked about the Panthers problems in the secondary on the “Dan LeBatard Show”, Norman responded, “You get what you pay for.”
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, whose defense had finished in the top 10 in the league the past four seasons, said he expected some growing pains from his young secondary.
“I would be naive to think that wouldn’t have been the case,” McDermott said. “… There’s a lot of communication that goes on there, but that is the challenge that goes on as a coach.”
Still, the Panthers aren’t used to giving up 597 yards in a game.
When asked if he thinks Norman might have made a difference, McDermott said. “I haven’t thought about Josh on our defense since the minute he left. That is how you have to do your job. We have new players in those positions and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in those players and I expect them to do the job at a high level.”
- Browns doomed by injuries, turnovers, bad luck in 0-4 start– Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler emerged from a workout wearing a long-sleeved, gray T-shirt that showed one of the team’s slogans on the back.It said: “2016 Cleveland Browns Turnaround.”Yeah, a slow, difficult and painful one.
At 0-4, the Browns are the NFL’s only winless team and the losing streak to start the season is being heightened by an alarming eruption of major injuries, costly turnovers, blown leads, missed opportunities and just some rotten luck.
“It’s like nothing can go right,” wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said Monday.
Browns first-year coach Hue Jackson entered the season knowing it would be tough balancing the growth of one of the league’s youngest teams — Cleveland has 16 rookies on its roster — with success on the scoreboard and standings.
“I didn’t think it would be this difficult,” the cheery Jackson said, cracking a smile.
“It’s tough, but I’m seeing a lot of young guys improve. We’re just not seeing what I want to see, and what the team wants to see, on the other side of the ledger.”
Cleveland’s rough start under Jackson continued on Sunday with a 31-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, who took advantage of two fumbles — one on a quick whistle — and an interception thrown by Kessler to put away the Browns.
The loss included another significant injury as starting center Austin Reiter tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in his first pro start and is done for the season.
Reiter is the eighth starter to get hurt and continues a constant shuffling of Cleveland’s offensive line.
Reiter was starting because John Greco had moved back to right guard after Jackson benched Alvin Bailey for one game following his arrest last week on suspicion of operating a vehicle while impaired.
Greco had taken over at center after starter Cam Erving sustained a bruised lung in the season opener.
So in four games, the Browns have had three quarterbacks and three centers, a troubling scenario for any team to handle never mind one as inexperienced as the Browns.
With Erving expected to miss at least a few more weeks, Greco anticipates returning to center and Bailey will be back in the lineup after Jackson said his punishment is over.
“I don’t hold grudges,” Jackson said.
Maybe, but it would be understandable if Jackson had some lingering resentment toward Sunday’s officials after the Browns lost a fumble they recovered.
With Cleveland trailing 24-20 in the fourth quarter, Browns running back Duke Johnson lost the ball after a 5-yard carry.
As line judge Sara Thomas looked in the pile to see who had the ball, Johnson emerged and held it over his head.
Washington was awarded possession and while the Redskins didn’t score on their subsequent drive, the turnover — one of three straight by Cleveland — prevented the Browns from scoring and chewed some time off the clock.
Jackson said Thomas told him the play couldn’t be reviewed, just another bad break for the Browns, who can’t seem to catch a good one.
“I know people want me to jump on the officials right there and run on the field and go bananas and all that, but what is that going to do?” Jackson said.
“I’m not going to let my team ever see me lose it like that. It looked awfully close to us, and obviously, Duke had the ball when he got up. It seemed like a bang, bang play. We have to go with their decision.”
Pryor, who caught his first TD as a pro, was so upset at the call and loss that he refused to speak with reporters following the game.
He calmed down enough to address the controversial play and Cleveland’s inability to win.
He can’t explain it.
“It’s crazy, man,” he said. “We’re battling our butts off. I don’t know if it’s us not being able to catch a break. We practice hard. This is a very good team. I believe we’re going to keep on making strides and we’re going to win games. But it’s crazy how so many times we’re up and we’re beating them, and then something goes wrong.”
Things won’t get easier for the Browns, who have the misfortune of hosting New England on Sunday in quarterback Tom Brady’s return from his “Deflategate” suspension.
“Not fun at all,” Jackson said.