What Have We Learned From Week 4 of the 2017 NFL Season

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Jared Goff, Sean McVay,

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks with head coach Sean McVay on the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Battering LA Rams off to 3-1 start with remarkable offense– Just four games into Sean McVay’s tenure, the Los Angeles Rams look nothing like the sad-sack franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since its new head coach was in high school back in 2003.The Rams are 3-1 and on top of the NFC West after their 35-30 comeback victory over Dallas in their most impressive performance since the franchise’s return to Los Angeles last year. Even more improbably, the Rams are doing it with offensive flair: They lead the NFL with 142 points after fielding the league’s worst offense in each of the past two seasons.

    “The guys have done everything we’ve asked,” McVay said Monday. “We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ve got great coaches that are leading the way, and I feel fortunate to be a part of that.”

    Yes, the Rams also started 3-1 in their homecoming season under coach Jeff Fisher before losing 11 of their final 12. But the Rams think this year’s start feels different — more real, more exciting and more likely to lead to long-lasting success, particularly on offense.

    The 2016 Rams scored just 63 points in their first four games. These Rams have more than doubled that total under the direction of McVay, who already has fashioned a potent offense out of the remnants of last season’s team and a few important additions.

    “I feel like we are on the right page right now,” said receiver Tavon Austin, who rushed six times for 48 yards while McVay used him as a ball-carrier against the Cowboys. “Coach had a good plan for us. He worked us to death in practice. He works us until we get it. If anyone knows Coach Sean, he demands perfection. That’s (what) I like about him.”

    After Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter last season, the No. 1 pick’s quarterback rating has almost doubled to 112.2. Todd Gurley has already scored more touchdowns this season (seven) than he did in all of last season, and the running back is also the Rams’ leading receiver with 20 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns.

    Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has made one of the NFL’s biggest free-agent impacts, stabilizing the Rams’ lousy line and providing leadership. New receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have teamed with remarkable rookie Cooper Kupp to provide plenty of targets for Goff, who has already passed for 1,072 yards.

    Gurley was the NFC’s offensive player of the month for September, rebounding from a dismal 2016 in which he described the Rams’ scheme as a “middle school offense.” He has recaptured his dynamic rookie form at the center of McVay’s offense, and he was at his best against the Cowboys, gaining 215 yards from scrimmage as a runner and a receiver who scored on a 53-yard catch.

    “What good coaches do is they put their players in situations to have success, but ultimately those players are the ones that are making those plays,” McVay said. “You feel fortunate to be a part of that.”

    Even kicker Greg Zuerlein has been perfect on 14 field goal attempts, including his franchise-record seven at Dallas. The Rams’ inability to finish those drives with touchdowns is gnawing at McVay, but that’s a tiny complaint compared to the massive problems faced by this offense in previous seasons.

    When asked about those red-zone failures, McVay blamed himself as the Rams’ play-caller. Los Angeles scored just one touchdown on four trips inside the Dallas 20, and McVay lamented his own decisions as the only thing standing between the Rams and even more points.

    “What you try to do is you look at what are those things that can be corrected,” McVay said. “We did move the football fairly well, but I think just looking at the red zone overall, that’s something we’ve got to do a better job of, and I think that starts with me.”

 

  • Texans look to improve after scoring 57 points on Sunday– The Houston Texans scored a franchise-record 57 points in a win over the Titans on Sunday.If you ask the players, the best part about that big win is that they believe the team can get much better.

    The biggest reason for Houston’s success on Sunday was the dynamic play of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. The 12th overall pick in this year’s draft threw four touchdowns passes and ran for another in his third NFL start.

    Watson became the first rookie to throw four touchdown passes and run for another one since Fran Tarkenton in 1961 and he tied an NFL record for most TDs by a rookie quarterback.

    He’s one of many who think this team has only scratched the surface of how good it can be.

    “I have a long way to go,” Watson said. “And it’s still early in my career and just hope to build on it.”

    His big performance was helped by the return of receiver Will Fuller, who missed the first three games after breaking his collarbone early in training camp. The pair connected for two touchdowns as the Texans scored the most points in the NFL since Seattle scored 58 on Dec. 9, 2012, against Arizona.

    “That was just our first time playing together,” Fuller said. “It’s only going to get better, and I’m looking forward to that.”

    The Texans not only believe they can get better, but that they must do so with a Sunday night game against Kansas City coming up this week. The Chiefs were the NFL’s only undefeated team heading into their Monday night matchup against Washington.

    “There were a lot of good things that happened (Sunday), quite obviously,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “But there were some things that we need to clean up, and we need to get going on that and clean those things up and have a really good week of practice because Kansas City’s one of the best teams in football.”

    O’Brien was unhappy at a couple of false start penalties in the red zone on Sunday and is looking for the team to improve on punt and kick return coverage after allowing some longer runs in that area against the Titans.

    A big change in Houston’s offense this season has come from the confidence of Watson, who won a national championship at Clemson last season.

    The Texans have had problems at quarterback for years, and believe Watson could finally be the player to provide stability there and run O’Brien’s offense the way he’s always envisioned.

    In years past and particularly last season, the Texans often settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. The Texans never scored 30 points last season and were held to fewer than 15 in six games.

    “Guys aren’t thinking: ‘All right, we’ve got to have good field position to score.’ They think: ‘Let’s go 90 yards. Let’s go 80 yards,'” receiver DeAndre Hopkins said.

    “Every time we touch the ball we’re trying to score it. We’re not happy with three. We need seven. So just that mentality that we have, and obviously it helped having a quarterback in the backfield that can keep the plays alive.”

    Houston has won the AFC South the past two years in large part because of its solid defense. The unit has continued to play well this season and forced five turnovers on Sunday to provide a boost to the offense.

    The group, led by J.J. Watt and 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, has enjoyed watching Watson develop and transform the offense into a much more potent unit.

    “It’s incredible how fast they’ve been able to make it all work,” Watt said. “I’m very excited to see where it goes in the future, and I’m very excited to obviously be able to put up a performance like that. If they want to score 57 every week, that’s fine by me. I’ll take it.”

 

  • Dalton back in form as new Bengals coordinator calls plays– Andy Dalton completed 16 throws in a row, had a hand in four touchdowns, and finished with the second-highest passer rating of his career.The Bengals’ decision to change offensive coordinators has made a huge difference in the quarterback.

    Dalton is back in form now that Bill Lazor is putting together the game plan and calling the plays. Dalton threw four touchdown passes for only the fourth time in his career during a 31-7 victory in Cleveland on Sunday.

    His re-emergence gives the Bengals (1-3) some hope that they could pull out of their dismal start and get back into the AFC North race.

    They trail the Steelers (3-1) by two games as they prepare to host Buffalo (3-1), which leads the AFC East.

    “We’ve changed,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. “That’s what we said we were going to do, and Bill’s done a great job with that.”

    The question is whether they waited too long. No 0-3 Bengals team has finished a season with a winning record, so history is against them.

    Coordinator Ken Zampese was fired after the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their first two games.

    Dalton had four interceptions and a fumble during the 0-2 start, with the Bengals averaging only 4.3 yards per play. In the past two games, it’s been 5.3 per play.

    The biggest change is in Dalton, who was under heavy pressure in the first two games and had a combined passer rating of 47.2, lowest in the NFL.

    In the past two games, he’s thrown for six touchdowns without an interception for a rating of 138.2.

    Lazor’s priority was getting Dalton back into a comfort zone. Receiver A.J. Green complained that under Zampese, the team’s playmakers weren’t getting involved enough in the passing game. Lazor’s game plans have included a lot of low-risk throws early so Dalton and the entire offense can get into a flow.

    In Cleveland, Dalton completed 16 consecutive passes and finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. The previous time he threw four touchdown passes in a game was 2013 against Minnesota. His only higher rating was 146.8 against the Browns in Cleveland during the 2015 season, when Dalton led the AFC in passer rating.

    “I think guys are comfortable with what we’re doing,” Dalton said. “I think that’s what it comes down to and guys are playing with more confidence. We have to keep getting better.”

    The problems aren’t all fixed. The line remains an issue — Dalton has been sacked 14 times, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. The running game has been held under 100 yards in three games and ranks 23rd overall.

    If Dalton can put together a stretch of good games, there’s a chance to make the season interesting after the 0-3 start.

    “The last two weeks, he has had high completions and good yardage,” receiver Brandon LaFell said. “When he is out there going, our offense is flowing.”

 

Middle

  • Coach says Bills still have much to prove despite 3-1 start– Bills coach Sean McDermott would like everyone to tap the brakes before getting overly excited about the team’s better-than-expected start to the season.If the growing number of injuries to key players isn’t enough to give the first-year coach reason for pause, the Bills’ history of mid- to late-season collapses during their 17-season playoff drought also serves as a sobering reminder.

    “We’re not where we need to be. And anyone who thinks we are, in this building at least, is only fooling themsleves,” McDermott said Monday. “I’d like to believe that I’m honest with myself when I look at our football team. And I see a team that has to continue to improve.”

    McDermott provided no apology for being a buzzkill a day after a rousing 23-17 win at Atlanta vaulted the Bills (3-1) atop the AFC East standings — the latest in the season they’ve led the division since Week 7 of 2008.

    All the first-year coach could focus on were the pitfalls that lay ahead with Buffalo preparing to play at Cincinnati (1-3) on Sunday.

    Injuries are starting to become a factor in thinning a roster that began the season already lacking experienced depth.

    Starting receiver Jordan Matthews and starting outside linebacker Ramon Humber are out indefinitely, both requiring surgery after breaking a thumb against Atlanta.

    Matthews’ injury leaves Buffalo without its most proven threat after Sammy Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in August, and Anquan Boldin abruptly retired two weeks after signing with the team in training camp.

    Matthews, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, leads Bills receivers with 10 catches for 162 yards, and scored his first touchdown of the season Sunday.

    That leaves Buffalo leaning further on second-round pick Zay Jones and third-stringer Andre Holmes, who have combined for 10 catches and 92 yards, plus Holmes’ two touchdowns.

    Humber entered Week 4 with a team-leading 29 tackles, and also had an interception. Two of Buffalo’s three backup linebackers are rookies, while Deon Lacey is playing his first NFL season after spending the past three in the Canadian Football League.

    “We’re certainly facing adversity, and we’ve faced adversity before,” McDermott said. “And this is only going to make us stronger.”

    The recent past also presents a cautionary tale.

    This marks just the third time since Buffalo’s playoff drought began that the team has gotten off to a 3-1 start or better. The Bills were 3-1 in 2011 before finishing 6-10. In 2008, Buffalo won its first four games before losing nine of its last 12.

    “It’s a different team,” said McDermott, who took over after Rex Ryan was fired in the final week of last season.

    “That said, we can learn a lot of lessons from those guys that were here when they went through that,” he added. “Things happen in a hurry in this league. And we’ve got to stay hungry. We’ve got to stay humble.”

    Buffalo’s defense has been stingy and opportunistic, while its offense has been modestly efficient.

    The Bills have allowed four touchdowns, matching the third fewest through the first four games in team history. Against Atlanta, the Bills forced three turnovers, including rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White returning Matt Ryan’s fumble for a touchdown.

    On offense, the Bills haven’t turned over the ball since Tyrod Taylor threw an interception on the first drive of a season-opening 21-12 win over the New York Jets. They’re also getting clutch production from kicker Stephen Hauschka, who has hit eight of nine field-goal attempts, including all four from beyond 50 yards.

 

Downs

  • Giants are not the winless New York team everyone expected– There were a lot of people who believed there would be a winless team in New York four games into the NFL season.It just wasn’t the New York Giants.

    The Jets? Sure. They were supposed to tank the season and get the No. 1 overall draft pick. They’re 2-2, though, and thinking turnaround.

    The Giants were coming off an 11-5 season that got them into the playoffs and had high expectations. Now, they are in big trouble. They are off to their worst start since going 0-6 in 2013, and coach Ben McAdoo is hoping his players aren’t overwhelmed by the task in front of them.

    Only one team since the NFL and AFL merged into one league in 1970 has started 0-4 and made the playoffs. That was the San Diego Chargers in 1992.

    Coincidentally, the winless Chargers — they play in Los Angeles now — are coming to MetLife Stadium to face the Giants on Sunday.

    “We’re the only ones who can do anything about it,” McAdoo said Monday, a day after the Giants lost their second straight game on a last-second field goal. “We got to get back out there on the practice field and we got to work through the fundamentals. We can’t get numb. We can never get used to this feeling or accept it. We have to get back to work.”

    Watching the tape of the 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers (2-1) in Tampa, Florida, McAdoo isn’t surprised his team is winless.

    The mistakes are obvious: missed blocks, poor tackling, dropped passes, mistakes punting and kicking, blown fourth-quarter leads the past two games, and slow starts. New York has not scored in the first quarter and has played behind for most of the first month of the season.

    McAdoo hopes to simplify things for his team so they can just play and showcase its ability.

    Unlike two weeks ago when he said he believed he still had a good team, this week he said he has a team that needs a lot of work.

    “It’s fight or flight time,” the second-year head coach said. “We have talented men of integrity in the locker room. It’s not going to be easy. But we have to go out there and we have to fight. I expect us to fight. The biggest thing that I get concerned about is guys going numb. We can’t go numb. Can never accept this. You got to fight through it. You got to work for that first one. Work for the first win.”

    The Giants are also dealing with injuries more than season. Odell Beckham Jr. missed the season opener with an ankle injury that has bothered him all season. Defensive end Olivier Vernon sprained an ankle and missed the end of the Eagles’ game last week and the second half of Sunday’s loss. Center Weston Richburg sustained a concussion Sunday and starting halfback Paul Perkins has bruised ribs.

    Rookie Wayne Gallman played well replacing Perkins.

    “It’s a game of confidence and you build confidence through the way you practice,” McAdoo said. “And then it has to transition to game day, and that’s really been where we’re struggling. Falling behind early and then hanging on late. Second and third quarters we’re playing some pretty good football. We just have to start better and finish stronger.”

 

  • Browns still looking for answers after falling to 0-4– Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer used a metaphor about a toilet. Coach Hue Jackson expressed confidence that the team’s owner will not dump him.Both accurately — and colorfully — described the state of the Browns after a 0-4 start. They have won four times in their past 41 games going back to Nov. 30, 2014.

    Cleveland established its latest rock-bottom Sunday with a 31-7 home loss to the previously winless Bengals.

    The “Battle of Ohio” was anything but competitive or compelling, prompting Kizer to evoke bathroom imagery.

    “You just have to flush it,” he said Monday. “That was quarter one of the season and we’re 0-4. It is what it is. It’s on us now to be pros and to flush it and do whatever we can to make sure that quarter two goes better than quarter one.

    “It’s definitely a mental challenge to continue to flush. We want to start stacking wins on top of wins, but in order to do so, you have to get your first one.”

    Jackson’s job could depend on it as the former Cincinnati assistant is 1-19 in two seasons. The lack of talent on the roster is one thing, but there were reports on Sunday that there is growing division between the front office and coaching staff.

    Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, and football operations director Sashi Brown have not fielded questions since a joint appearance with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Aug. 17, increasing speculation about Jackson’s security.

    “I know everybody is thinking Jimmy is going to throw me over in the river, but that’s not the case at all,” Jackson said, chuckling. “Jimmy has been as supportive as anybody I’ve ever been around in this situation.

    “I don’t like my record no more than you do or anybody else does — it’s horrible — and I’ll be the first to tell you that. There is pain in this process, obviously a lot, and we just have to get through it.”

    Cleveland, San Francisco, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Chargers are all seeking their first wins, but the Browns have the second-worst point differential (minus-44) and the youngest QB in the group.

    The 21-year-old Kizer was sacked once against the Bengals, lowering his NFL-worst passer rating to 50.9. He completed 16 of 34 throws for 118 yards and was intercepted for a league-high eighth time.

    Jackson reacted to the physical toll Cincinnati inflicted on Kizer by pulling him midway through the fourth quarter. Backup Kevin Hogan led the Browns on a late touchdown drive.

    “DeShone has truly, truly gotten better over the last four weeks, but no one would know that because we’re 0-4,” Jackson said. “Regardless of what the numbers were, I thought yesterday he played as well as he has all year. He played lights-out. We’ve got to get better around him.”

    Help could be on the way Sunday when Cleveland hosts the New York Jets.

    No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett, who suffered a high right ankle sprain on the eve of the opener, could make his NFL debut. The defensive end from Texas A&M resumed practicing last week.

    Defensive tackle Danny Shelton missed the Bengals game with a calf injury, but Jackson also was optimistic about his chances of playing.

    “Let’s be honest about it, the only people that can stop the narrative that is out there is us,” Jackson said.

    “I don’t have any Knute Rockne speeches. I talk to them from my heart. I’m very honest with them, and I have total confidence in the men in that room.”

 

  • Ravens seek to reverse unwanted turnaround after 2-0 start– In their first two games, the Baltimore Ravens forced 10 turnovers, allowed just one touchdown and won twice.Over the past two weeks, they’ve given the ball away six times, been outscored 70-16 and lost both games.

    What gives?

    “There are a lot of common denominators there. It’s pretty straightforward,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “Turnovers. Stopping the run. Getting first downs, getting off the field on third down. Those are big factors. And there’s been some big plays against us.”

    That pretty much sums up what went wrong for Baltimore in a 44-7 loss to Jacksonville on Sept. 24 and the 26-9 lashing administered by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

    Pittsburgh went 7 for 15 on third down conversions, had five plays cover at least 18 yards and got 144 yards rushing from Le’Veon Bell.

    “We’re not defending the run as well as we want to, for sure,” Harbaugh said.

    The Ravens’ play over the past two weeks is the exact opposite of their performance in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati and a 24-10 domination of Cleveland. If it seems as if the team is regressing, well, that assertion is not entirely off base.

    “We’ve got to execute. That’s where it starts,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s the basics of it. We have to get some energy. We’ve got to get some confidence. All of the above.”

    The offense has scored one touchdown in each of the past two games and the defense has been porous.

    Pittsburgh rushed for 173 yards, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked only once and the only turnover the Ravens produced came on a ball that went in and out of the hands of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.

    And so, Baltimore (2-2) trails first-place Pittsburgh (3-1) in the AFC North.

    “They have the upper hand in the division,” conceded linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had just one tackle Sunday. “This is an emotional loss, but we’re committed to getting it fixed.”

    The Ravens know they can win with the personnel they’ve got because they’ve done it already this season. So there probably won’t be any drastic measures taken before this Sunday’s road game against the Oakland Raiders, who, like the Ravens, have dropped two straight after opening 2-0.

    “We’re not going to change dramatically what we do,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t panic and say, ‘OK, we’re going to do something different.’ Within our offense, we have all the elements. It’s how do we put it together in a way each week that gives our guys a chance to execute the best?”

    Flacco accepted the brunt of the blame for the struggles of the offense, noting: “It starts with me.” He’s thrown six interceptions compared to four touchdown passes, and against Jacksonville he was 8 for 18 for 28 yards before being lifted.

    But there have been several dropped passes over the past two weeks, Alex Collins has lost two fumbles and the offensive line is still adjusting to the loss of right guard Marshal Yanda.

    “Joe said yesterday it starts with him. That’s what the great ones think,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we’ve just got to help him with. We’ll do that. I want to see him play well. I want to see him put up numbers and make plays. But it’s not just him. It’s the offense in totality that has to do that.”

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