What Have We Learned From Week 4 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Bengals Dalton Revival  Football

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) works out of the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, in Atlanta. Dalton had a perfect passer rating in the first half of the Bengals’ latest victory. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 3 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Bengals’ Andy Dalton back in comfort zone in new offense-CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals knew drastic changes were in order after they finished last in the league in offense and Andy Dalton suffered through his worst season since he was a rookie.

    They changed the playbook, bolstered the offensive line and decided to set Dalton loose.

    One month into the season, he’s back in a comfort zone and producing as well as ever.

    Dalton’s resurgence has been the most notable aspect to Cincinnati’s 3-1 start. He was nearly perfect in the first half of a 37-36 win at Atlanta on Sunday, missing only two passes while throwing for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also led a winning 16-play drive, connecting with A.J. Green on a 13-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left.

    Dalton has thrown for 11 touchdowns in his first four games, the best opening stretch of his eight-year career. He also has more completions and attempts than in any previous four-game start as coordinator Bill Lazor puts the onus him to lead a reconfigured offense still learning nuances of the playbook.

    “We work really hard to be consistent … and to be clear with what we want,” Lazor said. “I think that’s the part that right now is starting to click and hopefully we can get even better at it.”

    It would be difficult to be better than Dalton was in the first half Sunday . He completed 14 of 16 passes and had a passer rating of 158.3, the highest possible. The Bengals ran 24 plays and scored 28 points, averaging 9.9 yards per play.

    On the winning drive, Dalton completed passes on third-and-6, fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-6 before hitting Green for the touchdown.

    “He pulled us out of a heck of a situation,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said.

    The Bengals had losing records the past two seasons because they were unable to pull out games at the end. The winning drive marked a notable step forward.

    “We didn’t flinch,” Dalton said. “We just kept going. That’s what you need to be a really good team and to be a good offense.”

    Dalton is known for getting into a rhythm and getting rid of the ball quickly in Cincinnati’s West Coast offense. He never got into a rhythm last season because he rarely had time to set and throw. The offensive line was so inconsistent that there was little running game, either, leaving Dalton as a target.

    He was sacked 13 times in the first four games of 2016 and 14 times over the same span last year. He’s been dropped only seven times this season despite throwing more often.

    Overall, Dalton is off to his best four-game start since 2015, when the Bengals won the AFC North and Dalton finished with a passer rating of 106.3 that led the conference. He’s been overshadowed by the performances of other quarterbacks off to fast starts, which is how Lazor and Dalton like it.

    “I’d rather people not talk about us,” Lazor said. “We were doing just fine. Nobody talked about us all offseason, all training camp. We’re fine. We’ll just be quiet and just do our thing.”

 

  • Dak Prescott’s rookie flashback gives Cowboys building block-ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott looked a lot like the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year from two seasons ago in the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Detroit Lions.

    The star quarterback had clutch plays, big throws and long completions in a 26-24 win capped by a two-minute drive to the winning field goal as time expired. Considering how rough he and the Dallas offense looked at times through three weeks, it was quite an answer.

    The practical part of the victory was getting the Cowboys (2-2) back to .500, tied with defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and a half-game behind idle Washington in the NFC East. The affirmation of his resolve can’t be underestimated either.

    “I know what I can do and I know what kind of player I am, and I never waver and I’m never going to get down on myself,” Prescott said. “All of us have good days and bad days, and if all of us were judged by our bad days at our jobs, we’d all be in trouble.”

    Prescott hadn’t had a 200-yard passing game this season, and just two in the previous 11 going back to last year. He took care of that with 255 yards and two touchdowns.

    Before his decisive 34-yard throw to running back Ezekiel Elliottbehind the defense to set up the winning kick, Prescott saved the final drive by scrambling backward to pick up his own fumble and throwing an incompletion to preserve a manageable third down. He converted it.

    Prescott had just one completion of at least 20 yards in each of the first three games. There were four against the Lions, all for more than 30 yards.

    While Elliott got the headlines with a career-high 240 yards from scrimmage, Prescott filled the role he so often mastered in leading the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13 wins after replacing the injured Tony Romo in 2016.

    The former fourth-round pick also reminded everyone how much the Cowboys need the efficient, turnover-free version of Prescott to get back to the playoffs after missing the postseason in his less-than-spectacular encore a year ago.

    “I just have the feeling that Dak is going to help us win and help the team in so many different ways,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I just don’t know that there is a limit to the nuances of how he might be able to contribute and to me that’s a great thing.”

    Other than Elliott, the Cowboys have struggled to find an identity on offense, and the search is likely to continue Sunday at Houston (1-3).

    Prescott ran quite a bit out of the zone read in a win over the New York Giants. The Cowboys used some no-huddle to find a better tempo against Detroit. And while rookie Michael Gallup had one of the 30-plus-yard catches, he was the only one among the receivers.

    That group is still working to see how best to try to replace the lost go-to plays of tight end Jason Witten and the big-play potential of Dez Bryant, who was released in a cost-cutting move in the offseason.

    The win over the Lions was the best Prescott has looked in putting passes in places for the new cast of receivers to have an impact. What amounted to the winning throw to Elliott was the best illustration.

    “It’s been one player, here or there these first three games that we’re off and that’s the reason we’re off,” Prescott said. “We still left plays out there, so it’s important for us to go back this week and use this confidence and this momentum to go clean these plays up.”

 

  •  Chiefs overcome adversity for first time in win at Denver

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes finally experienced some adversity on Monday night in Denver, when the offense had grown stagnant and the Chiefs trailed by 10 points with about 12 minutes to go.

    He answered with a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback.

    There was the grinding, 12-play, 75-yard drive that Mahomes capped with a short touchdown toss to Travis Kelce to give Kansas City a chance.

    Then, there was the audacious left-handed throw while Von Miller was bearing down on him during the go-ahead drive, which Kareem Hunt capped with a touchdown run in the final minutes to give the Chiefs a dramatic 27-23 victory.

    “I didn’t think at all. I was just kind of scrambling to my left, I felt Von on my back and I knew I couldn’t throw it with my right hand,” Mahomes said. “I knew we needed a first down, so I kind of shot-putted it to Tyreek (Hill), he got the first down and made a great play.”

    Sure, his wide receiver made a great play.

    But Mahomes had made a spectacular one.

    It was the first time he’d truly faced adversity — the Chiefs had jumped out to early leads in each of their first three games, giving Mahomes a certain level of comfort. And while he rallied them to victory in his Week 17 start in Denver a year ago, there was nothing on the line that day.

    This was different in several ways.

    The Chiefs’ dynamic offense had been held in check all night, and wide receiver Sammy Watkins had gone down with a hamstring injury, depriving Mahomes of one of his top options.

    Throw in the tough road environment and the fact that the Broncos could have forged a tie atop the AFC West with a victory, and that’s some heady stuff for Mahomes to deal with.

    “He’s a confident kid. He was confident before that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s not going to get overconfident from it. I think it tells you, it tells everyone: You’re within striking distance you have the opportunity to make plays. The guys around him made plays too. This wasn’t just Patrick.”

    But it was Mahomes who was getting most of the credit Tuesday for his late-game heroics.

    “He’s pretty fast. He’ll run all day, buy time and especially to the right, deep,” Miller marveled after the game. “I’m talking like, 20 yards deep, and then he’ll throw the ball 40 yards. He’s a great quarterback. He did a great job tonight.”

    Mahomes’ ability to extend plays while constantly looking downfield may have been the biggest reason the Chiefs managed to rally late.

    In fact, the length of time he made Denver’s defensive backs work in coverage left cornerback Chris Harris Jr. downright exhausted.

    “He made us cover for a long time. I had to go inside and get an IV. I had to get two IVs and I was just done,” Harris said. “Just playing those extra times, he made us scramble in coverage the whole game. We couldn’t sack this man. He’s a hell of a player. He’s a hell of a quarterback. He made plays with his feet and I can’t wait to play him again.”

    Well, the Jaguars’ stingy defense gets that treat next when it visits Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

    Already, the Chiefs could be facing some adversity when they play just their second home game this season. Kelce got banged up against Denver, and Watkins and pass rusher Dee Ford (groin) did not return to the game after leaving with injuries.

    All three of them have been crucial to the Chiefs’ early season success.

    “We just keep on battling, man. NFL football, there’s going to be a lot of games that come down to the end,” cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “So each drive, you’ve got to be locked in. Each play, locked in. You’ve just go to keep on finishing.”

Middle

  • Texans win but still have more work to do-HOUSTON (AP) — After finally getting their first win this weekend, the Houston Texans know that they still have plenty of work to do if they hope to get on a roll and turn their season around.

    The Texans (1-3) squandered an 18-point lead on Sunday before beating the Colts 37-34 in overtime to end a nine-game losing streak going back to last season.

    Coming up next is a showdown with in-state rival Dallas, a team that enters the game at 2-2 after a victory over Detroit this weekend.

    “There’s a lot of things that we need to correct, but when you come out of that game with a win, there’s a lot of things that you can look at that you can build on,” coach Bill O’Brien said.

    The Texans got great performances from defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on Sunday. Watt had two sacks, a tackle for a loss and forced two fumbles. Clowney recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown, had two sacks, four quarterback hits and four tackles for losses.

    O’Brien said Sunday was Clowney’s best game this season.

    “He had a very disruptive game … it was fun to see him back out there playing that way,” O’Brien said. “He did a great job.”

    Despite the strong play of Watt and Clowney, O’Brien is looking for improvement on defense this week, especially in the secondary after Andrew Luck threw for 464 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday.

    The Texans are also searching for ways to better protect Deshaun Watson after the quarterback was sacked seven times by the Colts. The second-year player has been sacked 17 times this season, which is the second most in the NFL.

    Though O’Brien knows that his team must cut down the number of times Watson is getting hit, he was quick to point out that the problem isn’t just with the line.

    “The sacks are definitely not all the offensive line,” he said. “I would say, to be honest with you, the offensive line is probably only responsible for two of those sacks. I think the other five came from missing some assignments here and there at other positions.”

    Houston’s offense took a hit on Sunday when receiver Will Fuller left the game early in the second half with a hamstring injury. Fuller, who has 263 yards receiving and three touchdowns, missed the season opener with an injury to the same hamstring.

    O’Brien didn’t have an update on his condition on Monday, saying he’d know more later in the week. With Fuller out, the Texans got a strong game from rookie Keke Coutee, who made his debut on Sunday after missing the first three games with an injury. Coutee finished with 11 receptions for 109 yards.

    “He’s a very, very instinctive guy,” O’Brien said. “He’s got really good quickness, but he’s also got really good speed and he’s got strong hands. So, he really did a nice job for us in some key moments that we really needed a play because maybe they were doubling (DeAndre) Hop (Hopkins) or Will wasn’t in there.”

    If Fuller can’t go on Sunday, the Texans could lean on Coutee even more this week. O’Brien expects him to take another step forward this week after getting his first game under his belt.

    “When he sees some of the things that he missed, he’s going to really even be better the next time out … that’s what’s key about the rookies is when you have a good game like that, you’ve got to really try to build on it,” O’Brien said.

Downs

  • Pressure needs to be on for Vikings to rebound vs. Eagles

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — With play-action pass after play-action pass, Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams just kept picking Minnesota’s proud and proven defense apart.

Opportunities for the Vikings to disrupt Goff’s rhythm with a well-timed sack or a hurried incompletion were scant, as the high-octane Rams never let up in that 38-31 victory last week over the suddenly sputtering Vikings.

“They don’t give you too many drop-back passes where you can rush the quarterback,” coach Mike Zimmer said after that humbling performance when Goff went 26 for 33 for 465 yards and five touchdowns.

The pressure is on the Vikings (1-2-1) to rebound from this rough first quarter of the season and climb back toward the top of the NFC where they’ve been expected to be. Speaking of pressure, well, the Vikings haven’t been producing enough of it.

“Just get him off his spot, you know? Be effective,” defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. “Put a lot of pressure in his face and around his legs.”

Goff was only sacked once and hit twice in 35 passing plays. With Todd Gurley’s dangerous presence in the backfield, the Vikings simply weren’t able to prioritize rushing Goff over stopping the ground game.

With Rams coach Sean McVay cleverly calling a variety of rollout and misdirection plays, the Vikings simply weren’t able to get to Goff in time. That’s one reason why their linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks were out of sorts in coverage all night.

“We’ve just got to get in the classroom, fix our mistakes, see what we did wrong and just try to get better,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has four of the team’s 11 sacks.

The Vikings actually rank seventh in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt at 8.4 percent. As in their loss to Buffalo the week before, though, they didn’t deliver that drive-ending or touchdown-saving takedown of the quarter against the Rams when they needed it most.

Richardson pointed to the myriad ways the Rams were able to stay a step ahead with their scheme and, essentially, use the strengths of the Vikings against them.

“It might look like we’re not pass rushing, but that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing our job,” Richardson said. “I think it can get better.”

The Vikings not only led the league last season in fewest points and yards allowed, but they denied opponents on third downs more often than any other team. So far this year, their foes have displayed a desire to call more aggressive plays on second down so as to avoid those difficult scenarios.

“It’s harder to get sacks. Guys are scheming so you won’t be able to get sacks. Quarterbacks are aware of that too,” Richardson said, not even mentioning the increased emphasis on roughing-the-passer penalties. “In the schemes, it’s two-seconds-it’s-gone.”

Still indefinitely missing defensive end Everson Griffen , while he gets treatment for mental health issues, the Vikings won’t have much easier of a time this week at Philadelphia. The Eagles, of course, won the last meeting 38-7 in the NFC championship game last season with the same type of multi-faceted attack the Rams employed to keep the Vikings from digging in and unleashing their pass rush.

“The past makes you who you are,” Richardson said, adding: “We have things we need to work on. Now we’ve got to get to it. We’ve got to change those. Otherwise we’re going to get beat again.”

  • Bills offense takes step back in being blanked by Packers-ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Name one facet of the Buffalo Bills offense and coach Sean McDermott will point to something in need of drastic improvement.

    From passing to protection, receiving to rushing, McDermott on Monday provided a blunt assessment of how anemic the Bills were a day following a 22-0 loss at Green Bay.

    “Where do you want to start?” he said. “Offensively, wasn’t good enough at all. Bottom line.”

    A week after rookie quarterback Josh Allen, literally and physically, took a leap forward in his development by hurdling Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr in a 27-6 win at Minnesota, he and the Bills offense took two — maybe three — steps back.

    Allen completed just five of his first 19 attempts and finished 16 of 33 for 151 yards passing, while being sacked seven times and committing three turnovers (two interceptions and a lost fumble).

    LeSean McCoy mustered just 24 yards rushing on five carries in a game the Bills managed a season-low 56 plays from scrimmage and had seven three-and-outs. Buffalo was shut out for the first time in 10 years and finished with just 145 yards, matching its worst total since a 40-7 loss at Chicago on Oct. 8, 2006.

    And Allen is getting hit so often, McDermott expressed concern over whether the first-round draft pick can stay healthy for the remainder of the season to continue his development.

    “In order for the young man to play, he needs to be healthy, and in order for him to be healthy, you can’t stand back there and take hits,” McDermott said.

    Not all the league-worst 21 sacks Buffalo has surrendered can be blamed on what’s been a patchwork offensive line. Allen has been faulted for being indecisive and holding on to the ball too long.

    The trouble is, the Bills (1-3) have little time to address the numerous issues plaguing their offense in preparing to host the Tennessee Titans (3-1) on Sunday.

    “Didn’t do well in any area and that’s my responsibility,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “We’ll work hard to get it fixed, but at the end of the day just not good enough.”

    It doesn’t help that Daboll is in his first year on the job, and overseeing a unit led by a rookie quarterback and a group of unproven receivers behind starter Kelvin Benjamin .

    “There are no excuses,” he said. “We all have a job to do, and we got to make sure we do it well.”

    One issue is Benjamin, the 2014 first-round draft pick whom the Bills acquired in a midseason trade with Carolina a year ago.

    Benjamin has just seven catches for 92 yards despite being targeted 21 times. His production mirrors that of the rest of Buffalo’s receivers, who have combined for 26 catches for 330 yards and one touchdown through four games.

    “I’ve got a concern with those types of numbers,” McDermott said, when informed his receivers are averaging 82.5 yards a game.

    As for Buffalo’s feeble running attack, he was critical with how the Bills were pushed around to open the game at Green Bay.

    After McCoy caught a 7-yard pass on the first play, the Bills were unable to convert a first down. McCoy ran for 2 yards on the next play, and then Chris Ivory was stopped for no gain.

    McDermott has issues, too, on defense after Buffalo allowed the Packers to convert 11 of 20 third-down situations.

    Take away a six-quarter stretch spanning the second half of Buffalo’s 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 16 through the end of the Minnesota game, the Bills have been outscored by a combined 103-9, including a season-opening 47-3 loss at Baltimore.

    “My patience hasn’t worn thin,” McDermott said. “When I see things that are up to our standard, we celebrate those. But when it’s not up to our standard, my tolerance is not very high.”

 

  • Steelers focusing on slow starts, not Bell’s possible return-PITTSBURGH (AP) — If Le’Veon Bell is returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers later this month, he hasn’t let his teammates and coaches know.

    Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he hasn’t heard from the All-Pro running back, who told ESPN on Monday that he will end his standoff with the team around Pittsburgh’s bye week, which begins after the Steelers face the Bengals on Oct. 14.

    “I have not talked to Le’Veon and I really have no Le’Veon update,” Tomlin said. “It’s the best approach for us to focus on the guys which are here and working … we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Nothing has changed in that regard.”

    Bell is in the midst of an extended absence as an act of self-preservation when he and the Steelers could not reach a long-term agreement after Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on him in the spring.

    Technically he is not holding out because he has yet to sign his one-year deal, a decision that is costing him more than $850,000 a week. Bell did not offer a specific date for his return, but if he comes in around Oct. 15 it would give him two weeks to show the coaching staff what he can do before the Steelers play Cleveland on Oct. 28.

    The two-time defending AFC North champions have slumped during Bell’s self-imposed sabbatical. Pittsburgh is 1-2-1 a quarter of the way through the season thanks in large part to sluggish starts that have forced them to play from behind and abandon the running game. The Steelers ran for 19 yards on 11 carries in a loss to Baltimore on Sunday night.

    Several of Bell’s teammates — particularly the offensive line — expressed frustration in early September when Bell opted not to rejoin the team in time for the opener, as he did in 2017. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hopes Bell gives Pittsburgh a much-needed jolt, but isn’t exactly expecting Bell to show up and save the day, whenever that day actually arrives.

    “If (Bell) can come back and help us and be ready to go, then we’ll be ready to welcome him back,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan. “A lot of things were said earlier in the year, but that’s kind of in the past and we’ve moved on, and hopefully he’s moving on in the sense of getting back and ready to be with us.”

    Bell’s actual physical readiness is unknown. During the summer of 2017 he flooded his social media accounts with video of draining workouts. He was merely OK in his first 2017 appearance but quickly took off after that, eventually leading the NFL in touches and piling up 1,946 total yards.

    Concerns over his usage rate in 2018 perhaps hurting his value on the open market in 2019 played a role in Bell’s unprecedented move to remain away while the Steelers got off to their worst start since they dropped the first four games in 2013, his rookie season.

    That was also the last year Pittsburgh missed the playoffs. Though it’s still too early to panic, the way the Steelers have been losing has drawn major red flags for Tomlin. The defense is 30th in the league in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed and the offense can’t seem to get it going before finding itself in a hole. Pittsburgh has been outscored 42-6 in the first quarter this season.

    “We’ve got to get out of the gate quicker,” Tomin said. “You can’t spot people points in the National Football League. We’ve got to do a better job of starting game on both sides of the ball.”

 

 

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