NFL Musings, Week 4: Todd Gurley Breaks Out; Major Issues in Philadelphia, Houston, Miami, and San Fran

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We have reached the NFL quarter-pole. Early knee-jerk reactions have been made and passed. We are still talking about only 4 games, but patterns are starting to emerge. Teams are showing some separation. Some expected contenders are wilting under pressure; others are surprising. Let’s breakdown some conclusions we can draw, and highlights, from week 4.

Todd Gurley was Worth the Wait

Through 3 games, 2 quarters, and 5 minutes, the St. Louis Rams running game was struggling. Hurley, along with Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, and Isaiah Pead, had combined for 51 carries, and 108 rushing yards.

Todd Gurley had 4 rushes for 2 yards in the first half against the Cardinals. His first carry of the second half was a 4 yard loss where he was hit immediately on the hand off.

However, Gurley showed why he was so special, when he started to get a couple of holes in the second half. He went for 23. Then 12, and it was on.

In the fourth quarter, he showed why he was such a high pick coming off the ACL injury, on a 52-yard run.

Then, in a veteran move, on third down with just over a minute left, he broke to the outside, had an open path to the end zone, but went down to end the game (a touchdown would have kept a small sliver of hope alive, especially since PATs are not automatic anymore).

148 yards on the final 14 carries of the second half, more rushing yards than the Rams had from running backs in the first three games, and the Gurley era has finally exploded.

Chip Kelly’s Offense has strongeen a Disaster

The Eagles lost their third game of the year, and here are the numbers from the first half of each of those losses:

  • at Atlanta: 6 first downs, 3 points
  • vs. Dallas: 1 first down, 0 points
  • at Washington: 4 first downs, 0 points

You can also add in the second half of last week’s win over the Jets, where the Eagles had a 24-0 lead, but had only 5 first downs (3 by penalty) and scored no points as the Jets pulled it within a touchdown. Kelly’s offense, then, has played at least one half of football in every game where they not only looked bad, but looked historically inept and basically like a bad expansion team.

Don’t believe me? The 1999 Browns–one of the worst offensive teams in a long time–averaged 4.2 first downs and 6.8 points per half of football. These Eagles have averaged 4 first downs and 0.75 points in their worst half of football over each of the first four weeks. A couple of times might be a fluke. Four straight weeks of disappearing for whole halves of games is officially an issue.

And even though it is a team game, since they basically swapped organizations, here’s a tracker of Bradford and Foles so far.

Foles with Rams, 63.1% completion percentage, 7.3 YPA, 5 TD, 1 INT

Bradford with Eagles, 60.7% completion percentage, 6.5 YPA, 6 TD, 4 INT

Foles with Eagles 2013-2014, 61.9% completion percentage, 8.0 YPA, 40 TD, 12 INT

Bradford with Rams 2013, 60.7% completion percentage, 6.4 YPA, 14 TD, 4 INT

 

The AFC South is the Worst Division in Football

This isn’t exactly a newsflash, but the AFC South may be worse than even the low expectations coming in. How bad is it? The Colts have looked awful for most of the year, and are alone in first place already at 2-2 after close wins over Tennessee and Jacksonville. The “best” win for the division is Jacksonville at home over the dysfunctional Miami Dolphins. The other two wins out of the division are over Tampa Bay.

Houston got pummeled yesterday, trailing 42-0 entering the fourth quarter against Atlanta. They switched quarterbacks again, and the one who came in late managed to put up numbers in garbage time when it was out of hand. The Luck-less Colts and the Jaguars, meanwhile, played a 16-13 overtime classic. Indianapolis would be in trouble in pretty much any other division in football, but are 2-0 and have a solid grip on the AFC South already. Viva la home field playoff game for division winners!

The Falcons are a Playoff Team

Atlanta can clinch the NFC East this week at home against Washington, after going 3-0 against the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys. They just shellacked Houston. The toughest game on the remaining schedule is at Carolina. They may not be an underdog in any other game, other than perhaps the trip to New Orleans in two weeks. Atlanta gets the Colts at home, and otherwise plays a schedule very favorable for making a playoff run.

Atlanta’s defense is still a question. They are better than previous seasons,  but still below average. But the offense is among the best in the league.

Carolina is also 4-0 in the same division. Carolina has already feasted on the Bucs, Jags, and Texans, along with a Brees-less Saints team at home. While Carolina still has a favorable schedule as well, it is tougher, with Seattle and Green Bay (while Atlanta got San Francisco and Minnesota).

The 49ers are a Wreck

We suspected the 49ers might not be good with all the turnover in personnel on defense, along with Jim Harbaugh leaving. For one week, San Francisco cast questions on that assessment. Since then, they’ve made it seem too conservative.

The 49ers are the 29th team since 1978 to lose the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th games of the season by double digits each. Only one team has done that since 1978, after winning the opening game by double digits. It’s not a positive indicator. It was last year’s Tennessee Titans.

Eight of those other 28 teams that suffered three straight blowouts had won in week 1; they averaged 4.1 wins the rest of the year. That seems optimistic considering the 49ers still have five division games in the NFC West, the only remaining home game against a team with a current losing record is against Baltimore in two weeks, and the games against Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland are all on the road.

San Francisco’s offense has 18 total first downs in the last two games, and the Colin Kaepernick questions are going to intensify. Our Jason McIntyre went into the Kaepernick issue on Friday; expect that to only pick up. This team is a first overall pick candidate with the turnover they’ve had, the way they’ve looked on offense, and the remaining schedule.

[Related: Green Bay Packers to Colin Kaepernick: “you ain’t Russell Wilson, bro”]

The Jets are Not Dysfunctional, as the Dolphins take that Crown

The preseason gave us Geno Smith getting punched in the jaw, and all the old Jets jokes. This team, though, is for real and will be right in the mix for a wildcard spot all year. The additions of Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis have paid huge dividends so far. The defense is stout, Todd Bowles has brought a calmness to the organization, and the only loss so far came because of a huge turnover half.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins just fired Philbin after yet another bad display in London. The game was not as close as the final score, the defense was pathetic and got run over, Suh and the others are sniping, and everything about this team is an embarrassment. Can they turn it around? Maybe to the point of getting to 7 or 8 wins, but it has to be disconcerting, even when this coaching staff is removed, that the players on this roster lacked the character and resolve to go out and put up something better than that performance after how they already played against Jacksonville and Buffalo the previous two weeks.

The Chiefs and Kicking at Someone While You’re Down

Kansas City lost for the third time in a row. The Bengals look really good on offense, putting up another 36 points. Andy Dalton is averaging over 10 yards per attempt, the offensive line is really good, they have a 1-2 punch at running back, and A.J. Green is a pretty good top option to go with Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu.

Kansas City, meanwhile, scored 21 points the really hard way–all field goals. That’s a somewhat remarkable feat, as it marks only the seventh time that a kicker has made 7 field goals in a game. Rob Bironas holds the record with 8, and Santos joined five others with 7.

Let’s quickly talk about just how remarkable it is to score that many field goals while losing. There’s a definite correlation vs. causation issue with field goals. Teams that are trailing tend to kick fewer of them while trying to mount comebacks. Most of the high field goal games were in wins because the team was leading throughout.

None of Santos’ kicks tied the game, gave the Chiefs the lead, or extended the lead. How rare is that? Of the 43 field goals made by all the other kickers who had 7 in a game, only 4 of them combined left the kicking team still trailing. Phil Dawson is the only other kicker to make at least 5 field goals in a game his team eventually lost by double digits. (This has been your weekly depressing Browns stat).

NO-HUDDLE ATTACK

New Orleans 26, Dallas 20: The Saints sure didn’t make it easy. This is the week we find out if the Greg Hardy signing pays off for football reasons, at the expense of character concerns. Hardy and Rolando McClain return from suspension for a defense that has been getting torched, and we’ll also have to see what Sean Lee’s status is.

Denver 23, Minnesota 20: The Broncos’ D again came up with a big play to preserve a win. Manning threw two picks.

San Diego 30, Cleveland 27: Josh McCown went out and threw for 356 yards and 2 TDs on the road, so can we stop the Manziel talk? Also, we’ll just ignore how that game ended. Sorry, Browns fans.

Chicago 22, Oakland 20: Chicago looked like a competent team with Jay Cutler back at quarterback.

New York Giants 24, Buffalo 10: Eli Manning put up 3 touchdown passes at Buffalo. Not going to freak out for Bills offense playing without McCoy and Sammy Watkins this week.

[images via USA Today Sports Images, GIF by Michael Shamburger]