The NFL is such a quarterback-driven league. That’s why some are having a hard time grasping how the league’s remaining undefeated teams have Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz, Trevor Siemian, Jimmy Garopollo/Jacoby Brissett, and Joe Flacco at the helm. But as anyone who’s taken a family road trip across the country knows, it’s rarely the one in the driver’s seat that gets to decide where the stops are.
The most impressive teams of this young season are achieving success in their own unique ways and they go well beyond who is under center. Outside of New England, I had anywhere from concerns to a complete lack of confidence in the current 3-0 teams (Denver, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Baltimore). But in what is becoming a weekly tradition, I have been proven wrong again, at least initially.
In this Monday’s look at the league, we’ll get to why these teams are having so much success, as well as things that were awesome (and not so awesome) from the weekend’s action. But before we throw parades for all of the winning teams around the league, let’s give some love to someone who came out on the losing end, and figures to a lot this season.
Week 3 in a Nutshell
Shout-out of the Week
Terrelle Pryor; QB/WR/S: Cleveland Browns.
The Cleveland Browns entered this offseason needing help at nearly every position, but in particular quarterback, wide receiver, and in the secondary. Is it possible the answer to all those questions was already on the roster?
Well, maybe that’s a stretch. But let’s not undersell how impressive Pryor’s Sunday performance was in Cleveland’s 30-24 OT loss to Miami. The former Buckeye QB led the Browns with eight catches for 144 yards receiving, rushed four times for 21 yards and a TD, took 14 snaps under center completing three of five passes for 35 yards, and played safety just before halftime in a knock-the-ball-down situation. Beyond the numbers – which are unheard of since Frank Gifford – Pryor was the calming veteran presence on an unusually young Browns offense.
After Cody Kessler’s first drive of his NFL start ended in disaster (fumbled snap, followed by a strip sack), Pryor was the first target he looked for on the following drive. He’d go on to spell Kessler at QB in some Wildcat formations, allowing the rookie a brief window to settle down, which seemed to help the more the game wore on. Kessler never turned the ball over again, letting the Browns win the turnover battle for the first time since Week 12 of last season.
Pryor had all but given up on his quarterbacking dream last season after failing to stick with four other teams. Seeing what the 6’4″ freak athlete had on the outside to start 2016, it appeared to be the right call. But given the opportunity to showcase his full arsenal of skills this weekend, Pryor proved he’s not just a wide receiver or a quarterback; he’s a weapon the likes of which the Browns have never seen.
Cleveland previously thought they had a similar kind of weapon in Johnny Manziel; but “Money” never cared about the game enough to learn the plays, or stay in shape ,or not go to Vegas during bye weeks, etc. Pryor cares. He cares so much, he blamed himself for the loss, despite the obvious goat being kicker Cody Parkey (who went three for six on the afternoon).
Not much is expected of Cleveland this year, but watching how Hue Jackson uses Pryor will be a storyline Browns fans will want to follow. At 27 years old, he’s entering his physical peak, yet Pryor has taken far fewer lumps than his contemporaries thanks to so many years on the bench.
It’s too early for the Dawg Pound to get attached though; Pryor is only on a one-year contract. But with Corey Coleman injured and Josh Gordon still suspended (for at least one more week), he’ll be the hero the Browns offense needs. And for a supplemental draft pick that’s been waived more times than I care to remember, that’s gotta mean something.
How the Winners Win
Five teams, seven starting quarterbacks, zero Pro Bowl appearances, zero losses on the season. Could we simply chalk-up the hot starts for the Pats, Broncos, Ravens, Eagles and Vikings to better-than-expected QB play? Sure, but that would be stupid and shortsighted. Instead, here’s the real reason why the league’s undefeated remain unblemished.
New England Patriots: This one’s no surprise because the Pats are a good team top to bottom and led by the best. You may forget – because they threw the ball 65-percent of the time last season – but LeGarrette Blount is flat out destructive. Not to mention, all their quick wideouts work well in space: each season, as a team, they consistently top 2,000 yards after the catch. The pass rush isn’t nearly as dominant as last year, but the Pats D has finished top-12 in defensive DVOA in the past two seasons.
Denver Broncos: They started out last season 7-0, so this isn’t a shocker either. But instead of always relying on timely defensive touchdowns to win games, a revamped Denver o-line has helped pave the way for a more productive run game. Without a corpse at quarterback, we’ve also been reminded how great a wide receiver tandem Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are. Complementary styles that can devastate short and underneath as well as outside and overtop, it’d be hard not to have some success throwing to that duo.
Minnesota Vikings: When Teddy Bridgewater went down, Vikings fans kept hope alive by pointing to the 2015 Denver Broncos, who consistently won with a stifling defense making up for a below-average offense. Now they can just point in the mirror, because the 2016 Minnesota Vikings are better at being the Broncos than Denver is.
Their defense has flat out wrecked opponents, leading the league with nine takeaways, 15 sacks, and a miniscule opposing QB rating of 69.5. In fact, the Vikings D alone has scored more points in the second half than their opponents.
If you want to compare them to Denver (the supposed gold standard), the Broncos sacked Cam Newton just three times and registered one takeaway at home in a game they won on a missed field goal. Minnesota went down to Carolina, held Kelvin Benjamin without a catch, sacked Newton eight times, and picked him off three more times for good measure. This team is going to be just fine, no matter what’s at quarterback.
Philadelphia Eagles: While we’re talking about great defenses, Jim Schwartz has done it again with the Eagles. This unit was said to be the best in the NFC East, an honor about as impressive as being the smartest person at a NASCAR rally. But then Philly stepped up to the plate against Pittsburgh, handing one of the league’s best offenses its worst loss in 27 years.
The Eagles switch to a 4-3 front has helped maximize what was already a solid pass rush, with Philly racking up ten sacks already. The trickle down effect has helped the secondary (which got torched last season) look like one of the league’s top groups. That confidence should help in a division loaded with great receivers.
(Of all the teams at 3-0, the Eagles have their QB to thank the most. But I don’t want to acknowledge how good Wentz has been partly because it goes against the whole point of this section, and partly because bragging Eagles fans are insufferable.)
Baltimore Ravens: Honestly, the biggest reason the Ravens are undefeated is the schedule (so far, their opponents are a combined 1-8). But if kudos are to be given anywhere else, the defense has looked old-timey good against these bad teams, getting after QBs and generating much-needed takeaways. Mike Wallace has also provided the deep threat the team has missed since Torrey Smith left. And Justin Tucker is still great. So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.
Other great things from Week 3
Ty Montgomery and his out of bounds trick.
Smart coaches read the rule book. That or bored coaches. Either way, one of those is residing in Green Bay, because Montgomery’s lay-out-of-bounds strategy wasn’t even the first time the Packers have employed the tactic.
The first fake punt of the season!
Cue Tress Way > Kirk Cousins jokes.
Al Michaels and his late gambling references.
Watching your team get destroyed on Sunday Night Football is an awful experience, but it’s one that’s always made better by Michaels and his not-so-subtle references to the betting public’s interest. What made this week so great was how clueless Cris Collinsworth was. “All I know is that a lot of people are being ‘pushed’ right to the edge right now.” Never change, Al!
Other bad things from Week 3
Carson Palmer continuing his Delhomme transformation.
So far, the Cardinals QB hasn’t had a great follow up to his NFC Championship meltdown, but this weekend was the first sign of real worry. Palmer was brutal on the road: the Cards didn’t get their first first-down until they were trailing by 17, and their comeback efforts were halted by four fourth-quarter interceptions. But at least Ryan Fitzpatrick is around to take off some of the heat.
Kirk Cousins still can’t clock.
Six seconds left in the half, and we have a timeout, Kirk. Just throw the ball away quickly and don’t take a sack. Aaaannnddd you took a sack. And time ran out. Great!
(Is there anyway we could unite Cousins and Andy Reid for one gloriously terrible two-minute drill? It might break the space-out of time continuum.)
Not because of his play on the field, but because I expected him to buy Bob Cratchit a big Christmas turkey, and by all accounts, he has not.
Games I expect to be good being not good.
Of all the juicy matchups heading into this weekend (Battle of Pennsylvania, Broncos-Bengals, Jets-Chiefs), the three best games of the day featured the Rams, Colts, and Browns. Bad NFL!