If your 0-2 team loses this week, NOW it’s appropriate to panic. Only 6 teams since 1980 have started the season 0-3 and gone on to make the playoffs. The 17th regular season game shifts the odds a little, but none of the five 0-3 teams last year made the playoffs either. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your 2-0 team wins this week, you can feel pretty good about things: approximately 75% of such teams have made the postseason over the same time span. This week, I’ll be providing my analysis as usual, but a couple of the points will focus specifically on the 0-3 and 3-0 teams that emerge, discussing what has gone wrong or right and where these teams go from here. With that in mind, let’s check out my week 3 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
Side note: Justin Herbert should never have suited up this week.
Chiefs, Bills, and Lions Let Their Opponents Hang Around for Too Long
In the NFL, you cannot allow an opponent to remain within striking range. Even the worst teams are professionals and might make you pay. Three teams learned this lesson the hard way this week.
Kansas City earned its first lead over Indianapolis late in the second quarter, and they added a field goal on the first drive of the second half to go up 17-10. From there, the offense struggled to move the ball, and kicker Matt Ammendola (Harrison Butker is still out) missed a PAT and a 34-point FG. The Colts never fell behind by more than 1 possession despite pass protection problems. Indy finally put together a great drive, going 76 yards in 16 plays for a go-ahead TD, burning 8:14 of clock. KC had to throw up prayer passes with under 40 seconds to go, and one got picked off, handing IND their first win and KC their first loss.
Buffalo did not trail the Dolphins for 1 second during the first 3 quarters. The offense seemed to move the ball at will, but a couple of miscues kept the game close. A bad snap on a spike attempt at the end of the first half might have cost them 3 points, a missed 38-yard FG in the 4th hurt, and Josh Allen fumbled near his own goal line to give Miami an easy TD. Despite losing Tua to injury for a brief period, the Dolphins stayed within 3 points for much of the game. Finally, Tua provided a key play, converting a 3rd and 22 with a 45-yard TD to Jaylen Waddle, which set up the go-ahead TD. Buffalo’s offense came up short on their next two drives, and even though they scored a safety (on the newly-minted Butt Punt), the Bills suffered their first loss of the season.
Detroit owned their road game against Minnesota early on, taking a 14-0 lead in spite of a missed FG. Kirk Cousins could not get in rhythm, and CB Jeff Okudah smothered Justin Jefferson the entire game (3 catches for 14 yards). A failed 4th-down conversion and some defensive lapses enabled the Vikings to score TDs on two of their last 3 drives before halftime, tying the game. The Lions scored 10 more points while the Vikings shot themselves in the foot, but they finished with 5 awful drives: punt, punt, downs, missed FG, INT. The missed FG was curious, as it was a 54-yard attempt with a shaky kicker on 4th and 4, and Detroit had been going for it on 4th all day. The score was 24-21 at that point, and the Lions could have iced the game. Instead, Minnesota scored on two straight 28-yard passes to KJ Osborn, taking a 28-24 lead that they would not relinquish (the INT was Detroit’s last gasp with 17 seconds to go).
Season Debuts for David Bakhtiari, JK Dobbins, and George Kittle
After a duo of ACL tears, Green Bay LT David Bakhtiari and Baltimore RB JK Dobbins both made their 2022 debuts this week. 49ers TE George Kittle also made his first appearance after missing the first two games with a groin injury.
Bakhtiari’s debut was a long time coming; he has been out almost 20 months after tearing his ACL and experiencing setbacks during his recovery. He didn’t play a full complement of snaps in his first game back (he played around half). Aaron Rodgers was only sacked once by a blitz-happy TB (Tampa Bay/Todd Bowles) defense, and Bakhtiari had nothing to do with it, having allowed only 1 pressure on the day. Rodgers is certainly happy to have him back, as his presence enables the whole line to be flexible.
Dobbins had a quiet debut, as Baltimore eased him back into the lineup. He finished with 7 carries for 23 yards, adding 2 receptions for 17 yards. Dobbins looked a little rusty, but he also had a good amount of burst and quickness. Outside of Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ running game has not been strong, so Dobbins will shoulder much more of a load in the coming weeks.
Kittle, having come back from the least severe injury, participated in full on Monday night, but he didn’t have a large impact. He caught 4 balls for just 28 yards, though he was stellar as usual as a blocker. The 49ers-Broncos game was a defensive slugfest, with only one TD for each team. Thus, opportunities were limited. Given Kittle’s chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo, I expect that connection to reignite very soon.
3-0 Teams: What Has Gone Right
In another demonstration of parity in the NFL, only 2 teams remain unbeaten after just 3 weeks of play. Let’s take a look at these teams to see what’s gone so well for them and if we can expect it to continue.
First up, we have the Philadelphia Eagles. The first thing that has been great for them is their schedule. Detroit has a talent deficiency, Minnesota has no secondary, and Washington cannot pass protect. Next, and perhaps most critically, is the fact that QB Jalen Hurts has improved as a passer. He was already a premier running threat at the position, but his enhanced throwing has made the offense two-dimensional. Undoubtedly, the trade acquisition of WR AJ Brown has aided in this endeavor. He already has 309 receiving yards on the season. Darius Slay and James Bradberry form one of the league’s top CB tandems, and they bullied Washington and Minnesota. The offensive and defensive lines are also extremely stout. However, Philly has some weaknesses. Against better defenses, Hurts will have to be more accurate and score more second-half points (0 total in weeks 2 and 3). Their safeties can also be targeted, as we saw in week 1 against Detroit. Residing in the NFC East though, the Eagles have a fairly large margin for error as they push to make the playoffs.
Next we have the Dolphins, who have surprised many with their start…but not me. I favored the Dolphins to win all 3 of their opening games because of a few massive improvements. First is the replacement of Brian Flores with Mike McDaniel. Flores was a terrible communicator, even with his own assistants! His fixation on Justin Herbert and perhaps Deshaun Watson led to him sabotaging Tua Tagovailoa, even accusing him of not working hard (as if a Nick Saban player could succeed with that trait). McDaniel has completely changed the culture, while keeping DC Josh Boyer, who keyed last season’s defensive turnaround. Signing Terron Armstead also addressed the team’s biggest weakness: the offensive line. Those factors plus the trade for WR Tyreek Hill has allowed Tua to play with more confidence and freedom, and he has delivered. Tua has played well in each of the first 3 weeks, with the highlight being a 6-TD comeback win against Baltimore. He has demonstrated that he can throw deep and make good decisions, significantly boosting Miami’s outlook. I also can’t ignore the defense; the unit held Buffalo to 19 points, far less than their prior season average of 36. Xavien Howard, Jevon Holland, and Byron Jones (when he returns) form one of the league’s best secondaries, which will be needed against the star QBs in the AFC. This is a playoff team, and a contender at that.
0-3 and 0-2-1 Teams: What Has Gone Wrong
Two teams ended Sunday (no winless teams played Monday night) with one of those dispiriting records, and we’ll go through each of them below to see how they got here.
As seen above, 0-3 teams are major longshots to reach the playoffs, so the Raiders-Titans game was essentially a deathblow to the Las Vegas’s chances for an encore in 2022. The Raiders got punched in the mouth early, going down 14-3 in the first quarter. LV and TEN traded touchdowns, with Tennessee adding a field goal to enter halftime with a 24-10 lead. Tennessee’s offense stumbled the rest of the game, but despite a valiant charge by Derek Carr, the lead was too much to overcome, with the Raiders falling 24-22.
The Raiders had the same problems in this game as those that plagued them in the first two weeks. Josh McDaniels could not get Davante Adams involved, with just 36 yards receiving. LV’s offensive line struggled in pass protection; though Carr was sacked only once in week 3, he was hurried often, and one such play led to an INT. Finally, the defense has not been able to consistently get stops. They’d had flashes of brilliance, as seen in the second half of this game and the first half against Arizona a week ago, but the other halves of those games showed you the issue. The Titans and Cardinals marched down the field at will and a pass rush led by Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby had no answers for it. LV is obviously better than an 0-3 quality team, but Bill Parcells has always said that “you are what your record says you are”, and there’s no doubt that the Raiders are a team with serious issues in a tough division.
The 0-2-1 team is the Houston Texans. In a battle of awful teams, Houston picked the short straw after QB Davis Mills fired an ill-advised INT at Bears LB Roquan Smith, setting up a game-winning field goal. Mills is the biggest factor in Houston’s poor start. After a decent stretch of games to end 2021, the Texans passed on all QBs in the draft to give Mills a season-long audition. This season has not gone nearly as well. Mills had a quality game against Indy in week 1, but the offense went in the tank in the second half and OT, enabling the Colts to first come from 17 down to tie the game and then escape with a tie. The offense was dismal in week 2, scoring just 3 field goals against Denver. Mills completed 50% of his passes in that game for 177 yards, unable to take advantage of the Broncos’ own offensive problems. Game 3 was his worst with 2 INTs, including one that handed the win to Chicago.
The defense has actually been pretty good, as Derek Stingley has been a standout rookie and Lovie Smith is good at coaching that side of the ball. Houston’s problems can all be attributed to long offensive droughts. The offensive line is decent, and Brandin Cooks is always good for 1000 yards at WR, but the running game has been mediocre (rookie Dameon Pierce fumbled twice in week 3), and Mills has shifted in and out of rhythm. Talent-wise, this team shouldn’t really be among the league’s worst compared to squads like Seattle and Chicago, but their performance caused them to lose to those Bears and has them in the running for the #1 pick.
Bengals, Titans Salvage Their Seasons, but Questions Remain
Cincinnati and Tennessee FINALLY got themselves in the win column after surprisingly slow starts to their seasons. The 2021 division winners both looked much better than they did in weeks 1 and 2, but some issues continued to linger.
In Cincy’s case, the offensive line still had problems. They did a lot better in pass protection this week (though Burrow was still sacked twice), but the run blocking was highly problematic. Joe Mixon had 12 carries for 24 yards in week 3, bringing his totals to 58 carries for 163 yards (2.8 average) with no TDs. Running outside didn’t work any better, as the Bengals ran a stretch play with Ja’Marr Chase on 4th and 1…and lost a yard. The defense proved to bend but not break in this game (NYJ only had 4 FGs), but there was quite a lot of bending. The Jets had 328 yards of total offense, just 2 shy of the Bengals’ total. In previous games, particularly the Dallas game, the defense DID break. They’ve been alright overall, but no elite QB has lined up against them. These issues will need to be ironed out if the Cincinnati turnaround is to continue on Thursday night against Miami.
Tennessee’s week 3 win was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Titans scored 3 quick TDs and added a field goal as time expired in the second quarter. They also stifled the Raider offense after a bit of a rocky start, holding them to 10 first-half points. In the second half, Tennessee was shut out. The offense looked a lot more like the version that got stymied in Buffalo. QB Ryan Tannehill threw an INT, and running lanes closed as the Raiders stuffed the box. Defensively, the Titans allowed Derek Carr to get into a rhythm and nearly tie the game, but a failed 2-point conversion salvaged the win in Tennessee. The Titans’ offensive line is not doing a great job, and losing Taylor Lewan for the season only exacerbates that problem. A game next week against the Colts will tell us if Tennessee’s offense has actually turned the corner or if they just took advantage of an inconsistent defense.