With just under a quarter of the season in the books, we should know a lot about who the 32 teams are and what to expect from them…but we don’t. We are aware of who the truly bad teams are and the teams we THINK will rise above the rest, but a staggering 15 teams are 2-2. Former contenders have found their way, while supposed juggernauts have begun to struggle. What can we learn from this week’s games? Let’s find out in my week 4 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Dolphins Have Serious Questions to Answer About Tua
I could easily use this space to talk about the fact that the Bengals still can’t run the football. Or the fact that Teddy Bridgewater looked much better than he did in his brief relief appearance last week. Or even the fact that Tee Higgins honestly toasted a hurting Xavien Howard all night. Unfortunately, the only thing we can talk about here is how the Dolphins seem to have completely disregarded player safety.
Whether or not you believe that Tua Tagovailoa had a back injury or a concussion last week, he was definitely banged up going into this game on a short week. If a back injury had him THAT wobbly, he probably shouldn’t have gone back into the game against Buffalo, let alone played this week. When Bengals DT Josh Tupou flipped Tua during a sack and the QB couldn’t get back up, nobody should’ve been particularly surprised. This time, his injury is much worse; medical staff put him on a stretcher and took him right away to a nearby hospital with head and back injuries.
Luckily, Tua seems to have movement in his extremities and is talking. However, that’s not the main point of this. Miami appears to have recklessly allowed an injured player to take untenable punishment and caused him to suffer a more severe injury. We’ll hopefully find out that Tua just needs a week or two to deal with his concussion, but it might not be that simple. The NFLPA is more likely than ever to dig into how the Dolphins are protecting their players from themselves, and the team has nobody to blame but themselves.
Ravens and Browns Fail to Close Again, Falcons and Chargers Shut the Door
These four teams have demonstrated trouble putting games away late, but two of them finished the job this week.
Baltimore probably thought it couldn’t lose with a lead of 17+ points again after having their hearts broken by the Dolphins in week 2, but they apparently could. The Ravens stymied Buffalo for most of the first half, forcing turnovers and other miscues to take a 20-3 lead. A TD drive late in the second quarter gave the Bills life, but Baltimore still led by 10. The Ravens didn’t score again the whole game. Buffalo chipped away at the lead while Lamar Jackson stumbled (2 INTs), scoring on 3 of their 4 possessions in the second half. The final score was a game-winning FG as time expired, leaving the Ravens reeling.
Atlanta lost a killer of a game in week 1 against New Orleans after leading for most of it. They then came close to making a comeback against the Rams before faltering late again. The same mistake was not made in week 4. After taking a 3-point lead with 2:28 to go, fans were expecting the Falcons to choke it away as usual (28 and 3 were involved again!). Instead, the defense gave up a pair of first downs before stiffening, finally intercepting a Jacoby Brissett prayer on 3rd and 23. Back-to-back wins have Atlanta sitting at 2-2, somehow tied for first place in the NFC South.
Cleveland’s plight is well known. They blew a late lead against Carolina in week 1 but were bailed out by a 58-yard Cade York field goal. Week 2 saw one of the worst collapses ever, with the Jets overcoming a seemingly insurmountable lead (as I wrote about previously). This week, they came up short again in a late-game situation. I’m not going to rehash the game with Atlanta that I just described above, but the Browns’ 4th-quarter failures, on both defense and offense, are becoming a disturbing trend.
Few teams have more demons to exorcise regarding late leads than the Chargers, and not just this year. In terms of 2022, the Chargers let the Raiders creep around in week 1 and gave them the ball with a chance to win. They then led KC throughout their week 2 clash before a back-breaking pick six allowed KC to steal the game. In week 4, the Chargers took a large lead (27-7) against the inferior Texans in what looked like a typical affair. It’s never that simple. Three consecutive punts followed by a fumble and some lax defense enabled the Texans to climb to within 3 points. Unlike in past weeks, however, the Bolts stood tall, orchestrating an 84-yard TD drive that took over 6 minutes of clock to ice the game. While waiting for Justin Herbert to be fully healthy, finishing off some hard-fought wins like this can make things feel a lot better.
Two Teams That Need to Make QB Changes
I appreciate when a coach shows patience with his QB more than most. That said, sometimes a change is needed. I’m not talking about teams like Houston who need to evaluate Davis Mills and are potentially trying for the #1 pick. This is about a team whose defense is built to win now (Pittsburgh) and another whose coach is on the hot seat and needs to show ownership some proof of progress (Carolina). Let’s look at these two situations and see why they need to try new options at quarterback.
I actually started writing this portion at halftime, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might have used telepathy to receive my message because he actually inserted Kenny Pickett into the game at the start of the 3rd quarter. I don’t really care about how he galvanized the offense to take the lead or that he threw 3 INTs (none of which were his fault). He isn’t going to immediately fix the team’s other issues (such as the leaky offensive line and drops by receivers), but we know who Mitch Trubisky is: a low-ceiling QB who is afraid to push the ball down the field but somehow still has a poor completion percentage. Tomlin has never recorded a losing season as head coach of the Steelers; Pickett might be his best (or only) chance to continue that streak.
Carolina has never handled their QB situation well under Matt Rhule, so it’s no surprise that they find themselves in a mess once again. Sam Darnold played well for 3 games last year, but things fell apart once Christian McCaffrey got hurt. This season, the team traded for Baker Mayfield and named him the starter after a sham competition. He has somehow been much worse. There’s no torn labrum to blame this year; Mayfield has simply been ineffective. His completion percentage of 51.9% ranks 31st among starters, and he has fumbled 6 times (miraculously losing just 1) while posting a 4:3 TD/INT ratio. Mayfield has thrown for under 200 yards a game, he has thrown countless batted passes, and Carolina’s only win was against an equally inept Saints offense. Rhule has to insert Darnold at least to provide a spark. I’d suggest trying out 3rd-round rookie Matt Corral, but a preseason Lisfranc injury ended his season before it began. As a result, Darnold is basically Rhule’s only chance to avoid the ax at season’s end (if not sooner).
Cowboys Should Not Rush QB Dak Prescott Back to the Field
Unlike the two teams above, I believe that Dallas should leave their interim QB alone. First, I’ll make the case for keeping Dak Prescott out, and then I’ll say why Cooper Rush should remain the starter for a few more weeks.
My concern with Prescott is strictly health-related. When he’s 100%, he should be the starter without a drop of controversy. I just don’t think that should be week 5 or 6 as he and the team are planning. Dak broke his thumb in week 1 against Tampa Bay and has been out ever since. His projected timeline has him returning after just 4 weeks. Have they learned nothing from Russell Wilson’s experience last season? He too attempted to return from this injury after 3 missed games. Wilson wasn’t right for several weeks once he came back, and he admitted that he rushed back too soon. Dallas should take heed of that warning.
Rush, on the other hand, has done nothing to cause the team to panic about getting Prescott back in the lineup immediately. In fact, he’s now 3-0 as the starter. The level of competition hasn’t been great, but he’s filled in admirably. In 3 games, he has thrown 4 TDs and has not thrown an interception. He’s averaging a little over 200 yards passing per game, managing well while allowing Dan Quinn’s defense to take charge. I know that games against the Rams and Eagles in the next two weeks might have the coaching staff sweating, but they need to do what’s gotten them to 3-1: play good defense, make plays with their talented skill position players, and win the turnover battle. They can remain competitive while allowing Dak to appropriately heal.
Noncontenders Give Us Highest-Scoring Game of Season Thus Far
I don’t always talk about teams with playoff expectations! Sometimes, the teams at the bottom of the average power rankings provide the most entertaining games. Today’s Seahawks-Lions bout was one such example.
Pete Carroll and Dan Campbell, two hard-nosed coaches who love running the ball and winning with defense, probably cried. I think both teams’ defenses checked out for most of this contest. Pop quiz: can you name the QB with the highest completion percentage through 4 games? That’s right: it’s Geno Smith at 77.3%! I wouldn’t have guessed that either if I wasn’t following this stuff. Smith has actually played pretty well for Seattle, and he provided his best game against a porous Lions defense, throwing for 320 yards and 2 TDs while adding 49 yards and a TD on the ground. Smith, RB Rashaad Penny (17/151/2 TD), and WR DK Metcalf (7/149) shredded Detroit all game long, keeping star punter Michael Dickson on the sideline.
Meanwhile, Jared Goff and his injured team didn’t fare much worse. Despite being without WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and RB D’Andre Swift, the Lions had little trouble scoring. Goff threw for 378 yards and 4 TDs, but one bad throw led to a pick six that proved to be the difference in this one. TE TJ Hockenson had a career day, making good on his promise as a former top-10 pick with 8 catches for 179 yards and 2 TDs. These success of Goff and Smith over the first few weeks have led to 1-3 and 2-2 records, respectively, showing us just how perfect these offenses must be to overcome their deficiencies on the defensive end. Goff made 1 mistake to Smith’s 0, and that was all it took for the Lions to lose their third game despite averaging 34.67 points in those losses.
Each QB completed passes to 8 different targets, as there wasn’t just one matchup weakness for each side to exploit. The only Seattle drives that failed to end in points were a missed field goal and the final drive of the game where they ran out the clock. Detroit’s only scoring woe involved substitute kicker Dominik Eberle, who missed two of his four PATs. As was typical of this game, however, Detroit went for two-point conversions twice to make up for this shortcoming and converted both times. This game was a lot of fun, and it provided one last bit of joy: it was the first game in NFL history to end with a 48-45 score!