Another week gone and there’s even more confusion to deal with around the NFL.
The Patriots continued their winning ways, with a landmark victory over the Falcons in Atlanta but they lost the leader of their defense in the process. Vince Wilfork wasn’t the only major loss suffered in Week 4, though.
The Titans improved to an unexpected 3-1 on the season, but lost quarterback Jake Locker for a few weeks in the process. The Colts lost rookie defensive end Bjoern Werner for at least a month with a foot injury. And Dwight Freeney suffered a torn quad, dampening an otherwise impressive Chargers win.
We’re down to just five unbeatens left on the books this season, with the Broncos, Chiefs, Patriots, Saints and Seahawks all keeping their perfect records intact. Although, that might not last very long as the Patriots visit 2-2 Cincinnati, the Saints travel to 3-1 Chicago, the Seahawks travel to 3-1 Indianapolis and the Broncos head down to Big D for a showdown with the Cowboys. The Chiefs are the only ones who are safe. As for the winless, only the Buccaneers, Giants, Steelers and lowly Jaguars remain. And while Pittsburgh and Tampa get the week off to lick their wounds, both the Giants (at the Eagles) and Jags (against the Rams) have very winnable games ahead of them.
Anyway, before we look too far ahead into Week 5, let’s go through some of the interesting storylines from the week that was with some thoughts and observations from around the league in Week 4.
**Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.
1. Forgetting about Welker – It sort of sounds like the title to a cheap straight-to-DVD rom-com, but, for some unconscionable reason, defenses seem to be forgetting about Wes Welker. You’d think after five seasons of 100-plus catches and countless third-down conversions, defenses would be up on the guy by now. Yet, week after week teams continue to let him roam free, especially near the goal line, almost without a second thought.
Maybe it’s a testament to the rest of Peyton Manning‘s receivers or the efficiency of the Broncos’ offense, but Welker has walked into the end zone untouched three times on the season now — yup, I counted. He’s also tied for the league lead with six touchdowns on the year, equaling his entire output from 2012. I might even be so bold as to say that he looks better through four weeks in Denver than he did last season with the Patriots. So, for goodness sake, can someone cover this guy already?
2. Ridley is still No. 1 in NE — Ease up on the LeGarrette Blount bandwagon already. There’s no questioning that he’s a talented or fun guy to root for — when else can you watch a 250-pound running back break it 47 yards for a touchdown? — but he still isn’t the No. 1 guy in New England. Stevan Ridley still deserves that title. Ridley’s penchant for fumbling saw him benched in Week 1 and it’s been a long road back to that top spot since. Bill Belichick‘s employed something of a running back by committee approach in recent weeks, but Ridley still seems to hold the top spot on the depth chart.
He carried the ball 11 times for 53 yards (4.8 yards per carry) against the Falcons on Sunday, grinding it out on the ground and catching a pair of balls for 26 yards to show off his abilities in the passing game. Blount doesn’t have the same pass-catching skills, and while his nine carries for 64 yards (7.1 average) might look better on paper, he did little else to prove himself aside from the one long touchdown jaunt.
When Shane Vereen returns, he’ll likely sneak in and steal back some of the touches out of the backfield but Ridley still seems to be the Patriots’ best option right now, even if Blount is getting all the praise.
3. Ryan is a savior in NO – The Saints finished dead last in nearly every defensive category in 2012, giving up an NFL-record 440 yards of total offense per game. Less than a year later, things have drastically changed in the Big Easy. The Saints currently rank sixth in the NFL in yards allowed (304.5 per game) and are fifth in points allowed (13.8), which is a far cry from their 31st-ranked scoring defense (28.4 per game) they boasted last year.
The big — and I mean BIG — difference for them this season has been Rob Ryan. After being ousted in Dallas, Ryan has teamed up with Sean Payton to concoct one of the great defensive turnarounds in league history. There’s still a long way to go in the season, but so far this defense appears to be Super Bowl caliber.
4. The Dolphins are still pretenders – Two undefeated teams took the field at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Monday night. One walked out looking like a Super Bowl favorite while the other left looking like a sorry excuse for a playoff contender.
Following a 3-0 start, which included impressive wins against the Colts and Falcons, the Dolphins appears to be on the verge of cementing their legitimacy. Against a far superior Saints team, though, the offense sputtered, Ryan Tannehill‘s recurring trend of turnovers continued and Drew Brees easily exposed a patchwork secondary. There is definite promise and talent on their roster, but right now the Dolphins are nothing more than postseason posers.
5. Matt Ryan still isn’t clutch — Matt Ryan deserved every penny he got in his five-year, $103 million extension this offseason. He’s been that good over the last few years. But he still seems to turtle in the biggest moments. Sunday was another prime example of that. Ryan led the Falcons to just 10 points through the first three quarters against the Patriots and seemed constantly flustered by the pressure by their front seven. While he did lead the Falcons back to within a score of the lead in the fourth quarter, he failed on four straight passes to get the Falcons into the end zone and force overtime. His inefficiencies down by the goal line were a problem coming into Sunday and seemed awful reminiscent of the final drive in last season’s NFC Championship Game. For a guy nicknamed “Matty Ice” partially for his play in the big moments, he hasn’t provided much confidence in the clutch of late.
6. Ravens won’t be right until Flacco is – Speaking of quarterbacks who got major paydays this offseason, Joe Flacco hasn’t done anything to earn his dough yet either. The Ravens dropped to 2-2 on the season Sunday, causing the questions about Baltimore’s stagnant offense to sprout up once again. And Flacco is at the root of the problem.
His five interceptions against the Bills were a bit of an anomaly, but they’re also very concerning, considering Buffalo was playing without three of its starters in the secondary. It’s no surprise that the Ravens have lost both games where Flacco’s thrown 50 or more passes (62 in Week 1, 50 in Week 4), as they’re predicated on the ground and pound approach, but he still needs to shape up.
Flacco is completing just 57 percent of his passes on the season and has thrown seven interceptions to just five touchdowns. He’s never been much of a regular-season stud, but he’s also never been this bad before. As he goes so will the Ravens, and right now there’s not much to be optimistic about.
7. Kiko Alonso is making a push for DROY – And while we’re on the topic of the Bills, why not make a quick mention of a rookie having a major impact. Kiko Alonso intercepted his third and fourth passes of the season on Sunday, tying him for the league and lead and further establishing himself as a candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Alonso leads all rookies with 32 tackles through four games while also recording four passes defended and one sack. He’s played a major role in the Bills’ defensive turnaround this year and finally seems to be getting his due — deservedly so.
8. Schiano isn’t long for the NFL – If an 0-4 start to the season, including three blown leads late in the fourth quarter, weren’t enough to put Greg Schiano on the hot seat, then the Josh Freeman fiasco has to have at least raised the idea. It’s clear that Freeman and Schiano are at odds — and likely have been since training camp — and the entire situation has devolved into one drama-centric soap opera. The Buccaneers’ players also haven’t expressed much in terms of support for their coach or optimism about the team, casting even more doubt over Schiano’s NFL future. If you’re a Bucs fan, you make want to consider shorting Schiano like you might Tesla’s stock over the next few months.
9. AP looks fixed — Adrian Peterson hasn’t been putting up the gaudy numbers that he did in 2012 so far this season, and that’s stirred up concern for some questioning if something was wrong. If there were any questions, Sunday should have finally put those questions to bed. Peterson carried the ball 23 times for 140 yards and scored twice against the Steelers on the international stage. AP now ranks second in rushing in the league with 421 yards, trailing only LeSean McCoy’s 468 for the top spot. He also just so happens to be the leader with five rushing touchdowns on the season — and that should count for something. Maybe he’s not exactly the MV-A-P that we saw last year, but he isn’t far from it.
10. The Jaguars look destined for 0-16 – And last but not least, the team that most likely to finish last in the NFL this season. The Jaguars have been abysmal from the get-go this season, and, with each passing week, it’s looking more and more likely that they may well finish the season without a win. It’s a rare feat, and every team seems to catch a break at some point, but with the way the Jags’ offense has been going (31 points in four games) there’s not much room for optimism.
In fact, the Broncos, who the Jaguars will face in Week 6, has scored more points in each of their four games this season (49, 41, 37 and 52) than the Jags have combined this season. That should tell you all you need to know about them. They will have a few chances, including this weekend against the Rams, Week 11 against the Cardinals and Week 13 versus in Cleveland, but even they look like far superior teams to Jacksonville right now. Heck, maybe the Alabama Crimson Tide could even give them a run for their money.