Bengals, Bears have bigger issues than struggling QBs

Through four weeks of the NFL season, the league is starting to see the contenders and the pretenders. The San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles certainly fall into the Super Bowl contender category while the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens are establishing themselves as the top contenders in their respective divisions.

As for the pretenders? The New York Giants, Chicago Bears, and Las Vegas Raiders are certainly on that list. The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to find their way on there, ditto with the Atlanta Falcons.

As the league is starting to separate the good teams from the bad, let’s discover some trends we’re starting to see with each team. Here’s one thing we learned from each team after this week’s games:

Arizona Cardinals
Michael Wilson is becoming a top weapon: Give credit to Wilson for continuing to progress in his rookie season, especially given Josh Dobbs wasn’t on the team at the beginning of training camp. Wilson finished with seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns in his return to the Bay Area (played college ball at Stanford) — matching his catch total from the first three games. Wilson is averaging 16.9 yards per catch and has 237 yards receiving through four games (162 the last two). The Cardinals passing game looks a lot better thanks to Wilson’s development.

Atlanta Falcons
Does Kyle Pitts exist: Pitts had another subpar game in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, finishing with two catches for 21 yards. He only out-snapped Jonnu Smith by six snaps and was out-targeted by Smith (who had six targets to Pitts’ four). The Falcons obviously target tight ends since Smith had six catches for 95 yards to lead the offense. Pitts has just 11 catches for 121 yards in four games on 21 targets. Don’t know how Pitts can get more involved in the offense at this point without a change at quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens
They’re the best team in the AFC North: Baltimore flexed its muscle against its divisional foes, winning games on the road against Cincinnati and Cleveland. The Ravens were able to accomplish this with multiple starters out on both sides of the ball. Lamar Jackson has a 74.3% completion rate and a 104.2 passer rating, while also rushing for 220 yards and four touchdowns. The defense is top three in points and yards allowed, making a statement against the Browns offense Sunday (sans Deshaun Watson). This is the team to beat in the division after the first month of the year.

Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen turnover woes appear to be behind him: Allen has just one turnover in the past three games after a highly scrutinized Week 1 with he threw three interceptions and fumbled twice. No surprise the Bills have won in convincing fashion in each of the past three games, outscoring opponents 123-33. In this stretch, Allen has completed 76.6% of his passes for 812 yards with eight touchdowns to one interception (125.8 rating), while also rushing for two scores. When Allen doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s an MVP candidate and the Bills arguably have the best offense in football.

Carolina Panthers
Bryce Young had his best game, and the offense still didn’t score: It’s tough to watch the Panthers offense, but at least they can take solace in Young going 25 of 32 for 204 yards with a 93.2 rating. The Panthers still have problems getting the ball downfield and creating yards after the catch, which puts even more pressure on Young to perform — especially with a poor offensive line. The offense didn’t score a touchdown and only put up two field goals on nine drives. Some changes need to be made regarding the play calling.

Chicago Bears
The coach is a bigger problem than Justin Fields: Chicago wasted a strong performance from Fields as he finished 28 of 35 for 335 yards and four touchdowns to just one interception (132.7 rating). A team that is struggling on offense can’t waste a performance like that, but Matt Eberflus did. Eberflus decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 in a tie game from the Broncos’ 18, but kept the ball out of Fields hands as Khalil Herbert got stuffed. The Bears ended up losing the game and falling to 0-4. Eberflus doesn’t appear to have control of his team on the field and in the locker room. Hard to see him in Chicago past this year.

Cincinnati Bengals
Run defense has been a major disappointment: Joe Burrow takes the spotlight in Cincinnati because of his contract and his calf injury, but the run defense has been atrocious. The Bengals gave up 173 yards on the ground and 5.2 yards per carry to a Titans offense that dares a team to stop the run. The run defense has given up 170-plus yards in three of the four games this season and ranks 31st in rushing yards allowed per game and 30th in yards per carry allowed (5.1). This was a top-10 run defense last year, but can’t seem to find its footing in 2023. The Bengals have multiple problems they need to address.

Cleveland Browns
The bye week comes at the best time: A Week 5 bye isn’t ideal for most teams, but the Browns could certainly use it after Deshaun Watson missed Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury. Head coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson was medically cleared to go, but the decision was made by Watson to give himself a week to heal. The Browns could have used him after only gaining 166 yards of offense, averaging 2.6 yards per play, and turning the ball over three times. Watson should be healthy when he returns in two weeks, and the Browns can get the running game going again (93 yards and 3.7 yards per carry) as well.

Dallas Cowboys
Red zone issues weren’t corrected: The red zone problems were mentioned last week, but they didn’t improve against the Patriots in the blowout victory. Dallas went 1 of 4 in the red zone, one week after finishing 1 of 5. For those counting, that’s 2 of 9 in the red zone over the last two weeks. The play calling in the red zone is baffling and the ineffectiveness of Tony Pollard down there is noticed (27 carries, 59 yards, two touchdowns). The Cowboys are 30th in the NFL in red zone conversion rate (36.8%), but first in third down conversion rate (51.6%). Utterly confusing indeed.

Denver Broncos
Rookie running back ignites running game: The Broncos only rushed for 97 yards, but 72 of them came from rookie Jaleel McLaughlin. After Jamaal Williams’ injury, McLaughlin had 72 rushing yards on seven carries (10.3 yards per carry) and had a receiving touchdown. McLaughlin’s 31-yard run has been the Broncos’ only rushing play over 16 yards this season. Sean Payton has been slow with his rookies, but McLaughlin needs to play more going forward — and may have to.

Detroit Lions
David Montgomery makes this team elite: Montgomery has been a battering ram for the Lions in the three games he’s played in Detroit, showcasing what he brings to the offense in Thursday’s blowout win over the Packers. He rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries — giving him 69 though three games. When Montgomery plays, the Lions average 395.7 yards per game. They can score without Montgomery on the field, but Detroit is more complete on offense when he’s healthy. Montgomery’s presence is why Detroit is the best team in the NFC North.

Green Bay Packers
They have a good opportunity to get healthy: Green Bay has injuries on the offensive line an din the secondary, which has affected them through the first four games. Good news for the Packers is this. They have 11 days between the Week 4 game and Week 5 matchup with the Raiders (Monday night) than go on their actual bye in Week 6. One game in 23 days is a good opportunity to get Aaron Jones, Christian Watson, Elgton Jenkins, and David Bahkitari healthy. They need these guys for the rest of the year.

Houston Texans
C.J. Stroud is making his receivers better: Stroud just continues to impress week after week, but his yards per attempt of 10.2 just demonstrates how in tune he is with offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik. Stroud found Nico Collins for 168 yards and two touchdowns this week, one game after getting five catches for 145 yards and a touchdown from Tank Dell. Stroud is seeing the whole field and trusting the matchups given to him. All of a sudden the Texans offense is good, something that wasn’t even considered prior to the start of the year.

Indianapolis Colts
Shocking performance by the run defense: The Colts run defense didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all season, until Sunday. Kyren Williams had 25 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns — leading the 164 yards the Rams got on the ground. Over the last two weeks, the Colts have given up 350 rushing yards after only giving up 157 yards in the first two games. They need DeForest Buckner healthy and not on a snap count, as no one was able to fill the void.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Offense finally showed some progress: The Jaguars offense hasn’t looked like the unit that finished last season, getting off to slow starts in games. They finally scored a first-half touchdown in Sunday’s win over the Falcons, but still only had three offensive touchdowns in three games. The numbers weren’t impressive (300 yards, 36% third down rate), but the four-minute offense in the fourth quarter was executed well, running 23 plays for 109 yards which led to two field goals and sealing the victory (Jacksonville went 3 of 5 on third down on two time-consuming drives). While it wasn’t pretty, Jacksonville did enough late to show positive signs they can move the ball consistently going forward.

Kansas City Chiefs
Isiah Pacheco finally got going: Pacheco wasn’t much of a factor the first three games (155 yards, 4.4 yards per carry), but broke through in Sunday’s win over the Jets. He finished with 20 carries for 115 yards, which included a 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Chiefs were explosive in the opening 15 minutes, accumulating 200 yards and 17 points, as Pacheco had five carries for 59 yards (he had just 15 first quarter rushing yards in the first three games). A good start for Pacheco ignited the Chiefs offense, which needs to happen more efficiently if they are going to get off to fast starts.

Las Vegas Raiders
Offensive line failed Aidan O’Connell: Having a bad performance up front isn’t going to help any rookie quarterback making his first career start. The Raiders offensive line allowed 15 pressures and five quarterback hits in the game, causing O’Connell to lose two fumbles and throw an interception. O’Connell was 1 of 5 for two yards under pressure while being sacked seven times. The Raiders didn’t do O’Connell any favors by picking the game to have their worst performance on the offensive line all year, but some of that could be contributed to O’Connell’s inexperience as well.

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