Only two weeks have gone by in the 2019 NFL regular season and the landscape already looks completely different. The league is always unpredictable, but it seems to me this year things have changed way too much from what we expected to see out of many teams. Injuries will reshape how division standings look once it's all said and done. Allow me to be specific:
- One of the strongest Super Bowl contenders this season are the New Orleans Saints. On week 2, QB Drew Brees sustained a thumb injury that will knock him out for six weeks of action. I don't believe the Saints chances of making the playoffs are gone, though. The Saints' division rivals haven't looked strong and Teddy Bridgewater might be one of the best backups in the NFL. Winning a handful of games will keep them in the race. Even still, the Brees injury is a heavy blow for Sean Payton's team.
- As a football fan, this one hurts quite a bit. Ben Roethlisberger suffered another injury and this one looks pretty real. It was a non-contact elbow injury that will require surgery. The Steelers will be led by Mason Rudolph, who didn't look bad last week when taking over. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers could've been considered contenders if Big Ben was in the lineup. With Rudolph, I don't see it happening. Not to mention, it would be devastating if this how Roethlisberger's career ends. I hope he comes back. The two-time Super Bowl champion is one of the best we've seen in this "era." Right now, the AFC North might be between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars talented defense will likely go to waste after Nick Foles broke his clavicle. Foles was one of the players that intrigued me the most going into the season. Is he a good quarterback that got off to a slow start? Or did he just ball out in a single postseason and isn't really that good? I frankly don't know, and we could've found out had he had the chance to play a full season. Now, it'd be a surprise if the Jaguars manage to be competitive in the AFC South.
- Speaking of the AFC South, this one isn't as "new," but let's not forget who was supposed to start at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. After having a monster season in 2018, Andrew Luck was supposed to lead his team to the postseason again. His unexpected retirement has led to Jacoby Brissett starting and although he's not bad, he's no Andrew Luck. Yet another team that we expected to be a contender that has taken a heavy blow.
Injuries will always suck. Football is a great sport, but you hate to see these players and teams miss out on opportunities due to an injury. At the same time, great players' careers have started because of injuries to other players. It is what it is. And even if it sounds like a cliché, next man up is the philosophy of the sport.
Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts
- How early is it too early to say Cam Newton is done? The Carolina Panthers quarterback was at his worst last Thursday when his team fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton has lost eight straight games as a starter. Per PFF's Steve Palazzolo, 34.2% of Newton's passes were uncatchable (most in the league). He is simply hasn't been the same since his MVP season in 2015. If the Panthers were to release him after this season, they'd only have $2M in dead money. I'd certainly think about moving on.
- The Chicago Bears should be 0-2. They got a last-second win against the Denver Broncos on Sunday but they didn't look like a winning team. With one of the league's top defenses, they were seen as one of the main contenders in the NFC this season. After two weeks, they might be the most disappointing team in the entire NFL. Mitchell Trubisky's offense is just not good. And it won't be easy to fix it. Right now, the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings are the best teams in the NFC North. Let's see if they can turn things around.
- The New York Giants are handing Daniel Jones the starting job. That's the correct call. Although Eli Manning has a lot of history there, he isn't playing good football. Giving a chance to your sixth overall pick is the right thing to do for your team. It almost would've been disrespectful to the players not to start him.
Player of the Week: WR Cooper Kupp, L.A. Rams
Kupp finished week 2 with five receptions, 120 yards and one touchdown. But with a simply amazing play that put the game away as the Rams emerged victorious over the Saints, he's earned my player of the week. In case you missed his 66-yard reception, here it is. Outstanding effort.
Underdog of the Week: Detroit Lions
The Los Angeles Chargers were the favorites over the Detroit Lions despite dealing with plenty of important injuries. In an ugly game, the Lions took advantage of that. It was a low-scoring matchup that was defined in a couple of plays. After starting off with two interceptions, Matthew Stafford threw a 31-yard TD to Kenny Golladay in the fourth quarter. After that, CB Darius Slay secured the win when it all could've gone wrong for the Lions with 1:10 left on the clock. The Lions are kind of undefeated. They're 1-0-1. in the season.
College Football Corner: LSU Finally Has an Offense
The LSU Tigers always have a strong defense. This time around, they've seemed to nail the offensive side of things too. It's almost a yearly narrative that the Tigers will finally have an offense that works before we find out that's not the case. But in 2019, it's real. QB Joe Burrow has looked unbelievable on the team's new spread offense. He has completed 83% of his passes for 1,122 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He's officially a Heisman candidate. They've already beaten the Texas Longhorns and are set to face stronger opponents in October. I can't wait to see them play Alabama in November.
Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC’s Finest
I doubt many of us expected the San Francisco 49ers to be undefeated through six weeks. But they are. And it's not like they've only beaten bad teams. Last weekend, they defeated the defending NFC champions, the Los Angeles Rams, playing without their starting offensive tackles. At 5-0, they're the official favorites to win the NFC West.
It's fair to put them in the discussion of being the best team in the National Football Conference. The Rams are not what they were and other teams like the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears haven't been as dominant as many expected them to.
The only team that I'd think of ranking over the 49ers is the New Orleans Saints. Even without Drew Brees, they find themselves as one of the best teams in the league and are full of talent on offense and defense.
But the 49ers have played better football than any other team in the NFC.
Right now, they're the second best team in DVOA in the NFL by a wide margin. In fact, they're defense is among the best of all time through five games in this category. They rank second since 1986 in defensive DVOA, only behind the 2019 New England Patriots.
Jimmy Garoppolo has played well. Although he hasn't been a passing yards machine, he's completed 69.9% of his attempts. They've found a rushing attack with a strong running back committee, becoming the second best rushing attack in the NFL while averaging 179 yards per game on the ground. Their offensive front is solid and will be even better when they get tackles Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley back.
Not to mention, on the other side of the ball, they have one of the best defensive lines in football with a top edge rusher who's only getting started in Nick Bosa. He's only a rookie, but he's playing like a top pass rusher already.
This team is truly special and 100% real. Don't expect them to go away, because they won't.
Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts
- The Los Angeles Rams traded for CB Jalen Ramsey. They sent two first round selections to the Jacksonville Jaguars. As good as Ramsey is, that's a lot. The Rams are betting on getting things right after a 3-3 start. The San Francisco 49ers lead the division and might keep the title for themselves. Can the Rams bounce back? Will their trade be worth it? It's hard to know, but right now, they might be aiming for a wildcard spot.
- The Los Angeles Chargers might be the least healthy team in the NFL. They're missing a ton of starters on both sides of the ball and are off to a bad start. They've lost back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers (led by a third-string QB). I get that they're injured, but that can't be their only problem. Something is wrong with Anthony Lynn's team. They were supposed to be a contender but they've got a lot more to do than just "get healthy."
- Jameis Winston, man. Just when I thought there was something different to him this season. He got off to a hot start and some (myself included) thought Bruce Arians might've pressed the right buttons to help him turn his career around. But last Sunday, Winston threw FIVE interceptions. He was also sacked seven times and fumbled the ball twice. Time to move on from the once #1 overall pick.
Player of the Week: WR Stefon Diggs, MIN Vikings
The Vikings took advantage of an unhealthy defense from the Philadelphia Eagles as Kirk Cousins threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns. His main weapon was WR Stefon Diggs, who had seven catches, 167 yards and three touchdowns, including a clutch 62-yard catch. Recently, Diggs was reportedly asking for a trade. Now he might be happy in a 4-2 Vikings team that sits at second in the NFC North.
Underdog of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers
It was a rough game for Pittsburgh but they walked away with their second win of the season. They did so led by none other than Devlin Hodges, third-string quarterback. His game wasn't great but team effort pushed this team to to a big-time upset on Sunday Night Football. James Conner racked up two total touchdowns, but it was rookie Benny Snell Jr. who led the team rushing with 75 yards.
Fun fact: The Steelers won with only one player with over 15 receiving yards, RB James Conner, who had 78.
College Football Corner: Should LSU Be #1?
The LSU Tigers are putting on a show. They already have two Top-10 wins as Joe Burrow continues to position himself as a candidate for the Heisman trophy. What Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady has done for the Tigers has been remarkable. Ironically, offense is the Tigers' strong suit now. There's a big-time argument for them to be ranked above both Alabama and Clemson.
According to the AP Poll, they are the #2 team in the country but I wouldn't be surprised if by the time the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's rankings come out, they're #1. Alabama and LSU play in November, by the way. I can't wait.
It’s Time for DeMarcus Lawrence to Return to his All-Pro Level of Play
When you produce at a high level you get paid the big bucks in the NFL, it's just that simple. That's exactly what All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence did over the previous two seasons racking up 25 sacks. His dominance was rewarded back in April as the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a five-year 105 million dollar extension with 65 million in guarantees. With that kind of payday comes enormous expectations, especially playing under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium. However, if you want to be the elite of the elite this is what comes with the territory, and rightfully so.
The first order of business after inking his new deal was to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. The procedure was successful and put Lawrence on the shelf with an estimated recovery time of 3-4 months. During the healing process, Lawrence would miss all of OTAs, minicamp, and most of training camp before his return in limited action just prior to the start of the season.
The Cowboys kicked off the 2019 season against the rival New York Giants. Lawrence is no stranger to this team as his 3.5 career sacks against them were his second-most against any opponent coming into Week 1. The Cowboys dominated the Giants from the outset and won easily 35-17. Lawrence had a pretty decent day by his standards with two tackles, two quarterback hits, and a half-sack.
In Week 2 the Cowboys went on the road to face another NFC East rival the Washington Redskins. Once again, they were impressive going up as much as 17 points en route to a 31-21 victory. Lawrence, however, had one of if not the worst statistically game of his career. He was completely blanked from the stat sheet besides one quarterback hit. Even in a game where there wasn't any question of who was going to win you still don't want to see your All-Pro pass rusher virtually shutout for 60 minutes.
Week 3 saw the Cowboys steamroll the Miami Dolphins in Arlington. Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both ran for over 100 yards and the defense held the Dolphins to two field goals. Lawrence had two tackles, two quarterbacks and a sack for his efforts. Just like the season opener, his performance didn't jump off the screen but if you can get a sack and some hits on the opposing team's quarterback you're doing your job as a rush rusher.
In Week 4 the Cowboys were in a defensive battle with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. Lawrence had another two tackle performance and registered a sack for the second consecutive week even in a tough 12-10 loss. You would hope that would spark some sort of rhythm for him getting to the quarterback but that didn't exactly happen.
The previous two games have been ones I'm sure Lawrence would like to forget. When the Green Bay Packers came to town Lawrence and company had the tough task of getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but they failed, especially their leader. Lawrence would only register a single tackle for the entire game as Aaron Jones had a career-high four rushing touchdowns and the Cowboys lost their second consecutive game. On the road against the Jets last Sunday, it wasn't much better as Lawrence only got credit for two tackles. In addition to this, he didn't get a sack, pressure or quarterback hit for the second straight game.
Granted, Lawrence has seen as many double teams as any edge rusher this season but at some point, big-time players find a way to make plays. Take All-Pro Defensive Tackle Aaron Darnold for example, he saw double teams on most of his snaps in 2018 and still managed to record 20.5 sacks. Simply put, you have to earn the paycheck you receive weekly.
Nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks in six games is what Lawrence has produced so far, that's simply not good enough. If he wants to pick a time to have his first breakout game of 2019, this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is the perfect opportunity to do so with the Cowboys currently on a three-game losing streak. With first place in the NFC East on the line, a big performance from Lawrence would be just what the doctor ordered, especially facing a quarterback as talented as Carson Wentz. We have all been patiently waiting to see the guy that terrorized NFL the previous two seasons. Will it happen this Sunday? Only time will tell.
Ezekiel Elliott led Near Comeback vs Jets, Needs to be Focal Point Going Forward
The Dallas Cowboys have developed a not so pleasant trend during the early part of the 2019 season, slow starts. In the previous three games before this past Sunday's matchup with the New York Jets, the Cowboys scored a total of 13 points in the first half. Unfortunately, it was more of the same at Metlife stadium as six points were all the Cowboys could muster before halftime. In the second half, however, Ezekiel Elliott became the focal point as the Cowboys nearly stormed all the way back to tie the game in the final seconds.
The Cowboys found themselves down 21-6 to start the third quarter and were in desperate need of a spark. They would find it in their All-Pro ball carrier as Elliott rushed the ball nine times on a 14 play drive that took over seven minutes off the clock and cut the deficit to 21-9. This drive not only got the Cowboys back to what they do best which is run the football but it created some easy throws for Dak Prescott.
On the next drive Elliott would carry the ball four more times on a 10 play drive that ended on a missed field goal by Kicker Brett Maher. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had their most productive drive of the entire game going 84 yards in 11 plays in just under five minutes. Elliott had another four carries and capped off the drive with a touchdown bringing the Cowboys within five at 21-16. The comeback attempt would fall short 24-22 after a failed two-point conversion in the final minute. Elliott finished with 152 all-purpose yards (105 rushing, 47 receiving) and a touchdown.
One of the bad things about the hot start to the season for Prescott was it created an illusion that the Cowboys are now a passing football team. Granted, Prescott has shown improvement throwing the ball down the field but this offense still goes through Elliott first and foremost. He had 18 of his 28 carries in the second half this past Sunday and it was clear to see that the offense moved the chains more fluently with him as the spearhead. This isn't to take anything away from Prescott or the Cowboys wide receivers by any means but they all benefit from Elliott slowly but surely wearing down defenses which sets up the play-action passing game. This formula has not only won Elliott two rushing titles in the previous three years but it has brought the Cowboys two NFC East crowns over that span, and there's a good reason for that, it works.
Currently, the Cowboys are searching for answers to solve the puzzle of this three-game losing streak. A showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles awaits them this Sunday at home with outright control of the NFC East on the line. If the Cowboys want to get back on track they need to ride the coattails of Elliott. Prescott has had 40 or more pass attempts in each of the last two games, that's far too many. Put the ball in Elliott's hands, control the clock and take advantage of your one-on-one matchups on the outside. That's the Cowboys recipe for success and they need to get back to it fast.
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