It's hard to tell what's really going on in the first few weeks of the NFL season. There are always returns at the beginning of September, which seem unthinkable until the end of December. In week 3 of last season, the Patriots – you know, the team that won the Super Bowl – have lost to the low Lions and have fallen to 1: 2. After a defeat against the Eagles, the Colts went with 10: 6 also to 1: 2 back. And the bills shamed the Vikings in a 27-6 victory that felt like a possible party for Josh Allen. (Narrator: It was not .)
During the three games this season, some teams that had a lot of hype ahead of the season have embarked on slow launches ̵
The Browns have holes along the line of attack, but their problems go far deeper than a pair of below average tackles. For Sunday's game, Mayfield needed an average of 2.78 seconds to throw. This was the fifth highest mark in the NFL. He looked unsettled all season in the bag and this problem persisted during yet another sloppy performance against the Rams. Mayfield finished the 18-of-36 race for just 195 yards and a touchdown while he took three sacks and his season on 11 increased internal clock just seems off. Apart from some fast RPOs against the Rams, Cleveland's offense never got into a rhythm, and that becomes a worrying topic for this group.
The Browns' last attempt to score fourth and conceding at the end of the game, Mayfield – who had the option to step into the bag – rolled to the right shortly after taking the snapshot and cut half off the field and runs into pressure. His throw off balance was intercepted in the end zone and the comeback attempt was over. Although despair partly explains the decision at this moment, such mistakes have surfaced far too often for Cleveland this season. During the electric second half of Mayfield in 2018, a significant portion of his big throws came too late into the Downs as he improvised and squeezed the ball into the Downfield. The Browns have not created these pieces so far this season, and Mayfield's tendency to push for them leaves the whole unit upset. Perhaps the most frightening thing is that it does not get easier from here. Cleveland's next four games are heading for Baltimore, the 49ers, the home of the Seahawks, and the Patriots. As this offense currently looks, it is not hard to imagine that this team will drop to 2-5 or 1-6 during this stretch.
Cleveland is not the only favorite of the preseason who had problems in three games. The Eagles were also a popular playoff and a Super Bowl tip for the coming year, but after losing to the Lions on Sunday, Philly is now 1-2 and two games behind the undefeated cowboys at NFC East. Injuries have already taken their toll at the beginning of the season. The Eagles were without Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson on Sunday, and a series of errors by their reserve receivers – including a lost mistake by Nelson Agholor and two offensive pass misconduct penalties by Mack Hollins – were involved in the loss. Jason Peters was ill on Sunday and had to pause in the second quarter, but the 37-year-old left winger was reinstated following a foot injury from swing tackle Andre Dillard. There is a clear "The heads of our pets are falling off!" – Vibe for this team.
Apart from all the injuries, there are also concerns about the healthy areas of this roster. The runner-up was probably Philly's weakest position group in the season, and this has happened in three games. Cornerback Ronald Darby has had some reporting problems so far this season; The once dominant Front Four – without defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan, both of whom suffered severe foot injuries – could not control games as in previous years. Detroit was boosted by a kick-return touchdown and a 44-yard win in a jet sweep, but the Eagles' defense is still far from the lock-down group that could exist this season. If Jackson and Jeffery return, there's a fair chance that the Eagles' offense will start and Carson Wentz will be more like the quarterback we saw in Week 1 against the Redskins. For the last two weeks, Wentz has tried to carry the offense on his own, and occasionally held on to the ball far too long until a receiver shows up. With his first two goals in the next few weeks, this offense should revert to its normal time. But the Eagles have already lost a lot of valuable ground in the NFC playoff picture.
Neither the Falcons nor the Chargers had the same preparation sums as the Eagles and Browns, but both teams were still considered playoff contenders. Now, after the Falcons have fallen against the Colts on Sunday between 27 and 24 and the Chargers have dropped a nail biter from 27 to 20 to the Texans, both are also sitting at 1-2. But while the hawks still have a chance in their division, the chargers' prospects seem much gloomier.
The history of the Chargers season is well known. Injuries have torpedoed some of the team's talented squads in recent years, and that happened again in 2019. Superstar safety Derwin James was already in an injured reserve with a foot injury, as the Chargers lost the safety of Adrian Phillips through a possibly broken end-of-season forearm last week. With James and Phillips on the shelf, L.A. has turned to Rayshawn Jenkins from the fourth round of 2017 and Roderic Teamer, the not-retired rookie. No wonder the Secondary Deshaun Watson and the Texans missed many big wins in the air. The hope against Houston's vertical passing game was that the top four of the Chargers – led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram – would be enough to overpower a suspicious line of attack and hide some of the background issues. The defense made six quarterbacks and a pair of sacks, but the pressure was still not steady enough to slow Watson, who finished 351 yards and three touchdowns with only 34 attempts. Part of that production – like the second and tenth games in the fourth quarter, when Watson shook off Ingram and made a brief pass to Jordan Akins, who needed a 53-yard touchdown – was the result of the quarterback's brilliance also many cover errors. Games like Watson's 15-yard touchdown on Akins on a simple third-quarter seam line are just too easy.
The injury error has also hit important areas of the Chargers offense. Left Wing Russell Okung is still out there, dealing with blood clots, and his absence has made a rickety offensive even worse. J.J. Watt and the Texans settled in the backfield of the chargers. Watt finished the race with two of five sacks in Houston and sat through the afternoon against Sam Tevi.
Despite all the problems, the Chargers in the offensive area still have a lot of talent – which makes the recent injury plague so tragic. Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen were both great against the Texans. Rivers ended at 318 yards and Allen pulled in absurdly 13 receptions for 183 yards and both of Rivers touchdowns. At the end of the game, it seemed like Rivers was trying to lead his team to victory. He placed a perfectly thrown 40-yard bomb on Travis Benjamin, who would have been the game-changing touchdown but slipped out of Benjamin's hands after a late challenge from safety giant Gipson. The list of Chargers is huge, but right now the violations of two key positions make it nearly impossible for them to keep up with the heads of AFC West.
Fortunately, the Hawks do not have to deal with a Moloch in their own division. Atlanta's loss of ground against the Colts has led to a defeat for the team, but the Falcons are still just a game behind the Saints in a division where both the Panthers and the Bucs are on the go.
Since Atlanta was decimated by the Vikings in Week 1, the Atlanta offensive has deteriorated somewhat and Matt Ryan's group has picked up speed on Sunday in the second half. Ryan threw another scraping interception at the start of the second quarter to bring his season up to six, but this group has shown they can score points in a hurry when Ryan, Julio Jones and the other Atlanta offensive weapons click. Ultimately, the offense under the new coordinator Dirk Koetter should be in order.
The defense is a different story. In this post-season, head coach Dan Quinn took on the role of de facto defensive coordinator of the team and took responsibility for reviving a unit that finished 31st in the DVOA last season. The hope was that Quinn's new role and better injury luck would help Atlanta finally solve a problem that had baffled the franchise throughout Quinn's five-year tenure. So far that has not happened. This scheme is designed to prevent big games while often allowing shorter throws in the middle of the field. The Colts used this plan for the entire game. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett fired into the lower defense areas as Indianapolis marched up and down the field efficiently. One week after Takk McKinley had made five haste and three quarterback hits against the Eagles, he was largely in check, and the Falcons' escape hardly bothered Brissett. To make matters worse, Atlanta also lost Keanu Neal's start-up protection due to an Achilles injury – his second injury at the end of the season in as many years. The Falcons may have thought this season is going to be different, but in three games the team's best hope seems to be once again to rely on Ryan and the offense.
Drew Brees is injured and the kinky NFC South is close to it. The Falcons are in a much better position than the Eagles, Browns and Chargers – all have ready-made Super Bowl competitors in their own divisions. It also looks as if the Falcon stumbling blocks in the preseason – especially on offense – can be corrected over the course of the season. The same goes for the Eagles, who need to bring players like Jackson and Jeffery back to the field. The problems with the Browns and the chargers, however, seem to be harder to fix. Both teams are heading in the wrong direction. If they do not correct the course quickly, they will continue to lose ground, which may not catch up.