Week 4: Matchups Within the Matchup

The NFL season is reaching the end of the first quarter if you like to look at the season in four-game segments.

The Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs are the only teams that seem to have a bit of an identity as they have hardly experienced any resistance from the opposition.

In addition, roughing the passer penalties continue to plague the games with, seemingly, no end to the madness.

Lastly, defenses are struggling across the league because of that epidemic. The most passing yards allowed per game last season was 260.6 yards per game, but 13 teams exceed that mark this season alone.

Based on that stat, fantasy owners continue to rejoice while defensive coordinators are probably sour.

Here are the intriguing headlines heading into week 4:

Keepin Up With the Rooks

Sam Darnold (New York Jets) just came off a stretch in which he played three games in 11 days. The former Trojan has been under duress early and often as he has been sacked seven times. With his mental clock being off, he has thrown five interceptions. Unfortunately, the Jacksonville Jaguars are his next opponent so the growing pains could be at an all-time high this Sunday.

On the other hand, Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills) has had issues with accuracy, but he’s not lacking in creating magic. In the second half against the Chargers and the entire game versus the Vikings, Allen showed why he was considered an option as the first overall pick before the draft. He surveyed the field with decisiveness, used his legs to extend plays and run for yardage, and brought energy to a listless Bills team. Allen has seven total touchdowns in the last game and a half. He sort of reminds me of Cam Newton and could prove too much to handle for Green Bay.

Finally, Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns) and Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals) are poised to takeover two teams that need a fresh start under center. Mayfield wasted no time building a rapport with Jarvis Landry in the first win for Cleveland in 635 days. Meanwhile, Rosen was thrown in on the last drive of the game versus the Bears where he threw a pick. A better understanding of him will come against the Seahawks.

Give ‘Em the Ball

It’s always interesting to see a battle between two elite players on any given Sunday. That same narrative could hold true with Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Thomas when the Giants face off against the Saints.

OBJ broke the bank with a contract extension worth $95 million after a quiet offseason. His start to the season has been equally as quiet with more numbers (24 catches and 271 yards) than substance (impactful plays). Part of that has been due to defensive schemes or just simply a lack of time for Eli Manning to operate in a vacuum.

Thomas has gotten off to a hot start as he has caught 38 of 40 targets for 398 yards and three touchdowns. He is leading the league in yards. Drew Brees and Sean Payton aren’t letting opposing defenses dictate what they want to do with their elite receiver.

Both guys will put on a show this weekend with differing mindsets. OBJ got his money already, but he isn’t content. He wants to be an all-time great. Thomas is building his case and that is one that will be shown when it is time for him to receive a raise. Look for both of them to one up each other in a friendly contest with a potential jersey swap at the end.

Restoring Order in Foxborough

Just about everyone thought the Patriots would start the season at 1-2. Okay I lied. The losses to the Jaguars and Lions were really eye-opening. Teams finally did what many should have been doing for years now. They have taken away Tom Brady’s main man in Rob Gronkowski.

After starting the season with seven catches, 123 yards, and one touchdown, Gronk has only caught six passes for 66 yards. And while the ineffectiveness of the Pats’ running game might concern most, the bigger issue is the struggles of the other pass catchers besides Gronk. Brady said the team hasn’t been prepared in that aspect, but he could stand to tighten up as well.

A perfect “pick-me-up” game would be versus the Miami Dolphins. Yes, Miami is 3-0 and second in the league in turnover differential, but they are 23rd in yardage on offense. Expect Brady to do what he does best as he performs open heart surgery on the Fins.

The Zebra Effect

Yes, the referees are single-handedly ruining games and have caused a player to tear their ACL (William Hayes) with the new roughing the passer penalty. Fans and players are both upset, but I don’t think they are anywhere near the finish line.

The rule in itself is egregious, but the fact of the matter is the NFL is probably asking the refs to crack the whip in any chance they get. And they’re doing just that. Whether it’s Tyrone Crawford deliberately drilling Russell Wilson or Gerald McCoy softening the blow on Ben Roethlisberger, they are going to throw the laundry.

As the season wanes, I suspect the NFL will ask them to dial it back and only call the obvious versions of roughing the passer. Right now, it’s about conditioning the defender to grow out of smacking the quarterback.

Big Bite in Big Apple

Revisiting that Giants-Saints contest, I think the Saints are on notice in a mild upset. Vegas has New Orleans favored at -3.5 despite being in New York.

The Saints are giving up 336.7 passing yards per game while the Giants are only giving up 232. I think Manning will have his best game of the year, throwing for 300+ yards and three touchdowns. Brees will will match his effort, but being I think that Giants secondary with Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Landon Collins will turn him over once or twice.

A win would go a long way for the Giants as they could realize they have an outside shot at competing with a limping Eagles team for the divisional crown.

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