NFL: Trends at the Quarter Mark

With week four of the NFL season now fully in the rearview mirror, the 2018 NFL season is beginning to take shape. At the season’s quarter mark, the league has witnessed Kansas City Chiefs’ Quarterback Patrick Mahomes light the league on fire, Khalil Mack showing why he deserved to get paid and a former Pro Bowler retire at halftime. With no lack of excitement thus far, the ‘18 season has offered up nearly as many questions as it has answered. Some of those answers through week four include:

The Bears Defense is on its Way to Being Elite

How do you improve a unit that was tenth in the league in total yards given up and ninth in points allowed only a season prior? The answer for the Chicago Bears was to add one of the ten most impactful players in the NFL. One man’s (Jon Gruden) garbage is another man’s (the entire city of Chicago) treasure.

The acquisition of Khalil Mack has paid dividends for Chicago as the 27-year-old has lived up to his $141 million contracts. His 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles on the season have propelled this unit, which includes the likes of Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, and Akiem Hicks to the fourth-ranked team in yards per game and leading the league in sacks and forced turnovers. This unit not only has the potential to stifle offenses but to put up points of its own. While they are not quite elite, they are well on their way and deserve to at least be in the conversation.

The Browns are More Than Adequate…Hue Jackson is Not

Is there arguably any team in the history of the sports that has higher expectations after coming off of such an atrocious season last year? The Cleveland Browns came into the 2018 season with something not usually associated with the franchise…buzz. The acquisition of some big names, drafting first overall and being the star of Hard Knocks, the Browns had expectations.

While the expectation coming into this season was not the same as say, the New England Patriots, there were expectations nonetheless. Through four games early on, the Browns are (1-2-1). A closer look at the final scores for these games reveals the Browns are merely a coaching decision or two away from being undefeated. The Browns two losses came by a combined six points, and an overtime field goal against the Steelers would have given the Browns their best start perhaps ever.

On offense, this team has shined early on, even with the change to rookie Baker Mayfield as the quarterback. Leading the league in rushing and tenth overall in points per game, this is not the 2017 Browns. On defense, this team is no slouch either, as they have forced 13 turnovers and gotten to the quarterback for 12 sacks on the season, good enough for seventh in the league.

Where this team falls short is ultimately with Head Coach Hue Jackson, the same man who is 0-36-1 in his last 37 games on Sundays. In their two losses on the season, the Browns led in both contests heading into the fourth quarter. Against Oakland, Jackson decided to punt the ball on 4th and inches with a minute to go in the fourth, going on to gain 28 yards of field position and ultimately surrounding the lead. His time on Hard Knocks only further solidified why Jackson may very well be the first coach fired this season.

QB’s Won’t be a Commodity in the Draft

If one thing has become extremely evident in the NFL this season, playing the quarterback has gotten tremendously easier. Thanks to recent rule changes that have directly benefited the play of the quarterback, average players like Case Keenum and Andy Dalton have gotten off to solid starts while players like Mahomes and Jared Goff have shined. This shift in the position has meant more at least adequate starters throughout the league and meaningless quarterback-needy teams for the upcoming draft.

The teams that stand out early on without an established starter or a rookie in the wings are few. Those that stand out are the New York Giants who will be looking to replace Eli Manning, perhaps a season too late, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who appear to be done with the Jameis Winston experiment. Aside from those two, the next wave of teams could be looking for a rookie to sit behind their veteran quarterback. Teams like the Chargers, Dolphins, and Jaguars could all come to mind.

The Bills are Historically Bad

The Bills may not have the worst record in the league through the quarter-mark, but their play for the majority of the 24 quarters they have been apart of sure looks like it. A week one loss to the Baltimore Ravens is putting it nicely, as they fell 47-3 and benched starter Nathan Peterman before all was said and done. In their three losses of the season, the Bills have been outscored 100-23.

The offense ranks dead last in passing yards on the season behind rookie Josh Allen who led the Bills to a shutout and 145 yards of total offense against the Packers. This anemic offense is complemented by a rushing attack that has seen starter LeSean McCoy run the ball for only 85 yards and no scores in three games on the season. While the win over the Minnesota Vikings was impressive, it is looking more and more like an anomaly for this team, who ran into the Vikings at just the right time.  

Playing QB has never been easier

Once again, the game of football has never been more well-equipped for a quarterback to succeed than right now. In a 32 team league, the case could be made that there are at least 22 good quarterbacks playing right now on a week-to-week basis. Among the teams in the bottom ten in passing yards on the season, four of which have had a rookie quarterback start at least two games this season, while the rest on that list is either a former Pro Bowler or Mitchell Trubisky. To be noted, the team leading the league in passing yards on the season is the Buccaneers, who have started career journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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