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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

NFL Week 3: Five Overreactions

Three weeks into the NFL season, just three unbeaten teams remain and only four teams have yet to win a game. It’s a dream start to the season to those who crave parity and live by the “any given Sunday” mantra.

But within all of the chaos from Week 3, there is plenty of room for overreactions, so let’s dive in.

5. The Chicago Bears are a broken franchise

Last season, quarterback Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears flirted with Lamar Jackson’s record for most rushing yards from the position, scrambling for 1,143 yards while also being sacked an NFL-high 55 times. The bottom line was a 3-12 record in games Fields started.

Chicago is off to an 0-3 start in 2023. Fields has run for 109 yards already, but his 4.5 yards an attempt is well off last season’s NFL-best 7.1. H’s taken 13 sacks already, a 12.9% rate that is a little below last season’s 14.7% mark.

As a passer, Fields is hitting 58% of his throws at just 4.6 air yards per attempt to go with four interceptions and three touchdowns.

This is general manager Ryan Poles’ reward for trading away the No. 1 overall pick in favor of keeping Fields based on his potential. The third-year quarterback isn’t displaying any noticeable improvement from Year 2 and is, in some areas, has regressed.

With the Bears and Carolina Panthers both 0-3 and Chicago owning both of those first-round picks next season, it could be a prime contender for the Caleb Williams sweepstakes. Would Poles pull the trigger this time around if gifted the No. 1 overall pick again?

Reality: Fields is athletic enough to make things out of the big bowl of nothing his offensive line provides him. On the other hand, he also continues to force throws into minuscule or non-existent windows. His ball control can be shoddy when he’s running — Fields led the NFL with 16 fumbles last season — and his accuracy as a passer is lacking.

It’s hard to properly evaluate a quarterback who played behind a leaky offensive line. but the Justin Fields experience in Chicago so far has been a roller-coaster ride that is close to flying off the rails.

The New York Jets are 0-2 with Zach Wilson starting games this season. His play has been pedestrian at best. Coach Robert Saleh says all the right things about making it work and believing in Wilson. But he’s also the same coach who demoted Wilson out of the starting role twice in 2022 and there are some veteran alternatives on the open market.

Now a second team may have to rely on a demoted starter in 2023. The New Orleans Saints were leading at Lambeau Field 17-0 in the third quarter when Derek Carr went down with a shoulder injury. The injury was diagnosed as a sprain and Carr is considered week-to-week.

Starter-turned-backup Jameis Winston was 10-of-16 for 101 yards in relief of Carr, but the Saints’ offense produced zero points as the Packers came from behind for an 18-17 victory.

Winston started the first three games last season and didn’t take another snap after throwing five interceptions in his final two games. Bear in mind, this is the same Jameis Winston who authored the only 30-interception season of the 21st century back in 2019, his final year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There are reasons why teams generally jettison failed starters. Wilson is putting on a clinic on why those reasons are valid and Winston might be on his way, as well.

Reality: Zach Wilson lost the locker room last year and there are no indications he’s won it back in the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury in Week 1. Saleh strongly endorsed Wilson again after a mediocre performance against the Patriots on Sunday. But offensive skill players appeared demonstrably frustrated on the sidelines, which is seldom a positive trend.

3. The breaks are beating the boys in Minnesota

The Minnesota Vikings were an absurd 11-0 in single-possession games last season en route to a 13-4 record and the NFC Central Division title. Through the first three weeks in 2023, the Vikings have been punched in the face by the regression to the mean with three straight single-possession losses.

Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was capped by a game-ending interception by Kirk Cousins on a play he called himself because the fans were making too much noise for him to hear the play call from the sidelines.

But if turnovers are the equivalent of shooting one’s self in the foot, the Vikings have just one toe remaining after nine turnovers in their three losses.

Minnesota was a statistical lock to be worse in close games this season. But if there are football deities, man, are they taking it out on the Vikings hard already.

Reality: Minnesota wasn’t a 13-win-quality team in 2022 any more than it’s an 0-3-quality squad this year. Turnovers are killing them, yes, but an inconsistent defense that surrendered 259 rushing yards at Philadelphia on Sept. 14 turned around and allowed only 30 rushing yards to the Chargers. But the 445 passing yards against Los Angeles exceeded the 340 allowed in their first two games.

Poor ball control and a defense capable of springing leaks against either the run or the pass is never a winning combination.

2. The Miami Dolphins offense is a cheat code

Let’s look at what the Miami Dolphins did to the Denver Broncos defense on Sunday. In their 70-20 win over the Broncos, Miami became just the third team in NFL history to score 70 points in a game (OK, the fourth if you count the Bears’ 73-0 win over Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship).

The Dolphins ran for 350 and threw for 376, the only team in NFL annals to top 350 in both categories. They scored five times on the ground and five times via the air, another NFL first.

As for Denver, it became the first time to lose by 50 points when scoring at least 20. The Broncos are allowing 458.3 yards per game while the Dolphins are gaining 550.3 yards a contest, on pace to be the most high-powered offense in NFL history.

Reality: Small sample sizes make early-season statistical analysis difficult. Are the Dolphins ranked so highly on offense because they played Denver? Or are the Broncos so poor in the defensive rankings because they played Miami? The truth is that it’s a little of Column A and a little of Column B.

The Dolphins piled up 536 yards in their win over the Chargers in Week 1 and had 389 at New England in Week 2. By contrast, Denver held the Raiders to 261 yards in a one-point Week 1 defeat and gave up 388 to the Commanders in a two-point loss in Week 2. It will take some time to determine whether Sunday was a trend or a good day/bad day.

1. The Dallas Cowboys can’t have nice things

Two weeks of praise flowed over the Dallas Cowboys during a 2-0 start that included a 70-10 scoring differential and a defense that appeared to be dominant.

Then Dallas went on the road to face the noted offensive juggernaut — scratch that — Arizona Cardinals and laid a gigantic egg against the previously winless Birds. Arizona ran for 222 yards, ran out to a 15-3 lead and never trailed in a 28-16 victory.

Dak Prescott threw an interception deep in the Cardinals’ end with 3:05 remaining that sealed the Cowboys’ fate and just like that the glow of the 2-0 start was crushed into so much desert dust.

Reality: It’s a bad loss. They happen. But from a perception standpoint, those losses seem to happen frequently to the Cowboys just when they are riding high and getting all that yummy national media love.

If a franchise can suffer from the affliction of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, Dallas has the bug. How the Cowboys recover against the Patriots on Sunday will give us some indication whether Dallas has really turned a corner or if we can expect more of the same.

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