Week 3 NFL Takeaways

A wise man once said, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question.” That wise man is late wrestling legend Roddy Piper so he certainly was not talking about week three of the 2022 NFL season, but it applies here. I thought I had all the answers. I thought the Bills were an unstoppable juggernaut and the Chiefs were back to their dominant ways and the 49ers weren’t losing a step with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Well, the league changed the question on me because boy was I wrong. Not about everything but certainly about quite a few things. It was another wild week in the NFL because that has become the norm recently so here are some of my takeaways from the weekend.

Miami Isn’t Just a Good Offense

The Dolphins emerged as the talk of the town last week when they outlasted the Ravens in an exhilarating shootout after a 21-point comeback. Mike McDaniel was deservingly getting a ton of praise for who he was orchestrating the offense led by Tua Tagavailoa, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle. It all set up a mouth-watering matchup against the Bills that everyone thought would require a third digit in the points column for each team. Miami was able to win the game, but it was the defense that was the star and clinched the victory.

It may not look like the defense did all too well if you look at the stat sheet. Yes, Josh Allen had 400 yards through the air but he is a Terminator so that is acceptable. It also took him 42 completions on 63 pass attempts to do so. They also forced a turnover with a strip sack on Allen courtesy of Jevon Holland and recovered by Melvin Ingram, giving the veteran his second fumble recovery of the season (unfortunately, this one did not result in a touchdown though). And the Dolphins allowed Buffalo to score just 19 points, two of which were given to them due to a Miami punt that went from foot to butt to out of the endzone.

The Miami defense absolutely played up to the task of facing the most dangerous offense in the league, especially when it mattered most. Twice the Bills were driving with a chance to win the game, and both times the Dolphins were able to prevent them from doing so.

The first came on a long, grueling 17-play Bills’ drive that led them to Miami’s two-yard line. Buffalo was not able to score on four plays from that spot, ultimately turning the ball over on downs following a short-armed Allen throw to the flat on fourth down. The Dolphins made several big plays on that drive, including pass breakups from Jaelan Phillips and Xavien Howard, whose PBU occurred in the endzone. It took incredible resolve to stop Allen and company on that drive but Miami demonstrated that they have what it takes to step up in crucial situations.

But that wasn’t the last time that the Dolphins’ defense was needed to save the day. Following the aforementioned ‘butt punt’ as it is being referred to on social media, the Bills had the ball on their own 23-yard line down two points with 1:25 on the clock. After a few more great plays in coverage by an underrated Dolphins secondary, Miami was able to tackle Isaiah McKenzie in bounds after nearly sacking Allen and the rest of the time ticked off the clock. It was a heroic performance by a defense that many didn’t believe in after allowing 38 points last week. In order for a team to truly compete in this league, both sides of the ball have to be solid, and with their performance tonight, the Dolphins’ defense proved that they can keep up with the dynamic offense.

The Eagles are Flying High Atop the NFC

We knew heading into the season that the NFC was wide open but I don’t think we expected a new team to emerge at the top so quickly. The Philadelphia Eagles are now the betting favorite to win the conference after getting out to a very hot 3-0 start. But this isn’t one of those fluky, first month of the season teams that we see each year, the Eagles are legit.

The Philadelphia offense has taken a massive step forward this year and Jalen Hurts is looking like a true franchise quarterback. In 2021, they were a decent offensive team that scored relatively well but this year they may have the best offense in the conference. The Eagles are fifth in points scored this season with 86 while the next closest perceived NFC contender is Arizona with 62 points. Hurts is also third in the league in passing yards, and first in the NFC, with 916 yards.

One of the reasons for Hurts’s improvement is the arrival of superstar wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has provided the young quarterback with a dominant go-to target. Hurts is targeting his new weapon more than 10 times per game on average and that has led to Brown ranking fourth in the league with 309 receiving yards. But Sunday’s win over the Commanders was all about Devonta Smith. The second-year wideout had a monstrous game, catching eight passes for 169 yards and a score. The former Heisman Trophy winner finally looked like the best version of himself on the field, which is a scary development for Philly’s opponents.

The Eagles are not just an offensive team, though, as the defensive identity that they carried for most of the seasons before this year is still present. Philadelphia put on a dominant defensive show on Sunday, holding Washington’s offense off the scoreboard until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The Eagles sacked Carson Wentz nine times to bring their season total up to a league-leading 12 sacks. This comes a week after picking off Kirk Cousins three times, which proves that the defense can shut down offenses in multiple different ways. The Eagles have now allowed two touchdowns in their last 120 minutes of football played. If that isn’t stifling defense then I don’t know what is. Philadelphia is a complete team that can win on both sides of the ball and has rightfully earned its spot as the best team in the NFC.

Cooper Kupp is Built Different

Kupp had an off day on Sunday but his off days don’t look like other wide receivers’ off days. He caught just four passes for 44 yards (but did have a very un-Kupp-like drop of a potential touchdown) but salvaged his day with a 20-yard touchdown run on a beautifully executed jet sweep. That gave the Rams’ wideout 14.4 fantasy points in half-point-PPR scoring, which was still good enough to be the 18th-best wideout performance of the week through Sunday. That also gave Kupp his 16th-straight double-digit fantasy point total, a streak that is even longer if you include the playoffs.

In a year when a lot of the top fantasy options are letting people down with poor performances, Kupp is uniquely a very safe bet when it comes to production. There was a lot of debate heading into the season about who the best receiver in the sport would be this year because it was highly unlikely that Kupp would be able to repeat his triple-crown-winning performance from last year. Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs also posed very real threats to overtake Kupp as the most productive wide receiver in the game. But what sets Kupp apart from the rest of the group, particularly from a fantasy perspective, is his consistency and inability to have a bad game. As previously mentioned, Kupp’s off day this week was still worth 14.4 points. That is more points than Sammy Watkins, Hunter Renfrow, George Pickens, A.J. Green, Darnell Mooney, and Kenny Golladay have scored this year despite all playing in multiple games.

Kupp’s lack of disappointing performances is what truly makes him different from the other top-tier receivers in the game. Here are the worst games for each of the other top guys so far this year. Jefferson: three catches for 14 yards, 2.9 fantasy points. Adams: two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown, 8.2 fantasy points. Chase: five catches for 54 yards, 8.3 fantasy points. Hill: two catches for 33 yards, 4.3 fantasy points. Diggs: seven catches for 74 yards, 10.9 fantasy points. As you can see, there are a ton of great receivers in the league but one of them is playing better than the rest. Kupp is once again the best wide receiver in the league and should continue this dominant stretch for the rest of the season.

In Jacksonville, Culture Can Change Everything

We all know how vital coaching is in the NFL, but the Jaguars are providing quite possibly the best example of all time for the importance of competency at head coach. Jacksonville went 3-14 last year, including 2-11 under Urban Meyer who had possibly the most disastrous head coaching tenure in league history. The Jags have already matched Meyer’s win total under new head coach Doug Pederson and did so in dominant fashion with a 38-10 win over the Chargers. The Jaguars look like a completely different team this season, which is a testament to how much a good coaching staff and a non-toxic team culture matters in this league.

There are several players that look like changed men under Pederson, none of which are more important than Trevor Lawrence. The 2021 first-overall pick looked terrible at times last year, averaging 214 yards per game and throwing 17 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns. His performance was so bad that it had people questioning if he really was the can’t-miss generational prospect that he was hyped up to be throughout his college career. But now it is clear that last year was an aberration for Lawrence that was caused by some combination of first-year struggles and the ineptitude of Meyer. Now, Lawrence has thrown for 772 yards in three games and, along with Patrick Mahomes, is one of only two quarterbacks to have over five touchdown passes while throwing just one interception.

Lawrence is surely thriving this year thanks to some new weapons at his disposal. Christian Kirk, whose signing was blasted on social media when it happened, is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now, ranking in the top 10 in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Two other free agent signings, Zay Jones and Evan Engram, have also looked good so far and have created a pretty solid pass-catching group along with Marvin Jones. The Jaguars also have a dangerous duo in the backfield. James Robinson, ninth in the league with 230 rushing yards, has been incredibly efficient after his return from an Achilles injury. Travis Etienne has also looked good despite missing his entire rookie year due to injury, emerging as a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield.

But it is not only the Jacksonville offense that has undergone a change this year. The defense has looked massively improved this season despite not adding too many new pieces. The notable players they did add were first-round rookies Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd, both of whom have played very well so far. Last year the Jaguars were in the bottom five in points allowed but this year after the first three games they are sixth. And that number is inflated by a 22-point performance from the Commanders in week one. Since then, Jacksonville has shut out Indianapolis and allowed 10 points to a very talented Chargers team, albeit one led by an injured Justin Herbert.

It is clear that there is something totally different about the Jaguars this year because they are better at just about every facet of the game. You don’t go from picking first overall to dominating an AFC contender just because of a few minor improvements. That is the result of a complete cultural overhaul in the franchise. One that has led to massive benefits for young players such as Lawrence, Robinson, and Josh Allen. It may be too early to call the Jags a legitimate contender in the AFC, but winning a very wide-open AFC South and making the postseason this year is clearly not out of the picture for this revamped team.

Maybe Kyle Shanahan Was Right About the QB Situation All Along

Throughout my life, and probably yours too, I have been forced to read a lot of boring books and watch a lot of boring movies in English classes. But none of those come even close to the level of boredom I felt while watching Sunday Night Football between the 49ers and the Broncos. What was supposed to be the return to the effective Garoppolo-led offense ended up a total snoozefest that resulted in fewer points than the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. Instead of being the performance that renewed fans’ faith in Jimmy G’s ability to lead this team back to the NFC Championship Game, it ended up being a demonstration of the fact that Shanahan might have made the correct decision this offseason after all.

The Niners’ choice to go with the completely unproven Trey Lance over the established Garoppolo this summer was a quite controversial one. Everyone acknowledged that lance provided much more upside, for himself and the team, but also recognized that the team has won with Garoppolo and there might not be a reason to mess with something that works. That sentiment was only further strengthened by Lance’s early season struggles, although it would be hard for anybody to play quarterback in the conditions during the game in Chicago. When Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury and Garoppolo came in and led the team to a dominant win, it was all but official that the team was in better hands with the veteran.

But Sunday night proved that may not be the case. Not only did Garoppolo fail to beat the Broncos in an underwhelming 11-10 contest but he looked like the inexperienced starting quarterback that Lance was supposed to be. He made some very simple mistakes like dropping the snap on an under-center exchange and stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety (which was appreciated by Broncos fans, Dan Orlovsky, and just about nobody else). He also made more complicated mistakes like failing to notice a wide-open Deebo Samuel on a route up the sideline that almost certainly would have led to a touchdown and throwing a game-sealing interception on a throw that he did not step into that ended up tipped into the air because the robber read Jimmy G’s eyes like a book.

Garoppolo ended up 18-29 for 211 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It isn’t the most egregious stat line on its surface but anybody who watched the game can attest that he did not play well. Maybe it was due to the fact that he didn’t practice with the team all offseason but he was the starter for all of last season so he should enough familiarity with the offense to look better than he did. There is still time for Garoppolo to turn it around, something he will need to do rather quickly, but at the moment it looks like Shanahan is at least a little vindicated for choosing to role with the potential of Lance over whatever Garoppolo is doing on the field so far.