The Daily Briefing Friday, September 28, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The former Governor’s Cup match-up won’t be played in Missouri this year.  Or in California.  Or in the U S of A.  No, Mike Florio is looking ahead to a scoreboard-busting match-up in Mexico.

 

The Governor’s Cup used to ride on the outcome of games between the Kansas City Chiefs and the then-St. Louis Rams. A lot more could be riding on it the next time these franchises get together.

 

The Rams have moved, as has the site of the game. Once in Missouri and this time in Mexico, the Monday night game will feature the two best offenses in football. And if what we’ve seen so far this season holds, both teams will be thriving when November 19 rolls around.

 

ESPN will be thriving, at least for that night. The ratings could be bigger than they have been for any Monday night game ESPN ever has televised. In fact, the ratings could be so big that the NFL may want to start prodding ESPN to do what it currently does with the wild-card playoff game: Simulcast the game on ABC.

 

It’s not unprecedented. In 2007, when NFL Network was still trying to establish a prominent national footprint, the league simulcast the Week 17 game between the Giants and Patriots on multiple broadcast networks.

 

Although anyone who wants ESPN has it, games broadcast on the traditional three-letter networks also generate bigger audiences. Rams-Chiefs could generate one of the biggest audiences since 1985, when the Dolphins hosted the then-unbeaten Bears on a Monday night in December.

 

The Giants-Patriots game ended up being a Super Bowl preview. Bears-Dolphins was supposed to be. (The Patriots got in the way.) It would still be a long shot that the Chiefs and Rams moved their mini-rivalry to Georgia in February. But it’s a safe bet that the looming Monday night game will be compelling, exciting, and widely consumed.

 

Can we find the ESPN record that Florio thinks is in sight? A list of 10 top-rated Monday night games that the DB found on our first search all came before the show migrated to ESPN in 2006.  We found a 15.3 in 2009 for a Vikings-Packers game that was the highest “at the time” but there is no indication it has been surpassed. 

 

To give you an example of where we are now, Week 3’s Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game drew a 7.2 which was the best of the season but down from Week 3 last year.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

WR RANDALL COBB is iffy for Sunday.  NFL.com:

 

Randall Cobb landed on the Green Bay Packers’ injury report Thursday with a hamstring issue.

 

Coach Mike McCarthy took a wait-and-see approach on Friday with his veteran receiver.

 

“We’ll see what today brings. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

 

Cobb has participated in 91 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps through three games, corralling 17 catches for 194 yards and a TD. The past two games, however, the No. 2 receiver has been slowed, generating just eight catches for 52 yards.

 

If Cobb can’t go Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills, the onus would fall to Geronimo Allison and rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown to pick up the slack behind No. 1 target Davante Adams. The Packers could also take a tight-end heavy approach with Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Maybe the Rams are real good, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is seeing bad pass defense.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Mike Zimmer has been around the block a couple of hundred times. The 62-year-old has been coaching football since first getting a part-time assistant gig at the University of Missouri in 1979. His 39 years in coaching include joining the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 where he earned the defensive coordinator job in 2000. His journey took him to Atlanta in 2007 then Cincinnati from 2008-2013, both as a coordinator. Finally, he landed in Minnesota as the head man in charge.

 

He’s seen a lot of good, and a lot of bad. By his assessment, however, he’s never witnessed as poor pass defense as his team put on display Thursday night versus the Los Angeles Rams in a 38-31 loss.

 

“We’ve never been — probably anywhere I’ve ever been — we’ve never been this poor in pass coverage, so we’re going to look at everything we’re doing and get back to doing things correctly,” Zimmer said.

 

Perhaps he’s forgetting the NFC Championship Game?

 

The Vikings gave up 556 yards of total offense Thursday, including Jared Goff’s otherworldly 465-yard, five-touchdown performance. Often, Minnesota’s defenders were out of position to make plays, didn’t seem to be on the same page, and allowed receivers to run uncontested through the secondary.

 

“Having penalties on defense and giving up big plays. It reared its ugly head again tonight,” Zimmer said.

 

The coach noted that it’s not a one-game issue against a great offense.

 

“I’m concerned. I’ve been concerned all year long. We have not played well defensively,” he said.

 

The problems aren’t contained to this season either. Going back to halftime of the NFC Divisional Round, in which they shut out the New Orleans Saints before giving up 24 second-half points to necessitate the Minneapolis Miracle, the Vikings defense has given up 172 points in 6.5 games — scores of 24 (half game), 38, 16, 29, 27, 38.

 

In the previous 49 games (including playoffs) under Zimmer, the Vikings had allowed 21-plus points 12 total times. The playoff meltdowns seem to have broken his defense.

 

Zimmer credited the Rams’ offense but noted it was the same one that the Vikings held to seven points last November.

– – –

With eight catches on Thursday night, WR ADAM THIELEN now has 40 in the first four games which ties the NFL record for that span in any season set by Wes Welker in 2011.  They both should be passed on Sunday by WR MICHAEL THOMAS of the Saints, who enters the week already at 38.

 

Thielen is just the 3rd player since the merger with 4 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 games of the season.  The others are/were fellow Viking Randy Moss in 2007 and Isaac Bruce of the Rams in 2004. 

 

He can be the first player since 1970 to do it in the first five games (someone named Bob “Seabiscuit” Boyd did it for the Rams in 1954 and Charley Hennigan did it for the Oilers in 1963).

 

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The headline makes you say, “Huh?”:

 

Jerry Jones sees similarities between Cowboys’, Rams’ offenses

 

Other than that they both field 11 players, we’d be hard-pressed to see the comparison, but let’s read this from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com together:

 

The Rams’ offense is the talk of the NFL this morning after a sensational game on Thursday night improved them to 4-0. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones asks you not to overlook his own team’s offense.

 

Jones said today on 105.3 The Fan that he sees a lot of similarities between the Cowboys and the Rams.

 

Running down the way the Cowboys’ offense and the Rams’ offense compare, Jones said he’s as proud to have Dak Prescott as his quarterback as the Rams are to have Jared Goff as their quarterback. Jones also noted that the Cowboys can use Tavon Austin the way the Rams did last year, and added, “I like our offensive line, when it stacks up against the Rams.”

 

“I don’t think it’s a reach to think we could have that kind of productivity,” Jones said.

 

Of course, saying the Cowboys “could have” the kind of productivity the Rams have is a far cry from saying the Cowboys do have the kind of productivity the Rams have. The Rams are, along with the Chiefs, one of the top two offenses in the NFL this year. The Cowboys are near the bottom of the league on offense. The Rams are averaging 35 points per game while the Cowboys are averaging 13.7 points per game.

 

When Mike Bacsik of 105.3 The Fan told Jones that the Rams and Cowboys have looked a lot different on offense this year, Jones answered, “That’s why you’re doing radio and not the coaching.”

 

Jones sounds defensive, perhaps because the reality is, the Cowboys and the Rams aren’t close. Jones may have aspirations about reaching the Rams’ level, but right now his team is a long way off.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

This just in, the Falcons are not getting RB DEVONTA FREEMAN back this week.  He’s OUT on the injury report with his knee injury.  But DE TAKK McKINLEY will play against the Bengals.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

Eric Adelson of YahooSports.com on what seems inevitable to happen this week or next.

 

One game at a time is the oldest of sports clichés. In one respect, the New Orleans Saints have torched it.

 

Even before the season began, the Saints were looking ahead to the passing records in Drew Brees‘ path.

 

Specifically: the all-time yards mark. Brees is now 417 yards shy of the record, 71,940, held by Peyton Manning. He could catch No. 18 as soon as this weekend.

 

“He will pass Peyton Manning. I take that on,” said receiver Michael Thomas after a preseason game in Jacksonville last month. “The rest of the guys on the offense – we’re going to make sure he gets it, and that he’s able to do those things and win games. We have his back. We’re excited for us, for all the history that’s laid out in front of us that we have a chance to beat. We take a lot of pride in it.”

 

Three games into the regular season, Thomas has come through in historic fashion, catching more passes in the first three games of a season than any other receiver in NFL history. He’s reeled in 38 of 40 passes thrown his way. Per NOLA.com, that’s the highest catch rate since the NFL started tracking the stat.

 

What’s funny and a little bit stunning is that Thomas called his shot. This is what he said back in August about Brees:

 

“He knows what he wants, knows where he wants you to be. So if you just listen and take heed, nine times out of 10 you’re going to be successful.”

 

And now his catch rate is north of nine out of 10.

 

Meanwhile Brees’ completion percentage is currently north of 80 percent, which would be a record if it holds. The current record was set last season … by Drew Brees. (The quarterbacks in third and fourth place? Also Drew Brees.)

 

“He’s the best QB in the game,” Thomas said in August. “He accelerates a young guy’s career. I think that’s why a lot of young guys come in and play right away, contribute right away.”

 

And that’s also why there’s such an intense loyalty, and a vocal desire to literally grab record after record for him.

 

“We want to get that done for Drew,” Thomas said. “All the respect we have for him. Whatever are the records out there, we want to help him reach that, max out all his potential, with everything he’s given to the game. We want to max him out.”

 

It was Thomas who helped Brees break a record last weekend. In the second quarter, a pass to Thomas broke the record for all-time completions, eclipsing Brett Favre’s 6,300 mark. Thomas says he has a celebration planned for when the yardage record falls – just in case he gets the milestone throw. He’s spent that much time thinking about a game that’s nearly halfway through the season.

 

Granted, it’s not completely selfless on his part. Asked what he’ll do if he’s the one who catches the record-breaker, Thomas was ready with an answer:

 

“He’ll have to cut me a deal on how to get the ball back.”

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

QB JARED GOFF has a super game in the debut of FOX’s Thursday Night Football.  Ben Baskin of TheMMQB.com:

 

Jared Goff, man. Two years ago when the Rams quarterback revealed on HBO’s Hard Knocks that he didn’t know where the sun rises and sets, I was extremely skeptical about him—and his abysmal rookie season didn’t help his case. But four games into his third season as the Los Angeles starter, coming off a shootout 38–31 victory over Minnesota on Thursday Night Football, it’s clear that Goff is playing the quarterback position as well as—if not better than—anyone in the NFL right now and should be the frontrunner for league MVP.

 

Goff had four touchdown throws … in the first half. (He finished with 465 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.) Two of them were some of the most beautiful throws you could ever see—one, rolling to his right and placing a ball with perfect touch over two defenders’ heads, dropping down perfectly into the hands of Kupp; the second was an absolute dime, 55 yards in the air, hitting Brandon Cooks in stride. Those were great throws, elite throws, NFL MVP throws. For those kinds of throws, it doesn’t matter who the offensive coordinator is; you have to be a damn good quarterback to even attempt them, yet alone complete them. Goff’s performance was magisterial; he was in firm control of the offense all night, placing the ball all over the field with ease.

 

Yes, the Rams offensive line was fantastic all night, which makes the quarterback’s job easier. And yes, head coach Sean McVay, the mad offensive baby genius of the NFL, has undoubtedly helped Goff’s career and his development. McVay put on a clinic of formations, route concepts, shifts and motions, spreading the Vikings defense both horizontally and vertically, and finding and exploiting mismatches anywhere he chose to look on Thursday night.

 

Early in the game, McVay schemed two beautiful plays that isolated a pass catcher on linebacker Anthony Barr—first it was RB Todd Gurley coming out of the backfield, forcing Barr to play a potential flat route, angle, and seam, with no help behind him; the second was Cooper Kupp in the slot, running a “leak” concept, first faking a block, then faking a crossing route, and then bending up the sideline and burning Barr deep. Both were touchdowns that can be credited to McVay’s play designing and play calling genius. (He also isolated Robert Woods on Barr in the third quarter for another easy TD pass; safe to say Barr was targeted by the coach.) McVay has created one of the most entertaining and fun offenses I’ve watched in years.

 

Last season, Goff played very well, but Gurley was the clear fulcrum of the offense. When Gurley wasn’t having a good day, the Rams didn’t have a good day. That is not the case anymore; the Rams are now a well-rounded offense, capable of winning games any way that the situation calls for. In 1999-2001, the Greatest Show on Turf Rams ignited an offensive revolution—this team was the catalyzing event that disrupted the equipoise of the NFL. And it’s starting to feel like this iteration of the Rams is following in that same path. (This team is even breaking the records: Goff became the first Rams quarterback with over 250 yards in the first half since Kurt Warner did so in 2001 and Goff’s five touchdown passes tied Warner’s team record, while Kupp became the first since receiver since Torry Holt to have 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first half since ’01 as well. And their 4–0 record is the team’s best start to a season since, yes, you guessed it, 2001.)

 

There are so many plodding, regressive, one-dimensional offenses in the league right now—cough, Cowboys … cough, Seahawks—that seem to be stuck in the past, playing in a different league than the Rams currently are. The contrast is truly jarring and this Los Angeles team is truly dangerous. McVay, Goff and the Rams are shifting the league’s offensive paradigm, and the rest of the NFL better catch up or be left behind.

 

Statistically, Goff’s game will rank as one of the best in NFL history.  First of all, it’s a 158.3 “perfect game”, the 44th in history.  Usually, the PGs are accomplished with a lesser amount of pass attempts.  Goff had 33 throws, the most of any of the 44 and only the 3rd with 30+.

 

It is only the 3rd perfect game with more than 400 yards and the 465 pass yards are the most in a perfect game. 

 

It is the 9th perfect game with 5+ TDs. 

 

So it would seem to stand with Nick Foles of the Eagles at Oakland in 2013 as the best perfect game ever.  Foles passed for 406 yards (advantage Goff) but threw for an NFL-record tying 7 TDs.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is all aflutter over Goff:

 

When the Eagles and the Rams got together last December, the consensus was that the second pick in the 2016 draft (Carson Wentz) had become a franchise quarterback, and that the first pick in the 2016 (Jared Goff) hadn’t. This morning, and in light of the injury suffered by Wentz in that game from last December, would anyone take Wentz over Goff?

 

And don’t give me the “Goff has Sean McVay” nonsense. Wentz has Doug Pederson. Most franchise quarterbacks enjoy above average to great coaching. And that helps franchise quarterbacks become even greater.

 

What football witnessed last night from Goff was greatness.

 

“I think just a comfort level,” McVay told reporters after the 38-31 win over Minnesota. “I think he’s got such a great command right now and you know he’s intentional about getting better. [Quarterbacks coach] Zac Taylor has done a great job with him. Really just having him make sure that he has an ownership of the game plan, understands what we’re trying to get done and you know that constant dialogue, that communication that we talk about being on the same page. At the end of the day I think he’s just thrown the ball extremely well. When things are in rhythm he’s been outstanding, giving guys a chance to run after the catch. Then you look at a couple of plays where we ended up running some bootlegs. He’s going to his left, getting his shoulders around, hitting [Brandin] Cooks in stride, hitting Robert Woods, so there’s a handful of plays that he made tonight that are just a great player making great plays, but then also when things were there in rhythm I thought he was outstanding.”

 

Goff, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken gunslinger who will rip out the heart of a defense and show it to them, was mild-mannered and soft spoken after he ripped out the heart of the Vikings defense and showed it to them.

 

“It felt pretty good all night,” Goff said after the win that moved his team to 4-0. “I thought we did a great job protecting, as we’ve done most of the season this year and, really, all of the season this year. Just keeping me upright and anytime that happens, we’ve got such good guys on the outside and try to get the ball in their hands and let them make plays. Tonight, we were able to do that.”

 

On one of the most impressive throws anyone will make — a pigskin through the eye of a needle touchdown throw to Cooper Kupp — Goff was humble.

 

“You know, kind of taking a little bit of a chance there and got away with it, but that’s what happens when you’ve got good players,” Goff said. “I trust Cooper [Kupp] and he ran right through it. Wasn’t sure if he was in bounds or not, but he made a good catch on it. I think that just shows kind of my trust in him.”

 

Every year, Goff has gotten better. Every week this season, Goff has gotten better. And the Rams have gotten better. Last night, he generated the oddly-precise perfect passer rating of 158.3, completing 26 of 43 throws for 465 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions.

 

And it actually looked like Goff would do even better than that, based on the first half of the game. He finished the second quarter with 251 yards and four touchdowns, putting him in position to challenge the all-time single-game yardage record (554 from former Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, in 1951) and the all-time single-game passing touchdown record (seven, from multiple players).

 

It looked a lot like the football equivalent of the basketball team that used to play in the venue located near the team’s new stadium in Inglewood.

 

“I don’t know,” Goff told reporters after the game with a laugh. “I wasn’t alive.”

 

He is now, and what a time it is to be alive and be an NFL fan. There’s a golden age of young quarterbacks, from Goff to Wentz to Patrick Mahomes to Baker Mayfield to Josh Allen to Sam Darnold to Deshaun Watson to Josh Rosen (maybe) to Lamar Jackson (maybe) to Dak Prescott (maybe) to whoever else keeps emerging from a pipeline that is suddenly bubbling more crude than Jed Clampett’s back 40.

 

This from Sam Farmer of the LA Times:

 

Imagine, all that hand-wringing about the franchise spending so many picks on Goff that the receiver cupboard would be bare for a generation. Well, Goff threw for 465 yards and five touchdowns against a good Vikings defense, with Cooper Kupp (162), Brandin Cooks (116) and Robert Woods (101) each reeling in more than 100 yards in catches.

 

Todd Gurley is a centerpiece of this offense, yes, but the passing game is not predicated on any particular player. It’s Goff throwing to the open man, the way Tom Brady has done to historic results in New England for so many years, never flinching at the rotating cast of receivers.

 

The NFL doesn’t like having teams cross two time zones for a Thursday night game, reasoning that’s too far to travel on such a short week. But this was a special occasion, the debut of Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” package, and it begged for a marquee matchup. The Vikings manhandled the Rams 24-7 in Minnesota last season, so this promised to be an excellent rematch.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was at the game, and said afterward it was just the type of event the league had hoped for when it approved the Rams’ return three years ago. “When we get to the new stadium,” he said, “it will be a whole new level.”

 

That $3-billion venue won’t be until 2020, but it seems these Rams are running an offense that’s ahead of its time. Just as the Vikings passed through two time zones, so did Goff, who averaged a staggering 14.1 yards per completion.

 

He looks increasingly at ease in this offense, throwing for four touchdowns in the first half. Goff’s four touchdown passes were the most in a first half by a Rams quarterback since Kurt Warner did it in 1999.

 

“That’s been the consistent evolution of Jared from Pop Warner through high school through college and now in the NFL,” said his father, Jerry, before the game. “He comes in and figures it out.”

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks may get WR DOUG BALDWIN back this week against the Cardinals.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin admits to feeling a sense of frustration over missing the past two games with a knee injury.

 

The Seahawks’ leading receiver sat out a large portion of training camp and didn’t participate in any of the four preseason games. He returned in time for Week 1 but suffered an MCL sprain to his other knee early in the game against the Denver Broncos.

 

Baldwin appeared in 100 consecutive games, including the postseason, heading into the 2018 regular season, so it’s easy to see why a player accustomed to playing would feel frustrated.

 

But after returning to the practice field the past two days, albeit on a limited basis, Baldwin has his sights set on potentially returning to action Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

 

“I’m ready to go,” Baldwin said, via the Seahawks’ official website. “This is what I do, so I’m excited about getting back out there … I’ve never sat out this long.

 

“I haven’t missed games since my second year in the NFL. It’s been a very long time since I had to overcome the injury obstacle. Of course, I’ve dealt with injuries throughout the course of those games that I’ve played, but nothing to the significance of where I had to miss time.”

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll all but confirmed that Baldwin will play on Sunday.

 

“He looked great [in practice], he looked great,” Carroll said in an interview with KIRO-AM in Seattle. “He was explosive … we’re really excited for him to play in this game.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Matthew Berry of ESPN.com on why QB CASE KEENUM is worth your consideration for Fantasy Football this week:

 

8. The Kansas City Chiefs have allowed the second-most completions this season.

 

9. They’ve allowed the third-most touchdown passes.

 

10. They’ve allowed the third-most yards per play.

 

11. They’ve also scored 118 points this year on offense, most in the NFL.

 

11a. Since the start of last season, Keenum has the sixth-best TD-INT ratio in the NFL when trailing.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Surprise.  Matthew Berry:

 

Through three games, Flacco has more fantasy points than Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, among others.

 

 

CINCINNATI

Matthew Berry of ESPN.com offers some reasons to play QB ANDY DALTON this week:

 

1. Since Bill Lazor became the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, only Russell Wilson and Tom Brady have thrown more touchdown passes than Dalton.

 

2. Since Week 6 of last season, only the 49ers have allowed more multitouchdown games than the Falcons.

 

3. During and after the Falcons’ Week 1 game, they lost defensive starters Keanu Neal and Deion Jones.

 

4. In Weeks 2 and 3, the Falcons’ defense gave up an average of 365 passing yards per game and 35 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks.

 

4a. They also just lost starting safety Ricardo Allen.

 

4b. Dalton is available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues.

 

And match him up with WR TYLER BOYD:

 

43. Boyd now has consecutive games with at least six catches for 90 yards and a TD.

 

43a. Here’s the entire list of players who did that last season: Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas and Adam Thielen.

 

44. Boyd has accounted for 64.5 percent of the Bengals’ wide receiver slot routes this season.

 

44a. Since the beginning of last season, the Falcons have allowed the second-most slot completions, the second-highest completion percentage to the slot and the third-most slot touchdowns.

 

 

CLEVELAND

And this from Matthew Berry on why you should play RB CARLOS HYDE:

 

26. Dating back to last season, Hyde now has at least 15 carries AND a rushing score in five straight games.

 

26a. That is the longest such streak since Arian Foster had six straight in 2011.

 

27. He is averaging 20.3 carries per game.

 

28. The Raiders are allowing 5.13 yards per carry this season, fourth highest in the league.

 

29. The Raiders are allowing the second-most yards per carry before first contact (3.59).

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

 

 

MIAMI

It could be the most significant game of the week.  The 3-0 Dolphins are going to Foxboro and most expect them to fall the Patriots who will rebound after two desultory road losses.

 

But what if Miami wins to go 2 up on New England with a home game in hand?  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

he New England Patriots are 1-2. The Miami Dolphins are 3-0.

 

Entering Sunday’s divisional tilt, Dolphins coach Adam Gase couldn’t give a hoot in a rainstorm about the above fact.

 

“Nothing. Zero,” Gase said when asked how much stock he put in the Dolphins’ current AFC East lead, via the Boston Sports Journal. “I don’t look at records right now. It’s too early. Nobody cares. I mean, at the end of the day, nobody will give a [expletive] unless you win the last one. You’ve got to focus on one week, and that’s what we need to do. When we get to that, when we get to Wednesday, we’ll worry about them. Right now, our guys are going to get their things corrected from this game, and then, we’ll move on to New England when it’s time to move on.”

 

Behind a strong defense and fantastic play from Ryan Tannehill (121.8 passer rating through three games), the Dolphins are off to a hot start, while the Patriots are in their seemingly annual September gloom.

 

Tannehill’s return from injury has flown too far under the radar. In 16 total starts under Gase, the quarterback has completed 68 percent of his passes, for 3,682 yards — 7.9 yards per attempt — with 26 TDs to 14 INTs. The Dolphins are 11-5 in those games. This season Tannehill has displayed calm demand of the offense and a willingness to take shots down the field when open — his 8.2 air yards per attempt sits third in the NFL behind only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Mahomes, per Next Gen Stats

 

Is the Dolphins’ good start to the season a mirage propelled by facing poor competition or a prognosticator of a turnaround in Gase’s third season?

 

Starting Sunday in Foxboro we’ll begin to have our answer. A road win against the Patriots would give the Dolphins a 3.5-game lead over New England in the division.

 

Gase, however, knows he’s walking into a hornet’s nest on Sunday.

 

“They’re going to do the same thing they always do — get better every week,” Gase said. “They have a really good coaching staff and they have a Hall of Fame quarterback. The records are irrelevant right now.

 

“They’re going to do a lot of things that are tough for us. Going up there, it’s a great environment to play in. It’s rowdy, it’s loud. So we’re going to have to make sure we’re on our A-game.”

 

The Patriots have a 9-game win streak in the series in New England with the last Miami win in 2009.  The Dolphins have actually won 4 of the last 5 meetings in Miami.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The DB can only guess there is something “off” about WR BRANDIN COOKS as a teammate or citizen, because it sure seems peculiar that both the Saints and Patriots have sent him packing.  As a pure football move, it doesn’t make much sense.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks had another big game on Thursday night, catching seven of the eight passes thrown to him, for 116 yards and a touchdown, and adding a 10-yard run. Cooks has looked like a big addition to the Rams this year.

 

And he’s looked like a big subtraction from the Patriots, whose passing offense is struggling through three weeks of the season. The Patriots traded Cooks to the Rams this offseason, and so far they haven’t found a replacement for him: All of the wide receivers on the Patriots’ roster combined have totaled just 27 catches for 265 yards this season. Cooks has 26 catches for 452 yards this season.

 

It doesn’t help that Isaiah Wynn, the offensive tackle the Patriots drafted with the first-round pick they got for Cooks, is out for the season with a torn Achilles. If Wynn develops into a good player that changes the calculation, but right now the Patriots’ decision to trade Cooks looks like it cost them a lot and gained them little.

 

The good news for the Patriots is that their receiving corps should be a lot better soon: After Sunday, wide receiver Julian Edelman returns from his PED suspension. And wide receiver Josh Gordon, who arrived last week in a trade with the Browns, hasn’t played in New England yet. It’s possible that when Edelman’s suspension ends and Gordon gets on the field, the Patriots’ passing game will look just fine.

 

But the struggles of the passing game have contributed to two consecutive losses for the Patriots, and if they make it three losses in a row on Sunday against the 3-0 Dolphins, they’ll be in danger of failing to win the AFC East for the first time since 2008, the year Tom Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week One.

 

The arrival of Cooks might turn out to be the piece of the puzzle that pushes the Rams into the Super Bowl. And the departure of Cooks might turn out to be the reason the Patriots don’t make it back.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

QB FROM THE PAST TWO DRAFTS

Here is how Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com ranks the QBs from the past two drafts:

 

It didn’t take long for the class of 2018 quarterbacks to take center stage. Following the promotions of Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen this week, the first four quarterbacks selected in April will start in Week 4. Combine that group with the quartet of quarterbacks drafted in 2017 who are also starting — Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and C.J. Beathard — and a quarter of the league’s starters are rookies or second-year players.

 

With my quarterly ranking of all 32 NFL quarterbacks still a week away, let’s try a different set of ridiculously premature rankings. If I could pick any one of the starting quarterbacks from the last two draft classes to start a team with, whom would I take?

 

Of course this is incredibly subjective and based on microscopically small sample sizes, but that’s partly what makes it fun.

 

1) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2017.

Mahomes has the best combination of extraterrestrial physical talent with identifiable football intelligence. It doesn’t hurt Mahomes that he’s playing under a verified quarterback whisperer with great talent around him, two safeguards that can prevent this ranking from looking silly when he hits inevitable speed bumps.

 

I wrote about Mahomes’ first career start over the summer, marveling at some of the preposterous improvised plays that he made. It’s been impressive to see in his three starts this year how rarely he’s needed to go off-script. Mahomes is quick with his reads and has made excellent decisions, aided by coach Andy Reid’s ability to scheme players open. That decisiveness is what helps Mahomes take the top spot here. Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that he wanted to draft Mahomes in Arizona.

 

“I loved his mental makeup more than anything,” Arians told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “He’s top four on the board I’ve ever had, up there with Peyton [Manning] and Andrew [Luck]. Amazing recall.”

 

That combination of a beautiful football mind with the ability to escape pressure and throw fastballs from any angle is reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes’ arm strength even helps on his mistakes, as defenders have often misjudged when to break up his throws, even when they are in position. Comparing him to Rodgers feels unfair after only four career starts, but everything feels possible with Mahomes right now.

 

2) Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Drafted: Round 1, first overall, 2018.

It was a difficult choice between Mahomes or Mayfield for the top spot. Mayfield’s accuracy from within the pocket looks superior to anyone on this list. His confidence oozes off the screen, whether we’re watching him on “Hard Knocks” or while cutting a cake, holding a microphone and answering questions from NFL Network supernova Colleen Wolfe at the same time.

 

From Mayfield’s very first two-minute drill against the Jets, he showed an uncanny confidence in throwing heaters up the seams against New York’s zone defense. He read the coverage and trusted his arm in a way this year’s other rookies haven’t yet. His debut performance resonated more because it lined up with his preseason performances. I thought Mayfield was the most impressive rookie in August, despite mostly playing with backups.

 

It’s not like Mayfield’s debut was perfect. He fumbled once and missed a few open throws. But his ability to stay calm during the game, motioning for his receivers to come back to him while escaping the pass rush, speaks to a young man comfortable in his own skin, handling a lot of tasks at once. Saving a franchise is next on the list.

 

3) Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Drafted: Round 1, 12th overall, 2017.

My top two picks for this exercise were clear. The next three could have been sorted in any order, but Watson’s sensational stretch last season gives him an edge over the rest of the 2018 rookies for now. Watson has also steadily improved each week this season. The Texans’ scheme is no longer creating yards on its own, and Houston’s play at offensive tackle has been abysmal, with the team’s two starters ranked fourth-to-last and dead last among 74 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.

 

That has complicated matters for Watson, who is still providing terrific rushing value with 120 yards in three games despite not looking all the way back physically from a torn ACL. Watson and Texans coach Bill O’Brien need to start games faster, as many of his best plays have come while the Texans are in catch-up mode in the second half. Still, it’s a remarkable time in the NFL when a second-year quarterback averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (and ranked 13th by PFF thus far) is being chided for a slow start.

 

Watson also gets a slight edge here because of the belief that he inspires in every coach and teammate he has come across in his college and pro career. Leadership is hard to quantify, and it’s only so meaningful without the physical skills to back it up, but Watson possesses the total quarterback package, by all accounts.

 

4) Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals

Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2018.

Rosen was my favorite quarterback to watch leading up to the draft because he was such a natural thrower and he appeared to have the highest floor of any prospect. He projected as an average NFL starter at worst, displaying a lot of skills that are tough to teach: anticipation, pocket movement (to avoid the pass rush) and the ability to deliver under pressure. With only 36 pass attempts as a pro between the preseason and a late-relief role in Week 3, nothing at the NFL level has changed that outlook.

 

Rosen’s varied skill set should make him fascinating to watch as he begins his journey as an NFL starter on Sunday against a solid Seahawks defense. Unfortunately, all of Rosen’s practice at UCLA throwing passes in the face of terrible pass protection will come in handy. Rosen is joining an offense ranked dead last in passing and rushing, so expectations for this season should be kept in check.

 

5) Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Drafted: Round 1, third overall, 2018.

Darnold is a blast to watch when he’s extending plays, and he showed a veteran’s ability to go through his progressions during the preseason and in his solid Week 1 performance. Darnold admitted that he’s been too cautious since, with NFL defensive talent and schemes fogging up his 21-year-old head.

 

I’m not that worried that his penchant for turnovers has followed him from USC to the pros thus far. I’m more concerned with the Jets’ play calling, which has included way too many first-down runs and hasn’t been able to take advantage of Darnold’s ability to throw from outside the pocket. Everything appears to be on-schedule for Darnold, though. The fact someone as exciting as Darnold ranks only fifth on this list shows what a terrific crop of young quarterbacks the NFL has harvested over the last two seasons.

 

6) Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Drafted: Round 1, seventh overall, 2018.

I see a big gap between Darnold and Allen, although the Bills rookie’s performance in Week 3 showed his potential. Allen is Buffalo’s leading rusher after three weeks, and his size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) makes going for it on fourth-and-short an easy call. Not unlike Blake Bortles, Allen will probably be at his best trusting his arm and throwing against man coverage outside the numbers. It’s debatable whether Allen has the teammates to win contested catches, with his leading wideout only gaining 29 yards even in the win against the Vikings.

 

The Bills will have to build an offense around Allen’s physical skill set early in his career and hope that he learns from his mistakes, like the numerous occasions in Week 2 when he didn’t avoid the pass rush and stared down receivers. It’s easy to imagine Allen winning enough with his physical tools to make highlight reels and convince coaches of possible greatness, but the path to career longevity will be trickier.

 

7) Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Drafted: Round 1, second overall, 2017.

It’s too early to panic regarding Trubisky, but he’s not showing a lot of positive signs yet. Bears coach Matt Nagy appears to cook up a fine scripted gameplan to start each week, and then the offense runs out of gas. The book on Trubisky has been that he can’t throw to his left, and the numbers at the pro level are pretty stark. My biggest concern is that he misses a lot of throws when accuracy is supposed to be his trademark quality.

 

He’s only 15 starts into his pro career, but Trubisky is older than the QBs ahead of him on this list. If there isn’t significant progress shown by December, the Bears will have real reason to worry.

 

8) C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers

Drafted: Round 3, 104th overall, 2017.

When I first envisioned writing this article, Beathard was not on the list. However, he’s the 49ers’ starter, with Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year after suffering a torn ACL, and there’s a strong chance Beathard will exceed expectations. My relative belief in him stems entirely from Kyle Shanahan’s belief. The 49ers surprisingly drafted Beathard in the third round last year and then surprisingly didn’t bring in competition for him as the team’s backup this offseason.

 

Beathard wasn’t ready to start as a rookie, although he made five starts. He held the ball too long, and he needs to make up for what he lacks in arm strength with better anticipation. With that said, Beathard’s two starts before Jimmy G took over as QB1 last season were his best two, including a genuinely excellent performance against the Giants. The one pass Beathard threw last week — a touchdown nullified by penalty — was an absolute beauty. Working in Beathard’s favor: Quarterbacks usually experience their biggest improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, the 49ers are second in the league in rushing and Shanahan can scheme guys open for any quarterback. (Many of Garoppolo’s biggest plays this year were layups.)

 

I think I just convinced myself that the Beathard-led 49ers will be watchable for the next 13 weeks because the alternative is too depressing.