Early-Season NFL Misconceptions That Were Laid to Rest in Week 3
Fans of the National Football League are an intelligent bunch, for the most part. We know it's silly to draw sweeping conclusions after a single game or a single week of football.
We just can't help ourselves.
We all like to think we have the state of the league figured as soon as teams begin walking off the field. The thing is, we're proved wrong more often than not.
Do you remember when the New England Patriots fell to 2-2 last season and people were clamoring that the dynasty was over? In retrospect, it was a dumb conclusion to reach, but it was fun to talk about at the time.
We made plenty of conclusions during the first couple of weeks of the 2015 season, too. Some of them still seem to ring true—that New Orleans Saints defense is really bad. Other conclusions, on the other hand, seem to have been simple misconceptions.
Today, we're going to take a look at some early-season misconceptions that now seem foolish after the third week of the 2015 season.
Marcus Mariota Is Perfect
The Tennessee Titans thumped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, earning a convincing 42-14 victory. Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota (13-of-16 for 209 yards with four touchdowns) was practically perfect in the contest.
In fact, his passer rating of 158.3 was perfect.
This was definitely one of the most impressive NFL debuts in recent memory, and it led many to proclaim Mariota a future star and the clear-cut best quarterback of the 2015 draft class.
"Mariota’s electric debut against NFL draft classmate Jameis Winston looked a little like [Peyton] Manning vs. [Ryan] Leaf 2.0," Will Graves of the Associated Press wrote after the game, via Amarillo.com. "With Mariota confidently flicking four touchdown passes while posting a not-a-typo 158.3 passer rating, the NFL quarterback’s version of a perfect game."
Manning and Leaf, the first two quarterbacks taken in the 1998 draft, represent one of the greatest shine-and-stumble stories in NFL history. It's obvious to start drawing comparisons between the two quarterback pairs.
In the ensuing weeks, Winston won his second NFL start, and Mariota has lost his past two. The former Oregon star has also made a number of mistakes since his nearly flawless debut.
Though Mariota still holds an impressive passer rating of 109.2, he has committed two turnovers in each of his past two contests. One of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown in Sunday's 35-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
This doesn't suggest that Mariota can't or won't become a future star. It just means that he isn't likely to leap onto the level of Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady as a rookie.
These Are the Same Old Struggling Raiders
The Oakland Raiders were embarrassed in their season opener, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 33-13 at home.
Losing starting quarterback Derek Carr certainly didn't help, but Oakland was doomed from the beginning by poop preparation and uninventive play-calling. The Raiders went into the fourth quarter in a 33-0 hole and didn't manage to score until late in garbage time.
I even wrote that the Raiders looked like perhaps the league's worst team in their Week 1 loss.
"After that performance, it's hard not to conclude these are the same ol' Raiders," Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News wrote after the loss. "And they're going to have to prove they've changed on the field, in regular season games, before we can truly believe it."
Well, it's time to start believing that these Raiders are different. Oakland produced an exciting comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 and held on to beat the Cleveland Browns in a tough cross-country matchup this past Sunday.
The Raiders now sit one game behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West and have shown a ton of talent on both sides of the football.
This definitely doesn't mean that the Raiders are rated for the playoffs or even a complete team at this point. However, Oakland isn't terrible and seems to be in the process of finally turning things around.
The San Francisco 49ers Are a Better Team Than We Thought
Most of us anticipated a transition season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. After all, Jim Tomsula was replacing Jim Harbaugh as head coach, and a number of longtime veterans—including Frank Gore, Chris Culliver and Patrick Willis—left during the offseason.
Yet, the 49ers kicked off their 2015 season with a dominating 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in prime time. The world watched as the San Francisco defense, along with running back Carlos Hyde, battered the Vikings in convincing fashion.
Perhaps Tomsula's team wasn't going to go through growing pains, after all.
An embarrassing 43-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a good sign that the 49ers weren't going to be an elite team. However, plenty of teams don't travel well across the country, and it's not like Heinz Field creates an especially inviting environment.
That loss was a bit forgivable. Sunday's 47-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was not.
The 49ers looked like they didn't belong on an NFL field against the Cardinals. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (9-of-19 for 67 yards with four interceptions) looked like a guy playing the wrong sport.
According to NFL Media's Andrew Siciliano the first question Tomsula was asked at Sunday's postgame press conference was this: "Why is Colin Kaepernick your starting quarterback?"
That's painful. There's a good chance that the rest of San Francisco's season is going to be painful, too.
Adrian Peterson Has Lost a Step or Two
Part of the reason why the 49ers looked so dominant in Week 1 was a poor outing by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. The longtime Viking rushed for just 31 yards on 10 carries in that game and never seemed to be a significant part of Minnesota's game plan.
"Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to see Peterson struggle out of the gate," Dan Hanzus of NFL.com wrote after Peterson's inauspicious 2015 debut. "We'd be a bit rusty too if we spent a whole season wasting away on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List."
Peterson, of course, was playing in his first NFL game since Week 1 of the 2014 season.
Since then, he has rushed for 260 yards and two touchdowns while helping to lead the Vikings to two consecutive wins.
Against the San Diego Chargers in Week 3, Peterson averaged a whopping 6.3 yards per carry.
“My legs felt lighter today and just the preparation throughout the week helped with that, but I felt good,” Peterson said after the game, via the team's official website. “The body felt good. My mind was in a great place, and yeah, I think I’m back.”
If Peterson really did lose a step during his year away from football, it's hard to notice. There are probably quite a few teams that would love to have him standing deep in their backfield.
The Seattle Seahawks' Dynasty Is over
The defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks began the season 0-2 and didn't look particularly good while doing it.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Seahawks gave up an average of 30.5 points. Opposing quarterbacks Nick Foles and Aaron Rodgers combined for 546 passing yards against Seattle. Offensive centerpiece Marshawn Lynch rushed for just 114 yards.
This simply didn't look like the same Seahawks that came within a play of repeating as Super Bowl champions.
"For now, at least, the balance of power has shifted in the NFC," Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote. "With Green Bay looking like one of the teams to beat and Seattle looking vulnerable as the defending conference champion."
It's important to remember, however, that the Seahawks were playing without safety Kam Chancellor. They also faced arguably their toughest two challenges—road games against the St. Louis Rams and Green Bay Packers—to open the season.
A home game against the pitiful Chicago Bears was just what the proverbial doctor ordered to get things right for Seattle.
The Seahawks won that game 26-0 and did it with the same kind of physicality they exhibited the past couple of seasons.
This doesn't mean that the Seahawks are fixed. There are still issues. The offensive line—rated third-worst in pass blocking and second-worst in run blocking by Pro Football focus—is a mess, and Lynch is dealing with a hamstring issue.
However, the Seahawks seem to be back on track. They should be over .500 in a week or two and should have an opportunity to defend their NFC crown in the postseason.
Teams that start the season 0-2 don't usually make the playoffs (24 teams since 1990), but the Seahawks are primed to do exactly that.
The Eagles Running Game Is Completely Hopeless
The Philadelphia Eagles were an absolute mess over the first two weeks of the season, and a struggling run game was particularly problematic.
Philadelphia produced just 70 net rushing yards in Weeks 1 and 2. Blocking was a definite issue, and running back DeMarco Murray (21 carries for 11 yards) was looking more like Trent Richardson than the reigning NFL rushing leader that he actually is.
Obviously, the ground game was a concern.
However, the Eagles got things going against a stout New York Jets defense in Week 3—without Murray.
As a team, Philadelphia racked up 123 net rushing yards. Backup Ryan Mathews gained 108 of those yards on 25 carries.
"After the first two games of the season, positivity was as difficult to find as the Eagles' running game," Bob Ford of Philly.com wrote after the Jets game. "That did change somewhat Sunday, at least in the first half, but whether that aspect of the offense is really on the right road won't be known for a while."
Are there still major issues with this Philadelphia team? Of course. Sam Bradford hasn't been the kind of productive gunslinger Chip Kelly would like to have in his offense, and we still don't know if Murray can rebound or just be a $50 million mistake.
However, the Eagles showed this past Sunday they can run the football. The trick now is to start doing it with a little regularity.
The Miami Dolphins Will Have a Dominant Defense
Heading into the 2015 season, it looked like the Miami Dolphins could have one of the league's top defensive units—at least on paper.
Miami ranked a respectable 12th in total defense (343.4 yards per game allowed) in 2014 and added star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency. He was supposed to round out a stellar defensive line that also features Earl Mitchell, Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake.
Though the Dolphins played a relatively sloppy game against the Washington Redskins in Week 1, the defense did its part to help secure a win.
The Dolphins kept Washington under 200 yards passing and forced three turnovers en route to a 17-10 victory. With a little bit of seasoning, this could be a very good unit.
Or so we thought.
If anything, the Dolphins defense has gotten progressively worse. The unit failed in a 23-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 and was an absolute embarrassment against the Buffalo Bills in the Week 3 home opener.
Against the Bills, Miami gave up 428 yards and 41 points. The Dolphins are currently rated just 20th in overall defense by Pro Football Focus.
After the latest loss, Steven Wine of the Associated Press wrote the following, via the Washington Post:
The Dolphins (1-2) have looked lackluster in all three games while playing progressively worse and sinking to last place in the AFC East. Now they face a long flight Thursday to London for Sunday’s game against the division rival Jets, needing a rapid rebound to reverse the direction of a season that held high hopes when September began.
The Bills and the New York Jets sit at 2-1. The New England Patriots are a perfect 3-0 and unlikely to slow down any time soon. If the Dolphins cannot find a way to start locking down on defense, the team is likely to fall out of the AFC East race by midseason.
Peyton Manning Is Done
When the Denver Broncos squeaked out a 19-13 win over the Ravens in Week 1, virtually no one was talking about the dominant defense that made the victory possible.
Instead, everyone wanted to talk about how legendary quarterback Peyton Manning (24-of-40 for 175 yards and an interception) was finished. The conversation continued after another subpar performance (26-of-45 for 256 yards with another pick) in the Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Peyton Manning washed up?" Manny Randhawa and Allison Carter of the Indianapolis Star wrote. "Speculation persists that his arm strength is down and it's affecting the former Colts quarterback's ability to lead his current team, the Broncos."
It's fairly hard to argue that Manning's arm isn't on its last legs. It seems the velocity we had grown used to seeing from his passes just isn't there.
However, this doesn't mean that he cannot lead the Broncos to a successful season. It also doesn't meant that he cannot still be an effective quarterback.
Manning hasn't lost the ability to read defenses, make pre-snap adjustments and put his players in the best position to make plays. He showed these abilities while leading his team to a 24-12 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 3.
Manning completed 73.8 percent of his passes in that game and earned a passer rating of 101.7.
Does this mean that he is back to his old self? Probably not. However, it seemed that head coach Gary Kubiak wasn't trying to shoehorn Manning into his system quite as much against Detroit, which led to a fairly vintage performance.
So long as Manning can remain comfortable on the field and can throw a catchable football, he is likely to keep doing good things for his 3-0 Broncos—even if he is no longer elite.
Denver is most likely going to be a playoff team, and Manning is most likely going to have a big hand in leading the Broncos throughout the season.