NFL1000 Week 3 Notebook: Odell Beckham Deserves to Be Paid, Right Now
We're only through three weeks of the 2017 NFL season, but a few inconvenient truths have already made themselves clear. The Seahawks offense isn't what it used to be, and there may not be enough when your team alternates between the occasional big play and long stretches of barren stats and scoring. The Giants stand at 0-3, and their issues may be about more than Ben McAdoo's play-calling—that's what happens when your running game falls short and you can't block anybody. And the Bengals aren't going anywhere but the bottom of the AFC North until Andy Dalton can learn to throw under pressure.
Other teams have been pleasant surprises. The Chiefs have the most diverse offense in the NFL, merging West Coast principles with elements of option football. The Redskins defense put a serious thumping on the Raiders Sunday night, and their defensive front looks like one of the best in the game. And though the Texans lost a close one to the Patriots, it's becoming clear that they finally have their franchise quarterback in rookie Deshaun Watson.
Every week brings different truths to the table, and the NFL1000 team of scouts is always ready to go in depth with the ones we see.
Lead scout: Doug Farrar
Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield
Running backs/fullbacks: Mark Bullock
Receivers/tight ends: Marcus Mosher
Offensive line: Ethan Young
Defensive line: Justis Mosqueda
Linebackers: Derrik Klassen
Secondary: Ian Wharton
Here's what stood out to our team of scouts in Week 3 of the 2017 season.
Blake Bortles' Big Day Mostly Due to Baltimore's Coverage Breakdowns
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Week 3 in the 2017 NFL season came in London, where Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles completed 20 of 31 passes for 244 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against a Baltimore Ravens defense that's been one of the league's best against the pass. Bortles had completed 31 of 55 passes for 348 yards, two touchdowns and two picks in his first two games of the season, so how was he able to carve up a defense known for great execution and disguised coverages?
Give some credit to Bortles, and to head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for great play design, but the tape shows a Ravens defense that appeared to be suffering from jet lag.
Bortles threw three of his touchdowns to tight end Marcedes Lewis, who had caught three touchdown passes total from 2014 through the first two games of 2017, and Baltimore didn't seem to know what to do with him. On the first score with under four minutes left in the first quarter, Lewis was lined up along the right side of the formation, and Bortles okey-doked the defense with a nice fake sweep handoff to receiver Marqise Lee. Lewis blocked linebacker Tyus Bowser at the start of the play, which gave even more of an indication that the play was a run, However, Lewis then released up the field, and by the time Bowser realized what was happening, it was too late and Lewis had an easy touchdown.
On the second Lewis touchdown with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the tight end ran up the right seam and simply bodied linebacker C.J. Mosley away from the ball on the 30-yard play. As Lewis passed through the second level of the defense, fellow linebacker Kamalei Correa called out a busted coverage, but it looked as if Mosley was assigned to Lewis and was simply physically overmatched.
The third Lewis touchdown happened with 7:48 left in the third quarter, and this was just great play design by the Jags—not to mention an inability to adapt by Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, which, again, is uncharacteristic. Jacksonville put Lewis out to the far right as the iso receiver in a tight running formation, and clearly the Ravens were reading run from their own 4-yard line. Baltimore had safety Tony Jefferson one-on-one with Lewis and no help up top. Jefferson stands 5'11" and weighs 215 pounds. Lewis stands 6'6" and weighs 267 pounds. You can probably guess what happened here—Lewis just beat Jefferson to the ball as Bortles floated it over Jefferson's head. Here, the Ravens had three defenders spying the middle of the field, and they gave Bortles the schematic advantage.
So, it's hard to say if this is some sort of awakening for Blake Bortles—we've been fooled by that narrative before. But it is clear that if Bortles can play at a league-average level with the help of intelligent play design, and Jacksonville's stacked defense continues to play well, this team can be a real threat in the AFC South.
—NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar
Cam Newton Does Not Look Healthy
Through his first three games of 2017, Cam Newton has completed 51 of 83 passes for 566 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, including three picks against the Saints in a 34-13 Sunday loss. That the Panthers stand at 2-1 now is a testament to their impressive defense; Newton is an innocent bystander at best and a hindrance to winning at worst. Against New Orleans' usually porous defense, he was the reason things fell apart.
There's been a lot of talk about Newton's shoulder surgery last March and whether he's ready to play at this point. That's part of the problem—Newton seems tentative in the pocket at times, perhaps because he's physically limited—but his real issue is a combination of bad reads on his part and an offensive line that is doing very little to keep him protected. When left tackle Matt Kalil completely blew an assignment and allowed Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan to take Newton down unobstructed halfway through the first quarter, it was emblematic of the line's bad blocking overall.
That said, Newton's turnovers were on him, as well. He threw a short in-cut to receiver Devin Funchess halfway through the second quarter and completely missed that New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams had jumped the route. It appeared that Newton expected the curl/screen route combination to bring a Saints defender out of intermediate coverage, but that didn't happen, and Newton didn't adjust. That was the first pick.
The second interception was more on rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who ran a quick route out of the backfield and let a ball Newton zinged to him go right through his hands and into the hands of safety Marcus Williams.
The third and final pick was a read issue you'd expect a veteran like Newton to pick up. He was trying to get a ball to Funchess with 7:10 left in the game. Perhaps because the Saints were playing man coverage against Carolina's trips right formation, Newton expected safety Kenny Vaccaro to stick to the defensive right side in New Orleans' two-deep shell. But Vaccaro did a brilliant job of disguising his coverage, delaying until the very last split second his intention to scream across the field and jump the route.
Are Newton's shoulder issues affecting his play? He is missing open receivers at times, and he definitely doesn't seem to have his usual velocity. But he's also having trouble reading defenses and fitting throws into tight windows accurately. That could be because he's learning to adjust to physical issues, but diagnosing what defenses are doing against him has more to do with what's above the neck.
—NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar
Despite Early Success, Trevor Siemian Limits Broncos' Ultimate Ceiling
Perhaps we needed to see Trevor Siemian on the road to get a true sense of this Denver Broncos offense with him at the helm.
Siemian and the Broncos dropped their first game of the season, losing in Buffalo 26-16. Siemian completed 24 of 40 passes for 259 yards, was held without a touchdown and threw two critical interceptions as Denver was trying to get back into the game. The first came late in the third quarter with the visitors trailing by four and facing a 2nd-and-23 on their own 12-yard line. Siemian was pressured and tried to buy time in the pocket by rolling to the right, and then back to his left, before throwing a pass late down the middle of the field that was intercepted by E.J. Gaines. A classic blunder on par with starting a land war in Asia.
Siemian's second interception came in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos trailing by seven just outside the Buffalo red zone and facing a 1st-and-10. Denver tries a simple boot concept with Siemian rolling to the right, with two receivers flooding that side of the field. But with immediate pressure off the edge, the quarterback gives up a ton of ground before trying another ill-advised throw toward the sideline that is intercepted by rookie Tre'Davious White.
Some constant factors are present on both plays and illustrate the cause for concern regarding Siemian's ultimate ceiling. On the first, the quarterback tries to do too much in terms of buying time, and makes a very poor decision to attack the middle of the field late in the play. On the second play, Siemian is pressured immediately, and rather than taking the quick outlet throw in the flat, he retreats deep into the pocket before making another poor decision—a late, lofted throw along the boundary that is intercepted. On both plays, pressure and poor decision-making cost his team.
The Broncos can win games with their defense and with Siemian keeping the offense on schedule, cutting down mistakes and playing within the structure of the offense. But if he makes poor decisions, particularly when facing pressure like he did on these two plays, their recipe for success changes. Quarterbacks will face pressure at times and will be forced to make decisions under duress. If these are the decisions that Siemian will make in those situations going forward, he and the Broncos can only go so far.
—NFL1000 QB scout Mark Schofield
Dalvin Cook Becoming a Workhorse in Minnesota
There were certainly plenty of expectations placed on rookie Dalvin Cook when the Vikings traded up to draft him. But through three games, Cook has proved he was worth the investment and is ready to be the versatile workhorse back they need him to be. On Sunday, he amassed 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. His yards-per-carry average was far from spectacular, but his consistency and ability to keep Minnesota ahead of the chains went a long way in its victory over Tampa Bay.
On the Vikings' opening drive, Cook had six touches for 30 yards and a touchdown, including a 16-yard catch. He was stopped on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line after the Bucs penetrated, but the Vikings had no issue handing him the ball on second down, and he extended the ball just far enough to secure a score.
In fact, Cook was a key contributor on nearly every scoring drive. He picked up tough yards on 2nd-and-long, at times having to avoid or break tackles from multiple defenders to keep Minnesota in 3rd-and-manageable situations. Other times, Cook made key catches on third down, as he did late in the fourth quarter on a play-action pass. Cook worked into the flat on 3rd-and-2, making the catch to secure the first down and then continuing down the field to pick up 36 yards.
Cook has been every bit as good as advertised. He's the league's second-leading rusher, with 288 yards through three games, which eclipsed Adrian Peterson's rookie total at this stage by 17 yards. He's been equally impressive in his abilities to pick up the hard yards and minimize negative plays as he has been in finding holes to burst through on big plays. Cook has given the Vikings offense a new workhorse back that it can rely on.
—NFL1000 RB scout Mark Bullock
Todd Gurley Has Been Unleashed in L.A. Under Sean McVay
Last year in his sophomore campaign, under Jeff Fisher's coaching staff, Todd Gurley looked stale—like a shell of his rookie self. After a Rookie of the Year debut season with 1,106 rushing yards at 4.8 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns, Gurley was only able to muster 885 yards at just 3.2 yards per carry and six touchdowns last season. But under new head coach Sean McVay, the talent that shone brightly in his rookie year is starting to re-emerge.
The Rams offensive line is still a work in progress, particularly in the run game. There are still many occasions where Gurley is met with a defender in the backfield. But McVay has a better scheme structure that helps Gurley and his blockers up front. The Rams will often use Tavon Austin on jet sweep fakes, or sift a tight end back across the line of scrimmage as the ball is snapped. All this misdirection is designed to make the linebackers hesitate with their reads, giving the offensive line time to set up its blocks and giving Gurley advantageous looks up front.
As McVay is able to work more with his offensive line and add more talent in the coming offseason, Gurley should be able to recapture his spectacular rookie season form.
McVay has also made fantastic use of Gurley in the passing game. He's designed passing schemes that have found Gurley open in the flat, with one being particularly effective. McVay will line up with three receivers in a bunch formation to one side while Gurley is in the backfield. The three receivers all run in-breaking routes, creating a natural screen for Gurley to leak out into the flat uncovered for an easy pass.
Getting Gurley the ball in space has been a clear objective for McVay. That is where Gurley works best. He's averaging 10.8 yards per catch so far this season, with two touchdowns to go with it. McVay would love to get his rushing average up above four yards per carry, but even without that, he's found a way to manufacture plenty of touches for Gurley and get the most out of his athletic ability.
—NFL1000 RB scout Mark Bullock
Odell Beckham Jr. Deserves to Get Paid…Now
Despite not being 100 percent healthy, Odell Beckham Jr. almost single-handedly beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Beckham caught nine passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns in this game, but the stats don't really show the impact of his performance in Week 3. Beckham also drew a defensive pass interference call late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Giants to take a 24-21 lead.
The Eagles had no answer for Beckham as they routinely tried to double him, switch defenders and press him to try to disrupt him. But none of it matters, as Beckham was able to have his way with the Eagles defense while clearly not being fully healthy. His route-running plus his ability to beat defenders with athleticism down the field were all on display Sunday as he helped the Giants offense get somewhat back on track.
Yet again, Beckham made a few spectacular plays that no one else in the league could make. Both of his touchdowns were outstanding, but his best was a juggling one-handed catch on a fade pass in the end zone. His ability to catch the ball outside of the framework of his body makes him one of the best red-zone receivers in the league despite his smaller frame.
The Giants didn't go on to win, but the impact that Beckham had in the game was immense. Even with subpar quarterback play and one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, Beckham was still able to be so dominant that he allowed the Giants to be in the game late.
The Giants need to quickly pay Beckham as he is the best non-quarterback offensive player in the league. At this point, there is no reason to wait to give him a contract. He deserves to be the highest paid wide receiver in the league, and it should be done sooner rather than later.
—NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher
Chicago Bears Offensive Line Finally Helping Young RBs Howard and Cohen
The Chicago Bears offensive line has had an up and down season. With the adversity of injuries and tough matchups, the Chicago front has consistently allowed defenders to get in the face of both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen before they even reach the line of scrimmage and given Mike Glennon small pockets.
The Bears staff had built around their limited pass protection with short route structures, and the dynamic backfield had overcome the lack of running room through two weeks, but with Kyle Long back in uniform, things changed in Week 3. Chicago dominated up front in the run game, which allowed it to keep the ball out of Glennon's hands and gave the unit fewer reps where it has struggled: pass protection. Howard was able to get to the second level untouched for seemingly the first time this year, and the results were fantastic. Long's performance in isolation certainly helped, but his impact spread to the rest of the unit as well, especially Cody Whitehair, who always seems like a night-and-day different player with Long in the lineup.
The Bears front is seemingly constructed to run, with the dominant interior and tackles attempting to win in the phone booth rather than with active feet, and the results so far have borne that out. And with Josh Sitton, one of the best guards in the league and an extremely physical run-blocker, having missed Sunday's game, as well as Long still getting back to 100 percent, this unit should continue to flash dominant performances on the ground going forward.
—NFL1000 OL scout Ethan Young
Jaguars Proving You Can Win Without a QB Through Dominant Defensive Front
The first two weeks for the Jaguars was a mixed bag. Houston has a bad offensive line, so it was not too surprising 2017 free-agent signee Calais Campbell broke the franchise sack record. In Week 2, though, Jacksonville lost footing against Tennessee's top-five offensive line early on, and the Jaguars offense snowballed a small deficit into a larger one by losing three turnovers.
In Week 3 against Baltimore, the Jacksonville defensive line's top four of Campbell, Dante Fowler Jr. (the 2015 third overall pick), Malik Jackson (a 2016 free-agent signing) and Yannick Ngakoue (a 22-year-old sophomore who had eight sacks as a rookie) combined for two sacks, five quarterback hits and two tackles for loss in a 44-7 win. To say the least, they passed the test.
This is how many yards the Ravens gained on their first nine offensive snaps (not including punts): four, zero, minus-five, five, three, zero, zero, minus-one and minus-seven. By the time they ran their 10th play early in the second quarter, they were already down 13-0.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore's third-contract quarterback, finished with eight completions on 18 passes for 28 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. This was a Ravens team that not only entered the game 2-0 but was also one of just three teams to win its first two games by 10 or more points.
The interior of Jackson and Campbell, who also plays a "big end" role, and the pairing of Fowler and Ngakoue as third-down pass-rushing ends may end up turning the Jaguars into something like another AFC South team, the Texans. Despite flipping and flopping quarterbacks, Houston made the playoffs last season thanks to what their line-of-scrimmage defenders gave them early on in games.
We know what Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles looks like when you need him to make a play. When he was asked to manage the game against Baltimore, a team that had the highest-ever defensive DVOA through the first two weeks of the season, according to Football Outsiders, Bortles completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 244 yards, four touchdowns and a rating of 128.2. If any unit is keying the Jaguars' resurgence, it's the heavily invested-in defensive line.
—NFL1000 DL scout Justis Mosqueda
Jadeveon Clowney Living Up to Potential, Shows Out Against Patriots
Jadeveon Clowney has yet to be as productive as his No. 1 overall draft slot would suggest he should be. Though he was injured for most of his rookie season and parts of his second season, Clowney recorded just 10.5 sacks through the first three seasons of his professional career. He finally put up numbers expected of him Sunday.
The Texans may have lost, but it was not the fault of Clowney. He recorded two sacks and three quarterback hits. Normally, Clowney is more of a pocket-pusher who forces quarterbacks into other rushers, not the guy who finishes the play. This week, however, Clowney took full advantage of his strength and tenacity. His bull rush and inside swim moves are devastating to opposing linemen, and the Patriots offensive linemen had no answer for them.
Clowney dominated as more than a pass-rusher. Clamping down on rushing lanes and wreaking havoc in the backfield has always been a key piece to his game. Clowney recorded one tackle for loss this week, helping Houston stifle the New England running game to the tune of a measly three yards per carry.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Clowney's day was his fumble recovery. Whitney Mercilus came around the blind side and hit Tom Brady just before he got rid of the ball. The ball flew up near the line of scrimmage, and Clowney found it in the air. Being the athlete he is, Clowney took off from New England's 22-yard line and made his way to the end zone, propelling Houston to a 20-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
Clowney won't have a game like this every week. That type of production is not sustainable for anyone. That said, now his full potential is known, and it is fair to expect more of these performances in the future. Clowney is and has always been a good pro player; it's just never shown up in the numbers. Now it has, and it should in the future.
—NFL1000 LB scout Derrik Klassen
Rookie Safeties Living Up to Hype so Far
Entering the 2017 NFL draft, it was clear the defensive back crop was a talented one, featuring potentially elite talent at the top and unique depth that pushed future starters to late Day 2 picks. The first three weeks have confirmed that those evaluations were correct, especially when focusing on the special play of three specific safeties. Sixth overall pick Jamal Adams, 15th overall pick Malik Hooker and 61st overall pick Josh Jones were stars for their respective teams as each enjoyed a victory Sunday.
New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles has always demanded quality safety play, and the team responded by investing in Adams, Marcus Maye and Terrence Brooks to give Bowles versatile nickel packages. Adams has immediately paid dividends, as he's made an impact on both passing and running plays. Against the Miami Dolphins, Adams had his best game yet. He seemed omnipresent wherever the Dolphins tried to gain yards and racked up two tackles, one sack, an additional tackle for loss, a quarterback knockdown and a pass deflection.
Hooker's been a star for the Indianapolis Colts since he was inserted into the lineup halfway through Week 1. Against the Cleveland Browns, Hooker had three tackles, a pass defensed and already his second career interception. The rare range he showed at Ohio State has translated. Even when he's not logging statistics, Hooker influences how quarterbacks play because he covers ground so quickly. He's a foundational piece for this defense.
Most impressive of the three in terms of production, Jones has been a spark plug for the Green Bay Packers defense. With a team-leading 12 tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits and an additional tackle for loss against the Bengals, Jones was an impact player on a unit that has been desperate for one. Primarily playing more of a linebacker role, Jones has vaulted himself into the conversation as a draft steal.
—NFL1000 DB scout Ian Wharton