B/R Staff NFL Week 4 Report Card: Bill O'Brien's Hot Seat Engulfed in Flames
Scorching-hot takes arise as seasons go awry.
A majority of the NFL's 32 teams have now reached the quarter point of the 2020 campaign, and the outlook for many has drastically changed in short order.
Six squads remain undefeated, while four have yet to win a contest. Some of these outcomes were expected; others were not. It's in the fog of a campaign where the best or worst storylines develop.
- The Cowboys are 1-3 with some of the worst defensive play ever seen.
- The Browns are 3-1 as arguably the league's most pleasant surprise.
- Tom Brady doesn't seem to have declined as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find their footing.
- The Houston Texans are a complete disaster with Bill O'Brien's future in doubt.
Those four developments are the tip of the iceberg as pressure mounts with each passing week.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Kalyn Kahler and Master Tesfatsion—graded those situations and others that came to the forefront during Week 4.
Mike McCarthy's Start in Dallas
Things haven't gone according to plan in Dallas after the Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy as the head coach. He was, by far, the most experienced and successful candidate prior to this current stop, and owner Jerry Jones thought the Cowboys lucked out having a coach of his caliber available for this year's hiring cycle.
"Yes, we needed Mike. We needed a coach. But to have his availability and to have his track record and ability to check all the boxes that I just talked about was fortuitous for this franchise," Jones told reporters after making the hire. "... And so while our time together initially talking about this job was meaningful, so much more went into how and why he's sitting at this table today."
Jones probably feels differently today after the team's 1-3 start. If not for a miraculous comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2, which the Cowboys nearly topped against the Cleveland Browns only to lose 49-38—Dallas would be 0-4 right now.
How has McCarthy performed through his first four weeks as the Cowboys' franchise leader?
Brad Gagnon: D
Injuries and poor defense are key reasons the Cowboys are 1-3 (and probably should be 0-4), but they've also been outscored 96-53 in the first half this season. That's an indictment of how prepared McCarthy's team has been. His offense has also turned it over nine times in four games. It's ugly.
Brent Sobleski: D
The only reason this isn't a failing grade is that the NFC East is an absolute disaster, and the Cowboys are still the most talented team in the division. Otherwise, Dallas relied far too much on name recognition during its hiring process without actually doing an expansive search. Sure, the offense is clicking, but Kellen Moore was retained as offensive coordinator. Any coach could have made that move.
Gary Davenport: F
The defense is positively putrid, allowing 38 or more points each of the last three games. McCarthy has seemingly forgotten for long stretches that Ezekiel Elliott is good at running the football. He was supposed to be the coach who would get the Cowboys over the hump and make the franchise relevant again. Instead, this team might be worse than last year's squad.
Kalyn Kahler: F
The Cowboys have confused me so much this season I can hardly form a coherent thought about them. If it weren't for some Dak Prescott heroics, they'd be 0-4—and the losses wouldn't be close. The defense is a mess, and I don't know what McCarthy really did during his offseason studying "analytics," but it doesn't appear to have improved his coaching.
Master Tesfatsion: F
Oh look, another underachieving Cowboys team. All that offseason narrative talk about McCarthy tracking NFL trends on film and diving into analytics has led to a disastrous 1-3 start. The Cowboys are consistently in a first-half hole, and their defense somehow got worse under Mike Nolan. If it wasn't for Dak Prescott putting the team on his back, it would be one of the worst in the league.
Chances That the Old Odell Is Back
Last week, a hot mic caught Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield telling his superstar wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to "be patient."
The Browns are a run-first team. Their identity is built around pounding the football with the league's best backfield duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. However, top wide receivers need to be fed, especially when so many question whether Beckham is truly happy in Cleveland.
A week later, the Browns featured OBJ. The three-time Pro Bowl performer led the team with 81 receiving yards and two touchdown grabs while adding 73 yards on the ground and the victory-sealing score in Cleveland's 49-38 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
With the performance, how safe it is to say Beckham has finally returned to form as one of the game's premier offensive threats?
Brad Gagnon: B
You want to see it several games in a row to provide a confident take here, but the 27-year-old has the track record and was his old self Sunday. If he's inspired by his and his team's start, he could be a Pro Bowler again in 2020.
Brent Sobleski: B
Beckham and Mayfield never established a rapport last year. Mayfield wasn't comfortable in a discombobulated offensive scheme, while Beckham spent the season at less than 100 percent with a sports hernia that required surgery this past offseason. A healthy Beckham with a scheme that's clicking allows him to be the playmaker he's always been even if he's not the focal point in Cleveland.
Gary Davenport: C-
The Browns fan in me certainly wants to believe this is the beginning of a breakout and not just one game that will make fantasy managers happy. And Beckham did have a solid outing a couple of weeks ago against the Cincinnati Bengals. But he and Mayfield need to string a few of these together before I believe OBJ is "back."
Kalyn Kahler: C
The Browns' win streak and a competent offense don't feel like a fluke this time. I am inclined to believe in these Browns, and especially if Nick Chubb misses time, Beckham will have to take a larger role.
Master Tesfatsion: B
I think it's an unfair question to ask. Odell never went anywhere. He just went to the Browns, who have a mediocre quarterback in Mayfield. He's still in the prime of his career and one of the most dangerous threats in the game. The Browns centered this offense around their running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But Chubb left Sunday's win over Dallas. If he's out for an extended period of time, Odell should get more opportunities to shine...like he always does against the Cowboys.
Tom Brady’s Play Through 4 Weeks
Tom Brady found himself in a shootout with one of the league's young guns when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced a Los Angeles Chargers squad led by rookie Justin Herbert.
The outcome proved to be a struggle in the eventual Buccaneers' 38-31 victory, but Brady showed exactly why he's considered the G.O.A.T. by dealing like no quarterback before him ever has.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 43-year-old signal-caller became the oldest quarterback in league history to throw five touchdown passes. The ageless one distributed the ball without bias by targeting five different options for the five scores.
In total, Brady threw for 369 yards to raise his yearly production to 1,122 yards with an 11-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. As a whole, how has the newfound Buccaneer fared through his first four games in the Pewter and Red?
Brad Gagnon: B
His 43-year-old arm no longer allows him to be a consistent game-changer, but he's shaken off major adjustment hurdles in Tampa and has become a real asset. That 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his last two games is promising.
Brent Sobleski: B+
The Buccaneers are exactly where they want to be: leading the NFC South with a 3-1 record. Sure, Brady and Co. didn't play as well as expected to open the season, but every transition needs time. The veteran signal-caller is giving Tampa Bay everything the organization wanted with his leadership, experience and level of play. Brady may not be quite the same player he once was, but that's OK. He's more than good enough for the Bucs.
Gary Davenport: B
The turnovers are a concern with the Golden Boy since he now has four interceptions on the season. But we're talking about a 43-year-old quarterback learning a new offense without the benefit of a normal offseason who has thrown eight touchdowns the last two weeks, including five on Sunday to five different receivers. It would appear the old man still has it.
Kalyn Kahler: B+
Brady's pick-six problem is now an established pattern, but he's looked better in Bruce Arians' offense every week since losing to the New Orleans Saints in his debut game. And as we saw Sunday, he's not letting his own mistakes beat him.
Master Tesfatsion: C+
The Bucs' comeback over the Chargers was driven by Brady's performance, and it was by far his best game with his new team through four games. It was a great sign for Brady, who seems to be finding a rhythm with Mike Evans and Scotty Miller. Brady should continue to get better with time, especially when this offense gets Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette back.
Bill O’Brien’s Job Security
Somehow, Bill O'Brien worked himself into a position that allowed him to serve as the Houston Texans head coach and general manager. To be fair, his teams have posted five winning campaigns in six seasons, including four postseason appearances. But the Texans' 2020 performance has been a disaster.
Houston dropped to 0-4 after a 31-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
O'Brien made a significant change after the team's first three losses by taking over offensive play-calling duties, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
"[Offensive coordinator] Timmy [Kelly] and I, we're trying to call plays that we think will work, but they didn't work," O'Brien told reporters after yet another loss.
The quote speaks for itself. Where does O'Brien's job security stand after such a brutal start to the season?
Brad Gagnon: C
This would be a D in a lot of other settings because O'Brien isn't a smart head coach or a good general manager, and there's no way his team should be 0-4 regardless of the tough first-quarter schedule. But Texans brass has always given him far too much rope, so I wouldn't count on a change any time soon.
Brent Sobleski: C
Knowing O'Brien's previous history and how the Texans have operated, the head coach/general manager will likely be granted a minority stake in the franchise after another disappointing performance. In all seriousness, Texans ownership should be disgusted with the team's performance, but I'm sure some excuse will be made in the coach's favor to rationalize giving him more time.
Gary Davenport: D-
If logic ruled the day, the Texans would move on from O'Brien posthaste. The Texans are arguably the NFL's most disappointing team, and O'Brien is a worse general manager than head coach. But if logic ruled the day in Houston, O'Brien never would have been given personnel control to begin with, so he may well last at least until the end of the season.
Kalyn Kahler: C
I'm giving this a C because I don't think O'Brien loses his job until after this season—if then. Since he's the coach and general manager, it feels like the organization is too reliant on him to pull off an easy firing. The rest of the league knows O'Brien has eroded the talent on his roster each season, and in doing so, he's put his quarterback in a tough spot.
Master Tesfatsion: F
O'Brien should've been gone a while ago. Instead, he's stayed long enough to trade DeAndre Hopkins and three of the team's top four 2021 draft picks. Now the Texans are 0-4, and they're in a can't-tank position because the Miami Dolphins own their first- and second-round picks. O'Brien leaned in on the play-calling in Houston's loss to Minnesota, and it didn't help. He's had too much power within this organization and destroyed what once looked like a promising window to contend. Deshaun Watson deserves better.
Justin Herbert as the Chargers’ Franchise QB
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn made an ill-advised comment two weeks ago when he told reporters this year's sixth overall draft pick, Justin Herbert, is "a backup for a reason."
Has Herbert been perfect? Absolutely not. He's a rookie, and mistakes will be made. Yet he averaged 310.3 yards per game in his first three appearances with a 5-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
His performance Sunday during the Chargers' 38-31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the opposing head coach, Bruce Arians, singing the rookie's praises. According to ESPN's Jeff Darlington, Arians told Lynn that he has a "great one."
He added, "For a rookie to make plays like that, you know they're special."
How excited should the Chargers be through three games of the Herbert era?
Brad Gagnon: A
See those freakin' deep balls? Dude was 4-of-5 on deep passes against the Bucs and looks far better than I would have expected considering he has mediocre support and is coming off a limited initial NFL offseason.
Brent Sobleski: A
The Chargers should be absolutely thrilled with the contributions from this year's rookie class. Herbert made enough plays for Los Angeles to upset both the Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, only to have the team fall short. Still, the Chargers now have the type of playmaker behind center they've never truly had. He can deliver the ball, extend plays and create. As good as Philip Rivers was during his prime years, he couldn't say the same.
Gary Davenport: B+
Is Herbert a no-doubt, can't-miss young quarterback who will lead the Chargers to their first Super Bowl win? That's laying on the hyperbole a little thick. But after watching Herbert nearly outduel Tom Brady on the road in Week 4, it's clear he should start for the Bolts from here on out. The Tyrod Taylor era in L.A. is over.
Kalyn Kahler: A+
Even though Herbert has yet to get a win, his future in L.A. is extremely bright. He kept even with Patrick Mahomes and nearly beat the G.O.A.T. on the road. Herbert's poise and physicality, as well as his accuracy, have been impressive. There's no doubt the Chargers have their franchise quarterback.
Master Tesfatsion: A
Look, I'm a Pac-12 alum, and I didn't think Herbert was worth selecting that high in the first round. I couldn't have been more wrong. Herbert looks great. I love his composure and his toughness. He made some great throws against a good Bucs defense. He'll hit a rough patch soon, as all rookies do, and I'll be curious to see how he handles it. He also needs to do a better job protecting his body. But he's the real deal.
How strong is Josh Allen's MVP case?
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen posted yet another sterling performance with a 288-yard, three-touchdown (one rushing) effort during a 30-23 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
So far, Allen has exceeded all expectations after finishing in the bottom half of the league for all the major passing statistics last season. This year is completely different. He has a 70.9 completion percentage, 1,326 passing yards and a 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio through four weeks of play. The quarterback has added three more rushing scores, as well.
More importantly, the Bills are off to a 4-0 start.
"I would just say we have some competitive dogs in our locker room, and I can't say enough about one-seven [Allen]," Bills tight end Tyler Kroft told reporters after last weekend's win. "Josh is competitive as hell. He's going to make sure we're in position to win, and you see it out there. He's trying to stiff-arm four dudes and still throw the ball downfield."
Allen's development has been nothing short of extraordinary, and the Bills are winning. How does he stack up with the other competitors in the early MVP race?
Brad Gagnon: C
There's little doubt he's one of a handful of prime candidates, but have you seen what Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes have been doing? Let's see how he fares head-to-head with Mahomes and the defending champs in two weeks.
Brent Sobleski: B+
Allen deserves all the credit being heaped upon him because of his stellar performance through four weeks of play. He showed what patience and the right situation can mean for a talented quarterback prospect. Even so, his last name isn't Wilson or Mahomes, who have been every bit as good, if not better, so far.
Gary Davenport: B+
Allen has been lights-out this season for the 4-0 Bills, who look like a legitimate threat to the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC. He threw for almost 300 yards in a Week 4 win over the Raiders and added three more touchdowns to his already impressive resume. It's still early, and Russell Wilson remains the frontrunner, but Allen's not far behind him at all.
Kalyn Kahler: B
I think MVP will ultimately go to Wilson this year, but Allen is a close and deserving second. He's only thrown one interception so far and is on pace for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 total touchdowns. Wild.
Master Tesfatsion: B-
Josh Allen is having a great year. He's still effective as a runner and has made significant growth as a passer. His name absolutely belongs in the conversation if he can maintain this level of play, but I'm skeptical of that. It goes beyond his 124.8 passer rating through four games. Josh Allen is going to make some head-scratching Josh Allen plays that will cost this team, unlike other MVP contenders like Russell Wilson.
Nick Foles' Debut as Bears' Starting QB
The Chicago Bears pulled the plug on the Mitchell Trubisky experiment last week and officially named Nick Foles the starter for Sunday's contest against the Indianapolis Colts. They didn't fare much better on the offensive side of the ball with him leading the way.
The one-time Super Bowl MVP passed for 249 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the 19-11 loss. As a unit, the Bears managed 269 yards and didn't move the ball with any regularity against the NFL's top-ranked defense until late in the fourth quarter.
"We need to be a lot better. ... You have to be able to run more than 28 yards per game," head coach Matt Nagy told reporters after the game. "And we know that."
Yet the Bears' inability to run the ball didn't affect Foles' effectiveness in the play-action game, as ESPN Stats & Info noted. Conversely, the veteran failed when not utilizing play-action.
How did the quarterback perform in his debut as the Bears' starter?
Brad Gagnon: D
Foles is not a quality long-term starting solution in this league, and he showed us that with a dud performance Sunday. He evades an F because the Indianapolis defense is pure fire right now.
Brent Sobleski: D
Foles was always the right choice for the Bears job, but that doesn't mean he was a good choice. Chicago decided to side with familiarity because of his previous working relationships with head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo instead of actually trying to improve the position. So, the organization got exactly what it deserved with yet another pitiful offensive performance.
Gary Davenport: D
Granted, it came against the NFL's No. 1 defense, but 26-of-42 for 249 yards, a touchdown in garbage time and an interception with a passer rating south of 80 doesn't inspire a ton of confidence that Foles gives Da Bears a better chance to win than Mitchell Trubisky did. Round and round the mediocre-quarterback carousel goes. Where it stops, no one cares.
Kalyn Kahler: D
The Colts defense is really good and was consistently playing two safeties deep to take away the deep options Foles was looking for, so I'll cut him a little bit of slack on that. Putting up three points in three quarters is about as bad as can be, and Foles just flat-out missed several receivers who were wide open throughout the game. The Bears might not have a quarterback after all.
Master Tesfatsion: D
If you wanted to watch a game where wide receivers effectively created separation just to be thrown terrible passes from their quarterbacks, Colts-Bears was for you. Nick Foles didn't look good. You can argue how good the Colts defense is, but Indy has played a preseason schedule to this point (Jaguars, Vikings, Jets). There were opportunities left on that field where he couldn't make a good throw, similar to Mitch Trubisky. Where the Bears go from here, who knows. But they don't have a good option available.