With Monday night's game in the books, the first quarter of the NFL season has already flown by. With some surprise performances and rookies that are far beyond exceeding expectations, the first four weeks of the season have been far from a dissapointment.
The next twelve weeks should bring more of the same, but before we embark on the final 3/4 of the season, let's recap the action from the first four weeks of the season, as well as all of the key match-ups from week four.
Saying that the first quarter of the 2012 season has held some surprises would be an incredible understatement. Both individuals and teams are off to unexpected starts to their seasons - some are good surprises, and others...not so much.
There’s been lots of talk about the big numbers Robert Griffin III has put up, but to an extend his quick success as a rookie was expected. The much bigger surprise has been in Miami, where Ryan Tannehill wasn’t even expected to start in week one prior to the season. But he’s done just that, and although his statistics haven’t been great, he’s shown improvement from week to week and has continued to gain praise from his coaches.
Tannehill may be only the second biggest surprise in Miami, however. It’s safe to say not many people saw the emergence of wide receiver of Brian Hartline coming. Tannehill and Hartline clearly have a great chemistry together, and it’s led to Hartline leading the league in receiving yards. He’s on pace to eclipse 2,000 receiving yards for the season, making his performance the biggest individual surprise of the first four weeks.
It’s hard to find a bigger surprise than the performance of the Arizona Cardinals, and specifically Kevin Kolb. In the preseason they were on track to be one of the league’s worst teams. The offensive line looked atrocious, there was no running game, and neither John Skelton nor Kolb were stepping up and taking hold of the starting quarterback position.
An 0-4 start wouldn’t have been unexpected, and many Cardinals fans were bracing for just that. Surely this team wouldn’t be able to beat teams like the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
But that’s exactly what they did, and surprisingly, it’s been Kolb who’s led the team to a 4-0 start. Kolb’s passer rating is 97.0 through the first four weeks of the year – higher than Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
Cam Newton hasn’t had the same type of success in 2012. After a tremendous rookie year, Newton has now found himself mired in the dreaded sophomore slump. He’s throwing for 100 fewer yards per game and hasn’t been nearly the threat he was in 2011.
It’s clearly not all his fault. The running game in Carolina has been dreadful, and their defense has been even worse. But he’s looked impatient and uncomfortable in the pocket, and he’s been looking to tight end Greg Olsen before looking down the field to Steve Smith more often than not. The lack of a vertical threat is killing the offense.
His response to the adversity hasn’t been less than desirable, as well. He’s been sulking on the sidelines to the extent that his teammates have publicly called him out for it. It’s not the same confident and outgoing Newton we saw a year ago, and the Panthers are in desperate need of his return.
There’s not really any question that the biggest disappointment thus far has to be the performance of the New Orleans Saints. Everyone expected some struggles due to the suspension of head coach Sean Payton. But most expected those struggles to be for at least a wild card berth, and no one thought the Saints would be winless through the first quarter of the season.
But that’s exactly what’s happened. Drew Brees has looked closer to average than he has since his arrival to New Orleans, and he’s taken some heat for their 0-4 start. But the real problems are on the other side of the ball, where the defense is allowing more than 32 points a game. The Saints are known for having a great offense, but asking them to score 30+ a game is too much, even when Brees is under center.
Recapping the Match-Ups to Watch
Miami DE Cameron Wake vs. Arizona RT Bobbie Massie
I mentioned on Friday that Cameron Wake, in spite of failing to record a sack during the season’s first three weeks, had been one of the best pass rushers in the league to that point.
Well, Wake is no longer sackless. Rookie right tackle Bobbie Massie stood no chance against Wake, who recorded an astounding 4.5 sacks on Sunday. Wake’s big day fell one half sack short of the franchise record, set by Bill Stanfill in 1973. The pressure on Kevin Kolb led to the Cardinals offense only having 68 yards in the first half.
In spite of Wake’s 4.5 sacks and the team total of 8, it wasn’t enough for the Dolphins. The Cardinals overcame a 13-0 half time deficit and eventually won 24-21 in overtime. Because of the loss Wake’s performance has been somewhat overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It was one of the strongest pass rushing performances of the year, and it may have been the best one we’ll see all season.
Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph vs. Detroit LB Justin Durant
In the first three weeks of the season, Kyle Rudolph was seeing a ton of targets from Christian Ponder. Heading into their match up with a Detroit defense that has struggled to stop tight ends all year, it seemed almost certain that Rudolph would be headed for another big day.
Minnesota clearly had a different game plan, however. The emphasis was the run game, and while Ponder was coming off one of the best games of his young career, the Vikings’ coaching staff didn’t show any faith in him. Ponder wasn’t allowed to throw the ball, and that resulted in Rudolph only being targeted five times. He ended the day with two catches for eight yards, far less than what he could have had if the Vikings had elected to throw the ball.
Oakland LT Jared Veldheer vs. Denver DE Elvis Dumervil
It was Sun Tzu in The Art of War that recommended that, like water, an army should take the path of least resistance. The Denver Broncos took that advice on Sunday, electing to play Elvis Dumervil left side of the defensive line, instead of the right side where he usually plays.
This meant that instead of going against Jared Veldheer, by far the Raiders’ best pass blocker, Dumervil would instead match up against right tackle Willie Smith. And although Sun Tzu wasn’t a football coach, his philosophy worked well on the field: Dumervil recorded two sacks, four hurries and an additional hit on Carson Palmer. It was an awful day for Smith, and it was a big reason the Raiders lost to the Broncos.
Stat of the Week
The Tennessee Titans defense is on pace to allow a whopping 604 points this season. The worst scoring defense in history only gave up 508 (the Colts in 1981).
Scouting Notes from Across the League
- One of the best rookie match-ups in week four was the Bills’ OT Cordy Glenn facing off with the Patriots’ DE Chandler Jones. Both rookies have had outstanding starts to their careers, but Glenn decidedly won this match up. It wasn’t enough to win the game for Buffalo, but Jones was held in check for most of the day. Buffalo has plenty of problems with their off season acquisitions, but Glenn is clearly not one of them.
- The Bears’ Lance Briggs will get the SportsCenter praise for his pick-six off Tony Romo, but it was defensive tackle Henry Melton who should get the credit. It was his hit on Romo that caused the errant pass, which Briggs easily took to the endzone. Melton also recorded a sack and generally owned the Cowboys’ MacKenzy Bernadeu all night long.
- Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis is one of the games best offensive guards (and one of the NFL’s best personalities). He didn’t have his best game against the Giants, however. DT Linval Joseph was getting off the snap so quickly that Mathis struggled to ever get any leverage against him, and it resulted in Mathis getting driven backwards all game.
- The Titans’ defense has been awful thus far, but Alterraun Verner has consistently played well at corner. He had another good game against Houston, but it still wasn’t enough to slow down the Texans’ offense.
- Kansas City fans had high hopes for Eric Berry in his return from an ACL tear last season, but unfortunately it doesn't look like he's back to 100% yet. He's had a rough first three weeks to the season, and week four might have been even worse. Antonio Gates got behind Berry quite often, and the safety also picked up two pass interference penalties.