Snap judgments on Jackson, Trubisky, Dalton, other NFL QBs

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Which quarterbacks shined brightest and tumbled farthest in Week 1?

Mueller: Week 1 in the NFL, as you may have heard, is the time for snap judgments, many of which end up being wrong. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by several quarterbacking performances and underwhelmed, to say the least, by others. The goal, of course, is to figure which efforts are a harbinger of things to come and which are blips on the radar.

First, the good. I was skeptical about Baltimore’s newfangled offense, both in terms of what form it would take, and whether or not Lamar Jackson could stay healthy enough and improve enough as a passer to make it work. And while the Dolphins are doing everything short of actively throwing games in an effort to tank, what Jackson (324 yards passing, five TDs) did to them in Week 1 was still stunning. 

Jackson has always thrown a good deep ball, and the Ravens had things schemed up such that he had multiple opportunities to cut it loose, and he took full advantage. His 83-yard TD pass to Marquise Brown was beautifully arced, and even took into account a bump that Brown had to fight through well into his route. Far more impressive was his first touchdown hookup with Brown, a 47-yard play that saw him place the ball perfectly on a slant route, giving Brown a chance to catch the ball out ahead of his body and in stride, and go the distance. 

If the pass had been thrown anywhere else, it might still have been a completion, but it wouldn’t have gone for a score. Again, it was only Miami; teams will adjust, and Jackson — who faces Arizona in Week 2 — won’t always have all day to throw, but if he keeps up a pace anything remotely close to this, Baltimore might successfully defend its AFC North title. 

On the flip side, I’d be concerned if I were a Chicago Bears fan. The defense is great, but Mitchell Trubisky did nothing to impress in the 10-3 loss to Green Bay in Week 1. Pro Football Focus’ passing grade for Trubisky was 53.8 — a bad number, yet one that still seemed generous. He was terrible under pressure, terrible against the blitz, and showed no ability to make big plays. The Bears went 3-for-15 on third downs, and Trubisky — who faces a good Broncos defense on the road in Week 2 — consistently failed to fit the ball into tight windows. 

Chicago’s chances of being a serious NFC title contender hinge on Trubisky making big strides, and for one game, he looked overmatched. His interception wasn’t an unlucky one, either. He stared down Allen Robinson, and made it easy for Adrian Amos to play center field and make the pick. The staredown was enough of a rookie mistake.

What’s just as bad is the fact that Trubisky, knowing he had two downs to get 10 yards, could have thrown underneath and taken a chunk, then had a more manageable do-or-die fourth down. He didn’t, and the game was functionally over after that. This is Trubisky’s third season — we need to see much more.

Sep 8, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) passes the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Cincinnati 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: Probably the most overlooked of the new head coaches going into 2019 was the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, who had come over from the Rams, for whom he served as quarterbacks coach in 2018. There are several reasons for why this might be — the Bengals are hardly the most popular franchise in the league, but also because even in Marvin Lewis’ protracted stretch of moderate success, there was an understanding that the team hit its ceiling. In part, that was due to good but not great coaching, but also good but not great quarterbacking.

In some ways, the Bengals are caught in the same purgatory a team like the Lions is: They have a middle-of-the-pack starting quarterback who is just good enough to keep his job forever, but never contend for a championship. Andy Dalton is in his ninth season. How did that happen? There have been a few times his status as starter has been threatened, but ultimately the Bengals decided to ride it out.

Clearly the idea of hiring a coach with a background helping QBs was a last-ditch effort to make an honest go of it with Dalton. In Week 1, though the team ultimately fell short in Seattle, he looked pretty good. He threw for two scores and 418 yards. The main concern was a lack of protection, as he was sacked five times, including one on the final possession that resulted in a fumble that iced the game.

This was without the services of A.J. Green and left tackle Cordy Glenn. The Seahawks no longer have the Legion of Boom, but still on the road, given the circumstances, this was about as encouraging as it could be for Dalton, save for perhaps also coming away with a victory.

On the flip side, there’s Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. They dumped Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator and brought back Dirk Koetter, whom the Falcons had success before he had an unremarkable stint as the Bucs head coach. With a supposed return to offensive competence, the Falcons responded with 12 points in Week 1 against Minnesota, and Matt Ryan had his first multiple-interception game since December 2017.

Atlanta stunk up the joint in the first half, trailing 21-0 at the break. This is a team with immense talent on offense, one of the best receiving tandems in the league, and a quarterback who falls just outside the accepted group of elites. Ryan had a chance to possibly get Atlanta into the game early in the second half, only to throw a red- zone interception on the first possession of the third quarter. 

On the second-down play, it was hard to tell whether Ryan was trying to throw it out of the back of the end zone and live for third down or make a sincere attempt to fit one in. Either way the result was essentially a game-ending blunder. Ryan is obviously secure for the foreseeable future, but there’s only so much blame that can be pinned on coordinators for the failure of what should be a dynamic offense.

Mueller: What’s most interesting to me about all of the quarterback-centric stories lately is how many of them seem to involve the play-caller as a co-star. Maybe it’s just my memory failing me, but it feels like the fascination with hotshot offensive coordinators or head coaches is a recent trend. Sure, there was Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense, and Air Coryell further back, but aside from Norv Turner and maybe Mike Shanahan, it never felt like the guys calling the plays in the ’90s and early-2000s had household-name status. 

With Taylor in Cincy, you almost get the sense that he’ll get more credit than Dalton, because there is a perception that Dalton is already known, and any growth will be Taylor’s doing. Same thing in Arizona, where it’s Kyler and Kliff, not just Kyler. I could go on, but you get the idea. 

I don’t want to sound like I’m bemoaning it, either. Feels like a position long described as the most important in all of sports is finally getting the kind of treatment commensurate with such a designation. If you’re trying to find a franchise QB, might as well go all-in on trying to maximize his talents. If that means hiring as head coach a guy they’re comfortable with, like Freddie Kitchens for Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, or surrounding them with players who complement what they do well, like Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, so be it. Better to risk spectacular failure than deal in half-measures.

Sep 8, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) talks with head coach Sean McVay in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison:  I think the playcaller as co-star trend began, as many recent coaching trends have, with Rams head Sean McVay. He came to Los Angeles having been hailed with guiding Kirk Cousins to respectability in Washington, where he was offensive coordinator, and the idea was that he could do the same with Jared Goff, who was already being discussed as a bust after a disastrous rookie campaign during the last year of Jeff Fisher’s regime. That was probably unfair given that it was just one abbreviated season, and Fisher had an impressive track record of destroying quarterbacks in pedestrian offenses.

Yet McVay has not only rescued Goff, he has gotten almost the entirety of the credit for his success. Part of that is because fans and media can point to the fact that McVay has been said to essentially read defenses for him and call plays up until the point that the coach can no longer communicate with the quarterback over the helmet mic before a play. That perception solidified with last season’s Super Bowl loss, when the Patriots developed a strategy to call a second defensive play after Goff could no longer talk with McVay pre-snap. We all saw how muddled the Rams’ offense was in that game.

Some of that criticism seems valid and yet also somewhat of an oversimplification. Goff, after all, still has to make the throws, and he’s not going to the first read on every play, so no matter how savvy the guidance is from McVay, he has to do at least some of it himself. Moreover, if this strategy were so simple and effective, why has it not been emulated league-wide yet? McVay is billed as a wunderkind, but I doubt his offensive acumen is that much more pronounced than a lot of other head coaches around the league.

By: Chris Mueller and Mike Tunison

2019 NFL MVP favorites and odds

The NFL quarterbacks’ MVP dynasty

Two gifted running backs — Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson — won the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in consecutive seasons, 2005-2006. Since then, 11 of the past 12 MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 2018 top dog Patrick Mahomes who earned 41 of the 50 first-place votes. Fellow quarterback Drew Brees finished second. So Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season — less than a year removed from a torn ACL — remains the last time somebody other than an NFL quarterback hoisted the NFL MVP hardware.

Spoiler alert: Based on the favorites to win the 2019 MVP, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon.

Odds via Bovada 2 of 16

Cam Newton

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,395 pass yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs | 488 rush yards  and four TDs

A shoulder injury may have cost Newton the final two games on paper, but anybody who watched the Panthers quarterback grind out the 2018 season knows it cost the team much more. Carolina started the season 6-2 and in a prime position to reach the playoffs. However, the severity of Newton’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing balls down field and allowed defenses to cheat up and play the underneath routes. After the hot start, the Panthers lost seven of their last eight games. Newton had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, and he’s expected to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season. His MVP chances ride on improved play of DJ Moore, Jarius Wright and a healthy Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but when healthy he’s Cam’s most trusted target. If Olsen misses time, running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP odds could be just as high as Cam’s. 3 of 16

Philip Rivers

Odds: +2,000
2018 stats: 4,308 pass yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs

Rivers may be the NFL equivalent of MLB’s Cal Ripken. The Chargers ironman has not missed a game for 13 consecutive seasons. While the league has gone to great lengths to protect the quarterback, the fact Rivers hasn’t sustained a serious injury over the past 208 games is nothing short of a miracle. Led by Keenan Allen, his receiving corps remains intact and receives a slight upgrade with the full-time return of tight end Hunter Henry who missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. The one constant who is missing as of press time is Melvin Gordon. The Chargers starting running back is holding out in hopes of a new contract. If Gordon’s holdout lingers into the regular season, Rivers’ odds of winning the 2019 MVP should take a notable hit. 4 of 16

Jimmy Garoppolo

Odds: +3,300
2018 stats: 718 pass yards, five TDs and three INTs (in only three games due to torn ACL)

The saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and when it comes to Jimmy G. what we don’t  know outweighs his elite hype. Garoppolo has yet to play in more than six regular-season games and missed the final 13 games of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. So the 2019 season will be a fresh canvas on which to either paint a masterpiece and fill in those unknown gaps OR post pedestrian stats as he has through his first nine games as the 49ers quarterback: 12:8 TD:INT ratio. If you’re looking for a reason to back this long shot, Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes will benefit — not hurt — Jimmy G’s shot at the 2019 MVP. 5 of 16

Matt Ryan

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 4,924 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Ryan was one of only four quarterbacks last season to finish with more than 600 pass attempts. Aside from a pass-first offense, the primary reason his pass attempts reached a three-year high is due to a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which turned the secondary into Swiss-cheese city, and opponents racked up early leads. So Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (10 TDs as a rookie) and others spent most of the game in rally mode via the pass. If the defense can stay healthy, the Falcons are one of those squads that could flip the script and qualify for the playoffs one year after missing them. Ryan is as consistent as they come and despite turning 30 years old, Jones will go down as one of the top targets in NFL history. 6 of 16

Ben Roethlisberger

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 5,129 pass yards, 34 TDs and 16 INTs

Without Le’Veon Bell last season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions (career-high), attempts (career-high), passing yards (career-high) and pass yards per game. The loss of both Bell and Antonio Brown will no doubt change the Steelers’ offensive dynamic, but don’t sleep on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill Brown’s shoes as Big Ben’s primary receiver in addition to a healthy running game of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. While many believe the AFC North torch has been passed to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, an MVP season by Roethlisberger would mute any chance of that happening. 7 of 16

Deshaun Watson

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 4,165 pass yards, 26 TDs and nine INTs | 551 rush yards and five TDs

The good news for Watson is that he’ll probably compete for an NFL MVP one day. The bad news is that unless his offensive line play improves 1,000 percent, he won’t be among the 2019 MVP finalists. Remember: Despite mobility that rivals Russell Wilson, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. To be fair some of those sacks were no doubt Watson’s fault. However, as of early August, head coach Bill O’Brien admits he still doesn’t know who will start on the offensive line. How does this not get addressed in the offseason? Forget Watson’s MVP chances. The Texans could find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. 8 of 16

Mitch Trubisky

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 3,223 pass yards, 24 TDs and 12 INTs

The Chicago Bears 2018 defense ranked first in points allowed and against the rush, third in turnover differential (+12) and seventh against the pass. Its pass offense ranked outside the top 20. So the obvious question becomes where can Trubisky improve in his third year when the top three receiving targets remain the same and the Bears front office elected to shake up the running back depth chart after averaging 121 rush yards per game last season (11 th)? It’s a loaded question. Despite an above-average arm and 421 rush yards and three rush TDs last season, it’s hard to fathom Trubisky making enough of a statistical leap toward MVP when the most valuable players — plural — on the team likely reside on the defensive side of the ball. 9 of 16

Russell Wilson

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,448 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Because the Seahawks averaged a league-leading 160 yards per game last season, Wilson’s passing totals were the lowest since 2014. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl run, the offense needs to find a consistent passing game aside from Wilson running for his life on third and long. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season, but that total could have been higher if not for his elite mobility out of the pocket. So the offensive line play must improve, and Pete Carroll needs to find lighting in a bottle with second-round draft pick DK Metcalf. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver out of Ole Miss is a polarizing brand, but Wilson has no choice but to embrace the rookie because without Doug Baldwin, No. 3’s primary target is 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster Tyler Lockett. 10 of 16

Carson Wentz

Odds: +1,200
2018 Stats: 3,074 pass yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs (11 games)

Wentz’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL tear, and he missed the final three games of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his back. The knock of Wentz is that these annual ailments date back to high school. However, when you place the injury history on the back burner and assess a potential 16-game campaign for the Eagles quarterback, it’s evident he has the talent and players around him to make a run at an MVP and Super Bowl title. One guy who will help him reach those goals is DeSean Jackson. The speedy, downfield receiver returns to Philadelphia at age 32 and should allow for Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to enjoy softer coverages this season. Also, the arrival of Jordan Howard should improve the Eagles 28 th-ranked running game of a season ago, which should also boost Wentz’s MVP odds.

By: Ryan Fowler

Falcons Preparing Extensively For Packers

Written by Vaughn McClure at

Brooks Reed better be on alert this time. The boss is watching.

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn clearly remembers what happened the last time his team faced Green Bay, in Week 8 of the regular season. The Falcons escaped with a 33-32 win, but there was a penalty on Reed in the fourth quarter that could have been costly.

During a personnel change, the defensive end slowly made his way off the field, and the savvy Rodgers saw it and quickly got the ball snapped. As a result, Reed and the Falcons were penalized 5 yards for having 12 men on the field after an official review. The penalty, which wiped out a third-and-4 defensive stop, gave the Packers a first down and set up a go-ahead touchdown.

The Falcons were bailed out when Matt Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu for the game-winning, 11-yard score. But Reed was ripped on social media.

Quinn was asked if he might kid around with Reed this week and bring up the blunder.

“For sure. I don’t know if it would be kidding,” he said with a laugh. “I will say that the point will be stressed.”

There are many factors the Falcons have to be aware of as they prepare to face the red-hot Rodgers in Sunday’s NFC Championship game. The two-time MVP thrives out of the pocket and against the blitz. He can move a safety with his eyes, then go the other direction to an open man. He can throw a dart across his body on the run probably better than anyone else.

One area in which the Falcons have to show great discipline is those personnel changes, knowing Rodgers is waiting to catch them napping with the no-huddle, quick game. Going between the nickel and base defenses, of course, means different waves of players entering and exiting for the Falcons, and that gives Rodgers a chance to pull off one of his signature moves.

Is Matt Ryan The NFL MVP?

Written by Brent Sobleski at Bleacher

Go ahead and tell everybody; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the man.

In a quarterback-driven league, Ryan’s body of work throughout the 2016 campaign warrants recognition as the NFL’s MVP.

His dominance was on full display Sunday during a 38-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. Ryan completed 75 percent of his passes for 331 yards and four touchdowns. In doing so, the Falcons captured a division crown and the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

With a stellar performance in the regular-season finale, the Falcons quarterback built on a resume already worthy of the league’s top honor.

Ryan’s near-flawless performance broke his own franchise record, as he set a new Falcons single-season mark with 4,944 passing yards.

Atlanta’s franchise player operated with the precision of a surgeon:

The quarterback’s efficiency has been staggering. In fact, his performance registers among the best in NFL history.

There are great seasons within the past 12 years that redefined how the quarterback position is played.

Everyone remembers when Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino’s record for most touchdown passes in a season and Tom Brady topped Manning three years later. Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 campaign still stands as the most efficient ever.

Ryan’s 2016 season can be considered as good as each of those.

Entering Sunday’s contest, Ryan already held a 115.5 quarterback rating, which placed him fourth all-time, according to NFL Stats:

He actually improved his previous standing with a 139.9 rating against the Saints. As the tweet notes, the three other quarterbacks listed (Manning twice) each won MVP awards.

Ryan isn’t operating in a dink-and-dunk offense, either.

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Falcons Dominate 49ers

Written by D. Orlando Ledbetter at

Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman powered a fast start as the Falcons bullied the outmanned San Francisco 49ers on their way to a 41-13 victory on Sunday.

The Falcons’ march back to the playoffs continued before a festive crowd of 70,164 fans at the Georgia Dome.

Freeman, running with authority, carried the ball 20 times for 139 yards and three touchdowns. It was the third time in his career he has rushed for three touchdowns in a game. Coleman added 58 yards on 13 carries.

“I think we did a good job running the ball,” Freeman said. “The offensive line did a good job blocking and creating lanes, Patrick DiMarco (too).”

Freeman broke loose after he was stuffed for 6 yards on six carries last week by the Rams.

“Just believing in each other,” Freeman said. “That’s the key. Going out there and executing whatever the coaches call and do what we are capable of. When we play as a unit, I feel like we are unstoppable.”

Overall, the Falcons amassed a season-high 248 rushing yards on 41 carries against the 49ers.

“It was good to see our offensive line and the run game take control of this game like they did today,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

The Falcons improved to 9-5 and insured a winning regular-season record for the first time since the 2012 season. With Tampa Bay’s 26-20 loss to Dallas, the Falcons have a one-game lead with two games to play in the NFC South.

If the playoffs started today, the Falcons would be the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

It was San Francisco’s 13th consecutive loss as they dropped to 1-13.

Here are the five things we learned from the win:

1. Standard is high. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was efficient as he completed 17 of 23 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns before being relieved by Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter.

“I think it was probably the first time in my career that I hadn’t played in the end of two games in a row,” Ryan said. “That’s a good trend. That doesn’t happen very often.”

For the second week in a row the Falcons were playing one the weakest teams in the league.

Last week, they Falcons jumped on the Rams and built a 42-0 lead. Against the 49ers, the Falcons didn’t play down to their level as they took care of their business early. The Falcons built a big lead with three first-quarter touchdowns.

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Falcons ComeBack to Beat Packers Late

Written by Vaughn McClure at

Matt Ryan insists the Atlanta Falcons are mentally tougher than they were last season.

The veteran quarterback went out and showed it Sunday.

Ryan completed 9 of 11 passes for 75 yards on a game-winning drive that ended with his 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu down the seam. Sanu was mismatched against linebacker Jake Ryan. It marked Matt Ryan’s 34th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, giving the Falcons a 33-32 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“They don’t call the guy `Matty Ice’ for no reason,” Sanu said of his quarterback. “The guy’s got ice in his veins. He just goes out there and just executes, man.”

The Falcons sorely needed this one after losing the previous two weeks to the Seattle Seahawks (26-24) and San Diego Chargers (33-30 in overtime). Now at 5-3 and leading the NFC South, they have a little momentum going into a crucial division matchup with the Buccaneers (3-4) Thursday night in Tampa.

After the San Diego loss, Falcons coach Dan Quinn showed his team a tape of boxer Marvin Hagler winning a championship bout after losing the first matchup by decision. The point of the clip was to emphasize not letting someone else decide the outcome for you.

Ryan obviously took the message to heart. He threw a pass the perfect height to Sanu with Julio Jonesdrawing double coverage, as usual

“When you feel his demeanor on the sideline, when there’s a timeout and he comes over and he has that locked-in look in his eyes, he’s ready to go,” Quinn said of Ryan’s demeanor. “His teammates respond to him because of his toughness and his attitude that he display for them all the time.

“These guys are a very tight group. They just love playing football for one another. It shows in the locker room and it shows on the practice field.”

Ryan, touted as the MVP frontrunner after guiding the Falcons to a four-game winning streak, finished Sunday’s completing 28 of 35 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and a passer rating for 129.5. He did all that with the league’s most dangerous threat, Jones, catching just three passes for 29 yards, all in the first half. Sanu, one of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, picked up the slack with nine catches (10 targets) for 84 yards. The Falcons will need Sanu to continue to play that way to alleviate some of the pressure off Jones the remainder of the season.

“That’s what he’s brought to this team: He’s a big body and excellent in the red zone,” Ryan said of Sanu. “I thought he did a great job all day.”

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Fantasy Stars and Whiffs From Week 4

Written by Ed Barkowski at

Fantasy stars, stiffs and surprises of Week 4 through Sunday’s games. And do you think Carolina wishes it held on to Josh Norman?

Came up big

*Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: Just the second receiver this century – and the sixth ever – to record 300 receiving yards. He looked like the football equivalent of Steph Curry when Curry toys with opponents.

*Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: A receiver can’t get 300 without help and Ryan became the 17th quarterback to throw for 500+ yards in a game. Ryan had 503 and four TDs. They are the first 500-300 combo in NFL history.

*Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Had five TD passes and five incompletions against the Chiefs. Whew. Makes what the Eagles defense did to the Steelers in Week 3 even more impressive.

*Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders: Just 88 yards, but three of his seven catches were touchdowns.

*Will Fuller, WR, Texans: Seven grabs, 85 yards, one touchdown receiving, another on a punt return. From Roman Catholic to Notre Dame to AFC’s top rookie.

*A.J. Green, WR, Bengals: Had 10 catches for 173 yards and a score on Thursday against Miami.

Let us down

*Golden Tate, WR, Lions: One catch, one yard. Against the Bears. He’s done nothing all year.

*DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans: One catch on six targets for four yards. Four yards!

*Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders: Carried the ball eight times for 19 yards. He’s been mediocre all year, but at least he scored touchdowns in each of the first three games. No dice in Week 4.

*Todd Gurley, RB, Falcons: Managed just 33 yards on 19 rushing attempts. Did have five catches for 49 yards.

*Matt Forte, RB, Jets: Gained just 27 yards on 14 carries; it’s best to try to avoid RBs playing against Seattle.

*Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Two targets, one catch, 11 yards. Play at Cleveland in Week 5. The Browns were scorched by Redskins tight end Jordan Reed for 9-73-2.

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Falcons Torch Panthers, Ryan Throws for 500 yards.

Written by Frank Schwab at

Remember when Matt Ryan wasn’t a good quarterback anymore?

After an offseason in which Ryan’s game was picked apart, he has been the NFL’s most productive quarterback through the first quarter of this season. Ryan was brilliant as the Atlanta Falcons dismantled the Carolina Panthers 48-33 on Sunday. He threw for 503 yards and four touchdowns.

It helps when you have Julio Jones to throw to.

Jones posted the sixth 300-yard game in NFL history. His 75-yard touchdown, when the Panthers were staging a rally, put him at exactly 300 yards for the day. Jones set a Falcons franchise record for receiving yards and Ryan set one for passing yards.

Jones posted just the second 300-yard game in the NFL since 1989, when Flipper Anderson of the Los Angeles Rams set the all-time mark with 336 yards. The closest anyone has come since then was Calvin Johnson’s 329-yard game in 2013.

Ryan had a chance to break the single-game record of 554 yards, and Jones could have topped Anderson’s record. The Falcons got the ball back 1:53 left, leading 41-33. A 52-yard pass to Jones would have broken both long-standing NFL records simultaneously. But the Falcons ran on first down, Ryan was sacked on second down, and then they ran a give-up draw play on third down to force the Panthers to use their third timeout. After that, the Falcons returned an interception for a touchdown to ice the game.

Jones’ tremendous day didn’t go unnoticed by former Panther cornerback Josh Norman.

We didn’t see records fall, but the Falcons will gladly take a huge win.

The Falcons appear to be the new favorite in the NFC South. The Panthers are 1-3, after going 15-1 and making a Super Bowl last season. The Falcons are 3-1 and looked like the superior team on Sunday. Ryan is leading the Falcons’ charge with his own resurgence.

Ryan, coming off a season in which he threw too many interceptions and didn’t post the same numbers he has in years past, had 970 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in his first three games this season. That didn’t come against the best competition, so there was some fair skepticism before Sunday. It’s hard to be skeptical after Ryan torched the Panthers. Only 18 other players have reached the 500-yard club in NFL history. Now Ryan is in it too (though Norm Van Brocklin’s record of 554 yards, set in 1951, amazingly survives on).

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Can Falcons Offense Run On Carolina?

Written by Cameron DaSilva at

What if I told you the league’s best offense came from a team in the NFC South? You’d probably assume it was either the Cam Newton-led Panthers, or Drew Brees’ Saints, right?

Well, neither of those teams is the best. However, an NFC South team is No. 1 in the NFL. And it’s led by Matt Ryan.

The Atlanta Falcons, sitting at 2-1, have been a pleasant surprise in 2016. Their only loss came in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Jameis Winston put on a show, topping the Falcons 31-24 behind his four touchdown passes. The loss wasn’t necessarily the offense’s fault, though. Matt Ryan threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, while he didn’t commit a single turnover.

The Falcons have rebounded beautifully since that loss, winning back-to-back games over the Raiders and Saints. Not surprisingly, they’ve done it on offense – the most balanced unit in football.

Dan Quinn and the coaching staff quickly realized they can’t win by rushing the ball for 52 yards, as they did in Week 1. They made changes to the offense, making it more balanced between the run and pass, and it has worked to perfection. Since the season opener, Atlanta has rushed for 356 yards in the past two games, skyrocketing up the ranks as one of the best rushing offenses in football.

By the same token, the Falcons have also had a great deal of success through the air. Despite the fact that the Falcons have committed to the run, and rightfully so, Matt Ryan and the passing game haven’t taken a hit. They’ve stayed on track and remained explosive.

Ryan and the Falcons are fourth in passing yards, first in passer rating and yards per attempt, and he has seven touchdown passes to just one interception. Only two teams – the Saints and Bucs – have more touchdown passes than the Falcons do. However, both of those teams have just one rushing touchdown, which is second-worst in the NFL.

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Atlanta and their TE Beat Del Rio and the Raiders

Written by Scott Bair at CSNBayArea

The Raiders had problems covering tight ends last season. The best on the schedule wreaked havoc. The unheralded caused problems, too.

Martellus Bennett was virtually unstoppable against the Raiders. They practically kick started Gary Barnidge’s career. Tyler Eifert torched the Raiders secondary in the 2015 opener.

The Raiders thought they had the issue rectified in 2015, and it was a non-story this preseason. Tight ends were again a major factor in Sunday’s 35-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Tight ends Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo got in on the action, combining for 10 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. They’re receptions created chunk plays and were integral in the Falcons’ offensive effort.

The Raiders had mental and technical issues in covering tight ends.

“I don’t think there were any physical mismatches out there,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It was a matter of guys having their eyes where they’re supposed to be and knowing what the heck they’re doing.”

Strong safety Keith McGill and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney are generally charged with covering tight ends. Those efforts didn’t go well.

“There were just breakdowns,” Smith said. “Communication errors, things that are easily fixable. Hopefully we can take that next step (and correct those mistakes).”

No onside kick: Head coach Jack Del Rio chose to kick it deep after the Raiders got within seven points with 2 minutes, 12 seconds remaining. He considered an onside kick, but put his defense in position to get the ball back.

The Raiders had three timeouts and a two-minute warning left, but couldn’t force a punt. That allowed Atlanta to run out the clock and secure victory.

“At some point, you have to make a play if you’re going to win the game,” Del Rio said. “We felt that, with all three timeouts on the other side of the two-minute warning, it was setting up for us to get the ball back and have a shot.”

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