The latest news and notes from all 32 NFL cities as the majority of teams began to install their game plans for Week 4:
Buffalo Bills: Rookie quarterback Josh Allen apparently listened to the advice of team captain LeSean McCoy before the Bills’ unexpected 27-6 victory over Minnesota on Sunday in Allen’s first road start. “I told him before the game, ‘Josh this is the first time you’ve played in Minnesota Vikings stadium,’” McCoy said, according to the team website. “‘There are so many fans out there who may have heard of you, but don’t know you. So when you leave this game today, have them fans saying, ‘Wow, that 17 can play.’ So each game have that same attitude, where someone who hasn’t seen you play, you want to leave a great impression on their mind, like, ‘Hey, that kid can get after it.’ So I can say this. Each game he takes that approach he gains more confidence and gains more experience.”
Miami Dolphins: In his five years with the Patriots before signing a two-year, $12 million contract with the Dolphins, wide receiver Danny Amendola certainly learned a thing of two from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. One of them must have been to stay tight-lipped about the opponent. With the Dolphins headed to Foxborough, Mass., to play the Patriots on Sunday, Amendola did his best Belichick impression when answering questions about the game. What will it be like to be on the visitors side of the field at Gillette Stadium? “I’m going to be on the other side of the field. That’s it,” he said, according to the Miami Herald. Would it be emotional for him to see his ex-teammates again? “Emotions? I play with a lot of emotion every game. I have a lot of friends on every team. This won’t be really much different. I’m familiar with a lot of people in the organization and I’m excited to get up there.”
New England Patriots: The roles are reversed in Foxborough this week. The Patriots are the team off to the 1-2 start; the visiting Dolphins are 3-0. And coach Bill Belichick had some nice things to say about the Dolphins, including their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. “Seventy-three percent completions. You can start with that. He handles a lot of responsibility for their team with what looks like plays at the line of scrimmage where he can get the team into the right play or change the protection, things like that, and then his decision making on some of the option plays that he has and, obviously, in the passing game, his decision making on who to throw the ball to and so forth. There’s obviously a lot of confidence in him as there should be, and he’s done a great job for them.”
New York Jets: The Jets will meet the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Sunday and will face their former teammate, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He recalled that the Jets took a chance signing him after he was arrested on drunk driving charges and waived by Tampa Bay, then stood by him as he rebuilt his career. They didn’t re-sign him this year, but he’ll forever be grateful. “They chose me,” Seferian-Jenkins said, according to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco. “That was a big deal, to me. I was really messed up at that point in my life. Didn’t have any direction. I felt lost and they brought me in. They helped me. They had gotten me help that I needed and I’ve been playing good football ever since, so I really owe them a lot.”
Dallas Cowboys: Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman called two of the team’s first three games as part of the Fox Sports crew, so he’s had an up-close look at the 1-2 team. He said that while he has seen quarterback Dak Prescott struggle, the Cowboys have problems beyond the position. “I think Dak certainly can play better,” Aikman said Wednesday. “There have been opportunities for him in some games and he’s missed those opportunities. He’s talked about it. He has been pressing a little bit. The offensive line has not protected him as well as they have in previous years. There have been things down the field and the protection has not held up. And then at times receivers have had a hard time shaking one-on-one coverage.”
New York Giants: Offensive lineman Chad Wheeler had a tall order when he replaced embattled starting right tackle Ereck Flowers Sunday against Houston: keep star defensive end J.J. Watt away from quarterback Eli Manning. And while Watt got to Manning three times in the game, a 27-22 victory for the Giants, head coach Pat Shurmur was pleased with the performance. “Here’s what Wheeler did, he did a really good job, I thought, in the run game against a really unpredictable player. I thought he did a good job, and he finished blocks,” Shurmur said. “When you watch him play, you say there’s a guy who’s finishing blocks and doing those things. I’m going to take responsibility for it, a couple times he got stretched out and just pure one-on-one [pass protection] against [J.J. Watt], and I can’t put him in those positions as many times as I did, but he battled and in my opinion, even though he got beat on a couple of snaps, I thought he had a winning performance.”
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz’s return to the team after his recovery from a serious knee injury has relegated Nate Sudfield to No. 3 quarterback. After backing up Nick Foles at the end of the 2017 season, throughout the Super Bowl run and early this season, Sudfield was inactive last week and will continue to be as long as Wentz and Foles stay healthy. But he said he’s staying ready in case he’s needed. “I feel like I was on my toes last year even before Carson went down,” Sudfeld said. “I think that helped me and was why they trusted me to keep it going without having any film. But yeah, I think I feel more fresh now because I was active the first two games, I’ve seen a lot of football and I’ve been in our system and know our stuff.”
Washington Redskins: Running back Adrian Peterson said he knows people doubted he could make a difference for a team this season at age 33. He’s happy to be proving them wrong. All the questions make his performance through the first three games — 236 rushing yards, good for fifth in the NFL, along with three rushing touchdowns — a “little more sweet,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t. It does because people are discovering something that I already knew that I had within me. The people that are not around, that don’t see the grind that I put in, that don’t see me outworking 20-year-old guys that are just going into the league — they don’t see none of that.”
Houston Texans: For the second time in head coach Bill O’Brien’s tenure, the Texans proudly announced one of their players was in remission from a form of cancer. Safety Andre Hal, who was diagnosed in May with Hodgkin lymphoma, is in remission after undergoing treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The 26-year-old Hal is in his fifth season, the past three as a starter. Texans director of sports medicine Geoff Kaplan said Hal’s recovery represents the best-case scenario spelled out when treatment began. In June 2014, former offensive tackle David Quessenberry – who is now with the Tennessee Titans – was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hal is not yet cleared to return to the field, but Kaplan said it’s possible. That was Hal’s plan from the beginning. “I didn’t do chemo because I didn’t want to miss this year,” Hal said. “I wanted to play this year. I don’t think people really thought I was going to come back and play, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to come back and play.”
Indianapolis Colts: There is no debate from Andrew Luck that backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett can throw the ball a longer distance on any given day. The buzz around the Colts since Sunday, when Brissett entered for the last-second heave to the end zone, has focused on Luck’s shoulder and arm strength and its impact on the deep passing game. “It can get better,” Luck said of the downfield passing game on Wednesday. “We can probably look back and say, ‘Man if we’d hit a couple more chunks in a couple of the games that swings the tide in a way.’ We’ll work on it. I’ll work on it.” Luck said he feels good about where his arm strength is in the final week of September. “I really do,” Luck said. “I feel like I can make those throws and we’re where we need to be.”
Jacksonville Jaguars: Getting running back Leonard Fournette in the lineup for the first time since Week 1 might be the tonic the team needs, but the Jaguars continue to be baffled by mental and physical mistakes on offense. “We’ve got to find out and figure out how we’re going to handle it as a team,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. In a 9-6 loss to the Titans last week, the Jaguars had only 12 first downs and averaged a woeful 3.9 yards per pass. Six of 10 drives ended in punts. “It definitely feels like a letdown,” Bortles said. Defensive end Calais Campbell had two sacks in the game but said there is no time for the Jacksonville defense to start the blame game. “This one stings a little bit because it’s a division game at home. At the end of the day, it’s just one loss, and how we respond is really what it comes down to. I’m very confident this team will respond,” Campbell said.
Tennessee Titans: Splitting carries between Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis remains the vision of head coach Mike Vrabel. The idea of each player filling a specific role is one Vrabel encourages players to embrace, even if Henry had visions of being the bell-cow in Nashville. “I think it is similar. I think it is good. They are both helping us, and they are both going to play – we’ve said that,” Vrabel said. “As long as they are both helping us win, and we are trying to put both players in the best possible spot that we can, and the best position, I think we’ll go with where we are now. If it looks like a guy is going, he’s running … and he gets tired, the next guy needs to go in and we’ll keep flip-flopping them around.” Lewis leads the team with 143 yards rushing on 39 carries — he also has nine receptions for 50 yards — while Henry has 139 yards on 46 carries and just one reception.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons saw a breakout coming from rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley. One of the reasons for that is that other coaches have to devise a plan to contend with Mohamed Sanu in the slot and Julio Jones — who is double-teamed regularly — outside. Head coach Dan Quinn said the offensive game plan is to take what the defense gives quarterback Matt Ryan. “When you turn the game film on, you look at 11 (Jones) and from a defensive perspective, (opponents) are asking, ‘How is he not going to wreck the game?’ ” Quinn said. “… OK, there were 13 guys on Julio and he was open every play,” Quinn joked. “We just try to make sure we attack in the very best way that we can. Cal is making progress. He’s just hitting his stride.”
Carolina Panthers: A bye week trade for offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, a former fifth-round pick playing for his sixth NFL team, will not immediately remedy the blocking issues plaguing the Panthers, but veteran experience should not be undersold. He has 70 career starts and has played left tackle and right tackle. Carolina players were dismissed for the week following a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Where Newhouse fits in entering Week 5, when the Panthers host the New York Giants, is to be determined.
New Orleans Saints: Wide receiver Michael Thomas is setting a breakneck pace for receptions with 38 in three games. The 25-year-old said he’s not trying to be someone he’s not, and instead plans to set the bar at the position. “I didn’t have to be a prima donna to get where I’m at,” Thomas told Bleacher Report. “Everybody else is chasing someone else. I’m not chasing anyone. I’m chasing what I’m focused on and my job. Everybody else can chase me.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Jameis Winston is back from a three-game suspension but his exact role is not yet known. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards in each of the first three games — an NFL first — and steered the Buccaneers to a 2-1 record. Winston, who spent time serving the community during his ban, said he returns to the team Wednesday a wiser man. “Over the course of me being a franchise quarterback or supposedly a franchise quarterback, I’ve learned a lot,” Winston said. “I’ve been working hard ever since I stepped foot in this building.”
Baltimore Ravens: Right tackle James Hurst said the physicality and mindset of the offensive line keeps confidence high that the running game will be good for big plays. “The biggest thing right now,” Hurst said, “it seems like one guy is missing their block. That person is making the tackle. We’re not catching any breaks. Busting any big long runs or anything like that. We just have to stay to our assignment. Know who we’re blocking, get the job done. We know our backs are great at reading and seeing the holes.” The Ravens are averaging 3.1 yards per carry and the longest gain in the first three games was a 16-yarder by backup quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Cincinnati Bengals: Wide receiver A.J. Green was on the practice field Wednesday in the team’s first workout since he left Sunday’s game at Carolina with a groin injury. Green was limited at practice, as was running back Joe Mixon. Mixon is rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery on Sept. 15. Green has extra motivation to get back on the field, and head coach Marvin Lewis said he expects that will happen when the Bengals face the Atlanta Falcons. It’s an opportunity for Green to take on high school and college rival Julio Jones. Green was limited to one series in the previous Bengals-Falcons matchup in 2014. Jones (calf) also was limited on Wednesday.
Cleveland Browns: Count Raiders coach Jon Gruden among the growing number of Baker Mayfield fans. Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, makes his first start Sunday at Oakland against Gruden’s winless team. Mayfield passed for 201 yards and led the Browns to their first win since 2016. “He’s got the magic,” Gruden said of Mayfield on a conference call Wednesday. “He’s got incredible vision downfield. He’s got eyes in the back of his head. He’s the man. He’s the story that’s going to become bigger and bigger in Cleveland this year.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: This will be the 15th season of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry for two of the veterans on either side, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. Roethlisberger is 14-10 all-time against Baltimore, including playoff games, but no player has sacked him more than the Ravens’ loquacious pass rusher (16.5 sacks). It’s a rivalry both players enjoy. Suggs said Ravens-Steelers rates above the Super Bowl. He also said famously in 2011 of Roethlisberger, “God can have his soul. But his ass belongs to me.” Roethlisberger said Wednesday he hasn’t yet heard from Suggs this week. “I anticipate hearing a lot from him on Sunday.”
Chicago Bears: First-time head coach Matt Nagy remains closely tied to the quarterback room and particularly starter Mitchell Trubisky. Nagy was hired in part because of his expertise at the position, but early returns from Trubisky are not overwhelming. The latest adjustment Nagy will attempt this week is scaling back the game plan to simplify the approach and narrow the focus for the second-year starter. “If a teacher goes, ‘Do you guys want an easy test?’ You’re going to say, ‘Heck yeah.’ The less you’ve got to study, I’m going to ace this test,” Trubisky said Wednesday. “We’re going to pull back this week. Do I play faster? Do I play better? I guess we’re all going to see.”
Detroit Lions: Golden Tate leads the Lions with 20 receptions for 257 yards in three games, but he’s only reception and one yard ahead of Kenny Golladay. Marvin Jones leads the team with an average of 14.8 yards per reception. The leveled production from the trio creates a headache for opposing secondaries. “In my mind we just have three No. 1 receivers,” Tate said. “Pick your poison. I think we’ve all started off pretty hot. It’s a good problem to have, having three dominant receivers.”
Green Bay Packers: The Packers are making sluggish starts a trend, falling in deep holes against the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. Wide receiver Randall Cobb said urgency is becoming a buzzword in position and team meetings. “You always want to start fast,” Cobb said. “Start fast, you put yourself in a good position. Offensively when we start fast we move the ball well, open up different facets of the game — running game, play-action pass, the linebackers start to suck up a little bit and open up the back end.”
Minnesota Vikings: Rams quarterback Jared Goff gets a second swing at the Vikings’ defense in his young career after a visit to Minneapolis in November 2017, a 24-7 loss for Los Angeles. “They’re a great defense, they have been for a long time, and the stuff they do presents challenges and gave us a lot of fits last year when we went to their place and had to deal with that,” Goff said. “They brought back a lot of the same guys and are going to bring back the same type of stuff defensively, so we’re going to have to deal with it again.” The Rams had 179 total yards and 10 first downs in the loss. The two teams meet again Thursday in Los Angeles.
Denver Broncos: Denver’s defense will be the next to attempt what has so far been impossible — stop the Chiefs’ high-flying offense — under the bright lights of “Monday Night Football.” But the way general manager John Elway sees it, the onus will also be on Case Keenum & Co. to be sharp on the other side of the ball. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the defense — we’ve got to play well there,” Elway said. “But we also have to play well on the offensive side because they’re going to score some points … so we’re going to have to stay up with them.” The Broncos have lost five straight to the Chiefs, allowing between 27 and 33 points in each game.
Kansas City Chiefs: Between Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and others, there are plenty of stars dominating the offensive spotlight in Kansas City, but one under-the-radar contributor is wideout Chris Conley. Coming off a torn Achilles, the fourth-year pro has just five catches this season, but two have gone for touchdowns, one in each of the last two games. “I thought when Chris got hurt last year he was really coming on,” head coach Andy Reid said. “I thought he had a full feel of the offense and was rolling. Now, he was playing one position at that time. He is playing all of the positions now. You guys know, he’s very intelligent, a very hard worker and you pull for that kind of a guy.”
Los Angeles Chargers: Despite a 1-2 start, the Chargers’ offense looks as potent as advertised, ranking second in the league in yards per play and fifth in total offense. And it isn’t just Philip Rivers slinging it. “I think the one thing too is we’re running the heck out of the ball right now,” Rivers said Wednesday. “…The best offenses we’ve had in my time here have been very balanced. Not to say we haven’t had big days throwing the ball, and some days running it, but just very balanced.” The Chargers are third in the NFL with 5.5 yards per carry, a stat in which they ranked 26th in 2016 (3.8) and 2017 (3.8) after finishing dead last in 2015 (3.5). While Melvin Gordon has been good (4.4 average on 39 carries), Austin Ekeler (8.2 on 20 carries) has been nearly unstoppable.
Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden’s team must prepare for the first start of Baker Mayfield’s career this week, but the head coach also is keeping a close eye on the Browns’ defense, which ranks sixth in the NFL in yards per play allowed, 11th in points, ninth in sack rate and fifth in interception rate. “Gregg Williams is one of the best,” Gruden said of the Browns’ defensive coordinator. “He has — I call them muddy coverages. You might pick up the blitz, but you don’t know what coverage it is. Might be man-to-man over there, might be a rotation over there. …And they have some rushers that can get home now, and they’re getting some corners that can shut you down.”
Arizona Cardinals: Despite having a rookie quarterback in Josh Rosen taking over the starting job this week, the Cardinals won’t be taking much responsibility off the signal-caller’s plate. Asked how much freedom he’ll have at the line of scrimmage to make checks and audibles, Rosen said, “As much as [coordinator Mike McCoy] wants me to. I can do anything I want, but for the most part, a lot of stuff is built in — alerts, checks, all that stuff — we go over it. I’m never just kind of shooting by the hip, but I definitely have some freedom to do what’s gotta be done.”
Los Angeles Rams: L.A.’s defense has been outstanding so far, ranking first in points and first downs allowed this season, but the test is about to get tougher. With Aqib Talib (ankle surgery) on injured reserve and Marcus Peters (calf) expected to miss a few weeks, Sam Shields and Troy Hill will step in as starters alongside nickelback Nickell Robey-Coleman. “It’s a challenge any time your second-team people are in there, but we have a lot of confidence in those guys,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Tuesday. “We can call the same calls with those guys. … Both those corners that we have can really run.” Shields has 62 career starts but only one since 2015. Hill started seven games from the Rams from 2016-17.
San Francisco 49ers: With Jimmy Garoppolo (torn ACL) officially on injured reserve, all eyes will turn to C.J. Beathard, who says he’s much more prepared for game action in his second season. “Having gone out there and played in five NFL games, there’s nothing you can do to simulate those reps in practice,” Beathard said Wednesday. “… Just being another year under the system in Kyle [Shanahan]’s offense helps a ton. Just the knowledge of the offense, getting through progressions quicker, all that stuff.” Garoppolo’s win streak to close 2017 drew headlines, but Beathard actually led the Niners to their first win of the year, going 19 for 25 for 288 yards, two scores (and another on the ground) and a pick in a 31-21 triumph over the Giants.
Seattle Seahawks: Saddled with one of the league’s longest injury lists, the Seahawks appear to be creeping closer to being whole. Head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday that wideout Doug Baldwin “has a chance” to return against the Cardinals. “He’s confident — that’s not a surprise,” Carroll said of Baldwin, who has been out since midway through Week 1 with a knee injury. “We’ll see if he can pull it off.” However, linebacker K.J. Wright appears likely to miss another game as he continues to recover from a preseason knee scope. Carroll said free agent signing Mychal Kendricks will play again this week, suggesting any NFL discipline for his conviction of insider trading is not imminent.
–Field Level Media