The Monday Game alone provided enough topics for Five Hot Takes, but we will try to make sense of the rest of the week as well. Topics include: Carson Wentz, a Super Bowl rematch, and an unlikely substitute kicker.
- Carson Wentz’s coming out party
Jon Gruden summed up the entire Eagles-Redskins Monday Night game in one sentence: “Carson Wentz is running the show.”
Quarterbacking the Eagles quick-strike attack, Wentz completed 17 of his 25 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns, tying a career high.
Just as crucial as his pointpoint accuracy, his mobility in the pocket and ability to take off and run kept the Redskins’ defense on its toes. The second-year pro rushed for 63 yards on eight carries, most of those coming as scrambles as opposed to designed quarterback runs.
His signature moment of the night came at the start of the fourth quarter. With the Redskins bringing pressure on a third-and-long, Wentz avoided a sack with a Houdini-esque escape from a pile of defenders, and proceeded to run for a 17-yard gain.
Wentz’s performance did more than spark a statement win over a division rival. With Aaron Rodgers out, it gave him the title of best quarterback in the NFC.
His case is strong. He leads the entire NFL in touchdowns, and is second in the NFC in passing yards, quarterback rating and rushing yards for a quarterback. He also has his Eagles sitting at 6-1, the best record in the NFL.
In only his second year, Wentz is already playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. If he continues to get better, he could be the future heir to Aaron Rodgers’ and Tom Brady’s shared throne for best quarterback in the game.
- New England dominates Atlanta in the Super Bowl rematch
In a highly-anticipated Super Bowl rematch, the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 in a game that the Patriots controlled from start to finish.
New England went about business as usual, as Tom Brady threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, while the stifling Patriot defense held Matt Ryan and co. in check until a Julio Jones touchdown in late fourth quarter garbage time.
New England seems to be the exact same team as when they last faced Atlanta eight months ago. They’re still the NFL’s standard bearer among the league’s elite. They’re leading the AFC East at 5-2, and remain the clear-cut favorite in their conference.
After a 3-0 start, Atlanta’s season has gone off the tracks. They’ve lost three straight and are struggling on both sides of the ball.
Before Week Seven, they lost back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. Neither of these teams are elite on either side of the ball — last year’s Falcons would have blown them out.
The Falcon’s offense must’ve gotten lost in Foxborough’s foggy conditions Sunday night, as they weren’t able to score until there were just four minutes left in the game and the Patriots were leading 23-0. The offense has been disappointing all season. Last year, Atlanta scored 30 or more points 11 times. This year, they’ve scored 30 once.
The catalyst behind this drop off could be the offseason departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and subsequent replacement with a first-time NFL coordinator Steve Sarkisian. His playcalling has yet to click with his reigning MVP quarterback, as Matt Ryan has only thrown seven touchdown passes this year. This year, he’s currently on pace for 18. Last season, he threw 38. Ryan’s decision-making has also deteriorated, exemplified by his six interceptions so far this season after only seven all last year.
Atlanta is currently in third place in their hotly-contested division. They need to turn it around if they want to make it back to the Super Bowl this year.
- The worst of the worst
The Cleveland Browns have been considered one of the worst teams in the NFL since I was born. They’ve held the worst of the worst crown for the better part of the last 18 years. But the San Francisco 49ers have sunk down to Cleveland territory this year, as both teams remain winless.
The question becomes: who is the worst NFL team this year?
Starting with the offense, the Browns rank dead last in the league, averaging 14.7 points a game.
Their eternal search for a franchise quarterback has continued as they’ve already benched rookie first-rounder Deshone Kizer twice. When he has made it onto the field, Kizer’s play has been abysmal. He’s thrown three touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and has only completed 52% of his passes. He still has the potential to develop into a quality starting quarterback, but he’s not even close through the first six games of his career.
Kizer’s running backs haven’t helped much either. Starting tailback Isaiah Crowell has only run for 287 total yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Backup Duke Johnson Jr. has fared better, averaging 5.1 yards a carry, but he has received less than a third of the number of attempts Crowell has. Johnson Jr. has been their leading receiver as well, and has at least 10 more catches than every wide receiver.
Free agent-signing Kenny Britt has been a disappointment. He was signed to be their top receiver, but has merely 10 catches in five games. Rookie tight end David Njoku has flashed lots of potential and leads the team in touchdown grabs. He’s tied for third in catches. Overall, there isn’t much to be excited about with the wide receiving corps.
The offensive line is much improved after last offseason, especially with the addition of Kevin Zeitler. However, this could change as pro bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is out for the rest of the season.
Although Cleveland’s defense has given up 24.1 points a game, they have some future difference makers. 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett has only played in three games, but has exploded with four sacks. Another 2017 first rounder, Jabrill Peppers is arguably the most versatile defensive player in the league, but has been incorrectly pigeonholed as a deep safety, instead of the linebacker/strong safety hybrid he was at Michigan. He has struggled as a full-time safety, but has the athletic tools and versatility to adapt. Linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., Cleveland’s best defensive player, has only played four games as well. The defense should improve as the two heralded rookies gain more experience, and Collins gets healthy.
On the other hand, San Francisco’s offense scores 17.6 points per Bgame on average, ranking a few spots ahead of Cleveland.
Brian Hoyer was the starting quarterback on opening day, but was benched in favor of rookie C.J. Beathard. Beathard sparked the offense in his first NFL appearance, but faltered in his first start in Week Seven. The book is still out on him, but he looks like a future game-managing starter at best.
Running back Carlos Hyde has quietly been off to a great start this season. He has 428 yards and four touchdowns on 100 carries. As the focal point of this offense, Hyde does take some pressure off of the lackluster quarterback play.
The 49ers have a much better wide receiver corp than the Browns. Pierre Garcon is a decent number one option. He’s yet to catch a touchdown, but is on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving this season. Marquise Goodwin has produced some chunk yardage as the no. 2 wideout. The undersized speedster has 20 catches for 349 yards on the year. Comparable to the Browns, the 49ers may have a future star at tight end in George Kittle. Kittle has 22 catches for 228 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line has been a weak spot, other than left tackle Joe Staley. 49er quarterbacks have been forced to run for their lives this season.
Statistically, the 49er defense has given up the third most points in the NFL. They got worse two weeks ago with the release of veteran middle linebacker and leading tackler NaVorro Bowman. Bowman had been their defensive anchor since the surprise retirement of Patrick Willis after the 2014 season. The remaining two bright spots on the defense are end rusher Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster. Both were 2017 first round picks. Thomas has two sacks, while Foster has struggled with injuries but is finally healthy.
Both teams are horrible, but the Browns deserve the worst of the worst crown. They have no offensive weapons aside from Njoku, and struggle to consistently move the ball in the run or passing games. On defense, they have a few up-and-comers, but nothing to hang their hats on this season. They may legitimately go 0-16. Sorry Browns fans…
- Joe Thomas’ streak snaps
The best player on the Browns for a decade now, Joe Thomas has been nothing but consistent. He had a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps played to start his career. It is the longest streak in NFL history since snap counts started being officially recorded.
That streak was snapped in the third quarter of Sunday’s game when he tore his triceps. He had surgery on Tuesday and is out for the season.
The injury is a real shame — Thomas was a modern day Iron Man, being that this is the first time he’ll miss any time in his 11-year career.
It’s also a huge blow to the already struggling Cleveland Browns, as Thomas fortified the left side of the offensive line, and was one of only bright spots on the entire team.
- Jeff Heath to the rescue
Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey injured his groin during the Cowboys’ 40-10 trouncing of the 49ers Sunday. With Bailey out, Dallas turned to backup safety Jeff Heath for kicking duties.
Heath, a kicker in high school, filled in admirably.
He kicked off twice, the first of which made it all the way to the goal line. He also made two of his three extra point attempts.
For a guy who hasn’t kicked since high school, Heath was impressive. Extra points are 33-yard field goals, and aren’t exactly gimmes. He has shown decent leg strength though, as he once made a 49-yard game winner in a high school playoff game.
Heath is a sight to behold as the 212 lb. defensive back might hold a claim to being the most muscular kicker of all time.