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What We Learned From Week 4 Of The NFL

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 4 in this NFL season has been a wild ride. We had Chase Daniel proving his worth as a backup quarterback who’s usually paid not to play, Baker Mayfield getting his revenge on Rex Ryan and Daniel Jones outdueling fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins (after Washington starter Case Keenum was benched).

But let’s start with the weirdest score of the weekend: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 55, Los Angeles Rams 40. What the hell happened here?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): That scoreline was a shootout kinda on the order of that epic Rams-Chiefs game from last season. Only trouble is, the Bucs are not the Chiefs, and Jameis Winston is not Patrick Mahomes.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I just noticed that Winston was first in Total QBR for the week and Jared Goff was 20th. I actually never thought the game was in doubt until Winston lost his mind and threw one of the worst pick-sixes you can imagine to make it 45-40 (they missed the 2-point conversion) with about eight minutes left.

Goff was all meaningless numbers against the Bucs. It’s good that QBR susses that out.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): These type of point explosions are always in Winston’s range of outcomes. But so are those ridiculous pick-sixes.

Salfino: Exactly. He is so Jekyll & Hyde.

sara.ziegler: I guess my question when I saw the score was: What happened to the Rams defense?

joshua.hermsmeyer: *cracks knuckles*

Well…

Salfino: When you run into a hot QB and an offense that is executing, defense doesn’t really matter. It can’t win.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Defensive statistics — what we traffic in — are largely a function of the offenses you’ve faced, so we often get fooled by those numbers. We assign the numbers to the defense when really it’s just a function — mainly — of the schedule.

Salfino: The Bucs also never took the foot off the gas with their explosive passing plays. The hope for a defense is that the offense gets up big, goes into a conservative shell and loses its mojo if the game turns against them. The Bucs played all day like they needed to score 50.

neil: But isn’t this kind of a counterexample to that theory (that defense is only a function of offenses faced)? Last season, the Rams only gave up more than 32 points twice: Against the Saints and against the Chiefs. Great offenses! It makes sense that it would be a function of schedule. But the Bucs don’t really fit that same profile.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah. I’m not sure too much has changed from last season on offense, where we saw the Bucs putting up huge passing numbers one game and then fading the next. I think the explanation is just that they are very boom-or-bust as a team.

Salfino: The Bucs have talent, though. They’ve been all tools, no toolbox because of Winston’s volatility. But on Sunday, Winston mostly kept his erratic, mistake-prone self in check. If he does that, they are very dangerous. That might be the most talented receiving corps in football if you include the still-ignored-for-some-reason O.J. Howard.

neil: I suppose the Bucs offense did make Ryan Fitzpatrick look like an elite QB for a couple games at the start of last season…

Salfino: Basically, defenses need Winston to beat himself or they’re screwed.

sara.ziegler: Wait, this guy wasn’t elite on his own???

Salfino: I refuse to say anything negative about Fitz.

sara.ziegler: LOL

joshua.hermsmeyer: And yet all the shade for Gardner Minshew last week, smh.

East Coast bias!

Or something

sara.ziegler: I dislike them both!

neil: Haha

Salfino: QBR is throwing shade at Gardner this week.

neil: That’s right Mike — only a 38.8! But if you watched him late in that game, if didn’t seem like a 38.8.

sara.ziegler: He’s 2-1 as a starter.

joshua.hermsmeyer: No, he looked very special late.

Salfino: Yeah, he Tebowed, ironically in Denver.

neil: Lol. Now they know how it FEELS!

joshua.hermsmeyer:

neil: He takes a lot of sacks, but when his pocket mobility works, it is amazing.

Salfino: He was almost broken in half late in that game.

sara.ziegler: These rookie QBs, man. Minshew Mania, Daniel Jones…

Are you all onboard the Jones Express???

joshua.hermsmeyer: I am not.

My main reason is that in his first game, he performed at a level over what he ever showed in college, and that’s just unprecedented.

Salfino: That’s an excellent stat. Let’s see what he does against the Vikings this week. He’s lucky the game is in East Rutherford.

He’s also lucky he’ll only have to score about 17 points.

(Sorry, Sara.)

sara.ziegler: I think 7 points will probably do it.

neil: I thought Kirk Cousins talk was off-limits in this chat.

Salfino: I was trying to be nice.

Is Cousins still in the league?

joshua.hermsmeyer: You know who was worse than Cousins on early-down passes yesterday?

Tom Brady.

(Cousins yards per dropback: 2.97; TB12: 2)

sara.ziegler: 🤔

neil: I know Buffalo is a legit defense, but that’s a bad game for TB12.

Salfino: With Brady, do we have to be alarmed that he’s showing his age, give credit to the Bills, or just ascribe it to random variance? His raw QBR was 10.3, and it was under 20 even after adjusting.

Brady’s yards per attempt by year from 2016 on: 8.2, 7.9, 7.6 and now … 7.3. I see a pattern!

neil: According to our Elo QB metric, this week was Brady’s worst game (relative to average) since 2013.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Wait, is this the year he’s washed?

Sounds like bulletin board material.

Salfino: Eventually, we’ll all be dead, Josh.

sara.ziegler: Not if we eat enough kale, Mike.

Salfino: Never!

sara.ziegler: Hahaha

Salfino: Brady looked old. Let’s be honest. He is old. Gravity always wins, though he’s defied it for a very long time. Maybe we’ll look back at this as a meaningless blip, too, but I doubt it.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I dunno, something something stem cells. He could play forever.

neil: To be fair, Brady has seemed poised to decline so many times over the years, we’re numb to it by now. The default assumption is that he’ll rebound and be fine.

(He also was fine in the previous three games.)

Salfino: What’s the Occam’s razor takeaway with Brady’s Week 4? (Does Gillette make those?)

sara.ziegler: LOL

neil: I smell a sponsored segment of the weekly chat!

joshua.hermsmeyer: I think Bill Belichick expected a tough rock fight, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Much like the Cowboys and the Saints.

Salfino: Was the problem with the Cowboys yesterday too much running on early downs?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Hard to say what Garrett was thinking. Questioning the fundamentals of *squints* counting appears to be on the table in Dallas.

neil: Credit to the Saints’ defense, though, for the pressure they put on Dak Prescott.

Salfino: Why not open up the offense yesterday and force Teddy Bridgewater, who has no possibility of any explosion in his game, to make plays? The old saw is that you beat the opponent with the passing game and then beat the clock with the running game.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I believe the intent was to establish the run. They ran 20 times — many with the highest-paid back in the NFL — and averaged 2.3 yards per attempt.

neil: Bridgewater had one of the least-deserving QB wins of the season Sunday, I think.

Actually, if you look at worst QB Elo ratings in games the QB still won, Teddy’s game is second so far this season. Brady’s is the worst, LOL.

Salfino: That late sack was sickening. I actually thought Drew Brees was going to vomit.

Sacks that take you out of FG range are turnovers, period.

sara.ziegler: That sack was really something. I believe I yelled at my TV, “THROW IT AWAY, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.”

And I didn’t even have a rooting interest in that game.

neil: Residual Bridgewater rooting via the Vikings.

joshua.hermsmeyer: FWIW, Sean Payton blamed himself for the play call.

Salfino: I don’t care if the pass rush is fired out of a cannon at you, you can’t get sacked there.

sara.ziegler: That would be an interesting new wrinkle for defenses.

neil:

sara.ziegler: The other weird game yesterday, in my mind, was Lions-Chiefs.

The Lions look … good?

neil: Or, at least, not-bad?

Salfino: My plea to NFL teams is to stop the hurdling and reaching the ball over the goal line. The Patriots have a rule that if you do the latter, you are taken out of the game. And Matt Patricia obviously has a Patriots history. Yet, Kerryon Johnson did it so recklessly on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and they lost the game. It was a 14-point swing.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m so very glad the refs swallowed the whistle.

Salfino: Yeah, that was a super job by the refs.

joshua.hermsmeyer: But I think the game is just another reminder that we don’t really know who is good on defense yet. Are the Lions really that much better at this than the Ravens?

Salfino: The Ravens defense was just atrocious Sunday, but credit to the Browns offense. Mayfield made fun of Rex Ryan, but he did stop leaking out of the pocket like he’s a runner. He stayed in there by sliding and stepping up, and he made a bevy of downfield plays as a result. I think this was a big moment for him because he recognized a weakness and got out of a slump in a big spot on the road.

sara.ziegler: Rex Ryan, always helping out the young players.

neil: Baker needed that game, too. That season-opening slump had been really tough.

This was much more like the Mayfield we saw late last season.

Salfino: One other thing we should mention is the Bears QB situation. Chase Daniel was very good — third in Total QBR — and Mitch Trubisky is likely out for a while. Are the Bears better off with a QB who is more of a game manager and more capable of executing the easy passes? Or is Trubisky, for all his faults, still clearly better and thus this will hurt the Bears should it extend past their Week 6 bye?

neil: This is why Daniel gets paid the big bucks.

Big backup bucks.

A backup better than your starter is worth his weight in gold.

joshua.hermsmeyer: loool

Salfino: The number of backup QBs is really noteworthy too. It feels like we’re up to 137 teams.

neil: I saw a stat that entering Week 4, 40 QBs have started so far — a Super Bowl-era record through three weeks.

sara.ziegler: So backup QBs are the most important players, the Browns are back, the Lions are decent, we don’t know anything about defenses, and Tom Brady will live forever. Does that sum up Week 4?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes, Sara!

neil: It was a weird week. The Dolphins actually led a game at one point.



Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Sara Ziegler is the sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer is a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.

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