nfl week 3 four things to keep an eye on
By Tayyib Abu
Week 3 is quickly upon us. It kicked off as Sam Darnold and the Panthers eased past the Texans to move to 3-0. Carolina now gets to relax and watch the weekend action alongside the fans.
Like always, it is a big week in the NFL. There are some massive games on the slate as some teams aim to notch their first win, others try to get back to winning ways, and a rare few try to join the Panthers at 3-0.
Here are four things to watch in Week 3 of the new season…
A New Era For The Bears
Andy Dalton’s knee injury has paved the way for rookie Justin Fields to make his first start for the Chicago Bears. The former Ohio State Buckeye enters the fray in Week 3 against the Browns. The infamous Chicago spotlight will shine brightly on Fields as he trots out to lead the team.
It is a pivotal moment for head coach Matt Nagy. The former Chiefs coordinator failed to develop Mitch Trubisky after GM Ryan Pace drafted the UNC quarterback in 2017. Pace bought himself time in Chicago as he pulled the trigger to trade up and get Fields; it’s now up to Nagy to develop Fields and the Bears’ offense.
Fields filled in for Dalton halfway through the game against the Bengals last week. The rookie got his first taste of real NFL football, and it didn’t prove easy. Fields’ QBR rating was a meager 4.4 as he completed six passes and threw one interception.
One of the reasons why Fields looked so unsettled is the poor offensive line in front of him. Per Football Outsiders, the Bears’ offensive line unit ranks 26th in pass protection. Moreover, the adjusted sack rate is a high of 8.5%. Now, it is a small sample size, and the Bears have played against the Rams. Therefore those numbers are understandably high.
However, it is fair to say that the Bears offensive line is a below-average unit at best, and they are dealing with injuries. Playing a Browns defensive line that is excellent against the run will only force more pressure onto Fields’ shoulders. Cleveland is susceptible in the defensive backfield as so many new players get used to one another. There will be chances for Fields. However, Nagy must help by calling a good game.
Nagy needs to find a way of helping his wideouts separate and get space. Last week, Darnell Mooney led Chicago on average separation yards, although it was still below the NFL average. The Browns defense and the weaknesses on offense will make Fields’ task difficult. But the Bears could have something if he can show glimpses of the big arm, scrambling ability, and fearlessness. The coming of Fields has happened quicker than some foresaw, he’s here now, and it’s a new era for the Bears.
The Colts' Season Hits A Major Hurdle
The Indianapolis Colts galloped with the Tennessee Titans in the final furlongs of the 2020 regular season. The Colts would ultimately lose out in the divisional race; however, the Colts admirably fought the Buffalo Bills in a narrow playoff defeat. Many experts fancied the Colts to win the division, but sadly injuries, a tough start, and below-par performances have put Indianapolis firmly on the back foot.
Now the Colts take on a wildly unpredictable Titans side that got back on track after beating the Seahawks in overtime. The Titans got bruising running back Derrick Henry into the game, and as is typical, if Henry goes well, the Titans can unleash hell.
The Colts’ defensive interior is one of the best in the NFL. DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart are two of the best run-stuffing players around. Both of them hit the 70% mark in terms of run stuffs. They’ll need to find their form of 2020 if they are to stop Henry. The Colts currently rank 29th in team run-stopping rate per ESPN.
If the Colts can’t stop Henry, it will place enormous pressure on the offense – a unit that may or may not have Carson Wentz under center. The former Eagle is battling an injury he sustained last week, and he’s hardly practiced this week. The Titans’ weak secondary may fancy their chances if Jacob Eason starts. The Colts could fall to 0-3, and that leaves them in a hole.
12 Years A Lion Leads Stafford To This Moment
For 12 years, the national media and TV shows ignored Matthew Stafford. Understandably so – Stafford played for a poor team in a small market. After 12 years of frustration, Stafford headed west in the offseason, searching for some California gold and respect.
Stafford and his Rams are 2-0 after two solid victories over the Bears and Colts. Now, the former Lion enters the spotlight in the biggest game of the NFL season so far. The Rams welcome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, and it is the biggest game in Stafford’s 12-year career.
Stafford and head coach Sean McVay have started stunningly. The gunslinger is playing excellent, efficient football. Per Football Outsiders, Stafford leads the league in DYAR and DVOA. His CPOE number of 0.7% references that. In contrast, Stafford’s last year in Detroit saw that number come in at -1.1%. Sean McVay is scheming up open throws for Stafford; last week, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods averaged 4.4 and 3.4 yards of separation, way above the league average of 2.8 yards. Stafford is thriving in an intelligent offense, and now he takes on the reigning champions.
Through two weeks, the Tampa pass defense is a middle-of-the-road unit. Conversely, they are one of the best run defenses in the NFL. Bucs coordinator Todd Bowles’ primary aim is to stop the run. The Bucs are the best in power run situations, and they are the best in bottling up runners when the back moves to the second level.
McVay’s offense thrives on threatening the run. That will almost certainly not happen against Tampa’s ferocious front seven. Therefore, Stafford might need to rely on the 12-years of experience he picked up playing for the Lions. Stafford waded into battle as a Lion short-handed.
Stafford’s waited twelve years for a moment like this. The enormity of the game won’t faze him; he’ll rise to the challenge. If the Bulldog wishes to walk away with the win, he’ll need to channel the gunslinger. Ironically, Stafford may have to embrace his Lions past to beat the Bucs.
Are The 49ers For Real?
The third Sunday of the season ends with the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan’s team returns home after a two-week road trip that yielded two wins. Now they welcome the Green Bay Packers to Levi’s Stadium.
The Packers got back to winning ways on Monday Night over a spirited but ultimately out-matched Lions side. The Packers triumphed in the game at San Francisco last year, although the Niners had injuries and Covid issues. The two teams met each other twice in the 2019 season, and San Francisco crushed the Packers on both occasions.
The Packers are a weak unit against the run. Shanahan, like McVay, desires to create a running game to enhance the passing game. The Niners have injuries at the running back position, but they are a consistent rushing attack behind such a talented offensive line.
They are a team that has reached the NFC Championship game in consecutive years. The Packers are still a dangerous outfit, and it is the first litmus test for the San Francisco 49ers.
Shanahan’s offense is arguably the smartest in the NFL. There are concerns about the defensive secondary after Jason Verrett’s injury. However, this is the prime opportunity for the Niners to announce themselves as contenders. Lose, and 2019 might feel like a Baja desert mirage that never happened.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1