The Dallas Cowboys X-Factors vs The San Francisco 49ers

Dallas Cowboys San Francisco 49ers
Credits: Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are slated to take on the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at 4:30 ET at home. This will be the Cowboys first home playoff game since the 2018 season. And The 49ers pose an interesting match-up this Sunday. They have a very unique offensive style. It highlights their almost position-less weapons combined with a head bending and rule-breaking scheme designed by head coach Kyle Shanahan.

In this article, I will highlight three players who could be key components in a Cowboys victory. Whether they take over the game, come up with a big play in a meaningful spot, or just do their job!

X-Factor 1.  Tony Pollard, RB:

Stats: 130 carries, 719 yards, 5.5 YPC, 2 TDs

Tony Pollard, is the 1b to Ezekiel Elliott’s 1a. Pollard is the lightning, game-breaking speed, and big-play ability to Zeke’s headstrong, physical, beat you down running style. Pollard’s five and a half yards per rush this year ranks second in the NFL. Combined with a pretty stout 3.61 yards after contact per attempt, and 17 explosive runs, that makes him one of the most underrated big-play threats in the NFL.

If the Cowboys start to struggle early don’t be surprised if they turn to Pollard to ignite the offense. Hopefully he will be given opportunities to break the game wide open. If given a fair share of touches he could do tons of damage and provide the offense with a spark

X-Factor 2.  Blake Jarwin, TE:

Stats: 16 targets, 11 receptions, 96 yards, 8.7 YPR, 2 TDs

Blake Jarwin has had a pretty disappointing past two seasons of football. After signing a 4-year, $22 million contract before the start of the 2020 season. Starting off the 2020 football campaign Jarwin went down in week one with a non-contact ACL tear, absolutely brutal. With sights set high on 2021 pairing him with Dalton Schultz who gained valuable playing time in Jarwin’s absence.

He looked to set his sights on having a fantastic year, only to have a grueling hip injury and contracting COVID-19 sideline him for 10 weeks. Jarwin made a Week 18 return and is ready to add his skillset to the multitude of playmakers the Cowboys already have.

Blake Jarwin being 6’5 with deceptive seam stretching speed is his best ability. That exact ability is what Dallas was looking for in games this year when teams committed to stopping Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb on the outside. Look for Jarwin to get a favorable matchup against a linebacker or strong safety and attack the seam. I’m not expecting a break-out performance from him. But, a few timely catches and possibly a red-zone touchdown could be huge for the Dallas offense.

X-Factor 3.  Jayron Kearse, Safety:

Stats: 75 solo tackles, 16 assists, 30 stops, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs, 2 TDs

Jayron Kearse is a journeyman who has played on three teams in his six years in the NFL coming out of Clemson. He unexpectedly not only became a physical presence as a box safety, but became the green-dot for the Cowboys defense.

Kearse this week in media interviews was tired of hearing about who he will be matched up against in this game. In response after calling George Kittle one of the best TEs in the NFL, per Jon Machota, Kearse said, “He has to go against me, too. I kind of get ticked off when I’m being asked Kittle this and Kittle that. He has to play me, too. We’ll see how that shakes out.”

I’m not going to lie that’s bold for a mostly unknown 6-year vet to go at a top player in the NFL. But I am never going to be against a player having confidence in himself.

Dan Quinn, the Cowboys defensive coordinator, has used Kearse in the box a ton this year, using Kearse as a run defender and a tight end eraser. Facing this offense, it will be paramount for him to do his job. He will need to be a physical force setting the edge, attempting to tightly cover Kittle, and being a sure tackler.

The 49ers as a team lead the league by a mile in yards after contact. They thrive off of short passes that allow their playmakers to get in space and force you to bring their guys down in the open field. This task is no walk in the park with players like Kittle and Deebo Samuel coming at you. I believe this will be how Kearse makes a huge impact on Sundays game.

Conclusion:

These X-Factors for the Dallas Cowboys vs The San Francisco 49ers game are not the household, big-name stars that most know. If the Cowboys do walk out of AT&T Stadium with a victory, these players will be of the utmost importance to their success.

Prediction: Cowboys 31, 49ers 27.

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Falcons vs Cowboys Preview: Can Atlanta Win A Shoot-Out in Big D?

falcons vs cowboys
Credit: Blogging with the Boys

Atlanta sports fans are riding high this week. The Braves are World Series champs, the Bulldogs are number one in the nation, and the Falcons stole a win from the swamp people in New Orleans. It’s enough to have people in the Peach State buying the idea that Jorge Soler broke the Atlanta sports curse when he sent one over the railroad tracks in Houston. This week’s game against Dallas will put that notion to the test. Here is the Falcons vs Cowboys preview for this week.

Atlanta hasn’t faced a team as dangerous as the Cowboys since their week two matchup with Tampa Bay. The Falcons have improved quite a bit since that 48-25 drubbing, but have they grown enough to stand toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the NFC? Are they ready to face off against a Dan Quinn-led defense?

Vegas thinks the Falcons are dead in the water, as Atlanta opened as nine-point underdogs. I don’t think it’s that cut-and-dry. No one will ever mistake me for a bright-eyed optimist, but I think the Falcons have a puncher’s chance this week. The path to an upset victory is narrow, but it exists. Here’s how the Falcons can find themselves with a winning record for the first time since 2017 vs the Cowboys.

Continue to Stand Strong Against the Run

I’ve harped for weeks that the Falcons run defense was a weakness that opponents had not fully capitalized on yet. Before the Panthers and Saints games, I called it the number one concern for the team. Carolina exploited that weakness and gained just enough of an edge to squeak out the win two weeks ago.

Sean Payton, a coach that’s never been shy about copying off someone else’s homework, looked to bully the Falcons defensive front last Sunday. It was a rousing success for the first two drives. The Saints averaged seven yards per carry, and though penalties killed the drives before getting into scoring position, it seemed Atlanta’s inability to control the line of scrimmage would doom them for a second consecutive week.

Then something strange happened.

Atlanta plugged in the recently elevated Anthony Rush alongside Mike Pennel at defensive tackle, giving the Falcons a pair of 330+lb run stuffers in the middle of the line. Shockingly this added girth facilitated a complete 180 for the Falcons’ run defense, and the team allowed a meager 2.6 yards per carry for the remainder of the game.

The defense still collapsed in the fourth quarter, but forcing the Saints to be one-dimensional allowed the Falcons enough time to build just enough of a lead to stay competitive.

Let’s Keep that Energy on Sunday

The Cowboys have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. So it seems the Falcons will have their hands full vs the Cowboys. Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, and Dalton Shultz are a dangerous trio on their own. Wide receiver Michael Gallup appears set to make his return this week.

Despite the up-and-down performances of late, Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard are as talented of a running back duo as you’ll find. Dallas can beat you any number of ways, so the key is to make them one-dimensional. 

Mike McCarthy wants to lean into the run game, but he will abandon it if successes don’t come early. Atlanta must limit Dallas’ run game, particularly early. Dak Prescott and the bevy of receiving options at his disposal are a daunting challenge on their own. If Dallas can mix up the play calling and control the game’s tempo, the opportunities for Atlanta will dwindle to nothing.

I Have a Plan, but You Won’t Like It

It’s nearly impossible to find a matchup between the Dallas offense and Atlanta’s defense that favors Atlanta. The Falcons should feel confident in AJ Terrell’s ability to handle his side of the field, but apart from him, you’d struggle to identify any competitive advantage to leverage.

Fans rail against soft zone coverages, but if they succeed in limiting the run, Atlanta’s best hope is to sit in zone coverage and ward off explosive plays. Forcing Dak Prescott to take what the defense gives him opens to door for misfires, and the Falcons have to capitalize on them if they happen. It won’t be pretty football, but Atlanta doesn’t have the horses to do anything other than try to win on the margins.

Which Matt Ryan Do We Get on Sunday?

Blunting the offense from Dallas is the best we can hope for, and that means Matt Ryan and this offense will have to score early and often to pull out the upset. We’ve seen breathtaking performances from Ryan over the last few weeks, but we’ve seen a few duds as well.

Despite the complete absence of a run game, Ryan navigated dirty pockets and led the team to victory against the Saints. However, a week prior, he could not overcome the rocky performance from his offensive line, and the offense failed to find its footing against the Panthers. The question is, which Matt Ryan shows up this week?

It’s probably unfair to place the entire burden of the offense at Ryan’s feet. He’s missing his best receiver, the run game has been mediocre at its best, and the offensive line’s struggles are apparent to anyone watching.

Despite the emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, this is an offense without a clear identity. This lack of a clear identity, of something this team can count on from week to week, means the offense’s success depends entirely on Ryan’s ability to make things happen in imperfect situations.

D is Key for Dallas

Dallas poses many of the same challenges that the Saints defense presented. Despite the news that Randy Gregory will miss Sunday’s game, Dallas can still rush the passer. Micah Parsons has shown immense promise off the edge, and Osa Odighizuwa has flashed potential on the interior. The Cowboys secondary is an opportunistic group that is forcing turnovers at an impressive clip, largely thanks to the sensational start from Trevon Diggs.

Though Dallas’s run defense isn’t as suffocating as the Saints, they still rank in the top ten in yards allowed and fifteenth in DVOA. Dan Quinn has this group playing confident, complimentary football, but there are weaknesses to be exploited.

Fast & Physical Means Small and Risky

We all know the score when it comes to a Dan Quinn defense. Though he’s pivoted away from his Legion of Boom-style cover three scheme a bit, his basic philosophies are unchanged. Quinn wants aggressive, athletic players who are focused on creating turnovers. It’s a winning strategy, but it leads to high variance football. It’s a boom-or-bust proposition every week. 

In their win last week, Denver followed the same gameplan that regularly thwarted Quinn in Atlanta. The Broncos came out and punched the undersized Cowboy’s defense in the mouth and won the game at the line of scrimmage. Denver racked up 190 rushing yards and converted 53% of their third downs.

Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t particularly dynamic, but he didn’t make costly mistakes. It will be hard for Atlanta to follow that same script to the letter, but we should hope to see elements of it crop up on Sunday.

Run It Even If It’s Not Pretty

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Atlanta has to find a way to run the ball efficiently. That’s not to say I expect them to post 150+ rushing yards, but a success rate of 40%+ will make life much easier for Ryan and the passing offense to operate.

The Falcons run game was abysmal against the Saints, but Dallas doesn’t have the same sort of imposing linemen, especially with Randy Gregory sidelined with an injury. It’s probably too much to expect the Falcons line to generate a ton of push, but if they can keep the chains moving, this Dallas line will wear down. An average run game is enough when you have Ryan under center.

Who Covers Kyle Pitts (Part IV)

Kyle Pitts is the wildcard this week. He’s had a sleepy paid of performances against the Panthers and Saints. With Ridley away from the team, opposing defenses have been comfortable matching their best corner against Pitts. Stephon Gilmore and Marshon Lattimore effectively shut Pitts down, and it seems inevitable that task will fall on Trevon Diggs this week. 

Diggs has been an interception factory this season, but his aggressive playstyle has also led to quite a few blown coverages. True to form with a Dan Quinn defense, Diggs is a big play waiting to happen. The problem is you’re never quite sure which team will make the big play. This may not be the week to lob up contested passes to Kyle Pitts, but opportunities will present themselves if Ryan can be patient. 

Role Players Make the Difference

The other receivers need to continue to step up this week. No single player has to dominate, but each receiver needs to make an impact in some way. Last week Olamide Zaccheaus snagged a pair of touchdowns. Russell Gage pulled in a few clutch first down receptions, and we all remember what Cordarelle Patterson did to seal the game.

Spreading the ball around and keeping the offense on schedule is the path forward for this team. Creating explosive plays is crucial, but Atlanta can’t force the issue. Dallas’ secondary is dangerously opportunistic, but they will eventually break down if Atlanta can keep the chains moving. Patiently waiting on opportunities and striking when they present themselves is the easiest way for Atlanta to get (and hold) a lead this week. 

Don’t Give Them Anything For Free

Mental mistakes, in all three phases, have cost the Falcons a few victories this season. Penalties, coverage breakdowns, and questionable play-calling gave Washington and Carolina enough opportunity to escape with wins they probably didn’t deserve. Dallas is too talented to gift them with easy yards.

While Atlanta overcame penalties from Fabian Moreau and Richie Grant last week, the margins will be a lot tighter against a better team this week. The Falcons need to channel Max Fried and pitch a near-perfect game to get the win this week. Mental mistakes will make the Falcons have a greater chance of winning vs the Cowboys.

Final Prediction

The question in Atlanta all week has been whether the win against New Orleans was a turning point. Which is what makes this Falcons vs Cowboys preview sp hard. Turning points are something you can only identify in retrospect, but a win this week will make a strong case for that notion.

Atlanta’s recent successes have come against teams that are incomplete at best and terrible at worst. Dallas, on the other hand, is a true contender. A victory this week would put the league on notice that the Falcons aren’t a team you can write off.

The thing that scares me the most about this week is how poorly Dallas played last week. The Cowboys expect to be a top seed in the NFC, and they laid an absolute egg against Denver. There are few things as dangerous as a good team coming off of a bad loss.

If Atlanta isn’t ready from the opening whistle, they may find themselves in too deep of a hole to dig out. Absent another dud from Dallas, starting fast, and keeping pace is the only way Atlanta has a chance this week.

As hopeful as I want to be, it’s tough to predict a victory. Each gutsy performance is slowly eroding my pessimism about this team, but I can’t muster enough optimism to expect a win this week. I believe Atlanta will give Dallas all they can handle and even manage a sneaky backdoor cover, but ultimately this Cowboys offense will prove to be overwhelming. I’m hoping for a shoot-out, but expect Atlanta to end up on the wrong side once the dust clears.

Falcons vs Cowboys Score Prediction

Dallas 35 – Atlanta 31

New England Patriots vs Dallas Cowboys Preview

New England Patriots
(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The New England Patriots’ victory against the Texans was U-G-L-Y. While fans were not impressed, players and coaches were impressed with the team’s effort to fight through adversity. While it wasn’t a dominant effort, these ugly wins sometimes provide momentum. Case in point? 2001, Week 5. Patriots are 1-3 coming into the game and trail by 10 in the fourth quarter. A certain young QB threw his first career touchdown pass before the Pats won the game in overtime, 29-26.

This year? Pats are 1-3 entering week 5, trail by seven entering the fourth quarter, and get the comeback. The league, especially the AFC, is loaded with top-end-talented teams this year; maybe the comeback against Houston gets this team rolling. The Pats have shown to have the talent to lock down the Buccaneers and exhibit incredibly balanced offensive talent; they just need to execute better. If they do, watch out.

They’ll get their first chance to do so this Sunday against a very talented Dallas Cowboys team. Everybody knows the Cowboys tout an extremely talented core of offensive players, but their defense has been stealing headlines throughout the season. While it’s an extremely improved group over last year, their passing defense is surviving on takeaways. New England fans will appreciate that effort but know the dangers in playing that sort of game.

The only difference? Dallas has been truly elite in taking the ball away. Weird stat for this one? The Cowboys won the first seven matchups between these two teams before the Pats ripped off six straight of their own: historical standings head-to-head? 7-6, Cowboys. We’ll dive more into this in the breakdown below. So, without further ado and continuing the “who has the advantage when…” format, the breakdown!

The New England Patriots’ Passing Attack

Two shocking stats about Mac Jones and the Patriots passing game; Mac Jones has more 20+ yard completions than Patrick Mahomes this season and according to PFF, Mac only had two turnover-worthy plays against Houston. That second stat certainly felt like a lot more.

Jones hasn’t been an unstoppable downfield thrower, but he has become an opportunistic downfield shot guy and as long as he stays smart with the ball, the Pats’ offense is in good hands. The biggest complaint is McDaniels conservative playcalling once the Patriots enter the red zone. After his dime of a touchdown throw to Henry on Sunday, hopefully, Mac has shown enough to stop the three consecutive screen calls.

The Cowboys have given up yards in the passing game, ranking 31st in the league in passing yards allowed. However, their ability to get the takeaway is incredible. They have an incredible ten (!!) interceptions through their first five games. CB Trevon Diggs has six of the ten interceptions. It would be wise for Mac to look elsewhere in the passing game.

The good news? Diggs does not often travel into the slot meaning security blankets Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry should draw favorable matchups. The Cowboys often engage their opponents in high-scoring affairs and part of that is the plethora of yards they let up through the air.

Advantage: New England Patriots (as long as Mac avoids Diggs on the outside)

The New England Patriots’ Run Game

For how loose the Cowboys are against the pass, they are equally stingy against the runs. The Cowboys feature the fifth-best rushing defense while the Pats boast the sixth-worst rushing offense. While the Cowboys are allowing 4.2 yards per carry, this is not an area the Pats want to have to rely on to win the game.

The offensive line was a pleasant surprise last week and the return of Shaq Mason and Mike Onwenu hopefully means even more success. Ted Karras did a wonderful job standing in at LG against the Texans and perhaps a shuffle might lead to better results for the Patriots’ offense. Sliding Onwenu out to RT where he starred as a rookie and keeping Karras at LG might be the lineup the Pats need to move the ball on the ground while also being sturdy in pass protection.

The Cowboys feature an active LB corps and a stalwart along the defensive line in Demarcus Lawrence. The Pats had a ton of success of play-action against the Texans and should try to establish the run game if only for this reason. Mac has been fantastic off of play-action throughout the season, continuing that aspect of the game will benefit everyone in the Pats offense.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys’ Passing Attack

Before the season most fans would’ve been extremely concerned to hear that Jalen Mills was the key to the pass defense while playing CORNER. Mills’ absence was apparent last week as the Texans picked on Joejuan Williams, eventually forcing slot man Jonathan Jones to play to the boundary. Mills’ return this week is going to be a must for the Pats.

Dallas’ talented WR trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup is a big test. In the last matchup, Stephon Gilmore erased Cooper while JC Jackson mirrored Gallup. They won’t be able to do that this year with Gilmore gone. The Pats should utilize a similar game plan as they did against the Bucs with “cat” coverage across the board. Jackson should draw Cooper, Jones on Lamb, while Mills’ return asks him to cover Gallup. It should be a battle on the outside all game long.

Safety Devin McCourty had an extremely rough game against the Texans and a return to the norm for him will go a long way towards the Pats defense having success on Sunday. The safeties will be involved in limiting the suddenly productive Dalton Schultz at tight end. He has become a security blanket for Prescott, seeing seven or more targets in the last three weeks, hauling in six in each of those contests.

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has been fantastic in his return from a brutal ankle injury last year. To have success against him, the Pats must get pressure while also maintaining containment-something they have struggled with this season. Matt Judon continues to be a force on the outside, leading the league in tackles for loss (8), second in sacks (6.5), and sixth in QB hits (10). He’ll need to be at his best for the Pats to be disruptive here.

Rookie DT Christian Barmore is slowly rounding into form, and while his stat line remains quiet, he’s impacting the game elsewhere. He drew two holding penalties last week while facing the second-most double teams in the NFL. Sacks will eventually come for the talented second-rounder. Jamie Collins quickly reacquainted himself to the New England defense getting a sack in one of his three snaps. He should see more action this week.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys (but not by as much as expected)

The Cowboys Run the Ball

This is where the game will be decided. The Cowboys are second in the NFL in rushing yards (864) while the Patriots are 15th against the run. The Patriots run defense comes as a surprise as they’ve been a sieve against the run thus far. The good news? Dont’a Hightower is rounding into form, playing his best game on Sunday. Hightower had five tackles, including four run stuffs. Hightower rounding into his normal disruptive forms will help immensely in steadying this defense down the stretch.

Thumper Ja’Wuan Bentley’s return will also boost the Pats’ run defense but expect to see some matchup utilization out of the Pats’ linebacking corps. With Elliot and his bruising running style on the field, expect Hightower and Bentley to man the middle. When the Cowboys deploy change of pace back Tony Pollard, Van Noy should draw the card and see some playing time.

The Cowboys no longer have All-Pros all along the offensive line but do have a sturdy group that can do the necessary dirty work. The Patriots’ defensive line doesn’t need to blow up every play but they must slow the offensive linemen from getting upfield. If the d-line can keep the linebackers clean, expect the Pats to be stingy.

They must also be disciplined in staying in their run fits to contain Dak and the designed QB runs and from keeping Dak from pulling it on an option read and skirting around the edge. The Pats won’t be able to completely stop the Cowboys running game but must contain it and limit the damage.

Advantage: Dallas Cowboys

Special Teams

The Cowboys have attempted only four kickoff returns this season, good for second least in the NFL. The Pats should try to take advantage of the lack of experience with a few kickoffs short of the goal line. The same goes for the Cowboys in the punt return game, only attempting five here as well. The Cowboys have struggled in the kicking game going 9/11 in field goals and 17/19 on PAT’s. The Pats would be wise to have the Cowboys going into the open end of the stadium in the fourth quarter in case it comes down to a field goal.

For the Patriots, Nick Folk has been incredibly consistent since joining the Pats last year and has continued to be this year. His four made field goals last week, including two from 50+ earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Folk now joins Stephen Gostowski as the only Patriots kickers to make two 50+ field goals in one game. It was also his third time as a Patriot with four made field goals in a game. And in a “brag about your kicker” kind of way, he’s second in the league in points scored.

Belichick’s affection for special teams is well known and the mismatch here might allow for the Pats to steal a possession or get some very important hidden yards.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Coaching

The stuff of legends: Mike McCarthy vs. Bill Belichick. Just kidding. McCarthy was scared to answer questions from Boston Media on Wednesday for fear of Belichick gaining valuable information. While McCarthy isn’t a rookie coach, he has been prone to making rookie decisions. His decision-making process for going for two or going for it on fourth down is not based on analytics or old-school football knowledge but more in a “well why not now?” sort of way. As we saw last week, some coaches can’t help but get out of their own way against Belichick. There should be a couple of situations that fall into this category on Sunday.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Prediction

Despite obvious concerns regarding the New England Patriots, it feels like a “trap game” for Dallas. Essentially, the Pats will do just enough to get an ugly, if not signature win. Mac Jones has been steadily progressing and may be on the verge of putting it all together. Hightower rounding into form with the talent of Judon, Van Noy, and Collins will assist a typical Patriots defense while Belichick shows that the Texans game was a mere blip on the radar (he was honestly extremely proud of the teams’ effort last week, something that hasn’t been making the national media rounds).

A loss on Sunday would drop the Pats to 0-4 at home this season, something that feels unprecedented. The offensive line keeps Mac mostly clean while the defensive game plan reverts to the old bend-but-don’t-break.

Pats win 26-24

7 Up, 7 Down: A Perceptive Repeat?

Week 2 was full of intrigue as teams tried to shake the stark realities of Week 1 debuts or build upon progress. Which teams / players did the thing? Who needs some work as we look ahead to Week 3 of the young 2021 season?

Up

1. Micah Parsons is certified #good

– The former first round selection validated the Cowboys with a monster performance on Sunday. He was moved closer to the line due to injuries and showed well despite not playing EDGE since high school. PFF gave him an overall grade of 89.9, which was good for highest defensive rookie this week. He had eight pressures on the most promising young quarterbacks in the league. It looks like the pass rush moves he was working on with the legendary DeMarcus Ware on Hard Knocks paid off. The versatile linebacker was a freak athlete that played in a variety of roles while at Penn State. Certainly a good start to the young linebacker’s career. Could a permanent move to EDGE be in the cards after his initial performance? 

2. Late Game Window

– If the early slate was a bit of a dud (it wasn’t) but in comparison to the late slate, it was quaint. There was a period of a few minutes where multiple games came down to a game winning field goal attempt. Arizona survived the Vikings last dash attempt (in a candidate for game of the year) while Tennessee and Dallas made their field goals to sneak out road wins. Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein delivered after a litany of coaching errors and his own demons from last week.  All of which served as delicious appetizers to the big showdown on Sunday Night Football. 

3. Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh’s “GUTS”

– Speaking of Sunday night action, there was plenty of it as Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes put on a show. Jackson, especially put on a show during the fourth quarter leading the Ravens to an upset win over the Chiefs. He struggled early on, throwing multiple interceptions to Tyrann Mathieu, including a pick six. It was a shootout until the very end when the Chiefs inexplicably took the ball out of Mahomes’ hands on a crucial drive. 

Lamar then took the ball on a game icing drive, which led to the now famous do you want to go for it question asked by Harbaugh. A fantastic preview for a potential rematch in January?

4. Carolina D fences in the Saints

The Panthers defense held the explosive Saints offense to a mere seven points and harried Jameis Winston into two interceptions and just 111 yards passing. They also kept the electrifying Alvin Kamara to just 30 yards on 12 touches while getting four sacks and 11 hits on Winston. DC Phil Snow’s men have been dominant through the first two games, leading the league in numerous categories. They get to face a largely untested rookie leading a dysfunctional Houston Texans team on Thursday night. Undoubtedly for which they will be salivating for.

5. Explosive Teddy Bridgewater

– The amiable Teddy Bridgewater has appeared to revamp his game into a more high powered attack with Denver it seems. He has looked downright aggressive compared to his reputation of being “safe”. He’s in the top ten in passing yardage, touchdowns, QB rating, and true to form, has no interceptions. Bridgewater has seized the starting job over Drew Lock and it appears that the Broncos are going to ride with him despite their dalliances with Aaron Rodgers. I’m excited what the future weeks portend for him armed with a much better offense and a stout defense. He deserves all the flowers as a veteran QB who has more than his paid dues. 

6. Houston being competitive 

– Everyone wrote off the Texans as the worst team in the league and yes it appears that way talent wise. HC David Culley has them fighting and competing early on, even if the competitive level isn’t the best. That’s admirable. They’re even in first place in the AFC South. Well, we’ll see how much of that competitive spirit is retained as the opposing teams’ talent level ratchets up. They’re about to face a brutal six game gauntlet of the Panthers, @ Bills, Patriots, @ Colts, and @ Cardinals. All this without the hot start of injured Tyrod Taylor and managing the tricky Deshaun Watson situation. Let’s hope for Culley’s sake that his team can win at least two of these games. 

7. Kyler Murray is FUN

– Murray is one of the most fun quarterbacks in the league right now. It just wasn’t the Titans that were bamboozled and mystified on how to cover him. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense was similarly flummoxed as well on Sunday afternoon. He was unstoppable uncorking passes from seemingly improbable locations like a mini-Mahomes all game. The clip below probably wasn’t even his best HOW??? throw of the game. When the Cardinals offense is truly clicking, it’s really entertaining for fans everywhere. Now that he has AJ Green, rookie Rondale Moore, along with the erstwhile superstar DeAndre Hopkins to go along with a solid line, they will be a tough out for anyone. I would go as far as to say that the Murray led Cardinals are everyone’s second favorite team and a Red Zone darling.  

Down

1. The Dolphins OL

– Yeesh. That wasn’t the best effort in the world against the stingy #BillsMafia defense, getting shutout, 35-0. The biggest part, the unit was responsible for franchise QB Tua Tagovailoa getting injured by a virtually free oncoming pass rusher. It remains to be seen how long Tua will be out for due to this latest setback but it appears grim. The line gave up six sacks and 11 hits on the QB overall. The line needs major upgrades in the worst way possible. They need to get right in a hurry for Brian Flores’ men to compete for the playoffs. 

2. Taunting rules

Let the great Field Yates surmise everyone’s thoughts on this needlessly obtuse and useless rule:

Also, a compilation to further outline this outlandishly farcical rule that NO ONE wants:

3. Wentz is Cooked?

– Russ is cooking while Carson Wentz might be officially cooked as a starting level quarterback after Sunday’s tough minded performance that resulted in a spectacular shovel pass interception and an injury. The trade that brought him to Indianapolis may be a bust but it’s early yet. The Colts are currently projected to have a top five selection but they owe it to the Eagles should Wentz play 75% of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs. If their record gets worse in a downtrodden AFC South similar to last year’s NFC East, they might be inclined to sit Wentz to avoid paying the premium cost. 

4. The Chiefs defense merits banishment from the Kingdom 

The KC defense just has to be league average to complement an all world offense yet they are failing to do just that. By most metrics, they are in the bottom tier. It’s not like they are not chock full of talent, either. There is too much talent on the defense for it to be this bad. Patrick Mahomes can’t continually save the day even if he’s capable of it every game. It’s early but DC Steve Spagnuolo has proven to be capable of fixing defenses. #ChiefsKingdom surely expects the defense to be better, it has to be, right? 

5. Welcome to the League, Rook QBs

– Week 2 was a mixed bag for the much ballyhooed class of 2021 rookie quarterbacks as they have had several welcome to the big leagues moments between them. Zach Wilson in particular had a rough go against the wizard Bill Belichick, throwing for four interceptions and 0 scores. Trevor Lawrence is continuing to throw interceptions like the cookie monster devours cookies, throwing two against Denver. Trey Lance sat. Justin Fields got a lot of time after Andy Dalton was injured, throwing a hideous interception in a crucial moment against the Bengals and was just 6-13 and 60 yards. In more positive news, Mac Jones was effective, leading the aforementioned Patriots to a dominant win. Davis Mills of Houston will get the start on Thursday after subbing in for an injured Tyrod Taylor on Sunday. This was expected growing pains for a rookie class.

6. Injuries are the worst

– It was a brutal week for injuries as a litany of stars were hurt enough to get knocked out of the game or had to sit out a few plays. Most notably, Andy Dalton, Tua, Carson Wentz, Bradley Chubb, TJ Watt, and Tyrod Taylor left and did not return. Baker Mayfield was injured trying to make a tackle on the player who intercepted his pass, dislocating his shoulder. Speaking of Cleveland, Jarvis Landry exited the game and subsequently placed on IR. Big Ben and Eagles OL Brandon Brooks are dealing with pectoral injuries. Eagles EDGE rusher Brandon Graham has a reported torn Achilles. Chubb underwent ankle surgery and is expected to miss significant time and may have ended his time in Denver. It’s only week three of a long 17 game season and it’s going to be a slog with all these injuries to key players already.

7. Zac Taylor is not a good head coach nor OC

– Taylor has proven repeatedly that he isn’t ready for the big time yet. There’s no reason that he shouldn’t call the offense more aggressively than he has. An example that is none more glaring was Sunday when he refused to unleash Joe Burrow until it was too late. The Bengals don’t have the greatest talent along the offensive line, sure but the play calling has been way too conservative. He has to be more mindful that he has a franchise quarterback that needs to be let loose. The Bengals have drafted well over the years but I don’t think he’s that dude that can maximize the short window of contention that a rookie QB contract provides. Perhaps he isn’t ready for a head coaching job just yet and went too far ahead of his skis riding the McVay wave.

7 Up, 7 Down: Opening Overreactions

UP

1. Chandler Jones Has a Half a Season in ONE GAME

Cardinals EDGE rusher Chandler Jones had the denizens of Nashville crying out for an offensive tackle that could simply stand in front of him. Sadly for the Titans, no such man was coming on Sunday afternoon. Jones had a dominant day, putting up FIVE sacks which prompted NBA god LeBron James to tweet his support for Jones’ candidacy for DPOY. 

Jones was so dominant that the Titans’ star left tackle Taylor Lewan was beaten repeatedly into submission. Lewan later acknowledged his failure in stopping Jones and credited him for waking him up. 

2. Saints March In and Show Out

The Saints, briefly displaced by Hurricane Ida, put on a show in Jacksonville against fellow NFC contender Green Bay. The defense was all over the place, hounding Aaron Rodgers into two interceptions. Jameis Winston was efficient, throwing for 148 yards and a whopping FIVE touchdowns, including this beauty to get him over the century mark in yards for the day. He’s currently on pace for 2,500 yards and 85 touchdowns

Not to be outdone by his usual stellar play on the field, All-Pro CB Marshon Lattimore scored a well-deserved pay rise moments after the victory. The salary cap is a social construct built by mere mortals that can be exploited to profound and spectacular limitless bounds.

3. Dak Prescott IS Back!

Dak showed very little ill effects of the devastating ankle injury he suffered early last season and the recent shoulder issue he went through in training camp. He may not be back to being full force Dak but he’s well on his way to return to prior form. The Cowboys may not be an upper-tier contender but Prescott gives them a fighting chance in the much beleaguered NFC East where 9 wins might be enough to win the division. I’m glad that he’s back from such a bad injury. 

4. Sean McVay’s Football Mental Health

Sean McVay was voraciously giddy and gratuitously presumptuous when the Rams traded for former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in exchange for Jared Goff and multiple first-round selections. Well, after Stafford’s performance against the Bears on Sunday night, it appears his mental state of unabashed happiness hasn’t changed one iota. Goff, on the other hand, was valiant in trying to lead the moribund Lions to a stirring comeback victory. McVay has to be overjoyed by the fact that Stafford is more consistent and doesn’t need much of a guiding hand or protection from the Rams boss, unlike his predecessor. This frees him up to be more creatively intuitive in his play-calling ala new age Sean Payton, armed with a star-laden defense led by the indomitable Aaron Donald. 

5. Is Jalen Hurts that dude?

Yes, it was against the brutally hapless Falcons defense, but Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts began 2021 in a promising fashion, going for a combined 326 yards and three touchdowns. A game that included this beauty to former Alabama teammate and reigning Heisman winner Devonta Smith.

The Eagles quarterback is certainly showing signs of promise early on but he will need to turn in an outstanding season in order to avoid tempting the front office that has looked into the Deshaun Watson / Russell Wilson market in the past. Hurts looks spritely and in command of Nick Sirianni’s offense after one week. Philadelphia will face a much stiffer test this coming Sunday against the vaunted 49ers defense who just gave up 33 points to the woebegone Lions. For Hurts’ sake, let’s hope he has a great season for the City of Brotherly Love.

6. #LetRussCook

The Shane Waldron and Russell Wilson era got off to a flying start with the quarterback being an efficient 18/23, 254 yards and four touchdowns, including a beauty of a deep pass to Tyler Lockett. The signs of letting Russ cook full stop are there with Waldron seemingly calling the impact shots instead of the archaic Pete Carroll’s preferred ground control offense. Next up on the docket: a Titans team who got blown out by an explosive Cardinals offense in week 1. Let Russ Cook, indeed. 

7. Justin Herbert is FUN

The promising sophomore sensation led the Chargers to a win in a must-have game-icing situation when normally, Bolts teams of old would’ve found a way to blow the lead. Could it be a curse-killing win for the powder blue outfit or just a random win? Herbert has all the physical tools and is now challenging the tier of upper-crust quarterbacks. What kind of 2021 will he have?

DOWN

1. Matt Rhule in “Plus Territory”

Yes, the Panthers beat the rebuilding Jets but several decisions inside plus territory left Carolina fans wanting. A decision to punt while having the ball on the Jets’ 33 yard line is the most egregious of the issues. However, scoring only one touchdown against a hapless defense in four trips inside the 10 yard line is a giant cause for concern going forward. Especially so when one of the best dual threat running backs in football resides on the roster. Could this be a worrying trend for the Panthers? Is there anything left in Sam Darnold left to salvage? 

2. The Vikings have OL Issues

Kirk Cousins has his own warts but the offensive line was horrendous for the Vikings on Sunday. This was against a middling at best Bengals stop unit. It looks like they’re still in preseason mode and haven’t gelled together yet. Up next for the Vikings and their beleaguered line: the red hot Arizona Cardinals defense on the road. It will likely be another long day I suspect for Cousins and company.  

3. Jason Garrett is Not that Guy

Like the meme says, Garrett is not that guy. He hasn’t been handed the most ideal of circumstances such as Saquon Barkley returning from injury and a poor offensive line. Daniel Jones hasn’t developed and is quickly reaching Mitchell Trubisky territory. If this lack of production continues, Big Blue faithful will be up in arms calling for Joe Judge’s job. It’s certainly possible that Garrett is hamstrung by Jones but he isn’t helping him, either. One has to wonder if Garrett is the coach that Judge sacrifices to retain his own job security. 

4. Bad juju in Cheesehead Land

There’s some bad mojo in Green Bay, namely starting with the months-long diaspora of Aaron Rodgers dysfunction. It has carried over the season, it seems as Matt LaFleur’s men couldn’t get going Sunday. Would it be best for all parties for the Packer to end the charade of harmony and trade Rodgers? Love was inserted into the lost cause to mixed results. They will need to see what they have in their former first round pick before too long. However, one game does not make a season. It bears watching going forward though. 

5. Do the Chiefs have a good enough stop unit?

The Browns are well coached and talented but there’s no reason for the Chiefs defense not to be at least middle of the pack. They were dominated by Cleveland until they were forced to buck up in the fourth quarter. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league armed with an impressive arsenal but even he can’t keep on rescuing the defense repeatedly. The defense will need to step up better than they showed on week one. 

6. Bears Post “Help Wanted” ad for Left Tackle

It’s been an arduous journey for the left tackle position for Chicago as rookie Teven Jenkins was already injured. His replacement, aging veteran Jason Peters was injured early Sunday. The replacement for Peters, Larry Borom, was injured during the same game. They are one snap away from having to play Germain Ifedi at left tackle. Chicago’s offense was already labeled as a struggling unit, with these injuries, it will be tough for either Andy Dalton or Justin Fields to get any traction. It might be a long year for Matt Nagy. 

7. It’s still Atlanta United’s stadium, Falcons!

The Falcons struggled mightily against a retooling Eagles team, failing to impress anyone. The poor offensive line was a sieve and allowed Matt Ryan to get hit repeatedly, resulting in one iconic image. Defensively, they weren’t any great shakes either save for a few performances from Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and AJ Terrell. HC Arthur Smith’s team had a great opening drive or three but it all fell downhill afterwards. The losses may continue with the defending champion Buccaneers next on the docket. Coach Smith’s will and coaching ability is going to be seriously tested as the Dirty Birds escape from the last vestiges of the ill fated Dan Quinn era. It’s still Atlanta United’s stadium and the Falcons are paying rent for the right to play in it with a random Kanye cameo.