Quarter-Season report card. Part 1: The North!

Quarter-Season report card. Part 1: The North!
Reading Time: 7 minutes.

With week 4 now in the history books we come to the end of the first quarter of the season. All but two teams have played 25% of the regular season and we’re starting to see the cream rise to to the top.

Ninety-Nine Yards takes a look at each team through the first 4 games of the season. To start we’re heading up North, analysing the teams from the AFC and NFC North.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3-0 A-

We start our review of each team through 4 games with the team that’s only played 3, oops. It was sadly inevitable that Covid was going to effect the NFL Schedule at some point; the Steelers week 4 game was shifted to later in the season following a string of positive Covid tests for the Titans. As the only undefeated team in the AFC North Pittsburgh occupy the top spot in the division.

Big Ben Roethlisberger has returned after 6 months off following surgery and is rolling back the years with 7 touchdowns to only 1 interception and a QB rating of 105 – all of which are on pace for career bests. Image from usatoday.com

If the Steelers are to go far this year it won’t be because of “big” Ben but their defence. Pittsburgh’s D has only allowed 290 yards/game, which 2nd in the league. Opposing QBs can’t be happy, they lead the league with 5 sacks a game and are getting pressure on over 46% of their snaps. – Bryan Dickie

Cleveland Browns 3-1 B+

Baker’s boys are high on confidence coming off 3 straight wins, looking every bit worth the hype they were receiving… 2 year ago. A rough 6-38 loss week 1 to division rivals the Ravens is a distant memory as they sit above them in 2nd place in the AFC North.

A 49 point, 500 yard offensive performance against the leaky Cowboys has boosted them up to 4th in points scored with 124. They only averaged 20.9 points/game in 2019 so will look to keep riding this offensive wave into the season. It won’t come easy, their next games are against number 1 and 2 defences: the Colts and division rivals the Steelers. – Bryan Dickie

Baltimore Ravens 3-1 B

There’s something not quite right in Baltimore. Yes they are 3-1, a better record than this point last year. But they were hammered by the Chiefs and have laboured to wins against Washington and Houston.

We’ll know more about where the Ravens stand at the end of November. During that month they face the Steelers twice, the Colts, Patriots and Titans. Despite that run, they have the second easiest remaining schedule. The Ravens look a lot more comfortable when relying on their run game, something they got away from in the Chiefs game long before it was a blowout.

Rookie J.K. Dobbins is yet to get going with 92 rushing yards from 4 games albeit at 6 yards per carry. Meanwhile Patrick Queen has 24 tackles (sixth in the league), a sack and a forced fumble. That being said the defence allowed Dwayne Haskins to post a career high (by a distance) 310 yards in week 4 and looked as confused as me doing a calculus exam against Eric Bieniemy’s Chiefs offence. The defence is average for yards allowed per game but only allowed fourth fewest points; despite a mauling by the Chiefs.

While the defence is bend but don’t break, the offence is yet the hit its stride. Lamar Jackson is down 16 yards/game passing and 22 rushing. The Ravens don’t even top the rushing yards/game with 160.8 (over 200 in 2019), in fact they are third. And yet they are a top ten offence by points per game. Something is yet to click on both sides of the ball but they are still in a solid position to challenge for a playoff spot come the end of the year. – Adam Barton

Cincinnati Bengals 1-2-1 Grade B-

The Bengals have been a slow burner. However, Joe Burrow looks to be a star and has made a fairly seamless transition from college to the pros. When they finally decided to feature Joe Mixon against the Jags, following his quiet start to the season, he was able to show what he can do. Rookie Tee Higgins has flashed at times, and could be an important player in the 2nd half of the season.

Joe Burrow has made a good start, but needs protecting. He’s getting sacked on 7.8% of his pass attempts. Image from yahoo.com

Their pass defence ranks amongst the best in the league, despite difficulty stopping the run. However, their progress will be limited unless they fix their O-line and protect Burrow; he’s been sacked 15 times, 2nd in the NFL. Overall, not a terrible start to 2020. – Stuart Taylor

Green Bay Packers 4-0 A+

After a 4-0 start to the season, the Green Bay Packers look to be back to their best under Aaron Rodgers. The drafting of QB Jordan Love in the first round of the draft looks to have lit a fire under the former league MVP, and he looks to be on course for a real comeback season.

Two divisional wins early have set the Packers up strongly in their pursuit of winning the NFC North division. Rodgers looks to have real trust with his receivers, and the emergence of Robert Tonyan at TE looks to give the team yet another weapon in the passing game.

Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur is 17-4 so far in his tenure at Green Bay. QB Aaron Rodgers is on pace for 52TDs and 4856 yards – both would be career bests. Image from usatoday.com

A few recent injuries to starting players over the last week or so is a small concern and something to keep an eye on, but as it stands Green Bay looks all but certain to lock up the division and push on for serious Super Bowl contention. – Dale Jones

Chicago Bears 3-1 B-

If you offered Bears fans a 3-1 record four games into the season, they’d have bit your hand off. But they do look to be the poorest 3-1 team in the NFL right now. Some incredible comebacks against both the Lions & Falcons shows that you can never count this team out, but almost blowing a near 20 point lead to the Giants is concerning.

The big news in Chicago of course is that Nick Foles has now come in to replace Mitchell Trubisky. This decision that looked like a master stroke as he oversaw the comeback against Atlanta; but an average performance in last week’s defeat to Indianapolis serves as a reminder that Foles might not be the saviour after all. Statistically Trubisky and Foales are having almost identical seasons so far; completing 59.3% to 59.2% of their passes, 6-3 and 4-2 TD-Interceptions and 87.4 to 82.1 QB rating.

Foales (L) has been statistically very similar to Trubisky (R) who he replaced in week 3; completing 59.2% to 59.3% of their passes, with a 4-2 and 6-3 TD-Interception ratio and 82.1 and 87.4 QB rating. Image from yahoo.com

The 3-0 start that the Bears made to the season might just be masking some of the troubles. They certainly look to have the “worst good record” in the league right now. – Dale Jones

Detroit Lions 1-3 C-

Heading into their bye week with a 1-3 record, the Detroit Lions look to be in a pretty miserable state. They’ve gotten off to some fast starts, but have now seen double digit leads disappear in 3 of their 4 games so far, and the team have lost 12 of their last 13 games.

The Lions don’t seem able to pile up the victories despite some talented pieces on offence. They seem unable to stop the run, and the pass rush isn’t proving so effective either.

Head coach Matt Patricia is well and truly on the hot seat, and not many would be surprised ie he didn’t reach the end of the regular season with his job in tact.

An arguably easier run of games coming up in October and November (they are only slated to play one team that currently has winning record) serves up some hope for any fans looking to find a bright spot, but a quarter of the way through the season things aren’t looking so good in Motor City. – Dale Jones

Minnesota Vikings 1-3 D

Not the start to the season that many may have been expecting from Minnesota. A win last time out in Houston ensured that the Vikings didn’t start 0-4 for the first time since 2011. The loss of numerous defensive starters from last year looks to have had a big impact on the team, with the young replacements looking like they need some time to settle; particularly the defensive backs.

Kirk Cousins continues to show inconsistency in performances week to week, but the emergence of rookie receiver Justin Jefferson over the last two weeks may go some way to easing the loss of Stefon Diggs. Dalvin Cook has found his way into the offensive gameplans in the past couple of weeks, and the Vikings will need to lean heavily on the star running back if they wish to be competitive on a weekly basis.

This team feels way too talented to end up near the top of the draft order for 2021, but perhaps not good enough to compete this season. – Dale Jones

Keep your eyes peeled as we review the rest of the divisions this week….

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