Quarter-Season report card. Part 2: The South.

Quarter-Season report card. Part 2: The South.
Reading Time: 8 minutes.

4 weeks done already, we’re flying through this season! Mixed results for teams, some loving 2020 and some would like this quarter back!… sorry, couldn’t resist.

We head down south to look at how the teams in the AFC and NFC South are doing so far. Make sure you check out our AFC/NFC North review too!http://ninetynineyards.com/2020/10/08/quarter-season-report-card-part-1-the-north/

Tennessee Titans 3-0 B-

The biggest story-line so far for the Titans has been the postponing of their week 4 game against the Steelers. Numerous positive Covid tests pushed the game back to week 7 and pulled their bye forward to week 4.

Last years rushing leader Derrick Henry has continued where he left off, leading the league with 106.3 yards/game. Keeping him healthy and productive late into the season will be key.

Tennessee are one of only 6 undefeated teams, sitting atop the AFC South at 3-0. A great start but it hasn’t been easy. Tennessee won those 3 games by a combined 6 points and they’ve left it late each time; against the Broncos week 1 they took the lead with 20 seconds left, 101 seconds left against the Jags in week 2 and 108 seconds remaining week 3 against the Vikings. Things are going to get tougher for the Titans, their previous opponents are a combined 2-10. They’ve got the 4-0 Bills and 3-0 Steelers coming up in the next few weeks, they’ll need to up their game against those teams. – Bryan Dickie

Indianapolis Colts 3-1 A-

The Colts probably deserve an A, if it wasn’t their week 1 20-27 flop to the Jags they’d probably have one. In the three games since they’ve only allowed 29 points while scoring 83.

The big off season splash by the Colts was bringing in veteran QB Philip Rivers who’s impressed. He threw 2 picks in game 1 against Jacksonville but since has completed 52 of 75 pass attempts (69%) with 3 touchdowns and only one interception. He’s helped in the backfield by 2nd round pick running back Jonathan Taylor who leads the Colts with 340 yards from scrimmage, 260 of which were on the ground.

Off-season acquisition Philip Rivers has made a good start in Indi. He isn’t the reason they’re 3-1 though, the defence is. Image from pff.com

Rivers, Taylor and co’s output is great but has rightly been overshadowed by the Colts defence. They lead the league in both points and yards allowed, giving up on average only 236 yards and 14 points. They’ve also got 7 interceptions, which also a league best. With games coming up against the Bengals, Browns and Lions there’s little to suggest the Colts can’t keep this form going and steak a claim for their first AFC South title since 2014. – Bryan Dickie

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-3 C+

Grading the Jags is difficult, they’re clearly in rebuild/re-tool mode so shouldn’t be expecting much. They’ve been both brilliant and atrocious in equal measure. Their week 1 heroics against a good Colts team, see above, losing to the Titans with 20 second remaining, also see above, then dropping winnable games to the Dolphins and Bengals.

Over the last 12 months the Jags D has lost all pro corner Jalen Ramsey, all pro defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and pro bowl defensive end Yannick Nhakoue all to trades. So it’s hardly surprising that the Jags are bottom half in both yards (22nd, 399.5) and points (23rd, 29.3) against/game. Read more about the Jags dramatic transformation below.

One shining light for the Jags is the play of undrafted rookie running back James Robinson. The back out of Illionis State is 8th in the league with 285 running yards averaging 4.8 yards/attempt. Additional to that he’s caught 15 passes for 161 yards, his 446 yards from scrimmage is 4th highest in the league. Great value for an undrafted player. – Bryan Dickie

Houston Texans 0-4 D-

Finally Bill O’Brien the GM got Bill O’Brien the coach fired. The team with the biggest cash spend in 2020 is currently 0-4 and staring down a dismal season, with the prospect of no first or second round pick to recover. The team has lost Jadeveon Clowney, who now plays against them twice a year and DeAndre Hopkins. But that was all before a ball was snapped. The Texans were dealt a cruel hand, starting with games against the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings (a playoff team a year ago). An average defeat of 11.5 points shows that the games haven’t even been close, though the last two ended up one score games.

Bill O’Brien’s time at the Texans has, finally, come to an end. Image from chron.com

The Texans crowd of number two receivers are struggling to step up to Hopkins’ production as an X receiver, with three TDs between them. It’s even affecting Deshaun Watson, who has his lowest completion percentage since his rookie year (65.6%) and his lowest TD % at 4.7%, down from 5.3% last year. That being said his yards per attempt and yards/game are both career highs, though he is on course for a career high 64 sacks.

It’s going to be a long season in Houston and they have wasted Deshaun Watson’s rookie deal. Now they must find a new GM and coach before they even start building a roster around their talented signal caller. I guess the first stage of fixing a problem is admitting you have one… – Adam Barton

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-1 B

For the first time since 2011, the Bucs have a winning record after the first four game of the season. Despite an opening day defeat against Divisional rivals the Saints, the Bucs have won three straight. They may be sitting on top of the NFC South but the Bucs have been far from consistent. Virtually unstoppable in the first quarter of games, they have scored touchdowns on every opening drive. The Tampa Offence has at times disappeared for the remainder of the games. A lack of pre-season and a new Quarterback, albeit the G.O.A.T., are legitimate excuses for this Jekyll and Hyde Offense. But there have been signs this side of the ball is beginning to fire on all cylinders.

Like most teams, Tampa have had more than their fair share of injuries to contend with. Their Top 4 receivers all have niggles as does running back Fournette. Tight End OJ Howard is unfortunately out for the season due to an achilles injury. The Bucs will need to lean on their Defence to keep the winning streak going into the second quarter of the season.

The Defence has been the continuation of last years with the addition of rookie pick Antoine Winfield Jr at Safety who is playing as if he has been part of that Defence for years. With Tom Brady in Tampa, the Bucs are in the nations spotlight. With Todd Bowles calling the shots, the Bucs Defence is seriously fast and one of the elite units in the NFL.

Side note: the Bucs have started 3-1 after losing their season opener against the Saints twice in the past; The first time was in 2002 when they won the Super Bowl, the second was 2008 when an end of season collapse saw the start of the Bucs demise as a force to be reckoned with. Bucs fans will be hoping for a repeat of the former. – Stuart Anderson

Carolina Panthers 2-2 B

In all honesty, my expectations for the Carolina Panthers were low heading into the season. However, they have surprised me. After a close loss to the Raiders on opening week, and an expected loss to the Bucs in week 2, they have been pretty good. Wins over the Chargers and the off-season darling Cardinals now has them sitting 2-2.

Despite an injury to running back and talisman Christian McCaffery the Panthers are 2-2 and on a 2 game winning streak. Image from denverpost.com

Teddy Bridgewater has looked assured, Robby Anderson is flourishing free from the shackles of Adam Gase, their defence has been reasonably solid. And, whisper it, they haven’t really missed Christian McCaffrey yet with Mike Davis really stepping up.

All in all, a solid start to the season and better than some had predicted. Matt Rhule can be happy. – Stuart Taylor

New Orleans Saints 2-2 C

Division champions for the past three years, perennial play-off contenders, the normally slow starting Saints are one game behind top spot. An opening day win against the Bucs was soured by an injury to star Wide Receiver Michael Thomas. The game was already over, the Saints deep in the opposition territory and up 11 with only two minutes remaining. New Orleans could have easily knelt the game away. But I can only assume that Head Coach Sean Payton had a point to prove…. In doing so Thomas was injured, his return in week 5 is doubtful.

As expected, Thomas was sorely missed by the Saints. New Orleans lost their next two games on the bounce as they were sent packing from Las Vegas in the opening game of the new Allegiant Stadium and then beat at home by the Packers. Next up was a trip to Motor City to play the Lions. Despite going down by 14 points early in the first quarter, the Saints stormed back to stop the rot and return to 0.500%.

New Orleans, like the Bucs, have been hurt by injuries. As well as Michael Thomas, the Saints were missing Tight End Jared Cook, Guard Andrus Peat, Defensive End Marcus Davenport and Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins for the week 4 match-up against the Lions. Regardless of the injuries, with Payton and Brees working in tandem; New Orleans can’t be ruled out of any game.

The Saints have had the NFC South to themselves over the past few seasons but the times are changing. The New Orleans Super Bowl window can’t stay open forever, this may be their last shot. – Stuart Anderson

Atlanta Falcons 0-4 F

On the subject of Super Bowl windows, the Falcons’ one is closed. Sitting rock bottom of the NFC South, stick a fork in them Dirty Birds as they are done. The worst start to the season since 1999, the Falcons 2020 season is over practically before it even began.

In week 2, leading in Dallas at half-time 29-10, the ings of the heartbreak losses enhanced that reputation by throwing away a surefire road win in spectacular style. Even after a mini-comeback by the Cowboys, the Falcons were still ahead 39-24 with just under 8 minutes remaining. Inexplicably, the Falcons Special Teams unit socially distanced themselves from the pigskin on a Cowboys onside kick. Dallas recovered the ball and subsequently scored with a walk off field goal and the most unlikely of home wins.

Just to prove that it was no fluke; the Falcons then went one better in week 3 at home against the offensively inept Chicago Bears. Up 26-10 at the end of the third quarter, the Falcons were well on course to get their first win of the season. Fast forward 15 minutes and three unanswered Chicago touchdowns and the Falcons were down, out and, well, finished.

A combined lead of 65-34 going in to the last seven minutes of both games, the Falcons ended up conceding an eye-watering combined total of 36 points in ten fourth quarter minutes. Quite possibly the Greatest Blow on Turf…….

At 0-4 it’ll take an Atlanta Falcons opponents style comeback to save their season. They just don’t have that in them. – Stuart Anderson

Keep your eyes peeled as we head west next for our AFC/NFC West quarter season review soon!

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