Welcome back to the Four Verts column, a dump of a few things that tickled my mind during Week 4 in the NFL. From a Super Bowl team playing like a toilet bowl team to quarter-mark awards, this column has everything you need that you didn’t even know you were looking for. Lets’ dive in.
The Los Angeles Rams offense is a major concern right now
The Rams offense has gotten off to a terrible start this season. They’ve managed to score more than 20 points just once, a Week 2 win over the Atlanta Falcons, and have been held to 10 or fewer points in two of the four games they’ve played so far. Outside of Cooper Kupp, who is on pace to smash the NFL receptions record, nothing is working. The offensive line can’t block anyone, the running game is broken and Matthew Stafford is having his worst statistical season since he was a rookie in 2009. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Rams rank 28th in expected points per play (-0.094) after ranking eighth last season (0.082).
That seems pretty bad. Los Angeles tried to take steps to avoid a disaster scenario like this in the offseason by signing wide receiver Allen Robinson to a three-year contract, but he hasn’t made much of an impact at all. Robinson has started all four games and played 90% of the snaps in each of those games, but has only managed nine catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. He’s certainly been a disappointment this season and if it weren’t for Kenny Golladay taking the throne, he’d be the most disappointing veteran wide receiver this year.
Robinson being a free-agent bust so far is definitely hindering the Rams, but he’s not the biggest area of concern for the team. The offensive line is just straight up bad. The Rams are averaging 3.3 yards per carry this year (partly due to their running back talent) and allowing a sack on 9.6% of their dropbacks — only the Giants (11.5%) and Bears (19.3%) have been worse in that regard. In general, sacks are seen as a quarterback stat, but this is the same quarterback in Stafford that had a sack on just 4.9% of his dropbacks last season. The 49ers lived in the backfield this week on Monday Night Football, with seven sacks, nine tackles for loss (on 18 rushing attempts!) and a whopping 11 quarterback hits. In one game.
Yeah, safe to say this team has an offensive line problem. There was expected to be a drop-off when Andrew Whitworth announced his retirement, but this has become a situation that might tank the Rams' entire season. Not only have they suffered from poor play from their starters, they’ve also had to endure injuries to the interior of their offensive line. It’s just all bad right now.
The hard task that the Rams face for the rest of the season is attempting to fix this roster on the fly while they try to mount another run to the playoffs. This roster is maxed out as currently constructed and there aren’t many moves to make at this point that will really move the needle. Luckily, the entire NFC West is gridlocked at 2-2 and they have a division win over the Cardinals that will help them stay afloat as they iron out their issues on offense.
Geno Smith is back
While the Rams offense has sputtered for the vast majority of the season, the Seattle Seahawks are fresh off a 48-point outburst against the Detroit Lions behind the golden arm of Geno Smith — who has legitimately outplayed Russell Wilson this season.
Smith's 320-yard, two-touchdown performance vaulted him into the ranks of the elite passers this season. He ranks fifth in expected points added per play (0.229), first by a mile in completion percentage over expectation (12.4%) and fourth in success rate (54%). Before this year, Smith hadn’t entered an NFL season as a starter since he was a young quarterback for the New York Jets in 2014, and he's now taken his new opportunity by the horns.
Smith isn’t playing like someone who is supposed to be a bridge quarterback — he’s playing like someone who intends to keep this starting job for at least the next season. Smith and Drew Lock were supposed to battle for the new starting quarterback job now that Wilson is in Denver, but this experiment is going better than anyone could have hoped so far. Smith is making plays downfield, performing well against pressure looks and has slid right in as a capable (and dangerous at times) quarterback for the Seahawks.
Think about it like this. This division featured Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance coming into the season. Would anyone have guessed that Geno Smith would be far and away the best quarterback in the NFC West at this point? That’s where the Seahawks find themselves. Between Geno Smith and breakout star running back Rashaad Penny, they have a legitimate shot to win the division and host a playoff game in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
There is a bit of a sad aspect to this story, considering the fact that Smith never really got a chance to start in the near-decade since he was a starter for the Jets, but he’s taken this opportunity and run with it. If Smith, whose deal expires after the season, can continue to perform in the same ballpark as he has through the first four weeks of the season, he may wind up as the most surprising big-money quarterback that free agency has seen in a long, long time.
This also changes, for now, the immediate outlook of Seattle’s rebuild. Maybe they don’t need to burn one of their first-round picks on a quarterback in the 2023 NFL draft. A new path forward has emerged and they might be able to have two luxury picks next spring.
All hail Geno Smith. This is easily one of the best stories in the NFL this year.
The Panthers messed up at quarterback, again
Matt Rhule just can’t get this quarterback thing right. Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker, Cam Newton, Sam Darnold and now Baker Mayfield. Not a single one of these moves turned out like the Panthers hoped they would, but this latest failure really puts a bow on what will likely be Rhule’s last season as the head coach of the franchise.
The Panthers traded for Mayfield hoping that he would solidify their quarterback position for at least a year after having a rotating door of, at best, mediocrity. That means the team spent picks on Darnold, Mayfield and traded up in the 2022 draft for rookie Matt Corral, whose season ended before it even started with a foot injury. That’s a significant amount of draft capital to have arguably the worst quarterback room in the league.
It’s fairly amazing that the Panthers’ quarterback play has been so bad that Darnold may legitimately be an upgrade over Mayfield. It’s at least a question worth asking, and one the Panthers should be asking themselves. According to ESPN’s Quarterback Rating stat, which grades quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale, Mayfield is dead last among all starters this season with a QBR of just 15.3. Sure, he’s playing with a new team and trying out a new playbook again, but Mayfield has been an active anchor on the Panthers’ chances of winning this season.
While Mayfield’s poor play is a huge reason for Carolina's slow start to the season, the Panthers are in this spot because they didn’t dive fully into a rebuild when Rhule was hired. They tried to win and rebuild at the same time and now have a mangled, expensive quarterback room that really offers no promise in regards to winning more games this season. They’ve backed themselves into a corner of hoping their defense can survive a litany of turnovers and punts — obviously not a sustainable strategy for winning in the NFL. Rhule brought in Ben McAdoo to replace Joe Brady as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, which hasn’t worked either.
This season feels like a lost cause. Once again, the entire offense revolves around Christian McCaffrey. They have a couple talented receiving options that haven’t gotten off the ground. A talented defense isn’t getting the help they need from the other side of the ball. They might be able to play a brand of constipated football that gets them to a respectable record when the season is over, but this team has no hopes of postseason success.
Here’s a silver lining: If the Panthers can get to the top of the 2023 NFL draft, they’ll at least have a couple options at quarterback to choose from with Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
Just 13 more games, Panthers fans! Some of us are rooting for you. Not me, my team is scoring points even with Marcus Mariota as the quarterback and $85 million in cap space on injured reserve or on other teams. But some people are rooting for you guys.
NFL quarter-mark awards
The first month of the NFL regular season has been played, which means it’s time to give some awards that will definitely hold true for the remainder of the year.
MVP: Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
I’m not sure that the Ravens would have a single win under their belt if it weren't for Jackson putting the entire offense on his back. Jackson leads the Ravens in passing and rushing and continues to make plays that only a handful of quarterbacks in NFL history would be able to make. Jackson should get back to putting up otherworldly performances now that he won’t have to play in the remnants of a hurricane each week.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins
While Patrick Mahomes has proven that he doesn’t need the Cheetah to put together top-tier performances, Hill has shown in his own right that he doesn’t need someone as talented as Mahomes throwing him the ball to be a dominant wide receiver. Hill and Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa have hit the ground running. Hill is averaging 119 yards per game this season, 15.4 yards per reception and catching over 72% of his targets.
Defensive Player of the Year: Micah Parsons, Zeus, Dallas Cowboys
Have you seen this man play football? If you haven’t, look up his highlights and get back to me. Parsons is the best edge rusher in football right now, and he could probably be the best off-ball linebacker and overhang safety he wanted to as well. Complete freak and an easy choice for this award at this point.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
This was a tough pick between the two Ohio State receivers (the other being the New York Jets' Garrett Wilson), but Olave gets the edge based on production. Olave has become the focal point of the Saints’ passing game while Michael Thomas deals with an ankle injury. Olave has averaged at least nine yards per target in three of his four games as a professional wide receiver.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jaquan Brisker, S, Chicago Bears
Jaquan Brisker has been a fantastic get for Matt Eberflus and the new-look Chicago Bears, performing like one of the better safeties in the entire league throughout the early portion of the season. Brisker has played 100% of the Bears’ defensive snaps to this point and is tied for second on the team with two tackles for loss.
Comeback Player of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Barkley is back to his explosive ways and making jaw-dropping plays each week. He currently leads the league in rushing yards and is really the only hope that the Giants have to create big plays on offense each week.
Coach of the Year: Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars
This might be Nick Sirianni erasure, especially after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Jaguars on Sunday, but the Jaguars were in a much worse position entering the season than the Eagles were. Pederson has spearheaded the revival of the Jaguars as a top NFL team rather quickly and has mostly had Trevor Lawrence living up to his potential as a franchise quarterback.