The Saints entered Week 3 allowing 513 yards per game, including 389 passing. They were surrendering a stunning 11.2 yards per pass attempt, as well as an 80.3 completion percentage and 141.4 QB rating. Sean Payton’s “defense” was essentially letting the opposition run layup drills.
Sunday, Cam Newton couldn’t hit the backboard. Off to a “slow start” after quiet games against the 49ers and Bills, Newton proved to be in the throes of something deeper against the Saints. The 2015 MVP looked completely lost, declining to challenge deep and tossing interceptions on the rare occasions he dared to attempt an intermediate pass. Despite a 65.4 completion percentage, Newton was stunningly inaccurate, having little idea of where the ball was going once it left his hands.
There were shades of 2015 Peyton Manning. Newton’s passes lacked drive. They hovered in the air, waiting to be picked. Still only six months removed from major shoulder surgery, you could practically feel Newton wincing as he uncorked the ball. Like a pitcher recovering from an elbow operation, it was evident Newton lacked feel. He knew how hard he wanted to throw the ball, but couldn’t command his arm to do so.
Not that this is necessarily anything new for Newton. Accuracy has never been his calling card. That’s why he can ill-afford any more drop off. A Newton who is not only committing the occasional ridiculous overthrow but also air-mailing the passes he usually converts is not a Newton who can succeed under center.
The way forward is unclear. Newton needs to get healthier. Time should heal that wound — but slowly. The Newton who has started the first three weeks is going to have a rough go of it, especially in matchups like the one he has in Week 4 against the Patriots. There will be no hiding like there was against the 49ers and Bills. The Panthers are going to need points. With Kelvin Benjamin (knee) possibly joining Greg Olsen (foot) on the shelf, that’s probably not something Newton is ready to provide. Fantasy owners need to mothball Newton until there’s a change in the situation. As Andrew Luck’s shoulder can attest, that could be a long time coming.
Five Week 3 Storylines
Darren Sproles’ broken body. Sproles fractured his arm and tore his ACL on the same play. That should only be possible during an earthquake. So is life in the NFL, but Sproles’ has been no ordinary NFL life. 5-foot-6 players aren’t supposed to last a game. Sproles has made it 13 seasons, racking up a mind boggling 19,155 all purpose yards. That’s eighth all time, sandwiching him between Steve Smith Sr. and LaDainian Tomlinson. Sproles is as unique of a talent as you will ever find in American sports. Now 34 years old, Sproles had already strongly hinted 2017 would be his last season. If his body has made the decision final, there’s nothing more Sproles could have given the sport of football.
Kelvin Benjamin tweaks his knee. Cam Newton’s life got even harder in the first quarter Sunday, where Benjamin got ripped down from behind in ugly fashion, rolling up his surgically-repaired left knee. He tried to jog if off on the sideline before calling it a day and icing up. Benjamin has apparently avoided “major injury,” but even minor injury could have him sidelined a number of weeks. That’s a loss the Panthers can’t afford one week after losing Greg Olsen. Devin Funchess isn’t a No. 3 receiver, let alone a No. 1. Sans Olsen and Benjamin, the only thing the Panthers have resembling a passing-game threat is RB Christian McCaffrey. Second-round rookie Curtis Samuel needs his touches manufactured. Things seem likely to get worse before they get better in Charlotte.
One week after demonstrating his downside, Deshaun Watson shows his upside. The No. 12 overall pick traded blows with the Patriots. In New England. That’s impressive enough in its own right. It was doubly so for Watson since it came 10 days after the Bengals made him look like Kellen Moore. Watson didn’t lack for poise against the Bengals, but was missing just about everything else. Sunday, he kept plays alive with his legs, spread the ball around far more than he did in Week 2 and flat out made plays. He was taking advantage of a Pats defense in disarray, but that’s what good NFL quarterbacks do. There are going to be peaks and valleys for Watson. That’s ok. We now know it won’t just be valleys.
The Seahawks’ offense waking up. It was the same old story until the Seahawks’ final drive of the first half, where Russell Wilson marched his team 86 yards in 49 seconds. Abandoning the run and going fast proved to be exactly what the ‘Hawks needed behind their putrid offensive line. Wilson rode the hurry-up to a career-high 373 yards, as well as four touchdowns. This, after the entire team managed one score across Weeks 1 and 2. Their reward for Week 4 is a soft-landing home matchup in the Colts. There will be more ebbs for Wilson and the Seahawks this season. That’s just a simple fact behind a line this bad. At least we now know flow is possible.
Le’Veon Bell’s continued slow start. It was actually Bell’s best 2017 effort in terms of yardage and fantasy points — he finally found the end zone — but still not what owners who took the plunge at No. 2 overall had in mind. Through three games, Bell is averaging 3.46 yards per carry and 79 yards from scrimmage. It’s a season-opening slump that could continue through Week 4, where the Steelers must travel to Baltimore. Bell is going to wake up. He’s already waking up, in fact, showing improvement each week. It just wasn’t supposed to take this long, even following his lengthy holdout.
Five More Week 3 Storylines
Jordan Howard Undertaker GIFfing — check out this classic GIF if you haven’t already — fantasy owners. Howard wasn’t healthy, had a bad matchup and had yet to produce this season. So naturally he went completely ballistic, not only gashing the Steelers for 23/128/2 on the ground, but leading the Bears in receiving with five grabs for 26 yards. Yes, “leading” there deserves to be in air quotes, but it was still notable given the way Tarik Cohen dominated passing-down snaps in Weeks 1 and 2. There’s obviously plenty of reason for pause. Cohen isn’t going away. For Week 4, the Bears are headed to Green Bay for Thursday Night Football. The offense, which is trying to pretend it isn’t led by Mike Glennon, is in chaos. But Howard remains at the center of it. That wasn’t so obvious after Week 2. Howard probably won’t be starting a hot streak on three days rest, but he’s proven he’s not dead yet.
Odell Beckham moves past his ankle injury with 9/79/2. The post-game headlines focused on Beckham’s bizarre, crass touchdown celebration … make that first touchdown celebration. Whatever this was, it was followed by another. Beckham finally welcomed himself to the 2017 NFL season, serving notice he’s back to being one of the five best offensive weapons in the game. He didn’t light up the board with yardage, but that was partially by design. Desperate to get Eli Manning going, coach Ben McAdoo focused on slants and short passing. It worked, jump-starting the offense and giving defenses something to think about going forward. Even if he’s only catching slants, Beckham is going to house plenty of big plays. The good news is, rounding back to full health, Beckham isn’t going to only be catching slants.
Joe Mixon beginning to realize his fantasy potential. Mixon touched just 21 times in Bengals’ dismaying Weeks 1 and 2 losses. He matched that on Sunday, blowing by Jeremy Hill and finally seizing command of the Bengals’ backfield. It was an obvious development following the firing of OC Ken Zampese, and one that’s unlikely to change going forward. The Bengals got the offense going in Green Bay, but still lost, falling to 0-3. Desperate for a win, they’re not about to go back to Hill and his 3.47 YPC. Mixon didn’t bust any big plays against the Packers, but hinted at his Le’Veon Bell-esque stop/start skills. Week 4 opponent Cleveland is the clue that threatens to blow the case wide open.
The Dolphins’ complete annihilation at the hands of the Jets. There were a lot of bizarre performances Sunday — Oakland were you drunk? — but the Dolphins take the cake. Facing a team openly tanking the season, the ‘Fins were historically bad, “generating” 225 yards, nearly all of which came in pointless garbage time. To a man, every Dolphins player was awful, all the way down to kicker Cody Parkey, who missed the extra point on DeVante Parker’s laughably unnecessary final-second score. The Jay Cutler-led offense did not reach Jets territory until late in the third quarter. Now the Dolphins must now head across the pond to London. Thankfully, it’s a get-right matchup in the Saints.
Joe Flacco forgetting how to play football. Flacco went 8-of-18 for 28 yards. That shouldn’t be possible for an NFL quarterback, especially a 10th-year veteran. Maybe it’s his back, maybe it’s his weapons. Whatever it is, Flacco has been inexcusably bad through three games, posting a 5.30 YPA and 3:4 TD:INT ratio. In a year of awful quarterback play, Flacco is bringing up the rear. It’s hard to consider any Raven startable in fantasy when the quarterback is playing this poorly. Flacco should get dominated (again) by the Steelers’ feisty defense in Week 4.
2. Why did it take the NFL so long to start juicing the ball?
3. Literally how is there already another London game?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Bengals (@CLE), Jaguars (@NYJ), Falcons (vs. BUF)
Stats of the Week
Speaking of Kareem Hunt, there were nine safeties selected ahead of him in April’s draft.
The Redskins held the Raiders to 128 yards of offense (literally how), their best defensive showing since 1992.
The That’s Hard To Do Award: Richard Sherman drawing three penalties, each a different kind of infraction, on one play.
Metaphor of the Week Award: The Lions’ post-game meal literally catching on fire.
The That’s Gotta Sting Award: Your fifth-round rookie kicker nailing a game-winning 61-yard field goal … for another team.
The … Why? Award: The Panthers punting from the Saints’ 36-yard line.
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