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The NFL season at the quarter pole

A look at some surprises in the young NFL season Greg Gabriel

Print This September 30, 2013, 02:00 PM EST
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After tonight’s Miami–New Orleans game the 2013 NFL season will have hit the quarter pole. In that short time, we have seen some unexpected surprises, both good and bad, making for a very interesting season. Teams that were supposed to be poor are playing very good football, and some teams that were expected to compete for a division title are struggling.

Cleveland Browns

Two weeks ago, Cleveland traded 2012 first round pick Trent Richardson to Indianapolis. Most of the mainstream media felt Cleveland was throwing in the towel on the season and trying to lock up the first pick in the draft. Since the trade, the Browns have played very good football with wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati. Many had both of those teams as favorites to win their respective divisions this year.

The Browns defense has been steady, which was expected. They are a physical group and don’t give up yards easily. In the last two weeks they have come up with the big plays when they were needed. The real surprise for the Browns has been the play of quarterback Brian Hoyer and tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron was the Browns 4th round pick in 2011. Going into this season he had only 26 career catches and one touchdown. In the first four games of this season, he already has 30 catches for 360 yards and five touchdowns. The way he is playing, he could end up in the Pro Bowl.

Hoyer has only been with the Browns since May. He was signed as a free agent to be the third quarterback, and it took an injury to starter Brandon Weedon to get on the field. Hoyer is not about to give up the job. Yesterday he completed 25 of 38 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns with a rating of 103. I like that Hoyer knows how to play within himself. He doesn’t try to do things he can’t. He is smart and conservative with his play. Is he the answer to Cleveland’s QB problems? It’s far too early to answer that question, but in the last 2 weeks he has played better than any Cleveland quarterback in the last few years. If the Browns can continue with this efficient play, they won’t be looking at the top 5 pick that many "experts" thought they would.

Kansas City Chiefs

In 2012 the Chiefs had the worst record in football. The GM and head coach were fired. Along came Andy Reid and John Dorsey with a different plan and new ideas. Four weeks into the season, the Chiefs are 4-0 including a win over Reid’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles. The people in Philly thought Reid couldn’t coach any more, but he has done an excellent job in turning around Kansas City.

New quarterback Alex Smith is playing the best football of his career. He has been very consistent and given the Chiefs the leadership they needed at the position. The Chiefs defense has been physical and taken advantage of opportunities. They have 18 sacks in just four games as well as five interceptions and recovered seven fumbles. Are they a complete team? No. They still have holes, but they are going in the right direction. I can see them getting to the halfway mark at 7-1. Who would have thought that 4 weeks ago?

Chicago Bears

The Bears started out 3-0 under new coach Marc Trestman. Yesterday, in Detroit, they ran into a fired up Lions squad who took it to them 40-32. The game wasn’t as close as the score. The Lions outplayed the Bears in all aspects of the game. I knew the Bears would miss all-pro defensive tackle Henry Melton, but I didn’t think it would show as much as it did yesterday. The Bears' defense is usually fairly stout against the run, but yesterday, they gave up 159 yards and 5.3 yards per carry. Going forward, the Bears are going to have to find a way to shore up that run defense.

Quarterback Jay Cutler had been playing some of the best football of his career in the first three weeks of the season. Against Detroit, he looked like he was reverting back to the Cutler of old, forcing throws, throwing three interceptions, and fumbling once. What jumped out at me was Cutler's reactions after the miscues. In the past, we would have seen Cuter sulking on the sideline or chewing out teammates. That wasn’t the case yesterday. After each mistake, Cutler was seen sitting with quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh going over the mistakes and getting ready for the next series. Cutler came back and played well in the 4th quarter, but it was too little too late. A test will be next week when a good New Orleans team comes into Chicago. Many in Chicago want to see if Cutler has matured and can overcome adversity better than he has in the past. 

Philadelphia Eagles

What’s wrong with Philly? After an opening game win in Washington everyone was jumping on the bandwagon saying what a great hire Chip Kelly was. The thought was that Kelly’s fast paced offense was the beginning of things to come in the NFL. Three weeks later, the talk has all but ended. The Eagles have not improved since opening day. The NFL is filled with some pretty smart coaches, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Give these coaches a few weeks of film to watch, and they will figure out how to stop any new offense.  

While their offense has slowed down, they have one of the worst defensive units in the league, right now. Yesterday in Denver, they flat out quit. There was no emotion, intensity, or enthusiasm. They just went through the motions. The Eagles spent a lot of money during free agency to acquire players for their new 3-4 defense. One highly respected Director of Player Personnel told me last week that most of the players Philly bought were vastly overpaid. He felt that there was only one player the Eagles signed deserving of a big contract. He went on to say that with the rest of the players, Philly was bidding against themselves to get the contracts done.

Another former GM asked me, "Didn’t the Eagles talk about what happened in Washington with Steve Spurrier?" He went on to say that, "if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it." This was an experiment that was bound to fail.

It remains to be seen whether or not these opinions are accurate, but it doesn’t help that the Eagles have the least experienced coaching staff in the NFL. That being said, the Eagles have a chance to turn things around the next two weeks. They play a New York Giants team that has gotten old fast and a Tampa Bay team that is in total disarray. If Philly doesn’t come out on top in both these games, their fan base may be calling for heads.

Follow me on twitter @greggabe

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