At 0-3, Raiders, Texans, Cardinals show little so far
Even with last week's huge swing in fortunes by the Bills, Giants, Seahawks, Lions and Browns, there remain lots of questions about each of them.
At least they aren't winless.
Then there are the projected contenders who are struggling through three games: New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and the Chargers.
Several figure to get going: the Patriots always seem to, and get Julian Edelman back in Week 5; the Packers when Aaron Rodgers is healthier; the Steelers if things ever calm down in the locker room.
Unfortunately, the injuries that have ravaged the Falcons might be too much to overcome.
Still, they have a win, which is more than Houston , Oakland and Arizona can say. Man, are things getting ugly in those places.
"It's frustrating," says Texans coach Bill O'Brien, whose team has been outscored only 74-59. "It is, but that's the way it is. That's the NFL. These are close games and it's the team that doesn't beat themselves that ends up winning, and we've been beating ourselves too much."
As have the Raiders , who can't hold onto a lead. They are the second team in the past 20 seasons to start the season with three straight losses after leading the first three games at halftime.
"Nobody cares right now. They want results," returning coach Jon Gruden insists. "We want to win. I think the players see a lot of things to be confident about, but we know we got to finish football games much better."
The Cardinals need to start and finish games much better. They were blown out in their first two matches, then led Chicago for most of last Sunday's game before folding.
"The guys are disappointed, they're down, but they understand right now it's still early," new coach Steve Wilks says. "We need to find a way to finish football games, as we did not do (Sunday)."
Wilks is correct that it is still early, and 0-3 is not a sentence to purgatory for the remainder of the schedule. Last season, the Chargers began 0-4 and nearly made the playoffs.
The difference between these three 2018 stragglers and the 2017 Chargers is, for one, talent.
Let's start with Oakland.
When Gruden and upper management opted to deal Khalil Mack, it not only was a massive hit to the linebacker position, but to the entire defense. Super defenders such as Mack are like a Tom Brady on the other side of the ball, making everyone around them better.
His departure created a major void in the locker room as well. Sometimes a player is worth whatever he's asking, or close to it. This seems to be such a case.
Opponents can run on the Raiders, and there's virtually no one to fear as a pass rusher. Oakland has a total of three sacks and one takeaway.
Only Buffalo in the AFC has scored fewer than the Raiders' 52 points. The passing game hasn't flopped, but Derek Carr has been picked off five times already; he threw 13 last year. Marshawn Lynch, to his credit, has three rushing touchdowns, but otherwise the ground game has been mediocre.
All of that enthusiasm in the Bay Area has been dampened by the Mack trade and the 0-3 record. Should the Raiders fall to the Browns on Sunday, whatever honeymoon period Gruden had would be over.
This is the least surprising of the early collapses. While Arizona went 8-8 last season, it lost so much offensive firepower and brain power that having scored 20 points so far — the next-worse team is Dallas with 41 — isn't shocking.
Coach Bruce Arians, all three quarterbacks, including solid veteran Carson Palmer, and wideouts John Brown and Jaron Brown are all gone. The new attack installed for Wilks by Mike McCoy has been a dud despite the presence of versatile running back David Johnson, who missed all but the opener last year, and all-time receiving great Larry Fitzgerald.
Only the Jets have more giveaways than Arizona's seven, and now rookie QB Josh Rosen gets the call. He likes to gamble, which could lead to a lot more turnovers.
The defense under Wilks can get to the quarterback. It hasn't done much else, though.
This slump is most confounding.
Unlike the Cardinals, the Texans got back a ton of skill in J.J. Watt — the NFL's best defender when he has been healthy — Whitney Mercilus and Deshaun Watson. Many prognosticators picked them to win the AFC South or contend for a wild card in an improved division.
Instead, the Texans have been perhaps the biggest disappointment of September. Watson hasn't been nearly as dynamic as in his six starts of 2017 before tearing up his knee. The offense has sputtered badly in the red zone.
Watt had a big second half against the Giants last Sunday, the first time he's looked like a star.
Of the three winless teams, though, Houston would seem to be the best bet to get headed in an upward direction.
"There's no magic dust, there's no magic wand we can just say, 'Hey, wave this magic wand and everything's going to be OK,'" O'Brien says. "It's hard work, it's trying to figure out what we do best, do it better, and the things we're not doing well, either stop doing them or figure out how to improve them.
"There's no other way out of it. There's no choice. ... You have to go to work and you have to figure it out. That's sports, that's life and that's the way it is."
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