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MSR’s Pick Six: NFL 2014, Week 4 in Review

Reviewing the NFL games that caught my eye on Sunday in Week 4

So, it’s been a quarter of the 2014 NFL regular season. How’s your team doing?

I apologize to any Raiders or Jaguars fans.

I apologize to any Raiders or Jaguars fans.

For many teams in the league, the clear picture of how their season will turn out is still up for interpretation. Nonetheless, it was an exciting Week 4 in the NFL that, at least for some, showed some promise. For others, it raised a variety of questions.

Here are six games that showed something about every team involved:

[NOTE: You’ll notice I did not include a certain game involving a team playing in Santa Clara. For thoughts on said game, click here.]

Indianapolis Colts 41, Tennessee Titans 17

What the Colts showed: Andrew Luck is a beast, and Reggie Wayne hasn’t lost a step.

The Colts’ franchise QB was a fantasy owner’s dream come true for the third time in four games in the regular season, turning in a 370-yard, 4-TD performance in Indy’s blowout win of the Titans. Through four games, the third-year starter is on pace for 5,220 passing yards, a mere 257 yards short of the NFL record set by predecessor Peyton Manning in 2013, and 52 passing TDs, three short of Manning’s 2013 record.

The QB-WR Duo of Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne dominated the Tennessee defense on Sunday.

The QB-WR Duo of Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne dominated the Tennessee defense on Sunday.

Meanwhile, 14-year veteran WR Reggie Wayne had his first 100-yard performance of the season (7 receptions, 119 yards, TD), putting him ahead of Isaac Bruce for seventh all-time in receptions. They will be a force to reckoned with all season long on offense.

What the Titans showed: Their Week 1 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs is looking more and more like fool’s gold.

After an impressive victory over the Chiefs, 26-10, to open the season at home, the Titans have proceeded to get beat down and bum rushed in three straight losses, by a combined 100-34. It didn’t help that they had to rely on career backup QB Charlie Whitehurst for offense, and were dominated in terms of time of possession by a whopping 25 minutes, but the team is still searching for answers on both sides of the ball.

Dallas Cowboys 38, New Orleans Saints 17

What the Cowboys showed: If they choose to run the ball, they are as good as anyone in the NFC.

Dallas finds themselves at 3-1 for the first time since 2008, and they had not necessarily needed QB Tony Romo to produce so heavily on an offense scoring 28.8 points per game. Instead, they have relied on their running game – led by RB DeMarco Murray’s league-high 534 yards on the ground – to control the clock, keep the offensive load off of Romo’s bad back, and help win games. Thus far, this doesn’t seem to be a fluke, but with hard-nosed defenses like Houston, Seattle and Arizona coming up in the next six weeks, they will put their league-best rushing attack to the test.

The Cowboys utilized RB DeMarco Murray once again, and went 3-1 on the season, in the process.

The Cowboys utilized RB DeMarco Murray once again, and went 3-1 on the season, in the process.

What the Saints showed: They REALLY aren’t that good on the road.

If you remember, these same two teams met last season at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the Saints were dominant on offense: they ran up an NFL record 40 first-downs en route to a 49-17 blowout of the ‘Boys. QB Drew Brees threw for 391 yards and 4 TDs. This time around at JerryWorld? Despite 340 yards passing, he couldn’t get much going in the scoring department (2 TDs, 1 INT), accounting for the Saints’ only touchdowns. They remain winless in three road games, and questions on their woes away from the Dome have only intensified.

Green Bay Packers 38, Chicago Bears 17

What the Packers showed: They still have a leg up on their historic NFC North rivals.

Despite finding themselves at last place in their division, the Packers apparently didn’t panic – even when facing off against the rival Bears in Chicago. Needing a win to avoid a disastrous 1-3 start, QB Aaron Rodgers carved up Chicago’s secondary for 304 yards through the air and 4 TDs. He distributed the ball fairly evenly between WRs Jordy Nelson (10 receptions, 108 yards, 2 TDs) and Randall Cobb (7 receptions, 113 yards, 2 TDs), and ran away with the game, leaving the Bears scoreless in the second half.

What the Bears showed: Apparently, offensive statistics have not been an indicator of success.

Give Jay Cutler, Martellus Bennett and Co. credit – they matched the Pack score for score in the first half, and wound up beating the Packers’ offense on almost every statistical category, including total yards (496 to 358), rushing yards (235 to 56), first downs (33 to 21) and time of possession (36:22 to 23:38). However, they also led the Packers in one crucial, yet negative, statistic: turnovers (2 to 0), both of which coming off of Cutler interceptions. Interestingly enough, they also won, statistically speaking, in their overtime loss to Buffalo in Week 1. I sense a pattern.

Baltimore Ravens 38, Carolina Panthers 10

What the Ravens showed: Hell hath no fury like a Steve Smith scorned.

Apparently, former Panthers WR Steve Smith had a lot to show his former team on Sunday – and he didn’t disappoint. While QB Joe Flacco impressed with 4 passing TDs, it was Smith who stole the show for Baltimore, catching two of them, one of which a 61-yard scamper on a deflection off of TE Owen Daniels.

Former Panthers WR Steve Smith took it to his old team with his hands and his feet, to the tune of two scores.

Former Panthers WR Steve Smith took it to his old team with his hands and his feet, to the tune of two scores.

He burned the Panthers’ secondary for 7 receptions, 139 yards and 2 TDs, showing his old team what they were missing in the 14-year veteran who played his entire career in Carolina until his bitter departure this past offseason.

What the Panthers showed: They now have a LOT of problems on defense. 

A defensive squad that ranked second overall in points per game allowed (15.1) in 2013 got off to another good start, going 2-0 and allowing 10.5 points per game in those two victories. However, their last two games saw the defense allowing 37.5 points per game – more than any two games last year. They also gave up exactly 454 yards of offense to both of their last two opponents (vs. PIT, @ BAL). It’s a trend they are obviously not used to, and one they need to fix in a hurry.

Houston Texans 23, Buffalo Bills 17

What the Texans showed: DE J.J. Watt is surprisingly making a case for NFL MVP.

It’s no surprise that the 6’5″, 289-pound defensive end out of Wisconsin is one of the most imposing players on defense in the NFL. But the way he has been changing the game for the Texans – despite troubles on offense with a pedestrian passing game – has been eye-popping. His 80-yard interception return for a TD (yes, you read that right) provided further proof of that on Sunday. Now whispers around the league, while early in the season, are insinuating that the Texans’ 3-1 start has had a lot to do with Watt’s production on defense; so much so, that he is an early candidate for NFL MVP – the first since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

What the Bills showed: That E.J. Manuel-to-Sammy Watkins dynamic duo? It’s not working out … so far.

Remember when Buffalo traded up in the first round of this year’s NFL draft to take what they thought was the most dynamic wideout in the 2014 class? Many thought that it was an offense-shifting move – especially for QB E.J. Manuel, who didn’t have 1,000-yard receiver talent at his disposal. That was supposed to be the case with the selection of Watkins, and yet, the two have not clicked together just yet. It’s obviously early in the season, but their struggles in the passing game have been a big factor in losing their last two games. Buffalo can probably be patient with the duo, but for how long?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24

What the Buccaneers showed: They have the kind of determination – if not exactly the all-world talent – to win games on grit alone.

Simply put, the Bucs were not supposed to win this game. Playing a seemingly superior team in a hostile environment was supposed to sink these pirates to a fourth straight loss. And they were about to – after all, no one expected QB Mike Glennon to march down the field for a game-winning touchdown with only 40 seconds left on the clock. But that’s exactly what he did – obviously with a little help from the Steelers special teams, that punted the ball to their own 46-yard line. That took guts from a team that had little to hope for after starting the season 0-3. Now, they might have something to build upon moving forward.

What the Steelers showed: That they won’t be invited to any of Snoop Dogg’s BBQs anytime soon.

While the Bucs showed grit and determination in a great last-second victory, the Steelers almost played down to their opponents – especially in that last drive. They showed no discipline on defense, and couldn’t hold the lead in the final moments. It wasted a great day from QB Ben Roethlisberger (314 passing yards, 3 TDs), in a game where Pittsburgh essentially controlled the game – except for those final two minutes. It was so bad, rapper Snoop Dogg let loose a profanity-laced tirade on his Instagram after the collpase [Link NSFW].

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