The Eagles and Falcons have major questions to answer after a particularly bad week for our avian friends. And what’s up with the Cowboys’ slow starts?
Birds have had a rough go of it lately. To be honest, they’ve had a rough go of it since 1970, but none of us want to think too hard right now about how North America has lost 3 billion birds in five decades. We’ll leave the panic index for football matters because everything else can be too overwhelming.
This past Sunday, all five bird teams lost in the same week for the first time in at least a decade (there was one week in 2012 when they went 0-3, with two on byes). For some, it was business as usual (sorry, Cardinals). For others, it was their first loss of the year and wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. The Ravens fell on the road to the Chiefs and learned a valuable lesson about themselves, while the Seahawks always manage to get things figured out by the time December rolls around.
Those aren’t the only teams we’re checking in on this week, though. I guess you could say the new panic index isn’t just ... for the birds.
The Eagles are tearing their fans apart!
Eagles fans, bless them, are a passionate flock. This is something we knew last year, when they booed the defending championship exactly one half into the new season. This is something we knew months before that following their Super Bowl victory. Hell, this is something we knew before many of us were even born.
So when the Eagles — a team some were picking to make it to Super Bowl 54 — dropped a home game to the Lions, the fans were unsurprisingly upset.
That includes everyone from an Ivy League dean of admissions:
Can’t stop watching this irate Eagles fan. pic.twitter.com/yzA3DYCgfJ— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 22, 2019
Eagles fans have no chill— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) September 23, 2019
In the middle of an eyewitness describing how people were saving babies out of a burning building, this fan brings up Eagles drops on @NBCPhiladelphia pic.twitter.com/RCLG5ZdNzw
The Eagles’ lone win of the season so far came against the still-winless Washington, the current betting favorite as the first team to fire its coach. Oh, and Philly was losing that game 17-0, only to rally for a five-point victory — at home.
On the other hand, the Eagles aren’t that far off from being 3-0 either. The margins in their two losses were close: four points to the Falcons on the road, and three points to the Lions. They could’ve won both games on their last possession, and maybe should’ve, if not for self-inflicted wounds like drops and penalties. They are also dealing with so many injuries that they canceled practice one day last week.
Still, Philly is two games back of Dallas in the NFC East standings, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here. In the next five weeks, the Eagles hit the road four times: against the Packers, Vikings, Cowboys, and Bills. Through Week 3, those teams are a collective 11-1.
Here we go again with the Falcons
Following a disappointing 7-9 season last year, Atlanta was expected to bounce back in 2019 — perhaps even as a potential Super Bowl contender. Its potent offense — featuring the consistently underrated Matt Ryan and the NFL’s best WR, Julio Jones — returned with several new offensive linemen, and the defense was finally healthy again.
But early on, the Falcons look more like the same team from 2018, with injuries and penalties piling up and a lack of cohesion on offense. The Falcons are one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but they just can’t get out of their own way.
In Week 3, they lost to the Colts 27-24 on the road and despite clawing back, Atlanta couldn’t overcome a 20-3 first-half deficit. The bigger problem is how the Falcons keep falling into those holes, mostly due to undisciplined play. From The Falcoholic:
Mental errors are becoming far too common on a weekly basis for the Falcons. You can’t be dependent on converting third and long situations at a staggering rate every week. These careless, unforced penalties will usually come back to haunt any team.
Most of the biggest penalties were committed by the defense. On 16 penalties, the Colts picked up seven first downs.
The Falcons had a lengthy list of injuries after the game, none more costly than safety Keanu Neal’s season-ending Achilles tear.
Offensively, the entire unit is essentially being driven by Jones. Through three games, Jones has four touchdowns, and is averaging 88.3 yards per game. In fact, the Falcons wouldn’t even have a win this season if not for Jones’ superhuman efforts.
Ryan has done a good job of finding Jones when he needs to, but he’s almost thrown as many interceptions this year (six) as he did all of 2018 (seven), which certainly doesn’t help production on offense. Second-year receiver Calvin Ridley is also seeing a curious lack of targets, getting just one against the Colts.
The run game has to get a lot better than it has been early on, too. Devonta Freeman has just 129 yards and no TDs through three weeks. Backup running back Ito Smith has just 11 carries and is concussion protocol. That’s a lot of pressure to put on Ryan and the passing game week in and week out.
Right now, this feels a lot like the same old Falcons.
Panic index: Atlanta’s slow start is particularly concerning given who it has left on the schedule, which includes road trips to Houston and New Orleans, and home games against. the Rams and Seahawks. The offense has time to work out the kinks, and should be able to, based on its strong second half against the Colts.
But if the Falcons can’t clean up their mistakes, they could be out of the NFC South race quickly.
Slow starts are going to eventually bite the Cowboys in the butt
Dallas is averaging just over 32 points per game and is allowing just under 15. Everything is peachy keen, except the Cowboys looked pretty shaky early against the tanking Dolphins. At halftime, Miami trailed 10-6 and were even in position to take the lead before Kenyan Drake fumbled inside the Cowboys’ 10-yard line.
Eventually, the Cowboys — who are much, much more talented than the Dolphins — figured things out and cruised to a 31-6 win.
But Dallas had similar issues in the first two weeks. Both New York and Washington scored first to take 7-0 leads against the Cowboys, who then straightened themselves out in and won by double digits each time.
Those slow starts could become a problem, though, and soon. Dallas will face the 2-1 Saints and the 3-0 Packers in the next two weeks and can’t afford to keep stumbling out the gates. It won’t be as easy to pull off a comeback against actual contenders.
Panic index: The second quarter has been Dak Prescott’s best quarter over the course of his NFL career so far. He’s thrown 30 of his 76 career touchdowns in the second quarter compared to just 13 touchdowns in the first quarter. That lends some credence to the idea that the Cowboys have a slow-start problem.
Dallas is doing its best work in the third quarter in 2019, but thrived in the first quarter last year. There’s still plenty of time to channel its 2018 self and get out to faster starts.
Marcus Mariota’s not getting that nine-figure contract extension
Mariota’s been a mercurial figure through four-plus seasons with the Titans. The former No. 2 overall pick has guided Tennessee to winning records in each of the past three years and even has a playoff upset under his belt. He’s also never played a full 16-game schedule, ranked higher than ninth in the NFL in passing efficiency, or been selected to a Pro Bowl roster.
That pendulum swung hard to the negative side in Week 3. Mariota couldn’t find his footing on a rainy night in Jacksonville, throwing for 304 yards but needing 49 dropbacks to get there. He didn’t reach the end zone, but he was sacked nine times behind an offensive line that desperately misses Taylor Lewan (currently serving a four-game PED suspension).
The Titans only scored once in a 20-7 loss that dropped them to the bottom of the AFC South’s pecking order. They’ve totaled just 24 total points since their opening week upset of the Browns in Cleveland.
Once again, Tennessee faces a season in purgatory. The Titans are occasionally good enough to strike fear in the hearts of actual Super Bowl contenders, but not the kind of threat that can make noise beyond the first weekend of the postseason.
The source of the frustration and the heart of the team’s “just good enough to break your heart” status is Mariota, who is staring down free agency after the 2019 season. He was never quite consistent or eye-popping enough to earn the massive contract extension most quarterbacks selected in the top five do before their rookie deals run out. After the loss to the Jaguars, he might wind up searching for a new home next spring.
The Heisman Trophy winner has struggled to build a rapport with his wideouts, especially former fifth overall pick Corey Davis, who has just six catches and 12 targets through three games. No wide receiver has ever recorded a 1,000-yard season with Mariota at the helm. Through three games, only 69.6 percent of his passes have been catchable, per SIS. That number slots him right between Eli Manning and fellow 2015 draftee Jameis Winston toward the bottom of the QB rankings.
If he can’t find the extra gear he’s been searching for over most of the past four seasons, the Titans could be doomed to another year where the best they can hope for is nine wins.
And he’s probably right.