Welcome to the Four Verts column, a weekly mind dump of four topics from the NFL weekend that tickled my brain. This week, the topics range from a serious conversation about where Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears are to an in-depth review of Ken Dorsey's rage in the waning moments of the Buffalo Bills' loss in Miami. The column is already long enough as it is, so let's dive in.
Justin Fields is right about his play, but hope is not lost
Gotta give Justin Fields this: He had an accurate assessment of his own play from the Bears’ 23-20 win over the Houston Texans. Fields said he played “terrible” and “like trash” and he was absolutely right. Yes, he's getting used to a new offense and the skill talent on the Bears' roster is lacking, but his own play has been unsatisfactory, both by his own standards and what the Bears need out of him in future years.
Fields has not played well. His play is a paradox of itself. He’s seeing the field well, but he’s not actually throwing the ball. Even when the protection holds up (which can be dicey, since the Bears are starting a fifth-round rookie at left tackle) Fields hesitates to pull the trigger. To his credit, his scrambling can result in huge chunk plays, but overall Fields just isn’t throwing the ball enough.
The eye test is matched by the numbers. According to Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus, the Bears are throwing targeted pass attempts on 64% of their dropbacks, by far the lowest rate in the league. Fields and the Bears' offense also lead the NFL in scramble percentage with a scramble on 15% of their dropbacks. Those are not necessarily a hindrance on the offense as Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles are playing successful football at about the same rate. But they’re throwing the ball at a much higher level.
Among the 33 quarterbacks with 48 plays on the season, Fields ranks 32nd in expected points per play (-0.147). Fields has also been sacked a whopping 18.4% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Reference, a rate so bad that there’s almost no way it can continue for the rest of the season. That has to change if the Bears are going to hold onto the winning record that they miraculously have right now.
It’s not completely over for Fields though, even if his play has been underwhelming. This team is going through all this together for the first time. Luke Getsy is a first-time play-caller, Matt Eberflus is a rookie head coach and Fields himself has started only 13 NFL games. Patience should be had here, but at the same time the Bears need their young quarterback to rapidly improve.
The Arizona Cardinals have been terrible, but why?
Not many people expected the Cardinals to be dominant this season, especially in the wake of Deandre Hopkins’ suspension, but they have been comically bad over the first three weeks. They needed late-game heroics from Kyler Murray to beat the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2, and never really posed an offensive threat to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. This team is in disarray, and it feels like the roster isn’t playing up to its talent. Or maybe the hard truth is that this roster isn’t as talented as once thought and there needs to be a major retooling.
Regardless, a 1-2 start where the offense has largely looked lifeless is not what this team wanted or expected after giving contract extensions to Murray, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim. So much is broken about the Cardinals that it’s tough to figure out exactly which aspect of this team is causing it to move like a 2001 sedan with a corroded battery.
Let’s start with the positives. Murray appears to be an exceptional soldier in first-person shooter video games, and Kingsbury is as handsome as ever. On a serious note, the offense has not been a total disaster, even if the Cardinals aren't scoring as many points as they want to. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Cardinals ranked 11th in expected points added per play (0.004) and are averaging 20.7 points per game — not bad in a year when scoring is down across the board, for now.
That’s really about it as far as positives go. On a whole, the Cardinals' offense is performing well statistically, but the passing game has been anything but good. Murray and the Cardinals are averaging -0.023 expected points per dropback, good for 20th in the league, and are averaging just 4.8 net yards per passing attempt. That second number is good for 30th in the league — behind the Jets and Steelers!
Normally, this is the opposite of what happens with the Cardinals. They’ve typically started seasons on a tear with an overwhelmingly good passing attack before sputtering toward the end, but right now they're flying with clipped wings. They have enough offensive talent to get back on the right track, and they’ll get Hopkins back from his suspension in Week 7. There’s hope for that unit to look how it's supposed to when Hopkins returns.
But the defense, oh man, the defense. The Cardinals have arguably been the worst defense in football through the first three weeks of the season. The group ranks 31st in expected points added per play (0.191) and dead last in yards allowed per play (6.7). Those numbers might be a bit skewed because the Cardinals got annihilated by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the opener, but they’re fresh off of allowing 7.4 yards per play to a Rams offense that hasn’t quite found its footing yet. A drop-off was expected after losing Chandler Jones to free agency. This has been far worse than a simple drop-off. Healthy, cohesive offenses can get to the red zone at will against Arizona.
The Cardinals have invested a lot into this roster. They traded a first-round draft pick for Marquise Brown, have an expensive safety duo with Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker, and agreed to a contract with Murray that includes $189.5 million guaranteed. This team has become far too expensive all-round, the front office included, for its performance to be at this level. At least one of the bets that the Cardinals made with their contract extensions this offseason appears to not be working. It’s up to them to figure out which of these moves are fixable and how they can get back into shape before completely wasting everything they’ve invested into this year.
Ken Dorsey's tantrum: Breaking down the film
Hey, we all get mad sometimes. Maybe not smash-a-tablet-and-papers mad, but anger is a normal human emotion. Unfortunately for Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, he was caught experiencing a major bout of rage after the Bills' Week 3 loss against the Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo was blessed with just a two-point deficit late in the fourth quarter after the already-infamous "butt punt," but Isaiah McKenzie’s wasted dance moves caused the clock to run out before the Bills could run a spike and attempt a game-winning field goal. That caused Dorsey to erupt.
Dorsey’s anger is understandable, but we typically don’t get to see an NFL coach be this mad during the course of a game. Sure, there are shouting matches and thrown tablets, but Dorsey needed just one dose of gamma radiation before his skin started turning green and everyone in the stadium suddenly found themselves in a perilous situation. It was an uncontrollable rage, one that was controlled only by another coach who put his hand over the camera, blocking Dorsey’s further rampage from the television audience.
However, 10 seconds was long enough to get a glimpse of what happens when someone who is greatly invested in something is extremely let down in a matter of seconds. It was an efficient level of destruction. The Bills hope to recapture such offensive efficiency as they move past this bump in the road. (I still think they’re the best team in the NFL.)
Let's review. The first object that Dorsey threw was his headset, naturally. There’s nothing left to say after losing a game like that. All the late-game luck you needed, gone in a second — as were the headphones from Dorsey’s head. Not only did he throw them against the desk, he tried to catch them for a repeat Hulk smash, missed, and then started the free-for-all against anything that happened to be within a 10-inch radius from where he was sitting.
Dorsey's hat was next to be thrown, but he wasn't done with it. The hat fell against the desk then Dorsey picked up his tablet (big deal for most of us, not for an NFL team) and his papers and threw them against the hat. The hat did not deserve that! It sat loyally on his head and did nothing wrong!
The first throw of the tablet was not Dorsey’s best effort. This is the same guy who quarterbacked the greatest teams Miami football has seen this century. He has a little zip left in that arm. The first whack of the tablet was not nearly enough to release the rage he was feeling. It was soft. So, he picked the tablet up again and started using it like a sledgehammer, crushing every flimsy piece of paper in his path.
To Dorsey’s credit, he executed the tablet smash in a safe-ish method. The screen is facing up, meaning Dorsey wouldn’t be at risk of splattering glass all over the desk. It was a prepared move to keep himself and the other coaches sitting next to him safe. After three quality, stress-releasing tablet smashes, the concerned coach put his hand over the camera.
That move from the other coach was savvy, but it begs the question: Did they see Dorsey freaking out on the broadcast before the hand went over the camera? That is some top-tier awareness if so.
McKenzie should feel so bad about this. Do you see what you made a good man go through? First the Canes get dusted by Middle Tennessee, a program that had never beaten an AP top 25 team prior to this past weekend. Now he has to deal with this? Think of your coach next time! Sheesh, athletes are so selfish.
No, the Cowboys don’t have a quarterback controversy
Stop. Breathe, don’t let your brain go there. Just because Cooper Rush has been solid for the Dallas Cowboys in Dak Prescott’s absence does not mean that he’s a legitimate threat to take away Prescott’s job from him. This is the allure of the unknown that piques the interest of every fan base whenever a backup quarterback starts a game and isn't completely awful.
Rush’s development into a quality NFL player is a great thing for the Cowboys. Rush is good enough to win games with one of the best defenses in the NFL making life easier for him. That’s good. Going 2-0 in Prescott’s absence is exactly what a good backup quarterback should be able to do. Manage the game, don’t make too many mistakes, let Micah Parsons drop nuclear bombs in the backfield every play.
That doesn’t mean you give the whole ship to Rush! Be excited and happy that he has grown into this player, but he’s not better than Prescott. Memories can be short in football. Prescott played poorly before getting injured against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, but that performance was not close to representative of what he has been since the Cowboys made him their starter in 2016. Prescott is undoubtedly a good quarterback worth investing in, and he’ll resume his role as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback when he returns from his thumb injury.
Admittedly, there aren’t too many people saying that Rush should take over as the Cowboys' starting quarterback for the rest of the season. But there are enough people floating this possibility — including Jerry Jones — that it’s worth dispelling the notion.
The Cowboys couldn’t even financially get rid of Prescott until 2024 if they wanted to. Let’s be reasonable about this. And stop watching sports debates shows in the middle of the day, they’re poisoning an already poisoned group of people: rabid sports fans.