On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.
It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.
Are the Cleveland Browns in desperation mode?
Earlier this week, Las Vegas listed its odds on who might be the next NFL coach fired after the dismissal of Jay Gruden in Washington on Monday. And wouldn’t you know it, right there in the top five was Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens.
The Browns are 2-3, far from meeting any of the expectations laid out for them before the season. And that slow start was best exemplified by their 31-3 loss in San Francisco last week. They host Seattle on Sunday.
While the blame is wide-spread, it ultimately comes down to the lack of production from its offense. And quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., have both admitted some frustration with that.
“I hate losing, period,” said Beckham. “Any time we lose and I don’t feel like I did anything to help win the game, I’m gonna be frustrated. That’s just the bottom line. I’m a winner in my heart and I hate losing.”
Beckham has just four catches for 47 yards over the past two games, the lowest amount of production over a two-week period in his career. What’s more, Beckham has attempted more passes (two) this season than he has touchdown receptions (one).
“He’s frustrated when he is not getting the ball and we’re losing. Why not be? He feels like he could help us win if we get the ball in his hands,” said Mayfield. “It’s frustrating when he’s not getting the ball and we are losing. You can’t blame him. He’s one of the best receivers in the league, and when he’s not getting the ball, he always has it in the back of his mind of, ‘What if I did get the ball and changed this game?’
Mayfield’s QB rating in San Francisco was 4.2, second-worst in the NFL this season behind Jets third-stringer Luke Falk.
Welcome to the winless bowl
For the second time in two weeks, the NFL features a battle between two winless teams when the Redskins play the Dolphins in Miami. Last week, the Arizona Cardinals picked up their first victory by beating the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Redskins will play for interim coach Bill Callahan for the first time and they will do so after a practice week during which the coach picked up the pace with longer workouts and longer sprints.
“Guys are busting their butts,” running back Adrian Peterson told the Washington Times. “They’re working hard. This has been the best week of practice since I’ve been here. It’ll be exciting to see what (Callahan’s) able to do with full control and kind of doing things the way he actually wants to do them when it comes to the play-calling and stuff like that. (If) the head coach says the run game is going to be a big emphasis, then that’s what it’s going to be what it is.”
What’s not changing in the immediate future is Washington’s QB situation. Callahan plans to keep rookie Dwayne Haskins incubating while Case Keenum and Colt McCoy run the team.
For the Dolphins, Josh Rosen’s QB rating of 43.0 is 24th in the league and he has engineered only one TD drives since he became the starter two games ago.
The Dolphins have been outscored 81-0 in the second half and have allowed a league-leading 175.8 yards per game on the ground. By hey, the Redskins have been outscored by 78 in their first five games.
Injuries tempering San Francisco’s excitement
These are heady days in northern California. The San Francisco 49ers are 4-0 since 1990 and currently lead the NFC West. They get a chance to prove their worth on Sunday against a Los Angeles Rams team (3-2) that has lost its last two games.
It won’t be easy for the Niners. They will be without two of their most important offensive players, not only this week but for some time. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszcyk both have knee injuries. The injury to McGlinchey further handicaps an offensive line that’s also missing Joe Staley.
McGlinchey, the Niners first-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2018, has never missed a game at any level of his career because of injury.
These injuries could be major blows to a team that not only ranks first in the league in rushing yardage (200) but is second in points per game (31.8) and fourth in yards per game (427.3). The 49ers also have 27 running plays for over 10 yards and their 800 total rushing yards are their most in the first four games since 1959.
“I know the NFL has gotten a little pass-happy here in the last couple years, but Kyle is a firm believer that the team goes as the run game goes,” said McGlinchey said. “We believe in that as well. It is awesome up front as an offensive lineman to have a head coach that believes in you like that. That can scheme us up to put us all in a great position for us to succeed.”
Sam Darnold returns against slumping Cowboys
The New York Jets have fielded the worst offense in the league this season. And one of the reasons is they’ve been missing QB Sam Darnold for the last month because of mononucleosis.
But Darnold was finally cleared this week and will start on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.
Darnold admitted he’s felt better for a long time, but his doctors were more concerned with an enlarged spleen, a byproduct of the disease. They have been ultra-conservative with him because of that.
“I feel good. Energy is awesome. Just looking forward to playing this week,” Darnold told ESPN Radio.
The Jets are 0-4 for the first time since 2003 and things are getting somewhat tense. The team called a players-only meeting on Monday in an effort to keep everyone headed in the right direction.
The timing could not be better. Falk was sacked nine times (the Jets have allowed 23 this season) by the Philadelphia Eagles and also committed three turnovers. Two resulted in Eagles TDs.
“It’s probably more than just Sam getting out there – we’ve got a lot of other things to clean up – but Sam is able to hide things sometimes for us,” said Jets coach Adam Gase. “If we make a mistake, he covers it up. We just need to do a better job as a group, making sure we’re all on the same page.”
Lions coming out of the bye at Green Bay
It’s clear the NFC North can be won by any of the teams in the division. And that admission represents great news for the Detroit Lions, the perennial sad sack.
The Lions came very close to defeating the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago before heading into their bye week. And now they emerge with the opportunity to take down the Packers in Green Bay.
One of the big reasons the Lions seem more stable than usual is that second-year coach Matt Patricia seems more confident in everything that he is doing.
“Matt’s obviously very, very intelligent and I think … last year was a whirlwind, starting back to hiring (him) very late in the process, trying to get a coaching staff together, trying to go through free agency, do all those things,” said Lions GM Bob Quinn over the summer. And I think he definitely changed in the ways he’s done some things.”
Johnson gained over 100 yards for the first time this season against the Chiefs. He has his eye on gaining at least 1,000 yards this season. The Lions have had only four of those since Barry Sanders retired in 1999. The last was Reggie Bush in 2013.