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Debating Russell Wilson's elite status
2:14 | NFL
Debating Russell Wilson's elite status
Tuesday September 23rd, 2014

Two divisions posted a 3-1 record in Week 3. One was the AFC North, where unbeaten Cincinnati, playoff hopefuls Pittsburgh and Baltimore and a vastly improved Cleveland team reside.

The other was the NFC East.

Expectations were low for this division entering the 2014 season, what with Washington coming off a 3-13 year and both the Giants and Cowboys stacking up weaker on paper than their '13 versions. An opening weekend in which the Eagles needed to rally from 17 down against Jacksonville to nab the division's only victory did nothing to quell the argument that the East might be downtrodden for a bit.

Momentum might be shifting now. Dallas has pulled off back-to-back road wins, for starters—smoking Tennessee in Week 2 and rallying back from 21 down Sunday to knock off St. Louis. Elsewhere, New York got off the schneid with a win over the previously-unbeaten Texans. And the Redskins and Eagles played a game that overall may have been more exciting than that Denver-Seattle overtime affair.

MORE: Most surprising teams in Week 3 | Peter King on Arizona's 3-0 start 

Philadelphia, at 3-0, still has a leg up on the competition. The defending division champs have had to scratch and claw for the perfect start, but Chip Kelly's No. 2-ranked offense keeps on rolling.

"We're fortunate to be 3-0 right now," Kelly said Sunday, following his team's dramatic 37-34 victory over the Kirk Cousins-led Redskins.

How well Cousins plays ultimately may dictate whether the NFC East is a force to be reckoned with or merely a so-so division with flash-in-the-pan success. Washington has been far more sharp with him under center, whether it's happenstance or not. 

Several of the NFC's expected contenders—Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco—already have two losses on the ledger. Could the East benefit by pushing to claim multiple playoff bids?

More of what went right and wrong in Week 3:

First Down: Teryl Austin.

The Detroit Lions have allowed less yards than any team in the league and sit No. 2 (behind Cincinnati) in points allowed. Let that all sink in for a moment ...

For point of reference, the last time Detroit's defense had a top-10 finish in the yardage category was 1993; its last top-10 ranking on the scoring-defense chart came in 1983. Thirty-one years! 

Austin, in his first season as the team's defensive coordinator, has that unit firing on all cylinders right now, though. Sunday, the Lions held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just seven points—and the defense actually scored nine points of its own, on a scoop-and-score fumble recovery and a safety. It was a brilliant performance, especially at the line where Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Detroit's D-line disrupted Rodgers' timing all afternoon.

The front four's effort allowed Austin to avoid taking too many chances in the secondary, where the Lions are already down to their fourth nickel cornerback (Danny Gorrer, signed off the street days before the 19-7 win over Green Bay).

"He called a great game tonight," Fairley said of Austin. "He put us in position to make plays all night."

Fourth Down: Pittsburgh's injury luck.

Heck of a win for the Steelers Sunday night in Carolina. But it came at a cost.

En route to an impressive 37-19 victory, the Steelers lost starting cornerback Ike Taylor, possibly for the season after he broke his arm in gruesome fashion; starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones for at least eight weeks; and rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier to a sprained knee, which will sideline him for multiple games. 

Pittsburgh was in such bad shape by Monday morning that it reportedly has talked James Harrison out of retirement to join its linebacker corps. 

Carolina did not fare much better, especially at running back. Already short a banged-up DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers lost Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert to injury.

First Down: Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks' signal-caller has had sharper performances than what he showed Sunday. In fact, his fourth-quarter interception sparked Denver's comeback in earnest, with the Broncos eventually forcing overtime.

It was in the OT session, however, that Wilson again proved he has become one of the league's absolute best quarterbacks. With the Broncos stealing all the momentum at the end of regulation, a collected Wilson marched his team down the field for a game-winning touchdown by completing six passes and converting twice on third-down situations with his legs.

Fourth Down: The AFC South.

Well, at least the Colts picked up a needed win. Of course, it came at the hands of a Jacksonville team that might be the league's worst through three weeks. (Yes, we see you too, Tampa Bay.) Since taking a 17-0 lead on Philadelphia in the opener, the Jaguars have been outscored 119-27.

Tennessee has not fared much better on the heels of a Week 1 win at Kansas City. The Titans lost by 16 to Dallas in Week 2, then were pummeled by 26 in Cincinnati on Sunday. 

Houston still sits atop the division, now at 2-1, but the  future success is very much in question thanks to an ugly loss against the Giants.

First Down: Rashad Jennings.

Speaking of the Giants ... a little love here for their starting running back. Jennings, free of a timeshare in Oakland's backfield, turned in the best performance of his career Sunday: 176 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. The Giants should continue to ride him until their passing game really kicks it into gear. 

Fourth Down: Jerome Boger's crew.

Ugly Sunday night for the officials. The most prominent miscue came when Boger blew the whistle early on a Jay Cutler fumble, thus robbing the Jets of a critical touchdown -- they lost by eight and failed to score after being awarded possession via review. There also was a controversial pass interference call on Darrin Walls and possibly a missed spot on a late fourth-and-3 conversion by Jace Amaro. (The latter might have been on the camera crew, as ESPN never aired a shot with the angle needed to overturn the play.)

Oh, and after Cutler took a roughing-the-passer penalty on a TD pass, Boger seemingly either missed or forgot the Bears' score and instead announced that the infraction would enforced half the distance to the goal.

Not great.

First Down: Julio Jones.

Granted, a scarecrow with a fishing net taped to its hand might have been able to go for 100 yards against the bumbling Buccaneers last Thursday. Let us not allow Tampa Bay's shortcomings to completely overshadow another gem from the Falcons' star receiver. 

With Roddy White out of the lineup, Jones saw 11 targets from QB Matt Ryan. He caught nine of them for 161 yards and two touchdowns. 

Fourth Down: New England's (and Green Bay's) run game.

A matchup with Oakland's bottom-of-the-barrel run defense looked like exactly what New England needed to generate some consistency on the ground. It didn't happen. The Raiders held Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to a combined 2.8 yards per carry; Ridley is at a paltry 3.4 ypc average through three games. 

That's still better than the 3.1 mark 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy is currently carrying. Detroit limited him to 36 yards Sunday, the third straight game in which Lacy has failed to get to even 50 yards rushing.

Green Bay's offensive line deserves a hearty serving of blame here, as does the New England front. But for either of these teams to get where they want to go in 2014, answers better come soon.

NFL
Unheralded backups propelling surprising Cardinals; more Snaps

First Down: Tony Jefferson, John Brown, Drew Stanton, etc. etc.

The first day of fall comes far too early on the calendar for anyone to be dreaming of a de facto Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl home game this season. And yet, head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles are working with some serious mojo right now.

After missing out on the 2013 postseason despite a 10-6 record, Arizona sits atop the NFC West with a perfect 3-0 mark. The three wins have come over San Diego, Detroit and San Francisco—all playoff contenders.

Even more impressively, the Cardinals are rolling with the help of several guys who hardly qualify as household names. Jefferson, their third-round pick in 2013, has proven to be a versatile and invaluable member of the secondary. He was Arizona's leading tackler Sunday vs. San Francisco, with the likes of a resurgent Larry Foote, Tyrann Mathieu (another draft steal) and 2012 sixth-rounder Justin Bethel close behind.

Offensively, journeyman backup Drew Stanton again got the job done, picking apart the 49ers' defense via rookie slot man John Brown, who caught a pair of TDs. 

Fourth Down: Miami's coaching staff.

Trouble-a-brewin' down in Miami for Joe Philbin and co. 

Sunday's 34-15 loss to Kansas City may have pushed a staff that was embattled to begin with closer to full-blown mutiny. Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reported that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is under particular scrutiny within the locker room.

One source said Dolphins players are “beyond furious, irate” at Coyle’s defensive adjustments and game plan.

Players are privately questioning a host of decisions, including Coyle’s call to have Cameron Wake and Jason Trusnik cover speedy Chiefs running back Joe McKnight in space, said another. McKnight exploited the matchups and had two touchdown catches in the second half Sunday.

Said game plan featured such head-scratchers as DE Olivier Vernon trying to pick up athletic Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on an underneath crossing pattern (the play resulted in a touchdown) and pass-rusher extraordinaire Cameron Wake being asked to drop in coverage on RB Joe McKnight (also a TD). 

Monday brought reports that Philbin may consider benching QB Ryan Tannehill in favor of backup Matt Moore, perhaps a desperation move for a 1-2 team whose season suddenly appears on the brink. 

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