The NFL is about to wrap the first month of its 2023 season. The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers kicked off Week 4 on Thursday night, and the trade deadline is just over a month away.
It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan for several franchises. The Minnesota Vikings are one loss away from matching their 2022 total, while the Cincinnati Bengals are off to their second 1-2 start in as many seasons.
It’s still early enough in the season, though, that adjustments can be made, be it to game plans, schemes, depth charts or rosters themselves. Even the league’s three undefeated teams could stand to improve in one area or another moving forward.
Below, you’ll find one thing that every franchise needs to change entering October.
Cardinals WR Rondale Moore Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Arizona Cardinals sit at 1-2, but they’ve been surprisingly competitive and just pulled off, arguably, the year’s biggest upset against the Dallas Cowboys.
Wide receiver Rondale Moore played a big role in the Week 3 win with a spectacular 45-yard touchdown run.
“When he put his foot in the ground and kind of took off, you could feel his speed and his power as he got through the hole,” offensive coordinator Drew Petzing told reporters.
This season, Moore has carried the ball five times for 66 yards and caught eight passes for 55. If the Cardinals want to continue winning, they should try mixing the 23-year-old into the backfield rotation even more.
Arizona lacks playmakers in the passing game, and while quarterback Joshua Dobbs has been mostly fine, the strength of the offense is in the running game.
Giving opposing defenses different looks with Moore as a runner would help open things up a bit while taking some of the load from James Conner, who ranked third in the NFL with 51 carries through Week 3.
Falcons WR Drake London Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
The Atlanta Falcons want to win with consistent defense and a strong running game. However, the best teams tend to exercise some semblance of balance, and it would behoove Atlanta to open up the passing attack more.
Specifically, the Falcons need to find a way to get more out of second-year receiver Drake London. He was the first receiver taken in last year’s draft and flashed promise as a rookie, finishing with 72 receptions for 866 yards and four touchdowns.
Through three games, he has only eight receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Good things tend to happen when quarterback Desmond Ridder is able to find the USC product—half of his receptions have gone for first downs, and he’s provided a 96.0 passer rating when targeted—but Atlanta isn’t getting him the ball enough.
Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone should try using more stack and bunch formations to get London one-on-one in space, or perhaps scheme up some easy completions with bubble screens and slants—something to build chemistry between Ridder and London and make the receiver a more prevalent piece of the passing game.
The 22-year-old has been targeted just 15 times in 176 offensive snaps, which is an extremely low rate for a receiver who is supposed to be Atlanta’s top perimeter target.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Baltimore Ravens had a chance to move to 3-0 last Sunday but fell to the Indianapolis Colts in overtime instead.
Head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Todd Monken should take the blame for the loss for mismanaging things late in overtime.
The Ravens took over with more than four minutes remaining at their own 46-yard line. After averaging five yards per carry all game, Monken called three straight passes that set up 3rd-and-3 and then 4th-and-3.
Baltimore hired Monken to help bring balance to the offense, but in that scenario, he should have leaned on what the Ravens do best and ran the ball. And with more than three minutes remaining, Harbaugh never should have gone for it on 4th down from just across midfield. Pinning the Colts deep and forcing a long drive would have been the smart decision.
Instead, Lamar Jackson’s pass fell incomplete, and the Colts moved into field-goal range after four runs of their own. The Ravens are now in a three-way tie atop the talented AFC North, and if they hope to win the division, they cannot afford to mismanage critical situations as they did against Indianapolis.
Bills QB Josh Allen Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images
Like the Ravens, the Buffalo Bills should probably be 3-0. They had the rival New York Jets down 13-3 at halftime in Week 1 but scored just three points after intermission. Part of the problem was a series of careless mistakes from Josh Allen.
Too often in Week 1, the quarterback tried to go for the home run ball instead of taking the easy, smart play. He ended up turning the ball over four times in the game, and the Jets went on to win in overtime.
“Trying to force the ball,” Allen said after the loss.
Allen really hasn’t cost his team since Week 1, as Buffalo has rattled off consecutive blowout wins. However, head coach Sean McDermott, or someone else with a level of authority, needs to keep reminding him that he doesn’t have to win every game on a single play.
When the 27-year-old presses too hard, he can become mistake-prone. In 21 games (including playoffs) dating back to the start of last season, he has thrown 21 interceptions and lost seven fumbles.
Creating big plays is part of Allen’s game, so the Bills can’t rein him in too much. Yet, if they can’t convince him to take a breath and live for the next play now and again, he’s likely to cost Buffalo another close game in the future.
Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Carolina Panthers’ 2023 season is all about developing No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, who missed Week 3 with an ankle injury.
Supporting Young with a strong running game would be logical, but the Panthers have largely leaned on the pass in the early goings. Carolina has attempted 129 passes and only 65 runs.
To be fair, the Panthers line hasn’t exactly been blowing open holes for lead back Miles Sanders, who is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Getting backup Chuba Hubbard more involved could help boost the ground game.
Hubbard has been a nice change of pace, averaging 6.5 yards, albeit on only 12 carries. Using him more could help bring a little balance to the offense, while lightening the load for Sanders, who has a team-high 41 carries.
It probably wouldn’t hurt for Carolina to scour the free-agent and trade markets for another back either. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown has used Laviska Shenault Jr. as a gadget runner, but no other running backs have touched the ball this season.
Sanders has been able to handle the heavy workload, but he hasn’t been as efficient as he was behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ powerful line last season.
Bears QB Justin Fields David Eulitt/Getty Images
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields hasn’t made the desired strides as a passer this season, despite being surrounded by a better supporting cast.
The 24-year-old showed he can be an elite scrambler last season, and it seems offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is trying to force him to be more of a pocket passer this year.
Fields told reporters that he feels like he isn’t being himself on the field.
“That’s when I play my best, when I’m just out there playing free and being myself,” the quarterback said.
Assuming Chicago still believes in Fields and wants to win with him this season, Getsy and head coach Matt Eberflus should try simplifying things a bit and allow him to lean on his natural ability.
The Bears should be able to work on the little things—like developing a rapport between Fields and new No. 1 receiver D.J. Moore—without forcing him to overanalyze every play. The signal-caller is thinking too much and holding the ball too long, which has resulted in an alarming 13 sacks.
If Chicago has lost confidence in Fields, it should change nothing, embrace the tank and hope to land a top 2024 QB prospect with one of its two first-round picks (its own and one from the Panthers).
Bengals RB Joe Mixon Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is still battling a calf injury and not yet looking like himself.
Cincinnati has done a nice job of protecting the 26-year-old, who has only been sacked five times, but it has done so by using the short-passing game.
Burrow has averaged a career-low 6.5 intended yards per pass attempt and a career-low 2.1 seconds per pass this season. It’s allowed him to avoid sacks—though he’s still been hit 13 times—but has taken the explosive element out of Cincinnati’s offense.
The Bengals should try slowing opposing pass rushes by utilizing the run more. Joe Mixon hasn’t been especially consistent, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, but the offense has been extremely unbalanced. Cincinnati has thrown it 122 times and run the ball only 58.
The Bengals fared well as a pass-heavy team a year ago, but Burrow’s mobility wasn’t limited. Until he’s back to 100 percent, they must strive for more balance. Until they do, opponents will continue to focus almost exclusively on slowing and pressuring the LSU product.
if Mixon continues to be merely average, the Bengals might want to give a few more opportunities to rookie fifth-round pick Chase Brown.
Browns OT Jedrick Wills Jr. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Cleveland Browns will struggle to replace star running back Nick Chubb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. While that’s an issue that can’t quickly be solved, the Browns must address their other big offensive problem, the play of left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
Wills has only been responsible for two sacks and one penalty, per Pro Football Focus. However, his lack of technique and effort leaps off of the game tape.
On the sack-fumble-touchdown that proved to be the difference-making score in Cleveland’s Week 2 loss, Wills failed to even slow Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith.
On an otherwise solid Cleveland offensive line, Wills is the lone liability. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix. Short of trading for a tackle—like, perhaps, disgruntled Denver Bronco Garett Bolles—before the trade deadline, an upgrade won’t simply materialize.
However, Cleveland can look to give Wills some help. Regularly putting a tight end on the left side of the line or chipping with a running back should help him be a little more consistent in pass protection.
Something needs to be done because with Chubb out, the Browns will have to lean on Deshaun Watson and the passing game this season.
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy Christian Petersen/Getty Images
When the Cowboys lost offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in the offseason, everyone wondered if the offense would be as efficient with head coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays.
Dallas’ offense, which is averaging 28.6 points per game, has been better than most. However, the Cowboys have been incredibly inefficient in one key area: the red zone.
Under Moore, Dallas scored touchdowns on 71.4 percent of its red-zone trips. This year, the conversion rate has dipped to 40 percent. Only three teams have converted at a lower rate through three full weeks.
Dallas parted with Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz and has dealt with some injuries along the offensive line. However, this dramatic of a decline suggests a coaching problem. What McCarthy is calling inside the 20 simply isn’t working often enough.
Something has to give for the Cowboys to be legitimate title contenders. If McCarthy cannot script better plays for the red zone, he should consider hiring an assistant for that purpose.
Dallas is 2-1 but has yet to face a top-tier team this season. If it cannot figure out its red-zone woes, it’s going to struggle when teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles start popping up on the schedule.
Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Most Denver Broncos fans probably want defensive coordinator Vance Joseph fired after last Sunday’s dismal performance against the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins racked up 726 yards and 70 points in their blowout win, leaving Denver looking firmly like a non-contender.
The fans’ reaction is not of the knee-jerk variety. Joseph inherited the bulk of a unit that ranked seventh in yards allowed and 14th in points allowed last season. His defense has been awful all season.
Denver couldn’t hold off the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, blew a big lead to the Washington Commanders in Week 2 and laid an egg against the Dolphins. Joseph’s unit ranked dead-last in both yards and points allowed after three weeks.
If the Broncos aren’t going to replace Joseph, they need him to drastically alter how he is planning for games and adjusting within them.
The Broncos were expected to be better under head coach Sean Payton than they were under Nathaniel Hackett last season. Russell Wilson has played better under Payton, but it’s hard to see Denver improving on last year’s 5-12 record with the defense being this big of a liability.
Lions QB Jared Goff Stacy Revere/Getty Images
The Lions looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender during Thursday night’s blowout win over the rival Packers. It’s hard to find fault with a smartly coached unit that is playing well on both sides of the ball and has proved it can win big games on the road.
If there’s one thing for the Lions to work on moving forward, it’s ball security.
Detroit turned it over three times in the Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. One of those was a fourth-quarter Jared Goff interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Goff opened Thursday’s game with an ill-advised pass into coverage that was picked off and returned to the red zone. Green Bay only recorded a field goal as a result, and it ultimately became a footnote, but in closer games, turnovers can cost the Lions—as they did against Seattle.
Detroit has turned it over at least once in every game and six times in total. Dan Campbell and the coaching staff need to point to the Week 2 loss, how the team should be 4-0 and why the Lions can’t afford to get careless.
If the Lions can start playing mistake-free football, they’ll be ready for a postseason run.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images
After falling to 2-2 on Thursday night, it’s clear that the Green Bay Packers are a flawed team, and some of their issues cannot be solved quickly.
Green Bay has battled numerous injuries, and Jordan Love is a young quarterback who will occasionally make young-quarterback mistakes. What Green Bay can address, though, is its penchant for avoidable mistakes.
Coming into Week 4, the Packers had been penalized 27 times, second-most in the NFL. They were flagged only four times against the Detroit Lions, but one of them was effectively a game-ender.
The Packers got a red-zone stop midway through the fourth quarter when a field goal would have kept it a two-score game. However, a leaping penalty on Quay Walker gave Detroit a fresh set of downs. The Lions bled more time off the clock, scored a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
Green Bay was also flagged seven times in its Week 2 loss to Atlanta.
Head coach Matt LaFleur needs to get his team to cut back on the penalties. While Green Bay does have a solid roster, it has too many other issues to give away yards and first downs and expect to win consistently.
Texans QB C.J. Stroud John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Houston Texans were never expected to be a playoff team in 2023, but they’re seeing surprisingly fast progress from rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and could emerge as a contender in the AFC South.
Stroud has completed 64.5 percent of his passes, thrown four touchdowns with no interceptions and posted a 98.0 quarterback rating. The Texans are only 1-2, but they’re fresh off a decisive win over the rival Jacksonville Jaguars.
If Houston wants to push for a playoff spot this season, it needs to figure out how to be more efficient in the red zone. The Texans have converted a league-worst 27.3 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns.
As is the case in Dallas, this appears to be a coaching issue. Houston’s players have moved the ball well enough between the 20s—the Texans are averaging 341 yards per game—but things are stalling in scoring range.
It’s a surprising trend, considering only three teams converted third downs at a higher clip (48.1 percent) than the Texans over the first three weeks.
First-time offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik needs to dig a little deeper into his playbook and uncover something that helps turn scoring opportunities into touchdowns.
Colts RB Jonathan Taylor Cooper Neill/Getty Images
The Colts moved to 2-1 on the season with their Week 3 win over the Baltimore Ravens. They’re a well-coached team, and they’re winning both with and without rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who suffered a concussion in Week 2 and missed the win over Baltimore.
Indianapolis hasn’t had star running back Jonathan Taylor, who remains on the PUP list. In his absence, it has gotten solid production out of replacement back Zack Moss (210 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry).
It’s time for Indianapolis to change its stance on Taylor, whom the club gave an August 29 deadline for a trade. Taylor is set to be a free agent in 2024, and he still doesn’t want to play in Indy.
“From what I understand, he still doesn’t want to play for the Colts, and they still don’t want to give him a long-term contract,” ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote Wednesday.
With running back injuries already prevalent in 2023, the Colts could expect a reasonable return by making Taylor available. It could include future draft capital and/or another pass-catcher to aid Richardson or a defender to boost the Colts’ 25th-ranked defense.
Sticking with the decision not to trade Taylor won’t help the Colts now, and it certainly won’t help them in the future. They need to make him available as soon as he’s eligible to return from the PUP list on Tuesday.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor James Gilbert/Getty Images
The Jaguars were supposed to be a rising playoff contender in 2023, and they still might be. However, things haven’t gone well over the past few weeks, especially on offense. Jacksonville couldn’t muster a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, and it was thoroughly humbled by Houston last Sunday.
With a star quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars should have outpaced the Texans and rookie C.J. Stroud at home. Third-down efficiency was a big deciding factor in Jacksonville’s defeat.
While the Texans have been great at converting third downs, the Jaguars have been awful. With a middling 29.7 percent conversion rate, only three teams have been worse through three full weeks.
That’s a drastic dip from 2022, when the Jags converted 41.9 percent of their third-down attempts.
Jacksonville has faced a good Chiefs defense and two familiar foes, but that doesn’t guarantee that the issue will self-correct.
Dropped passes (eight of them) haven’t helped. However, offensive coordinator Press Taylor and the Jaguars still need to do a better job of getting into favorable down-and-distance situations and calling plays that actually work on money downs.
Going back and examining what worked in 2022 would be a great way to start.
Chiefs WR Kadarius Toney Cooper Neill/Getty Images
The Kansas City offense finally got rolling in Week 3, but that doesn’t mean that all is well. The Chiefs faced a laughable Chicago Bears offense and did a lot of their damage with running backs Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
One game doesn’t mean that Kansas City’s vaunted passing attack is back.
Tight end Travis Kelce serves as the Chiefs’ de facto No. 1 receiver, but Patrick Mahomes has had some difficulty connecting with everyone else. A Kadarius Toney drop led to a pick-six in Kansas City’s one-point Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions, and that continues to be a problem.
The Chiefs are tied for the league lead with 11 drops in three games. They’re on pace to nearly double the 34 drops they had last season.
It’s time for Kansas City to consider adding to its patchwork receiving corps The free-agent pool is limited to the likes of Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Golladay, but the Chiefs could potentially look to swing a trade before the deadline, as they did last year when they acquired Toney.
If the Chiefs can’t find a way to improve their receiving corps—or at least its reliability—they’re going to end up losing another game they should probably win.
Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow Chris Unger/Getty Images
The Las Vegas Raiders have gotten plenty going with wide receivers Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers, who have been targeted a combined 59 times in three games. Running back Josh Jacobs is the only other Raiders player with double-digit targets.
Hunter Renfrow, a 2021 Pro Bowler, has been targeted a mere three times thus far. However, he’s avoided criticizing his role.
“For me, it’s more so just controlling what I can every single day because I don’t make decisions, right?” Renfrow said, per The Athletic’s Tashan Reed. “I could have a great day or a bad day, but it still doesn’t (change anything). I don’t get to call the plays.”
Josh McDaniels and the Raiders need to involve Renfrow more in the offensive game plan. Garoppolo has thrown for 709 yards but has also tossed six interceptions. Jacobs is struggling on the ground, and Las Vegas is averaging only 15 points per game, the fourth-worst mark leaguewide.
There’s no guarantee that targeting Renfrow will open up the offense or limit Garoppolo’s mistakes, but the Raiders owe it to themselves to try. He has caught all three passes sent his way while providing a 118.7 passer rating when targeted.
If the Raiders aren’t going to use Renfrow, they should make him available to teams that will.
Chargers CB Asante Samuel Jr. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Chargers failed to protect a 27-0 lead in last year’s Wild Card Round. Poor defense could keep them out of the playoffs entirely this season.
While the run defense looks slightly better than it did a year ago, the Chargers rank 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed and 32nd in passing yards allowed. None of Los Angeles’ perimeter cornerbacks have played particularly well, either.
J.C. Jackson was held out of Week 3 due to a “coach’s decision,” Asante Samuel Jr. is allowing an opposing passer rating above 95.0 for the third straight year, and Michael Davis has allowed a near-perfect 150.6 opposing passer rating thus far.
If the Chargers hope to be more than just an exciting offensive team, they need to find cornerback help.
While the free-agent market isn’t deep, proven starters like Bradley Roby and former Charger Casey Heyward are available. Head coach Brandon Staley should already be kicking the tires on available veterans. With only five on the active roster, he doesn’t have a lot of internal options.
If L.A. can’t improve its cornerback play, it’s going to have a difficult time hanging with the best teams in the AFC.
Rams RB Kyren Williams Kevin Reece/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay clearly had no interest in continuing a partnership with running back Cam Akers. The Rams sent Akers and a conditional 2026 seventh-round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a conditional 2026 sixth-round pick.
However, moving Akers off the roster doesn’t mean that Los Angeles has found a dependable starter in Kyren Williams.
Williams has not rushed for more than 52 yards in a game this season and is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. He and Akers are the only running backs who have a carry for Los Angeles, although 2022 undrafted free agent Ronnie Rivers has caught one pass.
The Rams desperately need to bolster their backfield, because a one-dimensional offense will be problematic for 35-year-old quarterback Matthew Stafford and a shaky offensive line. Stafford was sacked six times in a three-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Monday night.
If McVay doesn’t trust Rivers to spell Williams, he needs to consider free agents like Leonard Fournette and Dontrell Hilliard. Williams hasn’t been effective enough on the ground, and the Rams aren’t winning anything of note—and could struggle to keep Stafford healthy—without a rushing attack that actually threatens opposing defenses.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
One could argue that the Miami Dolphins don’t need to change a whole lot. They’re 3-0, have the league’s No. 1 offense and have outscored opponents by 59 points.
However, they do have room for improvement on defense. The Dolphins are allowing just under 24 points per game and have been inconsistent against the run (4.6 yards per carry allowed, which ranks 25th leaguewide).
Strong run defense isn’t exactly a hallmark of a Vic Fangio scheme, which typically utilizes light boxes and disguised coverages to limit the pass. However, it would behoove Fangio to put a little more emphasis on limiting opposing ground games.
Opposing teams can and will try to keep Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami offense off the field by leaning on the ground game. The Dolphins didn’t see it over the last two weeks because they got up early. However, the Los Angeles Chargers ran 40 times against Miami in Week 1 and might have escaped with a win if not some terrible pass defense in the final four minutes.
Whether it’s stacking the box more often or blitzing the quarterback a little less—Fangio is blitzing 30.3 percent of the time—Miami has to become more effective against the run. Otherwise, it will eventually find its match against a team that can play stout defense and move the ball on the ground.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Minnesota Vikings were 11-0 in one-score games last season and finished with a 13-4 record. This year, the Vikings are winless and have lost every game by six points or fewer.
The Vikings can get back to their winning ways by stressing the importance of ball security. They’ve already turned the ball over a league-high nine times in three games.
Justin Jefferson caused a potential 10-point swing against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 when he reached for the pylon with one hand, only to fumble the ball into the end zone. Instead of the Vikings going up 14-10, the Eagles promptly drove down the field and kicked a 61-yard field goal as time expired to go up 13-7 heading into halftime.
In last week’s loss to the Chargers, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw directly into traffic on 1st-and-goal. Instead of a throwaway and second down, he tossed a game-ending interception.
Minnesota has plenty of other issues. It has struggled to run the ball, and its defense is only marginally better than it was last season. If the Vikings can stop giving the ball away, though, they should take a huge step toward resuscitating their playoff hopes.
Patriots WR JuJu Smith-Schuster Elsa/Getty Images
According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the New England Patriots signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the offseason despite knowing that the knee issues he battled in the 2022 postseason could be problematic.
“Smith-Schuster is a guy that you’re going to be relying on as your slot receiver, and you’re not sure what you’re going to get from him from a health standpoint with his knee,” Breer told NBC Sports Boston’s Sports Sunday in August.
The Patriots took a risk with Smith-Schuster, but it’s not paying off. New England’s presumed big-play threat has averaged only 6.6 yards on 10 catches. Rookie Demario Douglas leads all Patriots wideouts with an average of just 10.6 yards per catch.
New England’s lack of a big-play receiver is holding back the offense and quarterback Mac Jones, who is performing better under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien than he did last season. The Patriots need to find a receiver who can stretch the field, but they’re unlikely to find one on their own roster.
The Patriots should see whether a struggling team like the Chicago Bears or Denver Broncos is willing to part ways with a receiver who can create separation down the field. The Patriots have no hope of keeping pace with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East with their offense in its current state.
Saints WR Rashid Shaheed Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The New Orleans Saints could become a legitimate contender in the NFC once quarterback Derek Carr recovers from his AC joint sprain. They’re getting running back Alvin Kamara back from suspension this week and have allowed only 16.7 points per game.
To be a title contender, though, the Saints need to get their passing game going. They exited Week 3 ranked 20th in yards per pass attempt, 20th in total yards and 25th in scoring.
Featuring second-year wideout Rashid Shaheed more in the passing game could help. Shaheed leads the team with an average of 16.9 yards per catch. He’s caught one or New Orleans’ two touchdown passes and is always a threat to break a big play.
When targeted, Shaheed has provided a passer rating of 144.4. However, he’s only been targeted an average of four times per game and has nine receptions on the season.
While Shaheed scored on a 76-yard punt return in the Saints’ Week 3 loss to Green Bay, he was targeted only twice and finished without a catch.
The Saints need to generate more explosive plays. Getting the ball into Shaheed’s hands more would be a great start.
Giants defensive coordinator Don Martindale Steph Chambers/Getty Images
New York Giants defensive coordinator Don Martindale has developed a reputation for fielding aggressive defenses. He did it with the Baltimore Ravens, and his attacking style has been on full display in New York as well.
Entering Week 4, the Giants defense blitzed 53.1 percent of the time, the second-highest rate in the league. The problem is that Martindale’s approach isn’t getting the desired result.
New York has generated 15 quarterback hits—tied for eighth-fewest in the league—and only two sacks. The Giants have recorded no takeaways thus far in 2023, so they aren’t exactly pressuring quarterbacks into mistakes, either.
With the front seven selling out to pressure the quarterback, New York has struggled against the run (138 yards per game allowed). That’s a problem against teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks (their Week 4 opponent), and the Giants know it.
“We’ve got to obviously put a point of emphasis on that [stopping the run],” head coach Brian Daboll told reporters Thursday.
The Giants need to play more base defense, trust their front four to generate pressure and stop leaving the second level vulnerable to the run.
Jets QB Zach Wilson Elsa/Getty Images
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has been a liability dating back to his rookie season. He hasn’t been any better in his two starts this season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes with three interceptions.
The Jets, who otherwise have a playoff-caliber roster, need to replace Wilson. Again.
They tried to replace Wilson when they traded for Aaron Rodgers just before the draft. Unfortunately, Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles four plays into the season, so they had to go right back to Wilson under center.
The Jets cannot stick with Wilson and expect a deep postseason run this season. He isn’t careful enough with the ball, doesn’t see the field well enough and lacks the pocket presence required to be a playoff quarterback.
Whether New York turns to backup Tim Boyle, tries the recently signed Trevor Siemian or turns to the free-agent or trade market, it needs to go in a different direction at the game’s most important position.
Rodgers isn’t coming back this season. Sticking with Wilson will likely leave the Jets trapped in the AFC East basement.
Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada Joe Sargent/Getty Images
The Pittsburgh Steelers finally had a bit of an offensive breakthrough in Week 3, which might quiet the calls to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada. However, a 23-point performance against the Las Vegas Raiders doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh’s offense is OK.
Pittsburgh entered Week 4 ranked 29th in yards per carry, 21st in yards per pass attempt and 27th in total offense. Despite getting two touchdowns from their defense against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, the Steelers ranked 22nd in scoring.
A big part of the issue has been the simplistic offensive game plans installed by Canada. It seems as though he’s hoping to give quarterback Kenny Pickett a gradual learning curve, The problem is that Pickett is developing, has playmakers in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, and is saddled with basic concepts in both the running and passing games.
“We look sooooo ……… predictable,” former Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, during the Raiders game.
Indeed, the Steelers offense does appear predictable. According to NESN’s Warren Sharp and SportsGrid’s Scottie Ferrell, Pittsburgh has run at least 85 percent of the time when Pickett is under center and thrown at least 85 percent of the time when he’s in shotgun.
To have real offensive improvement this season, Canada needs to add some creativity and a few trend-breaking plays to the offense.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
It’s hard to find flaws with the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles now that things are coming together for new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
Johnson has decided to lean more heavily on the run over the past two weeks, while Desai’s unit is getting healthier and performing at a high level. Philadelphia remains undefeated and is ranked seventh in scoring and ninth in points allowed through the first three weeks.
However, it would behoove head coach Nick Sirianni to preach the importance of avoiding turnovers, specifically to quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The Eagles have turned the ball over at least once in every game, and Hurts has been responsible for all of them after he committed only eight turnovers all of last season. His mistakes haven’t cost Philadelphia yet, but they could in a close game against a top-tier opponent.
Philadelphia is still winning the turnover battle because its defense has recorded an impressive eight takeaways, but it can’t count on forcing multiple turnovers every week. The Eagles need Hurts to be more careful with the football moving forward.
49ers RB Elijah Mitchell Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The San Francisco 49ers have looked and played like the NFL’s best team over the first three weeks. They’re playing tremendously on defense, might have the league’s best collection of skill-position players, and have a steady second-year signal-caller in Brock Purdy.
The only real change the 49ers should make is getting backup running back Elijah Mitchell a little more playing time.
Star tailback Christian McCaffrey is special, but he’s also battled his fair share of injuries. He appeared in only 10 games between the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, yet the 27-year-old already has 71 touches in three games this year.
Mitchell has tallied only 19 touches thus far. He should take on more of the rushing workload so San Francisco can preserve McCaffrey for the stretch run and the postseason.
“Yeah, we definitely got to get Elijah in there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the Niners’ Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Rams, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. “That wasn’t the plan going in. It just ended up that way. I got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
San Francisco must be willing to utilize Mitchell frequently, and not only in games that are firmly in hand.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll Steph Chambers/Getty Images
The Seattle Seahawks flopped against the rival Los Angeles Rams in Week 1, but they have played well since. They notched an exciting overtime victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 2 and recorded a decisive win over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday.
While the Seahawks’ pass defense leaves something to be desired, their new-look front has done a nice job of clamping down on the run (2.9 yards per carry allowed). Seattle is surging and could become a real player in the NFC race.
To continue rolling and leave Week 1 as a proverbial blip on the radar, the Seahawks need to cut down on self-imposed mistakes.
The Seahawks have been penalized 24 times through three weeks, which is tied for the sixth-most leaguewide. They’ve had at least seven penalties in every game thus far.
Head coach Pete Carroll and his staff need to get the Seahawks to play a more disciplined brand of football. Repeated miscues can derail even the best of teams, and Seattle hasn’t quite proven that it’s one of those yet.
Buccaneers RB Rachaad White Perry Knotts/Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit at 2-1 thanks to a stout defense and some respectable play from quarterback Baker Mayfield (96.0 rating). However, they’re still plagued by an issue that hindered them with Tom Brady last season.
The Buccaneers just can’t run the ball consistently.
After ranking last in yards per carry last season, Tampa holds the same spot after three weeks this year. Rachaad White has taken the bulk of the carries but has been ineffective, averaging only 3.1 yards per attempt.
Chase Edmonds is the only Buccaneers running back who has averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry, but he’s had only four carries and is now on injured reserve.
New offensive coordinator Dave Canales needs to boost the run game to make the Buccaneers a legitimate contender in the NFC South. Mayfield has been mostly good, but he isn’t able to read the field, deliver the ball quickly and help mask a lagging ground game the same way that Brady did last season.
If Tampa can’t spark White or undrafted rookie Sean Tucker—who is averaging just 1.5 yards per carry but averaged 5.1 yards per carry at Syracuse last season—it will have to consider other options.
Whether the Bucs bring in a free agent like Leonard Fournette, dial up some more creative rushing concepts or attack the middle of the field to pull linebackers off the line of scrimmage, they have to be better on the ground.
Titans OT Andre Dillard Alika Jenner/Getty Images
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Andre Dillard with a first-round pick in 2019. However, he never settled in as a starter in Philly, and the Tennessee Titans may be learning why.
The Titans added Dillard to be their new left tackle in the offseason, but the 27-year-old has not fared well. According to Pro Football Focus, Dillard has already allowed six sacks and been called for two penalties.
Dillard hasn’t been the only problem with Tennessee’s offense. The Titans have not run the ball well and have been predictable on long third downs, leading to a lot of sacks, not all of which were surrendered by Dillard.
“Across the NFL this season, teams that aren’t the Titans allow sacks on 9 percent of third downs with 10 or more yards to gain. The Titans are giving up sacks in 31 percent of those situations,” Nick Suss of the Tennessean wrote Wednesday.
Tennessee has allowed 13 sacks, second only to the Washington Commanders (19), and converted only 27 percent of its third-down attempts this season. Still, it’s become clear that the Titans can’t trust Dillard to win one-on-one blocking matchups.
To improve its offensive front, Tennessee needs to find a replacement at left tackle—be it rookie Jaelyn Duncan, a free agent or a trade target.
Commanders QB Sam Howell Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images
The Washington Commanders saw some good things from second-year quarterback Sam Howell over the first two weeks of the season. However, things came crashing down in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills when Howell threw four interceptions and was sacked nine times during a 37-3 blowout loss.
While Buffalo has a tremendous defense, Washington’s poor pass protection has been an issue all season. Howell has already been sacked a league-high 19 times, putting him on pace for 108 sacks this season.
David Carr set the record for sacks taken in a single season as a rookie with 76. Howell was set to break that record even before last Sunday’s nine-sack disaster.
For the 2-1 Commanders to remain relevant, develop Howell and limit his miscues, he’ll have to get the ball out of his hands quicker. Heading into Week 4, Howell is averaging 2.7 seconds in the pocket per pass attempt, which is tied for the league high.
Whether offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy dials up shorter throws or stresses to Howell the importance of having a quick clock, something has to change. Washington won’t remain in the playoff race if it continues to surrender sacks at a record pace.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.