Sorting the NFL Week 3 Pile: Steelers, Colts look like teams who could start to panic early

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Three weeks into the NFL season we are starting to get a little bit of clarity on various teams. Sure, we have no freaking clue about certain teams — the Saints and Pats are still absolute enigmas — and some teams — Jacksonville, both New York teams — are just obviously terrible. 

But for other teams who fancied themselves contenders or fringe playoff hopefuls, life is coming at them fast. There’s no time to sit around and smell the roses when you’re panicking. Not to say that anyone who is 1-2 or struggling in general has to grab a brown paper bag and start breathing heavy.

There are teams who should be thinking about panicking though. Let’s look at a few examples and rate them out on a 1-10 scale of terror.

Should we be worried the Chiefs are last in the AFC West?

First off, hopefully everything is OK with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who was taken to a hospital after the game in an ambulance when he didn’t feel well. He has been released from the hospital, but the way Peter King described it on NBC Sports makes it sound maybe a little dicier than we were led to believe based on what the Chiefs said after the game. Reid’s health comes before anything else, of course. But given he could potentially miss some time and given the Chiefs are in last place all alone in the AFC West and given the Chiefs are below .500 for the first time since Week 10 of 2015, it’s at least worth asking how big of an issue this could be moving forward.

Defensively, Kansas City just isn’t good right now. The Chiefs “only” gave up 352 total yards to the Chargers on Sunday, but L.A. dropped 30 points on them and the Chiefs just couldn’t slow down or stop Justin Herbert and Co. on the final drive. 

K.C.’s schedule is a little worrisome as well. The Bills, Titans and Packers — all of whom are starting to play some good offense — are lurking over the next six weeks. Fortunately for the Chiefs, they also draw three quarters of the NFC East over that same stretch, without having to play the Cowboys. Even if the defense can’t figure things out, Patrick Mahomes and this offense guarantees at worst a 3-3 run over that stretch. More likely they squeeze out something like 5-1 and we’re not sweating this division in a few months. But there are flaws to this roster and the rest of the division is playing good football. 

Panic Level: 2.5/10

Should we be worried about these rookie quarterbacks?

In a word, yes. Not because they aren’t talented, but because all of Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence appear to be in questionable situations at the moment. This is what happens when you’re drafted high in the first round: you’re going to a bad team. But these young signal callers are being put under heavy duress early in the season. 

Part of the problem may be self-inflicted, as Next Gen Stats show Wilson and Fields in particular are holding the ball too long, as noted by NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah.

Part of this is related to personnel issues and scheme problems as well. For the Bears, Matt Nagy rolled out Fields as a starter and basically asked him to be “Dude Who Backs Up Andy Dalton” instead of “Insanely Athletic First-Round Pick Playing Behind Bad Offensive Line.” The move with Fields was to make life easier for him. Move the pocket. Get him out on the edge. Cut the field in half. Run a bunch of RPO’s to tilt the numbers in your favor with a questionable offensive line. 

The Browns have a good defense and all, but an offensive coach allowed a young quarterback to go 6-for-20 as the team generated 47 net yards on 42 plays (1.1 per pop!) and one net passing yard. That is not a typo: the Bears had a single passing yard. In 2021. During a full football game. With 11 people on the field. Fields was sacked nine times. Nine times? Nine times. Wake up and smell the coffee, Mr. Nagy.

The Jets might be less concerning, because they’re at least breaking in a new coaching staff that’s dealing with a talent-bare roster. As opposed to an older coaching staff with a talent-bare roster like the Bears. They’re still sucking the life out of the fanbase with a listless performance, however. 

It’s fair to be concerned about Wilson’s first season. He was always going to be the guy for the entirety of the full year. Trading Sam Darnold ensured as much. Mekhi Becton’s absence continues to be pronounced, with Wilson getting pressured far too frequently. The run game has yet to manifest itself and may not until the Jets draw a more favorable defensive matchup. 

Mac Jones had his roughest game of the year in Week 3, throwing a trio of picks so bad it inspired nothing but grumpy silence from his head coach after the game.

If that sounds like a man who knows he’s going to get asked lots of questions this week about how well Tom Brady is playing, well, that’s what it was. 

Coming off a rough home loss to the Saints and Jameis Winston, Bill Belichick has to get his rookie quarterback prepared for THE RETURN.

Do you think Brady wants to embarrass Belichick, run up the score and have the Buccaneers snuff out Mac defensively? Because I do. And I think Belichick does too: he knows what this Tampa defense could potentially do to his young quarterback and he has to know if Brady looks great and Mac looks awful and the Bucs steamroll the Pats, the streets will be talking. Maybe we oversold the Patriots offensive line and rush attack — Jones was the Pats leading rusher on Sunday while also throwing 51 times. That simply won’t work for New England as far as an offensive game plan goes. 

Trey Lance remains situational for the 49ers despite Jimmy Garoppolo struggling, outside of a drive or two on Sunday against the Packers.

Panic Level: 7.5/10

Should we be worried about Big Ben and the Steelers?

Tom Brady spoiled us all: the fall for most quarterbacks is still steep and sudden. For Ben Roethlisberger it looks like he went full Thelma and Louise over a cliff. The Ringer’s Stephen Ruiz cut up a bunch of Ben’s throws from Sunday against the Bengals and put them in grainy, wild west-style video footage with saloon music in the background. It was the funniest thing I saw on Monday, but also kind of the most depressing, because Ben looks completely washed.

The Steelers declined to invest significant resources in the offensive line this offseason and it has resulted in a lack of run game despite drafting Najee Harris in the first round. Harris did get 19 (!) targets in the pass game on Sunday, catching 14 passes. Lindsay Rhodes had me on her podcast Monday and she dropped this nugget: Harris had 109 yards after the catch on 102 receiving yards. Think about that! 

And then peek at Ben’s Next Gen Stats passing chart, which confirms the situation. He’s got no protection, he doesn’t have the arm strength to quickly push the ball down the field anymore and that combination basically turned this offense horizontal. 

via Next Gen Stats

The Steelers were going to hang their hat on defense, but the secondary wasn’t good coming out of the gate and the defensive line, the strength of this team, is now banged up, with multiple starters missing. Most notably is T.J. Watt, who was kept out of Sunday’s game with a groin injury. The second he went out two weeks ago the Steelers defense cratered and it was a problem against Joe Burrow on Sunday as well. It’s extremely difficult to see a path where these problems are magically fixed. 

Panic Level: 12/10

This is not a concern over Carson Wentz’s play on the field, although Carson Wentz’s play on the field is certainly concerning. My biggest concern for Indianapolis is playing Wentz too much during the 2021 season and having to give up a top 10 pick as a result of the team not being good. 

Life for Indy does not immediately get better. After a road loss to Tennessee in which the Colts played Wentz on two sprained ankles (reminder: people only have two ankles and if both of them are sprained, that’s a problem), the Colts now have Miami and Baltimore on the road. Getting Houston at home in three weeks is nice, but the Texans are operating like a try-hard team this year and won’t just roll over and die for a division rival that’s only mustered 56 points over the course of the season. 

If Wentz plays 75 percent of the Colts snaps this season, the Eagles get a 2022 first-round pick from Indy, no matter what the Colts record is at the end of the season. (70 percent and a playoff berth would also activate the move from second- to first-round for the selection.) Currently the pick would be No. 3 overall in next year’s draft. That’s … not great. 

Giving up a high second-round pick is also sub-optimal, but giving away a top-5 or top-10 pick is simply unacceptable when it could be avoided. The Colts have run 204 plays through three games and Wentz has been in on 199 of them. That’s 97.5 percent of the Colts snaps. At a certain point, the Colts have to make a decision about where they stand for this season and if they want to run the risk of giving away a really choice draft pick for someone who can’t stay healthy or play quarterback at a high level. 

Panic Level: 8/10

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