NFL Week Four: Five things we learnt

A round-up of the action from Week Four of the NFL

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With a quarter of the NFL season now in the bag, Zander Swinburne takes us through what happened this week.

1. Change at QB looks inevitable in New York

The Jets look set to be getting off the GenoCoaster in New York. After a third straight loss, the Jets have now come to the point in the season that most expected to happen. Calls for Michael Vick to start over Geno Smith got very loud at Met Life Stadium on Sunday, and unless Smith starts to produce coherent all round performances, the chants aren’t going to go away. Smith’s improvement has been limited at best over the course of this season and the Jets have lost in very similar fashion each week.

In what was supposed to be a much improved offence, New York has stuttered, with Sunday's game being a classic example of a decent opening series, followed by five three and outs. Turnovers and missed opportunities is what seems to be affecting Smith’s stability as a starter. Last year the Jets had no one to replace Smith and so the addition of Michael Vick during the off-season has given Jets fans an excuse to abandon their QB. How much difference Vick will make to a team littered with issues on both sides of the ball remains to be seen. One more lacklustre performance by Smith will surely mean relegation to the bench.

2. The Houston Texans have returned to winning ways

Last season, the Houston Texans equalled their worst ever record in the NFL, finishing the year 2-14. This season they have already surpassed that total just four games into their schedule after beating the Buffalo Bills 23-17. The 2013 Houston Texans were deserved winners of the first pick in the NFL draft but this year all aspects of the team appear to be clicking. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick  has found his style of play decent enough to keep the Texans competitive. Their true asset however remains on defence. Defensive end JJ Watt is proving to be the difference maker on this team, somehow producing plays on both sides of the field. Last week Watt caught a touchdown pass whilst this week he intercepted EJ Manuel to run the ball back 80 yards and record his second scoring play in as many weeks.

And it must be reiterated that he is a defensive end and has scored as many touchdowns in two games as Hall of Famer Michael Strahan scored throughout his 15-year career. If Watt continues to carry this team, the Texans may well be able to say that last year was an anomaly.

3. The Steelers have yet to find out what kind of team they are

Now sitting at 2-2, the Steelers are in the midst of one the strangest up and down seasons they’ve had for years. They have both won and lost close games whilst they have also despatched an opposition quickly and had the same done to them. Pittsburgh appears to be staring at an identity crisis, not too sure on what type of football team they are. A dominant win over Carolina in week three convinced most that Pittsburgh were a team capable of competing, yet their loss to a winless Tampa Bay side has now once again raised questions as to just how good the Steelers are.

Usually by week four, the NFL’s top teams begin to look clearer but with Pittsburgh, their performances have been so mixed, it’s hard to tell in which category they stand; those with a hand on the play-offs or those with a hand on early draft picks. Their offence is still a top ten unit but their defence has uncharacteristically given up more points than they are used to. The last two years they have been criticized for being too old and slow on defence so it’s difficult to get behind the teams decision to bring back retired linebacker James Harrison. Time will tell exactly what Steelers team we’ll be talking about at the end of the season.

4. There are few surprises in the standings

More often than not, in each NFL week there are a couple of upsets with the lesser minnows of the league conquering the larger favourites. Although the same has happened this year, the standings fail to reflect much upset, with the usual suspects still taking top spot of their respective divisions. Half of the divisions are led by those who finished on top of their group last year with the other four previous winners only one game behind. The biggest surprise of the year remains the New Orleans Saints who lost for the third time this season with a 38-17 humiliation by the Dallas Cowboys. Even in week four, they are still the NFL’s best worst team that should still challenge for a play-off spot, although this argument becomes harder to sustain with each new loss. The NFL is often full of surprises but when looking at the big picture, there has been little movement of division leaders from last year. The underdogs will be forced to step up should they wish to make the playoffs this season.

5. London continues to impress the NFL

As each International Series game approaches, there is always a sliver of doubt as to whether the enthusiasm for American football still exists and that just maybe, the years before were the peak of the NFL’s success in the UK. Although a little one sided, Sunday’s game between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders proved to be another highly successful outing for the NFL abroad.

With more than half a million people attending the NFL’s Regent Street parade as well as a sold out Wembley game, outspoken critics of the weekend were rare. Rhetoric for a London franchise continues to spread and the question on whether a team is to be permanently based in the UK seems to have drifted almost inevitably from ‘if’ to ‘when’. There is now the sense that London is in the midst of an audition process, needing to pass each event with flying colours if the possibility of a team is to be discussed. With Sunday's game the first of three matches to be played at Wembley this year, the NFL appears to be moving ever closer to becoming an International Football League.