Quarterbacks were put to the test in Week 4 of the N.F.L. season. Some, like the rookie Kenny Pickett, were trying to prove themselves for the first time. Others, like the newly re-established starter Geno Smith, showed why they had earned their sports in the first place. And Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson just continued doing their thing.
Picking the right time to play Kenny Pickett.
A quick look at the Steelers’ schedule made it clear that this week’s game against the Jets was going to be make-or-break for the quarterback situation. Pittsburgh’s next four games are against the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles. Either the Steelers’ offense needed to get right versus a Jets pass defense that had allowed the fourth-highest quarterback rating in the N.F.L., or accept that what they had at quarterback wouldn’t be good enough for the upcoming gantlet. In the second half, Coach Mike Tomlin chose the latter, rolling out the 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett.
Pickett showed the full spectrum of the rookie experience. With 10 minutes 59 seconds to go in the third quarter, Pickett’s first pass, a deep shot to Chase Claypool, was intercepted.
Despite the bad omen to start, Pickett settled in shortly afterward. Toward the end of a 12-play touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, Pickett fired a laser to tight end Pat Freiermuth over the middle to set the Steelers up inside the Jets’ 5-yard line. The resiliency under pressure and willingness to throw a tough ball over the middle felt like breaths of fresh air compared to the starter Mitch Trubisky.
Pickett went back to rookie mode on the following drive with 3:43 remaining in the game. On second-and-15 at the Jets’ 36-yard line, Pickett tossed a late throw into the flat to Freiermuth that was tipped for an interception. Throwing late outside the numbers is bad as is, but Pickett’s high throw also made it tough for Freiermuth’s outstretched fingertips to bring in the ball. That’s not all on Pickett, but the risk was never worth the reward on a throw like that.
The Jets scored the go-ahead touchdown on the drive following the interception. That put them up, 24-20, with just 16 seconds left, setting up a two-play sequence that ended with a Pickett interception on a Hail Mary attempt.
The Ravens’ offense has Lamar Jackson and not much else.
Almost all of the Ravens’ offensive success to this point can be credited to Lamar Jackson, their quarterback. Jackson, the 2019 Most Valuable Player, has been as brilliant from the pocket as ever and is responsible for a majority of Baltimore’s rushing success. But Jackson may not be able to hold this house of cards together much longer.
The Ravens started Sunday’s home game against the Bills with a 20-point first half, but they lost the leading wideout Rashod Bateman in the second half. The offense immediately screeched to a halt. Bateman, though not a superstar yet, is far and away the Ravens’ best receiver and the only one they have who can win on the outside consistently. He was the last piece the fragile offense could not afford to lose.
When Bateman went out, the Ravens lost all of their ability to stress the Bills’ defense vertically and outside the numbers. The Ravens were already struggling to spread defenses out considering that they often play with heavier personnel sets; losing Bateman was a death knell in that regard.
Buffalo’s defense, in turn, had zero issues swarming Baltimore’s passing offense. It was easier for the Bills to dedicate resources to the middle of the field and pounce on everything the Ravens were doing, ultimately leading to two interceptions on the way to a second-half shutout.
The Ravens will not face defenses as good as the Bills’ unit every week, but they also don’t have a clear answer for Bateman’s absence — and they can’t count on Jackson saving them every week.
The Seahawks’ offense is showing what it can do.
When the Seahawks moved on from quarterback Russell Wilson, they wanted to run a more complete offense. Wilson, for all his magic, had become less willing to throw to the middle of the field, and he was never a particularly sharp quick-game passer. Geno Smith is the antithesis of all of Wilson’s warts, making him the perfect player for Coach Pete Carroll’s post-Wilson offensive experiment.
Seattle’s game Sunday against the Lions in Detroit was a ripe opportunity for Carroll and the Seahawks’ staff to highlight what the new offense can do now. Smith peppered the underneath areas of the field with exceptional timing and accuracy. The consistent, efficient gains made it easy for the Seahawks to stay on schedule and in favorable down-and-distance situations, helping keep the entire playbook open at all times. That kind of offensive stability hardly existed with the last quarterback, even if the highs were much higher.
Smith’s ball placement was also impeccable, just as it has been all season. Per Next Gen Stats, Smith has now completed 10 percent more of his passes than expected through four weeks, the best mark in the league. Smith proved again that when he finds the right target, and he often does, he can deliver the ball with pinpoint accuracy all over the field.
It would be optimistic to expect Smith to pilot the Seahawks to a deep playoff run, but the offense under his guidance is clearly better than many thought it would be. Banished to backup duty after his second season, Smith is proving that he deserved another chance at being a starting quarterback in this league.
Around the N.F.L.
Vikings 28, Saints 25: The engine for the Vikings on Sunday, as usual, was receiver Justin Jefferson. To cap off a day of excellent work beating Saints corner Marshon Lattimore one-on-one, Jefferson snagged a 39-yard deep ball down the left sideline to set up the Vikings’ field goal that gave them a 3-point lead with less than 30 seconds to go. The Saints almost answered on the final drive, but for once, the Vikings ended up on the winning side of a game decided by a painful missed field goal. Saints kicker Wil Lutz tried to tie the game up with a 61-yarder, but a double-doink off the left and bottom parts of the uprights in London sounded the third loss of the season for New Orleans.
Bills 23, Ravens 20: No two teams ask more of their quarterbacks, and it showed. The Ravens’ defense swarmed on all of the Bills’ underneath passing to start the game but wore down, eventually crumbling to Josh Allen’s superhero ways. Allen was up and down as a passer, but he was a force on the ground, making a number of third- and fourth-down plays to keep drives alive. Lamar Jackson, on the other end, looked excellent in the first half before receiver Rashod Bateman missed the second half.
Giants 20, Bears 12: Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense collapsed again. Fields was sacked five times in the first half and once more in the second, again making it difficult for the Chicago offense to get in a rhythm. The Giants’ passing offense looked just as pitiful, in part because Daniel Jones momentarily left with an ankle injury. But Saquon Barkley showed up big for the Giants, carrying the ball 31 times for 146 yards.
Falcons 23, Browns 20: The Falcons’ offensive box score looked like that of a triple-option team. Marcus Mariota went 7 of 19 for 139 yards and a pick, while the rushing offense fought for 202 yards and two scores on 35 carries. Five different Falcons had a carry.
Eagles 29, Jaguars 21: The wet, rainy conditions in Philadelphia were ideal for the home team. The Eagles had no issue running the ball, ending the day with 50 carries to just 25 passes. Quarterback Jalen Hurts played a major role in the run game as the Eagles called a number of option runs. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence also helped them out a bit, losing four fumbles and throwing an interception despite otherwise being able to move the ball.
Jets 24, Steelers 20: The Steelers finally made the switch to the rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, casting Mitch Trubisky to the bench. Pickett was not much better overall, tossing two legitimate interceptions before throwing a third on a Hail Mary, but he was more aggressive than Trubisky. The Jets, on the other hand, were lucky to get by with a two-pick performance from their own young quarterback, Zach Wilson. This was Wilson’s first regular season game this year, but the pressure is on to start producing with a talented receiving corps sooner than later.
Titans 24, Colts 17: Week by week, the Titans’ offense looks more like what it’s supposed to look like. Running back Derrick Henry erupted in the first half, allowing the Titans to dip into their play-action and screen game and setting up a number of chunk plays over the middle of the field. Their offense fell flat in the second half, thanks in part to penalties, but their first half was as promising as any that they have played this season.
Chargers 34, Texans 24: Justin Herbert doesn’t need to be 100 percent healthy to obliterate a team like the Texans. Despite battling a rib injury, Herbert was clinical from the pocket and daring outside it, completing several throws to keep the chains moving. Perhaps more important, the Chargers’ rushing game looked competent for the first time all year, at least in the first half, with Austin Ekeler springing a couple of nice runs.
Seahawks 48, Lions 45: A 22-point Lions fourth quarter made this game look closer than it should have been. The Seahawks’ offense dominated for four quarters: Geno Smith was lethal to every level of the field, and Rashaad Penny rampaged around for 151 yards, his first time over the 100-yard mark this season. Detroit is still a fun, scrappy team, but its youth on defense makes it susceptible to games like this one.
Commanders 25, Cowboys 10: The Cowboys’ offense goes as CeeDee Lamb goes. When the offense was humming on Sunday, it was because Kellen Moore, the offensive coordinator, found creative ways to get Lamb into favorable positions. Enabling Lamb to be the engine for the offense seems critical for the Cowboys’ hopes of success this season, both now and when Dak Prescott returns.