NFL First Quarter Report

As we reach the end of Week Four of the 2014 NFL Season, most teams are now through a quarter of their schedule. With that in mind, here are three surprising developments from the first four weeks of football to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

1)  Steve Smith is still a top-tier receiver.

Leading up to Week Four, Baltimore Raven Steve Smith made sure to let the media know he was out for revenge against his former team, the Carolina Panthers. After spending all 13 of his prior NFL seasons with the Panthers, the team decided to cut Smith this offseason after his stats took a dip in the 2013-14 season; worries arose about Smith getting older and possibly declining further. He wasn’t happy about how the situation was handled and after scoring in Week One, Smith let the Panthers know he was coming by yelling expletives about Week Four into a sideline camera. 

The game became dubbed the “blood and guts” game and Smith didn’t disappoint. He ended the day with seven receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards and in the top ten in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Smith has developed a nice chemistry with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. From what we’ve seen so far this year, it certainly looks like Carolina made a mistake cutting him.

2)  The Bengals look like the best team in the AFC.

Entering this season, most people picked the defending American Football Conference (AFC) champion Denver Broncos to be the runaway favorite in the AFC this year. However, it has been the Cincinnati Bengals who have looked like the best AFC team so far. After four weeks, the 3-0 Bengals are coming off their bye week as the only

undefeated team left in the conference. 

Their defense was top five in both yards and points allowed last season, and they look like they could be even better this year. Number one cornerback Leon Hall is back from injury this year, and the Bengals have given up the fewest points per game in the NFL. In Week Two, they held the Atlanta Falcons, the number one offense in the league this year, to only 10 points. The offensive line has been outstanding as quarterback Andy Dalton has yet to be sacked this season. The offense has struggled in the red zone at times, but that should only improve in the coming weeks. Star wide receiver A.J. Green has been nursing injuries through the first few weeks but should be at full health after this week’s bye week. Additionally, wide receiver Marvin Jones could possibly be healthy enough to make his debut next week and give Dalton another target on the outside. In Week Five, the Bengals play the Patriots in primetime on Sunday night, a great test to see if the team really is ready to contend for a title this season. 

3)  The Cowboys have transformed into a running offense.

In the past few years, the Cowboys offense has predominantly relied upon Tony Romo to drop back and pass upwards of 40 times a game as they attempted to throw their way to victory. This year, their offensive strategy has completely changed and they have become a very successful running team. Through four games, the Cowboys have gone from being the 24th best running team last season to having the number one rushing attack in the league and a surprising 3-1 record.  

Uncharacteristically, the Cowboys have been able to run the ball all game and wear down opposing defenses. The offensive line and running back DeMarco Murray have both looked fantastic. Murray has been able to rush for at least 100 yards and one touchdown every week so far this season,

something only Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Emmitt Smith have ever done through the first four games of a season. The offensive line has been giving Murray some great holes to run through and he has been capitalizing on this. His

combination of size and speed allows him to hit holes quickly and then break tackles at the second level of the defense. Murray’s 534 rushing yards on the season are more than 150 yards ahead of the next closest

running back. Most people expected this year to be a down year for the Cowboys, but this newfound ability to run the ball has people believing in them again.