The Le'Veon Bell saga continues to take some interesting turns, given the running back's comments earlier this week, but I continue to believe he won't be playing football for the Steelers ever again, though he may be staying within the state of Pennsylvania.
Bell now says he wants to return in the bye week (Week 7) and play for the Steelers beyond this season, but in his heart he has to know how remote a possibility that truly is. The wound between him and the Steelers now runs deep, and nothing he has said or done will alter the fact that he remains a very strong candidate to be dealt by the end of this month. Much damage has been done, and there isn't much time to repair it.
And if I am the Eagles, who have been mulling the potential of a Bell trade for a while now, nothing I saw last Sunday would curb my interest. In fact, it would only heighten my desire to acquire a player of this impact given the way the defending Super Bowl champions have limped through the first quarter of the season. A year ago they stirred things up and dealt for Jay Ajayi; a Bell trade midseason this year could boost them even further.
Watching Carson Wentz get tossed around and toppled and crunched on play after play couldn't possibly sit well with the Eagles' brass. They have struggled to sustain much on offense – whether it was Wentz or Nick Foles under center – the offensive line looks shaky and the run game has been very hit or miss. Ajayi is a pending free agent dealing with a back issue, Alshon Jeffery was great in his return from injury – but staying healthy has long been a problem for him – and they are always ready and eager to shake things up and make bold moves.
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Bell may be the best pass-protecting running back in the NFL. That alone would be big for the Eagles. With Darren Sproles hampered again, and Wentz under fire, the screen game could be crucial. No one is better than Bell in that capacity. His presence would immediately alter the way defenses approach the Eagles, and at a time when protecting Wentz's surgically-repaired knee has to be the single biggest goal of the entire organization, Bell makes a lot of sense.
Philadelphia ranks 22nd in the NFL with 82 offensive points scored. Wentz is getting sacked on 9.4 percent of his drop backs.
As reported previously, finding a taker for Foles would make executing a transaction like this more feasible, and perhaps that market grows between now and the trade deadline after Week 8. Regardless, I don't see the Eagles backing away. And as of right now, the list of potential other suitors isn't exactly expanding.
With each loss, and mounting tension, it's hard to see the Bucs diving in on an expensive, rental running back. Bell would be a natural with the Pats … but there is no way in hell the Steelers would trade him there. The Jimmy Garoppolo injury takes the 49ers basically out of it, while, now at 1-3 and still rebuilding, the Jets seem unlikely to push for Bell after some initial exploratory phone calls.
It will take a contending team suffering a major injury to alter the scope of the market. Green Bay remains the team I believe actually needs Bell the most from a football standpoint, but the Packers have made no overtures for him to this point. Perhaps that changes in the coming weeks.
Dolphins must get offense going
If the Dolphins are going to sustain their hot start to the season they are going to have to get off to faster starts in games and sustain more drives on offense. Miami is going three-and-out 27.7% of the time, fourth-worst in the NFL. The other five teams at the bottom of that category (Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona, Seattle and Buffalo) are a combined 5-14-1 and none is above .500; the Dolphins are 3-1. Ryan Tannehill in the first quarter this season ranks 34th with a 79.5 rating (89 yards on 16/22 passing with no touchdowns), while running back Kenyon Drake has been stuffed on 24 percent of his runs, well above the league average.
The Rams, meantime, will eventually regress to the norm to some degree, but to this point they have gone three-and-out just 7.5% of the time, far and away best in the league (the league average is 21.1 percent of the drives).
Ravens 'D' stifling after halftime
The Ravens defense has been beyond stifling in the second half of games thus far. They have yet to allow a second-half touchdown and just nine second-half points in the second half (Washington is next best at 20 points allowed – playing just three games to Baltimore's four – and the NFL average is 45 points). Baltimore is giving up a shocking 3.9 yards per play in the second half – the NFL average is 5.5 – and its plus-40 scoring differential in the second half is second only to the Rams (+41). New defensive coordinator Don Martindale is earning rave reviews thus far for his adjustments and more aggressive blitz schemes.
The Raiders are giving up 7.3 yards per play in the second half, and have allowed 89 second-half points, both worst in the league.
- The Cardinals offense has some signs of life with Josh Rosen at the helm, and overall it was an impressive debut by the rookie quarterback. But that unit still has a ways to go. The search for more creative ways to get David Johnson involved goes on as the team searches for its first victory under Steve Wilks. Johnson is super explosive outside the tackles, yet the Cardinals have run the ball 54 times up the middle – out of 76 total rushes, a higher rate than most of the league. The Cardinals are also averaging an NFL-low 2.71 yards per carry on first down. I would expect to see more screens and short passes on that down with Rosen entrenched …
- The Cowboys, on the other hand, are averaging a whopping 7.25 yards per carry on first down, yet are only in the middle of the pack in first-down rushing attempts; given the limitations of their passing game that might be an area embattled coordinator Scott Linehan rethinks. Dallas has 23 runs of six yards or more on first down already this season' Dak Prescott needs as many of those second-and-short situations as possible …
- Plenty of reasons for concern in Tampa, and the Bucs must find a way to maintain their downfield success with Jameis Winston now the starting quarterback again. With a porous defense – worst in offensive points allowed – and their fast start now a distant memory, the ability to tap into their various deep threats is imperative. Ryan Fitzpatrick, on balls that traveled 21 yards or more through the air this season, ranks first in the NFL: 8-for-12 for 357 yards (30 per attempt!) with 5 TDs, 0 INTs and a 149.3 rating. Winston, all of 2017 on such passes: 15-for-53 (28.3 %) for 487 yards (9.19 per attempt) with 6 TDs, 2 INTs and a 87.4 rating (27th in the NFL). Worth keeping an eye on …
- The Chiefs have just one giveaway through four weeks, a key factor in their undefeated start. They have fumbled six times but lost only one … Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger are tied for the NFL lead with seven giveaways each … Major kudos deserved all around by Bengals coordinator Bill Lazor, who has done a masterful job of play design and play calling this far. Cincy has the NFL's best red-zone offense (though losing tight end Tyler Eifert again could be tough) with 11 touchdowns and two field goals on 13 trips to the red zone.