GOOD, BAD AND UGLY

NFL Week 5 observations

NFL Week 5 observations
James Connor of the Steelers had a big game against Atlanta. Karl Roser, Steelers team website

Week five of the NFL season was interesting. We saw four starting rookie quarterbacks go undefeated. We’re also seeing teams reveal their true selves, as well as some teams emerge from early season funks. Let’s take a look at how I saw it play out:

The Good

-Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards on 25 of 43 passing. He’s looking more and more comfortable. I was most impressed with his play after he threw an early interception on their first possession. It didn’t derail his confidence and seemed to focus him.

-Steelers running back James Conner had a career day in their 41-17 win over the Falcons. Conner had a total of 185 yards on 25 touches and two touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell may be coming back in week seven, but Conner is making Bell look expendable.

-The Bengals are 4-1 right now and are a sneaky team to watch out for. They beat the Dolphins 27-17. The most impressive part was the two defensive touchdowns. Who thought they’d be atop the AFC North right now?

The Bad

-The Falcons are now 1-4. Two years removed from an epic Super Bowl collapse, this team was considered a favorite to challenge the Eagles in the NFC this year. Injuries have derailed them defensively, but that offense has enough weapons to start World War 3. 1-4 after five games is unacceptable.

-When the Jags have to rely heavily on quarterback Blake Bortles, bad things happen. Bortles threw four picks and put his team in position to force them to have to throw the ball way more than they wanted to. A 61 to 17 pass to run ratio is not Jag football.

-Although their teams won their starts, rookie quarterbacks Josh Allen of the Bills (10/19 for 82 yards and a pick), Josh Rosen of the Cardinals (10/25 for 170 yards and a touchdown), and Sam Darnold of the Jets (10/22 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and a pick) played awful. Their teams won in spite of their performances. I don’t doubt this crop of rookies will be good, but there will be growing pains.

The Ugly

-Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point in their 31-23 loss to the Lions. He was clearly upset and frustrated with the misses. Cool to see Aaron Rodgers was seen comforting him on the sidelines. The Packers are sticking with the veteran kicker…for now.

-As if the Eagles Super Bowl hangover wasn’t enough - they’re 2-3 on the season so far - starting running back Jay Ajayi is now out for the season with an ACL injury. They use a running back by committee system, but he gets the bulk of the touches.

-The Giants plan on trading or cutting offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. They would like to trade him by 3 p.m. our time Tuesday, which is highly unlikely. The fact that they’re most likely cutting the former number nine overall pick from the 2015 draft shows how bad of a pick he was.

You ever took a picture with a Polaroid camera and shook the picture and/or blew on it and waited to see the reveal? Remember when the image was starting to come into focus and you could make out parts of it, but not the entire image? That’s kind of what this season is at this point. Week 5 is when the picture becomes clearer, but not quite fully visible. As the season progresses, that picture will become crystal clear.

 

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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