We learned last week that the Texans made the right decision in drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud. In Week 4, we learned more about the Texans as a whole, but it’s too soon to offer a full assessment of DeMeco Ryans’s rising squad.
But we might have learned a lot more about the team the Texans defeated handily Sunday. The Steelers have plenty of issues on both sides of the ball, and it’s time to question whether they’re pretenders when it comes to playoff teams in the AFC.
The Eagles (4–0) have also had their issues, but they have found a way to remain undefeated. They struggled against the Commanders (2–2) , but Jalen Hurts and the passing game might finally have a rhythm with new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson.
We also learned about the multiple ways the Lions (3–1) can defeat teams. And we can’t forget about what the Buccaneers (3–1) are doing in the NFC South. As for rookies Aidan O’Connell and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, they might want to forget about their starting debuts.
Here’s what we know now about the Eagles, Steelers, Lions, Buccaneers and the two rookie QBs after Week 4 of the NFL regular season.
Undefeated Eagles turn the corner with passing game
The Eagles had a tough time against the Commanders. But this time, it was Hurts and the passing game that helped the team remain undefeated. Hurts completed 25-of-37 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His favorite target was A.J. Brown, who recorded nine catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns, including the score that gave Philadelphia a 31–24 advantage with 1:43 left in regulation.
It’s somewhat concerning that the Eagles fell behind 17–7 and allowed the Commanders to tie the game and send it to overtime. But they might look back on this game and say that’s when they turned a corner with the passing game.
Steelers prove to be pretenders
The Steelers (2–2) have many problems, but none bigger than the injury to second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who exited in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Texans with a knee injury. Pickett has struggled to get the offense going this season, but he’s a better option than Mitchell Trubisky, who failed to keep the starting job last season.
The Steelers’ sluggish offense did enough against the Browns and Raiders, two teams with their own offensive struggles. But they were exposed offensively and defensively Sunday against the surging Texans. Stroud had another impressive performance, completing 16-of-30 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and still hasn’t thrown an interception this season. Pittsburgh has plenty of talent defensively, but the unit hasn’t played up to its lofty standards. Houston ran for 139 yards, and now Pittsburgh is allowing 148.5 rushing yards per game this season.
I probably should give the Texans (2–2) more credit, but I’ll wait a little longer before deciding whether they’re a legit playoff team. As for the Steelers, they’ll hang around, but they’re pretenders with a broken offense and a suspect defense.
Lions can win in various ways
Dan Campbell likes to refer to his Lions as gritty, but they’re also explosive, which is a reflection of how versatile his offense has been through four games. The Lions often look to establish the run with bruising running back David Montgomery, but what makes them tough to defend is how fast they can get downfield with Jared Goff throwing to Amon-Ra St. Brown and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta.
After lighting up the Packers on Thursday Night Football, the Lions found out wide receiver Jameson Williams would be reinstated two weeks earlier than expected. Initially, Williams was given a six-game suspension for violating the league’s now outdated gambling policy.
The Lions have also been productive on the defensive side, generating consistent pressure with Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill, two draft picks of GM Brad Holmes. The Lions have gotten many draft picks right since Holmes and Campbell arrived in 2021.
Buccaneers have inside track in NFC South race
The Buccaneers appear to be the front-runners to win the NFC South because they currently have the best quarterback in the division. Baker Mayfield outplayed Derek Carr in Sunday’s road win against the Saints. Also, Carolina’s Bryce Young and Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder continued to struggle during Week 4 losses, respectively.
Carr toughed it out with an injured shoulder, but the Saints’ offense had issues before Carr’s injury. This is not to say Mayfield has played exceptional, but he’s making enough plays with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to assist the Buccaneers’ stellar defense.
But Tampa Bay (3–1) could have issues if Evans is forced to miss time with the hamstring injury he sustained against the Saints. The Buccaneers' defense deserves the bulk of the credit for their hot start, but Mayfield has done his part through the first quarter of the season, unlike Young, Carr and Ridder.
Rough QB debuts for O’Connell, DTR
O’Connell might still be running from Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack, who had a whopping six sacks Sunday. It was a rough debut for the rookie, who filled in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, but the Raiders still made the right call to start him over veteran Brian Hoyer. With Hoyer, the Raiders knew what they had in the career journeyman. This was an opportunity for the Raiders to see what they had in O’Connell, the 2023 fourth-round pick who had an impressive preseason. O’Connell took his hits, but he battled throughout the game and had the Raiders in position for a late comeback for falling, 24–17.
Thompson-Robinson also had a strong preseason, which is why the team traded former backup Joshua Dobbs to the Cardinals. But Cleveland likely didn’t have plans for Thompson-Robinson, a 2023 fifth-round pick, to play this season. The UCLA product was thrust into the fire against the Ravens after Deshaun Watson was a last-minute addition to the list of inactives. Thompson-Robinson went 19 of 36 for 121 yards and three interceptions in the 28–3 loss to the Ravens. O’Connell finished 24 of 39 for 238 yards, one interception and two lost fumbles.