Week 4’s Top NFL Storylines: Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow’s Breakout

The biggest stories to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em

October 6, 2020 8:57 am
Justin Herbert's Week 4 Breakout in NFL
Justin Herbert of the Chargers throws a pass during the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay.
Getty Images

Following a wild Monday night that saw the Patriots play the Chiefs prior to the Falcons taking on the Packers, Week 4 of the 2020 NFL season is complete. While we can’t get to everything — like the family feud between Golden Tate and Jalen Ramsey — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: The Cowboys will still win the NFC East thanks to Dak Prescott

On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott completed 41-of-58 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns and on his way to becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 450 yards in three straight games.

He was also strip-sacked and threw a game-sealing interception in a 49-38 loss to the Cleveland Browns that dropped Dallas to 1-3 on the season.

“I’d give all those yards back for a different record,” Prescott said after the loss. “I care about one stat, and that’s to win. When we don’t do that, no other stats matter.”

While that comment was made after a loss, it is the type of thing a winning player says and Prescott, despite Dallas’s record, appears to be just that.

Prescott has 1,690 passing yards for the season, an NFL record after four games, and it is not his fault the Cowboys have given up 146 points through four games, the most in franchise history.

Dallas is off to a horrendous start to the season, but since the Cowboys play in a division that has gone a combined 3-12-1 thus far and is led by the 1-2-1 Philadelphia Eagles, Prescott should still be able to bring the franchise to the playoffs.

The defense will have to improve and the offense will have to take better care of the football (the Cowboys have fumbled six times this season), but with three out of their next four games against their NFC East divisional foes, Dallas should be able to inch back toward .500 in short order Especially if Prescott, who is playing under the franchise tag and has millions and millions of reasons to dominate opposing defenses this season, can continue to perform the way that he has thus far. We’re betting he will.

Sell: The Chargers can go back to Tyrod Taylor at QB

It is unfortunate for Tyrod Taylor that he lost his job through no fault of his own (a team doctor punctured his lung while giving him an injection prior to kickoff in Week 2), but the Chargers cannot go back to him as a starter in 2020.

The reason? Justin Herbert.

Playing in just his third game as a pro, Herbert connected on 18 of his 22 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 road loss in Tampa against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

Thanks to that performance, Herbert joined Cam Newton as the only other quarterback since 1970 to have more than 900 passing yards combined in his first three games. Overall, Herbert has completed 77 of 107 passing attempts (72 percent) for five touchdowns, with just three interceptions.

The No. 6 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Herbert has impressed as the starter for the Chargers … though he has yet to lead Los Angeles to a win. He also has yet to get the nod as the full-time starter from head coach Anthony Lynn, who recently said the 22-year-old was the Chargers backup quarterback “for a reason.”

That may be true, but Herbert is the future and Taylor, despite being a competent NFL quarterback, is not. LA would be better served to let Herbert play in a season where the team is already off to a 1-3 start and will face an uphill battle to get to .500, let alone make the playoffs.

“It’s not really my decision,” Herbert said of keeping his starting job. “What I think doesn’t really matter. I know that I’ve done my best these past couple of weeks. I’ve got so much farther to go, so much more to learn.”

If the Chargers are smart, they’ll allow him to keep learning on the field.

Buy: The Bengals finally have a quarterback in Joe Burrow

Though running back Joe Mixon was the star with 181 total yards and three touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday as the Bengals notched their first win of the season, it was the play of another Joe that should have Cincinnati fans feeling hopeful about the future.

No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow completed 25-of-36 passes for 300 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and is now the first rookie ever to throw for 300 or more yards in three consecutive games.

In four NFL games, Burrow has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,121 yards with six touchdowns and one interception — pretty good numbers for the former Heisman winner. He’s also thrown the ball at least 36 times in each one of his starts, so clearly the coaching staff trusts him to make plays.

“He’s not a rookie,” head coach Zac Taylor said following the win. “I don’t even think about that because it doesn’t feel like he’s a rookie and he doesn’t act like he’s a rookie. He’s in command, and guys believe in him. Those guys around him are really stepping up, and he’s becoming a real leader on this football team.”

One reason guys are stepping up for Burrow is he involves them in the offense. On Sunday, he completed passes to nine different receivers, a week after doing the same thing against the Eagles. (Interesting note: The last time the Bengals went two games in a row without losing was Weeks 4 and 5 in 2018.) Spreading the ball around, especially this early in his career, is a great sign for Burrow’s future development, as he’s already figured out who his favorite receiver is: the open one.

While having Burrow in the pocket probably isn’t enough to keep Cincinnati in contention for a playoff spot this season, it certainly looks like the Bengals finally have the franchise quarterback that has eluded them for so long.

Sell: Firing Bill O’Brien will save Houston’s season

Playing the winless Minnesota Vikings in Houston on Sunday, the Texans somehow managed to lose 31-23 to fall to 0-4 on the season under head coach Bill O’Brien. O’Brien, who is in his seventh year coaching the Texans, was asked about his job security following the loss.

“After the game, I try to keep that stuff between me and the team,” O’Brien said on Monday, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t have any control [over job security]. All I can control is what I can control. I’ve got to do a better job with the team. That’s obvious. And we’re going to work hard to do that.”

Well, not anymore he’s not: the 50-year-old became the first NFL coach to be fired during the 2020 season as he was relieved of his duties by the McNair family, who own the Texans, late on Monday afternoon.

With O’Brien, who only had a single losing season before this one during his tenure in Houston, now gone, Romeo Crennel will be the team’s interim head coach moving forward. The firing was completely justifiable: not only did O’Brien bungle things on the field, he also set the Texans back with moves he made as general manager, including trading stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (who leads the NFL in receptions with 39) to the Cardinals.

Thanks to O’Brien, the Texans do not have a first or second-round pick in 2021, a perilous position to be in for a team that clearly has some big holes to fill despite being built, in theory, to win now. That clearly isn’t happening, and while getting rid of O’Brien was a necessary move, it probably isn’t going to change anything for Houston’s prospects in 2020.

It is possible that Crennel, who has a 28-55 record over parts of six seasons as a head coach in the NFL, will be able to get something more from a team that reportedly began to tune out O’Brien a few weeks ago and string together some wins. But with games against the Packers and Titans coming up following a Week 5 tilt with the Jaguars, it seems more likely Houston will be 1-6 by Halloween and canning O’Brien won’t change it. Too little, too late.

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