Week 4’s Top NFL Storylines: Kyler for MVP and the Fall of Big Ben

Plus, an unheralded player who needs to get more touches based on a remarkable run he had on Sunday

October 5, 2021 9:13 am
Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals scrambles
Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals scrambles out of the pocket.
Harry How/Getty

Following Monday Night Football wrapping up last night, the fourth week of the NFL’s first 17-game season is complete. While we can’t get to everything — like the aftermath of the Brady Bowl in Foxboro — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 4 of the season, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: Kyler Murray is the favorite for NFL MVP

Sometimes referred to as the miniature version of mobile quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray has a big chance of following in their respective footsteps by winning the NFL’s MVP award.

Murray, who is undefeated this season for the Cardinals, completed 24-of-32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s 37-20 win over the LA Rams in Week 4, adding six carries for 39 additional yards. Now completing 76.1% of his passes and responsible for 12 total touchdowns on the season, the third-year player appears to be making the leap from star to superstar and has overtaken Mahomes as the favorite to win MVP.

Now listed at +550 at Caesars Sportsbook to take home the award, Murray is ahead of Mahomes (+600),  Josh Allen  (+800) and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers (both +900). A 25-1 bet to win MVP at the start of the season, Murray has attracted more bets to win the award than any other player at Caesars since the season began.

Able to torment defenses with downfield strikes to the myriad offensive weapons in Arizona’s arsenal, Murray is also always a threat to take off outside the pocket and extend plays with his legs. As quick as most running backs in the NFL, Murray has not let his smaller stature impact him in a negative way — if anything, it’s made him more elusive.

While guiding the undefeated Cardinals into first place in the toughest division in football. Murray has led the Cardinals to score more than 30 points and rack up at least 400 yards of offense in every game this season.

“It’s hard to emulate the speed he plays with, the athleticism, the feel, the instincts,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of Murray after losing to the 24-year-old quarterback for the first time in his career. “And that was on display today. That’s why he’s playing at such a high level. You got to give him credit.”

If Murray keeps playing the way he has been, The Associated Press is going to be giving him some credit as well — as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Sell: Trey Lance will give Jimmy Garoppolo his job back

After watching the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks from the bench, rookie quarterback Trey Lance was forced into action for the 49ers after Jimmy Garoppolo sustained a calf injury.

Lance, whose only previous completion in the NFL was a touchdown toss in Week 1, completed 9-of-18 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ 28-21 loss to Seattle. Despite a solid stat line, he looked skittish in the pocket at times and didn’t look overly comfortable while carrying the ball seven times for an additional 41 yards on the ground.

With Garoppolo, who was 14-of-23 for 165 yards with a touchdown prior to leaving the game, expected to be out for a couple of weeks with his injury, Lance should have every opportunity to seize control of the starting job in San Francisco the way many people assumed he would after he was drafted No. 3 overall.

When he came in to replace Garoppolo for the second half, Lance did so without the luxury of preparing to play as the team’s starting QB in the week prior to the game. Ahead of a Week 5 game against the division-leading Cardinals, Lance will get all the reps and should benefit greatly from the extra work. Similarly, coach Kyle Shanahan will be able to tailor a game plan that is suited to Lance’s skill set and should be able to put his rookie in positions where he can have success.

Due to his lack of experience and polish, Lance’s floor is certainly lower than Garoppolo’s, and relying on him this early is a risk. But the reward it offers — due to Lance’s ceiling being higher than Jimmy G’s — is enough to make it worth it, and Shanahan knows it. That’s why he traded multiple first-round picks to move up in the draft to select Lance, and that’s why he is going to play him this weekend and beyond.

Buy: Ben Roethlisberger is pretty much cooked

Had Sunday’s matchup between the Steelers and Packers been played a few years ago, it would have been billed as Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger facing off in a rematch of  Super Bowl XLV, which Green Bay won over Pittsburgh 31-25.

But given where the quarterbacks are in their respective careers, a matchup between 37-year-old Rodgers and 39-year-old Roethlisberger no longer belongs on the marquee, because it is far from a fair fight.

Roethlisberger, who hit Diontae Johnson with a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first drive during Sunday’s 27-17 drubbing at the hands of the Packers, finished Week 4 having completed 26-of-40 passes for just 232 yards with one score and turnovers. Slow, inaccurate and playing behind a suspect offensive line, Roethlisberger is no longer the powerful force he once was. He’s thrown as many interceptions this season as touchdowns to go along with a mediocre 64% completion percentage.

Now sitting at 1-3 in a division where every other team is 3-1, the Steelers likely won’t bench Roethlisberger and turn to Dwayne Haskins or Mason Rudolph this early in the season. Under head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have started 1-3 thrice and were able to turn things around and finish at .500 or better all three times. But it may not be wise to expect history to repeat itself, because the three previous turnarounds came before Roethlisberger was washed up, his arm was shot and the AFC North was getting quality play from both the Bengals and Browns.

“I think this is going to test us all,” Roethlisberger said after Sunday’s loss. “We need to look in the mirror and figure out what path we want to take.”

It won’t be in Week 5, but the path the Steelers may end up taking could send Roethlisberger to the bench.

Sell: Javonte Williams gets the ball enough for Denver

In a 23-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in Denver, the Broncos also lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was a key part of the team’s 3-0 start, to a concussion.

But the Broncos may have found something special in rookie running back Javonte Williams.

A second-round pick out of North Carolina, 21-year-old Williams had one of the most impressive plays of the day when he broke five tackles and carried multiple Baltimore defenders with him during a 31-yard rumble that brought the first quarter on Sunday’s game to a close.

Javonte Williams carried Ravens DB Marlon Humphrey on his back for so long he should’ve charged the guy cab fare.

“I think (Humphrey) tried to go for the ball instead of trying to tackle me,” the rookie running back said later about 6-foot, 197-pound Baltimore Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey. “He just jumped my back, and I kept going.”

Though Williams only finished with 48 yards on seven carries to go along with 11 yards on three receptions, the play he made at the end of the first quarter was the highlight of the day for Denver and is a clear indication that the rookie, who splits carries with Melvin Gordon, needs more work, especially if Bridgewater will be out for an extended period of time.

Clearly capable of carrying as well as catching the ball, Williams has reportedly done well in pass protection thus far this season and obviously is able to gain yards — many, many yards — after drawing contact.

Now heading to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team that gave up 131 yards on the ground during a Week 4 loss at Green Bay and 96 at home to Cincinnati in Week 3, the Broncos need to get the ball to Willams — who is averaging 4.0 yards per carry this season — more often. If they do, he may be able to carry the Denver offense in Week 5 the same way he carried Humphrey in Week 4.

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