Cutler feeling heat in Miami
USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell breaks down his keys for Week 5 in the NFL. From Jay Cutler to E.J. Manuel, there’s plenty to discuss on the gridiron this week.
Jay Cutler. It is hardly a huge surprise that Cutler – who retired, then unretired to sign out of the Fox broadcast booth during the preseason after Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season – has been an early flop for the Dolphins. Being a so-called “good fit” because he knew Adam Gase’s system has resulted in the NFL’s worstranked offense and a ho-hum 80.4 passer rating for Cutler. Unfortunately for Miami – shut out by a Saints defense considered among the worst in the league – Cutler has resembled the worst of himself. Maybe it gets better with more reps, timing and chemistry with his receivers. But heading into Sunday’s game against Tennessee, the optics look as horrendous as ever for Cutler, whose hands-frozen, “statue” pose while flanked wide on a Wildcat snap in London is one more example of why he’s got the worst body language in the league.
Todd Gurley. Sean McVay’s touch as the new Rams coach has brought out the best in the dynamic running back, who ranks second in the NFL to Kansas City’s wondrous rookie, Kareem Hunt, in yards from scrimmage as a major test looms on Sunday when the Seahawks visit the Coliseum. Gurley, flowing downhill behind a rebuilt O-line, looks again like the rookie runner who burst on the scene two years ago, on pace for a 1,400-yard rushing campaign. What a turnaround after floundering last season in the NFL’s worst-ranked offense. Yet even more striking is the manner in which McVay and emerging quarterback Jared Goff are utilizing Gurley in the passing game. With 20 receptions, Gurley’s on pace for an 80-catch season and 2,200 yards from scrimmage. So while the Seahawks have the secondary that can surely clamp down on Goff’s downfield targets, Sunday’s NFC West showdown could hinge on whether the Seattle linebackers, including K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, can contain Gurley in multiple ways – stuffing the run and perhaps more critically, coming out of the backfield.
Justin Houston vs. Deshaun Watson. Since Bill O’ Brien switched to his mobile, rookie quarterback, the Texans’ offensive line (still without left tackle Duane Brown) has been much less exposed. Watson not only reads defenses better than most rookies, he can bail out of trouble and buy time. Whether he can escape Houston, the Chiefs’ premier rusher, will be one of the key subplots on Sunday night for arguably the best matchup of the week. Kansas City has won two playoff games in Houston in recent years, but that was before Watson arrived. Nonetheless, it might feel like a playoff game as Kansas City (4-0) tries to remain the NFL’s only undefeated team.
NEXT MAN UP
E.J. Manuel. With Derek Carr nursing an ailing back that has run the gamut of expectations for healing – once considered minimal, then a fracture was revealed and a 2-to-6 week rehab announced, then he showed up at practice this week and is officially listed as questionable – it’s most likely that Manuel will get at least one start for the Raiders, on Sunday against the Ravens. Boy, does Oakland, riding a two-game losing streak, need a game from Manuel (and Marshawn Lynch, too, for that matter) while trying to keep the team afloat with Carr out. The last time they faced such a predicament, in the playoffs in January after Carr broke his ankle, it was such a disaster with then-rookie Connor Cook falling flat on his face. At least Manuel, a former first-round pick who bombed in Buffalo, has some game experience. And he wasn’t half-bad in relief at Denver last weekend.
Myles Garrett. After suffering a high ankle sprain just days before the season opener, the No. 1 pick in the draft will make long-awaited debut for the Browns on Sunday against the Jets. Browns coach Hue Jackson maintains that he will keep the defensive end on a “pitch count,” which has nothing to do with his throwing arm. It’s a matter of easing Garrett back into the rhythm. Naturally, the winless Browns need him in the worst way as the Browns D was stung for 31 points in each of the past two games. Garrett, a Texas A&M product invites so much anticipation, given his rare combination of speed and power, and the manner in which he unleashed dominance in the trenches after ramping up in training camp.
Arizona at Philadelphia. Bruce Arians, the one-time Temple coach, returns to the City of Brotherly Love desperate for a win against the Eagles (3-1), leading the NFC East. The swing factor could rest with protection for Carson Palmer, who has been sacked an NFL-high 17 times – including 12 in the past two weeks. With time, Palmer can go after an Eagles secondary that has been so shaky with its penchant for giving up big plays (7 passes of 35+ yards, 3 of at least 50). The Cards (2-2) surely have the receiving weapons, led by Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown. If there’s time. The last time Arizona played at The Lync, in 2015, they won a blowout to improve to 13-1. But that’s a distant memory. Since then, they are 10-13-1, including the postseason, which is exactly why they are so desperate now.
IF THE PLAYOFFS WERE TODAY…
Buffalo would have ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought. The Bills have gone 17 years since last qualifying for the playoffs, which makes their AFC Eastleading 3-1 start even more compelling. New coach Sean McDermott, previously Carolina’s D-coordinator, has his new defense humming as the Bills have allowed an NFL-low 54 points. Of course, before it’s settled, the Patriots will have their say in it. New England (3-2) has won the past eight division titles, 13 of 14, and 14 AFC East crowns in the past 16 years. It could come down to December football. In a serious scheduling quirk, the Bills will play both of their games against New England and both of their games against Miami this season in December. But first things first: The Bills suddenly find themselves with a “trap” game on Sunday at Cincinnati.
Jay Cutler’s stint in Miami has not been as successful as anticipated so far - the Dolphins have the NFL’s worst-ranked offense.
KEN BLAZE / USA TODAY SPORTS