Your Tip Sheet for Week 4 is in …
• Let’s get this out of the way—Justin Jefferson is going nowhere.
I feel like an idiot even having to type those words, but after he addressed the idea that Minnesota could offload players ahead of the trade deadline (which is still a month away), that’s something I at least wanted to make a couple of calls on. And I can say the Vikings aren’t going to entertain trading him. So if you root for a team that could use him, and a lot of teams could, forget it. If you see someone doing a trade destinations blog post, ignore it.
With that established, we can take a look at what he said about the trade deadline this week, which was at least interesting given that Minnesota goes into October at 0–3.
“I’m tired of people saying that we’re looking into next season, or all of the trades and stuff like that,” said Jefferson during Vikings media access this week. “We’re still focused on this season. We have a lot more games to go, and we have a lot more things to accomplish this season. We’re still focused in, and we still have the same goal as we had before the season. We just need to fix a few things, and I feel like we’ll be back on track.”
There’s some truth in that, of course. After going 11–0 last year in one-possession games, the law of averages has struck the Vikings—all three of their September losses came by a single score. Also, while there’s been retooling on the roster—as Minnesota cleaned up its salary cap—the roster isn’t devoid of talent.
Still, if 0–3 turns into 1–6, there will be incoming calls to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell to gauge their appetite for trading accomplished veterans on the roster.
It wouldn’t make sense to deal off Jefferson or Christian Darrisaw or T.J. Hockenson, guys who are still young and foundational pieces for the franchise moving forward. But would the Vikings listen to teams calling on, say, Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter or Harrison Smith, all of whom might have value to a contender?
My guess would be that the Vikings would work with those guys privately on that stuff, with each of them having restructured their contracts this year, and let them help chart the course. It’s how they handled veterans last offseason, and I’d expect how they would handle them in a situation like this, too.
And, obviously, as Jefferson said, those guys can make this all moot by winning games in the coming weeks.
• There’s little question that Joe Burrow’s comeback from his calf strain has held the Bengals offense back a bit from being what it’s been the past two years.
This week, I dug a little bit into the particulars on how his injury has impacted their offense.
From a play-calling standpoint, it’s affected Cincinnati in two ways.
One, they were never a big under-the-center team to begin with, but now, to limit Burrow’s movement, they more or less aren’t going under center at all. Two, it’s limited what the Bengals can do in their keeper game, though they were able to generate big catch-and-run plays on such calls the past two weeks: to Joe Mixon, for 32 yards against Baltimore, and Ja’Marr Chase, for 43 yards against the Rams.
As for how it’s affected Burrow during actual play, it’s certainly changed what he can do off-script. He’s not extending plays, nor is he exploiting running lanes in the pocket by taking the ball himself to rip off five or 10 yards on the ground. He’s also a bit quicker to check down or throw the ball way.
That said, there’s also an acknowledgment that penalties, drops and even the coaching can be better—and hasn’t been up to the standard Cincinnati set in 2021 and ’22.
The good news? With a little luck—in Burrow avoiding setbacks—all of this stuff is correctable.
• Jonathan Taylor is eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list next week, and the Colts will have to make a final decision on his status with the team. But he’s worked his tail off in the time being, as you’d expect he would, and should be ready to roll when he gets the call.
As for the elephant in that room, there really hasn’t been much movement on Taylor’s trade request. It hasn’t been rescinded, and the Colts haven’t gotten any calls on his availability in recent days. What could change that, of course, is everyone getting to see him in games again. Which could happen as soon as Oct. 8, when the Colts host the Titans.
And if the calls do start coming, I think GM Chris Ballard will listen. There are a good number of teams Taylor would fit well and fill a need.
• The Lions’ win on Thursday night was a just-how-they-drew-it-up kind of game. Coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes made no secret of their plan to build a bully, and that bully stuffed the Packers in a locker at Lambeau Field.
The Lions outrushed the Packers, 211–27; had the ball for 37 minutes, 58 seconds of the game’s 60 minutes; and won the game through the lines of scrimmage, with investment in high draft picks on both offense (Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson) and defense (Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill) showing up in a big way. They controlled the first half completely, and when the Packers mounted a second-half comeback, cutting a 27–3 lead to 27–17, they shut the door with a clock-killing, 14-play, 75-yard drive to finish it.
Watching all that reminded me of a conversation I had with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll 11 days earlier. He was overjoyed to come out of Detroit with a win, especially a team with the identity of the Lions.
“I love coaches that can affect the team like Coach Campbell,” Carroll told me. “He’s changed this program, he’s given them life and the mentality and the approach. I have tremendous respect for the guys that can get that done when it’s obvious. The particular one [Campbell got it done with] is really hard, and you have to build and make it. He’s done that, and so we take a lot out of the fact that we got them. They’re on the frickin’ rise, and they’re flying and we’re fortunate enough to get out of here.”
Bottom line: There’s nothing phony or fake about what the Lions have built.
• Last night was another example of how big a swing-factor offensive-line health has been for the Packers the past few years. Simply put, the absence of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins was a bigger problem for Green Bay than some of the ups and downs Jordan Love had in the game. And with Bakhtiari likely gone for a while, Matt LaFleur and his staff have a big issue to manage moving forward.
• Coming out of 2022, Jets coach Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas felt like Zach Wilson needed a reset, and they wanted to give him that by sitting him behind Aaron Rodgers this year. That plan blew up, and other teams I’ve talked to are seeing what I’ve seen—Wilson looks like the quarterback who came into the league a free-wheeling playmaker and is now afraid to make a mistake. Which is probably why he needed the reset the Jets can no longer afford to give him.
• One option for the Jets, should they look outside the building, might be Case Keenum. But I’ve heard teams fishing around for the Texans’ backup have been told Houston has no plans to move him, and for a very interesting reason—they love and value what he’s done to help with C.J. Stroud’s development.
• The NFL returns to London this weekend, and so, too, is the question of when the league might have a team over there permanently. The biggest issue is still logistics, and it’s not just about filling out a schedule. In a vacuum, the league could sketch something out that could work, with the London team(s) having headquarters both in England and stateside. Moreso, the problem is how it would work in the playoffs (imagine traveling Seattle to London for the wild-card round on short notice), preseason and other situations where only advances in air travel could alleviate the burden that team would feel.
• Completion percentage isn’t always the best metric on which to judge quarterbacks, but keep an eye on Deshaun Watson’s this week. The coaches have continued to emphasize being “completion driven” to him, and it worked last week against the Titans. They want him to take more layups and be judicious in going big-play hunting in the new offense they’ve retrofitted for him. They’re confident he is—and they are—getting there.