Five things I care about

The Steelers’ offense has not found answers

It was a lock that the Steelers’ offense would look somewhat better in Week 3. There is a significant dropoff in quality going from the 49ers’ and Browns’ defenses to what the Raiders present. But does anyone really feel dramatically better about this underperforming unit after Sunday night ?

That would be a stretch in my eyes.

It starts with the run game for me. There are few more hopeless endeavors than Najee Harris operating behind the Steelers’ offensive line right now.

Harris has strangely become a pariah in the fantasy football community, as a growing number of analysts want to tap him as the next Melvin Gordon to Jaylen Warren ’s Austin Ekeler … or worse, they’ll use the Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard dynamic. To some degree, I get it. I don’t think Harris is the most explosive back out there. On the off chance that he breaks a run to the outside, he’s usually working hard to go 5 or 6 yards.

The trouble is, those chances are few and far between.

The Steelers’ line is a massive anchor on this offense right now. Many folks, myself included, made the mistake of assuming that an above-average free-agent signing in Isaac Seumalo and a Round 1 rookie left tackle (who is not starting) in Broderick Jones would be enough to save a group that’s been a trouble spot for years. Nothing could be further from reality.

The Steelers were six of 15 on third down against the Raiders, who have a game-wrecker in Maxx Crosby but otherwise don’t offer many others to fear. That’s because the Steelers are consistently in poor down-and-distance situations. We could argue about whether Harris, Matt Canada’s rudimentary run game concepts or the offensive line is the main villain in this regard but it almost doesn’t matter. The results are what they are and I can’t talk myself into it changing at any point.

The run game issues bleed into the passing attack because once they’re in those poor down-and-distance situations, teams can pin their ears back and blow by these offensive linemen in pass protection. You have one player even close to Crosby’s level, and you have an edge. Those send Kenny Pickett into creation mode where he has the mentality to win but not the tools required to do so. It’s why we see this offense produce an absurd amount of three-and-outs. It’s never ahead of the action.

I don’t know that I ever thought anyone from the Pittsburgh passing game was going to the moon this season, especially with Diontae Johnson out, but I hoped the Steelers could at least leave Earth’s atmosphere. Even with this win over the Raiders, I’m struggling to clear them for takeoff.

They’ll get matchups with Houston and Baltimore before their Week 6 bye. The Texans’ pass defense is underrated and while the Ravens are as banged up as ever, they’re still well-coached and can make life difficult. Those two games will provide more ideal tests.

The Dolphins’ running game

Seventy points. It’s just unspeakable. I can’t decide if it looks more like the first week of a college football mismatch or a Madden beatdown where you wanted to statpad for your Franchise Mode team.

As ridiculous as the final score was, it’s nothing compared to the production of the Dolphins running backs .

I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous: that Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane averaged 8.8 yards per carry or that they accounted for eight total touchdowns.

OK, it’s definitely the touchdowns. The Dolphins duo reached fantasy football heights we’ve never seen before .

I talked about the Dolphins’ emerging run game as a critical counterpunch this offense needed to find in last week’s version of this column . Obviously, I didn’t see this output coming. No human being could have dreamed up this result but I did not imagine the unit would go from counterpunch to true weapon in a matter of days.

The run game we saw Sunday was nothing short of a game-changing instrument of destruction. The bones have always been there for a great running game in Miami; for as much as their pass game led the way last season, designing ground attacks were McDaniel’s bread and butter. Now that he has a fully integrated explosive riser in Achane to complement the steady and capable Raheem Mostert, we’re seeing that history come to the forefront.

I know there will be readers screaming at their phones or laptops that this wasn’t a product of anything Miami did but that it was merely an all-time dreadful performance from the Broncos’ defense .

Trust me, I know. For whatever flowers we must throw to Miami, shame must be cast to Denver.

Vance Joseph called a defense like he’d never watched a second of film on this offense, leaving the middle of the field wide open . The only thing that was worse was the tackling and any attempt at recovery by defenders in the open field.

That’s the thing with Miami’s offense. You make a mistake with this speed on the other side of the field, you’re not just getting burned… you’re getting embarrassed. Odds are, you’re giving up six points.

Now we have talented running backs with tangible upside infused with this dynamic passing attack. It will never look like this again from a box score perspective but the fact that this is even a real, possible outcome is unnatural.

The most impossible offense to stop just got better.

Signature Justin Herbert game

The game felt like a haunted house, as both the Chargers and Vikings needed to exorcise some late-game demons with a win. In the end, the Chargers avoided fumbling the bag, even if head coach Brandon Staley did his best with a late-game fourth-down decision that didn’t go his way.

Let’s not allow that to overlook what was a signature Justin Herbert game.

The Vikings’ defense under Brian Flores has played a bit more passive than expectations through the first couple of games. That wasn’t the case in Week 3. Flores sent the dogs after Herbert and the Chargers passer didn’t flinch. Herbert had a consistent plan to defeat the blitz and never let it phase him. His 14.7 completion rate over expectation ranked third among Week 3 quarterbacks.

The Chargers are in a familiar place. It’s Herbert or bust for this team.

Staley’s defense remains on the ropes, making once-prized free-agent addition JC Jackson a healthy scratch before the game. The offense is banged up as ever. Austin Ekeler remains out with an ankle injury and Mike Williams is set to have an MRI after being carted off the field. An offense under Kellen Moore that seemed to have some answers in the first few weeks is now forced to look under the couch cushions to locate a few more as guys are taken off the board.

In real life, the Chargers can count on Herbert to do his part to save them. However, we’ve seen this story in fantasy football before. If Williams is out for a while and first-round draft pick Quentin Johnston is still not ready to play, this offense gets a roof put over his head just like it did last season.

Keenan Allen — my lord, do I have to happily take an L on fading him in drafts this season — is the only one who scares defenses.

As usual, it looks like a Chargers offense that got most fantasy drafters all hot and bothered in the preseason is headed toward another “what if” campaign.

Derek Carr ‘s injury

When Derek Carr went down in the second half of the Saints-Packers game, it certainly looked like a devastating season-altering injury. Turns out the worst-case scenario was avoided and while Carr may miss some time, his season isn’t over . That’s a huge dodged bullet for the Saints.

People love to talk about Jameis Winston — he is a fun, living, breathing meme — but he’s ill-equipped to lead this particular team. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Winston isn’t a quality backup quarterback. It’s just where the Saints are right now.

New Orleans has some quality offensive pieces. Chris Olave , who made a highlight-reel catch against Green Bay, is a superstar talent. Michael Thomas has looked like a reliable possession target and Rashid Shaheed turns in at least one big play per week. These are just some of the quality supporting players on offense.

However, the best part of this team is the defense. Head coach Dennis Allen has the whole stop unit playing at a high level but the secondary is particularly impressive. The guys back there play as a hive-mind and have stomped out every opponent so far. They haven’t faced a murderer’s row or anything — Sunday was their biggest challenge by far — but no one has scored 20 points on the Saints through three weeks.

That defense has the chance to be the type of unit that can propel the Saints into the playoffs, especially with an easy schedule up ahead. Carr isn’t a special quarterback but I feel slightly better with him as the caretaker than I do Winston.

The Lions’ complete win

Detroit’s offense was a strong unit and Amon-Ra St. Brown was the Lions’ leading receiver with over 100 yards in Week 3. That seems like about the norm but that lies some of the key indicators from this game. Multiple areas show why Detroit has evolved as an operation.

I talked a ton this offseason about Detroit’s need for a running mate alongside St. Louis. Brown with Jameson Williams an overall question mark and a lock to miss six games. Josh Reynolds has had big moments as the outside receiver but the light turned to Detroit’s rookie tight end in Week 3.

Sam LaPorta drew 11 targets, one behind St. Brown for the team lead, and turned them into 84 yards. He ripped the defense open for a 45-yard score. This wasn’t a flash in the pan for LaPorta, either. He had five catches in each of the first two games. Rookie tight ends typically don’t do much but LaPorta has emerged as a security blanket and dangerous weapon up the seam. That type of development is exactly what this offense needed. Defenses now have something else to think about.

LaPorta wasn’t the only rookie that flashed on the Lions’ offense. David Montgomery was never really an option to play in this game, so the Lions had all week to craft a new-look run game with their starter out. Instead of defaulting to holdover Craig Reynolds , they turned the load over to rookie Jahmyr Gibbs .

He handled 17 carries, Reynolds had four and Zonovan Knight had three. The insiders reported this would happen and it was the case. The Lions’ offensive line blew open some massive holes across a Falcons front that had played well early in the season and Gibbs followed those lanes. He still has so much more untapped potential for this offense to mine. This could have been the start of something big.

Lastly, and perhaps most critically, the Lions shut down the vaunted Falcons run game on the other side of the ball. Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier took their 17 carries for a mere 45 yards. Robinson has been tearing through social media with highlight runs in each of the past two weeks but managed a long run of just 11 yards. Detroit’s run defense has been a mess for seasons — this is development.