September NFL football is always good for a few surprises, such as the undefeated San Francisco 49ers and their top-three defense, though DeForest Buckner is hardly surprised. "We've got a lot of high draft picks up front, and we're going to be physical all game long," the defensive lineman told me. "It's exciting to see."
The first quarter of the season has been exactly that -- and just as unpredictable. Good teams are underachieving, and bad teams are even worse. Despite elite quarterbacks all over the league, points are down slightly, with nine teams averaging fewer than 20 points per game compared to seven last season. It's a slow start that is possibly a byproduct of resting starters in the preseason.
We asked NFL coaches, scouts and execs to break down their surprises through the first four games of the regular season. Here are the results.
The Browns' yo-yo offense
Sunday's 40-point breakthrough in Baltimore featured two-tight-end sets creating holes for Nick Chubb, who delivered with three touchdowns.
Odell Beckham Jr. totaled two catches for 20 yards.
Yep, the Browns' much-hyped offense still has plenty to figure out with its batch of talent.
"I'm not sure what the identity is," one coach said of their first few weeks. "Sometimes they want to spread it out, sometimes they want to pound the ball, which is fine if it's part of a cohesive plan. But there's been a randomness to their offense that seems hard for the players to get a rhythm on."
The Browns loaded up with splashy moves on both sides of the ball this offseason but didn't address an offensive line that has Baker Mayfield under duress at times.
The best way to inspire a line with flaws is to run the ball, coaches say, using Beckham and Jarvis Landry (who's still productive despite lacking elite speed) as the big-play options on third down. That worked in Baltimore, where the home team had just one sack of Mayfield.
"Kareem Hunt's return is really going to help them," one scout said. "Then they will have two good backs who can do a lot of different things. For all they want to do with Odell, eventually they will settle into a strong running game."