NFL Week 3: The Dolphins’ offense is a juggernaut, and the Cowboys stumbled

The third NFL Sunday of the season was a day for stunning sights. The number 70 appeared on a scoreboard, a double-digit favorite lost by 12, and Taylor Swift surfaced in Travis Kelce’s luxury suite. The Dolphins and Cardinals had days out of their wildest dreams, and the Broncos and Bears are trying to shake it off. Here is what to know.

The Dolphins are playing a different game. Through three weeks, offensive deflation has defined the NFL season. Against defenses committed to playing zone coverage and limiting long gains, teams are throwing shorter passes and scoring fewer points than they have in years. In the nine games that kicked off at 1 p.m. Sunday, six teams failed to score a touchdown in the first half, and three did not even score a point. Following years of skyrocketing offensive production, defenses are striking back.

The exception is the Miami Dolphins, who scored Sunday at a pace unseen in six decades. In their 70-20 demolition of the Denver Broncos, the Dolphins became the fourth team to score 70 points in an NFL game, playoffs included, and the first since 1966 — even without injured wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. The Dolphins have scored 130 points this season, 40 more than second-place San Francisco. Twenty-six teams played Sunday, and the Dolphins scored 11.8 percent of the day’s points.

Football coaching’s Madden generation

The Dolphins overwhelm defenses with unparalleled speed. Sunday, they unleashed rookie running back De’Von Achane, a third-round draft pick who ran track at Texas A&M and posted a 4.32-second 40-yard-dash time at the combine. Achane ran for 203 yards, gained 30 more on four catches and scored four touchdowns — and that didn’t count a 23-yard touchdown run that was called back because of a holding penalty.

The Dolphins frequently played Achane and Raheem Mostert, who could be the fastest running backs in the NFL, together. On one play, Tua Tagovailoa faked a handoff to Achane and handed to Mostert for a touchdown. On another, he faked to Mostert and handed to Achane for a 40-yard run that set up another touchdown.

Coach Mike McDaniel is a step ahead of the NFL. Every opponent knows it has to center its game plan around wide receiver Tyreek Hill, yet through motion and varying formations, McDaniel finds ways to allow Hill to get off the line without contact and get open. Tagovailoa has become an ideal conductor, completing 23 of 26 passes Sunday; he leads the NFL with 1,024 passing yards. The best offenses in the NFL are coached by Kyle Shanahan and McDaniel, who coached under Shanahan for 11 years. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

The Cowboys stubbed their toe. No team had been more dominant over the first two weeks than the Cowboys, and no team suffered a more stunning loss in Week 3. The question the Cowboys must answer after they fell to the Cardinals, 28-16, as nearly two-touchdown favorites is whether the loss exposed any underlying weaknesses.

The Cowboys’ offense scored just 16 points, but in most ways it had a good day. Dallas actually outgained the Cardinals 416-400 and recorded 26 first downs. But when the Cowboys reached the red zone, they bogged down. In their final four trips inside the 10-yard line, the Cowboys settled for two field goals, turned the ball over on downs and threw an interception. The Cardinals flustered Dak Prescott all day, a reminder that the Cowboys’ offensive line is not the dominant unit it once was.

On defense, the Cowboys showed they can be vulnerable to sustained offense. Dan Quinn is one of the best coordinators in the league, but he favors fast, aggressive defenses that make big plays but tend not to be stout against the run. Dallas thrives on takeaways and sacks, but if opponents avoid mistakes, they can move the ball. Arizona ran for 222 yards against the Cowboys, who must prove they’re a sound football team and not just an excellent front-runner.

C.J. Stroud is the real deal. The Texans picked him at No. 2, but early returns suggest they may have taken the quarterback most likely to become a franchise pillar. Carolina’s Bryce Young has struggled to adapt to the NFL and missed Sunday with an injury. Indianapolis’s Anthony Richardson showed promise before a concussion sidelined him early last week. Stroud has been one of the best passers in the NFL, rookies or otherwise.

Stroud led the Texans to a surprising 37-17 beatdown of the Jaguars by completing 20 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. In the first three games of his career, Stroud has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 906 yards, the fourth most in the NFL. He has not thrown an interception in 121 attempts and has forged an immediate connection with rookie wideout Tank Dell, who caught five passes for 145 yards and a touchdown one week after he had seven catches for 72 yards and his first career touchdown.

Stroud’s numbers only fortify the impression he leaves after watching him. Nothing about his performance betrays his rookie status. He plays with poise and makes good decisions, never panicking as he surveys the defense and moves nimbly whether he’s in the pocket or buying time outside it. Defenses will adjust to him now that he has three games of film for them to study, but Stroud seems to have entered the NFL as a fully formed starting quarterback.

Something has to give in Denver. The Broncos hired Sean Payton with the foundational expectation of restoring a baseline level of competence after Nathaniel Hackett’s 15-game debacle. After three games, these Broncos have been more of an embarrassment than the version Hackett coached.

The Broncos fell to 0-3 when they surrendered 70 points to the Dolphins. Last week, they squandered a 18-point lead at home and lost to the Commanders. In Week 1, they lost to the Raiders, who otherwise have been pasted by the Bills and lost at home to the offensively challenged Steelers on Sunday night.

The idea that Payton could revive Russell Wilson’s career now seems like naive hope. Wilson has lost the speed that made him an effective scrambler, and he seems unwilling — or perhaps unable, owing to his lack of height — to adjust his game and play from the pocket.

Payton’s start in Denver has been a disaster, and to change nothing would be accepting the unacceptable. Payton has openly discussed Wilson’s struggles to get plays in before the play clock drains, and Denver paid Jarrett Stidham big money for a backup quarterback. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who once was the head coach in Denver, could be in trouble after his unit yielded more than 100 points in two weeks. “When someone runs the ball up and down the field like those guys did, throw it up and down the field, it’s not acceptable,” Payton said.

Jordan Love is winning over Green Bay. At the start of the fourth quarter, Love’s Lambeau Field debut as the Packers’ full-time starter was bleak. The Packers trailed the Saints, one of the NFL’s best defenses, 17-0. The Packers were without cornerback Jaire Alexander and David Bakhtiari, two cornerstone players out with injuries. Love had just manufactured a 12-play drive only to turn the ball over on downs.

From that juncture, Love led a comeback that showed why teammates have faith he can replace Aaron Rodgers. The Packers won, 18-17, as Love ran for a one-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal keeper and gave the Packers the lead on a gorgeous back-shoulder fade to second-year wideout Romeo Doubs. “Everybody in that locker room is going to fight for Jordan Love,” Coach Matt LaFleur told reporters.

Love is playing with a receiving corps constructed wholly of rookies and second-year players, yet he remained poised in a nearly hopeless situation. He has led Green Bay to a 2-1 start, with the only loss coming after it blew a lead last week in Atlanta. The Packers’ young offense should only get better as the season progresses. They’re tied for first in the NFC North and should battle Detroit all season for the division title.

The Packers got help when Saints kicker Blake Grupe missed a 48-yard field goal that would have put New Orleans ahead with a minute left. They were also helped by Derek Carr’s injury. Packers defensive end Rashan Gary slammed Carr hard to the ground on his right shoulder early in the third quarter. Carr left the field, and New Orleans ruled him out for the game. The Saints did not score after he left.

The Jets need to stop the Zach Wilson charade. After the Jets’ impotent offense finished a 15-10 loss to the Patriots, Coach Robert Saleh committed to Wilson as his quarterback. “He’s fine,” Saleh said, even when all available evidence suggests he is not. The Jets are 9-16 in games Wilson has started over the past three years, and two full games have revealed the six months Wilson spent around Aaron Rodgers resulted in no progress.

Wilson completed half of his 36 passes and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt. He did not throw an interception, a massive improvement over his previous meeting with Bill Belichick, but for the second straight week he also showed no ability to move the ball. The Jets are not helping Wilson by continuing to give Dalvin Cook, who has clearly lost a step, carries over Breece Hall. But Wilson has had ample opportunity to show who he is in the NFL, and he is a quarterback incapable of winning.

The Jets have too much talent on defense to let this season slip away, even after Rodgers’s torn Achilles’ tendon. They should hope the 0-3 Vikings continue to spiral, which could make Kirk Cousins — a free agent at the end of the season — available in a trade. They should see if the Cardinals would part with Joshua Dobbs if and when Kyler Murray nears a return. Stroud’s emergence in Houston has made Davis Mills expendable. It’ll hurt the Jets’ draft capital to trade for a quarterback midseason. But they need to admit Wilson is not the answer and explore their options.

The Jaguars’ offense is a major disappointment. Given the way Trevor Lawrence finished last season, he appeared poised to leap into the NFL’s elite tier of quarterbacks. The Jaguars have instead been one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL, raising questions about how Doug Pederson chose to operate the offense.

The Jaguars scored just nine points and failed to record a touchdown against the Chiefs, and they followed it up with 17 points in a loss to the Texans on Sunday. This offseason, Pederson ceded play-calling to offensive coordinator Press Taylor. He should consider taking back the headset. Taylor has not taken advantage of Lawrence, who is playing much better than the Jaguars’ point total indicates.

The Jaguars finished last season with five consecutive victories, won a playoff game and pushed the eventual Super Bowl champions to the brink. They have started this year a rickety 1-2 with a downright humiliating moment: On Sunday, they popped up a kickoff trying to prompt a fair catch, but Andrew Beck, a backup fullback for the Texans, muffed the catch and then returned the kick for a touchdown, breaking tackles as he wove through Jacksonville’s coverage unit.

The Bills bounced back. Buffalo’s Week 1 loss to the Jets could have been read as a calamitous microcosm of their deep-seated issues: Josh Allen played too reckless, a dearth of defensive playmakers allowed the Jets to move the ball, and Buffalo’s offense was punchless aside from Stefon Diggs. All the problems that led to the Bills’ early playoff exit surfaced and seemed to only be growing more ingrained.

Two weeks later, their opening defeat now looks like a fluke. The Bills outscored the Raiders and Commanders by a combined 75-13, including their 37-3 victory Sunday at Washington. Allen has thrown one interception in 69 pass attempts since his turnover spree in Week 1, and that pick came Sunday on a long pass on third down — effectively a punt with his arm.

Svrluga: The Commanders get their reality check

The Bills’ defense has been even more promising. It forced five turnovers, including a pick-six by defensive end A.J. Epenesa, and recorded nine sacks. Coach Sean McDermott took over defensive play-calling this year after coordinator Leslie Frazier stepped away. After a slow start, he has found his rhythm.

The Bears bottomed out. The Bears endured a strange, destabilizing week. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned under mysterious circumstances. Struggling quarterback Justin Fields explained that he was playing too “robotic,” and when asked why, he theorized that it might be coaching. He later clarified and said he had meant nothing critical toward offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Over the weekend, the Bears discovered thieves had broken into Soldier Field and stolen expensive lawn equipment.

Then Sunday came, and things got worse. The Bears suffered their third consecutive lopsided defeat, a 41-10 loss in which the Chiefs scored the first 41 points. The Bears have lost 13 consecutive games going back to last season. They’ve allowed at least 25 points in all of those losses, and only four have come by one score.

The Bears finished with the NFL’s worst record last year, and they are a strong contender to do so again. New team president Kevin Warren will have to evaluate Coach Matt Eberflus and General Manager Ryan Poles. It would be a challenge to pinpoint even one way in which either has helped the Bears improve. Eberflus has a defensive background, but the Bears’ defense has persistently been porous. Poles held the No. 1 pick last spring, and the Bears are no closer to knowing whether Fields can be a franchise quarterback. Chicago is a franchise in crisis.

Let’s not forget about Myles Garrett. The NFL defensive player of the year discussion has begun and ended with Micah Parsons. But Garrett may have something to say about it. Perpetually dominant, he has been one of the best players in the NFL this season, an unblockable force off the edge. On Sunday, he recorded 3.5 sacks as the Browns crushed the Titans, 27-3.

The Browns’ defense under new coordinator Jim Schwartz has been fantastic. Even with Nick Chubb out for the season after his catastrophic knee injury, the Browns’ defense can keep Cleveland in the tough AFC North race all season. The Browns will be tough to beat, especially at home when the weather turns. They have talent across the board, but it all revolves around Garrett. NFL Week 3: The Dolphins’ offense is a juggernaut, and the Cowboys stumbled

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