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NFL Week 4 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

NFL Week 4 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

Here are Derrick Gunn's five matchups to watch for Week 4 of the NFL season.

Patriots at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)

Head coach Sean McDermott has his Bills playing solid football with a rugged defense and a good run game. But Buffalo has beaten the Jets, Giants, and Bengals to get to 3-0. Now they step up in weight class to slug it out with the defending champs. If Buffalo keeps this game close, even in a losing effort, they will gain a good measure of respect from their peers. But if they get blown out, then you’d have to wonder if they’re legit. I think it's going to be a good, hard-fought battle. The W will go the Patriots' way.

Chiefs at Lions (Sunday 1 p.m., FOX)

Detroit roared into Philadelphia and tamed the Eagles last Sunday to get to 2-0-1. Now they return home for an even stiffer test against the fast and furious Chiefs. K.C. has scored 26 or more points in an NFL-record 24 consecutive regular-season games. They’re lighting up the scoreboard and their most dynamic player, Tyreek Hill, is not even playing (broken collarbone). The Lions have won the last two meetings with K.C., but Patrick Mahomes (10 TD, 0 INT) and these Chiefs are on a different level. The Chiefs stay unblemished.

Browns at Ravens (Sunday 1 p.m., CBS)

Cleveland could have made a statement had they upset the Rams, but it didn’t happen. Give Cleveland props for a good battle, though — especially when you consider they played that game minus eight starters. Baltimore prides itself on defense but got dissected by the Chiefs' offense (503 yards allowed). Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield are exciting to watch. This should be a good, physical game. Ravens will out-physical the Browns.

Vikings at Bears (Sunday 4:25 p.m., CBS)

These two NFC North foes just don’t like each other, and both like to showcase their defenses. The Vikings sacked Oakland’s Derek Carr four times while the Bears dropped the Redskins' Case Keenum four times as well. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook gives Minnesota a lethal run game, but they've have lost nine of their last 11 in Chicago. I had to flip a coin here and it came up Vikings squeaking out a road win.

Dallas at New Orleans (Sunday 8:20 p.m., NBC)

I love watching a great running back duel. Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are two of the best in the game. This matchup loses some of its luster with Drew Brees out. Dak Prescott is on fire, completing 74.5 percent of his passes. We know Dallas is good but their wins over Miami, Washington, and the Giants (a combined 1-8) leaves a few questions unanswered. This time Dallas has luck on its side. No Brees, no way Saints are marching to a win.

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There’s no downside to Eagles’ trade for Jordan Howard

There’s no downside to Eagles’ trade for Jordan Howard

Ever since the Eagles acquired Jordan Howard I’ve been reading that Howard isn’t that good. That his stats his first couple years were the product of John Fox’s archaic run-first system. That his rushing average has dropped every year. That he’s no Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley.

Guess what?

Who cares.

The Eagles didn’t need a superstar running back. They didn’t need an elite running back. What they did need was another weapon. Another piece of the puzzle. Another guy who can make some plays and make this offense better.

And if you can get a 24-year-old kid who’s averaged 1,100 rushing yards and eight TDs in three NFL seasons for a late-round pick and a couple million bucks? There is no downside.

Unless you think the Eagles would be more difficult to defend with Josh Adams or Wendell Smallwood on the field than with Jordan Howard, there’s nothing not to like here.

It’s not about piling up all-pro players. It’s about building an offense that nobody can stop.

And if you’re a defensive coordinator preparing for the Eagles in 2019, you’re dealing with a quarterback who was the MVP front-runner for three months of 2017, one of the best tight ends in the game and a darn good backup, a trio of dangerous receivers and now a capable move-the-chains tailback.

I don’t have to remind anybody that the Eagles won a Super Bowl with a running back corps cobbled together with an aging veteran with just enough left to be dangerous, a mid-year acquisition and an undrafted rookie.

The Eagles haven’t even had anybody rush for 800 yards in five years, and they probably won’t this year. They’ve been to six NFC Championship Games since 2000 and had a 1,000-yard rusher one of those years — that was Duce Staley, their current running backs coach, who barely went over in 2002.

They had an elite running back for six years in LeSean McCoy and went 0-3 in the postseason with him in uniform.

It’s about building an offense, building a unit, and that takes a group of like-minded pros who are willing to sacrifice a little bit in terms of stats for a chance to win big.

That’s the template the Eagles have settled on, and it’s a winning formula.

That’s why this is such a good fit.

The Bears relied so heavily on Howard the last few years. He averaged 17 carries per game since the start of his rookie year in 2016, the third-highest figure in the league.

And if you look at their quarterbacks, you can see why.

Mitch Trubisky, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon and Chase Daniel.

Especially in 2016 and 2017, Howard carried the load because he had to carry the load for two Bears teams that went 8-24.

Here?

Now the pressure is off. Howard doesn’t have to be The Guy. He doesn’t have to be anything except another component of a potentially explosive offense.

And if you’re scared off by the fact that his rushing average has dropped from 5.2 as a rookie to 4.1 in 2017 to 3.7 last year, I would tell you this:

The last five weeks of the 2018 regular season, when the Bears went 4-1 and roared to the NFC North title and a No. 3 playoff seed, Howard averaged 4.5 yards per carry, with 100-yard games against the Vikings and Rams.

Shot fighter? Doesn’t look that way.

Two predictions:

1. Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott will rush for more yards in 2019 than Jordan Howard.

2. The Eagles will win more games in 2019 than the Giants and Cowboys.

Howard might not be a superstar, and he might not be a Pro Bowler, and he probably won’t rush for 1,000 yards.

He’s not flashy. He’s not an accomplished receiver. He’s never had a touchdown longer than 21 yards.

These are all facts.

But here’s another fact: The Eagles are a better team today than they were yesterday.

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3 things to know about Jordan Howard from the Bears' perspective

3 things to know about Jordan Howard from the Bears' perspective

Jordan Howard is on the move.

Following months of trade speculation surrounding the 24-year-old running back, the Bears have traded Howard to the Eagles for a 2020 sixth round draft pick. Conditions of the trade can change the pick to a fifth round selection, however.

What can Philadelphia expect from Howard, though?

1. Howard is part of an exclusive company since joining the league in 2016

Only three NFL players have accounted for at least 250 touches and 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of the last three seasons. The first two are somewhat obvious in Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Rams running back Todd Gurley. The third, though, is none other than Jordan Howard.

Elliott (No. 4 pick in 2016) and Gurley (No. 10 pick in 2015) entered the NFL with more pedigree than Howard, the No. 150 pick in 2016. And while he has not been much of a threat in the passing game (72 career receptions for 568 yards and one touchdown), Howard has been a workhorse for the Bears’ rushing attack.

His season-by-season totals:

 • 2016: 252 attempts, 1,313 yards, 5.2 avg.
 • 2017: 276 attempts, 1,122 yards, 4.1 avg.
 • 2018: 250 attempts, 935 yards, 3.7 avg.

2. Howard’s 2018 stat line isn’t entirely his fault

Howard fit less in Matt Nagy’s offensive scheme than that of former Bears head coach John Fox

Questions regarding how Howard fit in Nagy’s scheme surrounded him for much of 2018. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago’s John Mullin reported that the Bears discussed a potential trade involving Howard and then-Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry.

Nagy’s pass-heavy West Coast offense did not necessarily hurt Howard’s overall rushing attempts, but his production certainly suffered. Not only did his yards per carry drop to 3.7, but his rushing attempts pergame dropped from 17.3 in 2017 to 15.6 in 2018.

Howard’s average yards before contact fell dramatically as well. From Pro Football Focus:

Essentially, while Howard’s yards after contact remained steady, the Bears’ offensive line was not helping him as much as it did in 2016 and 2017. Blame does not belong solely on the offensive line, as Howard forced fewer missed tackles in 2018 than he did in 2016 or 2017.

Howard rushed for 100-plus yards seven times in 2016, five times in 2017 and just two times in 2018. With the Bears’ pass-heavy offense in full-force, the writing was on the wall regarding Howard’s future with the Bears.

3. Howard finds the end zone often

Not only does Howard eat up yards, but he finds the end zone consistently. Since 2017, only Gurley (30) and Saints running back Alvin Kamara (22) have more rushing touchdowns than Howard’s 18.

Kamara has more overall rushing touchdowns since 2017. However, only Gurley and Howard have rushed for nine or more touchdowns in that span.

https://twitter.com/john_gonoude/status/1111423891346350081

Eagles running backs combined for just 12 rushing touchdowns in 2018, so Howard should bring some stability to the group.

It’s worth nothing that Howard is set to hit free agency following the 2019 season. For just a sixth/fifth round pick, though, taking a flyer on one of the most consistent backs in the NFL is a worthwhile investment for Doug Pederson and the Eagles.

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