Who has the most on the line in NFL Week 4? Teams, coaches, and players under pressure entering October

Who's under the most scrutiny in Week 4 of the NFL season? Panthers coach Matt Rhule and Steelers QB Mitchell Trubisky will be among those in the spotlight.

Once the final whistle blows on Week 4 of the 2022 NFL campaign, we’ll already be nearly a quarter of the way through the season. While it’s still too soon to make significant conclusions about the league, there’s no denying that some teams and individuals are already facing more scrutiny than others.

Let’s take a closer look at the teams, coaches, and players facing some sort of pressure in Week 4. From coaches in desperate need of a win to players on the brink of new opportunities, these situations will be under the microscope on Sunday.

NFL Week 4 scrutiny | The head coaches

It’s only been three weeks, but a few head coaches have already come under fire. Week 4 is too early for must-win games, but we might be getting close to that point.

Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals vs. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers

The NFL is a results-based league, and two of the head coaches who need immediate turnarounds happen to be facing each other on Sunday. The NFC looks like the watered-down conference we expected through three weeks, so it’s hard to count any team out of the postseason race. But the loser of Week 4’s Cardinals-Panthers game will move to 1-3, leaving either Rhule or Kingsbury on the hottest of hot seats.

Rhule’s choice for offensive coordinator, former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, hasn’t brought any interesting ideas to Carolina. Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore are being utilized at worse rates than they were with lesser quarterbacks than Baker Mayfield.

Meanwhile, Mayfield himself looks like a shell of the signal-caller who was an above-average starter for two seasons in Cleveland. Untangle all of those lackluster performances, and the thread points back to Rhule, who hasn’t built any sort of sustainable offensive structure for the Panthers.

Rhule’s opponent entered the 2022 campaign with far greater expectations after earning a playoff berth, but Kingsbury’s Cardinals haven’t played inspired football this season. They have faced a difficult schedule to open the year, but Arizona’s offense has devolved, leaving Kyler Murray to extend plays and create opportunities outside of structure consistently. As such, the Cards’ offense hasn’t been able to make up for a defense struck by regression through three weeks.

No one wants to see coaches lose their jobs, but the reality is that at least one of Rhule or Kingsbury may not make it through the season in charge. Both have contracts with guaranteed money for at least the next four years, but that probably won’t stop either team’s ownership from making a change.

Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders are one of only two winless teams remaining in the NFL, but unlike the Texans, Las Vegas didn’t manage a tie. Set up to play the fifth-most-difficult in the league, the Raiders have hung tough in all three of their games but haven’t yet emerged with a victory.

Las Vegas is in an odd position. They’re simultaneously trying to clean up the mess made by former general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden while also (nominally) attempting to compete in the AFC West. A team can’t sacrifice a first- and second-round pick for 29-year-old Davante Adams and claim they’re building for the future.

Adams, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller give Derek Carr an enviable set of weapons, and Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones form one of the NFL’s more imposing pass-rush duos. But the rest of Vegas’ roster needs a lot of work.

Owner Mark Davis is in this for the long haul, and McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler aren’t in danger of being fired anytime soon. The Raiders’ playoff hopes are likely already dashed, but they need to start showing something as a result of their offseason investments. Games against the Broncos this week and the Texans in Week 7 stand out as winnable matchups among an upcoming slate that includes the Chiefs, Saints, Jaguars, and Colts.

NFL Week 4 scrutiny | The quarterbacks

At least one signal-caller could risk losing his job with a poor Week 4 performance. For others, even a modicum of improvement would represent a step forward.

Zach Wilson, New York Jets vs. Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers

Trubisky is coming off his best game of the season, but it still resulted in a 29-17 loss to the Browns on Thursday night. At a certain point, it’s fair to wonder what Pittsburgh has to gain by continuing to play the former Bears starter.

The Steelers may not want to throw first-round pick Kenny Pickett into the fire for a brutal stretch that involves games against some of the NFL’s best and most creative defenses, including the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Eagles, and Saints from Weeks 5-10. But if Pittsburgh falls to 1-3 with a loss to the Jets on Sunday, it will be hard to keep Pickett on the bench.

On the other side of the field, New York will see the return of Wilson, who missed the year’s first three games after undergoing preseason knee surgery. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft will get the next 14 games to prove he’s the future for the Jets. The pressure on Wilson is less immediate than it is on Trubisky, but the second-year QB needs to make a good impression in his first game back.

Justin Fields, Chicago Bears vs. Daniel Jones, New York Giants

The Bears and Giants are a combined 4-2 heading into Week 4, but this game will center around continued quarterback evaluation more than it will a final score.

Fields has only attempted 45 passes through three games, an unfathomably low number in today’s NFL. Chicago’s new regime didn’t draft Fields, and although they’ve publicly lauded him, a game plan that effectively removes him from the offensive equation speaks louder than empty praise.

New York is also dealing with a holdover under center, and Brian Daboll and Co.’s assessment of Jones could lead to action this offseason. Jones played his worst game of the year against the Cowboys on Monday night, and his receiving corps is getting thinner by the day.

The Giants will almost surely move on in 2023, but Jones’ performance over the rest of the season will determine whether he’s competing for a starting job elsewhere next season or beginning his journey as a long-term NFL backup.

Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders

Wentz tossed seven touchdowns over his first two games with the Commanders, but he bottomed out in Week 3 against the Eagles. He took nine sacks against his former team, consistently failing to get rid of the ball while posting just 4.91 adjusted yards per attempt.

Washington has no financial obligation to Wentz after this season, and if he continues to play like he did last week, the calls for a return to Taylor Heinicke will begin in earnest. A Week 4 matchup with Micah Parsons and the Dallas Cowboys won’t make things any easier, especially if Wentz has to play with a third-string center.

NFL Week 4 scrutiny | The teams

Some teams need a win in Week 4 to save their season. But we’ll begin in Denver, where the Broncos just need to stop embarrassing themselves.

Denver Broncos

After defeating the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, the Broncos are 2-1 — but it still feels like they’re light years away from competing with the Bills, Chiefs, and the rest of the elite AFC squads. Denver’s defense has given up the second-fewest points in the league through three weeks, but the competition (Seattle, Houston, San Francisco) hasn’t exactly been stout.

The core issues are on the other side of the ball. The Broncos have entirely botched the red zone, scoring a touchdown on a league-low 14.3% of their attempts inside the 20. And despite hiring a game management consultant prior to Week 3, Nathaniel Hackett still made two fourth-down decisions that cost his team more than four percentage points of win expectancy each.

Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts and Titans staved off disaster by beating the Chiefs and Raiders, respectively, in Week 3, but they’ll again be fighting for their playoff lives in Week 4. The Jaguars are threatening to run away with the division, and the loser of Sunday’s Indy-Tennessee game will virtually eliminate themselves from AFC South contention.

There are numerous issues with both teams’ rosters, but they’re essentially fighting against the same enemy — time. The Colts are on their fifth quarterback in five seasons, and 37-year-old Matt Ryan may no longer be capable of overcoming an offensive line that’s seemingly gone from elite to poor overnight and a receiving corps that lacks options beyond Michael Pittman Jr.

The Titans saw this decline coming and took a step back by trading A.J. Brown to the Eagles in the offseason. But that deal only served to make 2022 an awkward season. One year after earning the AFC’s No. 1 seed, Tennessee’s veteran-laden roster is at odds with a need for a rebuild.

Detroit Lions

Everyone’s favorite preseason sleeper, the Lions have only registered one victory through three weeks. Yet, their offense has been fun to watch, and they’ve remained competitive in every game. They’ll face pressure on Sunday, but only in terms of meeting expectations.

Detroit will enter their Week 4 matchup against the Seahawks as the betting favorite for the first time since Week 11 of the 2020 season. After covering as underdogs against the Eagles, Commanders, and Vikings, the Lions opened as 6.5-point favorites, but the line has since moved to 4.5. A win against Seattle will keep Detroit squarely in the NFC race.

Who else is under pressure in NFL Week 4?

Let’s wrap up with a few more players who have something on the line on Sunday, starting with the league’s most exciting receiver.

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Jefferson has absolutely nothing left to prove in the NFL after two outstanding seasons, but he’s going through a mini (very mini!) slump. His 62 total receiving yards in Weeks 2-3 represent the lowest output over a two-game stretch in his career.

After getting held in check by Darius Slay and Jeff Okudah (the latter of whom was aided by generous safety help), Jefferson will face the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore, who has allowed just five receptions for 31 yards all season.

Vikings head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin O’Connell might be under just as much pressure as Jefferson, as he’s the one tasked with getting his star receiver away from double- and triple-teams.

Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris, New England Patriots

Mac Jones (ankle) is still holding out hope of starting in Week 4, but Brian Hoyer will almost assuredly get the call for the Patriots. Hoyer last started for New England in Week 4 of the 2020 campaign. As 11-point underdogs against the Chiefs, the Patriots limited Hoyer to 24 attempts and rushed the ball 35 times in a 26-10 loss.

This week, Hoyer and the Patriots are laying 10.5 points on the road against the Packers, and I’d expect a similar game plan. Harris — who was on New England’s roster for Hoyer’s previous start — and Stevenson could conceivably handle upwards of 40 total attempts. Green Bay is dead last in run defense DVOA, so leaning into the run game is a smart strategy for the Pats, regardless of who’s under center.

Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills

Free agent contracts are primarily based on production, but name value also plays a factor. Edmunds has a first-round pedigree and plays on one of the NFL’s best defenses, so he’s already ahead in that department. He’ll have a chance to raise his stock even further with a solid performance against Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in Week 4.

Andrews does a lot of work over the middle of the field in the short-to-intermediate range, right where Edmunds is usually stationed. The last time Buffalo faced Baltimore (the AFC Divisional Round in January 2021), Edmunds was targeted four times while covering Andrews, the most of any Bills defender, per PFF. If he can help slow down Andrews in Week 4’s marquee matchup, Edmunds could begin to shoot toward the top of the 2023 free agent linebacker list.

Jamaree Salyer, Los Angeles Chargers

Storm Norton replaced Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater after he tore his biceps in Week 3, but Los Angeles is going in another direction against the Texans in Week 4.

Salyer, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Georgia, will block on Justin Herbert’s blindside on Sunday. Viewed as a potential guard convert leading up to the draft, Salyer will instead see his first taste of NFL action at the same position he handled for the Bulldogs.

He’ll benefit from working alongside veteran left guard Matt Feiler, but Salyer will face a Houston defense that’s generated pressure at a 27.8% clip, tied for seventh-best in the league. The rookie will primarily line up across from Jerry Hughes, who looks rejuvenated in his age-34 season and has already posted four sacks.

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