We've spent the majority of the first quarter of the NFL season focusing on the four teams with perfect records.
Let's get off of the New England-Indianapolis-Dallas-Green Bay bandwagon for a moment and take a closer look at the four teams residing a notch below: The members of the 3-1 Club.
Just how good are Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tampa Bay? Do any of them merit being mentioned in the same breath as the unbeaten? Is it conceivable that any of them could actually be better even if their record says otherwise? Is it possible that any of them could eventually move ahead of the Patriots, Colts, Cowboys, or Packers?
"We will be an elite team here," Marinelli assured reporters in Detroit. "We've just got to clean up just some of the other issues, and once we get those cleaned up, then we're going to be really, really humming."
By "other issues," he wasn't referring to his talent. He was talking about penalties, turnovers, and better overall execution. In other words, Marinelli was saying there isn't a whole lot that separates the Lions from ranking as among the league's heavyweights.
If that's so, then it's worth taking a closer look at all four 3-1 teams (in alphabetical order) to see just where they stand in relation to the 4-0s:
This is what makes them legitimately good: Jon Kitna's throwing arm, a highly talented group of receivers, and the aggressive play-calling of offensive coordinator Mike Martz that takes full advantage of the NFL's top-rated passing attack. Roy Williams is a dominant pass-catcher and rookie Calvin Johnson has shown that he can live up to his billing as a consistent game-breaker. But what's even more impressive is the depth in the receiving corps. With Johnson injured, Mike Furrey stepped into the No. 2 spot against the Bears and lead the Lions in receiving yards.
This is what makes them potentially vulnerable: Poor pass protection. The Lions have allowed a league-high 21 sacks. They rank second-to-last in the league in rushing. And their 12 turnovers are second-most in the NFL.
This is what makes them legitimately good: The NFL's second-ranked defense, which is eighth against the run and pass; the league's third-best rushing attack, and a smart, even-tempered rookie coach in Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are capable of making most opposing offenses one-dimensional, which opens the door for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to turn loose his wide variety of zone-blitzing (the Steelers have gotten sacks from nine different players this season). Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has shown a willingness to be more wide open with the passing game, although that didn't work so well in a Week 4 loss at Arizona. The Steelers still tend to be at their best when they use their traditional power-oriented approach.
This is what makes them potentially vulnerable: A big-play passing attack can have success against the Steelers' secondary, especially on the perimeter. The Seahawks will pose such a challenge in Week 5. Ben Roethlisberger has rebounded well from his poor 2006 season, but still is not a consistently proficient pocket passer. When faced with pressure, his first instinct is to run outside. Opponents that do a good job of containing him can force him to take sacks or hurry him into poor throws.
This is what makes them legitimately good: A strong passing game, with efficient Matt Hasselbeck throwing to speedy receivers Deion Branch and Nate Burleson, as well as savvied veteran Bobby Ingram. The ability to run the ball well, provided Shaun Alexander is healthy. A relentless pass rush, led by linebacker Julian Peterson along with Patrick Kerney and Daryl Tapp coming off the edges. The Seahawks trust cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings to play man coverage most of the time (although that could prove dangerous against Pittsburgh receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington), which gives them extra people to crowd the line and force opponents to become one-dimensional. Their pass rush usually gets the job done on third-and-long.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is what makes them legitimately good: The deft passing of veteran Jeff Garcia, who finally gives Jon Gruden a quarterback who thoroughly understands how to operate the West Coast offense to perfection. A solid running game, which, despite the season-ending knee injury to Cadillac Williams in Week 4, still can get meaningful production from Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham. The NFL's fifth-ranked defense, which is sixth against the pass. The Bucs are able to move the chains with Garcia's short and intermediate throws Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, and Ike Hilliard. The shorter throws and steady running also help set up Galloway for the occasional game-breaking catch.
This is what makes them potentially vulnerable: Losing Williams makes the rushing attack thinner. The season-ending knee injury that left offensive tackle Luke Petitgout also suffered in Week 4 is another blow. Rookie Donald Penn takes over for Petitgout, and figures to be in for a long day making his first start in Week 5 against standout Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney.