Welcome to the War Room, where Yahoo Sports’ football minds kick around the key topics of the week. Want to ask us a question? Email here. This week, we’re talking early judgments and Ezekiel Elliott. Onward!
Question 1: Currently eight teams sit at 2-0. Which of these teams won’t be around come playoff time?
The Ravens will fade. The defense is good, though we have to keep in mind they dominated the Bengals and Browns. The offense is not good and keeps losing players to injury. I can’t imagine a team this decimated on offense winning 10 or more games.
As our colleague Charles Robinson wrote earlier this week, Carolina needs to find a way to protect Cam Newton. Considering how porous the offensive line looked against the Bills, there should be legitimate concern that we won’t see a fully healthy Newton all season, which means we’re one hit away from Derek Anderson and all hope going down the drain. In addition to the Newton issue and despite giving up just six points in two games, I’m not entirely sold on the defense being able to carry this team while Christian McCaffrey has struggled early in his NFL career. Combine all of that with a strong NFC South and I’m not sure Carolina gets in come January.
You’ve got to figure that the Steelers, Falcons, Chiefs, and Raiders will still be around in January. The Broncos’ defense is vicious enough to carry them there, too. That leaves the Lions, Panthers, and Ravens, and which of those teams gives you confidence? All have glaring weaknesses, but if I had to pick, and I guess I do, I’ll say that the Lions will still be in the playoff hunt and the Panthers and Ravens will fade.
The Panthers have given up just six points this year. That’s the good. But the 2015 NFC champs won’t be around come the postseason. Cam Newton just hasn’t looked like the guy he was two years ago, and his favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, just broke his foot. This is a playoff-caliber defense, but in a division with the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints, you have to have a playoff-caliber offense to hang around, and the Panthers don’t have that. We’ll learn a lot in the next three weeks with Carolina hosting New Orleans and then heading to New England and Detroit for back-to-back challenging road trips.
[Watch on Yahoo: Ravens vs. Jaguars live from London Sept. 24]
I still don’t believe in the Ravens. Defensively, they are very good. But Joe Flacco has done next to nothing in two games, and the Danny Woodhead injury is a killer.
Shalise Manza Young:
Have to join my esteemed colleagues saying the Ravens. Yes, Baltimore doesn’t have much say over its schedule or control over its opponents and what they do in terms of team-building, but the Ravens’ two wins came against the Bengals and Browns, who are a combined 0-4. Flacco’s back – like most people’s backs – may go out again, playing without Woodhead makes life tougher, the O-line took a major hit with Marshal Yanda’s injury, and the defense, which has its own share of injuries, surrendered almost 400 yards to Cleveland.
This is still a league where you’re only as good as your quarterback, and your quarterback can’t be truly great without a strong offensive line. This should make Carolina Panthers fans a bit reserved even with a 2-0 start. Watching Cam Newton get beat up by the Bills last week was gruesome from every perspective. And if that’s what Buffalo can do to the Panthers’ line, imagine what’ll happen they face the Falcons. No one wants to think about Newton getting injured, but having Derek Anderson or Brad Kaaya playing in the former MVP’s place isn’t too comforting a thought, either. Add in the loss of Greg Olsen for the year and you get a decent uphill battle for a team only two years removed from the Super Bowl. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliott, on the ground. (AP)
Question 2: Ezekiel Elliott took a few plays off against Denver on Sunday, including one where he was caught with hands on hips while the play was still happening. Is this a problem for the Cowboys?
In the grand scheme of things, Elliott isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, professional athlete to give up on a play or not run out a ground ball as aggressively as they could, though this is another example of Elliott’s immaturity. I think the Browns’ Joe Thomas – who, sadly, knows a thing or two about losing, offered a highly plausible explanation on “PFT Live”: “Some people will take this the wrong way, but you have to learn how to lose,” Thomas said. “Because in college a lot of times these guys come from programs where they don’t lose a lot, and so as soon as things are going poorly it’s easy for those guys to just throw in the towel, and I think we saw that with Ezekiel. …I think for young players it’s difficult sometimes because they just don’t know how to handle it and it takes, sometimes, you know, public shaming like Ezekiel’s getting right now to learn that just because you’re losing a game doesn’t mean it’s time to go quit, because you’re quitting on your teammates and you’re quitting on the game.” The Buckeyes went 38-4 in Elliott’s three seasons, and Dallas was 14-3 last year, when he was a rookie. –Young
It’s bad. Really, it’s inexcusable. Sure, Zeke was frustrated with his inability to find room to run on Sunday, but you don’t quit. What if he hustles back and knocks the ball out from behind? The Cowboys were down, but they certainly weren’t out of the game; remember their comeback last year against the Packers to force overtime? When Dak Prescott threw his late-game pick six on Sunday, he hustled back, and he did that despite the game being, at that point, all but over. If Dak does it in far worse conditions, why can’t Zeke? The good thing for the Cowboys is they have the leadership in place — Jason Garrett, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, namely — to get this straightened out. –Pereles
Despite dodging a six-game suspension for a domestic violence case, the second-year running back failed to chase down a play against Denver following a Dak Prescott interception. The play had little to do with the final outcome of the game itself – Dallas lost 42-17 – but instead once again displayed the aloofness of a young superstar living in a severely morphed perception of reality. –Schultz
Are you reading this while you’re supposed to be working? Yeah? Then I sincerely hope you aren’t coming down hard on Ezekiel Elliott. (Now, if Zeke was reading Yahoo Sports while he should have been playing, we’d be very disappointed.) –Busbee
I long for the day when a single bad play isn’t a referendum on a player’s overall character or commitment to his team. And this was a bad play. Everything about it, from the throw to Dez Bryant’s attempt to catch went awry. Is it really worth making such a big deal about Elliott’s actions? Of course not. He’s allowed to get frustrated. That doesn’t mean Dallas’ coaches don’t need to address this with him, but that conversation shouldn’t go on longer than Jason Garrett saying, “Hey, don’t ever quit on a play.” Seriously, that’s it. There’s no need for an intervention. No one should try to send Elliott a message. Just move on and worry about bigger things. –Schuster
I think at this point people are looking to pile on Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s probably just a bit unfair. Elliott is arguably the most important player in the Cowboys offense so when he doesn’t get going, things can get ugly, especially on the road against Denver’s absurdly talented defense. Right now, he’s under the biggest microscope in the league thanks to the ongoing drama surrounding his suspension, so it’s really easy for fans and the media to target him. I bet if we rewind footage on every interception thrown in the NFL there will be players dogging it, this just happened to be the perfect storm to rip on Elliott. Good news is, Christmas is coming and those big Salvation Army pots with it. –Sulla
Overblown. Those who are outraged about this really need to take a deep breath and calm down. We have this weird fantasy that football players need to go full speed every single play. I’ll give the guy who took more punishment than anyone else in the NFL last season a pass. Elliott wasn’t in a position to make a play and I’m not sure why we need him to run after the play to appease us. If you’re really, truly arguing that Elliott has an overall issue with effort, after he carried Dallas’ offense all last season, you’re not thinking clearly. –Schwab
Your turn. Got a question you want the crew to discuss? Hit us up right here. See you next week!
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.