We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
NFL Week 5
- Dallas is in deep, deep trouble… Part two
It was true last week. It’s doubly so after week five despite a narrow win over the hapless Giants. The gruesome ankle injury that Dak Prescott suffered was hard to watch, but not nearly as hard to see as him being carted off in tears. Those were tears of pain, sure. But they were also the tears of a man who isn’t sure if he’s lost his future, as well. Prescott was playing the 2020 season on the franchise tag after long term negotiations with Jerry Jones hit a stalemate over the offseason. Dallas had always hoped to lock Prescott down for his entire career, here’s hoping that they still have the same mindset after an extended recovery period.
- Henry Ruggs III was worth that first-round pick
Speed kills. Kansas City knows it. They just aren’t used to being on the other side of this particular narrative. The rookie WR decimated Kansas City’s defense with just two catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Why? Because Kansas City was so worried about him that they allowed Derek Carr to spread the ball around at will. In the end, Carr hit ten different receivers for a total of 347 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. I’ve poked fun at the Raiders over the years for being far too dependent on speed as a draft day decision maker, but what can I say, when it works, it works. Raiders points per game with Ruggs? 36 PPG. Without him? 21.5 PPG. Case closed. P.S. The Raiders are for real, as their two losses are both to playoff teams (Patriots, Bills), but let’s not look read too much into that upset win over the Chiefs, they just couldn’t keep up.
- The NFL can’t go on like this
As the Patriots-Broncos game got delayed, then bumped back into week six, we got a glimpse of how the league hopes to handle positive Covid tests, and it’s well…not good. The game was pushed back a week, forcing a week five bye for both the Pats and the Broncos, who were none to happy to have a last-minute bye week after a full week of practices. The previously scheduled week six tilt between Denver and Miami will of course be moved, creating a waterfall of scheduling shuffles. Given the low number of positive tests in New England (three, total), this response is simply impossible to duplicate every time a team has a positive test. There’s just not enough weeks to play if even two more teams have positive tests and emergency bye weeks have already been issued. Do I have an answer? Maybe. It’s remarkably simple but would likely run afoul of NFL purists and bean counters alike. My plan goes like this. Cancel all redundant divisional games. Period. “What about the home/away split?” Doesn’t matter, there’s a pandemic going on. If you want sports, you need to make sacrifices. “It’s not fair…” Sorry but scheduling never is unless the season is a simple round robin scenario. “The loss of revenue…” is a drop in the bucket long term to protect players, coaches and staff through this nightmare. The beauty of this plan lies in its simplicity. Every team would immediately have four bye weeks over the remaining seventeen-week season to shift, maneuver and work around any positive tests, facility closures and opposing team infections. The flexibility gained by shortening the season this way has any number of positives without lengthening the season by a month or more and/or having the season grind to a halt as teams pass infections around league-wide. It will never happen, but it would probably be the best way to navigate the strangest year in league history.
- The axe falls again
This time in Atlanta. And not just for head coach Dan Quinn, who barely survived the 2019 season. GM Thomas Dimitroff was also relieved of his duties, leaving the 0-5 Falcons more than a little adrift. Coming to the front will be defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who will become the Falcons interim head coach and you’d have to assume the front-runner for the job if he can engineer a bit of a turnaround. Morris was the Buccaneers head coach for three years, from 2009-2011, going 17-31 over the duration with just one winning season, but the turnaround from 2009 to 2010 was the biggest win percentage increase in Buccaneers history, so he knows how to make changes system-wide. There are some glimmers of hope in Atlanta, as they’ve been in position to win every week except for that blowout by the undefeated Packers in week four. Matt Ryan ranks fourth among passing yardage leaders, but the defense has been atrocious, allowing the second-most points league-wide (161). It’s probably too late to talk about the playoffs but salvaging a six or seven-win season would probably earn Morris a shot at the gig long-term. As for the rumors that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones might be on the trading block as a rebuild is imminent, ignore that nonsense. Raheem Morris isn’t that silly, and Arthur Blank isn’t either.
- When Ryan Fitzpatrick is good, he’s all time good
We know. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a journeyman backup quarterback who has played on literally one quarter of the league’s thirty-two teams. That’s not an exaggeration. In his fifteen seasons, Fitzpatrick has suited up in eight different uniforms. But putting aside the inconsistency for just a moment, can we talk about what he did in week five, as the Dolphins mauled the reigning NFC champion 49ers 43-17? Fitzmagic had a career game, hitting nine different receivers for 350 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Dude only had six incompletions all day, for a completion percentage of almost 79%. That’s rarified air, people. Ryan Tannehill never put together a game like that (350+ yards, completion % >75%) in his career as a Dolphin. In fact, per NFL.com, no one in Miami history has. Not even Miami-area legend Dan Marino. I know we’re all excited about Tua down on South Beach but pump the brakes. If you can give Tua a year to fully rehab, strengthen and learn, you give him the best chance to become the NFL signal caller we all think he can be… if healthy. Let Fitz be magic, at least this year.
- Chase Claypool is the weapon the Steelers needed
Let’s be honest. Juju Smith-Schuster never became the WR1 Steelers fans expected when Antonio Brown left town. Juju is a top tier WR2, but he just doesn’t inspire the requisite fear in opposing defensive coordinators. After week five, Chase Claypool will. The rookie receiver hauled in seven passes for 110 yards and 3 touchdowns and added a rushing TD for good measure. He’s been a big play specialist for Pittsburgh thus far, seeing as how his huge game on Sunday actually dropped his per catch average to a whopping 20.1 YPC. Pittsburgh is 4-0 and rolling, and Claypool catching fire will just open up the offense, making room for some huge games by Smith-Schuster, among others. Baltimore might not be the AFC North lock that we all thought that they were.
- Aaron Donald is getting better (is that even possible?)
One of the tough things about analyzing Aaron Donald is that you generally need to watch him specifically every play and then dig into some secondary stats to understand just how much he’s influencing a game. He can record no sacks, one deflection and one solo tackle, but still be the most important player on the field for the Rams. He’s generally double teamed and takes a while to wear down opposing offensive linemen. But…what if he starts to break out of that mold? He sure did on Sunday against Washington, recording four sacks, bringing his total to 7.5 on the season. That’s a torrid pace, well ahead of what’s needed to eclipse the NFL single season record for sacks. One thing is certain, Aaron Donald needs to be back in the DPOY conversation, and that’s bad for the rest of the NFC West.
- The Panthers are roaring (without Christian McCaffrey)
It may seem counterintuitive, but the Panthers have jumped out of a bad offensive rut in the absence of their best player. Run CMC is undoubtably the best player on the Panthers roster, but evolving the game plan in his absence has opened up the scheme and made Carolina look far more dangerous in a crowded NFC South. They’ve won all three games since his injury and Teddy Bridgewater has started to show why he was once the future of the Vikings because the offensive play calling is far more balanced. When McCaffrey went down in week two, the Panthers looked like an afterthought, but now they look ready to compete, especially as the star running back gets closer to a return. If they can integrate him without forgetting their other weapons, they’ll be a wildcard contender.
- A.J. Green wants out
You don’t need to be a lip reader to understand what A.J. Green was saying. The Bengals star receiver just hasn’t found his rhythm with new quarterback Joe Burrow after missing all of 2019 to injury. No matter what the reason, he’s got a point. They aren’t targeting him, and the Bengals can get some picks for his potential upside. Green has averaged over a thousand yards per season for the past decade but is on pace for barely a third of that in a reduced role. He’s languishing this season in Cincinnati, and the Bengals would be wise to get something for him while contending teams still perceive him as a valuable commodity. Even if he’s not a pure number one receiver at this point in his career (I suspect he can be), he’d still be a serious shot in the arm to any number of teams with aspirations of a deep playoff run.
- We’re running out of ways to say “wow” about Russell Wilson
Even when Wilson isn’t great for the whole game, he’s amazing. Wilson threw an uncharacteristic interception and managed only about 225 yards against Minnesota on Sunday. Seattle was shut out for a half, and the Vikings controlled the ball for nearly forty minutes of game time. But…and you knew that there was going to be a but…then Seattle went ballistic, scoring three straight touchdowns and just like that, the Seahawks are driving at the end of the game with a chance to win. You know, I know, and everyone in the world knows how this story ends by now. Wilson hits D.K. Metcalf for the game winning score with just seconds left on the clock. It’s becoming a clutch time cliché, like Big Papi in the playoffs, but we just can’t look away. I’d like to see the Seahawks dominate someone, but it seems like that just isn’t in their DNA.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.
Image Source: AP Images