The OCHO: Week 10
Here we go…
Surprise Number One: There are NO elite teams
The last two weeks have seen a steady parade of upsets. Among the surprising outcomes, Washington over Tampa Bay, Miami over Baltimore, Vikings over Chargers, Panthers over Cardinals, Titans over Rams, Broncos over Cowboys, Jaguars over Bills, Falcons over Saints and Lions tying the Steelers. The reality is that is the season goes by, teams tend to move toward a more even balance. Injuries logically damage good teams more than bad, because good teams have good players and replacing those players are usually bad players. If bad teams replace a bad player with another bad player, oh well. But for good teams, losing a good player means they are taking a major hit. Look at Cardinals/Panthers. Neither team had a good QB for the game. But the Cardinals started the season with Kyler Murray. That’s a huge drop off for them. Now, they are basically just as good as Carolina. Beyond that, there simply aren’t any elite teams this season. No one team is so overwhelming they can’t lose on any given week. Every good team has a noticeable flaw (see this). This season’s playoffs will be VERY interesting.
Surprise Number Two: There is an exception to every rule
It’s not a surprise that the rebuilding Jets are bad. What is surprising is HOW bad they are. The Jets have the worst defense in the NFL right now and it isn’t particularly close. In surprise number one I mentioned that injuries generally hit good teams harder than bad ones but there are exceptions to that. The Jets came into this season with very few meaningful defenders. Carl Lawson and Marcus Maye (and now CJ Mosley is hurt) were two of them and both are out for the season. A bad team losing the few pieces that were giving a chance to compete can take it from bad to epically awful, and that is what has happened here. Good teams love to take advantage of mismatches. What happens when every single player on the field is a mismatch? 54, 31, 45 and 45. That’s what. No amount of clever scheming can make up for having absolutely no good players.
Surprise Number Three: The Ravens don’t seem to have an answer for DB blitzes
The Dolphins tried out a very interesting strategy for their shocking beatdown of the Ravens on Thursday night. Blitzing a cavalcade of defensive backs at a rate not seen in the statcast era. Usually this strategy causes a very dangerous situation in the secondary as the lack of DBs leads to wide open WRs and huge plays. That never materialized for the Ravens however. A mix of drops, questionable reads from Lamar Jackson, poor play calls and bad blitz pickup led to repeated failure and the Dolphins took advantage, stonewalling a very explosive Ravens offense until the game was essentially out of hand. The Ravens got burned two weeks before in their matchup against the Bengals and seem to have still not developed a way to address this. Not every team will have the quality of cover corners the Dolphins do to get away with this, but they can expect to see variations of this for the rest of the season until they figure it out.
Surprise Number Four: When you don’t know one of the three possible football game outcomes
What do Najee Harris, Donovan McNabb and Cam Newton have in common? None of them knew an NFL game could end in a tie while playing in the NFL. It’s a little more egregious for a QB, who you would think would be making decisions based on this possibility. Najee just does what he can when he gets the ball. Still, it’s odd. You would think this would be one of those things they would cover in orientation. Like, here is your parking pass, you play for the Steelers, this is your coach Mike Tomlin and we are trying to win each week, not lose or tie. I am not really here to insult Harris, everybody has stuff they don’t know that maybe they should, I am here to say that this game was horrible in every way and the only thing I want to remember about it is this humorous anecdote. Seriously, this has to be one of the worst NFL games in recorded history. My seven year old son was watching and just casually said “This is a bad game”. He was right. He said the exact same thing about Packers-Seahawks an hour later, and he was right about that too. Smart kid.
Expected Thing One: Yeah, yeah. We know
The Falcons had raised expectations amongst their fan base with a surprising run that had put them in position to be a playoff contender after wins over the Dolphins, Jets, Saints (post-Jameis), and Giants. But look at that list again. That is a bad list. They also sprinkled in losses to Sam Darnold and Taylor Heinicke. This Sunday they faced their first NFL quarterback since WEEK 2 (Tom Brady). The results were catastrophic. This tweet from the official account arrived at halftime. Not the end of the game. Halftime. This game was over so fast the Cowboys could have shuffled in the second string for the last drive of the first half. The Falcons have a bad defense that has simply avoided playing a good quarterback. They are not a playoff team, and this result shows it.
Expected Thing Two: Patrick Mahomes is still a good quarterback
Reports of Patrick Mahomes demise have been greatly exaggerated. He is still an elite QB in this league and he reminded everyone in a Sunday Night tear down in Las Vegas. Mahomes looked like the player he has been his entire career following a few down weeks that certainly raised some concerns. The biggest thing I noticed was that he spent most of the game in the pocket making smart, quick decisions. This is critical for the rest of the season. His quick bailing on the pocket and insistence on trying to create massive plays every time was costing the team. He eliminated this and turned to a lot of quick dump offs when the play called for it, saving the deep plays for when they were really needed. Mostly, they controlled the ball and moved for a string of long drives that also helped keep their bad defense off the field. We will see if they can continue this against teams who’s season isn’t descending into chaos next week against the strong Cowboys.
Expected Thing Three: The Packers defense is still good
After two weeks of holding down Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes, the Packer defense smothered Russell Wilson. The Packers defense has been shockingly effective this season, but as the season goes along, it is becoming less of a surprise. Despite not having their two best players (Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith), the Packers defense is now consistently holding down good offenses. Their rise this season combined with a strong ground game propping up the slipping Aaron Rodgers is giving this team real late career John Elway Broncos vibes. Could this be the team Aaron Rodgers can finally lead to the second Super Bowl ring we thought would have happened long before now? Rodgers has never had a defense like this or a ground game like this in tandem before in his career.
Expected Thing Four: Tampa Bay’s defense still isn’t good
In the complete opposite of the Packers’ situation, the Buccaneers haven’t had a strong defense all season. Their run defense is still good (although the late game injury to Vita Vea puts that in some jeopardy). Their secondary hasn’t been good all year. The unit that almost singlehandedly won the Super Bowl is a shell of itself this season. Never was this more apparent than late in yesterday’s game when the the WTF held the ball over 10 minutes to put a game away, slowly and methodically getting 3 yards and a cloud of dust over and over to put them away. The Buccaneers have not been able to avoid the injury bug this year like they did on their way to the Super Bowl last year. Like we said in surprise number one, the injury bug hits good teams harder. Losing players like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Vita Vea, Richard Sherman, Sean-Murphy Bunting, Carlton Davis, Rashard Robinson, Curtis Riley (the last 5 are all in the secondary) means your team isn’t as good as it should be. So now, instead of dominating, they are barely holding off the team in last place in their division by 2 games.