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In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned from the Week 6 action and give you five things I care about along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for.
Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Seahawks have the same frustrations without Russell Wilson
Too many things looked exactly the same for Seattle in Week 6. We knew they wouldn’t be as good with a backup quarterback but the approach to the situation was not ideal.
For years, we’ve complained about the Seahawks being too conservative, too bullish on an average post-Marshawn Lynch running game, and far too dependent on Russell Wilson creating magic on vertical throws. They ran that exact same offense in Week 6 ... just without Wilson.
Well, he was there — he just wasn't active. Between his pregame routine, going back and forth with refs late in the fourth quarter, and calling the overtime coin toss ... he might have been the most active inactive quarterback I’ve ever seen.
The running game did hit some high moments for Seattle. Alex Collins was able to clear 100 yards but those all came in bunches during the third quarter. When it sputtered, the entire offense went into a slump. They just never built in layup throws for Geno Smith at any point. Pass-catchers were so rarely in space. It was the same old check-downs and shot plays asked of the Seattle quarterback at all times.
The lack of Wilson was always going to hamper the offense, but it even did more than that. His absence reveals the fundamental flaws of this team’s overall philosophy. No matter who the offensive coordinator is under Pete Carroll, the approach remains the same.
It kills any margin for error, which Wilson can cover up. Without him, we get ... this.
Geno Smith was about what you'd expect. And though he might get better the more he makes starts, I’m just not sure that the situation is ever going to change for him ... or Wilson when he’s back. We know the frustration is there and it even looked like it boiled over for him once during the game, after another conservative call:
Greg Olsen speculated last Thursday that Wilson might still try to force his way out of Seattle this offseason. Somehow, in a game which he did not play, you could understand his frustrations even more than ever. Despite all the success of the Seattle organization in the Pete Carroll era, Wilson is wondering what’s on the other side. I get it.
Maybe he's the veteran quarterback solution who pushes Seattle's very same Week 6 opponent over the top in 2022.
Dak Prescott is playing like a Top-3 QB
It’s just unbelievable how well Dak Prescott is playing in all phases. He’s as dynamic a passer as ever but he’s taken another step from a pre-snap and matchup-exploitation standpoint.
We finally saw Prescott and the Cowboys' passing offense in a neutral/back-and-forth script since the Week 1 opener against Tampa Bay. Prescott had to throw it 50-plus times and cleared 400 yards through the air. It was like 2020 Dak all over again.
Even then, it wasn’t just CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper doing all the work. Lamb was indeed dynamic, garnering 11 targets and scoring twice, including the walk-off in overtime. However, Cooper turned in just 55 yards on eight targets. As strange as it sounds, that’s a testament to Prescott.
Eight Cowboys players caught a pass in this win. Dalton Schultz remains a huge piece of the pie. Even more ancillary players like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson popped up with huge catches. Prescott is the tide that raises all boats.
Dallas is still not the high-flying funnel offense run by just the wide receivers. That dream is dead. But the version of the offense we are actually getting is bringing the best out of Dak Prescott.
The Stafford Rams can steamroll
We got a pair of middling games from the Rams offense when they went up against two NFC West rivals the last couple of weeks. Los Angeles came back with a vengeance on Sunday.
Matthew Stafford and co. straight outclassed the Giants. To be fair, the Giants are playing with a skeleton crew on offense right now. But this is just a testament to how well Stafford and the Rams can play when everything hits.
Stafford delivered in a big way in Week 6, chucking four touchdowns and averaging nearly nine yards per attempt. He was right in sync with Cooper Kupp, as usual, but also got Robert Woods to another solid game and uncorked a beauty of a touchdown to running back Darrell Henderson.
We all talk about buying low. That’s the ideal way to make trades, stock decisions, etc. Sometimes it does make sense to buy high. We might be about to hit that moment with the Rams.
As they reminded us of their ceiling by thrashing the Giants, I couldn’t help but take a look at their upcoming schedule. Los Angeles draws the Lions, Texans, Titans, 49ers, Packers, and Jaguars over their next six games. That is a slate full of winnable games and/or exploitable defenses.
Week 6 was an example of what this team can do when they’re steamrolling an inferior opponent. We could see a lot of that over the next couple of months.
Cason Wentz is ... slinging it?
Carson Wentz uncorked some deep balls last Monday against the Ravens and that theme continued against the Texans.
Wentz has averaged over 11 yards per pass attempt in each of his last two games. Some of the figures from Week 5 are juiced up by a long catch and run from a Jonathan Taylor screen pass.
Against the Texans, it was earned.
T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell both hauled in 50-plus-yard deep passes from Wentz. Michael Pittman averaged 17.5 yards per catch and Mo Alie-Cox snagged a 28-yard score.
Suddenly, the Colts’ offense looks like it has a lot of juice.
Pittman has broken out as a No. 1 receiver while ancillary players like Campbell, MAC, and Hilton are making their presence felt (the latter might have suffered another injury, though). All of this came with Jonathan Taylor looking just unstoppable. He ripped off an 83-yard touchdown run, his second mega-explosive play in as many weeks.
It all comes back to Wentz. If this aggressive, vertically inclined version of Wentz sticks around, the Colts can go places. It’s not inconceivable that the farther we get from his injury-riddled summer and the healthier the entire roster gets, the more comfortable Wentz will be.
The Texans and Jaguars are well behind with one win apiece and the Titans draw a matchup with the fearsome Bills on Monday night. The AFC South is there for the taking.
The Bengals passing volume remains low
A spot where the Bengals could simply cruise to a win over the Detroit Lions was not the time for the Bengals to revert to their old pass-heavy ways. Still, this was a perfect reminder as to what the offense looks like now.
Despite potentially not being at 100 percent, Joe Mixon handled 18 carries and paced the team. He also drew five catches, including a huge 40-yard score. Joe Burrow threw three more touchdowns but only passed 29 times.
Joe Burrow has thrown more than 35 passes in just one game this year. He cleared that number in eight of 10 games in 2020. One of the ones he went under that was the Washington game where he got injured. This is a huge shift.
The efficiency has been there for Burrow and he’s been drastically better as a deep passer. However, with the low volume available and banking entirely on efficiency, the trickle-down effect is dangerous for some of the receivers. Tyler Boyd has a low aDOT and was only viable when Tee Higgins was out. Higgins has only reached 60 yards in one game this year. You can’t start any receiver outside of Ja’Marr Chase with any level of confidence with the Bengals operating like this.
Perhaps the run-to-pass ratio flips drastically over the course of the next month when they run into the Ravens, Browns, and Raiders in closer games. I’m just not banking on it.
5 Things I don’t care about
Pretending there will ever be something more for Pittsburgh
I wasn’t delusional enough to think that somehow removing JuJu Smith-Schuster was going to be a catalyst for change in the Pittsburgh offense. I did think it would open up more opportunities for Chase Claypool to make a bigger impact.
Claypool was indeed the No. 2 receiver, taking 63 snaps to Diontae Johnson's 69. It only amounted to just two catches for 17 yards on seven targets. Claypool made some mistakes, most notably an offensive pass interference late in the game where he was already making the catch out of bounds. However, there were also a handful of passes where he was open deep and Ben Roethlisberger just couldn’t get it anywhere close.
The Steelers' offense isn't likely to change from what we're seeing. Najee Harris will grind his way to get his, both on the ground and through the air. The only receiver to consistently play well and earn steady volume is Diontae Johnson. He was making plays all night for Roethlisberger and — this was ridiculous — charged with a drop where he had to work back almost five yards to an under-thrown ball just to get his hands close to it.
After Johnson, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth is going to flash and Claypool will have better days and some other ancillary pieces might have moments. But this team just is what it is. They were able to scratch and claw to a win in a slugfest with the Seahawks. That’s how Pittsburgh is going to have to win because this version of the offense won’t ever pull away from a quality team.
Picking a Cardinals wide receiver
The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver corps is becoming a lesser version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers'. Not in overall unit quality; no one boasts a trio of legitimate superstars like the Bucs.
However, Arizona is becoming a similar fantasy football conundrum. The targets are distributed between DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk rather evenly. It’s a lock that three of them will produce something near relevant numbers but there’s a good chance one will be left out in the cold.
But just like you don’t want to be the one to miss out on the big game for a Buccaneers receiver no matter what happened last week, we’re starting to get there with the Cardinals receivers.
Kyler Murray is just that good right now. He’s been absolutely electric throwing the ball downfield all season and was white-hot against the Browns.
Kyler Murray was effective targeting vertical routes (go, post, corner, wheel) against the Browns, completing 4 of 6 attempts for 78 yards and 3 TD.
Murray leads the NFL with +47.2 pass EPA and +17.1% CPOE targeting vertical routes this season.#AZvsCLE | #RedSea pic.twitter.com/0Zsx4oex0X
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 18, 2021
No pass-catcher cleared 80 yards or eight targets in this game but Hopkins, Kirk, and Green split four touchdowns between them (two for Hopkins). Hopkins' and Green's roles are pretty locked in while Kirk and Moore may alternate their big weeks. The last two weeks between them provide a solid example. Still, you’ll consider them every single matchup because of their own explosive ability and attachment to Murray.
We’ll see next week how the addition of Zach Ertz shakes this distribution up, if at all.
The Chiefs’ flaws
You can’t avoid the issues on Kansas City’s roster. The defense will remain a weak link. The offensive line is still trying to find itself. The mistakes are frustrating.
And yet, results like Week 6 show exactly why I struggle to get too worried.
Kansas City did not play a clean game on Sunday. Not even close. The odd trend of Tyreek Hill and co. volleying Patrick Mahomes’ passes to defenders continued. Mahomes’ two picks against Washington put him at eight for the season. He had six all of last year and just five in 2019.
Former Chiefs tight end Ricky Seals-Jones caught a wide-open pass at the 20-yard line from Taylor Heinicke and somehow still just walked right into the end zone. We’ve seen plenty of plays like that all season for the Chiefs.
Despite these poisons in Week 6 that are perfectly emblematic of how 2021 is going for Kanas City, they still beat Washington by almost 20 points. Very few holes are too deep to dig yourself out of when you have Mahomes and his typical cast of explosive sidekicks.
There’s no doubt that Kansas City isn’t the same force we’re used to. Odds are we won’t see them in a third-straight Super Bowl. Some of these poisons won’t be cured all season. Nevertheless, it still feels inevitable that the Chiefs will hang around all year, just like they did in this game. At any moment they can do a few special things to get over the top.
While this might not be the same Chiefs of 2018 to 2020, I’m willing to overlook the problems and focus on the good.
Early season Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold looked like he had found new life in Carolina through the first three weeks of the season. A more familiar version of Darnold has appeared, however, over the last three games.
Darnold’s propensity for mistakes, getting frenetic in the pocket, and causing turnovers have sunk the Panthers back from being a possible fringe playoff team to an average operation.
There are two big factors that have led to Darnold’s decline. The Panthers’ already makeshift offensive line has started to crack under injuries and Christian McCaffrey has still not returned from a hamstring injury. This has always been the issue for Darnold. He just can’t play in chaos.
When everything is perfect, Darnold’s strong skill-set can shine through and he looks like a great quarterback. There’s no question he’s talented and can drive a well-oiled car. The problem is that in the NFL, situations are almost never perfect. Almost every vehicle is going to have an occasion faulty part.
Yes, I know Darnold was let down by drops, especially by Robby Anderson. We all watched the strong drive he put together to force the Vikings into OT. Still, it’s hard to not see where things are trending for Darnold. Both things can be true here. He’s certainly not in fantasy starting discussions anymore and his long-term viability for Carolina is in question.
Ravens' main characters hung backstage
If you knew the Ravens were going to topple the Chargers 34-6, you would have assumed Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown, and Mark Andrews had massive days. You would have been wrong.
Lamar Jackson cleared 50 yards on the ground and Mark Andrews scored a touchdown but it was the elder statesmen group of running backs that ran the day. The Chargers rush defense had been picked on all year and Baltimore was just the next in line. No one handled more than 10 carries but all three of Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, and Le’Veon Bell found the end zone. The former two guys ripped off several crucial runs.
That said, I believe this was mostly a matchup and game script-induced approach. If Justin Herbert and the offense had given it back to the Ravens, I think we would have seen the passing game we were getting used to.
If anything, the Ravens' passing game did get a stock up with Rashod Bateman finally seeing the field and playing a big role:
Rashod Bateman tied for first on the team with a 24% target share in his season debut. 🔥
Was in a route for 67% of pass plays and saw a target on 27% of those.
Played 89% of long-down-distance snaps, which is a good sign.
WR4 with upside.
— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) October 18, 2021
Bateman led the team in targets and while he didn’t have a big box score, it's a big development. He did have one miscue that led to a Jackson interception but those will even out as he gets comfortable.
Sprinkling an improving Bateman on the top of an already dangerous aerial attack is a nice mid-year boost. I remain very bullish on him, Jackson, Brown, and Andrews over the course of 2021.