So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 10, 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
Cowboys fail to get out of their own way
What the hell was that?
If you didn’t ask that aloud as the Cowboys called runs on second- and third-down inside the red zone trailing by four points to the Vikings with less than two minutes to go, you have lost your mind. It was perhaps the most mind-numbing bit of decision-making of this entire season.
Dak Prescott was unbelievable on Sunday night. He delivered bucket throw after bucket throw to his wide array of weapons. Amari Cooper posted 11 catches in one of his best games in a Cowboys uniform. Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup made big plays in complementary roles. On a night where Ezekiel Elliott averaged 2.4 yards per carry, the truth that’s been apparent all season couldn’t have been any more clear. Dak Prescott is the engine of the Cowboys offense.
Despite all that, Dallas handed the ball off twice in what should have been a game-winning drive. Not only did the plays gain nothing of consequence, but they also bled clock. Dallas acted like they were the team with the lead. They behaved as if they truly believed getting Zeke to 20 carries — or whatever the mythical correlation/causation number of the week is — would secure them a victory. It was humiliating and inexcusable. Dak Prescott was brilliant and they wasted it.
Such a painful mistake and failure to grasp the moment doesn’t change much in fantasy football. Prescott continues to show an ability to elevate beyond his situation. Elliott will remain a candidate to lead each week’s running back group in touches.
With that said, what we saw in Week 10 will be a haunting reminder for those who believe the Cowboys can be a true contender. We will all have one foot on the diving board, unable to jump all the way in on this team as currently constructed. After they showed their colors in this way at such a crucial moment with their quarterback playing white-hot football, it will be impossible to not fear the next moment their conservative leanings cost them another game.
Derrick Henry as the engine of the Titans offense
The Titans are an underrated team. It feels like they’re discussed as something of a bottom-feeder but that’s not quite in line with reality. They’ve just been a boring team for so much of the Marcus Mariota years that they were easy to forget. The last few weeks have started to shift the narrative as the breath of fresh air delivered by Ryan Tannehill has reminded us that there is some appeal to this roster.
One of the clear building-blocks in Tennessee is Derrick Henry. When the defense and especially the pass rush can go hunt an opponent, the game remains in the ideal script for the Titans to lean on Henry. He’s the type of back who, the more you lean on him, the better he gets.
He provided evidence of that with a 68-yard touchdown run in the second half. It was one of the two end-zone trips he made on the day. The Chiefs run defense is a problem and Henry exploited it with authority.
Fantasy heads continue to try to doubt Henry. It’s not working. He’s now on pace for over 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. The guy is a good player and a high-end RB2 in fake football, at worst. When Henry is rolling, the Titans can be a frisky team that comes with a big play component. He’s been rolling more often than not this season.
Rashard Higgins secures a Cleveland win
It came on his lone target of the day but once-forgotten receiver Rashard Higgins secured the touchdown that eventually lifted the Browns over the previously 6-2 Bills. Higgins was needed as second-year receiver Antonio Callaway was inactive.
The case of Higgins has been a curious one all season. After struggling with an early season injury, he never seemed to regain his spot in 11-personnel over the ineffective Callaway. That was all despite the clear chemistry he showed with Baker Mayfield to end 2018. Even offensive coordinator Todd Monken acknowledged that comfort when suggesting he should find his way onto the field more. Yes, that’s something that the offensive coordinator should have a say in but that conflict is an investigation for another time.
Mayfield has looked like he needed some settling down all last season. The offense lacks rhythm, timing or sense of chemistry. Those three aspects are strengths in Higgins’ arsenal. As the Browns look to build some positivity heading into 2020, it’s worth wondering if Higgins becomes a bigger part of the offense. Considering he had a big hand in securing a much-needed win for the Browns, and the tendency of coaches to make a decision based on highlight moments, it could well happen.
Greg Olsen pops
Following a 75-yard, two-score line in Kyle Allen’s first 2019 start, Greg Olsen had gone stone cold the last few weeks. In Weeks 4 to 9, Olsen was averaging just 22 yards per game with a catch rate of 52 percent. It was clear that Allen and the veteran tight end were not close to being on the same page. It was in stark contrast to the connection Olsen shared with Cam Newton, who fed him 110 yards in his final start of the season.
We saw a different version of Olsen in Green Bay, who secured 98 yards on a season-high 10 targets. Much of Olsen’s work came on the closing drives for Carolina as they fought to erase an eight-point gap on the scoreboard. It was vintage Greg Olsen.
It’s clear that Olsen still has it. Put this game in conjunction with what we saw to open the year with Cam Newton under center and Allen’s first start — Olsen still has something to offer. Still, it’s hard to ignore the work-in-progress nature of his connection with Allen. Additionally, it was hard to ignore some of the exasperated looks Olsen offered when badly missed by Allen against the Packers. It’s worth wondering if, despite the fact that he still has it, he would return for the 2020 season if Newton leaves Carolina.
At this point, it’s time to discuss if Darius Slayton is legitimate. The rookie receiver offered up another strong outing, dropping 121 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches against the Jets. This performance joins big games he’s had against the Lions and Vikings this year.
It’s easy to write the fifth-round receiver off as just a random fluke who pops up when the Giants have injuries. However, he may just have some staying power.
Slayton and fellow rookie Daniel Jones clearly have some chemistry. The timing of some of the plays they made against Detroit weeks ago was noticeably smooth. That was on display against the Jets on Sunday. Even more crucial, Slayton offers a new dimension among the Giants wide receivers. New York looked like a small-ball offense with two slot guys in Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard atop the depth chart. Slayton as a 6-foot-2 vertical threat clearly stands out.
We see backup quarterbacks find quick comfort in players they are familiar with from taking reps together with the second-team. That comfort is even more appealing when that player offers something the rest of the replacement passer’s mates do not. Darius Slayton checks all these boxes for Daniel Jones, who never took a first-team rep for the Giants this past summer.
5 Things I don’t care about
Who Lamar Jackson plays
Lamar Jackson is the most fun football player to watch on the planet right now. He is simply unreal. Anything is possible when he touches the ball. You cannot deny his greatness right now.
Ready to respond with, “But he played the Bengals?” Save it. You just sound ridiculous.
For starters, this is not the first game we’ve seen Jackson play, much less dominate. We just watched him defeat the Patriots in every phase one week ago. Some of the plays he put on the Bengals were truly special. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is.
The long touchdown run when he weaved through just about every defender: That’s special. The touchdown throw to Hollywood Brown when he was under fire the moment he threw it: That’s an elite-level pass. Period. The Bengals defenders don’t halt their pressure and suddenly remember “Oh, we’re the Bengals, we can’t make this play,” as they near Jackson. It doesn’t matter if the competition was theoretically poor here in Week 10. Jackson is becoming the face of the 2019 season because of plays like those.
Jackson further added to his MVP case here in 2019 with several signature plays in Week 10. He gets a chance to officially pass Deshaun Watson and close the gap on Russell Wilson when he faces the Texans in his next game.
The Kirk Cousins state of the union
It was a narrative-busting game for Kirk Cousins, as he put up a statistically dominant game against a good team on the road in primetime. Cousins completed 72% of his throws with a 111.5 passer rating against Dallas and helped his team secure a win.
Still, we don’t need to update the Cousins state of the union. His detractors put away the running shoes they had already prepared for the victory lap they penciled in when they saw this game on the schedule. His backers will be ready to give the “I told you so.” Of course, those roles were reversed just last week when the Vikings dropped a game to the Chiefs.
Just because this game went off the usual script for Cousins doesn’t change the reality of who he is as a player. The Vikings quarterback is one of the streakier players at his position but can make the big plays needed to help his team win. He can still snowball when mistakes start piling and does need some help from great wide receiver play. The Cousins coaster is still on its tracks, even if this loop felt different.
The reality is, while we all want to judge Cousins off each most recent performance, we have to keep the whole picture in perspective. He has his flaws but is a starting quarterback. It’s just as foolish to say, “he’s trash” as it is to say, “he’s elite.” Cousins is what he is but with the way the Vikings look as a roster right now, that’s good enough to make a playoff run.
What we thought about Jon Gruden one year ago
We’re cheating a bit considering the Raiders played their game on Thursday night, but we’ll take this moment to celebrate a team on the rise. While Oakland secured a true win earlier in the week, they got another gem with the Titans dropping the Chiefs on Sunday. The 6-4 Chiefs are just a hair ahead of the 5-4 Raiders in the AFC West.
The Chiefs will remain the clear favorite despite some of their flaws as long as Patrick Mahomes suits up for them. However, we should not for a moment count the Raiders out of a division title.
The Raiders’ biggest advantage is their self-awareness. They know exactly who they are. The old-school, physical approach that Jon Gruden promised he would bring to Oakland has taken hold. Under a foundation back in rookie Josh Jacobs and a hulking offensive line that brought them some negative press upon assembling, the Raiders have an identity.
The overall team clarity and bump in supporting cast is helping Derek Carr stabilize his play. You can call him a suped-up version of what Andy Dalton was for the Bengals all those years. Carr has proven to be a guy who can get the job done when he gets some help. When the cast is subpar, just like Dalton, he is not a tide that raises all ships.
The Raiders get the Bengals and Jets the next two weeks. Not only should this suddenly solid-looking offense produce for fantasy managers, but they can also stack two more wins as Oakland looks to make a run at the Chiefs atop the division.
Kyler Murray’s late-game interception
The Cardinals probably come away with a road win against the Bucs if not for Kyler Murray’s overly aggressive throw that led to a turnover. So, the team certainly cares about it. However, I’m not willing to let it sour a second-straight game of tremendous progress from the No. 1 overall pick.
Murray has dropped some absolute heaters the last two weeks. Against the 49ers, he dropped perfectly placed passes on out-breaking routes. Even on the 88-yard touchdown to Andy Isabella, he was cooking. Oh, and for the haters, if you take that pass out he would have still had a 102.3 passer rating. That one play hardly made his day.
The Cardinals passer was right back in peak form while delivering the smash game against the susceptible Bucs defense we would expect from any good quarterback. Murray went for 324 yards with three touchdowns and topped it off on the ground with 38 yards on three scampers. His connection with second-year receiver Christian Kirk was on full display. He hit the exciting wideout three times for scores, one a gorgeously uncorked 69-yard deep shot.
Kirk looks like a must-play in fantasy going forward. He is by far the most talented weapon for Murray to work with now that David Johnson is slipping and Larry Fitzgerald is past his annual September swoon. That just makes what the quarterback is doing all the more impressive. Imagine what Murray will do when they put a cast around him.
Arizona is an average team and offense. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s one hell of a step up from where they were last year. Murray looks like a difference-maker who is just in the early stages of his ascension up the NFL ranks.
Jared Goff’s excuses
We know Jared Goff isn’t as good on the road. It’s common knowledge at this point that he’s not the same quarterback under pressure. When both of those factors collide behind an offensive line that got shuffled heading into Week 10 before facing a Steelers defense that can hunt enemy quarterbacks, a slow game is predictable.
Yet, while this game was easy to see coming, it’s hugely problematic that we can see a performance like this dud coming for Jared Goff. His 53.7% completion rate and 5.9 yards per attempt were some of his worst in 2019. Just because we could know it was coming doesn’t make it any more viable of an excuse.
Plenty of quarterbacks have streaky tendencies. Even some of the best statistical passers in 2019 just outside of the elite tier like Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford or Kirk Cousins have offered up their share of cold streaks. Goff isn’t unique in having bad games. The problem with the Rams quarterback is his weaknesses are so well-defined, they’re easy to exploit. The surrounding cast in LA is no longer an A+ one and thus, Goff has not even been able to get the offense to tread water unless they’re playing a pushover on defense.
The Rams have road games against the Cowboys and 49ers back-to-back in Weeks 15 and 16. How can you possibly be comfortable projecting their offensive skill position players for positive outcomes in those matchups given what we know about Goff in this ecosystem? Fake footballers should be worried. The Rams have to be, as well.