With week nine over we have one unbeaten team left, another year of London games completed, and Adam Gase continued to cause the Miami Dolphins problems by being so bad with the New York Jets that they lost to a Dolphins team who are not actually trying to win this year as they reboot their roster. So let’s take a swing through the NFL and what they have coming up.
What I Saw
The Thursday night game was more competitive than I was expecting as the Arizona Cardinals marched down the field in the opening drive and scored a touchdown then late in the game managed to claw their way back into contention but ultimately lost to the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Sadly for the Cardinals, the stretch from the end of the first quarter to early in the fourth allowed the 49ers to build a big enough lead to win. The plus points for the Cardinals were Kyler Murray’s continued improvement, posting a quarterback rating of 130.7 in this game and new acquired Kenyan Drake running for one hundred and ten yards on only fifteen carries as he managed to find creases in the 49ers normally excellent front seven. That said, the pass rush of the 49ers is very impressive and whilst only generated the three sacks, they seemed to be causing problems on most plays with Dee Ford catching the eye opposite rookie Nick Bosa. The 49ers offence was just as impressive with Jimmy Garoppolo posting his own quarterback rating of over 130 as well as four touchdowns and over three hundred yards of passing, all whilst the rushing attack had to use thirty-one carries to get to one hundred and one yards. There are definite signs that Kyler Murray can be productive in the NFL and find his way, but this was always going to be a building year for the Cardinals, whilst after several of their own building years it looks like Kyle Shanahan’s plans are finally coming to fruition as the 49ers remain the team to beat in the NFC, if not the league right now.
The first game played on Sunday was the last of four London games that saw the Houston Texans beings hosted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. I was expecting the Jaguars who are used to the trip to London to perform better than this, but they were never able to get anything going on offence, although it wasn’t until late in the game when Gardner Minshew was trying to make things happen to catch-up that he started turning the ball over repeatedly. It has to be said that the Texans’ offence didn’t look to be running that much better than the Jaguars, but the ability of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Watson to make spectacular plays was the thing that really separated these two teams and it looks as if the Texans will be competitive to the end of the season, although I’m not sure they are good enough to maximise the all-in moves they have made in managing this roster. It’s not going to hurt them this season, but with all the draft picks they have given away they could have issues going forward. The Jaguars meanwhile, are sliding back in the race for the post-season and the question will be what they do at quarterback now that Nick Foles is near to being healthy, and whether either quarterback can get the team into the playoffs.
The next game I saw was the Minnesota Vikings losing a close game to the Kansas City Chiefs 26-23 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are know to have a home field advantage and it certainly sounded loud on the TV. This was a close competitive game that I’m sure will be frustrating to Kirk Cousins as he missed a lot of throws and was not at all up to the level of play we had seen in October, although receiver Adam Thielen did have further problems with the hamstring injury he has been dealing with for a number of weeks. That said, the Vikings were held to under one hundred yards rushing at 3.5 yards per carry, which is pretty good for a rush defence that is currently ranked twenty-eighth in league by DVOA. If the plaudits should go anywhere though, it is to Andy Reid, who has kept his team winning despite losing Patrick Mahomes to a dislocated kneecap and starting Matt Moore at quareterback in his stead, and more was coaching high school football a month ago. Moore may only be 1-1 as a starter this season, but he also contributed to a win when he stepped into the game against the Broncos and it gives the Chiefs the luxury of not rushing Mahomes back. They may not look at their best right now, but they could look good come the playoffs, whilst the Vikings also looked competitive, but there will still be questions about Cousins in big games until he wins more of them.
The final game of Sunday was the match-up of the week for most people, and it was certainly a good game but in the end the Baltimore Ravens ran out 37-20 winners as they hosted the now beaten New England Patriots. Ran out is definitely the right turn as the Ravens amassed over two hundred rushing yards where they got up early on the Patriots and never relinquished that lead. The Patriots did steady the ship after going down 17-0 by the start of the second quarter, but even if they slowed the Raven’s rushing attack, they never really contained Lamar Jackson and needed turnovers to get themselves into scoring positions. The Ravens were able to take advantage of the Patriots offensive line to pressure Tom Brady and limit the Patriots’ running game. It is only one loss, and the only one the Patriots have had this season so it would be unwise in the extreme to write off the perennial contenders, but their looks to be less of a gap between the Pats and the other contenders in the league this season. For the Ravens, I see them having no problem beating up on the Bengals defense next week given their problems at the edges of the front seven, and whilst there are tough games against the likes of the 49ers, Texans and Rams, as well as a not easy game in Buffalo in the coming weeks, the Ravens have two more AFC North games and host the Jets so I find it hard to see them not winning the division and the question is whether they can get a bye for the first round of the playoffs.
What I Heard
There are plenty of people who are happy for the Miami Dolphins’ players as they got their first win, but anyone who was surprised by the result had not been paying attention to how the Dolphins had played since putting Ryan Fitzpatrick back in as quarterback. There were some who greeted his signing in the off-season as not being fully aligned with the rebuilding project that was clearly taking place as he might win them too many games, and he has certainly had a positive effect on their offence in recent weeks. However, the real story is that the New York Jets were major players in free-agency and were meant to be kicking on this season and have done anything but. In truth, this is a franchise in a deep funk that has problems in the front office, on the roster, and the coaching staff so it is not surprising that their franchise quarterback looks to be regressing rather than improving this year. The real problem here is that there is no overall plan and the GM who drafted Sam Darnold is no longer there whilst the team have gotten worse since the firing of Todd Bowles. There is plenty of blame to go around and New York is not an easy media market to function in, but you have to wonder who is going to survive this at the end of the season.
I did hear an interesting discussion around the Trent Williams holdout and the reason why Williams is not happy with Washington’s medical staff. His grievance is about a growth he had for a number of years that turned out to be cancerous, and I thought that doctor David Chao did an excellent job of walking you through the medical side of things so if that sounds of interest then I recommend you take a look at this tweet and go from there.
What I Think
I want to take a quick look at a few of the losing teams because despite there being four teams with one win and the winless Bengals, I do think there is a difference between the bad and the truly awful. The first place to start in the separation is the Miami Dolphins, who for years have been suffering in mid-table mediocrity as they were to good to get elite players in the draft but weren’t making the playoffs every year. Losing was the plan this season, not as an aim in of itself, but in rebuilding with young players through next year’s draft and so whilst we don’t know if things will turn around the results this year are not a disaster but a calculated consequence of their method of rebuilding.
The rest of the teams are meant to be competing but there are perhaps extenuating circumstances for some. The results are of course going to be a worry for the Atlanta Falcons, and I don’t know if Dan Quinn is going to keep his job, but there is a lot of talent on this roster, but it is not deep and they have struggled with developing both lines. There is talent and a franchise quarterback so the right person might be able to turn this things around but it will likely require a change of approach by the front office if not new leadership.
The Cincinnati Bengals were pretty much sunk before the season started and my concerns quickly came to fruition. The loss of three starting lineman to injury and or retirement before the season was the precursor to their problems protecting Andy Dalton and I was always concerned about the hire of Jim Turner given his chequered history, but the loss of AJ Green to an ankle injury at the first practice o a high school field that the team should never have practiced on is particularly galling. I can’t help but wonder if a more experienced coach might have stopped the event when he saw the field. The Bengals were once a laughing stock, but Marvin Lewis brought respectability and Mike Brown has invested in the largest coaching staff the Bengals have ever had and renovated the building as they committed to Zac Taylor’s vision. It has done anything but pay off so far, but I’m not sure previous regimes would have turned the offence over to the rookie quarterback who looked promising in training camp to see what they have in him. They could have given more time for Dalton to try to find another team once they decided to bench him, but they probably want Dalton to be a mentor for Ryan Finley and it sure looks like we’ll see him in a different uniform next season.
However, this is where I think the extenuating circumstances end. The Jets as I said earlier were meant to be competing but their dysfunction starts with ownership and how they have approaches solving their problems in recent years and until they find the right GM to establish a culture and commit long term to its implementation they will continue to struggle.
The final team are the Washington no-names, who have an argument to have one of the worst owners in American sports. It’s not like Dan Snyder hasn’t spent money but he has presided over a mess in the front office and I’m not sure what Bruce Allen has achieved as president to earn such loyalty. Snyder bought the team in 1999 and since then Washington have had six winning seasons if you count 2016 8-7-1 and haven’t won a playoff games since 2005. Not only has the on-field performance been bad, but the franchise has gone from being the preeminent part of the Washington sports seen to a team that regularly sees more away fans than home in the stadium.
All of these teams need a lot to go right to turn them round next season, but I really do fear for the Jets and Washington.
I would also like to give a bonus mention to the Cleveland Browns who can’t get out of their own way and I’m not sure the Denver Broncos are truly going to compete until John Elway can find another quarterback.
What I Know
I had a terrible week in the picks competition last week, but what I know is that sometimes you modify your numbers by gut and your right, and sometimes you get led astray but it’s the over-correction in the following week that you have to watch.
If I put as much thought as I do into just picking games, I know that the staffs on these losing teams will be working as hard as they can to improve their team’s situations. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, no one is trying to lose and what I hope is that they learn from this situation and improve.
After five years of blogging about the entire league I spend my time wishing success for people – I want things won through skill and clever strategy and for players to be as healthy as they can when they get out.
What I Hope
I really hope that Ryan Finley gives the Bengals a spark and that if the tean are to move on from Andy Dalton, that they can take best player available or even drop back and pick up some extra picks in next year’s draft. After all, as we have had ample proof recently, there really is no such thing as guaranteed franchise quarterback just because they were selected in the first round.