Week 5 was another strange one in the NFL. 14 teams have at least three wins and 14 teams have a positive point differential. Those are not the same 14 teams. We’re seeing a lot of parity or bad football, per Tom Brady, or both. Defenses continue to be a little ahead of the game (we’ll get to some of those) and that has depressed scoring and offensive output across the league. It feels like the best teams — or at least the most interesting ones — are the ones adjusting to figure out how to break through. With that in mind, we have to start in London with the surprise of the year.
All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.
1. Brian Daboll Is Good At This (and the Giants might be eventually)
At 4-1, the Giants might not be good in the sense that they’ll be serious players at the end of the season — with a five-point win over the Packers, the Giants doubled their point differential on the season. But the Giants might also be more than a team just overachieving to start the season.
Last week, we highlighted how the Giants had worked the run game — both from Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones — to carry the offense. The Giants had found a way to have an efficient enough run game with Barkley to get from down to down and wait for the explosive run. Even the passing game was used with the run in mind. The Giants were heavy into play-action with bootlegs that allowed Jones to take off and run if he had the room.
With Jones not 100% after last week’s injury, the Giants were able to work a passing game that played to Jones’s strengths and took advantage of the Green Bay defense.
Jones finished the game with 0.41 EPA per dropback, the second-highest of the week and the second-best of his career behind a Week 16 meeting against Washington in his rookie season (0.51). This was accomplished with just a 5.15-yard average depth of target and 77.8% of his pass attempts within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
All of this came with a receiving corps made up of Darius Slayton, Marcus Johnson, and Richie James. Despite those limited options, the passing game opened up. Even with everything going short, Jones only threw into tight coverage on 7.4% of his attempts, per Next Gen Stats.
The shot plays were at least meaningful, too. Jones went 4-of-6 on throws that traveled at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. A 26-yard pass to Slayton at the end of the first quarter came on a crosser off play-action from 12 personnel.
Without anything at receiver, the Giants stayed in heavy personnel throughout the game, just 45.8% of their plays in Week 5 were in 11 personnel. The heavier packages kept the Packers in base with three linebackers on the field. Green Bay had been a heavier-than-average base defense this season, but the Packers were in base on 50.8% of their defensive snaps against the Giants.
The Giants were able to use their personnel to manipulate some of those defensive looks, especially when they went into their Pony personnel package. With Jones hurt last week, the Giants had used a few Wildcat plays with Barkley taking snaps. That package continued with Matt Brieda also on the field alongside him.
Midway through the second quarter, the Giants came out in 21 personnel with that Wildcat look on a second-and-7. Barkley took the direct snap and followed a hole, partly set by Brieda, for a gain of 40 yards.
Later in the game with the score tied at 20 in the fourth quarter, the Giants came out in that same personnel on a second-and-10. The Packers stayed in base with four defensive backs. Through Week 4, the Giants had Barkley and Brieda on the field together for 13 snaps and were 92% run.
But this time, Brieda was lined up behind Jones in the backfield and Barkley was stacked to the right behind Slayton. Barkley ran a crosser underneath a sit route from tight end Daniel Bellinger and no Packers defender carried Barkley, who ran for 41 yards.
That eventually set up Barkley’s 2-yard Wildcat run to take the lead, this time with Gary Brightwell as the second back on the field.
All the levers needed for this Giants offense to have production were constantly pulled at the tight times. On the season, the Giants are still 13th in EPA per play and 19th in yards per play. This isn’t going to be a unit that’s likely built for sustained success to carry it through the rest of 2022. But there have already been so might bright spots and adjustments that it’s hard to not have trust in Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka for whatever the next version of this offense will be.
2. The Bills Are Back To Blowouts
Since at least 2000, only two teams have averaged over 10 yards per play in a game with at least 50 plays run. The Rams did it in Week 4 of the 2018 season against the Vikings and the Bills just did it in Week 5 against the Steelers.
It helps when the third play from scrimmage is a 98-yard touchdown pass, but the Bills were mostly unstoppable for much of this game. What makes the Bills so dangerous is how they can strike from anywhere on the field. The 98-yard touchdown to Gabriel Davis was on a third-and-10.
Including the Bills, there have been five passes on third-and-10 or more inside a team’s own five this season. Josh Allen’s pass traveled 38 air yards. The next highest league-wide was 5.0.
Later in the game, with a third-and-4 in the second quarter, the Bills were again backed up near their own goal line. The Steelers tried to catch the Bills by blitzing slot corner Arthur Maulet (35) but still rushing four. Zack Moss picked up Maulet and Allen hit Isaiah Hodgins down the sideline for a 26-yard gain.
In the most technical terms, Allen was on one in this game. He averaged 13.68 yards per attempt and 0.59 EPA per dropback with a 13.55-yard aDOT. 32.3% of Allen’s passes traveled at least 20 air yards. With his performance (and pending the result of Monday Night Football), Allen pulled ahead of Patrick Mahomes for the season lead in EPA per dropback.
There was not a throw Allen shied away from in the game. Here’s a 31-yard pass to Khalil Shakir on a second-and-10 with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Buffalo was also able to create openings with designs that stressed the Pittsburgh defense. On a 24-yard touchdown pass to Shakir in the second quarter, the Bills came out in a trips set to the right with Shakir, Davis, and Stefon Diggs. Diggs started outside and then motioned inside Davis before the snap. Both Diggs and Davis went vertical while Shakir ran a crosser from the slot. The presence of Diggs and Davis occupied both safeties, which left Shakir one-on-one with a leverage advantage.
The Steelers were so worried about Diggs and Davis, they had a four-on-two to stop them but left no one to stop Shakir.
One of the things that makes the Bills so dangerous is that we’re highlighting big throws to Khalil Shakir and Isaiah Hodgins. All of this came while the Bills were without Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder at receiver and Dawson Knox at tight end. Buffalo just plugged in whoever was next on the depth chart and still went wild. Quinten Morris a 2021 undrafted free agent tight end had a 26-yard reception on a third-and-11 in the second quarter.
This all came while the defense shut down the Steelers in Kenny Pickett’s first start. Pittsburgh went 10 straight drives without a score against Buffalo, just the fourth time that’s happened to them in the last decade, per Ryan McCrystal.
The Steelers went 10 straight drives without scoring today against Buffalo.
Only the 4th time in the last 10 seasons they’ve gone double-digit consecutive drives in a game without points, per TruMedia.
2018 vs CLE (11 drives)
2016 vs BAL (12)
2013 vs TEN (10)
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) October 9, 2022
The Bills are back to where they were at their peak last season, blowing out clearly inferior teams. Buffalo has a +91 point differential through five weeks. The next highest team is at 47. Buffalo looks like the best team in the league and that sets up a thrilling matchup next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
3. The Cowboys Defense Unleashed
The Rams have had trouble with their offensive line and the Cowboys made sure to take advantage of that in Sunday’s 22-10 win. Dallas hit Matthew Stafford 11 times with five sacks. Stafford was under pressure on 42.6% of his dropbacks and couldn’t do anything when the pressure got there.
Under pressure in the game, Stafford went 6-of-15 for 3.93 yards per attempt and the five sacks for -0.98 EPA per dropback.
Dallas wasn’t doing much special in terms of creating pressure. The first sack fumble that led to a Demarcus Lawrence touchdown came on a blitz with the line stacked on a third-and-1 play from under center but the Cowboys didn’t blitz all that often (19%). Instead Dallas just consistently won up front.
The Cowboys were breaking through with a four-man rushing and getting multiple defenders in Stafford’s face when there was pressure. On nearly every sack there was another Cowboys defender right there who could have been in on it too.
On the season, the Cowboys now lead the league in pressure rate while ranking just 21st in blitz rate (22%). Dallas leads the league in pressure rate (39.5%) and sack rate (10.1%) when rushing four. Their 2.43 average time to pressure is the seventh-fastest. When Micah Parsons is part of that four-man rush, the pressure rate goes up to 40.2% and the average time to pressure drops to 2.35.
Dallas also followed the blueprint for coverage against the Rams and they played Cover-3 45% of the time. By keeping a defender in the middle of the field, Stafford again couldn’t access the intermediate area. He threw just 9.5% of his passes between 11-19 air yards and he’s now down to 8.9% on the season with the next lowest quarterback at 12.4%.
The Cowboys weren’t the only team that created pressure in this game. In fact, the Rams had more of it — 52.7%, the second-highest of the week, with a 31.6% blitz rate. Cooper Rush was 3-of-7 under pressure for 5.14 yards per attempt. This was clearly the least comfortable Rush had looked during his fill-in duty. That pressure was getting to Rush despite an average of 2.07 seconds to throw and 78.9% of his dropbacks coming within 2.5 seconds of the snap.
Rush has managed to be mostly fine, but this game (-0.36 EPA per dropback on just 19 dropbacks) showed there is a limit to scheming up the offense, asking the quarterback not to do a lot, and hoping for the best.
Dak Prescott could be back for next week’s matchup against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, but if he’s not, the Cowboys could have to lean on the defense again because Philadelphia is a team with no problem creating pressure with good coverage behind it.
4. The Chargers Found A Run Game… Until the last fourth down
The Chargers haven’t gotten any less frustrating on early downs, but at least they’ve gotten slightly better at executing those frustrating things.
Justin Herbert’s early down aDOT on Sunday against the Browns was 4.08. 40% of his throws were at or behind the line of scrimmage. Another 48% were between 1-10 air yards. But Herbert averaged 0.28 EPA per dropback, the sixth-best rate on early downs of the week. Overall, Herbert has the second-lowest early down aDOT among quarterbacks this season (5.14) but is seventh in EPA per dropback. That’s at least an improvement from last season when both figures were low.
Playing a Browns defense that has struggled to stop the pass certainly helped. Maybe more importantly for the Chargers, finding success in the run game could unlock something going forward. Entering Week 5, the Chargers had one of the worst early down run games in the league. But against Cleveland, there was an open lane on nearly every run.
The Chargers rushed for more yards on early downs in Week 5 than they had over the first four weeks.
Chargers Early Down Rushing, Weeks 1-5
data per TruMedia
|Weeks||EPA/Rush||Rushes||Yards||Runs of 10+||Success Rate|
Without any running game, the Chargers were forced to pass and make up for long down and distances but especially without Keenan Allen in the lineup, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to gain an advantage passing. There’s only so much a robot quarterback can do when there is nothing developing down the field.
A decent run game, like the one the Chargers found against the Browns, could help open up some more options in the passing game and maybe lessen the rate at which the passing game has to rely on contested catches to Mike Williams. They worked multiple times throughout the game but it was forced on the final fourth down decision that could have ended the game.
Let’s talk about another fourth down
On a fourth-and-1 on the Chargers’ 46-yard line, up by two points with 1:13 left in the game, the Chargers decided to go for it instead of kick. The play was a failed throw to a very covered Mike Williams, which allowed the Browns to get the ball near midfield and set up what would have been a game-winning field goal but the 54-yard kick was missed.
Most models seem to agree with the decision. Ben Baldwin’s model was a “strong go” even when inputting the play as two yards to go since it was more like a long-1. ESPN’s model had it as a go, up to about a fourth-and-3. Next Gen Stats had it as a toss-up with a punt favored by just 0.2% win probability.
The question here would be how confident would the Chargers be in gaining 1-2 yards rather than stopping the Browns from going down the field. Well, we saw what the Browns could do — and they averaged 6.82 yards per play on the day, which was the third-highest of the week.
Having some belief in a run game that had worked throughout the day would have been nice here. A sneak would likely be hard at more than a yard, but the Chargers’ offensive line had been more than holding up run blocking all game. The pass had little to no opening, which makes the decision look worse. But the Chargers would absolutely take their chances on gaining that first down and ending the game over what did happen — the Browns going down the field and setting up a potential score.
5. The Ravens defense made adjustments
This season there is going to be a spotlight on defenses playing the Cincinnati Bengals and how those defenses will play. We’ve covered it here since before the season. Teams playing two-high have been a way to slow the Cincinnati passing offense down. The Ravens were another team that shifted some tendencies to play the Bengals.
Baltimore didn’t sell out in Cover-2 like the Steelers and Cowboys did in the opening two weeks. Instead, the Ravens went heavier on Quarters, which they had mostly abandoned after their communication issues in Week 1.
New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald would like to live in Quarters but nothing was passed off well in the opening week. The Ravens went from 20.3% Quarters in Week 1 down to 14.5% in Week 2 then 9.5% and 8.1% the following two weeks.
Against the Bengals, the Ravens leaned into it more for 27.5% of their plays. Joe Burrow averaged -0.12 EPA per dropback against Quarters in Week 5 with an interception. On the play, the Bengals tried to get Ja’Marr Chase free in the middle of the field by motioning him across the formation and into the route, but with the Quarters look, Patrick Queen was right there for the interception.
The Ravens also significantly toned down their Cover-1 snaps. Over the first four weeks of the season, they played it 21% of the time. But against the Bengals, that dropped to 8.5%. Instead, Baltimore upped its rate of Cover-6, which plays Quarters to one side and Cover-2 to the other.
When the Ravens used some type of two-high coverage, Burrow averaged -0.27 EPA per dropback. Against Cover-1 or Cover-3, Burrow averaged 0.31. The biggest difference between this game and others is that Burrow couldn’t just sling it against those single-high looks. The Ravens either had some type of pressure or good coverage around. Burrow had a 3.43-yard aDOT for the entire game.
6. What’s going on with Trevor Lawrence?
Trevor Lawrence looked like he was ready to make the Year 2 leap just a few weeks ago. A poor outing in the rain against the Eagles was understandable, yet disappointing, but Lawrence’s play in a 13-6 loss against the Texans is bewildering.
This is a game the Jaguars should have won. They outgained the Texans 422 to 248 and had the yards per play advantage, 5.8 to 4.4. Lawrence was also better than Davis Mills overall but a few mistakes and missed opportunities have left the Jaguars at 2-3 after such a promising start.
Lawrence wasn’t sacked in the game but some distrust of a shaky offensive line is coming through. The Texans only blitzed on one of his dropbacks but was pressured on 13 and the blitz wasn’t one of them. Lawrence hasn’t handled pressure well this year and was 5-of-13 for 2.85 yards per attempt in this game under pressure.
The Jaguars have also been hit or miss in the red zone. The hits, like the Christian Kirk angle route from the backfield, are fun but there haven’t been as many lately. The Jaguars rank 27th in EPA per play inside the red zone this year. Lawrence threw an opportunity away early in the third quarter with an interception to Derek Stingley on a second-and-1. Stingley was in the path the entire way and it’s hard to understand what Lawrence was looking for on the throw.
In a span of a few weeks, the Jaguars went from runaway AFC South favorite to third in the division. They get the Colts in Week 6, which could be an inflection point toward where this season heads for Jacksonville.
7. Bailey Zappe Looked More Like 2021 Mac Jones Than 2022 Mac Jones
Bailey Zappe finished his first career start fifth in EPA per dropback on the week. His QBR (a win probably statistic, showing how often a team with a quarterback’s performance would be expected to win) was less flattering at just 24.1.
But the difference between those two metrics might highlight exactly what Zappe was asked to do (not too much in difficulty) and what he was able to execute (most of it). The Patriots kept Zappe fairly insulated. 33% of his dropbacks used play-action and 76.2% of his pass attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He only saw pressure on 9.1% of his dropbacks.
The biggest takeaway isn’t exactly Zappe-specific, but the Patriots’ offense went through this game looking the closest it had to its previous versions. After moving away from play-action, for some reason, the Patriots have gone hard with it for Zappe over the past two weeks and it’s worked.
Over the past two weeks, Zappe is 13-of-15 on play-action for 10.31 yards per attempt and 0.54 EPA per dropback. Zappe has used play-action on 36% of his dropbacks. Mac Jones has used it on only 12.4%.
8. Chart of the day
Tyler Lockett remains good, as does DK Metcalf. The Seattle defense continues to give up a lot of points, but the offense remains a unit with the talent to consistently score. Geno Smith made some throws against the Saints and ranks fourth among quarterbacks in EPA per dropback on the season.
9. Play of the day
Taysom Hill gets a lot of shit but the biggest problem with Hill is how his role was framed. Hill as a gadget player who can play some snaps at tight end — fantastic. Hill as an actual quarterback option for extended dropbacks — no.
Hill killed in that gadget role against the Seahawks and has done so all season. For as obvious as the QB power run is when Hill gets behind center, it’s nearly unstoppable.
With Hill as a rusher, the Saints have averaged 0.90 EPA per rush with a 66.7% success rate this season. 28.6% of his runs have gained 10 or more yards with an average of 10.86 yards per rush and five touchdowns.
The Saints even added the wrinkle of a dropback with Hill for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
10. The End is Near For Matt Rhule
It’s hard to defend Matt Rhule, though there aren’t many people who will be doing so. We know the statistic by now, the Panthers are 1-27 when opponents score 17 or more points in Rhule’s tenure. That’s definitely bad and the worst rate in the league but also a strange thing to fixate on. The average win percentage is just .369 league-wide since the start of 2020. Only five teams have a winning record in that situation.
Maybe just as damning is the Panthers are only 10-27 when the opposing team scores any points. That’s against a .495 league-wide win percentage. Every team worse (Jaguars, Jets, Lions, and Texans) have made a change at head coach at least once in that time.
The biggest issue is part of those records — what has Rhule added to the team to help them win? He brought Phil Snow who has coordinated one of the more fun and young defenses in the league but the offense has been consistently mismanaged. The Panthers have gone from -0.02 EPA per play in his first season to -0.14 in Year 2 to -0.16 in Year 3. That’s after public oustings of multiple quarterbacks and an offensive coordinator.
There’s a lack of patience — which definitely comes from the owner — that has left the franchise without a logical long-term plan. What are the Panthers? What is this team supposed to be? I saw first-hand what Rhule did at Temple and admired what he did at Baylor, but that has not translated to the Panthers. If there was some sign there was optimism for the future, it would be easier to give the benefit of the doubt but through three years, it’s only gotten worse.