Every week in the NFL seems to get weirder. This week featured two late comebacks and an offensive dud from two teams that set a Super Bowl record for offensive output just two seasons ago. Nothing feels simple to explain, but we’ll give it our best shot.
1. Dak Deserves More Credit
Dak Prescott has become Twitter’s Rorschach test for appreciating quarterback play. Prescott has been among the league leaders — at or near the top — in just about any meaningful metric this season. Still, there is a loud group that will cite “QB wins” and point out “HE LOST TO THE JETS!”
It’s not Prescott’s play that is is the Rorschach test, though, it’s the conversation around it. Prescott has been incredible for nearly all of the 2019 season. Nothing about Prescott’s season — whether through numbers, the eye test, or however else you would like to judge — would suggest he’s anything other than one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. That stretched to a 444-yard and three-touchdown game in a 35-27 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 11.
Prescott averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, finished with a 72.1 QBR, and 0.46 Expected Points Added per play through the air, per nflscrapR. It was the second straight game Prescott came through for Dallas when Ezekiel Elliott struggled on the ground.
Throughout the season, Prescott has been one of the league’s best throwers to the outside — his 8.9 yards per attempt to the outside was tied with Kirk Cousins for the league lead through Week 10 per Sports Info Solutions. But against the Lions, Prescott worked the middle of the field. Per Next Gen Stats, Prescott was 11-of-13 for 124 yards and two touchdowns over the middle.
Darius Slay was mostly able to take Amari Cooper out of the game on the outside — Cooper had three receptions for 38 yards on eight targets — so Prescott was able to go elsewhere. Both Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb had over 100 yards receiving against Detroit’s weaker cornerbacks.
After a stretch where the Cowboys were forcing the ball on the ground, including last week’s loss against the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas trusted Prescott to carry the offense against the Lions. Even with the game close, Prescott threw 46 times with the run game struggling. Nothing highlighted the trust Dallas put in Prescott for this game than trusting the quarterback to throw and ice the game deep in his own territory.
For the season, Prescott is third in Total QBR (pending what current leader Patrick Mahomes does on Monday night) and has the most adjusted points added from the pass. He leads all quarterbacks in a metric that combines Expected Points Added per play and Completion Percentage Over Expected.
Shuffling the deck for MVP leader is a tired thing to do every week, but it’s not recency bias to suggest Prescott should be in that conversation. The “conversation” would make more sense if the actual voting did not require just one name, but Prescott has often been left out due to factors mostly out of his control. With that he’s been able to control, Prescott has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
Before the season, Prescott and the Cowboys were not able to reach an agreement on a contract extension. The number Prescott can currently ask for goes up every game. Dallas would not be in playoff contention without him at quarterback and with the holes he’s pulled the offense and defense out of this season. Heading into the week, Dallas ranked first in offensive DVOA and just 20th in defensive DVOA.
Next week, Prescott and the Cowboys will play the New England Patriots and a defense that has been the league’s best and just shut down the Eagles. How Prescott performs in that game will probably irreparably shift the narrative either way, but to this point, more appreciation should be given to Prescott for what he’s been able to do for the Cowboys this season.
2. If The Ravens have a defense, there’s no team more dangerous
Multiple times Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense have led this column. That easily could have been the case again after a 41-7 blowout of the Houston Texans. Baltimore’s offense is the most fun and important part of the team, the generator of the success, but the defense might be what sets the ceiling, especially once the playoffs hit. If the Baltimore defense plays like it did against Houston on Sunday, the Ravens might be unbeatable.
Early in the season, we highlighted some of the things the Ravens defense was doing, but that might have been a bit premature since the defense hovered around average in the weeks that followed. But over the past few weeks, the defense has started to trend up again and we could be seeing one of the better units in the league, which could be devastating for opponents.
The Ravens came into the season deep at defensive back, but some of that depth was tested immediately with losses of Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith. Now heathier and with the addition of Marcus Peters, this Ravens secondary is stacked with talent. Peters has already made a significant impact. He already had two pick-6’s in three games entering the game. He added another pass defensed against Houston. Through Week 10, Peters allowed 0.68 Adjusted Yards per coverage snap, which ranked 24th among 113 cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps.
Deshaun Watson threw into tight coverage on 20.6% of his attempts against the Ravens, well above his season average of 16.3%, per Next Gen Stats. Those throws into tight windows allowed Baltimore defenders to make plays on the ball and the Ravens ended the game with six passes defensed. The defense got Watson to press and try to match Jackson big play for big play and that caused a few mistakes, like an ill-advised cross body interception that had little chance of being completed.
When the coverage held up for the Ravens, the pass rush was able to get to Watson. Baltimore sacked Watson six times and had 10 total quarterback hits. Matt Judon led the way with four hits and two sacks. He’s been one of the most efficient pass rushers in the league this season — sixth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate through Week 10. He was also second among 124 linebackers and defensive ends with at least 100 pass rushes in pressure rate.
Baltimore’s biggest tests come in their next two games, against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football in Week 12 and then against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13, though both come against quarterbacks with their own question marks. If the Ravens can keep this pace over the next few games, they’ll be set for a first-round bye and with the current roster construction around the league, they might be set up as the most balanced playoff contender with a top tier offense and defense, which could make them the most dangerous of the group.
3. Comeback Kirk
Just as we all expected, the Minnesota Vikings went into halftime trailing 20-0 at home against the Denver Broncos. And just as everyone expected after that, Minnesota came back to win 27-23. Much of the comeback was done through the air while Dalvin Cook had a rare inefficient game on the ground (minus-0.02 EPA per play).
The Vikings’ passing game was slow to start but picked up as the game went on with negative EPA in the first quarter but positive EPA in each quarter after, topped with a fourth quarter that featured over 1.0 EPA per pass to complete the comeback.
Minnesota had two big plays in the fourth quarter. The first was a 54-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs on a 3rd and 2 that brought the score to within three at the start of the quarter. The touchdown alone was worth six points on the scoreboard and 4.9 EPA.
Later, a 32-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph gave the Vikings the lead with six minutes remaining. That touchdown was worth 3.35 EPA.
Both touchdowns came on designed rollouts to the left, something Cousins has excelled at doing this season. The Kevin Stefanski-Gary Kubiak hybrid offense has gotten Cousins to play to his strengths on play-action and rollouts and nowhere has that been more apparent than when he’s rolled to his left this season.
Per SIS, Cousins had 26 designed rollouts to his left through Week 10, which was the most for any quarterback in the league. It’s an area not a lot of quarterbacks have success or even try very often. The quarterback with the next highest number of designed rollouts to the left is Aaron Rodgers with nine. There are only three other quarterbacks with a touchdown on a rollout to the left. The touchdown throw to Diggs was Cousins’s sixth and the throw to Rudolph was his seventh. Here are Cousins’s numbers of designed rollouts to the left this season and what the rest of the league has done combined:
Designed Rollouts to Left, 2019
|Kirk Cousins||21/28 (75%)||372 (13.29 YPA)||7/0|
|Rest of NFL||69/103 (67%)||541 (5.25 YPA)||3/1|
Most quarterbacks, because they are right-handed will prefer to roll out to their right. There are 19 quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts on such plays this season. On those throws, Cousins has 15 attempts with no touchdowns and an interception. Something about rolling to his left clicks for Cousins more than any other quarterback in the league. It’s been a successful part of Minnesota’s passing game this season and it played a big part in Sunday’s comeback.
4. 49ers escape with a late break
Minnesota wasn’t the only NFC contender with a come from behind win on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers were able to score a last-minute touchdown and then get a late defensive score for a 36-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
San Francisco was outplayed for much of the game on both sides of the ball. Kyler Murray was able to have early success through the air and later on the ground, but a shift to a less aggressive mentality through the air in the second half allowed the 49ers to get back in the game — Murray’s average pass traveled just four yards in the air, the lowest for any quarterback in Week 11.
Jimmy Garoppolo was another quarterback who needed to overcome a suddenly inefficient running game. Tevin Coleman had 12 carries for 14 yards, averaged minus-0.63 EPA per play, and had a 0% success rate.
Last week, we looked at what some contending teams could do to make up for subpar quarterback play. San Francisco’s key was sticking with scheme to keep receivers open and allow Garoppolo to make easy throws. That happened on Sunday and after a rough start, Garoppolo added a little more on his own, completing 9.3% more of his passes than expected, per Next Gen Stats. He had two bad interceptions, but eventually settled down and took what Arizona’s poor pass defense graciously gave.
That was key to the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Arizona rushed six and the design left edge rusher Chandler Jones out in coverage against Jeff Wilson. Jones isn’t a stranger to coverage this season, he had rushed on just 86.6% of his pass snaps entering the game, but defending out of the backfield is not a strength. Wilson was able to cut inside Jones and had a clear path to the end zone for the score.
The importance of the win cannot be overstated for the 49ers. A loss would have dropped San Fransisco to 8-2 and would have given the Seattle Seahawks the division lead, for the time being, thanks to a tiebreaker. Now at 9-1, the 49ers aren’t completely safe from Seattle, but they still have a 61.3% to win the division, per Football Outsiders, a 31.8% chance at the No. 1 seed, and a greater than 50% chance at a first-round bye.
Those odds will be put to the test for San Francisco’s next stretch that features the Packers, Ravens, and Saints over the next three games.
5. Indy Ran The Damn Ball
Most teams were carried to wins by their passing games on Sunday, but the Indianapolis Colts dominated on the ground. Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams each rushed for over 100 yards in a 33-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mack had a 50% success rate on 14 carries with 0.53 EPA per play while Williams had a 54% success rate on 13 carries with 0.39 EPA per play. While the Indianapolis offensive line is one of the best in the league, the Colts also got a lot fo production from their backs after contact.
The #Colts got a combined 194 rushing yards after contact today between Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams
— Eric Eager 📊🏈 (@PFF_Eric) November 18, 2019
Indianapolis still tried to reward the offensive line for what its done to this point in the season by giving guard Quenton Nelson a goal-line carry as a fullback. The play was originally ruled a touchdown, but was called short after review. The touchdown was gone, but long live the celebration.
Success on the ground was needed for a team that struggled everywhere on offense last week with Brian Hoyer under center and still wanted to protect Jacoby Brissett in his return from injury with limited passing game weapons. Brissett held his own — 0.14 EPA per play and a 50% success rate through the air to go along with a rushing score himself — but the big plays in the run game never forced him to carry too much of the load against Jacksonville.
Both Williams’s ability to run the ball efficiently and Brissett’s health will come into play more with it announced after the game that Mack had fractured his hand. The timeline for recovery is unknown, but he will miss Thursday’s game against the Houston Texans. That will be a huge matchup for two 6-4 teams.
6. Did Kyle Allen Just Shift The Quarterback Carousel?
There is a lot of expected movement among quarterbacks this offseason due to needs and some team’s preparation to move on from veterans. At the center of that was believed to be Cam Newton, who has missed most of the season with a foot injury after being ineffective last season with a shoulder injury.
The play of Kyle Allen had been enough for the Panthers to believe, rightly or wrongly (it’s the latter), they could move on from Newton and be set at quarterback. We discussed this looming decision a few weeks ago, but the only way the Panthers should really make that move is if they’re certain Newton would never again be 100% healthy.
An underlying layer of that decision was the play of Allen, which to that point was fine. Those who wanted to be encouraged and seek a reason for potential growth could find it. But over the past few weeks, Allen has looked overmatched and that included his performance in a 29-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Allen had four interceptions — each somehow worse than the last — and finished with a QBR of 4.5.
Allen’s QBR on the season is now 36.8, which ranks 30th among 32 qualified quarterbacks. If you view QBR as a win probability statistic, A team quarterbacked by Allen this season would be expected to win 36.8% of its games, which would be 5.9 wins over a 16-game season. That shouldn’t be the type of play a team is willing to move on from a former MVP for.
This recent stretch from Allen — he has nine interceptions and three touchdown passes over his past four games — could cause Carolina to rethink its future quarterback plans, which could change the speed of the offseason quarterback carousel.
7. Maxx Crosby is breaking out
The first Oakland Raiders draft class from Mike Mayock was easy to dismiss. It featured a running back in the first round and just about every draft-eligible player who appeared in the National Championship Game between Clemson and Alabama. But so far, the class has turned out fairly well.
Mayock’s best pick of the bunch, though, might be fourth-round edge rusher Maxx Crosby from Eastern Michigan. Crosby was an athletic freak during Combine testing who had impressive college production. He had all the makings of a mid-round hit.
Eastern Michigan EDGE Maxx Crosby:
– 16.2 percent pressure rate (7th best in class per SIS Rookie Hanbook)
– 22 QB hits
– 21.5 run stuffs
– 4 forced fumbles
– 90.2 SPARQ percentile
— Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta) March 27, 2019
Crosby started slow, but has worked his way into a starting role on the Oakland defense with no less than 70% of the defensive snaps played over the past five games. Last week, Crosby started his breakout with three quarterback hits and half a sack against Philip Rivers. He had his full breakout in Week 11 during a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that featured four quarterback hits and all four resulting in a sack.
Each of his four sacks came on a different move. One from speed around the edge, one power through a tackle. His third was unblocked and the fourth was a stunt. He was a constant terror for the Raiders in what could have been a losable game.
There’s still some work to do; entering the week, Crosby had an 11.4% pressure rate, which was third among Oakland edge rushes (though better than first-round pick Clelin Ferrell). But Crosby is a bright spot in an impressive rookie group on a surprising Raiders team that is 6-4 and still in a playoff hunt.
8. Play of the day
The New England Patriots struggled on offense against the Philadelphia Eagles. Tom Brady averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt in a 17-10 win. But to get a but of a jumpstart for the offense, the Patriots went to Julian Edelman for a touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett.
Edelman passes have been saved for the playoffs in the past, but it’s a trick the Patriots can pull out at any time. With Mohamed Sanu also on the field, New England has three legitimate threats who can throw the ball on a given play. We can almost guarantee there will be more like this to come from the Patriots in the future.
9. Chart of the day
With a caveat that the game was against Washington, Sam Darnold had himself a nice little bounceback after a rough season’s worth of games in 2019. Darnold looked mostly in control both in and out of structure with four touchdown passes and an interception with 9.8 yards per attempt and 0.33 EPA per play.
Everything about the Jets centers around Darnold’s development and it was a good sign to see him beat up on a bad defense to know all hope is not lost when the Jets can make that feel like the case for every part of that franchise.
10. Thursday Night Football, Sunday Edition
What does it look like when two head coaches have no trust in their quarterbacks in the same game?
This. This is what that looks like.
Micthell Trubisky was benched late in the fourth quarter, though the team line is a hip injury. Jared Goff had a few nice throws called back by penalty, one a long would-be touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds. Still, it felt like both Matt Nagy and Sean McVay were searching for ways to not have the ball in their quarterback’s hand throughout the game. That made for an unpleasant viewing experience and raises a lot of questions for the future of that position for these two teams.