Week 5 brought a strange Sunday slate of games and by all accounts, it’s only going to get weirder as the season progresses and the NFL reschedules on the fly. With extra weekday games added and teams now on scheduled byes, we had fewer games than usual but the action that did happen made up for what we might have missed. Let’s dive into Week 5.
1. Derek Carr went deep
If there is an undefeated team this season, it won’t be the Kansas City Chiefs. The Las Vegas Raiders pulled out a surprising 40-32 upset of the Chiefs in Kanas City thanks, in large part, to the arm of quarterback Derek Carr.
The biggest criticism of Carr has always been his hesitation to push the ball down the field. Carr does have a naturally strong arm, but he all too often would not hesitate to throw short. Playing that way could lead to efficient results and the past two years under Jon Gruden have been that way. Last season, Carr finished the season eighth in DVOA among quarterbacks and he was fifth entering this week, according to Football Outsiders. but there always appeared to be a concrete ceiling with Carr leaving potential big plays on the field. That was not the case on Sunday.
Carr finished the game with 11.2 yards per attempt and a QBR of 92.1.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Carr was 4-of-6 for 219 yards and two touchdowns on pass attempts of over 20 air yards against the Chefs. This was Carr’s best deep throwing performance of his career. Sports Info Solutions has data back to 2015, which eliminates Carr’s rookie season, but considering Carr only had five games with over 219 passing yards total that season, we can safely say this performance was not surpassed in 2014,
Carr only had 14 other games since 2015 with at least six attempts of 20 or more air yards. He had not gone over a 50% completion percentage on those throws in any of those games. His previous career-high in yards from deep throws was 140 from a Week 12 game in 2015.
Derek Carr top games by deep passing yards, 2015-2020
Even early against the Chiefs, it looked like the Raiders could have been hurt by Carr’s penchant to leave big plays on the field. His 46-yard throw to Henry Ruggs on Las Vegas’s first drive was a little short and forced Ruggs to adjust back into coverage when he had a step of separation on the defender.
If that ball was out a little further ahead of Ruggs, it’s probably a touchdown and a ball a little more outside keeps the safety out of the play. It’s a small detail but at that point, it could have been major. As it was, it was a four-point swing since the Raiders could only cap that drive with a field goal.
Later in the game, Carr made up for it and hit Ruggs on a 72-yard touchdown.
Carr was able to hang against a blitz and with just a single-high safety initially breaking to jump the shallow crosser, there was nothing stopping Ruggs deep.
It would be one thing if those were just deep shots in general, but both of those throws to Ruggs came on third down, where Carr has been extremely conservative throughout his career. That was even the case earlier this season. This game was an outlier, even for Carr’s 2020. His average completion of 7.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage was higher than his average depth of target in three of the first four games. Carr’s aDOT has gone from 5.5 to 6.9 to 7.8 to 6.3 to 9.0.
If this type of offensive aggression can continue, without forcing balls into tight windows, the Raiders could be an explosive and dangerous offense. Those big plays down the field are going to create more value than the death by a thousand cuts offense the Raiders typically roll with under Carr.
For the Chiefs, this became a game they couldn’t mount the comeback. Kansas City scored just eight points in the second half, a rarity for a team that has been able to pull out improbable wins. The Raiders were able to hold that down with a mix of pressure and deep coverage that didn’t allow for big plays. That continues to be a trend for teams against the Chiefs this season. Defenses are doing it in different ways, whether it be playing more two-deep or with the Chargers’ Cover 3, but teams opposite the Chiefs have spent more resources on preventing the big play.
In some games this season, that had resulted in Patrick Mahomes throwing short and overly relying on checkdowns, but that wasn’t consistently the case in this game. Mahomes still got the shots off with an aDOT of 10.9 (third-highest of the week) but there were just enough times those checkdowns needed to happen in the flow of the game.
A lot of the forced checkdowns came on early downs in this game, where the Chiefs struggled. Per nflfastR data, Kansas City averaged -0.09 EPA per play on early down passes against the Raiders. On third downs, Mahomes was able to take more shots and that resulted in 0.48 EPA per play on third and fourth downs. But the Chiefs have been at their best when they’re able to avoid third downs altogether.
It’s a compound problem now because opposing defenses sitting back and overselling against the big play has highlighted some issues the Chiefs have on the offensive line. There have been some cracks and that was before Kelechi Osemele was carted off the field with tendon tears in both knees on Sunday. Kansas City’s line isn’t significantly worse than last season, they were 14th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate in 2019 and ranked 17th through four weeks this year, but with the emphasis on deep coverage and fewer opening down the field on early downs, Mahomes is holding the ball longer and that shrinks the margin for error along the line.
On Mahomes’s interception late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders were able to create pressure off the edge with just an initial three-man rush plus a spy. That allowed seven defenders to drop in a zone and the safety was able to jump in front of a pass intended for Travis Kelce. Here’s where Mahomes released the ball:
The Raiders played exactly how they needed to big up an upset divisional win on the road. If they can keep this philosophy, especially on offense, they could give more teams tough outings throughout the season. On the other hand, Kansas City now has a clear weakness opponents can potentially exploit. Not every team is going to be good enough to take advantage of it, but the Chiefs might have to make some adjustments to throw a few more changeups while defenses are now sitting on the fastball.
2. Cleveland Is Starting To Click
One of the most intriguing matchups coming into the week was how the offense of the Cleveland Browns would fare against the defense of the Indianapolis Colts, a unit that ranked first in DVOA through four weeks. Much of the Colts’ success in the first quarter of the season came from being able to force turnovers and the unit was able to force Baker Mayfield into two interceptions, but the Browns were able to play well enough on other plays to work out a 32-23 win and move to 4-1 on the season.
Mayfield wasn’t overly impressive in the game His QBR of 85.3 might be a surprise considering his raw passing line (he finished with just 6.7 yards per attempt) though his success came at the right times. The Browns had 0.13 EPA per play on early down passes, which overcame a running game that didn’t really get going against the Colts’ defensive line — -0.30 EPA per play with just a 20% success rate.
Kareem Hunt got his first work as the team’s top running back with Nick Chubb out and the rushing production just wasn’t there. It’s apparently not as easy to scheme up wide-open holes against the Indianapolis front as it was the Dallas front last week. Hunt’s long gain was just 10 yards. But while the Colts’ performance against the pass might have been bound for regression, the ability to stop the run was very real.
Hunt did not have a carry into a stacked box in this game, per Next Gen Stats. The good news there is that the Browns were able to spread the formation out to not invite a stacked box even though Hunt ran the ball 20 times. But also, Hunt’s inability to spring a big gain without having to face eight men in the box is a concern. Next Gen Stats’s new rushing model had Hunt with 1.29 yards below expectation per carry in Week 5.
During the course of the game, the showdown on the other side of the ball became more compelling. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers had been an efficient quarterback over the first four weeks of the season — eighth in EPA and 12th in success rate among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts per SIS — but this matchup with the Browns presented an interesting dynamic.
Over the first four weeks of the season, no quarterback had been worse against Quarters coverage (or Cover 4) than Rivers, who averaged just 3.0 yards per attempt. No team entered Week 5 with more defensive snaps played in Cover 4 than the Browns. They used that to torment Rivers throughout the game, both with the coverage itself and pre-snap disguise going in and out of the look.
On Rivers’s first interception early in the third quarter, the Browns came out in a two-high look but brought safety Ronnie Harrison into the box before the snap. The Colts ran mesh on a third and short but couldn’t find an open receiver in the zone. When Rivers was forced to step up, he threw late to T.Y. Hilton’s crosser and Harrison was easily able to jump the route and run the interception back for a touchdown.
Cleveland was able to mix in those coverage disguises with pressure, especially from Myles Garrett. Garrett had four of the Browns’ five quarterback hits on the day and one of his pressures/hits caused a throwaway from Rivers in his own end zone that was ruled a safety.
Early in the fourth quarter, that all came together for Rivers’s second interception. On a third-and-6 from the Indianapolis 39-yard line, the Browns came out in a dime package (six defensive backs). Cleveland had a two-high look pre-snap but moved to single-high after the snap and Sheldrick Redwine (29) dropped down as a middle of the field robber. The Browns rushed just three and Garrett forced Rivers to step up in the pocket, The quarterback didn’t see Redwine, who was able to jump in front of Mo Alie-Cox for the pick.
At 4-1, the Browns now have a 73% chance to make the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight’s ELO model, though that’s just 17% to win the division. All of the talent acquired in Cleveland is starting to show up and while it hasn’t all clicked in one full game, it’s been a positive sign that some units can carry the others when needed.
3. The Chase Claypool Game
Somewhere in the middle of a 38-29 Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Philadelphia Eagles, a Chase Claypool party happened. Claypool, a rookie second-round pick, was the most dominant force on the field in Pittsburgh. Claypool finished the day with 110 yards and three touchdowns on seven receptions and 11 targets with 1.11 EPA per play. He also added a rushing touchdown.
Claypool is an athletic freak from Notre Dame who, at 238 pounds during the NFL Combine, some believed should make a switch to tight end. But Claypool appears to be a little slimmer and he killed it on the outside and the slot as a receiver. His size-speed-strength combination finally showed out after he had just six receptions and 151 yards through Pittsburgh’s first three games.
He isn’t D.K. Metcalf (at least not yet) but he has that presence across from smaller defensive backs. It just looks ridiculous that the defender is supposed to cover him. Claypool’s been worked into the offense gradually throughout the season — 30% of offensive snaps to 37% to 76% in Week 3 — and it’s impossible to imagine he’s not a mainstay now.
It’s clear how Pittsburgh views Claypool as an offensive weapon by how they got him the ball against the Eagles. There were the three rushes on jet sweeps (one for a touchdown) and his second receiving touchdown came on a screen that motioned him into a quad bunch on the 5-yard line.
It was almost necessary for Claypool to take over because the Steelers offense didn’t have much going for it outside of his performance. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t push the ball down the field until later and Claypool had shown the ability to take over. Even with that, Roethlisberger had just two more attempts 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage (11) than throws behind the line (9). JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington combined for just 53 yards on seven receptions.
Pittsburgh’s defense also wasn’t completely bulletproof. Claypool got most of the attention of the game but Travis Fulgham had 152 yards and a touchdown on 10 reception for the Eagles. Carson Wentz had his best game of the season (thanks in part to finding Fulgham so often) even if his 7.4 yards per attempt and five sacks taken aren’t overly impressive. He still finished the game with a QBR of 81.5 and 0.15 EPA per play.
The Eagles defense was the much bigger concern in this game. It was bad enough when defensive backs were close in coverage on Claypool, but that wasn’t always the case. On a third-and-8 in a three-point game, the Eagles missed in coverage against Claypool and left him wide open down the middle of the field for a game-clinching 25-yard touchdown.
Linebacker Nate Gerry was at fault in the coverage bust. That plays to part of one of the Eagles’ big gambles that did not pay off in the offseason. Philadelphia believed the defense would be functional with replacement-level production at off-ball linebacker, and while that might be true, the Eagles haven’t gotten close to that this season. Gerry has been a target of multiple opposing offenses this season and on plays like this, it doesn’t matter if the secondary or defensive line has improved.
4. Rams Still Rolling
After a little hiccup last week against the New York Giants when the Los Angeles Rams scored just 17 points, they got back on track against the Washington Football Team in a 30-10 win. Jared Goff finished the game with 10.3 yards per attempt and Sean McVay was back on his bullshit with a well-schemed touchdown for Robert Woods off pre-snap motion and Gerald Everett had a 40-yard reception on a deep crosser lined up as a fullback.
Even with the big plays, Goff wasn’t asked to do much out of his comfort zone. His average depth of target was just 6.1 yards and his completion percentage over expectation was just 0.7%. Still, it was exactly what the Rams needed on a day when the running game was hit or miss (-0.24 EPA per play) against Washington’s defensive line.
The Rams’ defense was also an impressive unit that slowed down everything Washington tried to do. Terry McLaurin was completely shut down. He finished with just three receptions for 26 yards despite seeing 84.9% of Washington’s targeted air yards in the game. Poor quarterback play was a huge factor and that’s something that will ail Washington for the rest of the season.
Dwayne Haskins was benched for Kyle Allen this week and the results were not great. Allen was ineffective as a passer but added a rushing touchdown to pad his line. Allen was knocked out of the game on another run and that forced Alex Smith into action.
There were two sides of the Smith coin. First, it was inspirational to see Smith take a snap in a game after his long recovery process from a broken leg. But once Smith was in, it was clear he probably shouldn’t have been. Smith went 9-of-17 and averaged 2.2 yards per attempt. He was sacked six times behind a shaky offensive line and he was getting the ball out as quickly as possible, 2.26 seconds to throw per Next Gen Stats. His average pass traveled a week-low 4.4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and his average completion was behind the line.
Allen was kept out of the game out of “an abundance of caution” and head coach Ron Rivera said Allen will be the starter as long as he’s healthy but Sunday’s game against the Rams showed Washington might have created a bigger quarterback problem than the one they tried to solve with the change.
5. Dak Prescott’s Impact On The 2020 NFC East and 2021 NFL
Nothing might have changed the course of the 2020 season and beyond than the compound facture suffered by Dak Prescott during the 37-34 Cowboys win over the Giants. The injury is devastating on a number of levels. Those familiar with the injury do not believe it will be career-threatening, but Prescott will certainly miss the remainder of the season, one in which he was on a historic pace while playing on the franchise tag.
Prescott did bet on himself while playing on the tag and it was proving to be a wise decision. It’s still likely Prescott signs a long-term deal in the offseason that surpasses the offers Dallas presented but it’s not a certainty that contract comes from the Cowboys. With a cap crunch and a lower salary cap and the idea of a second tag potentially off the table, Prescott could find himself as a free agent. It’s hard to understate how that could shift the entire NFL in 2021.
For now, the 2-3 Cowboys still comfortably hold the lead in the NFC East… and might still have the best quarterback in the division with Andy Dalton. Is that really so crazy? Think about the other quarterbacks in the division. Carson Wentz came close to getting back on track this week, but his first four were a disaster. Daniel Jones continued to quest to turn the ball over in every game (there was another strip-sack against and Jones finished with -0.02 EPA per play), and then whatever is going on in Washington.
Dalton’s standout 2015 season was now five years ago, but he has a history of playing well when the surrounding cast is good. The receivers certainly are, though the offensive line is a question. The biggest key for Dallas might be how much they decide to rely on Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game without Prescott. Given the offensive line struggles, it might be smarter to continue with a pass-heavy approach and trust Dalton to get the ball to the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup in space. The Cowboys don’t have the defense to keep opponents to low-scoring ball control affairs.
6. What Happened In San Francisco?
It was always going to be hard for the San Francisco 49ers to repeat the success of last season and it became exponentially harder when the injuries started to pile up early in the season. Blowout wins over the Jets and Giants are one thing, but matchups against functional football teams would be a bigger test.
San Francisco was supposed to be healthier with a returning Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 5 but that didn’t help as the 49ers were on the receiving end of a 43-17 blowout from the Miami Dolphins.
Ryan Fitzpatrick played about as well as a quarterback could — 22-of-28 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 99.1 QBR. The same could not be said for Garoppolo, who opened 7-of-17 for just 77 yards with two interceptions. Garoppolo was pulled for what Kyle Shanahan described as Garoppolo’s safety. He said he could tell Garoppolo was not 100% and with the 49ers trailing, they were going to have to throw often. C.J. Beathard entered and wasn’t much better, 9-of-18 for 94 yards, a touchdown, and a lost fumble.
Raheem Mostert was efficient on the ground, 11 carries for 90 yards with a long of 37, but the Niners were never close enough in the game for any of that to matter.
The 49ers were worked on defense, mostly by Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki. Gesicki ran free on a 70-yard catch near the end of the second quarter when he split two safeties up the seam.
There’s not a lot of time for the 49ers to get back on track. The 2-3 Niners will face the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, and Saints over the next five weeks before a Week 11 bye. With the loss, San Francisco already dropped to a 21% playoff probability per FiveThirtyEight.
7. Joe Burow Against The Blitz
No team is going to live and die by the blitz more than the Baltimore Ravens. It can backfire when playing quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, but the aggressive nature of the defenses can overwhelm others like it did Bengals rookie Joe Burrow in a 27-3 Ravens win.
Throughout the first four weeks of the season, the Bengals have used empty formations often to allow Burrow to get the ball out quickly as a protection from the offensive line. But against the Ravens’ blitz-heavy scheme, the quick reads Burrow can make get more complicated and every moment that takes longer to identify what is happening on defense is a moment Burrow probably doesn’t have against the rush.
On a third down at the end of the first quarter, Baltimore brought six against an empty look, and safety Chuck Clark had a free lane to Burrow. Burrow airmailed a backpedaled pass over the head of A.J. Green and into the waiting arms of Marcus Peters.
Burrow was sacked seven times and the Ravens had 15 quarterback hits in total. There was little hope for the rookie against this type of defense. Baltimore’s ability to disguise the pressure also made it nearly impossible for Burrow to adjust.
On this third-quarter sack, the Ravens showed seven possible rushers. They dropped two and sent five but the protection slid to the other side and safety DeShon Elliott was unblocked.
It’s not a great look on a blitz when two offensive linemen aren’t blocking anyone when the quarterback is about to take a shot from a free rusher.
Not every team is going to be as blitz-heavy as Baltimore, but it’s something Burrow will have to watch out for and adapt to throughout his rookie season. The dominant defensive effort for the Ravens overshadowed a disappointing day from their own quarterback, who did not practice much this week with a knee injury.
8. Chart of the day
During the week, we wondered if it was time to worry about the Arizona offense. The lack of deep passing and explosive plays was concerning through the first four weeks of the season. Kyler Murray responded by lighting the Jets up for 380 yards (10.3 yards per attempt) and a 4-of-5 for 130 yards and a touchdown split on throws of at least 20 air yards.
I won’t say the two things are directly related but I’m not not saying that. You’re welcome, Arizona.
9. Play of the day
It’s not often we highlight defensive plays. “Play” of the day is typically reserved for scheme and design but this K.J Wright interception of Kirk Cousins in Seattle’s 27-26 win over Minnesota is worth the focus.
Wright doesn’t get a lot of attention playing next to Bobby Wagner but Wright has been one of the better off-ball linebackers in the league for a while and was one of the reasons why Seattle played base so often last season. This play specifically is an incredible individual effort. Wright adjusted off the play-action and backpedaled himself into a zone right in front of Justin Jefferson. Cousins thought he could float the pass over Wright, but the linebacker came down with a near-effortless one-handed interception.
10. The Falcons Start Over
After a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons fell to 0-5 on the season. On Sunday night owner Arthur Blank announced he had fired not just head coach Dan Quinn but also general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
For years, the Falcons had been a talented team that just couldn’t keep everything together. The one time they did, they were minutes away from a Super Bowl in Matt Ryan’s MVP season.
But currently, the Falcons find themselves in no man’s land of a roster built in an attempt to get the most of a veteran quarterback without a clear path for a rebuild. Atlanta still has some talent, but much of it is aging and expensive, which might make it hard for a full reboot. The cap outlook isn’t favorable for the Falcons in 2021.
Per Over The Cap, the Falcons have 32 players under contract for the 2021 season and currently project to be $24.9 million over the cap. The cap is always fluid, but there are not a lot of easy outs in the most expensive deals. The most Atlanta could save on a single move is $6.25 on safety Ricardo Allen. Both Julio Jones and Matt Ryan carry more dead money on the cap than their 2021 cap hits, which makes them difficult to move. Ryan’s cap hit is $40.9 million next season.
Typically those are the types of contracts a team would want to restructure to open up cap space but pushing more money for Jones and Ryan into the future isn’t something a rebuilding team will want to do.
There are young stars like Grady Jarrett and Calvin Ridley but there is not exactly a young core.
The next coach and general manager of the Falcons might have no choice but to try to make one more run in 2021 while cutting costs elsewhere but the rebuild will have to start at the same time. It’s not an enviable position to be in for a new regime.