It was a fun week of football, unless you were an NFL kicker. As is the case every Monday morning during the season, we’re here to break it all down.
1. Another Fun Chargers Game
The wildest and most fun game of the day came in a 47-42 Los Angeles Chargers win over the Cleveland Browns where the two teams combined for 1,024 yards of offense. The Chargers continue to figure things out on offense, combining a well-constructed scheme with Justin Herbert doing Justin Herbert things.
On the first touchdown of the game, the Chargers had the ball just outside the red zone. They came out in 12 personnel, with the two receivers to the left and both tight ends inline to the right. Donald Parham (89) chipped Joe Jackson (91) then released late into his route. The chip-release allowed Jackson to get free pressure on Herbert, but even while backing and rolling to his right, the quarterback was able to easily find his tight end, who was ignored by the defense, for the touchdown.
Through four weeks, no team had used more Quarters coverage than the Browns. It had worked for the Cleveland defense, but the Chargers were able to use a few Quarters beaters that left safeties in conflict with miscommunications and blown coverages in the secondary.
The Chargers’ second touchdown was a 72-yard pass to Mike Williams. On a third-and-10, Williams lined up on the outside left with Keenan Allen in the slot. The Chargers ran a sail concept with Williams on a post route and Allen on a corner. Allen was key to the play. He sold the vertical stem of his route just long enough to hold the deep safety and make it appear that the Chargers were sending two vertical routes. But with the safety frozen and taken out of the play, Williams was able to run free down the field behind the corner, who was expecting safety help.
It’s small details like that extra sell on the vertical stem that have put the Chargers in advantageous positions this season.
Later on a 42-yard touchdown to Williams in the third quarter, the Chargers used another Quarters beater. The Chargers were again in 12 personnel, but in a 3×1 set with Allen, Williams, and Parham to the right and Jared Cook isolated to the left. Cook ran a dig that pulled in Ronnie Harrison (33), the deep safety to that side. That allowed Williams to run free for a post from the slot. John Johnson (43), the opposite side safety continued to defend his side of the field and no player carried Williams.
On the previous touchdown drive, the Chargers went for a fourth-and-2 from their own 24-yard line. At the time, they were down 27-21 following a Browns touchdown at the start of the third quarter. Los Angeles converted with an Austin Ekeler run and later on the same drive converted a fourth-and-7 from the Cleveland 22-yard line. The drive ended in a 9-yard Herbert touchdown run. Per EdjSports, that entire drive boosted the Chargers’ win probability by 19%.
The Browns did just about everything they could to counter on offense. Per TruMedia, Baker Mayfield had the highest EPA per dropback on early downs in Week 5 (0.62) and the combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt was able to work on the ground.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Chargers had started to figure out their pass coverages, but the run fits out of that two-high structure left a bit to be desired. The Chargers ranked fourth in pass defense DVOA but just 25th against the run.
Chubb was able to find success on outside runs, including a 52-yard touchdown run up the right side to kick off the second half.
Hunt had two touchdowns, which helped him lead the week in rushing EPA and EPA per rush, per TruMedia. Hunt’s second touchdown of the game gave the Browns a 42-35 lead with 4:45 left in the game.
The Chargers’ next drive went 75 yards in six plays and 1:30 of game time. With 3:15 remaining, the Chargers faced a second-and-17 from the Cleveland 19-yard line. Again, the Chargers used small details to create an advantage. Jalen Guyton (15) lined up in a condensed stack to the left behind Mike Williams. Before the snap, Guyton ran jet motion, which pulled safety Ronnie Harrison inside just enough to create a better angle for guard Matt Feiler (71) to get out in front to block a screen for Ekeler. That angle created helped free Ekeler down the sideline for a touchdown.
That touchdown should have tied the game, but a missed extra point left the Chargers down by one. Cleveland’s next drive was the most conservative the Browns got all game — 1-yard run on first down, incomplete pass on second down, and a 3-yard run on third-and-9.
The ensuing punt gave the Chargers the ball at the Cleveland 48-yard line and with a 29-yard pass to Jared Cook on first down, the Chargers were inside the red zone within a play. That left the Chargers wanting to drain the clock and the Browns wanting them to score, which eventually led to a three-yard touchdown from Ekeler in which he was carried into the end zone by four Cleveland defenders.
When the Browns got the ball back, they started with short passes which drained clock and didn’t gain many yards, eventually needing a Hail Mary that fell incomplete.
For as well as Baker Mayfield played in the game, especially when compared to his previous two games, there wasn’t much of a spark with the game on the line. That appeared to be the biggest difference between these two quarterbacks and the ceilings of these offenses. Mayfield actually finished with more yards per attempt than Herbert (9,5 to 9.3) and nearly equaled EPA per dropback (0.28 to 0.29) and the Browns had a higher yards per play average than the Chargers (7.8 to 7.2) but the high leverage plays belonged to Los Angeles. That’s how Herbert can finish with a QBR of 84.9 and Mayfield at just 53.
The Chargers showed they just have a little more room for error and when they’re compounded that with consistently smart decisions elsewhere through the game, they’re going to be hard to beat.
2. The Bills Pass The Test
The Buffalo Bills had been great, but they hadn’t played tough competition. After a 38-20 win over the Kansas City Cheifs, the Bills finally played somebody and they still appear to be great.
Everything the Bills had structured their roster around to work for this matchup paid off. The defense, which had been the league’s best unit heading into the game, continued its dominance and held Patrick Mahomes to one of the worst regular games of his career. Per TruMedia, Mahomes’s -0.15 EPA per dropback was better than only a -0.20 EPA per dropback performance in Week 7 of 2020 against the Denver Broncos. (The Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay was -0.28.)
Buffalo accomplished this by doing exactly what they had set out to do. They rushed four and played great coverage behind it. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bills did not blitz Mahomes once on Sunday night. Buffalo only pressured Mahomes on 19.6% of his 56 dropbacks but the confidence and commitment to only rush four allowed the Bills to structure their coverage to not allow any big plays.
Mahomes held onto the ball for 2.98 seconds, longer than his 2.77 season average, and he had nowhere to go with the ball. Mahomes wasn’t forcing bad passes into the tight coverage — just 7.4% of his attempts went into tight windows — but the coverage made Mahomes unsettled enough that he was consistently inaccurate on his throws.
The Bills lived in a two-high shell during the game and ran Cover 2 on 30 of Mahomes’s 54 pass attempts, according to ESPN and Next Gen Stats. Cover 2 hasn’t been a bugaboo for Mahomes — per TruMedia/PFF, Mahomes has completed 69.1% of his passes for 8.25 yards per attempt and 0.22 EPA per dropback against the coverage in his career — but Buffalo has nearly perfected how they’ve worked out of their two-high shell.
This season, teams have refused to throw deep against them — just four deep attempts through Week 4 — and that has allowed the secondary to sit on short and intermediate passes. Mahomes went 1-of-3 for 26 yards on passes that traveled at least 20 air yards and while he had some success to the intermediate sidelines, he went 0-for-5 to the intermediate middle.
The defensive structure has been so sound this season, Bills defenders are just consistently in the correct spot, which can lead to big plays. On Micah Hyde’s pick-6, Buffalo started in a two-high structure but Hyde rotated down into the box post-snap. Hyde closed in on a shallow cross from Tyreek Hill and when the pass bounced out of Hill’s hands, Hyde was in the perfect spot for the rebound.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills were able to hit on the high side of variance. Josh Allen finished the week third in EPA per dropback (0.41) but that almost exclusively came on big plays. Allen finished the game 4-of-5 for 213 yards and two touchdowns on throws of 20 or more air yards but 11-of-21 for 102 yards on all other throws.
Allen has been riding highs and lows throughout the season with shades of the 2019 version peeking out and taking over from what we saw in 2020. We saw both versions on Sunday night. Even with some blown coverages by the Chiefs, Allen made some wild throws down the field. But he was also inconsistent elsewhere and only finished with a 0.6% completion percentage over expectation, according to Next Gen Stats.
The Bills now sit in the driver’s seat for both the AFC East and the conference in general. Buffalo easily has the highest point differential in the league at +108 with the next highest in the NFL at +62. This was the Bills’ biggest test of the season and they passed, quite easily. The schedule doesn’t get much harder from here. Next week Buffalo plays Tennessee before a Week 7 bye. Then the Bills come back for a four-game stretch against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, and Colts.
3. No Kickers Allowed In Packers-Bengals
Few things in Green Bay’s 25-22 overtime win over Cincinnati made much sense. This game was a kicking nightmare that featured a missed extra point and five missed field goals — all five of which came with 2:14 left in the fourth quarter or later.
With the game tied at 22, Mason Crosby missed a 26-yard field goal for the Packers just before the two minute warning. On the Bengals’ next drive, Evan McPhearson missed a 57-yard field goal. On the final drive of regulation, Crosby missed a 51-yard kick as time expired. In overtime, Crosby missed a 40-yard field goal followed by a 49-yard miss from McPhearson. Finally, on the next drive, Crosby hit a 49-yard field goal to win the game with just 1:55 remaining in overtime.
For as wild of a kicking sequence at the end of the game was, how we got there was just as interesting. The Packers had control for most of the game, even if it didn’t completely feel that way. Green Bay dominated in yards per play — 7.4 to 5.6 — but the Packers went just 4-of-11 on third downs, which kept the Bengals within striking distance.
Aaron Rodgers finished with a 10.9% completion percentage over expectation, per Next Gen Stats, which was the second-highest of the week, due in part to a 58.4% expected completion percentage, which was one of the lowest marks among quarterbacks in Week 5.
The Packers’ passing game relied heavily on moving Davante Adams around and getting him in open spaces. Luckily, that worked. Rodgers as 11-of-16 for 206 yards when throwing to Adams against the Bengals but just 16-of-23 for 138 yards throwing to anyone else.
A 34-yard pass to Adams on a third-and-12 in the second quarter had safeties occupied by vertical routes from Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, which opened up the middle of the field for Adams and set up Green Bay’s first touchdown of the game.
Then in the fourth quarter, Adams split a safety and corner on a go route that went for 59 yards to set up a field goal that gave the Packers a 22-14 lead.
Adams currently leads the league in receiving yards after Week 5 and his 45.8% of the team’s air yards is the third-highest among receivers.
One player above him is Ja’Marr Chase (47.7%), who had 159 yards on six receptions in this game. That included a 70-yard touchdown catch on a ball that wasn’t played all that poorly by Kevin King. (There was just as much shock writing that statement as you had reading it.) But Chase was able to haul in the pass through the arms of King and run in for a touchdown. He also had a 28-yard catch and run against rookie Eric Stokes that showed off an impressive change of direction after the catch.
Joe Burrow had an 8.4-yard aDOT in the game but just a 5.4-yard average depth of completion, according to Next Gen Stats. Burrow really worked and picked apart the underneath area.
The Bengals played just well enough to hang on in the game but made mistakes — including a terrible Burrow interception to start overtime — that cost them a victory. Both teams could have won this game. It’s fair to wonder whether either team should have won this game.
4. Dak Prescott Is In Control
Dak Prescott was blitzed on 42.9% of his dropbacks in a 44-20 win against the New York Giants on Sunday, which was tied for the second-highest rate among quarterbacks in Week 5 per TruMedia. Despite that, Prescott was pressured on just 25.7% of those dropbacks, which was the eighth-lowest rate among quarterbacks in Week 5.
That’s been a pattern for Prescott this season. No quarterback among the 30 with at least 100 pass attempts has been blitzed more often (38.7%) and only seven quarterbacks have been pressured less.
That’s just a part of what Prescott has done so well this season. He’s processing both before and after the snap in a way that rarely puts him or the Dallas offense in danger. Prescott is now third behind Matthew Stafford and Patrick Mahomes in EPA per dropback on the season.
Combine that with an offensive scheme that is taking advantage of the skill position players on the roster and the Cowboys will continue to have one of the most dangerous defenses in the league.
Prescott hasn’t needed to throw deep often — just 10.7% of his passes have traveled at least 20 air yards, per TruMedia — but he’s been on point when he has. On a third-and-8 in the second quarter, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb deep down the sideline for a 49-yard touchdown. The play highlighted Prescott’s touch and anticipation, along with Lamb’s separation ability. Per Next Gen Stats, there were 1.1-yards of separation between Lamb and cornerback James Bradberry at the time the ball was released. That was 1.9 when Lamb caught the ball.
Prescott just has some throws in him that the defense can do nothing about. With under a minute left in the second quarter, Prescott had a strike to Amari Cooper that went between a corner and charging safety for a 24-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 17-10 lead at halftime.
That ability to consistently score on offense has allowed the defense to play more aggressively. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn isn’t sitting the defense back in a Seattle Cover 3 scheme. The coverages have been mixed and the corners have been able to attack the ball. Trevon Diggs had another interception on Sunday, which brings his season total to six. He’s had some misses in coverage but the splash plays have more than made up for it.
This is now the story of the Cowboys, a great offense that can carry a risk-taking defense. Dallas hasn’t really been in this position before but everything is clicking as they easily sit atop the NFC East.
5. Tom Brady Still Beats The Blitz
The Miami Dolphins are one of those teams that know what they want to do and they’re going to do it regardless. Miami has one of the most man-heavy defenses in the league and they blitz a ton in front of that coverage. Neither of those things has really held up all that well this season and that’s not exactly the strategy you want to struggle against when you’re facing Tom Brady.
Brady has killed man coverage and the blitz throughout his career. This season, per TruMedia/PFF, Brady has averaged 0.33 EPA per dropback with an 11.0 aDOT and 11/0 TD/INT rate against man coverage. Against the blitz, Brady is averaging 0.34 EPA per dropback.
Brady went 8-of-10 against the blitz for 0.76 EPA per dropback when he faced the blitz versus Miami on Sunday. Against man, he went 14-of-20 for 0.82 EPA per dropback and three of his five passing touchdowns. Brady easily led all passers in overall EPA per dropback (0.36).
On the season, Brady is fifth in EPA per dropback against the blitz and eighth against man coverage.
What continues to amaze about Brady is how well and often he’s slinging the ball downfield. Brady’s aDOT in the game was 10.27. On the season, 15.6% of Brady’s passes have traveled at least 20 air yards, which is the eighth-highest rate in the league. The man is 44 years old.
6. The Trey Lance Debut & An Aggressive Shanahan
Trey Lance had his first career start for the San Francisco 49ers and it was uneven in a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Lance averaged 6.6 yards per attempt with no touchdowns and one interception for a QBR of 33.7.
A lot of what Lance did was evident in the preseason. Some of the rookie’s reads come a little late because he has yet to anticipate the openings. That leads to the quarterback firing in passes at 100mph in order to make the timing work. He often missed hard and high when trying to overcompensate. The man has a cannon, but part of the problem is it’s always set to “on.”
Some of those issues will be worked out in time, but there is a question of how much time Lance will be given. Kyle Shanahan stated nothing has changed in the quarterback room and Jimmy Garoppolo is still the starter.
There were a few things Lance did well that can be built on going forward, whenever he returns to the field, whether that’s next week or in the future. The 49ers used pistol on nearly a quarter (23.7%) of Lance’s dropbacks, per TruMedia. Pistol combines what works from shotgun and under center and it can also help disguise the mesh point on option plays.
Lance did run the ball 16 times but many were scrambles when the quarterback panicked on the play, but he did gain 89 yards on the ground.
Kyle Shanahan also tried to keep the offense on the field with a more aggressive approach on fourth downs. Throughout his tenure, Shanahan has been a mostly passive coach on fourth downs. But he went for five of them in this game. Unfortunately, the Niners went just 1-for-5 on those tries.
Some of the play calls were uninspiring but going for it is a plus. If Shanahan can continue some of that aggressiveness, despite the results, the 49ers could find another edge to keep the offense moving, whether that be with a rookie adjusting to the game or a veteran who doesn’t add many explosives on his own.
7. Derrick Henry Carries The Load
Derrick Henry has carried the ball 142 times this season. That’s a pace of 482 carries over a 17-game season. Obviously he’s not going to get there. He’s not going to get there, right? Henry’s 142 carries are 48 more than Alvin Kamara in second place. Only 34 players have at least 48 carries on the season.
The Titans continue to rely on Henry, especially as they work through injuries at receiver and even when those carries aren’t completely efficient. Last year, one of the incredible things about Henry is how well he did produce with the high volume of carries.
Per Next Gen Stats, he averaged 1.11 rushing yard above expectation per carry and 45.6% of his carries produced more rushing yards than expected, which was the fourth-highest rate in the league. This year, those rates are down to 0.15 and 43.6%, respectively. On Sunday with a 130-yard and three-touchdown day on the ground, Henry averaged -0.59 rushing yards over expected per carry and had more rushing yards than expectation on just 34.5% of his carries.
Henry might not completely break down as other backs in this role have, but he could start to lose that efficiency, which could be worse in a high-volume role. The Jaguars aren’t a run defense Henry should be struggling to break runs against, though they were proven to be so bad it didn’t matter much.
But Henry’s workload and efficiency should be monitored as the Titans give him an otherworldly burden to carry the offense.
8. Chart of the day
Davis Mills finished the day second in EPA per dropback, because of course he did. Against a Bill Belichick defense? Sure. Mills was helped with some blown coverages, incredible catches, and a flea-flicker but he also showed more poise than in any other game he’s appeared in this year. He’s probably still not going to be a thing but this performance should not go unmentioned.
9. Play of the day
Everything about this play is wild. Kyler Murray scrambled out ot his left and just so quickly flipped his hips to get in position to throw as pressure closed in. Then he had the arm strength and accuracy to get the ball down the field. Then there is Rondale Moore’s concentration and balance on the sideline.
Next Gen Stats had this with an 11.8% completion probability, the third-least likely completion so far this season.
10. The Raiders Step Back
Every year there is a stretch of games when the Raiders look like one of the best teams in the league. This year, it just happened to be the first three games as Las Vegas jumped to a 3-0 start. The fall did happen quickly, though. A week 4 loss to the Chargers is understandable since that appears to be a pretty good team. But Sunday’s 20-9 loss to the Chicago Bears is low even for them.
The Bears have been a surprisingly good defense this season — eighth in DVOA through Week 4 — under Sean Desai, but the Raiders were supposed to finally have a consistent, explosive offense. Derek Carr had a QBR of 28.4 and -0.18 EPA per dropback.
After a 3-0 start, the Raiders now sit at 3-2 and without many redeeming qualities that would suggest the past two games are flukier than the first three. The hope was that there was some real change now in Year 4 of Jon Gruden. But if the Raiders are just the same old team we’ve seen, especially in light of Gruden’s emails that were reported on this past week, then what exactly are they doing?
The Raiders just continue to be the Raiders and at some point that franchise should be hoping and striving for something better.