1st & 10: Vikings-Bills, Bucs Breakthtough, Justin Fields Keeping Running & More From Week 10

We got a wild set of games in Week 10, including what might be the game of the year. In a strange year, the one thing that didn’t seem would change was the top of the playoff picture but with a few Week 10 results, we have a whole new outlook.

All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.

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1. The Vikings Keep Winning (and they might be good?)

It’s still easy to be confused by the Minnesota Vikings — maybe even easier after their 33-30 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills. But what the Vikings have is a bunch of top-end talent that can take over a game.

It would be impossible to start anywhere other than with what Justin Jefferson did, with 10 receptions on 16 targets for 192 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson has been one of the league’s best receivers all season — with this performance he joined Tyreek Hill as the second receiver to top 1,000 yards this year — but the way in which the Vikings were using him felt like it was also limiting the ceiling on what Jefferson could do in a given play.

Through Week 8, Jefferson had an 8.11-yard average depth of target with 38.5% of the Vikings’ air yards. Over the past two weeks, Jefferson has a 13.58-yard aDOT and has accounted for 47.5% of the team’s air yards.

Part of that is the trade for T.J. Hockenson, which has given the Vikings a legitimate underneath threat, which has opened up Jefferson to fill a downfield role. Over the first eight weeks of the season, Jefferson had 20 targets of 11 or more air yards. He has 16 in the last two games. He had seven deep targets of 20 or more air yards over the first eight weeks and has matched that over the past two.

In the first quarter, Jefferson had a 46-yard reception on a third-and-11 matched up against rookie corner Christian Benford as the outside receiver in a 3×1 set. Jefferson looped his route around Benford, which created enough room for Jefferson to turn and gain another 29 yards after the catch.

 

 

That set up the next third down and a 22-yard touchdown on a third-and-3 where Jefferson just ran a go past Benford. The sixth-round pick did not often have bad coverage in this game, but it didn’t matter because Jefferson took over.

 

 

With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Jefferson had the catch of the year (which might be underselling it) with a one-handed grab that took the ball away from safety Cam Lewis.

 

 

On the play, Jefferson was lined up in the slot and got into open space as Taron Johnson dropped into the flat to cover Hockenson after lining up across from Jefferson on the line of scrimmage.

A 24-yard corner route on a third-and-10 in overtime, set the Vikings up near the goal line and eventually set up the go-ahead field goal.

 

 

On third dows alone, Jefferson had five catches for 111 yards and a touchdown on six targets. That was arguably one of the most productive high-volume efforts on third down over the past few seasons.

Players With At Least 15 Routes Run & 6.0 Yards Per Route Run On Third Down, Last Five Seasons
data per TruMedia

PlayerWeekRoutesYPRR
Justin JeffersonWeek 10 2022166.94
Brandin CooksWeek 1 2021166.50
Evan EngramWeek 12 2020176.41
Jerry JeudyWeek 17 2020156.40
Cooper KuppWeek 18 2021156.27

Of course, this wasn’t all on Jefferson and the offense. The defense was able to put some pressure on Josh AllenZa’Darius Smith and Harrison Phillips combined for 14 pressures — and Allen again made a few big mistakes.

Allen had one or two red zone interceptions, depending on how you define the start of the red zone… at the 20 or inside the 20. The red zone is mostly inside the 20, so Allen’s game-ending interception to Patrick Peterson from the 20-yard line doesn’t count as a red zone interception but his first pick to Peterson early in the fourth quarter does.

 

 

It was a fourth-and-2 so Allen was trying to make something happen, but these picks and overall red zone performance has been a concern of late. Over the past three weeks, only Sam Ehlinger (-1.12) has worse EPA per play than Allen (-0.80) inside the red zone. Allen is just four-of-13 (30.8%) with three interceptions in that stretch.

There could be some cause for concern for the Bills — they’re clearly not a flawless team — but they also should get healthier, especially on defense throughout the season. But what looked to be an easy path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC has now gotten harder. Buffalo is now third in the AFC with the loss and the No. 6 seed in the current standings. Per FiveThirtyEight,,the Bills went from a 39% chance for a first-round bye to 21% with now just a 49% chance to win the division.

At 8-1, the Vikings have a greater than 99% chance to win the division yet even with an impressive win, they’re still not as strong as an 8-1 record would suggest. That continues to be the holdup when discussing the Vikings and their potential. No team since 2000 has been at least 8-1 with a lower point differential than Minnesota’s 35. The next-lowest was the 2014 Arizona Cardinals at 53, a team that lost in the Wild Card Round. Only one other team, the 2000 Tennessee Titans, had eight wins through nine games with a point differential under 60 (53). Those Titans had a first-round bye but lost in their first playoff game. That could be the future of these Vikings.

2. This Is What The Buccaneers Were Supposed To Look Like

A 21-16 win over the Seahawks in Germany has been the closest we’ve seen to what the Buccaneers were expected to look like coming into the season. Tom Brady averaged 8.9 yards per attempt, Rachaad White ran for over 100 yards, and a run defense stepped up to limit gains on the ground and force the opponent into more obvious passing situations.

The question here is if this can sustain and if the Tampa Bay coaches will even allow it to continue. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has publicly stated multiple times that a good run game is needed to set up play-action. That is not true, but facts don’t help if that is what Leftwich believes. Through Week 9, the Buccaneers were 31st in EPA per play on the ground, so there wasn’t a whole lot of play-action getting called. Brady used play-action on 14.7% of his dropbacks, which ranked 34th among 34 qualified quarterbacks. When Brady did use play-action, he was fifth in EPA per dropback.

The aversion to play-action wasn’t game script dependent either, in one-score situations, the Buccaneers had rarely run so they rarely used play-action.

Against the Seahawks, the Buccaneers found some success on the ground. Though Leonard Fournette had a higher success rate, 18.2% of Rachaad White’s rushing attempts went for 10 or more yards, which created some chunk gains that haven’t been there for the running game this season.

With the running game working, Brady used play-action on 31% of his dropbacks. He had been over 20% just one other time this season. Brady went 8-of-9 for 110 yards and 0.63 EPA per play on play-action against the Seahawks. Much of that was done throwing over the middle of the field. 71.4% of those throws were between the numbers and he averaged 0.46 EPA per dropback on those attempts.

 

 

The play-action also served as a layer of protection for the offensive line. This was the first game this season that Brady averaged more than 2.5 seconds to throw at 2.57. His previous high was 2.38. Brady was still only pressured on 17.2% of his dropbacks, though the Seattle front also played a part. Still, that extra time to throw allowed for more successful plays to open down the field. For the first time this season, 50% of Brady’s completions gained 10 or more yards.  

Overall, this was easily Brady’s best game of the season. He averaged 0.45 EPA per play after a previous high of 0.23 back in Week 4.

This is the best and most idealized version of the Tampa Bay offense but it remains to be seen if the reliance on play-action will fall away if the relative rushing success does also. The optimistic case is that there was enough success off play-action in this game that the Buccaneers will continue to use it, even if the run game is not working as planned.

The Buccaneers have the luxury of figuring this out. At 5-5 in a bad division, Tampa Bay still has an 83% chance to make the playoffs and an 81% chance to win the NFC South. The Bucs have a bye in Week 11 but come back to face bad run defenses in the Browns (32nd in EPA per rush) and Saints (20th). Maybe that’s enough to keep the rushing success charade going or just enough to make the play-action game have staying power. That’s the best version of these Bucs and the coaching staff has been a big reason it hasn’t looked that way this season.

3. Everyone Got What They Needed In Lions-Bears

There might not be a development more fun over the past few weeks than the breakout of Justin Fields. Fields again put on an impressive singular effort with 147 rushing yards and two scores on the ground along with 8.4 yards per attempt through the air. Over the past four weeks, Fields is fourth among quarterbacks in EPA per play. But despite that effort, the Bears have lost three straight, including this 31-30 game against the Lions.

This might not be the worst thing for the Bears, a team that is not yet in a position to actually compete. But as things click for the quarterback, it’s only raising the ceiling for the future. Chicago currently has the No. 6 overall pick in a crowded group of 3-7 teams.  The Bears also have a projected $124 million in cap space this offseason, per Over The Cap, with the quarterback question eliminated.

Still, it’s fun to see what Fields has been able to do since the switch has been flipped with the offense. Fields became the first quarterback since at least 2000 to have back-to-back games of at least 140 rushing yards. The only other quarterbacks to have back-to-back weeks of at least 100 rushing yards are Lamar Jackson (twice) and Josh Allen.

Back-To-Back Games Of 100 Rushing Yards By A Quarterback
data per TruMedia

PlayerSeasonWeeksGame 1 YardsGame 2 YardsTotal
Justin Fields20229/10178147325
Lamar Jackson20196/7152116268
Josh Allen201813/14135101236
Lamar Jackson20222/3119107226

If there is a potential hiccup, it’s been passing in the fourth quarter. Fields went 2-of-6 for 2.17 yards per attempt in the fourth quarter against Detroit. Over that four-game stretch, Fields has completed 50% of his passes for 2.95 yards per attempt in fourth quarters. Though it’s not as if Fields has been completely stifled in obvious passing situations. On plays with a dropback probability of 90% or more, per TruMedia’s model, Fields is fifth in EPA per play over the past four games and sixth over the full season.

The quarterback with the highest EPA per play in this game, and the week overall, was Jared Goff (0.56). Goff did this by staying calm against the blitz. Chicago blitzed Goff on 43.3% of his dropbacks but on those plays, Goff went 8-of-11 and averaged 0.83 EPA per play. Goff’s aDOT against the blitz was just 4.91, but he averaged 10.0 yards per attempt as receivers had open space to catch and run.

A 44-yard pass to Tom Kennedy against the blitz on a third-and-8 with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter helped set up the game-winning touchdown.

 

 

The Lions needed this win. They’re still just 3-6 and now 4-9-1 in one-score games under Dan Campbell. They have won two in a row against divisional opponents but don’t have the easiest stretch of upcoming games with the Giants, Bills, and Vikings as three of their next four opponents.

4. Tua’s Big Drive

Tua Tagovailoa had another impressive game for the Miami Dolphins in a 39-17 win over the Cleveland Browns. Tua completed 78.1% of his passes and averaged 0.51 EPA per play. He still leads the league in EPA per play on the season. The Dolphins were able to put up the points while the Browns made a concerted effort to stop Tyreek Hill. Hill had just five catches and 44 yards on six targets.

While so much of the Miami production had run through Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins showed another side of the offense with the ball spread around. Waddle led the team with 66 receiving yards and seven Dolphins had at least 20 yards.

Tagovailoa again had some impressive individual throws, but we can just focus on the touchdown drive right before halftime. On that drive, Tagovailoa went 6-of-7 for 53 yards and 0.71 EPA per play, capped off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield. All of the throws on the drive are below. The highlights are a 7-yard out to Waddle over Greg Newsome on a third-and-6 and the touchdown to Sherfield, perfectly floated into the back corner of the end zone.

 

 

The offense continues to evolve and the quarterback is increasing his responsibility for the production. Miami has reached its bye fully clicking on offense and more wrinkles could be added during the week off.

With Buffalo’s loss, the Dolphins are currently atop the AFC East as the No. 2 seed in the conference. However, FiveThirtyEight still gives the Bills a 49% chance to win the division with the Dolphins at 36%. But division title or not (those teams play again Week 15), Miami has an offense that could allow it to hang with anyone in the conference. 

5. The Christian Watson Game

Green Bay needed a young wide receiver to step up and in a 31-28 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers got it from their top draft pick. Christian Watson, Green Bay’s rookie second-round pick, had four receptions for 107 yards and three touchdowns. He accounted for 73.9% of the Packers’ air yards in the game.

Watson had two long go routes for touchdowns, the first a 58-yarder in the second quarter. The Packers took a deep shot off-play against a loaded box on a third-and-1. Watson just beat corner Anthony Brown (3).

 

 

In the fourth quarter, the Packers had a fourth-and-7 and they came out with a bunch to the right. Watson was the No. 1 in the bunch. Watson sold the vertical stem as he reached the first down marker before he started to cross the field and create separation for a 39-yard touchdown that brought the Packers within a touchdown.

 

 

The third touchdown was just using Watson’s speed on a crosser from the slot inside the 10-yard line.

 

 

The Packers have been one of the league’s worst red zone teams this season (-0.23 EPA per play, 29th) because they haven’t been able to create that easy separation they often took advantage of with Davante Adams. A healthy Watson could provide that type of upside and this game should go a long way in earning the trust of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers only dropped back 23 times in this game and threw 20 passes but he went to Watson on 42.1% of them.

This is probably too little too late for the Packers. Unlike the Buccaneers, Green Bay has long odds to make the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight has them at just 13%. All is not fixed, either. There were still some mistakes and a Rodgers blowup at head coach Matt LaFleur late in the game after a disagreement on a play. 

Playoffs or not, the Packers needed to show some sign of life from the young receivers, and with Romeo Doubs out for a few weeks, Watson’s performance will be something to watch.

6. San Francisco Spread It Out

Heading into Sunday Night Football, the 49ers had the potential to unleash every trick they had been saving for a fully healthy roster. With Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, the possibilities were endless. That didn’t really come to fruition. There was a Samuel handoff in the backfield as McCaffrey motioned out of a splitback look but there were not many highlight plays in that vein.

McCaffrey had just 38 rushing yards on 14 carries to go with 39 receiver yards on four receptions. Samuel only had 24 receiving yards on four receptions and 27 rushing yards on four carries.

Instead, the 49ers were led by the other plays. Elijah Mitchell had 89 yards on 18 carries, Brandon Aiyuk led the team in receiving, and Jauan Jennings made a number of tough third down grabs, as he does.

That should be an encouraging sign for the offense. There will be some who will see this performance as either a waste of McCaffrey or a waste of the picks that brought in McCaffrey but having that element in the offense, which we’ve already seen work, and having the ability to win with the secondary pieces is huge for the 49ers. This isn’t going to be what the 49ers rely on to win games, but few teams would have that option — all while still having a 25% explosive pass play rate.

7. The Chiefs Are On Top Again

After all of this, the Kansas City Chiefs are again the No. 1 seed in the AFC. At 7-2, the Chiefs now have a 49% chance for the first-round bye. They are far and away the best offense in the league. The more things change…

Kansas City’s most common offensive personnel packages are 11 (58.5%, 19th) and 12 (25.4%, third). They’re the best in EPA per play from both (0.28 from 11 and 0.19 from 12).

Against the Jaguars, the Chiefs leaned into 11 personnel on 74.2% of their snaps, which kept Jacksonville in nickel. Kansas City worked a little more of the run game from that lighter personnel and averaged 0.16 EPA per rush, which was one of their more successful days on the ground from that grouping. 

8. Chart of the day 

 

The Giants only dropped back 23 times, but they made the most of it. Daniel Jones averaged 0.53 EPA per dropback and the Giants manufactured some explosive passing plays — a 23.5% rate, well above their previous game-high of 16%. Darius Slayton was a big piece of that. With just three receptions, Slayton still had 95 yards. Two of those receptions were big catch and runs in the open field.

9. Play of the day

 

Flea flickers might be the most effective trick play, especially for a struggling offense. If you look at the teams that have attempted one this season — and those that have attempted one twice (Texans, Raiders, and Commanders — it checks out. Unlike most “trick” plays, the quarterback is still the one throwing the ball, which increases the chance of an accurately thrown ball and a chunk play into space. Coming into the week, teams were 11-of-17 (64.7%) for 207 yards (12.2 YPA) off of a flea-flicker, per Sports Info Solutions. There were no touchdowns until this 63-yarder from Ryan Tannehill to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for the go-ahead an eventual game-winning touchdown in Tennessee’s 17-10 win over Denver.

10. The Colts Won

Jeff Saturday won his coaching debut with the Indianapolis Colts by going back to the intended formula. This time, it just worked. Matt Ryan was inserted back as the starter and Ryan was 21-of-28 for 222 yards and 0.20 EPA per play. The Colts went back to the quick game to get the ball of Ryan’s hands, protecting the offensive line, and into the hands of the receivers. 73.3% of Ryan’s passes were out within 2.5 seconds of the snap and 64% of his attempts traveled with 1-10 air yards.

The Colts also ran more than they passed — 49.2% pass to 50.8% run. Indianapolis had its most effective day on the ground by EPA. The 66-yard Jonathan Taylor run helped but the Colts were overall consistent as 10.3% of their runs went for 10 or more yards. Even Ryan had a 39-yard carry on a third-and-2. The success rate was still just 39.3% but negative runs did not derail the offense.

It was a simple plan and the execution was better than the team had seen in the past. This might not be a magic long-term fix but the Colts looked better than they had in at least a few weeks and given where Indianapolis has been, that might be all they can ask for.

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