Week 10 took a bunch of underwhelming matchups on paper and turned them into a compelling slate of games — with potentially the best still to come on Monday night. Six teams were on a bye, but it still left us with plenty to digest.
1. Lamar Jackson is “stop what you’re doing and watch” fun
Lamar Jackson is the most fun thing about the NFL right now. It’s hard to not write about him and highlight what he’s done every week. He’s executing everything on such a high level. When he runs, it’s impossible to bring him down and he’s been one of the league’s most effective passers all season. If one aspect hasn’t been working in a given game, he can rely on the other. But both worked in a 49-13 over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Knock the competition if you choose, but Jackson and the Ravens did what good teams are supposed to do against bad opponents — they blew them out. Blowouts against bad teams tell us more about good teams than close wins against other good teams. There have been a number of quarterbacks who have also gotten the benefit of playing the Cincinnati Bengals defense — which did come into this game ranked 31st in defensive DVOA and 30th against the pass — but none of those quarterbacks pulled off what Jackson did on Sunday. Even Jackson himself didn’t do this the first time these two teams played just four weeks ago.
We can first just focus on the throwing. Jackson aired it out against the Bengals and it wasn’t just bombs to Marquise Brown, though he did have 80 yards on four catches with a long of 49. Passes were going deep and they were going to tight ends. Jackson finished the game with an average depth of target of 11.4, which was the fifth-highest of the week per Next Gen Stats.
Due to the types of passes, Next Gen Stats had his expected completion percentage at 57.7%. He completed 88.2% and that 30.5% difference was easily the highest of the week and the highest of the season. There have only been three other games above 20% and Jackson also holds the second-highest finish, a 26.9% above expectation day in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
Jackson only dropped back 17 times, but he was worth 22.7 Expected Points Added per nflscrapR (1.33 EPA/play) along with 76% success and first down rates, per nflscrapR via the Baldwin boxscore.
Then there’s the rushing and there’s really nowhere else to start than:
Jackson had a team-leading 64 rushing yards, including the 47-yard touchdown run. He was worth 2.4 EPA on his five rushing attempts (0.49 EPA per play). Those were just the balls he kept — Jackson was also the catalyst on a few option runs during the game.
With everything together, Jackson had a Total QBR of 99.7, which was the highest mark for any quarterback this season. (Remember, single-game QBR is best viewed as a win probability metric, so a team with Jackson’s stat line at quarterback would expect to win 99.7% of its games.) Jackson’s game against the Bengals eclipsed his Week 1 game against the Dolphins (99.6). His game against New England also ranks 19th on the season. Six quarterbacks have two top-20 games on the season. Jackson is the only quarterback with three.
It’s still too early to proclaim him even the frontrunner for MVP — especially with Russell Wilson set to play on Monday night — but Jackson has proven he can lead one of the league’s top teams. The Ravens currently sit as the No. 2 seed in the AFC and that potential first-round bye significantly boosts odds of winning the Super Bowl. After Sunday’s games, the Ravens have a 63.7% chance at a bye. A 51.1% chance of making it to the conference championship, and an 11.2% chance of winning the Super Bowl, per Football Outsiders.
Baltimore wouldn’t be in this position without its quarterback. There’s no more questioning if Jackson can succeed at the NFL level. The only question that remains: how good can he be?
2. The Steelers Have Turned Their Season Around
The AFC North was supposed to be a tight race to start the season between the Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland has faced issues all season and Pittsburgh battled injuries and ineffectiveness while the Steelers looked like one of the league’s worst teams for the first quarter of the season before a turnaround.
After Week 2, the Steelers traded a first-round pick to the Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick. At the time, Pittsburgh was 0-2 and looked destined for a top-5 pick without Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh dropped its next game to fall to 0-3, usually a death stroke for a team’s playoff chances, but the Steelers have since won five of their last six, the latest a 17-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The only loss came in overtime against the Ravens.
Fitzpatrick alone didn’t turn the Steelers’ season around, though he’s been incredible with five interceptions since the trade, but the Pittsburgh defense has seen a massive turnaround in recent weeks. The Steelers have forced multiple turnovers in every game since Week 2 with four against the Rams in Week 10. Turnovers aren’t a sustainable thing to rely on, but the process in which Pittsburgh has the opportunity to get those turnovers can continue.
First, the Steelers’ pass rush came alive after a disappointing first two weeks of the season. Pittsburgh was 27th in pressure rate in Weeks 1 and 2, but since Week 3 they lead the league, per Sports Info Solutions:
|Weeks||Pressure Rate (Rank)||Sack Rate (Rk)|
|1-2||20.51% (27)||6.4% (14)|
|3+||38.43% (1)||9.9% (1)|
A big part of that comes from T.J. Watt, who leads the league in QB hits and added two more on Sunday. He also entered the week first among edge rushers in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate. They’ve also gotten contributions from Bud Dupree, who is outperforming his pressure rate with six sacks on nine QB hits (though Dupree outperforming anything is a welcome change for the Steelers). Cameron Hayward also remains an issue for opposing offenses, especially Sunday with three quarterback hits, a sack, and two deflected passes.
The secondary has also held up with just two opponents eclipsing 200 passing yards since Week 4. Against the Rams, the Steelers allowed over 200 yards, but held Cooper Kupp catchless and forced 13 passes defensed.
The offense still remains a question, though. Mason Rudolph has improved from liability to fine, but he still had just a 5.9-yard average depth a target against the Rams, the fourth-lowest for a quarterback this week, though he has incorporated the deep pass more than earlier in the season He was 7-for-10 on passes beyond 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Pittsburgh now sits as the No. 6 six in the AFC with a 52.6% chance to make the playoffs, per Football Outsiders. The improvement in play at least nearly guarantees the Steelers won’t be shipping off a top-5 pick for a safety, and while there are still some issues to work out in both the short and long-term (Pittsburgh still won’t have a top pick to replace a 38-year-old Roethlisberger), but the Steelers are in a significantly better spot than anyone could have imagined a few weeks ago.
3. Sorting the top of the NFC
There wasn’t much change in the teams vying for playoff spots in the NFC, but the race for the No. 2 seed is suddenly more open after a Green Bay Packers win and New Orleans Saints loss on Sunday.
Green Bay held off a last-minute surge from the Carolina Panthers for a 24-16 home win. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Saints never got anything going and lost 26-9 to previously hapless Atlanta Falcons team.
The Packers took advantage of some Panthers mistakes and rode Aaron Jones on the ground for three touchdowns in a game Aaron Rodgers was inconsistent. Rodgers was able to hit some big plays, but had just a 39% success rate through the air and a QBR of 51.
New Orleans wasn’t able to bail out quarterback struggles, even with Michael Thomas catching 13 passes for 152 yards. With a change in defensive play-caller, the Falcons suddenly found a pass rush and they were able to get to Drew Brees for six sacks. Brees is typically a quarterback who gets the ball out to avoid sacks (even in this game his average time to throw was a quick 2.48 seconds) and he hadn’t taken more than three sacks in a game since Week 9 of 2015. For the first time in a long time, pressure completely derailed the New Orleans offense.
The Packers are now 8-2 with a slight inside track for the first-round bye. Football Outsiders gives them 30.7% odds at the No. 2 seed and 41.1% chance at a bye. The Saints sit at 7-2 with a 27.3% chance at the 2-seed and a 39.7% chance at a bye. Neither team has a particularly daunting remaining schedule and both get a shot at taking down the current top seed San Francisco 49ers.
|Week||Green Bay||New Orleans|
|13||at NYG||at ATL|
|16||at MIN||at TEN|
|17||at DET||at CAR|
4. End of Game Coaching Miscues
We’re in an era when coaches are getting better and smarter at in-game management. Even Mike Tomlin went for it on a 4th and 2 with a two-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Rams. But there were still a few late-game mishaps from coaches that cost teams a chance to win.
One came for the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay. The Cardinals lost a 27-23 lead after an interception on what looked it should have been defensive pass interference on the Buccaneers late in the fourth quarter. Tampa got the ball, drove 92 yards, and scored a touchdown. When Arizona got the ball back with 1:43 remaining and one timeout, they showed little of a plan or urgency.
The drive started with a draw to Kenyan Drake and didn’t get much better from there. From third to fourth down from Arizona’s own 30-yard line, they let 35 seconds come off the clock and were then bailed out by pass interference on the fourth down throw. Much of the final drive was hoping Kyler Murray could make something happen — not a terrible strategy since he had three touchdown passes and finished the game with a 65.6 QBR — but there was nothing to aid the quarterback.
A holding penalty brought the Cardinals back and the final two plays saw Murray attempt to heave the ball under pressure.
Then in Indianapolis, the Colts cost themselves a chance at a win with a bad timeout and poor decision by a backup quarterback. The Colts had played pretty poorly with Brian Hoyer at quarterback but they had a chance to win the game late. They had a 1st and 10 from the Miami 16-yard line and the next three plays went like this:
The shot on second down was a fine chance but inaccurate with the receiver behind the coverage. But to take a similar shot on third down with tight coverage and almost no chance of a completion is a poor decision. 4th and 10 as guaranteed as soon as the ball left Hoyer’s hand on third down. There’s a better option to the running back who can at least set up a more manageable fourth down or gain a first if he makes a defender miss. Or the corner route to the left comes open late, if Hoyer had been able to reach that progression.
What made all this worse was a timeout called by the Colts after the third down incompletion. That brought the Colts to fourth down and this:
Some blame goes to Eric Ebron for sitting short of the sticks on fourth down, but the entire sequence to get there killed the Colts. Frank Reich has gotten a lot of praise in this space over the course of the season, but he essentially torpedoed Indianapolis’s chance to win with that timeout call. After the Colts turned the ball over, instead of having three timeouts and forcing the Dolphins to pick up a first down or punt it back, there was no chance of that with just two timeouts, so all Miami had to do was take a knee to end the game.
5. Are the fish still tanked?
Let’s talk about those Dolphins. The same team that was one of the worst in NFL history through however many games had been played is now on a two-game win streak. Of course, this brings up questions about the tank.
Now with two wins, the Dolphins would have the fourth overall pick with the Bengals, Giants, and Redskins ahead of them. Some are going to position these wins as a failure for the tanking efforts, but the goal for Miami was to never go winless for the first overall pick. There certainly wasn’t a focus on winning this season, but the goal was to put the franchise in the best position going forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean needing the first overall pick.
What the Dolphins have done in the process is collect first-round picks — they have one each from Houston and Pittsburgh with another first from Houston in 2020 — knowing the best way to hit in the draft is to have as many valuable swings as possible.
Miami is also now finding out they have the right coach to build that future around, which is a luxury other “tanking” teams didn’t have. Cleveland made the Hue Jackson mistake for way too long and that process has pushed back the Browns even as the players have started to hit. The Giants might be unintentionally finding out all of these consequences for themselves now. Brian Flores appears to know what he’s doing as a head coach and that, as much as the three coming first-round picks, is important for the future of the Dolphins.
So maybe Miami won’t get to make the decision between Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa or whichever quarterback works his way to the top of the draft, but they’ll still get a shot at a top guy and more shots at other impact players later in the round. Everything is still ok for Miami.
6. Return of Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes returned for the Kansas City Chiefs and had an impressive game — 446 yards, three touchdowns, 0.42 EPA per play, and a 52% success rate. There was a lot to like for the Chiefs looking forward in regard to Mahomes and his health. He didn’t always look like full Mahomes but there was the ridiculous jump pass for a touchdown to Mecole Hardman and plays like the below touchdown to Tyreek Hill that was well designed and also had Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson open:
The difference in the game was the extremes of the running game. Rarely will we say that was the difference in the game, but it was the case here with the volume involved. The Chiefs were still pass-heavy easing Mahomes back in and had 25 rushing attempts on early downs, but those runs were disastrous. Those plays were worth minus-0.47 EPA per play with a 32% success rate and a 24% first down rate.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans ran more than they threw on early downs but couldn’t be stopped — 0.34 EPA per play with a 52% success rate and 39% first down rate.
Last year, the defense was the weakness for the Chiefs and that was against both the run and the pass. But this year, the pass defense has been much improved — they were fourth in DVOA heading into the week — while the run defense was one of the worst (28th). The loss hurts the Chiefs, but take it less as a sign of things to come because there aren’t many other teams that will pound the running game like Mike Vrabel and the Titans want to do.
Kansas City’s loss was a huge hit for their playoff outlook, though. They now have just a 15.6% chance at a bye per FO and they dropped a half-game behind the Houston Texans, who would currently be the 3-seed. The Chiefs are also just a half-game up on the suddenly surging Oakland Raiders, though FO still gives Kansas City a 74.8% chance to win the division.
7. Battle of New York
Somehow the most entertaining game of the day came between the 1-7 New York Jets and 2-7 New York Giants. It’s really everything you could want in a game. Two head coaches on the hot seat trying to develop young quarterbacks, and almost no defensive talent involved.
In the end, the Jets came out with a 34-27 win. All it took was the Giants’ defense to make Sam Darnold look like the promising young quarterback he was supposed to be (73.2 QBR and 0.33 EPA per play). On the other side of the ball, Saquon Barkley, taken one pick ahead of Darnold in 2018, had one rushing yard on 13 carries for minus-0.66 EPA per play and a 0% success rate.
2019 sixth overall pick Daniel Jones continued his streak of digging himself a hole with early, incredible turnovers only to play his way out of it later. He’s almost like a great carpenter who only needs to build tables because he drunkenly bodyslams himself through the ones that have already been built.
His 66.8 QBR and four touchdown passes look impressive, but his throws into tight windows and negative pocket presence make those touchdowns a necessity to catch up rather than giving the Giants a chance to win in the flow of the game. He remains the only quarterback where this feels possible on any given play:
No matter the result, these two teams are still bad and have more questions than answers — though seeing a get-right game for Darnold will be encouraging for the Jets. It’s entirely possible — almost probable — both of these teams will be looking for new head coaches in the offseason with the goal of finding the right coach to develop the young franchise quarterback (the job each of these guys were already hired to do). Such is the current state of football in New York.
8. Play of the day
We talked about Lamar Jackson on some option plays and that’s what we’re going to highlight here. What makes Jackson so dangerous on these plays is how aware he is of his surroundings on these runs and how that allows him to delay a pitch until the last possible moment. Here’s an option from pistol in the first quarter with Mark Ingram. Watch how long Jackson holds the ball to draw in cornerback Darqueze Dennard (21) before the pitch, which clears the edge for Ingram to gain nine yards.
Of course, the most fun of these plays came with Robert Griffin III in the backfield along with Ingram and Jackson. Jackson faked a handoff to Ingram and then he and Griffin took off to the right. Again, Jackson lures in the defender until the last possible moment (Jackson already had a first down) and manipulated the defensive angles so Griffin could gain a few more yards on the outside.
9. Chart of the day
This is just to note that John Brown has been really good this season. He has yet to match his monster Week 1 game with 123 yards, but he’s had at least 50 receiving yards in every game this season. He’s the only consistent part of the Buffalo offense. Through Week 9, he was 11th in receiving EPA and he’s on pace to pass all numbers from his best year in Arizona. All this is with Josh Allen throwing some inaccurate passes quite often.
10. Let Dak Throw
Here are the EPA numbers from the Sunday Night Football comparing Dak Prescott passing attempts to Ezekiel Elliott rushing attempts:
|Player||Plays||EPA/Play||Success Rate||First Down Rate|
The Cowboys are doing this to themselves.