As we get further into the regular season, the playoff picture will start to become clearer and we’ll focus more on those teams pushing for those final spots. At this time with so many teams in the middle, a lot of teams are still in contention to get in. Of course we haven’t been overwhelmed with great football throughout the season.

As it stands right now, all four teams in the AFC East have a positive point differential. No other division has three. Four divisions have two and the NFC South has none.

That might feel like we’re on the verge of a weak playoff picture but that’s not necessarily the case. Last season we got two teams with negative point differentials (the Steelers at -55 and Raiders at -65) in the playoffs. Over the past 10 seasons, we’ve only had one year without a negative point differential playoff team.

We have three this season currently in a playoff spot — the Buccaneers (-3), Commanders (-3), and Giants (-7) — with the Chargers (-30) looking in but teams like the Vikings (+7) and Titans (+4) in the danger zone.

There is still time to sort this out, so let’s get to Week 12.

All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.

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1. Mike White

Let’s talk a bit about Mike White. White stepped in and immediately showed an improvement over the benched Zach Wilson. It’s not exactly fair to compare what White did this week against a Bears defense (31st in EPA per dropback) to what Wilson did last week against the Patriots (first). Still, it’s hard to imagine Wilson would have taken advantage of a poor and injured defense because he hasn’t consistently done that to this point in his career.

White led the week in EPA per dropback (0.65) and averaged 11.25 yards per attempt. By EPA per dropback, it was the fourth-best game of the season for a quarterback who dropped back at least 20 times.

Top Games By EPA per dropback, 2022 (min. 20 dropbacks)
data per TruMedia

PlayerWeekOpponentDropbacksEPA/DB
Patrick MahomesWeek 7SF350.79
Lamar JacksonWeek 2BAL310.69
Patrick MahomesWeek 1ARI410.67
Mike WhiteWeek 12CHI290.65
Geno SmithWeek 4DET320.61

All of this was by design. White only averaged 5.75 air yards per target and became the third player to average at least 11 yards per attempt with an aDOT under 6.0 in a game this season.

QB Games with 11+ YPA and under 6.0 aDOT, 2022
data per TruMedia

PlayerWeekaDOTYPA
Dak Prescott105.5611.04
Daniel Jones115.6511.59
Mike White125.7511.25

While White completed 78.6% of his passes, his expected completion percentage was 74.5%, per Next Gen Stats, the highest of any quarterback this week. This is also part of the point with the Jets’ offense — this path to production was always there. The scheme and the surrounding talent could do a lot of the heavy lifting as long as the quarterback allowed that to happen. Too often, the quarterback was fighting against the offense and trying to will things to happen on his own.

So many of White’s passes came on time and in structure. His average time to throw was 2.43 seconds, which was the fourth-lowest among quarterbacks this week. For the 2022 season, Wilson has averaged 2.98 seconds to throw, the second-highest among 35 quarterbacks with only Justin Fields at a higher figure (3.07). 

58.3% of White’s passes were between the numbers against the Bears. Wilson had thrown 41.5% of his passes between the numbers this season, which ranked 26th. On throws between the numbers, White went 11-of-15 for 171 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a 54-yard catch-and-run from Garrett Wilson off a play-action on a first-and-10 in the second quarter.

 

 

Per ESPN’s new receiver tracking metrics, Wilson had ranked seventh among wide receivers in Open score but the production did not always follow. Wilson averaged a season-high 3.39 yards per route run with eight catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns — a productive day despite only one catch in the second half.

Wilson capped off the Jets’ opening drive with an 8-yard touchdown reception that saw him fight through some contact to get wide open in the end zone.

 

 

The Jets were also able to get Elijah Moore involved for two catches, 64 yards, and a touchdown. Moore only ran 13 routes but two-thirds of them came from the slot and he was there for both of his receptions. The first was a 42-yard reception early in the second quarter. Moore ran a post as the middle receiver from the trips side in a 3×1 set. White fired the ball into a tight window and Moore bounced off contact from safety Eddie Jackson (4) and ran for 25 yards after the catch.

 

 

Midway through the third quarter on the 22-yard line, Moore ran a corner route from the slot and his break was too much for the single-high safety to cover. Moore was open for the touchdown.

 

 

Both of Moore’s catches came on third down. That shows a bit of trust for the receiver but White killed third downs overall against the Bears. On third downs, White went 8-of-11 for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 0.83 EPA per dropback on those plays. The Jets also trusted him to make the correct reads by spreading the field and sending him out in empty on 45,5% of his third down dropbacks. It was another place where getting the ball out quickly helped — White averaged 2.3 seconds to throw on third down.

White didn’t do many spectacular things in this game but he didn’t need to. He took exactly what the offense and defense gave him and that’s exactly what was missing for this team. With White doing that job effectively, the vibes around the Jets seemed to be at a season-high. Jets players appeared ecstatic for the win and did not shy away from noting some differences from previous weeks.

We can start here with teammates happy for Elijah Moore…

 

Then there was Sauce Gardner talking about the stress taken off the defense…

 

The Jets are currently just barely favored to be a playoff team with 51% odds to make the postseason per FiveThirtyEight. The next two games are on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills. Those will be slightly harder tests than the injury-depleted Bears but the Jets have the defense to keep those games close. With an offense that isn’t actively working against itself, that might be all this team needs to give itself a chance.

2. How The Bengals Beat The Titans

There might not have been a bigger win for playoff odds than Cincinnati’s 20-16 victory over Tennessee. Entering the week, the Bengals had a 60% chance to make the playoffs but with the hardest remaining schedule in the league, those odds would have dropped under 40% with a loss to the Titans. But with the win, the Bengals are now at 73% and look to be comfortably ahead of the next three teams fighting for the final wild card spot.

The Bengals continue to get there by adjusting game plans on both sides of the ball. Against the Titans, the Cincinnati defense sold out to stop the run and it worked. The Bengals stacked the box on 42.5% of their early down snaps. That was their second-highest rate of the season behind only a Week 2 game against the Cowboys in the first start for Cooper Rush.

Overall, 58.8% of Derrick Henry’s rushing attempts came against a stacked box. On his rushing attempts. Henry averaged -0.53 yards before contact and a 23.5% success rate. 41.2% of Henry’s rushes were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Titans averaged 6.6 yards to go on third down, just around their season average of 6.7 (11th-lowest) but with Henry and the run game struggling, the Titans dropped back to pass on every third down in the game. The only rushing attempt was a Ryan Tannehill scramble that picked up four yards on a third-and-4 in the fourth quarter.

Cincinnati was ready for those looks and adjusted by going significantly lighter in personnel on those third downs. Over 40% of the Bengals’ third downs came with six or more defensive backs on the field and none with stacked boxes.

Bengals Defense By Down, Week 12
data per TruMedia

DownBaseNickelDime+Rush 3%Blitz%Stacked Box%
1-230%57.5%7.5%14.3%23.8%42.5%
30%50%43.8%18.8%12.5%0%

The offense continues to find some different ways to move the ball. Cincinnati has gotten better in the screen game and has leaned on throws behind the line of scrimmage — 27% of Joe Burrow’s throws were behind the line against Tennessee.

Burrow and the Bengals have also gotten better at picking spots to use empty. The Bengals lived in empty last season (25.4%) but they’ve scaled it back to 18.7% in 2022. That’s allowed Burrow to be more efficient. Against Tennessee, Burrow was in empty on 14.3% of his dropbacks but went 5-of-6 for 54 yards and 0.70 EPA per play. His better play from empty has come from limiting the mistakes, notably interceptions and sacks.

Joe Burrow In Empty, 2021-2022
data per TruMedia

SeasonEmpty%EPA/DBaDOTYPAComp%Sack%TD/INT
202125.4%-0.037.717.9670.7%10.1%6/5
202218.7%0.317.418.1579.3%4.7%5/0

Part of that stems from the wider variety of ways the Bengals have been able to create offense. It’s no longer on Burrow to sit back there and make a play from empty. Even in this game, the Bengals found a few different ways to create explosive plays. Burrow had six completions of 20 or more yards against the Titans. His three in the first half were to Hayden Hurst, Samaje Perine, and Traveyon Williams

His three in the second half were more traditional Burrow throws to Tee Higgins. The 27-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter was taking advantage of a one-on-one on the outside against Rodger McCreary. His 29-yard pass late in the fourth quarter was the same idea and an aggressive call that helped ice the game.

Cincinnati got the ball back after Tennessee kicked a field goal on fourth-and-5 from the Cincinnati 20-yard line. The Titans were down seven at the time of the field goal, so the successful kick only brought them within four, still needing a touchdown to take the lead. There was not a huge win probability swing with the decision but it still logistically left the Titans needing a touchdown and there was no guarantee they would get a better shot than where they already were on the field.

After the kick, the Bengals held onto the ball for 12 plays, 66 yards, and over six minutes as the Titans never got the ball back.

3. Social Media Comeback

The offense for the Los Angeles Chargers still isn’t clicking at full capacity but there remains enough talent — especially with the quarterback — to continue winning games. Justin Herbert was great in a 25-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but it as great in a 2022 Chargers way.

Herbert dropped back 53 times and still only managed an aDOT of 3.74. Over the past decade, there has only been one other game when a quarterback dropped back at least 50 times and an aDOT under 4.0.

PlayerWeekDropbacksaDOTEPA/DB
Matthew StaffordWeek 14 2015513.76-0.17
Justin HerbertWeek 12 2022533.740.12

38.3% of Herbert’s pass attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage in this game as 40.4% of his targets went to running backs. When Herbert did throw deep, there were good results. He was 6-of-9 for 104 yards on throws of 10 or more air yards, including this ridiculous pass to DeAndre Carter for a 33-yard touchdown.

 

The Chargers also had a few good play designs around the goal line. On a first-and-goal in the second quarter, the Chargers just motioned Keenan Allen across the formation and that motion created enough separation with the corner running behind the rest of the defense to get Allen an easy, open path to the end zone for a score.

Then after Los Angeles drove down the field for a touchdown to bring the game within a point, the Chargers decided to go for two and the win with 15 seconds left. The Chargers motioned Austin Ekeler out of the backfield to the right, which pulled linebacker Zaven Collins out of the middle of the field. He was replaced by safety Jalen Thompson, but Thompson sat on Allen’s route which left space for Gerald Everett to run an angle route to widen Isaiah Simmons (9) and find an opening in the end zone.

 

 

On that final drive, Herbert went 6-of-7 for 48 yards and 0.85 EPA per dropback.

At 6-5, the Chargers now have a 38% chance to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight, but that can go up to 60% with a win against the Raiders next week, though that is independent of other results across the league. It still gets to 49% if the Jets (vs MIN), Bengals (vs KC), and Patriots (vs BUF) all win next week, though all three of those results happening seems unlikely.

4. Trevor Lawrence’s Fourth Quarter

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Jacksonville Jaguars were trailing the Baltimore Ravens 12-10. Within two minutes, the score was 19-10 on a drive in progress from the Ravens. Trevor Lawrence led three scoring drives in the fourth quarter in the eventual 28-27 Jaguars victory.

Through three quarters, Lawrence had played well. But it was the “well” that we had seen often this season. He made some good throws but the overall performance of the offense left a bit to be desired. Lawrence had lost a fumble and had only averaged an aDOT of 4.33. But in the fourth quarter, Lawrence went 15-of-19 for 9.11 yards per attempt and averaged 0.65 EPA per dropback. Let’s look at a few throws from the final drive alone.

On a fourth-and-5, the Ravens used a simulated pressure look. They crowded the line but only rushed four, though that still led to a free rusher (Patrick Queen) in Lawrence’s face. Lawrence was able to hit Marvin Jones on an out for the first down.

 

 

On a second-and-10, Lawrence fired a ball up the seam to Christian Kirk for a gain of 17.

 

 

On third-and-6, Zay Jones got behind Brandon Stephens on a fade as the outside receiver in a bunch. Lawrence fit the ball in before safety Geno Stone could get over for a 29-yard gain.

 

 

On first-and-goal, Lawrence had a one-on-one with Marvin Jones matched against Marcus Peters on the outside. A flat route from Evan Engram helped hold the safety and Lawrence floated the pass into the end zone for the score.

 

 

Down by one, the Jaguars decided to go for two and the win. Jacksonville came out in a 3×1 set but motioned Zay Jones across the formation. With Jones motioned, he had a one-on-one with Stephens. Jones set him up by running straight at him but as soon as he broke to the outside, Lawrence ripped a throw in for the win.

 

 

The Jaguars aren’t going to make the playoffs but this is the type of game you’d like to see Lawrence pull out. Jacksonville isn’t hopeless, either. The wins haven’t been there but the Jaguars are 11th in point differential, above teams like the Vikings, Titans, and Buccaneers.

5. Bucs Blow It

The Buccaneers are going to make the playoffs. Per FiveThirty, they have a 70% chance and 68% of that comes from winning the division. At 5-6, Tampa Bay isn’t making any of this look easy and they’re continually making it harder on themselves.

Each week there continue to be blunders in coaching, which exacerbate any flaws in execution.

In a 23-17 overtime loss to the Browns, the Buccaneers had a number of mismanaged decisions that helped cost them a game they easily could have won.

To start the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay had a fourth-and-2 from the Cleveland 37-yard line and a 17-10 lead. A previous third-and-6 became a third-and-11 after a false start but the Buccaneers still gained nine yards to set up the fourth and short. Todd Bowles decided to take a delay of game and punted on what turned out to be a fourth-and-7 from the 42-yard line. The punt was a touchback that gained the Tampa Bay defense 17 yards from the original spot.

Later in the game, the Browns were driving, down a touchdown. The Browns got the ball back at the Tampa Bay 46-yard line after a three-and-out with 2:10 remaining. Within three plays, the Browns were at the Tampa Bay 12-yard line. The Buccaneers had three timeouts but used none on defense and the Browns got the clock down to 32 seconds as they scored on a fourth-and-10 from the 12.

When Tampa Bay got the ball back, Bowles showed little initial interest in trying to push the ball downfield for a game-winning touchdown. The first down play was a one-yard run from Rachaad White. As the clock ticked down to 15 seconds, the second down play was a 26-yard pass to Julio Jones that got the Buccaneers near midfield. It was then that Tampa called its first timeout. But after two rushed incomplete passes, the game went to overtime.

The offense was not good in the game but it should have been a dream for what the offensive staff wants to do. Tampa Bay has died trying to establish the run this season — to little success — but against a Browns team that was the worst run defense in the league, the Buccaneers had a 70-30 pass-to-run ratio, a game after going 60% run against a Seahawks run defense. When the Bucs did run heavy — they were 51% run on first down — they couldn’t get it going, thanks to a 21.4% success rate. On five on first down runs, the Buccaneers had a 60% success rate.

Only 23% of Tom Brady’s dropbacks used play-action as he averaged 0.35 EPA per dropback on those throws. 

Few aspects of the Buccaneers mesh with each other and this is now a team that can’t afford to leave advantages untouched in the margins. 

6. The Eagles Can And Will Run

Heading into the playoffs last season, the question was whether Jalen Hurts could carry a team when the situation called to throw in obvious passing situations. The Eagles have gotten better passing from the quarterback but they’ve gotten so good at the run, it’s been a usable weapon regardless of the situation.

Against the Packers, the Eagles ran for 363 yards in a 40-33 victory. 157 of those yards came from Hurts with another 143 from Miles Sanders.

Green Bay is a team that will come out in a light box and the Eagles took advantage of that. Hurts had 17 rushes attempts and 10 of those were straight designed runs. 10 of his carries picked up a first down.

It’s hard enough to defend that as a good run defense but the Packers are not that — and the rest of the NFC isn’t much better. The 49ers (fifth), Commanders (eighth), and Vikings (ninth) are the only potential NFC playoff teams in the top 10 of rush EPA allowed per attempt. Of those two, just the 49ers and Commanders are in the top 10 of success rate.

Hurts puts so much strain on a defense trying to defend the line of scrimmage and account for the run options but then the Eagles can go out and block a trap play and run it in for a touchdown from 15 yards out. 

 

7. Miami’s Week 12 Preseason Game

The Dolphins used the Texans as a glorified scrimmage opponent in the first half of their 30-15 win. The final score makes it look closer than it was. Miami was up 30-0 at halftime and pulled Tua Tagovailoa from the game shortly after.

Despite the early blowout, the Dolphins kept passing. Tagovailoa went 20-of-34 for 278 yards with an 11.12-yard aDOT in the first half. The Dolphins used it to get Tagovailoa some work in empty sets, which have increased in effectiveness over the past few weeks. Tagovaioloa had 11 dropbacks from empty in the first half. His previous high in a game this season was eight.

Since Week 8, when the Dolphins expanded some of their empty packages, Tagovailoa is seventh in both the rate of empty dropbacks and EPA per dropback from empty. This could be something we continue to see as the Dolphins find another way to stretch defenses horizontally before hitting them vertically — Tagovailoa’s aDOT from empty over that span (9.69) if the fifth-highest among quarterbacks.

8. Chart of the day

 

There have been three games this season in which a receiver has accounted for at least 75% of his team’s air yards. D.J. Moore has done it twice. Against the Broncos. Moore accounted for 77.5% of the Carolina air yards while he caught four of his six targets for 103 yards. The next-highest Panther had 21 receiving yards from Sam Darnold

9. Play of the day

 

Few players have been more explosive than Josh Jacobs this season. Jacobs capped off a 229-yard day on the ground with this 86-yard run in overtime to give the Raiders a 40-34 win over the Seahawks. Jacobs just kept plugging along as only 36.4% of his rushes were successful by EPA and just 12.1% of his rushes gained 10 or more yards. He has been explosive this season. Among 33 running backs with at least 100 carries, Jacobs is sixth in the rate of runs with 10 or more yards (14.4%). Jacobs also tied for the team lead in receiving yards with 74 in this game.

10. An update on the run game… is passing back?

It’s been clear through much of the season that the run game has been more effective than it had been in the past. For most of the season, the gap between passing efficiency and rushing efficiency had been the closest it had been in years. But over the past three weeks that gap has widened quite a bit.

EPA Splits By Pass & Run, 2022
data per TruMedia

WeeksEPA/DBEPA/RushPass Success%Rush Success%
1-90.01-0.0244.7%39.8%
10-120.07-0.0645.4%39%

There has been a slight shift in how explosive plays have been created. The overall explosive play rate is nearly identical (11.3% through Week 9 and 11.4% since Week 10) but there is a 15.3% passing explosive play rate over the past three weeks compared to 13.9% through Week 9. The rushing explosive play rate has gone from 9.0% to 7.8% in that time.

That’s not a lot, but it is slowing down the cyclical “the run game is back” narrative. Another factor has been good old TD/INT rate. Quarterbacks have thrown more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the past few weeks, which has led to better passing efficiency.

This could be just a blip or it could be offenses getting their adjustments to how defenses have been playing and winning for most of the season. It will be worth watching over the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

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