Week 7 lived up to the hype of being a slightly underwhelming slate of games compared to what we’ve gotten early in the season. That happens when there are only a few really good teams and most of them are on bye. Still, we did get some interesting football on Sunday, which gives us plenty to dive into today.

All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.

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1. The Chiefs Are Still Great

After a brief one-week absence, Patrick Mahomes is back atop the EPA per dropback leaderboard for the 2022 NFL season after one of the most efficient quarterbacking games we’ve seen in some time. Mahomes’s 0.79 EPA per dropback was the second–highest in a game for a quarterback with at least 30 dropbacks over the past three seasons.

Top EPA per Dropback in a Game, 2020-2021 (min 30 dropbacks)
data per TruMedia

PlayerSeasonWeekOpponentDropbacksEPA/Dropback
Dak Prescott2021W10ATL320.81
Patrick Mahomes2022W7SF350.79
Ryan Tannehill2020W15DET300.74
Aaron Rodgers2020W4ATL350.71
Matt Ryan2020W6MIN440.7
Patrick Mahomes2021W4PHI350.69
Patrick Mahomes2020W3BAL460.69
Lamar Jackson2022W2MIA310.69
Patrick Mahomes2022W1ARI410.67
Aaron Rodgers2021W11MIN370.67

Mahomes (0.35) now has a slightly comfortable lead over Josh Allen (0.30) for the season.

The Chiefs did this by going back in the bag and taking advantage of screens, motions, and misdirections to take advantage of an aggressive four-man front from the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners had the league’s best defense coming into this game by EPA per play and ran into a nightmare matchup.

By using jet sweeps and screens, the Chiefs allowed the 49ers’ pass rush to get penetration but used that against them by running directly at and through it. On a 25-yard touchdown run from Mecole Hardman in the second quarter when the 49ers had a 13-7 lead, the Chiefs ran a jet sweep straight to Nick Bosa’s side. The Chiefs let both Bosa and Hassan Ridgeway explode off the line, but Hardman was past them by the time they got in the backfield while the blocking was set up down the field for the run.

 

 

In the third quarter, the Chiefs ran a screen right at Bosa on a third-and-20. The Chiefs came out in 12 personnel, but the 49ers, experiencing some linebacker injuries, countered in dime — also in part because of the long down and distance. Jerick McKinnon lined up next to Mahomes on Bosa’s side but shifted up just off the line of scrimmage to put the Chiefs in empty before the snap. McKinnon acted as if he was going to chip Bosa before he turned around for the screen and turned upfield for what turned into a gain of 34 yards.

 

 

In between the well-schemed plays, Mahomes was still Mahomes. The Chiefs have now completely adapted as teams continue to try to take away the deep pass. Mahomes have two completions of 20 or more air yards for 40 and 57 yards to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to show more downfield juice than there has been in previous games, but those were still Mahomes’s only two deep passes of the game.

The Chiefs’ lack of a deep passing game hasn’t been so much about the two-high coverages as it had been over the past few seasons, it’s been more about the players and how defenses could match up. Without a consistent deep threat, defenses have played more man against the Chiefs and the rate of Cover-2 and Quarters has dropped against them.

But the Chiefs were able to take advantage of some of those looks. Both of Valdes-Scantling’s deep passes took advantage of a Quarters look from the 49ers. The first had Valdes-Scantling matched up on a safety from the slot, while the second used a post from Hardman to hold the safety and give Valdes-Scantling a one-on-one on the outside.

Still, just 5.6% of Mahomes’s throws traveled 20 or more air yards, which was his second-lowest rate of the season. Against a Quarters-heavy defense like the 49ers, the Chiefs were able to work the intermediate area of the field. Mahomes threw between 11-19 air yards on a season-high 26.5% of his attempts and went 7-of-9 for 146 yards and a touchdown. Mahomes is second in EPA this season on intermediate throws. 

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs won with pressure. They didn’t get a ton of it throughout the game but it mattered when they did. Jimmy Garoppolo was 3-of-6 under pressure with five sacks, including a safety and a lost strip sack.

The Chiefs have been using Chris Jones on the edge and while that was an experiment that didn’t really work at the start of last season, it’s been beneficial this year with more one-one-ones set up across the defensive line. Jones won on the edge against Mike McGlinchy to force the strip sack late in the fourth quarter.

For the 49ers, the performance under pressure highlighted some of the limits of Garoppolo at quarterback. When kept clean, Garoppolo averaged 0.57 EPA per dropback, the third-highest of the week, and the Niners were able to set up a lot of things they wanted to do in the short area, including some passes to Christian McCaffrey, but the pressure derailed the offense.

One on hand, the limits of the quarterback showed why having another star skill position player could be needed to lift both the floor and ceiling of the offense and there should be more on the table next week when McCaffrey has more of the playbook down. But on the other, the 49ers can consider themselves a contender in the NFC but they just got a glimpse of how they stack up against one of the league’s actually good teams and it wasn’t all that close. 

2. The Bengals Are Sticking In Shotgun

Last week, we highlighted the Bengals’ shift to a shotgun offense and this week they continued the lean all the way into it. This is who the Bengals are now, for the better. Over the first three quarters before a 35-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons really got out of hand, the Bengals were in shotgun 89% of the time, all but five plays. Those five plays included three on the Atlanta 1-yard line, one on the 2-yard line, and a third-and-1 on the Atlanta 27-yard line. They were only special circumstances.

Everything looks more fluid for the Bengals when they’re in shotgun and the run game — the reason they were going under center to begin with — has continued to work better from shotgun. The Bengals are also leaning more into the pass. Even in this blowout, Cincinnati had the seventh-highest pass rate (68.2%) in the league this week. The Bengals had an 84.4% pass rate in the first half and averaged 0.72 EPA per play.

In the first half of this game, Joe Burrow went 21-of-25 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 0.90 EPA per dropback. That’s the fourth-highest yardage total in a first half over the past decade.

Most Passing Yards In First Half, 2013-2022
data per TruMedia

playerSeasonWeekPsYds
Patrick Mahomes2020W12359
Tom Brady2020W16348
Josh Allen2022W5348
Joe Burrow2022W7344
Aaron Rodgers2013W2335
Matthew Stafford2013W11327
Jared Goff2019W13323
Dak Prescott2021W16322
Drew Brees2013W17321
Ben Roethlisberger2014W8320

The ways in which the offense created those yards wasn’t just in a 2021 Bengals way to go-routes and hoping for Ja’Marr Chase to break a long touchdown (though that did happen). Chase (112) and Tyler Boyd (118) each had over 100 receiving yards in the first half alone.

Boyd had a long 60-yard touchdown early in the first quarter that was a well-designed play to take advantage of a defense in a two-high coverage. Boyd and Tee Higgins were the receivers to the right side of the formation. Boyd released upfield first and Higgins curved his route right behind Boyd to give a stacked look before turning back outside. That quick stack put safety Richie Grant (27) in so much conflict, he froze and fell down in coverage. 

 

 

The Bengals have been another team that been limited in what they could do down the field with defenses selling out to stop it, but this was a great play designed to attack that type of coverage.

When the Bengals do get those single-high looks, they still let it rip. Against Cover-1 and Cover-3, Burrow is averaging 0.23 EPA per dropback and five touchdowns. Two of them came to Chase in this game.

On a first-and-10 to start the second quarter, the Bengals came out in an empty look, but motioned Joe Mixon to the backfield. That left Chase as an isolated receiver to the right. The Falcons were in single high and even if the safety shaded toward Chase’s side, Burrow knew he could fit the pass in the hole once Chase beat Cornell Armstrong, a 2021 undrafted free agent, playing in place of A.J, Terrell, who left the game earlier.

But like Mahomes, Burrow did not throw deep often in this game (7.1%) and he lived in the intermediate area (33.3%). On those throws, Burrow was 11-of-14 for 208 yards and a touchdown to Chase that looked like a 2021 connection. On a first-and-10 with under a minute remaining in the first half, the Bengals came out in a 3×1 set with Chase isolated to the left side. Burrow hit Chase on a back-shoulder fade and with just enough space between the receiver and the defender, Chase planted his foot and took off for the end zone on an angle only he could create.

 

 

If the Bengals can keep this up, they suddenly become a dangerous team in the second tier of the AFC, especially with a defense that has been one of the league’s best through seven weeks. Cincinnati is seventh in pressure rate and eighth in EPA per play on defense. 

3. Dak Comes Back

Dak Prescott made his return for the Cowboys, though it wasn’t the offensive explosion many might have been expecting against one of the league’s worst defenses. Yet, Prescott averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and 0.16 EPA per dropback, which was the fifth-highest of the week.

There were certainly some ups and downs in the return. Dallas averaged 2.18 points per drive, which was the 10th-highest of the week (and a little disappointing against Detroit) but also 45.5% of Dallas drives ended in a three-and-out, better than only the Jets this week.

With Cooper Rush at quarterback, the Cowboys simplified some things on offense to make things easier. There was a question of whether Dallas would keep some of the simplified offense for Prescott or rely on him to make more individual plays because he’s the more talented quarterback.

The answer appears to be a little bit of both. Prescott used play-action on 52% of dropbacks, which worked well (0.76 EPA per dropback) but on straight dropbacks, Prescott was forced to make things happen down the field. Without play-action. Prescott had a week-high 12.58-yard aDOT. He was also sacked twice on third down due to good pass rush moves from Aidan Hutchinson.

In Rush’s starts, 71.3% of his throws came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. For Prescott in his Week 7 return, that was just 56%. The league average is around 71%. Prescott obviously has the ability to make throws Rush can’t but the Cowboys can also work in a few layups that haven’t always been in the Prescott-led offense that can allow the quarterback to pick his spots to push the ball down the field more efficient.

Dallas also dominated this game on defense. Detroit was one of the league’s best offenses coming into the game but the Lions were held to just six points.

Jared Goff crumbled against the Cowboys’ pressure. He had 10 dropbacks under pressure in this game, he went 1-of-4 with an interception, took five sacks, and had one scramble. 

Between the pressure and the coverage, the Cowboys were able to force Goff to get the ball out quickly and mostly ineffectively. 80.8% of Goff’s pass attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage after he averaged 66.1% in his first five games. After having no fewer than four completions of 20 or more yards in a game through five weeks, Goff had just two against Dallas.

With the defense and a healthy Prescott, the Cowboys might be the second-best team in the NFC (though also the second-best team in their division). They’ll still need to figure out what exactly a Prescott-led offense should look like but they have a fairly easy schedule to figure that out down the stretch. 

4. The Giants Let ‘Em Run

The Giants won another close game. We can keep wondering whether the Giants can continue to win this way or just embrace it. There really is no team right now leaning into the strengths of its players and getting the most out of the roster.

Take Daniel Jones. Jones finished the week fifth in EPA per dropback at 0.16. On the season, he’s 11th at 0.06. On plays that resulted in a pass this week, Jones averaged 0.02 EPA per dropback, which ranked 12th, just below the league average of 0.03. But on dropbacks that resulted in a scramble, Jones averaged 0.73 EPA per dropback, which was the third-highest.

This stretches over the full season. Jones averages -0.01 EPA per dropback on non-scramble dropbacks but 0.56 on scrambles. The Giants have fully leaned into this. Jones gets bootlegs where scrambling is a top option. Jones has the second-highest scramble rate among all quarterbacks behind Justin Fields

Jones also has 21 designed runs for 120 yards on the season, which included five runs for 42 yards, four first downs, and a touchdown against the Jaguars.

Defenses still don’t know how to defend this. Few teams treat Jones as an actual running threat like they do a Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, or Jalen Hurts. That typically leaves open space for Jones to take off. Against the Jaguars, he had 107 rushing yards. That went along with 110 from Saquon Barkley.

The Giants are also leaning into their personnel to make this work. On a second-and-8 early in the second quarter, the Giants came out in a split-back look from Pony personnel with Barkley and Matt Breida in the backfield. The Giants ran a simple read option and when Jones pulled from Barkley, Dawuane Smoot (91) chased the back across the formation. That opened up a wide lane for Jones and Breida was able to get out in front to block a safety for a gain of 12.

 

 

The Giants have become another team figuring out how to make Pony personnel work. Over 27 plays this season with both Barkley and Breida on the field together, the Giants have averaged 8.07 yards per play and 0.26 EPA per play.

This is a team that’s off explosive runs. The Giants are fifth in explosive run rate this season but only the Pittsburgh Steelers have a lower rate of explosive passes. 

At 6-1, the Giants have the second-lowest point differential (+20) for a 6-1 team since 2000. Only the 2019 New Orleans Saints were lower (+17). Those Saints went 13-3 but lost in the Wild Card Round.

This will not be the final form of whatever the Giants are planning long-term, but this team has gone from frisky to fun with the types of adjustments they are making weekly on offense. 

5. The Seahawks Are Fun (and Good?)

The Seattle Seahawks might be the most well-rounded offense in the league. Through seven weeks, Seattle is the only team that ranks in both the top five of EPA per dropback and EPA per rush.

While we just talked about the Giants getting schemed up and leaning into different personnel groupings, the Seahawks are getting here by just being legitimately good on offense. Geno Smith was 10th in EPA per dropback this week and ranked sixth on the season. He’s seventh overall on non-play-action dropbacks. He’s making things happen.

The loss of DK Metcalf could have a significant impact, depending on the seriousness of his injury that forced him to leave the game, but Smith has consistently found Metcalf and Tyler Lockett down the field.

When Seattle lost Rashaad Penny, that had a chance to tank the run game but rookie Kenneth Walker has jumped right in with a bigger workload and has carried the run game. 17.9% of Walker’s runs this season have gained 10 or more yards, which is the fifth-highest rate among backs with at least 50 carries. He also has been stopped at or behind the line on the third-highest rate of rushes, making him the biggest boom-or-bust back in the league right now.

But to date, the boom has been worth it. He’s 13th in EPA among those 42 backs. Walker ripped off 168 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and was fifth in EPA on rushing attempts among 24 backs with at least 10 carries.

The Seahawks currently lead the NFC West at 4-3 and have a 42% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.

6. It’s Me. Hi. I’m The Problem, It’s Me (Aaron’s Version)

All of the problems for the Green Bay Packers keep compounding. We talked about some of the struggles Aaron Rodgers is having in the offense last week and those grew exponentially in a 23-21 loss to Washington.

Rodgers clearly doesn’t trust the offensive line or the wide receivers enough to hang in the pocket and make something happen. He’s playing within the Ben Roethlisberger area of getting the ball out so quickly no offense can be sustained.

Against Washington, 70.6% of Rodgers’s pass attempts came within 2.5 seconds of the snap and 82.9% of his passes came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That’s eliminating any possibility of pressure — he was pressured on only 8.8% of his dropbacks — but there’s no other upside.

On those throws that came out in under 2.5 seconds, Rodgers averaged -0.14 EPA per dropback with a 2.92-yard aDOT. He did not have a scramble in this game, the fifth time that has happened this season. He did that six times total last year and just three times in 2020. 

7. The Ravens Survived the Fourth Quarter, But Get No Style Points

The Ravens have routinely fallen apart in the fourth quarter this season. Through seven weeks, Baltimore averages -0.97 EPA per drive after 0.58, which would rank fourth among teams, through the first three quarters.

Ravens By Quarter, 2022
data per TruMedia

QuartersEPA/DriveEPA/DropbackEPA/RushScore%Yards Per Play
1-30.580.080.1947.4%6.09
4-0.97-0.22-0.0635.3%5.27

In the fourth quarter, the Ravens had a 12-play drive that went 55 yards and went all the way down to the Cleveland 24-yard line with a three-point lead. But on that 12th play, Justice Hill fumbled and the Browns recovered. After a seven-play drive, the Browns had a chance to kick a field goal to tie but Malik Harrison got on hand on the ball to block the kick.

Baltimore took over after the two-minute warning but went three-and-out and had to kick the ball back to the Browns but held on for the win. The Ravens have a lot of things to fix on offense — Lamar Jackson averaged -0.27 EPA per dropback against a pass defense that has gotten torched this year — but how they handle the fourth quarter has to be high on the list.

8. Chart of the day

Josh Jacobs has been on one this year. This week, he led the league in EPA on rushes and 35% of his carries went for 10 or more yards while he ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Jacobs is third in rushing yards and his 51% success rate is easily the highest for a running back this year.

9. Play of the day

 

A week after Phillip Walker had a negative aDOT and one completion past the line of scrimmage, he had a nice game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Walker went 16-of-22 for 0.10 EPA per dropback. He even got D.J. Moore involved in the passing game for 69 yards and this receiving touchdown.

10. Figuring Out The Jets’ Future

The Jets have been fun and so much of that has been from the defense and how they’ve schemed up the run game. Breece Hall was likely lost for the season with what is expected to be a torn ACL, which will not put more pressure on Zach Wilson. Wilson, to this point, has not shown many signs of a Year 2 breakout.

Against the Broncos, just 12.5% of Wilson’s completions went for 10 or more yards — two of 16. There have only been four other quarterbacks over the past five seasons to have a lower rate in a game with at least 10 completions (Chad Henne, Kenny Pickett, Jared Goff, and Mike Glennon).

88.5% of Wilson’s pass attempts came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and 81.8% of his pass yards came after the catch. It’s going to be hard to live that way for an offense, even one that is structured in a way to take advantage of the playmakers.

The Jets have a chance to be fun but how long that lasts now depends on the former No. 2 pick who can either prove he’s the guy to lead the next era of the Jets or it could give the team a reason to find who that guy is going to be. Wilson is current 33rd in EPA per dropback, so he might have a lot of developing still to do.