Week 10 of the 2020 NFL season had possibly the most unique slate we’ve ever seen with five early games and six in the late afternoon. As an early skeptic due to being someone who selfishly likes the heavy early window which allows time to digest everything throughout the late afternoon to make writing recap columns such as this slightly easier, I loved it. More spread out schedules.
1. The Rams Defense Brought It
Heading into this game, the defense in focus was the Seattle Seahawks. That unit had been one of the worst in the league — 28th in yards allowed per drive, 22nd in points allowed per drive, and 29th in pass defense DVOA. That defense certainly played a part, but the defense of the Los Angeles Rams was the star of this matchup in a 23-16 Rams win.
The Rams were eighth in defensive DVOA through Week 9 and have been among the most creative defenses with pre-snap looks, scheme, and defensive personnel. All of that played out in this game. There were some early problems with miscommunication on Seattle’s opening offensive drive, which saw Greg Olsen get free for a 22-yard gain after two Rams defenders took the same receiver after some pre-snap motion.
Then on the next play, Freddie Swain was left uncovered in the flat after he came across the formation with jet motion and he ran for 21 yards.
That led to an 18-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins, but the Rams were quickly able to settle and limit big plays. In fact, the Rams forced a few big defensive plays on their own.
The most memorable, of course, was the wild interception thrown by Russell Wilson near the end of the first half. Wilson scrambled and threw across his body for a pass intended for Will Dissly in the end zone but it was intercepted by Darious Williams.
At first glance, this looks like one of the worst decisions of Wilson’s career and while it’s definitely not great, the intent is more clear if you see what Wilson saw. Another coverage bust had Dissly uncovered down the sideline but Wilson was forced to move from the pocket due to potential pressure from Aaron Donald. If Wilson doesn’t move from the pocket, it’s an easy touchdown. But with the movement, the throw was late and Wilson did not see Williams, who read the quarterback and peel off his man in the back of the end zone to jump in front of the pass.
Donald didn’t have a tackle, sack, or quarterback hit in the game but still made an impact. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Donald was the Rams pass rusher with the closest average distance to Wilson and that includes Leonard Floyd, who had three sacks and five quarterback hits on the day.
The Rams were able to get pressure on Wilson with some schemed up free rushers in the second half while the Seahawks tried to catch up.
Midway through the third quarter, the Rams used a sim pressure look on first-and-10 near midfield. The Rams came out with a normal four-man front but at the snap, the defender on the left side of the line dropped into coverage as linebacker Micah Kiser blitzed from the defense’s left. It kept just a four-man rush, but it wasn’t the four Seattle expected. Right tackle Brandon Shell moved inside to pick up Kiser, which left Floyd unblocked for the sack.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Rams sent a five-man blitz with Kiser as the extra rusher. Kiser blitzed right into the left tackle, which left Terrell Lewis, who was lined up outside of the tight end, to be a free rusher for the sack. Even if Lewis had been picked up by the tight end or running back, Aaron Donald had run a stunt to that side and was just behind Lewis on the way to Wilson.
Wilson was hit 12 times in the game as he was forced to hold onto the ball to make plays. Per Next Gen Stats, his 3.19 seconds to throw was the highest mark for a quarterback in Week 10. A lot of that was due to the coverage the Rams had on the back end.
Jalen Ramsey has been one of the league’s best shutdown corners throughout his career, but the Rams have used him in a more versatile role this season, moving him around into the slot and the box to maximize impact. But in this game, Ramsey was on D.K. Metcalf for a majority of the snaps. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Ramsey was on Metcalf for 30 routes, which resulted in four targets, two receptions, and 28 yards.
Without Metcalf as an option, Wilson was 0-for-6 on passes that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It was the first game of the season Wilson didn’t have at least one deep completion.
Throughout the game, the Rams were able to mix up the looks in both the secondary and along the line They started this game with three safeties on the field to combat Seattle’s passing game. Last year, the Rams used six defensive backs on the field for 39% of defensive plays and while that has been down to just 23% this season, that’s above the league average (13%) and opponents only had a 35% success rate against that defensive package. Wilson’s second interception of the game came against one of the Rams’ Dime looks.
Safety John Johnson (43) was in the middle of the field and started to travel with receiver David Moore with pre-snap motion, but Johnson stopped his motion short to rush the passer. He replaced linebacker Kenny Young (41), who dropped into coverage. The Rams also ran a stunt with Donald and Floyd, which helped Donald close in Wilson, who hung a throw intended for Greg Olsen, which was jumped again by Darious Williams.
Williams has been one of the league’s surprise breakouts this season. He came into the week ranked 16th in Adjusted Yards allowed (weighting touchdowns and interceptions) per coverage snap among 118 cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps on the season.
Wilson finished the game with -0.14 Expected Points Added per play, according to nflfastR, and had a QBR of just 31.1.
The defensive performance allowed the Rams offense to get by without needing to do too much. Jared Goff averaged 8.2 yards per attempt in a well-schemed offense against a poor defense, though his slightly above average 52.4 QBR probably tells a better story of his actual impact.
It was an impressive all-around win for the Rams, who pulled even with the Seahawks at 6-3 in the NFC West. Both teams are over 80% to make the playoffs per Football Outsiders (86.8% for Seattle and 84.5% for Los Angeles) and while the Seahawks are still technically the favorites to win the division, they’re not the team currently on top…
2. Your first-place Arizona Cardinals
Last week, the Arizona Cardinals came up short in a fun showdown against the Miami Dolphins. They were incredibly close to doing the same against the Buffalo Bills but pulled it out in miraculous fashion for a 32-20 win. The Kyler Murray–Josh Allen meeting didn’t bring as much production as Murray-Tagovailoa last week, but there was more than enough flash to make up for it.
For the Cardinals, they had some of the best of both worlds from what worked in the early season offense (and what didn’t) plus what has worked over the second quarter of the season. Last week, the Cardinals were able to open up some of the downfield passing game and got Murray going on the ground, but that came at the expense of DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was back to taking charge in the Arizona passing game — 12 targets, seven receptions, 127 yards, and a touchdown — but it wasn’t at the expense of the rest of the offense like it might have seemed over the first few weeks. Hopkins was involved often and in new ways. He had two receptions on deep crossing routes that went for 28 and 35 yards. Both took advantage of Buffalo’s zone defense and got Hopkins free through the middle of the field. Through Week 9, Hopkins only had one target and no receptions on deep crossers, per Sports Info Solutions.
The second reception helped set up a 1-yard Murray run when the Cardinals trailed 23-9 in the third quarter. Murray again had an effective day on the ground with two rushing touchdowns and a 28-yard run that helped set up his second touchdown run (a 15-yarder) three plays later.
Arizona had an overall effective running game against a Buffalo defense that has struggled to stop this run this season. Kenyan Drake topped 100 yards in his return from injury and had more yards than expected on 62.5% of his carries, per Next Gen Stats, which was the second-highest rate of the week. However, a lost fumble dropped his EPA to negative figures on the day. Chase Edmonds also filled back into his role of hyper-efficient changeup back with 56 yards on eight carries for 0.23 EPA per play.
For the Bills, this was a game of Good Josh Allen vs Bad Josh Allen. Allen toyed between the two like Liam Neeson’s character in The Lego Movie. Allen dared Patrick Peterson to pick him off a number of times throughout the game and he finally did late in the third quarter, which led to the second Murray rushing touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 26-23 lead.
Allen was still able to make some impressive plays and his 4.3% Completion Percentage Over Expectation was the fifth-highest among quarterbacks in Week 10 per Next Gen Stats.
Buffalo trusted Allen throughout the game with another pass-heavy game plan. A week after the Bills abandoned the run against Seattle’s defense, they had just 11 running back carries in the game between Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. Allen tied for the team lead in carries (seven) and led the team in rushing yards (38). (We should also note Josh Allen currently leads the league in passing yards.)
Of course, this game really picked up over the final few drives. With 6:40 left, the Cardinals held that 26-23 lead and started a drive at their own 2-yard line. In an attempt to kill the clock, Arizona tried to run three times but that failed even after runs of five and four yards on first and second down. But some blown blocks on a third-and-1 zone read forced Murray outside for a loss of six yards. The Cardinals took up just 2:40 on their three-and-out.
On Buffalo’s first play following a punt, Allen threw a bad, late interception to an undercutting Dre Kirkpatrick on a crossing route intended for Gabriel Davis.
Somehow, Arizona’s next drive was worse than the previous one. Since the run failed on the previous drive, the Cardinals got overly aggressive and threw on three straight downs. First down was a throwaway under pressure. Second down was an attempted slant to Hopkins that was tipped at the line. Third down was a 0-blitz from the Bills that resulted in a six-yard sack. Only 56 seconds were taken off the clock.
Buffalo was able to drive down the field and Allen hit Stefon Diggs with his best throw of the game on a corner route with Diggs as the inside receiver in a trips set to put the Bills up 30-26 with just 34 seconds remaining.
And then it happened. The Cardinals went 32 yards in three plays and were set up for a Hail Mary from the 43-yard line with just two seconds left. Murray escaped all the way to the left sideline, got himself in position to throw, and delivered a strike to Hopkins, who caught the ball over three Bills defenders.
There is a lot of luck that needs to break right for a Hail Mary to work and the insanity of Hopkins’s catch will be the focus, but Murray’s ability to escape the pocket, rest himself, and place the ball perfectly should not go overlooked.
The Cardinals end the week 6-3 and in first place of the NFC West. It’s not a fluky 6-3, either, even though they’ve played some wacky games. Arizona’s +56 point differential is the third-best in the NFC, just above the 7-2 Green Bay Packers (+53). The schedule gets harder from here and the turnaround is quick with a Thursday Night Football meeting with Seattle up next, but Arizona has started to make the leap many expected without yet hitting full potential.
3. Miami keeps it up
Suddenly the Bills’ hold on the AFC East is loosening because the Miami Dolphins keep winning. Miami’s decision to start Tua Tagovailoa and move from Ryan Fitzpatrick was supposed to be about the future but it has yet to hurt the present. Following a 29-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Dolphins sit at 6-3, a half-game behind the 7-3 Bills.
It has been the defense and special teams that have helped propel this winning streak since the switch to Tagovailoa and while it’s hard to believe the Dolphins will be able to sustain success the way they have over the past few weeks with defensive touchdowns and huge special teams plays, they keep doing it.
Miami started the game with a blocked punt that got recovered on the 1-yard line and led to a touchdown on the next play. Defensively, the Chargers forced Justin Herbert into the worst game of his short career and that started early, too. The Dolphins kept up their aggressive Cover-0 blitzes and had a wild no-down-linemen on an early third-and-3 with defenders bouncing around pre-snap. Miami sent the house and Herbert sailed a rushed pass while fading back.
The Dolphins went with the no-down-linemen look more than once and sometimes, it only resulted in a four-man rush, like it did on a third-and-10 late in the first half, but Andrew Van Ginkel was still able to turn the corner and get pressure without the blitz.
The pressure kept coming throughout the game. Early in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins again went with the no-down look on a third-an-12. It was just a four-man rush but pressure forced Herbert to a late deep out that Xavien Howard was able to jump for an interception.
Miami followed with a touchdown and then on the next offensive drive for the Chargers, the Dolphins sent a 0-blitz that forced an overthrown deep ball on second down and followed it up with another 0-blitz from a no-down-linemen look on third down that resulted in a pass completed but out of bounds.
The Chargers helped Miami get into some of these obvious passing situations by committing to the run on early downs, something Herbert said after the game was part of the game plan. Per nflfastR, the Chargers had 26 early down pass attempts to 20 early down runs. The Chargers averaged 0.14 EPA per play on those early down passes and -0.07 EPA per play on the early down runs. That lack of success on the ground set Miami up to tee off on the quarterback and the Chargers were killed for -0.29 EPA per play on third and fourth downs.
Herbert had already been a quarterback that defenses were aggressive attacking with blitzes. Per Sports Info Solutions, Herbert had 16 dropbacks against Cover 0 blitzes entering the week, tied for the second-most among quarterbacks. He took just one sack and was 10-of-14 for 161 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Miami’s defense was able to change that success on Sunday.
Despite an average 7.1-yard average depth of target, Herbert couldn’t complete anything consistently down the field. His 2.7-yard average depth of completion was easily the lowest among any quarterback in Week 10, per Next Gen Stats.
Offensively, the Dolphins again got just enough from the rookie quarterback. Tagovailoa only threw 25 times but he pushed the ball down the field (his 11.3-yard average depth of target was the highest among quarterbacks this week) and while he only averaged 6.8 yards per attempt, his 0.28 EPA per dropback was plenty good.
Tagovailoa has already shown a strength throwing on the move and he added patience for things to develop down the field, like this 23-yard throw to Mike Gesicki off a bootleg in the first quarter.
As mentioned at the start of this section, the Dolphins are just a half game back of the Bills, a team they won’t play again until Week 17. But like Arizona, Miami’s success hasn’t been a fluke (even if the high value defense and special teams plays will eventually stop). The Dolphins have the fourth-highest point differential in the AFC (+69) and they’re only a point behind the best point differential in the NFC (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, +70). Miami also gets a sweet three-game stretch coming up against the Jets, Broncos, and Bengals before the closing slate will feel like the playoffs with games against the Chiefs, Patriots, Raiders, and Bills.
4. Tampa Bay bailed out Tom Brady
Statistically, Tom Brady was phenomenal on Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 46-23 win over the Carolina Panthers. Brady was 28-of-37 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His QBR was 91.2. His EPA per play was 0.60. His 5.9% Completion Percentage Over Expectation was the second-best among quarterbacks in Week 10. Yet, Tom Brady felt off in Week 10.
Brady was consistently bailed out by his receivers who turned some off-target passes into completions and Brady had some strange misses, especially early on in the game. He had Antonio Brown open downfield for what could have been a touchdown early in the first quarter and missed Mike Evans a few times around the goal line. Even his completed touchdown pass to Evans was a high fastball the receiver was able to bring in.
This could eventually be a positive for the Buccaneers, as it was on Sunday. This receiving corps is supposed to be the strength of the team and the ability to help the quarterback out should be included in that. That was certainly the case with some adjustments to passes and the ability to get open. The way the Buccaneers were built, they were supposed to be able to win in multiple ways and still stay competitive if one player or unit was off. That’s one of the reasons many considered Tampa Bay to be the best team in the NFC.
Brady did improve a bit as the game went on, though not as much as the numbers would suggest. Still, it was more than enough to take advantage of the Carolina defense that was generally overmatched.
One positive development that continued this week was the vertical threat of Rob Gronkowski. Over the first few weeks, Gronkowski barely ran routes but he’s been an increasingly growing part of the offense.
Y-Cross has become a staple of the Buccaneers offense in recent weeks and Gronkowski entered the week leading the league in targets on deep crossing routes, per SIS. Also entering the week, Gronkowski was tied with Mike Evans as second on the team in targets over 20 yards down the field. Gronk added to that with a 44-yard catch down the seam that featured a broken tackle along the way.
The Buccaneers were also helped by a running game — mostly a single run — that provided insurance. For as much as running backs can be products of their surroundings, there couldn’t have been a bigger difference between Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette in Week 10. Jones had the 98-yard touchdown run, but also a week-leading 65.2% of his rushing attempts gained more yards than expected per Next Gen Stats. He had a 48% success rate, per nflfastR, which was significantly higher than Fournette’s 12%. Fournette had appeared to take over as the lead back but that role might still be open.
We still might not know exactly what Tampa is at this point in the season, but having multiple ways to win and multiple players who can carry the load should continue to be a team strength.
5. The Packers Played A Little Close
If Brady’s performance was a split between the numbers and the eye test, Aaron Rodgers had a day where even stats couldn’t agree. The Packers played an all-too-close game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but came away with a 24-20 win. Rodgers finished the game 24-of-34 for 325 yards, an average of 9.6 yards per attempt, but came out with a QBR of only 45.1. As a refresher, single-game QBR is best viewed as a win probability metric that suggests a team with Rodgers’s performance at quarterback would be expected to win just 45.1% of the time.
Rodgers’s yards per attempt figure was greatly aided by a 78-yard touchdown pass to Marques Valdez-Scantling to start the second quarter. Outside of that, Rodgers wasn’t particularly sharp.
Rodgers’s 5.8-yard average depth of target was the fourth-lowest among quarterbacks in Week 9 and his 3.6-yard average depth of completion was fifth-lowest, per Next Gen Stats. That’s including the 78-yard pass.
There were some plays that would have made the final line look different. Rodgers threw a nice 22-yard touchdown to Davante Adams in the middle of the field that was called back for offensive holding and eventually led to a field goal. Then the next drive saw Rodgers hit Adams on a slant that went for 22 yards before Adams was stripped and the Jaguars recovered then scored a touchdown a few plays later.
On the bright side, if there is a time to have a poor game, or at least a below-average one, the Jaguars are the type of team to do it against. Sure it looks bad, but Jacksonville was only going to do so much to hang around and they did all they could — it just wasn’t good enough.
Sixth-round rookie quarterback Jake Luton has some fun flashes at his peak for the Jaguars, but the consistency just isn’t there. He averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and finished the day with a 33.2 QBR.
Even when they were down, the Packers never seemed worried. On the go-ahead touchdown, Rodgers executed a play-fake and waited patiently in the pocket while Adams worked his way open. It’s not a win Green Bay will highlight on its resume, but it’s also not a performance the Packers are likely to repeat.
6. Cam Newton Has Been Better Than You Think
We see often, even with the best quarterbacks in the league, there is only so much they can do when a supporting cast just isn’t talented enough to make the offense function. Look at Lamar Jackson, who is following up an MVP season by throwing seven targets to Willie Snead in a monsoon.
Cam Newton wasn’t asked to do much in the New England Patriots’ 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, but like he has often this season, Newton did what was asked to do well. He only threw 17 times, but he completed 13 and was mostly efficient on those throws, averaging 0.22 EPA per dropback.
Newton’s accuracy has been a talking point this season — and for much of his career — but entering the week, he had the highest on-target rate and second-highest completion rate on throws that went 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, per SIS. One problem is those throws only accounted for 32% of his attempts and some of the short passing was more hit-or-miss.
That rate might go up now that Jakobi Meyers is getting more playing time and he could be a receiver who consistently separates down the field. That hasn’t been something in the arsenal of the New England offense for much of this season. Newton went 2-of-3 on passes over 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and both went to Meyers for completions of 16 and 23 yards.
Newton has also gotten back to the ground game, where he’s continued to be a threat in the red zone. Newton had a 4-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and the threat of a quarterback run opened up Rex Burkhead for a clear sideline on his touchdown reception earlier in the game.
This Patriots season has been strange and Newton has played a part in that — especially with a game missed due to a positive COVID test — but the quarterback has proven he can still play at a high level and this oddly lackluster Patriots season would be much worse with someone else under center.
7. Myles Garrett Is Not Like The Rest Of Us
Myles Garrett only had half a sack in Cleveland’s 10-7 win over Houston, but it felt like he was everywhere for the Browns. That wouldn’t be much different from what Garrett has done throughout the season. He entered the week third in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate and tied for the league lead in sacks.
Garrett’s sack was early in the game as he took a wide angle around Laremy Tunsil to get to Deshaun Watson. Then at the start of the second quarter, Garrett worked his way to stop Watson for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
Those were great, but Garrett’s most impressive play might have been one he didn’t fully make successfully. With just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Texans had the ball with a second-and-3 in plus territory. Houston ran Watson on a play-action bootleg to the right (sidenote: the Texans used Watson on actual designed runs in this game and should do that more). Garrett was on that edge and he fell for the run action. But he shifted gears and pursued Watson to the sideline.
This play against almost any other defender leaves an open corner and tons of space for the quarterback to gain a chunk of yards. Garrett was so quick in his turnaround, he cut off Watson’s angle and forced him out of bounds after barely picking up the first down.
8. Play of the day
THE DOLPHINS RAN LEAK ON THE GOAL LINE.
9. Chart of the day
Pros and cons here.
Pros: The Steelers’ offense looked more explosive than it had all season in a 36-10 win over the Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns without an interception or a sack. He even pushed the ball down the field more often with a 9.7-yard average depth of target, which was the third-highest among quarterbacks in Week 10. Those are good things.
Cons: Roethlisberger still struggled with the really deep stuff. He had a nice 46-yard pass to Dionte Johnson down the left sideline late in the first quarter but he was just 1-of-8 on passes that went over 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, including 0-for-5 down the right sideline.
10. Does anyone want to win the NFC East?
It would be hard to blame anyone if they didn’t. For every team but the Eagles, not winning the division is the better long-term solution of the team in question. But Philadelphia is currently so dug into the roster, they have to show some success this season. Football Outsiders still has the Eagles as the favorites in the division with a 48.5% chance to win.
That, despite a 27-17 loss to the New York Giants off a bye that went as one of the best games of Daniel Jones’s career. Jones didn’t have a touchdown, but also didn’t turn the ball over or even fumble, and he finished with 8.7 yards per attempt and a QBR of 91.4.
The Eagles are a team that just looks lost in every area. Carson Wentz has played like he’s getting told right before the game that he’s the starter and he’s never played the position before. He averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and -0.09 EPA per play on Sunday. Among 34 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts through Week 9, Wentz had the lowest on-target rate per SIS.
There was also no plan to get Eagles receivers isolated on bad matchups. The Giants only have one good cornerback and still James Bradberry was the Eagles’ most-targeted defender, per ESPN Stats & Info. Six targets resulted in two completions. 10 yards, and two passes defensed.
With their third win of the season, the Giants now have a 26.5% chance to make the playoffs as they sit a half-game out of the division lead with the second-worst point differential in the conference and in position for the eighth overall pick in the draft.
Everything in this division is beyond bad.