Week 9 brought a few wild games with a packed early afternoon. We’re about halfway through the season and teams are still bunched in the middle. 14 teams have a winning record. Nine teams have either four or five wins. That’s created some interesting matchups, a few of which we saw on Sunday.

All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.

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1. Tua Tagovailoa And Justin Fields Put On A Show

Two of the top quarterback performances of the week happened in Chicago in a 35-32 Dolphins win over the Bears. Tua Tagovailoa led the week in EPA per dropback (0.59) while he completed 21-of-30 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Justin Fields had the most impressive outing of his career with 0.35 EPA per dropback with 168 rushing yards — a quarterback record in a regular season game.

Both of these offenses have found success leaning into what the quarterbacks do well. The Dolphins have paired two of the fastest wide receivers with a quarterback who processes quickly and gets the ball out even quicker. He’s currently the league leader in EPA per dropback for the season. The Bears have finally gone in on Fields’s ability as a runner, which has opened up more in the passing offense too.

We’ve covered a ton of what the Dolphins have done on offense throughout the weeks this season, so let’s focus on one specific area for this game — third downs. With Tagovailoa on the field, the Dolphins have converted 47.1% of their third downs this season, which would rank fourth. On third downs this season, only Patrick Mahomes has higher EPA (0.73) than Tua (0.67), only Joe Burrow (74.7%) has a higher completion percentage (73.7%), and only Josh Allen (5.3) is averaging more air yards past the first down marker (3.6).

Against the Bears, the Dolphins went 5-of-10 on third downs but went 5-of-7 on Tagovailoa passes (with a sixth completion of 12 yards on a third-and-15). Miami just seems to be a nightmare to defend on third down, especially when defenses choose to play man. That happens at a below-average rate, but even that might be too often.

On a third-and-6 near the end of the first half, the Dolphins came out in a 3×1 set. Tyreek Hill opened as the outside receiver but motioned in to be the inside receiver in a bunch as the ball was being snapped. The Dolphins used the two other routes from the bunch to spring Hill free. Trent Sherfield (14) ran a crosser from the slant and then Hill ran underneath Mike Gesicki’s route to give enough space between him and the defender down the field. Hill gained 36 yards on the play.

 

 

In the third quarter, the Dolphins faced a third-and-6 from the Bears’ 10-yard line. Before the snap, Miami motioned Gesicki to the left of the formation and the same side as Jeff Wilson in the backfield. Gesicki’s route inside held up linebacker Nicholas Morrow just long enough to get Wilson space to the flat before he turned the corner into the end zone for a touchdown that put the Dolphins up 35-25.

 

 

Miami needed all of those plays because Chicago was able to hang with them, thanks to Fields. On the first play of the second quarter, the Bears had a first-and-10 from the Miami 18-yard line in 21 personnel. The Bears came out in an I-formation but then motioned the fullback up to the line and eventually across the formation. That motion pulled the defense to the left while Fields booted to the right. Cole Kmet was able to sneak free for an 18-yard touchdown.

 

 

Chicago had used 21 personnel on 28.6% of its first quarter snaps and ran on 66% of them. The Bears had games with more 21 personnel use overall, but that was the highest rate of the year in the first quarter. Chicago clearly wanted to get that heavy personnel working early and the play-action off it set up a touchdown for Fields.

At the two minute warning in the first half, the Bears had a third-and-8 from the Miami 16-yard line. Chicago was in 11 personnel with the three receivers to the left. Darnell Mooney ran a slightly hesitated slot fade as the inside receiver underneath a Dante Pettis route. Mooney had enough separation with the release and Fields found him in the end zone.

 

 

Over the first stretch of the season, the Bears were comically run-heavy in the red zone. Through Week 7, Chicago had a 21.4% pass rate inside the 20, the lowest in the league. Over the past two weeks, the Bears have been 52.4% pass with significantly better results. There’s a clear trust between the quarterback and the offense in that area, which has led to more success.

Chicago Bears Red Zone, 2022
data per TruMedia

WeeksRed Zone Pass RateEPA/PlayTD%
1-721.4%-0.2347.4%
8-952.4%0.4770%

While the passing offense has gotten better, Fields’s rushing ability is still what steals the show each week. The highlight here was a 61-yard touchdown run on a third-and-5 scramble. It wasn’t just the run, but some of the athleticism displayed. Fields started the run with a pump fake that took him off his feet. He then immediately took off at full speed, past linebacker Jerome Baker frozen from the fake, through a few more Dolphins before he reached the end zone.

 

 

Fields was his own third down creator, despite going 2-of-6 as a passer. Fields also scrambled six times on third down and averaged 1.05 EPA per play. What made the scrambling even more effective was the lack of sacks taken. Fields was sacked only twice in this game for a loss of seven yards. That could be a great potential sign for the future. Fields is always going to be a high-sack quarterback but limiting the damage on them can help sustain this type of offense. 

That’s going to have to be something Miami takes a look at, too, after trading a first-round pick for Bradley Chubb. Chubb was on the field for 52 plays and 28 pass rush snaps. He ended with just a 7.1% pressure rate. Miami is still fitting these pieces together on offense and it’s clear the team has the offense to make up for it, but if the Dolphins are going to be real contenders, the defense is going to have to step up.

2. The Jets Made Adjustments To Upset The Bills

The Jets put together their most complete game in a 20-17 upset of the Buffalo Bills. This defense is currently fifth in EPA per play and in this game, the unit made Josh Allen look like the past high-variance version. This was Allen’s first game of the season with negative EPA per dropback (-0.13).

It was really a tale of two halves in this game. A Buffalo offensive explosive felt almost inevitable in the first half. Allen averaged 0.11 EPA per dropback — 0.31 EPA per play with a 36-yard touchdown on a designed run — and Stefon Diggs had seven catches for 93 yards, including a 42-yard catch past Ahmad Gardner on a double move.

But the Jets made a shift in the second half, basically erasing any straight man coverage and replacing it with a ton of quarter-quarter-half Cover-6 looks on a quarter of Allen’s second half dropbacks.

Jets Coverages By Half vs Bills, Week 9
data per TruMedia

HalfCover-1Cover-3Cover-4Cover-6
First26.1%30.4%34.8%4.3%
Second6.3%31.3%37.5%25.0%

Allen went 5-of-12 in the second half for -0.46 EPA per dropback. Against those Cover-6 looks specifically, Allen was 2-of-5 for -0.59 EPA per dropback with two sacks, two scrambles, and an interception.

Both of Allen’s interceptions in this game were puzzling, rushed throws without a receiver really in the area. In the second half, he threw an interception to Gardner on one of the Cover-6 snaps in what might have been a miscommunication with Gabriel Davis, though Davis appeared to be taking his path the entire way, before Allen released the ball.

 

 

The Jets were also able to get to Allen without blitzing — just 7.1% of dropbacks — and the pressure got to him. Through Week 8, Allen led the league with 0.21 EPA per dropback when under pressure. The next highest quarterback was at 0.02. But the Jets forced Allen to go just 1-of-6 under pressure with the Gardner interception and five sacks. 

There were plays where a few Jets broke through and it was only a matter of time before someone on the line brought the quarterback down, like this sack from Quinnen Williams in the third quarter. Williams is now fourth in the league in quarterback hits with 17. Carl Lawson is fifth with 16.

 

 

On the other side of the ball, the Jets protected Zach Wilson by keeping him conservatively in structure and allowing those around him to make plays. The Jets’ offense game plan was centered around quick game. Wilson averaged just 2.17 seconds to throw, easily the lowest of his career. His previous quickest average time to throw was 2.6 seconds. His previous low this season was 2.67.

69% of Wilson’s dropbacks came within 2.5 seconds of the snap and there was a clear difference in how those dropbacks worked.

Zach Wilson By Time To Throw vs Bills, Week 9
data per TruMedia

Time to ThrowEPA/DBComp/AttaDOTYPA
Under 2.5 sec0.3116/194.637.37
2.5+-0.552/612.02.32

It might not be possible to contain Wilson that much for the rest of the season, but getting him to process quicker and get the ball out should play much better in the structure of the offense. Wilson has been effective when kept clean, but he still likes to run himself into pressure in search of the big play. Pressure was again an issue in this game, including a strip sack.

The Jets, now at 6-3, have a 59% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. They have a defense that has proven to be competitive with the best teams. But how close the Jets can keep those games will depend on what they can get from the quarterback. Week 9 might have been the blueprint to reel him in a bit.

3. The Chiefs Are Still The Chiefs But In A Different Way

The thing about the Chiefs is they always seem to figure out a way to pull out a win. They’re not undefeatable — this is a team that lost to the Colts — but even when they get dragged into a slog as they did on Sunday night against the Titans, they always have an escape plan. Typically, especially this season, that is Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City might not look like the explosive Chiefs of the Super Bowl years, but no offense has been better. The Chiefs are first in EPA per play (0.19) and the gap between them and the No. 2 team (0.10) is the same gap between No. 2 and No. 15.  The Chiefs are also first by a wide margin in EPA per drive (1.20) and the gap between the Chiefs and the next best team (0.61) is the same gap between No. 2 and No. 18.

These Chiefs also have the second-highest EPA per drive through Week 9 of the last five seasons, behind only the 2018 Chiefs.

Top EPA per Drive Through Week 9, 2018-2022

YearTeamEPA/Drive
2018Chiefs1.43
2022Chiefs1.20
2018Saints1.16
2018Rams1.12
2020Packers0.97

Now we can get into what actually happened on Sunday night when Mahomes had to put the offense on his shoulders and drop back 78 times. No quarterback since at least 2000 has dropped back more than that in a game. The previous high was Josh Allen’s 71 in Week 3 — a losing effort against the Dolphins. There were only two other instances of a 70-dropback game. John Kitna did it in a 26-23 overtime win over the Steelers in Week 16 of 2001 and Jared Goff did it in a 55-40 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 4 of 2019. 

11 different Chiefs had at least one reception against the Titans, with the bulk of the throws going between Travis Kelce (10 receptions and 106 yards on 17 targets) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (10 catches and 88 yards on 12 targets).

Mahomes even had to carry the ground as he led the team in rushing Sunday night. Mahomes had six attempts for 63 yards while the rest of the team had 14 yards on 13 carries. Those plays averaged -0.39 EPA per rush with a 15.4% success rate. 46.2% of those runs were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

But with the game on the line, Mahomes was able to take a third-and-9 scramble 14 yards into the end zone to tie the game with just under three minutes remaining in regulation.

 

 

With the Buffalo loss, Kansas City now has a 34% chance to take the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They have the same record as the Bills but Buffalo holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

4. The Chargers And Falcons Are Flawed Teams That Should Be Better

Both the Chargers and Falcons should be better than they are but some glaring flaws are holding them back. For the Chargers, it’s been a constrictive offense paired with a run defense that has not improved over last season.

The Falcons ran for over 200 yards and nearly six yards per carry against the Chargers. Non-quarterback runs averaged 0.27 EPA per rush with a 63.3% success rate. The 5.9 yards per carry came on consistent runs — just two Tyler Allgeier runs went for 10 or more yards.

But Atlanta couldn’t take advantage because the passing game just hasn’t been strong. Early in the season, the Falcons were able to lean on the run and have a low-volume passing game because of high efficiency. That was not the case in this game.

Marcus Mariota averaged -0.29 EPA per dropback in this game while he completed 12-of-23 passes. Mariota took shots down the field (14.91 aDOT) but they didn’t connect (5.61 YPA).

Over the course of the season, Mariota still ranks 12th among quarterbacks in EPA per play but that’s come with a wide variance. Just in the past four weeks, he’s had games of 0.44, -0.03, 0.28, and -0.27 EPA per play.

Atlanta has mostly played itself out of playoff contention, now at 4-5. It might be time to see what Desmond Ridder can do.

The Chargers, meanwhile, have been consistent but without a high ceiling. Justin Herbert has been dealing with a rib injury on top of injuries on the offensive line and wide receiver on top of an offense that wasn’t all that open at full strength last year.

Herbert has positive EPA this season and finished eighth among quarterbacks this week. A lesser quarterback would take this offense and make it look like one of the worst in the league. Herbert has made it manageable. He had the eighth-best EPA per dropback of the week with Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, and Michael Bandy as the three receivers available. 

At 5-3, the Chargers still have a 55% chance to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. There is still so much talent on this roster and eventually, more players have to get healthy — or at least just enough of them are at the same time — so there can be hope for some improvement.

5. Poor Sam Ehlinger

Bill Belichick against young, inexperienced quarterbacks is never a fair fight. Sam Ehlinger was completely overwhelmed in the matchup, as was the rest of the Indianapolis offense. Ehlinger was sacked nine times in the 26-3 loss. Matthew Judon and Josh Uche each had three. Judon leads the league in sacks at 11.5, one shy of his career-high set last year with New England.

Judon was a key to opening the floodgates early. The Patriots created free rushing lanes by getting Judon through the middle on stunts. New England barely blitzed in the game (16.7%) because it wasn’t necessary.

One Judon’s first sack on the opening Colts drive, he rushed across from right tackle Braden Smith (72) but the Patriots ran a stunt and Judon looped around for an untouched sack.

 

 

The Patriots ran the same stunt on a third-and-8 later in the quarter and it worked the same way.

 

2

Throughout the game, the Patriots ran some simulated pressures and continued to cloud the picture along the line of scrimmage. No one on the Colts — not the quarterback, the offensive line, or the coaching staff — was ready for it. 

Ehlinger averaged -0.62 EPA per dropback, the worst performance for a quarterback with at least 20 dropbacks this season. 

6. The Raiders Can’t Get Out Of Their Own Way

The Las Vegas Raiders are seventh in EPA per play on offense and they’re eighth in points per drive. They are also 2-6 with a 4% chance to make the playoffs after blowing a 17-point lead for the third time this season.

It seems like the Raiders don’t really know what they want to be. At any time they could get a monster game from a Davante Adams or Josh Jacobs but rarely do those things mesh with the overall plan for the game.

Against the Jaguars, Adams had nine targets, 146 yards, and two touchdowns in the first half with 88 of those yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone. Adams had eight targets and no catches in the second half. The offense completely stalled in the third quarter, which allowed the Jaguars to take the lead. Because the Raiders ineffectively tried to run to start the half, Adams ran just two routes in the third quarter and his one target was a swing behind the line of scrimmage for no gain.

The defense also can’t stop anyone, which has compounded some of the consistency issues on offense. The Raiders currently have the worst pass defense in the league by EPA per play and they rank 31st overall, saved by a run defense that is a top-five unit.

There’s a lack of cohesion just about everywhere and in no place is the team playing up to more than the sum of its parts. 

7. T.J. Hockenson’s Third Down Impact

The T.J. Hockenson trade made a pretty quick impact for the now 7-1 Vikings. Hockenson ended his Vikings debut with nine targets for 70 yards. Four of those targets and 50 yards came on third down. Three of the four picked up a first down. Hockenson’s individual performance is notable, especially in a debut, but what’s more notable is how his role can potentially open up the rest of the offense.

With Hockenson as the underneath receiver on third down, the Vikings were able to take some shots to Justin Jefferson. Jefferson had four targets and two receptions for 64 yards on third down. Those came on gains of 28 on a third-and-1 and 47 on a third-and-7. Jefferson had a 13.25-yard aDOT on third down after a 9.8-yard aDOT through the first eight weeks of the season.

Minnesota still has some work to do, needing a final drive field goal to get past Washington, but the Vikings continue to build layers and improve on what does look like a solid foundation.

8. Chart of the day

The Bengals rolled through the Panthers in a 42-21 win. Cincinnati used the blowout as a way to get the under center run game working again. Basically live reps to practice. After the Bengals needed to go to a shotgun-exclusive offense for anything to work because the under center run game was so bad, the Bengals went 45% under center runs against the Panthers. On those under center runs, Cincinnati averaged 0.37 EPA per rush with a 74% success rate.

9. Play of the day

When the Buccaneers got the ball with 44 seconds remaining and down by four, Tampa Bay had about a 26% chance to win, per ESPN’s Win Probability model. The Bucs went 60 yards in six plays and 35 seconds, capped off with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cade Otton

10. Where Do The Packers Go From Here?

After a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers are 3-6. They currently have a 5% chance to make the playoffs.

This is a team built, in theory, to take advantage of the last window for Aaron Rodgers. Nothing has gone to plan. There is still distrust between Rodgers, the receiving corps, the offensive line, and the offense. This is not an ideal situation but Rodgers is also compounding it by playing his worst football in years. 

Rodgers threw three awful interceptions against Detroit with the person most to blame being Rodgers on each of them. In this game, Rodgers had -0.36 EPA per dropback from a clean pocket. His play there has regressed throughout the season and he now has negative EPA from a clean pocket on the season. The only quarterbacks worse this year are Davis Mills and Cooper Rush.

Add in a defense that hasn’t lived up to expectations, now with the potential loss of Rashan Gary for the season.

Fixing the Packers for 2022 has become a secondary goal to figuring out what the next year and beyond could look like. If this is the current level of play Rodgers will bring, it’s going to be hard to bring him back — even after the massive extension signed this past offseason. There is an option bonus worth $58.3 million for the Packers in 2023. Should the team or the play choose the best option is to part ways, the contract won’t be quite as damning as the $99 million dead cap figure currently listed on the deal for next season.

Maybe the most puzzling aspect is if Rodgers does return. Should this go on for at least another year, how do the Packers get to a place where this current version of the 2022 roster isn’t repeated? Green Bay currently has $3.5 million in cap space for the 2023 season and it’s not as if there was ever a threat to hit free agency hard with this franchise anyway.

The Packers aren’t in an enviable spot — and you could argue whether it’s as bad a future outlook as the Saints or Rams — but figuring out the future is now priority No. 1 because 2022 was thrown away one interception at a time in Detroit.

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