Week 3 was a wild one in the NFL. There were a number of wild finishes, but scoring was down across the league. Offenses averaged just 1.78 points per drive after 1.83 and 1.89 over the first two weeks. The Sunday night game alone might have dropped that whole league average. But there was still plenty to take away from this week.
All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.
1. The Dolphins Did It Again
Dolphins-Bills wasn’t the shootout we might have expected. But within Miami’s 21-19 win over Buffalo, we got perhaps the most complete game from the Dolphins with flashes from the defense that could mean more for the team going forward.
Entering Week 3, the Dolphins had created pressure on just 17.2% of opposing dropbacks, which ranked 31st. That came while blitzing at the seventh-highest rate in the league. When the Dolphins got pressure, those plays were impactful but it just wasn’t happening often. Against Buffalo, Miami created pressure on 40.9% of dropbacks, which was the second-highest rate of Week 3.
On a four-man rush, the Dolphins had a 40% pressure rate. That pressure partly stopped the Bills from pushing the ball downfield. Against the four-man rush, Josh Allen averaged 6.05 air yards per attempt, 5.25 yards per attempt, and only two of his 40 pass attempts (5%) went 20 or more air yards.
Allen also faced 14 Cover-0 blitzes in the game. He went 7-of-9 with two touchdowns, three sacks, and two scrambles on those plays for 0.02 EPA per dropback.
The Dolphins set up their first touchdown with a strip-sack of Allen on a third-and-8 from the Bills’ 14-yard line. The Dolphins came out showing single-high before Jevon Holland (8) crept down to the line. As Allen was adjusting the protection, Eric Rowe (21) also came down on the same side and Brandon Jones came down outside Melvin Ingram (6) on the other.
At the snap. Holland was able to run past left tackle Dion Dawkins (73) and knocked the ball out of Allen’s hand. Ingram recovered and the Dolphins scored three plays later.
There was a ton on Allen’s plate throughout the game as he took 71 dropbacks in the heat and humidity of Miami. Since at least 2010, only two other quarterbacks have had 70 dropbacks in a game — Jared Goff in Week 4 of 2019 and Lamar Jackson in the 2020 Divisional Round. The Bills ran 90 plays in the game. The only two teams to reach that figure this season (the Colts and Steelers) played deep into sad overtime games.
The Bills also held the ball for over 40 minutes. Buffalo was still successful on offense (the 52.7% success rate was the second-highest of the week) but they weren’t able to be explosive. Only 31% of Allen’s completions went for 10 or more yards, his lowest rate since Week 2 of 2021 (23.5%).
On the other side of the ball, Miami was the opposite with low volume but plays that made a difference. In the first half, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle combined for five targets, three catches, and 36 yards. Tua Tagovailoa was mostly fine spreading the ball around with a 7.3-yard average depth of target and 7.6 yards per attempt.
Tagovailoa only had eight pass attempts in the second half but went 5-of-8 with a 13.75-yard aDOT.
That started with the first play of the second half. The Dolphins have used Hill in motion straight into a route often. It’s also something the Chiefs had done in previous years. The most common is a jet motion that turns straight into a wheel route. It gives a speedy receiver a head start into the route. A defender either has to be ready to backpedal and run in zone or is chasing Hill across the formation from the start in man.
Miami knows this route is expected when Hill is in motion at the snap, so the Dolphins added a wrinkle with Hill breaking the route off with a dig inside. Hill completely turned around Taron Johnson, who thought he’d just have to run down the field with the receiver.
Another big play was a 45-yard pass to Waddle on a third-and-22 in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins came out in a 3×1 set with Hill outside but condensed on the trips side with Waddle as the isolated receiver. Waddle just ran a deep post and with a three-man rush, Tagovailoa had plenty of time to wait for his receiver to split the safeties.
There was a wide gap in the middle of the field because the safety to the trips side had to account for Hill going vertical. If Damar Hamlin (3) had reacted too strongly to Waddle in the middle, Hill would have a wide-open sideline. Even with Hamlin accounting for Hill, there is arguably still a hole to hit Hill for a first down at the time the ball is released.
This is the type of stress the Dolphins are going to continually put safeties in throughout the season. There’s not really a right answer. That’s a reason why these plays should be able to sustain, as long as both Hill and Waddle are on the field.
The trust in the offense and the quarterback to go deep on third-and-22 should also be noted. Since 2020, more passes league-wide on third-and-20 or more have been thrown behind the line of scrimmage (28.9%) than 20 or more air yards (15.6%).
Miami wasn’t perfect in this game and Buffalo might win the majority of the time if this matchup was replayed but the Dolphins were able to take advantage of plays when they mattered and for the first time this season some more consistent defense came through.
2. It’s time to take the Jaguars seriously
Last week in this space we talked about a breakout game for Trevor Lawrence. Well, it wasn’t just a one-and-done. Lawrence had another impressive game in a 38-10 blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Lawrence took everything from last week and turned it up a bit. He got the ball out even quicker — an average of 2.2 seconds — and 65% of his dropbacks finished within 2.5 seconds of the snap. He also only had a 4.95-yard aDOT in the game. A lot of that, though, came from how the Jaguars attacked the blitz. Lawrence was blitzed on 42.5% of his dropbacks and went 14-of-17 against extra pass rushers with a 2.41-yard aDOT and 82.4% of his passes within 2.5 seconds.
Play against the blitz has been a big difference in Lawrence’s game this season over his rookie year. The ball is getting out quicker and with a passing plan, that’s eliminated a lot of the negatives. Lawrence hasn’t taken a sack against the blitz yet this season on 39 dropbacks. His EPA per dropback has improved from -0.32 to 0.19.
It’s not all short and quick stuff, either. Lawrence has the ability to extend plays when needed as he did on a first quarter touchdown to Zay Jones. From empty, Lawrence ran to his right and created a throwing lane as Jones wrapped around Nasir Adderley.
What’s most impressive about the Jaguars is that the excitement goes well beyond just the quarterback. The run game is working with James Robinson, who had a 50-yard touchdown run helped by the pull of Brandon Scherff.
The defense is also a standout unit. Through three weeks, the Jaguars are fifth in defensive EPA per play. This unit ranked 30th in 2021. Jacksonville has already forced eight turnovers in 2022 after forcing nine in all of 2021.
Justin Herbert clearly wasn’t 100% in this game and the Jaguars were able to take advantage of that. Jacksonville blitzed Herbert 14 times and on those plays, Herbert went 5-of-13 with an interception and a sack for -0.81 EPA per dropback.
Jacksonville also had nine passes defensed against the Chargers. Three of those belonged to rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd, who was seemingly everywhere in coverage throughout the game.
Lloyd had a right place/right time interception off a deflection on a pass to Sony Michel but also had a pass breakup while running deep with Gerald Everett and a deflection in the middle of the field while reading Herbert’s eyes.
For this Jaguars defense, players have taken turns showing flashes throughout the season and that might be the most positive aspect going forward.
The sign of a good team is the ability to blow out bad teams. The Chargers aren’t a bad team, even if the quarterback was playing hurt. But the decisive win should not be ignored. The Jaguars are starting to figure things out on both sides of the ball and we should start talking about Jacksonville as an actual good team.
3. Lamar Jackson Is Getting Better
By EPA per dropback, Lamar Jackson didn’t have the most impressive performance of the week — just -0.02 — but that vastly undersells what Jackson had to do in a 37-26 win over the New England Patriots. His 84.1 QBR is a bit more reflective of his play.
Jackon continues to pass tests as more gets thrown at him. With injuries along the offensive line — Ronnie Stanley did not play and Patrick Mekari was forced out early — the Patriots tried to send the blitz against Jackson. New England blitzed on 38.2% of Jackson’s dropbacks but when facing five or more pass rushers, Jackson went 11-of-12 with four passing touchdowns for 0.98 EPA per dropback.
Even with the injured offensive line, there has been an added patience to Jackson’s dropback game. Jackson has taken a number of shots down the field but the offense has clicked the most in the intermediate game, between 11 and 19 air yards. On intermediate throws from the pocket in Week 3, Jackson went 5-of-7 for 1.18 EPA per dropback.
The Ravens have used empty to stretch the defense out and target that area of the field. Jackson’s overall empty rate has gone up a bit from 2021 — 21.5% to 27.3% — but it’s been a big difference on these intermediate throws. 47.1% of Jackson’s intermediate attempts from the pocket have come from empty in 2022 after just 11.5% in 2021.
Baltimore is using that spacing to run real route combinations that open up the middle of the field. On a third-and-5 in the third quarter, the Ravens motioned out into empty with a trips bunch to the left side. Isaiah Likely ran a shallow crosser from the inside while Mark Andrews ran a crosser from the point over top. Devin Duvernay followed behind with a post from the outside and had room cleared out by the two tight ends.
That type of design and execution is a big step forward for the passing offense.
Jackson also took over on the ground for 107 yards and a touchdown. He accounted for 57% of the Ravens’ rushing yards in the game on 42% of the carries.
After three weeks, Jackson is second in QBR and he keeps getting better. We might not see the same type of MVP season Jackson had in 2019 but with this level of play, he’ll easily be in that conversation again with a big payday on the horizon.
4. Eagles Get Revenge
Carson Wentz had a revenge game against the Eagles that was light on revenge. Instead, Wentz took nine sacks, including six in the first half. The ability to get to the quarterback was just one of many things that went right for the Eagles in a 24-8 win over Washington.
Wentz was pressured on nearly 42% of his dropbacks and he took a sack on 40% of those pressured snaps. The Washington quarterback was lost and routinely couldn’t feel the pressure as it was approaching. He was hit another eight times without a sack for 17 total quarterback hits.
The Eagles didn’t have to blitz often, just 23.6%. Seven of Philadelphia’s nine sacks came on a four-man rush in the game, the most sacks on a four-man rush over the past three years per Sheil Kapadia.
Throughout the game, Wentz seemed lost in the pocket. When pressure came, he failed to step up or there were times when he stepped up from a clean pocket and created pressure himself. Even when Wentz was able to get away from the pass rush, the Eagles’ secondary wasn’t allowing anything to develop. He averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt.
In Week 1, the Eagles struggled with some communication in the secondary but that hasn’t been an issue over the past two weeks. Terry McLaurin did eventually go for over 100 yards but he didn’t get his first catch until midway through the third quarter.
Philadelphia might be the most dangerous team in the league if the defense can consistently create pressure with four as the secondary builds more chemistry.
Add that on to the offense that continues to look good. Jalen Hurts has improved in structure and the Eagles can go game to game switching which receiver takes over. Against Washington, it was DeVonta Smith, who had 168 yards and 4.45 yards per route run. Smith accounted for 35.3% of the team’s targets with a 17.08-yard aDOT. He won all over the field from creating separation to contested catches deep down the field.
The Eagles play the Jaguars next week to maybe decide the best team in the league at the quarter mark?
5. Did the Bengals figure it out?
The Bengals scored 27 points against the Jets and for the first time looked somewhat close to the 2021 offense that brought them to the Super Bowl. The question is, did the Bengals do anything differently or did they just run into a bad Jets team? The answer might be a little bit of both.
After teams have sold out in Cover-2 against the Bengals, the Jets didn’t do that at all. The Jets ran Cover-2 on just 1.5% of snaps. Instead, the Jets stayed heavy with Quarters coverage to get the two-high effect. That still worked for the Jets, who used it on about 27% of snaps. Against Quarters, Joe Burrow went 6-of-11 for 4.2 yards per attempt with a sack.
But the Jets went single-high more often. Burrow went 10-of-14 against Cover 1 and 3 for 11.93 yards per attempt and 0.74 EPA per dropback.
Joe Burrow Coverage Splits vs Jets, Week 3 2022
data per TruMedia
The Jets also tried to blitz Burrow 10 times, all with single-high or 0-coverage behind it. Those plays resulted in seven completions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Ja’Marr Chase had a five-yard touchdown against the blitz, but otherwise the big gains went to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Chase had 28.6% of the overall team targets but just 0.76 yards per route run. His 10 targets resulted in only 29 yards as he was covered by Sauce Gardner for most of the game.
Cincinnati still averaged just 5.0 yards per play (23rd for the week) and the run game continued to struggle, -0.28 EPA per rush including 24 yards on 12 carries for Joe Mixon.
On one hand, the Bengals were able to take advantage of things they did well in 2021. On the other, the problems against two-high still exist. With upcoming games against the Dolphins and Ravens, the Bengals will have to hope they have some more improvements than that.
6. The Colts won but still have issues
Patrick Mahomes against Gus Bradley’s Cover-3 was supposed to be a blowout win for the Chiefs. Instead, it turned into a 20-17 win for the Colts. But neither team looked particularly good in this game.
The Chiefs had a number of errors, including an early fumbled punt that set up Indianapolis’s first touchdown right near the goal line.
Mahomes did fine against Cover-3 — 7-of-11 for 7.18 yards per attempt — but the Colts didn’t live in Cover-3. They actually used Quarters on a quarter of their snaps, the most Bradley has used that coverage in a game since Week 2 of the 2020 season when he was with the Chargers… also against the Chiefs. Against Quarters, Mahomes went 5-of-9 for just 5.0 yards per attempt.
Only 5.7% of Mahomes’s passes traveled over 20 air yards, the way Mahomes has won against Bradley in the past. The Chiefs also struggled to keep things moving as they went with shorter passes down the field.
The Colts also struggled on offense and the most concerning thing is that they’ve forgotten how to block along the offensive line. That’s been an issue in pass protection and the run game. Jonathan Taylor averaged 0.86 yards before contact per rush in the game on his way to 71 yards on 21 carries.
Indianapolis also can’t figure out how to get the most out of Taylor and Nyheim Hines on the field together. The Colts averaged 2.33 yards per play on 15 plays with their two backs both on the field.
The Colts only averaged 3.75 yards per play overall, which was better than only the Broncos and Commanders in Week 3.
Even with the win, it’s hard to take many positives away from the Colts who still clearly have a lot of work to do on offense to keep winning games.
7. Dan Campbell Took His Foot Off The Gas
Dan Campbell has been one of the most aggressive coaches on fourth downs during the 2022 season. Against the Vikings alone, the Lions went for six fourth downs and converted four. But at the end of the game, the Lions faced a fourth-and-4 from the Minnesota 36-yard line. The Lions had already converted a fourth-and-5 from a similar spot earlier in the game (a 30-yard pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown).
With a three-point lead, Campbell sent out the field goal team and the kick was missed. That set up the eventual game-winning touchdown from the Vikings three plays later with 45 seconds remaining in the game.
While Campbell would have been better off going for it — something he has already admitted — it was a mistake for the attempt to go up by six points that late in the game. With a six-point lead, you incentivize the opponent to play aggressively for the touchdown. With a three-point lead, a touchdown still beats you but the odds are the opponent will be more likely to play for the field goal to tie.
With a conversion, the Lions could have iced the game and Campbell could have kept on his aggressive streak, A failure would have put the Lions in the same spot.
ESPN’s win probability model had the field goal as the worst decision of three possible, including a punt that would have pinned the Vikings back with under a minute to go.
8. Chart of the day
The Falcons’ offense might be straight-up fun. Patterson was running wild against the Seahawks while Marcus Mariota’s 0.51 EPA per dropback was the highest of the week. Atlanta finally got Kyle Pitts more involved and Drake London had a nice game, too. Mariota was also ripping it in the game with a 16.65-yard aDOT. This comes from a heavy play-action offense based out of pistol. The Falcons might not be consistently good, but the offense could be entertaining.
9. play of the day
We’re cheating here with a few plays, but even in a loss, Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre showed that he’s really good at football and has already made an impact all over the defense for Houston.
10. The Saints and Raiders might be in trouble
The Raiders are the league’s only 0-3 team and while the Saints are 1-2, they’ve looked quite disjointed throughout the early part of the season. These are two teams that put a lot of resources into the current version of the roster.
Neither team has really looked like what was expected when the season began. Davante Adams currently ranks 48th in yards per route run among 90 receivers with at least 50 routes on the season. Even on a day when Derek Carr was fine (0.17 EPA per dropback was seventh in Week 3), the Raiders couldn’t get much going on offense.
The Saints have kept up the defense (eighth in EPA per play) but the offense has barely been able to function outside of the occasional deep pass to Chris Olave.
At 0-3, the Raiders currently have a 17.1% chance to make the playoffs, per Football Outsiders. At 1-2, the Saints are at 35.7%. New Orleans gets some benefit of the doubt there thanks to preseason projections being high on them.
It might not be time to panic just yet, but these two teams don’t have a lot of resources for the future should a rebuild be necessary. Neither team has a first-round pick in the 2023 draft. There is still time to recover, but both teams could already be looking at how to manage difficult offseasons and we’re yet to be a quarter of the way through the regular season.