While Week 11 of the NFL season featured a lot of drama, much of it felt recycled.
AFC contender falling apart against a bad team? Seen it. AFC South running back carrying his team on his broad shoulders? Cliché. Tim Boyle throwing multiple interceptions? Well, maybe not in the NFL, but certainly nothing new there.
With all of that and more going on this weekend, here’s a brief look at some of the most notable performances of Week 11:
Overachieving Team of the Week: Cincinnati Bengals
Things are finally pointing up in the Queen City after a pair of embarrassing losses proceeded their bye in Week 10. After looking like Super Bowl contenders following a blowout win over the Ravens, the Bengals lost to the Mike-White-led Jets before getting a lashing at the hands of their cross-state rivals.
However, things looked different on Sunday in the Bengals’ 32-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Cincinnati evolved from the high-flying team that averaged over 300 yards passing in their last six games into a ball-dominant team that seemed to suffocate the Raiders over the course of 60 minutes.
The Bengals entered Sunday ranked 27th in the NFL in time per drive, but against Vegas, they managed to hold the ball for over 37 minutes and run 23 more plays than the Raiders.
The key to Cincinnati’s success was a commitment to the run game that we haven’t seen since the drafting of Joe Burrow. In fact, Sunday was the first time the Bengals rushing attack produced more yards than their passing game with Burrow under center.
That wasn’t even a matter of volume either, the Bengals averaged 4.2 yards per play when running and just 4.0 yards per play when throwing. Another reversal for a team that ranked third in the NFL in net yards per pass attempt and 26th in the league in yards per carry heading into the season.
So what does this all mean? The Bengals certainly benefitted from playing against a defense that was allowing 4.5 yards per carry this season, but still struggled to run effectively in the first half, earning just 55 yards on 16 carries. While Zac Taylor told reporters he expected the team to breakthrough in the second half after chipping away, it’s simply unsustainable to win while throwing away one half of offense.
Underachieving Team of the Week: Tennessee Titans
Another week goes by and another top AFC contender falls to an inferior team. The Bengals lost to the Jets. The Bills lost to the Jaguars. And on Sunday, it was the Titans’ turn to lay an egg against a Texans team that hadn’t won since Week 1.
The Titans’ offense has justifiably sputtered since losing Derrick Henry in Week 8, gaining just 135 yards on the ground in two games and averaging 3.5 and 4.6 yards per play in their wins over Los Angeles and New Orleans. However, the Titans’ defense forced 12 turnovers during their six-game winning streak, and only one of their touchdown drives in the last two weeks spanned more than 60 yards.
This brings us to Sunday’s debacle in Houston. Despite holding the Texans to just 3.1 yards per play and 190 yards of total offense, the Titans turned the ball over five times and allowed Houston to start three drives inside the red zone. Even the Texans’ best drive of the day was aided by 30 penalty yards.
In addition to losing Henry, Tennessee has been the most-injured team this season with 15 players currently on IR including Julio Jones and Bud Dupree. However, even with the negative result on Sunday, it’s hard to imagine this team staying down for long. Hell, they allowed just one first down in the final 22 minutes against Houston.
It will be up to Ryan Tannehill and company to take care of the ball, especially against a Patriots defense that has forced multiple turnovers six times this season.
In his third year with Tennessee, Tannehill’s numbers have declined across the board since leading the NFL in yards per attempt and passer rating in 2019. His 52 pass attempts against Houston is the most he’s had in a game since throwing 58 for the Dolphins in 2015.
Overachieving Player of the Week: Colts RB Jonathan Taylor
What Jonathan Taylor has done for the Colts is nothing short of miraculous. After a 1-4 start to the season, Indianapolis has now ripped off five wins in their last six games and Taylor has rushed for 795 yards in the process, capping off his historic run with a franchise record five touchdowns against Buffalo.
The Colts have found success limiting Carson Wentz’s influence on the offense in favor of Taylor, who set a career-high in carries on Sunday with 32. In fact, Wentz’s 106 passing yards on Sunday is the lowest total in a 40-point performance since 2009.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Taylor’s run of success is just how slow sportsbooks have been to adapt. He’s hit the over on his rushing total in each of the last six weeks, seeing the lines inflate from 59.5 in Week 5 to as high as 89.5 last week. Taylor is blowing them away, averaging over 130 yards per game during this streak.
Next week will be a tough test for Taylor against a Tampa Bay defense that is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry this season. Things do get easier after that with a matchup against the Texans, who Taylor already burned for 145 yards earlier this season.
Underachieving Player of the Week: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Prior to his calf injury, Dak Prescott seemed to be making a strong case for MVP, completing 73% of his passes, averaging over eight yards per attempt, and throwing 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. And even though Prescott maintains the injury isn’t affecting his game, something clearly is because he’s struggled since returning to the lineup.
The Cowboys have now lost two out of their last three games and the expected shoot-out in Kansas City turned out to be nothing more than a nerf war. Since returning to the lineup in Week 9, Prescott has thrown four touchdowns, three interceptions and has seen his completion drop by more than 10 percent.
Granted, the Chiefs defense is much improved from the unit that allowed over 400 yards in four out of their first five games, but they’ve also only held Taylor Heinicke, Danny Jones, Jordan Love, and Derek Carr to under 27 points this season.
Prescott was also without Amari Cooper due to COVID-19 protocols, but with Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Cedrick Wilson all healthy, the Cowboys weren’t exactly hurting for talent at the wide receiver position. However, Prescott’s 4.0 yards per attempt were a career-low and he threw multiple interceptions without a touchdown for the first time since 2017.
Luckily for Dallas, the NFC East remains fairly weak, although Philadelphia and Washington both pulled a bit closer with wins on Sunday. However, Prescott and the Cowboys have time to figure this out, four of their last seven games are against division opponents and they currently hold a three-game lead atop the NFC East.
Bad Beat of the Week: Damien Harris under 56.5 rushing yards
Damien Harris returned on Thursday Night Football after missing Week 10 due to a concussion. As a result, his total for rushing yards was set at a measly 56.5 yards, a number he had topped in six games this season, including each of the last four games before his injury.
Add in the inferior opponent and it was clear New England was going to run the ball all night long against Atlanta. And to be fair, they did, picking up nine of their 20 first downs on the ground and rushing 30 times compared to just 22 pass attempts.
However, only 10 of those carries went to Harris, who finished with just 56 rushing yards, failing to top the line set by sportsbooks. Making matters worse is the fact that Rhamondre Stevenson out-carried Harris seven to two in the final quarter during garbage time and finished the day as the Pats’ leading rusher, earning 69 yards on 12 carries.