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NFL Week in Review: I told you the Titans were good and no one would listen

WEEI
November 12, 2018 - 10:26 am
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By John Andersen

Did you blink? Did you take a nap and hope your bets were closer to hitting when you woke up? Were you Cody Parkey?

If the answer to any of those three questions is “yes” then you may have missed something on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know about Week 10 in the NFL:

BYE WEEK: Broncos, Vikings, Ravens, Texans

Steelers 52, Christian McCaffrey 21

In 2001, the Panthers won their first game before finishing on a 15-game losing streak. Thursday night’s game went similarly for the Panthers: tease the fanbase into thinking they could overcome their road and/or primetime woes and actually beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh by way of capping off an opening drive with a Christian McCaffrey touchdown before ceding 52 points to their opposition. Cam Newton’s pick six on Carolina’s second drive following JuJu Smith-Schuster’s matching of the McCaffrey TD essentially ended the game, as Pittsburgh’s offense pulled the Forrest Gump shuffle: “I started running and I didn’t stop.” The Steelers now have a tight grip in the NFC North in addition to a chance at a bye following today’s Patriots loss. Meanwhile the Panthers fall to 6-3 and would need to win out, which requires two wins over the Saints, to have at a chance at a bye week.

Chiefs 26, Cardinals 14

Some would say it’s a coincidence that Patrick Mahomes is coming down to earth just as his weight is being called into question by the NFL’s fourth estate, and some would say Mahomes is just big boned (which gravity impacts equally--don’t look that up). So back to reality: Mahomes completed 75 percent of his passes and *only* threw for 249 yards and two TDs. For what we know as Mahomes, this may be considered a “down-to-earth” game. The Chiefs offense got off to a slower start against a team with a decent pass rush and a pretty good secondary, but ultimately found some weak spots to work with. Whether it’s by design is up for debate, but as far as carrying the offense goes, it appears Kareem Hunt and Mahomes have sort of swapped spots as the season has progressed. From a workload perspective, Hunt was held back early in the year. Then, right as Mahomes showed signs of maybe slowing down, Andy Reid unleashed his not-so-secret secret in Hunt. Now Mahomes’ passing is more on the backburner while Hunt, and even Spencer Ware to a degree, have their way with defenses. This particular game may have ended differently had the Chiefs been up against an opponent whose offensive line doesn’t resemble a Bohemian Rhapsody review. New OC Byron Leftwich appears to have figured out how to get David Johnson more involved in the offense, but the Cardinals’ offensive line continues to get Josh Rosen killed.

Titans 34, Patriots 10

This isn’t a fluke -- the Titans are very good. The Titans were sort of my team coming into this season. They’re the team I did the most offseason research on and the team I touted to others to look out for. That touting always came with a caveat: they may start slow due to a new OC in Matt LaFleur, and they did. Marcus Mariota only regained feeling in his throwing hand this week, and is now fully recovered from the injury that forced the Titans to eat some W’s with Blaine Gabbert under center. Patriots fans should now understand Mariota: he’s an extremely accurate downfield passer, might be the most mistake-free QB in the NFL, and also has the ability to run but should not be labeled as a “running quarterback.” He and Corey Davis finally appear to be on the same page after clearly being on two different planes of thought during Davis’ rookie year. It doesn’t hurt to have a defense with possibly the league’s best safety in Kevin Byard, a deep cornerback room that includes second-year wonder Adoree’ Jackson, and an elite front seven consisting of an exotic pass rush rotation. The three sacks from the Titans defense don’t do justice to the amount of pressure the Titans D put on Tom Brady all afternoon.

Saints 51, Bengals 14

Aside from playing against Andy Dalton, the easiest way to play defense is for a third of the game. The Saints’ axis of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram grinded out 244 yards and about 40 minutes of clock. Andy Dalton somehow managed to make twice the mistakes in two-thirds the amount of time he’s normally on the field. You can just fill in the rest as the Saints do every week: Drew Brees throws three incompletions, one of which was a throwaway, and completes every pass thrown in Michael Thomas’ direction. It wasn’t all on Dalton as the formula of the Bengals OL being just good enough to handle a bad pass rush but not good enough to handle one blue chip pass rusher resulted in a stonewalling of Cincinnati’s offense. The lack of AJ Green didn’t help either as Tyler Boyd couldn’t do it himself. The Carl Lawson injury has so far been detrimental to the Bengals’ pass rush and overall defensive performance, coming at maybe the worst time as Cincy’s fall to 5-4 coincides with the rise of the AFC South as the Titans and Colts look to contend for either their own division or the second AFC Wild Card spot.

Browns 28, Falcons 16

Typically I hate citing stats as an indicator of a player’s performance, but Baker Mayfield’s three incompletions and Nick Chubb’s 8.8 yards per carry come with the asterisk of not possibly being an indicator of anything negative. The only Browns-centric, negative talking points to come out of this game should revolve around Hue Jackson and/or Todd Haley’s coaching abilities, but that’s nothing new. These performances aided in clipping the Falcons’ win streak at three games and grounding the dirty birds at 4-5, making an NFC playoff run that much more difficult. Deion Jones should be off IR soon enough to at least aid in the Falcons’ defensive issues, but a middle linebacker can’t fix a secondary crumbling under the weight of injuries. Even with the missing talent on Atlanta’s side, Dan Quinn still knows how to dial up a defense. Injuries on Atlanta’s side shouldn’t take away from Mayfield or Chubb’s performances.

Bears 34, Lions 22

If it wasn’t clear before then it is now: the Lions are the odd team out in the NFC North. If run defense hadn’t entered the realm of irrelevance sometime around 10 years ago then bravo to Detroit’s run defense. Unfortunately, the silent killer that is passing the ball caught the Lions defense sleeping. Mitch Trubisky did the cool trick where his 300-yard day actually came from playing within the structure of the offense. After all, it is the time of season when that rookie receiver you drafted and finally gave up on mysteriously becomes a superstar and then some scrap heap team scoops them up off the waiver wire. Anthony Miller caught five passes for 122 yards and a TD, a complement to Allen Robinson’s big day, as Trubisky actually involved his wide receivers in the pass game for the first time this season. It’s actually a good sign going forward as the Bears are in control of the NFC North and when it comes to games against real teams that can score points and put a semblance of a defense on the field, Trubisky is going to have to drop back in the pocket and make passes down the field and to the sidelines. Chicago’s game against the Patriots a few weeks ago indicated Trubisky may struggle with just that, and in the playoffs or against defenses like that of Chicago’s opponent next Sunday night, the Vikings, his ability to operate within Matt Nagy’s scheme could be the difference. Really this game should’ve been more of a blowout, as Cody Parkey sent not one, but two field goals, as well as not one, but two extra points right off the uprights.

Redskins 16, Buccaneers 3

The Redskins played the hits last week as they lost both starting guards for the season, revealed right tackle Morgan Moses would attempt to play through a torn ligament, and left tackle Trent Williams would miss at least this game after having surgery on his thumb. This would tank the season of mostly any team, but who’s to say Washington’s defense isn’t good enough to complement a mistake-free offense? After all, the Buccaneers offense has proven to be no joke despite being led by a guy who wears aviators under his helmet and who usurped a guy who likes to steal raw crab meat, commentate cockroach intercourse, and grope unassuming Uber drivers. Unless Washington’s front seven makes like their offensive line and collectively drink the injury Kook-Aid, which is what happened last season, then the defense can play lights out and hope the offense plays mistake-free. Luckily Alex Smith is “mistake-free” personified.

Bills 41. Jets 10

When the Bills offense doesn’t turn the ball over or punt from its own end zone every drive, the defense is able to do its thing. Shaq Lawson’s and Jerry Hughes’ reign of terror resumed with Lawson back from injury. Josh McCown looked like he was trying to straighten a slinky with his mind against Buffalo’s secondary. Matt Barkley came straight from watching Derek Anderson on the Golf Channel to the starting lineup and was able to get the ball in Buffalo’s playmakers’ hands (yes, they exist) instead of those of the defenders.  

Colts 29, Jaguars 26

I hate to be an “I said it” guy but I did say it: The Colts will be in the AFC South/Wild Card discussion come the last few weeks of the season. Not one of those, “5-8 but still mathematically in it,” discussions, but a “9-6 win-and-in” situation. Andrew Luck hasn’t been sacked the past four games, which explains the lack of a peep from everyone who criticized Frank Reich and Luck by way of the yards-per-attempt stat. The Colts are a very talented team with an elite QB and play-caller, and the younger players on the offensive line and defensive front seven are panning out; they just lost some close games early on. Now the Colts essentially have knocked the Jaguars out of the AFC South race in a game that was only close because Mo Alie-Cox let a pass go off his hands and straight to Telvin Smith. Leonard Fournette’s big day on the stat sheet wasn’t enough to overcome Ereck Flowers on his offensive line and the injury to Brandon Linder. The Colts’ destiny is in their own hands as they hit their stride at 4-5 with four division games remaining on their schedule. The Jags sit at 3-6 with the Steelers, Redskins, Texans, and a rematch with the Colts to come.

Chargers 20, Raiders 6

In what was an uncharacteristic performance in an otherwise MVP-worthy season, Philip Rivers struggled as the Raiders’ pass rush was finally able to get pressure on something this season. Luckily Melvin Gordon took over on offense and the Chargers’ defense is hitting its stride, even without Joey Bosa. Rookie Uchenna Nwosu has emerged as a force opposite Melvin Ingram as L.A. now touts the scary prospect of a secondary that can play tight coverage and a pass rush that can get pressure from any position. The Chargers have a real chance to catch the Chiefs if they can beat KC in a few weeks and if KC falls to the LA Rams next Monday night. This would of course require the Chargers to win out, but aside from maybe the Steelers, every other matchup the rest of the way is in San Diego’s favor. Even if they don’t catch the Chiefs, we can almost pencil the Chargers into the first AFC Wild Card spot now.

Rams 36, Seahawks 31

It’s the Rams’ turn in the NFC West to have a rivalry with the Seahawks, with the Seahawks likely finishing their season series against LA with two notches in the “close ones” column. Seattle’s team is younger and less disciplined than it has been the past few years and thus its Legion of Bum defense is unable to muster any key stops against an elite offense like that of the Rams. Seattle’s run-first offense is still its game, and it’s a great one against a defense like the Rams. First-round pick Rashaad Penny, Mike Davis, and Russell Wilson’s legs kept the Seahawks on pace with the Rams for the most part, but it’s LA’s defensive line that continues to be the difference in close games. Aaron Donald had three sacks and the newly acquired Dante Fowler had a key strip sack that led to a two-score lead for the Rams.

Packers 31, Dolphins 12

Wow. He did it. He actually did it. Mike McCarthy went an entire game without treating the run game like that family member you see every holiday and put in some token conversation before ignoring them the rest of the time and doing so the rest of the year because you really, really don’t like them. Aaron Jones went for 145 yards and two touchdowns and kept a lot of pressure that would’ve been necessary off of Aaron Rodgers; exactly what the Packers need as they approach their perennial December push for the playoffs.

Cowboys 27, Eagles 20 (SNF)

PREGAME: Can you believe that we’ll have to wait ten days to watch the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day and then another week to see them trade blows with their evenly matched brothers from the Bayou in the Saints on Thursday Night Football? Blasphemy!

POSTGAME: The only aspect of this game more asinine than the Cowboys winning on the road was when Cris Collinsworth tried to induct Carson Wentz to the Hall after David Irving lightly tugged on Wentz’ sleeve up near his wrist area before Wentz completed a pass a few yards past the line of scrimmage. Had to have been one of the more inconsequential occurrences all weekend and Collinsworth was about to give Wentz a stake in PFF for it. If only someone had tugged on Wentz’ sleeve before he and his old paper toss buddies murdered all the ducks in the continental US during the Eagles’ bye week. What a quacky thing to say, Cris.

I digress, as the Cowboys have to be given some credit for making this a game. Had they not taken advantage of the transformation of the Eagles’ offensive line into an old station wagon with a bunch of scrapped parts holding it together, then Dallas’ season would essentially be done. Wentz had a great night, but in moments when the ball needed to be pushed down the field, his offensive line just didn’t give him enough time, not even on the final play of the game in which Wentz didn’t even have enough time to throw the ball into the end zone. Dallas leaning on Ezekiel Elliot is of course a great way to win, but in many of its losses we see that if Zeke doesn’t work, then the whole team doesn’t work. Dak Prescott missed a lot of throws (including one in which he knocked the ball out of his own hand) and Scott Linehan/Jason Garrett, whoever’s even calling these plays, had quite a few questionable selections. A record of 4-5 for both teams is hardly out of it, but a full two games behind the Redskins and a low likelihood of the NFC East getting two teams in the postseason should make for at least a partial press of the panic button.

Final point on SNF: Leighton “Hi I’m Darwin Vander Esch’s son” Vander Esch put ricin in Sean Lee’s Cowboys career in this game. Lee misses half of every season anyway, and Vander Esch has proven to be a cheaper option. Darwin’s son had himself a career game tonight in Philadelphia, making a handful of huge plays when Wentz got the ball out quick. Soon enough he’ll be like Scarecrow on the pile of books in The Dark Knight Rises, ordering Jerry Jones whom to cut.

Oh and yes his father’s real name is Darwin. But he’s not a Thornberry.

MNF: Giants @ 49ers 8:15pm (ESPN & Westwood One)

The NFL continues to market its stars in primetime: Nick Mullens vs. Eli Manning.

John Andersen is an award-winning NFL journalist and has written books on Dre Bly and David Boston...maybe. You can follow John on Twitter @_JohnAndersen.

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