5 Things I care about
Patrick Mahomes is inevitable
I am confident I’ve written this exact headline in a previous iteration of this column. It’s probably been multiple times. There is just no better way to describe him: Patrick Mahomes is inevitable.
Nothing was more eye-roll worthy than when the broadcast dropped the sub-30 percent win probability on the bottom of the screen as Mahomes took the field on his final drive. You have more fortitude than me if you’re “brave” enough to bet against Mahomes in a gotta-have-it situation with less than two minutes to play
It’s easy to get complacent with Mahomes’ greatness. We shouldn’t let it slip by without constant recognition. What he does late in games and in seasons is simply absurd.
Mahomes punched this win out in a late-game scenario without his regular cast of characters. Top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was out, as was speed merchant Mecole Hardman. New pickup Kadarius Toney left midway through the game with an injury.
None of it matters. It never matters who is around him because Mahomes is simply inevitable.
He got big plays out of journeyman Justin Watson and rookie Skyy Moore, to go along with a vintage performance from Travis Kelce. He’ll make it work with just about anyone.
Mahomes is now pacing to break the NFL’s passing yardage record with a remade receiver corps that has plenty of revolving doors. This was set up as a statement season for Mahomes in his first campaign without Tyreek Hill. He’s dominating it.
The statement is simple: He’s the best and most impactful football player on the planet right now.
The Bills do the right thing
Josh Allen has been mistake-prone over the last few games. He looked a bit jittery when the Browns game got rolling this week. Star wide receiver Stefon Diggs didn’t have a target for a long stretch to start the game. In fact, Allen had even been hard on himself publicly heading into Week 11.
So it’s a credit to the Bills' offensive brain trust that they didn’t mess around and put too much on Allen this week. They did what has worked for just about everyone who goes against the Browns this year: Establish the run.
The Bills are one of the most throw-happy teams in the NFL but they threw just 27 passes compared to 30 running back carries in Week 11.
The results were excellent. Devin Singletary totaled 86 yards and a score on 18 carries. The rookie James Cook also brought a ton of pop on a few carries, gaining 86 yards on just 11 rushes.
The mark of a great team comes from what they can do when forced to play left-handed. The Browns defense certainly invited the Bills into that approach but they dominated the assignment nonetheless. Buffalo is still one of the best teams in football.
Justin Fields’ injury
The only thing that can stop Justin Fields’ current momentum is injury. Unfortunately, the Bears might need to face that and adjust going forward.
Fields carried the ball 18 times against the Falcons. Bears starting running back David Montgomery finished with 17. Only six of Fields’ carries were scrambles, the rest came on designed runs. As electric as his rushing ability is, Fields hasn’t quite mastered the art of avoiding hits in the open field.
That’s an even bigger problem than it is for most mobile quarterbacks because Fields also takes a ton of punishment in the pocket.
The Bears starter was the most sacked quarterback coming into Week 11. He took five more hits on dropbacks in this week’s loss. It’s starting to add up.
Bears QB Justin Fields carted off for further evaluation after the game. He’s still holding his left shoulder. pic.twitter.com/UOUfGL27LT
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) November 20, 2022
Fields was consistently rolling out that shoulder late in the game and it looked like it wasn't the only thing that was bothering him. The Bears' offensive revival has almost exclusively been on the back of Fields’ legs, both in the running game and in what he can do as an out-of-pocket passer. The latter helps him avoid some of his most punishing hits, those that come in the dropback passing game.
But it's that same dropback passing we might need to see more of, and less of the designed carries to preserve Fields for the long haul.
Of course, the Bears don’t want to be in the tricky spot of clipping their young quarterback's wings right as he was starting to take off. Juggling this balance will be crucial as the Bears continue to discover what they have in Fields.
Chris Olave’s speed
I’ve spent most of this season gushing about Chris Olave’s advanced route-running acumen. He indeed looks like a 10-year pro and not a rookie.
Don’t let that cause you to forget that Olave can absolutely fly:
Chris Olave being this fast while also being a stud technician is just such a deadly combo pic.twitter.com/ikzObMahVu
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 20, 2022
Jalen Ramsey must not have read Olave’s scouting report. The veteran corner wasn’t prepared for the rookie to gain that much ground on him and, without the proper coverage depth, he didn’t have a shot at getting back into position.
Olave is a special player.
The combination of his technical prowess and his raw speed is tough to match. There aren’t many wide receivers in the NFL with that pairing of skills at such a high level.
The Lions defense shows up
Fantasy footballers had been targeting the Detroit Lions defense all year. But, rather quietly, the Lions rank 16th in EPA per rush attempt allowed since Week 7. That’s middle of the pack but it’s a jump over what we’ve come to expect out of Detroit.
That improvement as a run-stop unit showed up against the great Saquon Barkley in Week 10. Detroit held Barkley to just 22 yards on 15 carries, good for a measly 1.5 yards per rush. It was a wildly impressive performance against the red-hot running back.
The Lions pass defense had not been nearly as good lately. In that same span since Week 7, Detroit ranked 25th in dropback EPA allowed. However, that didn’t stop them from making Daniel Jones’ life miserable in Week 11.
Jones threw a pair of interceptions, was sacked twice and hit relentlessly. A few of his receivers got to big yardage games in comeback mode but Detroit controlled this one throughout the afternoon. It was a very impressive performance from a much-maligned unit.
Every now and again defensive units mold and change throughout the course of the season. That can happen when young players litter the roster, as is the case in Detroit. We’ll keep an eye on the Lions defense to see if this mini-revival sticks for Dan Campbell’s crew.
5 Things I don’t care about
Justin Herbert’s prior YPA
Justin Herbert had gone under 6.0 yards per attempt in four straight games. It’s a stat I pointed out on a variety of platforms last week.
Don’t care about that anymore.
Almost any statistical flaw in Herbert’s profile this season was easily explained by the absence of a difference-maker in the receiver corps. What do you know, as soon as Keenan Allen returns, Herbert’s yards per attempt jumps to 9.3 in Week 11.
Everyone had been playing over their head with Allen out since Week 1. Mike Williams is a good receiver but he’s not a No. 1 wideout. He doesn’t separate at a high enough level. The offense wasn’t firing at its peak when Williams was out there and Allen was not. Then, when Williams went down, it was a real disaster in the receiver corps, especially with the coaching staff refusing to adjust the plays or route combinations in any fashion.
It was immediately apparent why Allen was dearly missed. He’s always on time, consistently open and runs the routes to the right spot against zone coverage. With Allen back, Josh Palmer could stick outside and move into favorable positions as a downfield long-strider. Williams left the game with another ankle injury and it was barely noticeable.
Keenan Allen is the biggest difference-maker in the pass-catching corps for the Los Angeles Chargers. Now we can get a fair picture of what their offense and its quarterback should look like for the rest of the season.
Wasting time on the Cowboys RB split
Ezekiel Elliott returned. Tony Pollard was still awesome.
That’s it; that’s all that matters. Spending any more seconds deriding the Cowboys or worrying about Elliot getting work is nothing but a waste of our precious earth seconds. He’s not going away — but it does not matter.
Elliott doesn’t deserve to just get shelved, either. He’s been a solid runner this season. He was efficient with his opportunities against Minnesota in Week 11 and punched in a pair of scores.
None of it affected Pollard. The Cowboys will continue to give him somewhere between 15 to 20 touches on a weekly basis. More importantly, they’ll put him in positions to make explosive plays. You don’t want him grinding out yards, you want him in spots to add juice to the offense.
some numbers to back up Tony Pollard's ability to scoot:
With SNF still in progress, he's --
No. 1 in yards after contact per rush (4.35)
No. 2 in yards after the catch per reception (11.5) https://t.co/x77SdnJesP
— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) November 21, 2022
That was on perfect display today as he caught all six of his targets for over 100 yards and a pair of scores. Pollard getting that type of work will make him one of the best backs in fantasy football.
Elliott isn’t going away. Neither is Pollard’s production while tethered to a really nice offensive ecosystem.
The Broncos’ play-calling change
The Broncos changed their play-caller. Nathaniel Hackett passed the duties over to Clint Kubiak.
While I’m 100% supportive of a head coach getting those duties off his plate to focus on game management — an area where Hackett has sorely struggled — I don’t care about this one.
With a new play caller in Klint Kubiak some noticeable changes on passing plays for @Broncos
Wilson in shotgun up 11%
Throwing on the run up 16% (Wilson's best is Throwing on the Run)
The ultimate result, DEN scored 1 pt more than the 2022 avg and lost their 7th game
— Prime Video Sports Analytics & Insights (@PVSportsStats) November 21, 2022
Denver’s issues on offense aren’t coaching-based. It’s the personnel. No one separates on this team at a consistent level, the running backs don’t have much pop and the quarterback doesn’t take advantage of opportunities even when they present themselves.
You can pick nits in Denver’s coaching this season. Don’t count me among Hackett’s fan club (if there is one). Let’s be real about the players on this offense. No coach was ever going to make this a top-10 unit.
Patriots vs. Jets excuses
This AFC matchup mercifully came to a 10-3 conclusion when the Patriots returned a punt for a touchdown in the final moments of the contest.
That means the game was stuck in a 3-3 mud for almost the entire game. The Patriots and especially the Jets have good defenses. But that score was the result of misery-inducing offenses and these teams have no excuses for it.
The Jets are staring down a harsh reality. The roster is good enough to win big games. The quarterback they took No. 2 overall in 2021 is just not progressing along with the rest of the team.
There are no excuses to be made for Zach Wilson. The team has dealt with injuries but he’s set up to succeed with the surrounding skill-position talent and the design of the offense. A starting NFL quarterback shouldn’t need everything to be perfect just to look average. Wilson looks well below that standard. His 77 passing yards on 22 attempts stat line feels hilariously unreal.
Perhaps Wilson reverses course but that’s only a dream at this point. For the time being, he’s almost always the reason the Jets lose games, and almost never the driving force when they win them.
The Patriots won but can only feel moderately better about their offense. Mac Jones’ stat line isn’t as hilariously bad as Wilson’s output. However, the Patriots still allowed six sacks, averaged five yards per play and converted just four of 15 third down tries.
That’s the Patriots offense in a nutshell: Coming up woefully small in critical situations.
The Patriots have no excuse for that either. It’s so bizarre a team captained by the best head coach of all time willingly went into the year with two unqualified options splitting offensive coordinator duties. Bill Belichick hammers home the importance of situational football and it’s no shock this offense is at its worst (and dumbest) in those very moments. It’s even worse when you put it into the context of Jones’ crucial second season.
New England stalled out the development of its young quarterback and decided to play with one hand tied behind its back based on their offensive coaching decisions. There is no excuse for that either.
The Falcons and projections models
Heading into the season, if you looked at the Falcons' depth chart you probably felt comfortable projecting Drake London and Kyle Pitts for almost 50% of the targets. They were mega talents and the rest of the players were far from established.
That approach couldn’t have been any more misguided. And I want to be clear that I’m not calling anyone out — I did this too.
Projections are supposed to help push our biases aside and make us a bit more objective. However, there is always a level of subjectivity in this approach.
You’re making a subjective evaluation when you plug in those numbers. You’re evaluating guys like London and Pitts as high-level players. I think that was the right call. Those guys are that good. The problem becomes when you let your low evaluation of the rest of the guys seep in.
Then you see the way the Falcons spread the ball around in their Week 11 win and realize that might have been a mistake.
You might not think Damiere Byrd is good and therefore won’t get targets. However, the Falcons have designed plays for him this season and those plays have largely been good for the offense. I know fantasy folks still don’t want to admit it, but Arthur Smith has been dialing it up in the passing game.
Even their excellent run game doesn’t have a featured player. Any one of Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier or Marcus Mariota could hit 10-plus carries in a game. That’s not going to change any time soon because, again, it’s been a great unit for Atlanta.
There’s always a handful of teams that just obliterate our projection models when the games actually start. No one has smashed them harder than the overachieving Falcons.