Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week

We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications. If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.

Week 8

1. The Browns are cleaning house…but why?

With the ouster of BOTH Hue Jackson and Todd Haley in Cleveland, it’s clearly back to the drawing board for the Browns. My question is this. Why now? The Browns have already secured their best season in the Hue Jackson era, so if they were willing to tolerate 1-15 and 0-16, why are they cutting bait mid season when they have two wins, a tie and a few close calls under their belt? There are whispers around Ohio that Baker Mayfield wasn’t a big fan of Jackson, but even if that’s true, Haley would have been the strongest candidate for interim head coach. Instead, the Browns will hand the reins to Gregg Williams, the former Saints DC, who served a suspension for the Bountygate scandal. Chaos will most likely ensue.

2. The Packers sent Ty Montgomery packing…and we know why

With about two minutes left, Aaron Rodgers was licking his chops. The Rams had left the door open. It’s a rookie mistake to go up by two with too much time on the clock against the Packers. And everyone in the stadium knew it. What happened next was a head-scratcher. Running back/return man Ty Montgomery ignored his coach’s instructions, taking the ball out of the end zone and attempting to run it back. Bad move. One dislodged ball later, and the Packers sank to 3-3-1. Montgomery wasn’t cut outright, but he was shipped off to Baltimore almost immediately. Apparently when you go rogue, then screw up and don’t give Aaron Rodgers the chance to win a very winnable game against an undefeated NFC opponent, you become persona non grata at Lambeau. Makes sense to me.

3. The Texans made a splash

Atop the AFC South and winners of five straight, the Texans are in the driver’s seat again. DeShaun Watson is looking more like himself, and the Jags are falling apart at the seams. So, I like the move to get veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos, who can’t seem to shake off the funk and are in a pretty unwinnable division with the Chiefs and Chargers on top. We’ve seen recently that a balanced receiving corps is much harder to defend, and the Texans pairing Thomas with DeAndre Hopkins is the sort of lineup that will give opposing defenses fits. Think Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in Minnesota. Paired with that aggressive pass rushing defense, this move could very well help make Houston a legitimate contender in the AFC.

4. The Ravens think that they’re only one piece away…I’m not sure

The Ravens are still in the mix in the AFC North, so helping the running game is good move. Joe Flacco is far more dangerous when he has time to operate farther downfield, so play action passes are gold. So far this season, though, the Ravens rushing offense has languished, ranking in the bottom third of the league in rushing yardage. Montgomery might help. I’m not sure that it’s a big enough move to catch the Steelers, but Baltimore does still have the best point differential in the division.

5. Jacksonville is putting a band-aid on a broken arm

The Jags were full of so much hope and bravado as this season began, it was hard to see how they could possibly slip out of contention. Now, as the Texans are grabbing control of the division at the midpoint of the season, the Jags have made some moves in an attempt to gain a spark, or at least keep pace. They’ll bring in Carlos Hyde to help in the running game, but while he’s a steady back he’s not the kind of guy who can provide what Leonard Fournette did. It might help a bit if he can grind out some yards, but I doubt that defenses will sell out to stop him, so Bortles won’t suddenly become Eli Manning 2.0 again. The other move was to ship off DE Dante Fowler to the Rams, who are clearly going for the jugular. Fowler was a top three pick in 2015, and just signed a big deal, but hasn’t performed thus far this season, being used primarily as a situational pass rusher. I can easily see him enjoying the change of scenery and becoming a key piece of that Rams defense. The Jags also signed QB Landry Jones, but that’s probably more about making sure Bortles has a backup aside from Cody Kessler.

6. Jameis Winston might be done in Tampa Bay

Here’s what we know. Winston dug the Buccaneers a pretty big hole on Sunday with four interceptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in when Winston got benched and led them on a seventeen-point comeback that tied the game with two minutes left. The fact that the Buccaneers porous defense allowed the Bengals to kick a game-winning field goal is hardly relevant. This year’s Buccaneers are simply a more complete offensive team with Fitzpatrick under center, and they make far better use of their top weapon, DeSean Jackson, with Fitz-Magic at the helm. Is he perfect? No, not by a long shot. But this year, with this team, he’s the better option. Tampa Bay’s season is probably lost anyway. Tampa Bay’s brass might stick with Winston in an attempt to convince other teams that he’s worth trading for, but I’d expect to see him on the move before next season starts.

7. The Bengals are paper tigers

At first glance, it’s easy to think that the Bengals might be in the mix. Zippy passing game with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd both in the top fifteen receivers by yardage. Fun. They’re two games above .500 in a muddled AFC North. What’s not to like, right? Slow your roll, Ohio. That’s why I have these frequent P.S.A.s. The Bengals, as always, are an illusion. Guess who allows the most yards per game in the entire league. Yup, Cincinnati. They allow almost thirty points per game, and despite a winning record, they’re sporting a hefty negative point differential through half of a season. They allow the most passing yards per game in the league, and they can’t stop the run, either. They allow third down conversions at an astonishing 56%. Yup. That’s the worst in the entire league. Get the picture?

8. The Niners aren’t just missing Jimmy G

Yes, the loss of their potential franchise QB was a big setback. But the problems by the bay run deeper. A few minutes into the fourth quarter of last week’s tilt with the Cardinals, the Niners were up 15-3. And then they folded like origami. Fifteen unanswered points from Josh Rosen and the Cardinals yes, those Cardinals), and San Francisco was in the running for the first overall pick. I’m not sure exactly what it takes to make Rosen look like Tom Brady, but apparently, San Francisco has it. Not really sure why, either. San Francisco is theoretically middle of the pack by most defensive metrics, but they BLEED points, allowing just under thirty per game.

9. The Ravens defensive coordinator might have a screw loose

You have to be at least a little silly to let friends call you “Wink” when your last name is Martindale, but to suggest that the Steelers are in fact better without one of the league’s top rushers is absurd. Yes, James Conner is keeping the Steelers above water in the running game. Yes, they’re still on top of the division, but Martindale is clearly neglecting to adjust for the attention Bell draws from opposing defenses. Yes, Conner has produced. Yes, the Steelers are winning, but make no mistake, James Conner is not Le’Veon Bell. Not yet, anyway. Ask “Wink” if he’s planning on loading the box to stop Conner before he takes over the game…no? I didn’t think so.

10. The running game still matters

Don’t believe me? I get it. QB’s are cool. Receivers make more money. But here’s why the running game never stopped being crucial. Of the top five quarterbacks by yardage in week eight, all of whom threw for over 300 yards, only Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes actually won their games. Four of the top five receivers lost their games, the only exception being the Bengals’ Tyler Boyd, who won against the defense-less Buccaneers. Now, guess how many of the league’s top five RB’s last week won their game…All of them. In fact, the top seven RB’s all won in week eight. That’s a pretty stark contrast. Think it’s a fluke? Sounds like a fluke… but it’s not. This season, top five QB performers have never won more than three games in a week, usually less. Except week six, when, get this… Brock Osweiler was a top five QB, and the Dolphins won. THAT, my friends, is a fluke. Guess how many weeks this season the top running backs dominated their matchups? Seven out of eight weeks AT LEAST four of them won… and even then, a tie factored in. Put simply, if you can’t stop the run, you’re toast. If you can run the ball, you put opposing teams in a bad spot. Three yards and a cloud of dust, dear reader.

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