NFL Week 6 Takeaways: What We Learned This Week
By Connor Brosnan.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Oh Cleveland. This was supposed to be the year where things were different. A head coach with high expectations, an exciting offense, some explosive players on defense; things looked like they were finally looking up for the longest suffering franchise in the NFL.
After a 4-1 start, this week was the chance for them to really cement their place amongst the top teams and put everyone on notice by finally ending a barren run against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The way they presented themselves in the build-up, they definitely believed they would. So typically, Cleveland once again couldn't walk the walk and looked every bit as bad against Roethlisberger and his Steelers as they have at any stage during the previous 26 games Big Ben has played against them.
It wasn't exactly Pittsburgh at their very best, there were very few standout performers on the box score, but there didn't need to be simply because of how bad Cleveland were. I felt like I was watching that Hue Jackson side all over again. Couldn't stop Pittsburgh when they had the ball and couldn't do anything on offense, so much so that Baker Mayfield was pulled and they finished the game with Case Keenum under center.
It's hard to imagine how this could've gone much worse.
After all the bad blood in the build-up, you expected to see so much fight from the Browns, but this just looked like a team that can't handle the spotlight or the pressure. The Steelers however look like a near complete team that can rack up points even when their QB only throws for 162 yards and can endlessly cause havoc on defense.
On top of their four sacks they also picked off Mayfield twice, with Minkah Fitzpatrick, who keeps looking like one of the best trades in recent years and is one of my favourite players to watch in the whole league, taking one to the house.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more stacked roster in the NFL and sitting at 5-0, they look set to go on to achieve something big this year.
The Browns themselves may very well go on to have a good season, but one thing we can have no doubt about is that the Pittsburgh Steelers own the Cleveland Browns.
We can't ignore Chicago
Week after week most of the footballing world tells itself that the Chicago Bears aren't for real and we don't need to consider them as having any chance of success this season. But week after week the Chicago Bears keep grinding out wins and regardless of how well they're actually playing, that's a sign of a good team.
This week they took care of business against a Panthers team that was full of confidence after three wins on the spin, and there wasn't a point during the game where the Bears didn't seem fully in control of the game. Offensively they seem to be doing just enough to win games and trusting that their defense will dominate to see them across the line.
Matt Nagy's side have yet to score more than 30 points this season, but have yet to concede more than 26, which is among the best defensive records in the league. This week’s trip to Charlotte followed the same pattern. They never once allowed Carolina to build up any momentum and whenever it looked like they would the Bears defense would pull off a timely turnover or stop, more often than not restricting the Panthers to Joey Slye field-goal attempts. Eventually those lack of big points would cost the Panthers because the Nick Foles led offense would just keep tacking on enough points to keep the hosts at arm’s length.
Foles himself was hit nine times by the young Panthers defensive line, but he showed a somewhat surprising level of elusiveness and was never sacked while only throwing one interception which was well read by the impressive rookie Jeremy Chinn.
Herein lies the difference, as Teddy Bridgewater on the other end was sacked four times and threw two interceptions. It's not exactly flashy from the Bears, however it is solid football and they're proving a tough nut to crack this season, but most importantly they're getting that much needed winning feeling and learning how to grind out results.
It's certainly not time to jump on the bandwagon just yet, but with a 5-1 record, including being 3-0 on the road, it's definitely time to pay this Bears team some respect.
All hail the King!
Speaking of teams we should be taking seriously, those Tennessee Titans look mighty impressive this season, sitting pretty at 5-0 after grinding out a hard-fought overtime win over AFC South rivals the Houston Texans.
Solid on defense – something you'd expect from a Mike Vrabel side – and loaded on the offense, it's very difficult to find a main weakness in this Titans team that will probably believe they can go at least one better than their impressive run to the AFC Championship game last year.
Ryan Tannehill is playing some of the best football of his career and has turned into a fully-fledged franchise QB, as opposed to the stand-in they signed to replace Marcus Mariota for a while, but the brightest star on this side of the ball every week is Derrick Henry. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner defies physics, as at 6ft 3in and 247lb he has no right to be able to move the way he does.
Yet he's turning into one of, if not the most unplayable running back in the NFL. The whole world witnessed his greatness in the 2019 AFC Divisional game when Henry ran all over the heavy favourite Baltimore Ravens for 190 yards to carry the Titans to the aforementioned Championship game, but it's now at the stage when we're seeing that sort of performance every other week.
This week it was the Texans’ turn to feel the wrath of the King (and not for the first time) as he racked up 212 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including the overtime winner. His performance was capped by an incredible 94 yard touchdown run, making him only the 5th player in NFL history to now have gone on 90+ yard runs twice (his other being that unforgettable 99 yard TD against the Jaguars).
It's almost incomprehensible to think that a man his size can run that distance with such ease, with no defensive back even able to get close to catching him, and even if they did, he's almost impossible to tackle at that size so it wouldn't have mattered anyway. He clocked in at 21.62mph on that run, making him the 3rd fastest player on any particular play this season. It's frightening. What we saw was another masterclass in speed and power running from Henry on Sunday, and he showed again why he's arguably the most complete running back in the NFL.
Brady bests Rodgers
Well, that was unexpected. Not the outcome as such, but the manner in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the then 4-0 Green Bay Packers was one of the most surprising watches of the season so far.
Everybody was excited to see only the third matchup between two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but very few could have predicted how this one would end up going. The Green Bay offense had been one of the best in the league thus far and Tom Brady and the Bucs had been, by their high standards, a little bit mediocre. So of course, it was quite the shock to witness such a beatdown of the Packers that ultimately ended with Aaron Rodgers being pulled from the game such was the comprehension of Tampa's victory.
He was pulled to protect himself of course, but his performance was that poor on Sunday that it could have been justified in some way just to save him from himself.
It started promisingly, with Rodgers setting up the opening TD (and much respect to him for dropping the Key & Peele celebration), and it looked like we could be on for seeing another impressive offensive outing from the Packers, but oh how things turned in the second and third quarters.
38 unanswered points turned this into a rout, and Brady and co hardly had to get out of first gear. It was made so easy for them on offense. Brady only threw for 166 yards, wasn't sacked once and had excellent support from the vastly improving Ronald Jones II, but the story for how Tampa Bay won this game lies with the defense.
It wasn't so long ago that this Tampa Bay unit was classed among the worst in the NFL defensively, but it's hard to argue against them being top of the class already. Todd Bowles has a case for being the best defensive coordinator in the league for how he's managed to turn a team that consistently gave up over 400 yards-per-game into a turnover machine.
Behind only Pittsburgh for most sacks in the league and behind only the Colts for most interceptions, with Jason Pierre-Paul and Carlton Davis among the individual leaders respectively, there isn't a weakness on that defense. It was just a relentless onslaught on Rodgers this week and he wasn't allowed a chance to get anything going on offense.
Sacked four times and picked off twice, including a pick-six from Jamel Dean (impressively only the 3rd of Rodgers career), Tampa Bay managed to disrupt a quarterback who is almost never thrown off his game to this extent. It got to the stage where Rodgers looked extremely uncomfortable out on the field and didn't look at all like the man who had started the season so impressively.
It's likely just a blip from the Packers, but they will be desperate to get back to winning ways against the struggling Houston Texans next week and get this horror show out of their system.
Dallas miss Dak already
The first game for the Dallas Cowboys post Dak Prescott's horror injury could not have gone any worse. They still had the same struggles on defense, but they couldn't even hide those anymore with their heavy point scoring on offense as the difference between a Prescott led Cowboys and a Dalton led Cowboys was laid bare.
Andy Dalton is not a bad quarterback, he's probably the best backup in the whole NFL, but on this showing it doesn't look like he'll be able to get anywhere near to the same production as Prescott and any hopes of them still being able to scrape by don't seem as high now. Dalton didn't look too comfortable out there, getting sacked three times by a Cardinals defense which admittedly came to play, and throwing two interceptions.
If your defense is as bad as Dallas' is, you can't afford to make costly turnovers, and this showed today because every possession they gifted back to Arizona they seemed to be punished on. The first two Arizona touchdowns were scored following turnovers from Dallas.
The blame can't lay squarely at Dalton's feet however, as he just didn't get the help from his star-studded offensive players that you would expect, particularly from Ezekiel Elliott. We knew Zeke would be needed even more than usual after Prescott's injury, but this was arguably Elliott's worst performance in his NFL career with just 49 yards and two costly fumbles. The fumbles are becoming a bit of an issue for Elliott. He's a player with very few weaknesses, but that's now his fifth fumble on the season, which is more than double that of the next running back, and the 20th of his career.
At a time when Dallas are struggling as it is and need to be relying on Elliott more than anyone else, they can't afford these kind of costly mistakes. The early fumbles on Monday set the tone and Arizona rode that early momentum and cruised to victory.
The Dallas defense still has the same issues as always. They can't make stops and they're not getting enough turnovers. That's now the fifth straight game where they have conceded 34+ points. There's no chance a team can have any sort of success with those sort of numbers, and although they may still make the playoffs due to a dreadful NFC East, this Dallas team aren't going to make any sort of noise this season.
Cardinals bounce back
On the other end of the scale though, what a day it turned into for the Arizona Cardinals. They've kept themselves in a great position at 4-2 in the NFC West with that victory, and they looked every bit as good as they have at any point this year.
I can't recall seeing many games where a quarterback completes only nine passes but still cruises to a 38-7 victory, but that just highlights the production in the run game and on defense from Arizona. Two of those nine passes were for touchdowns, while another two were 80 and 60 yard completions to Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins respectively.
It wasn't exactly a clinical passing display from Kyler Murray, but they had enough big plays and enough timely plays to still cause a lot of damage. Murray added 74 yards on the ground with a further touchdown and was only sacked and hit once as Dallas just couldn't get close to him. Arizona also got the monster day from Kenyan Drake that they had been crying out for, with 164 yards and two scores.
Ruthless football is how best to describe the Cardinals offense on Monday. They didn't see that much of the ball in the grand scheme of things, but when they did, they constantly made things happen, admittedly against a very poor Dallas defense.
Defensively they were very strong too. Considering they were going up against Ezekiel Elliott, one of the league's premier running backs, and considering they were one of the worst defenses against the rush this season, Vance Joseph's defense stepped up and showed genuine signs of improvement this week. A special mention has to go to Budda Baker who had a career day with one interception, one forced fumble (which ultimately led to the opening touchdown and set Arizona on their way), and one sack.
It felt like the Cardinals set out to be destructive up front and get straight after Andy Dalton on his first start of the season and they did just that by hitting him eight times and sacking him three times. It bodes well for Arizona that they can shut down such a talented offense like the Dallas one by playing the sort of disruptive football they did this week, and will hopefully be something they carry with them for the rest of the season after what was a bit of a dip a few weeks ago. With the talent they've got on offense, if they can get things rolling on the other side of the ball then there's still a chance they can be a threat this season.