NFL Week 6: Winners and Losers
By Max Saito.
Follow Max on Twitter: @deerfearer
We take a weekly look around the league to see exactly who has a sparkle in their eyes and who has the weight of the world on their shoulders at the conclusion of Week 6.
Us here at Gridiron Xtra were far from the only NFL publication keen to hype up the Week 6 match-up between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and why not? The prospect of reigniting one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries had people licking their lips, and yet it was always a possibility that the Browns would simply not show up.
And so it came to be, as the Steelers once again dominated their long-time divisional whipping boy. An ailing Baker Mayfield was held to 119 yards with a pick-six, Kareem Hunt accounted for less than 60 yards, and the Steelers cast the Browns back into the Allegheny River with a 38-7 slapping to boot.
Pittsburgh ascended to 5-0 but hardly dominated the box score and travel to the equally undefeated Titans for a must-see clash in Week 7. Cleveland are left to find their own way out of the locker of the AFC North, having once again been shoved in by the schoolyard bully Steelers.
It has been an up-and-down season for NFL kickers. Field goal accuracy is at its highest point since 2013, but extra point accuracy has dropped for the second year in a row. There were high points in Week 6 though, with Brandon McManus constituting the entire Broncos scoring offence, banging six field goals in an 18-12 win in New England.
Bespectacled rookie and some-time rapper Rodrigo ‘Hot Rod’ Blankenship leads the league in points scored with 16 made field goals and 15 of 15 extra points.
Last but not least, the Jaguars were forced to turn to their fifth kicker in six games, becoming just the fifth team since 1970 to do so in the course of an entire season. The Jags’ newest kicking phenom, Jon Brown, has been in the league since 2016 and has never kicked a field goal. And I don’t just mean at the NFL level - the kickoff specialist never attempted a field goal in college or at high school, and yet proceeded to knock through his first ever try with a 31-yarder in the first quarter against Detroit. Brown then missed a 32 yarder in the second quarter, and did not attempt another field goal. A vintage weekend for fans of football’s most underappreciated heroes.
NFL writers who have had ‘What’s Wrong the Chiefs Offence?’ articles in drafts for 18 months
Two things can be true here - the Kansas City Chiefs offense are a good unit who have made the Chiefs better, and are far from the all-universe dominant attack we have seen in the last two seasons under the stewardship of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs rank 3rd in yards per game, but are only 9th in points per game. Watching the Chiefs is a different experience in 2020, as they have seemingly lacked the explosiveness that characterised the offence in years gone by. Mahomes has as many passes of 40+ yards as Drew Brees and Jimmy G, and ranks 22nd in completed air yards per pass attempt.
This may just signify a change in offensive approach to something more sustainable in the future, but it was inevitable that the Chiefs would at some point come back down to Earth somewhat, and NFL writers the world over will have been waiting to write their deep-dives on the reasons why since Mahomes’ MVP season concluded.
The Chiefs have long been able to score at will, and betting against them finishing 2020 as the top scoring offense is still done at your own peril.
Honorable mentions: Matt Patricia, Tua Tagovailoa, Jimmy G, Derrick Henry and the ‘kingcat’ formation, Philip Rivers, #AJGreenBouncebackSZN, Dak Prescott’s value in Dallas, the Gridiron Xtra readers who have been able to absorb some lovely content this week.
Matt LaFleur’s Coach of the Year credentials
Green Bay came off the bye as the best scoring offense in the league, and looked set to continue in the same vein, racing out to a 10-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then the wheels came off the wagon.
The Buccaneers defense, coached by Todd Bowles, answered with a Jamel Dean pick-six - only the third of Rodgers’ career and yet the second that he has thrown against Tampa. On the next possession, Rodgers threw a deflected interception while targeting Davante Adams on a slant, the surest play in the Packers playbook for half a decade.
This pick set up a short Ronald Jones rushing TD, and the Bucs held the Packers to two straight three and outs while scoring two touchdowns of their own before the half, and the game was never close again. Rodgers fell back into old bad habits, and LaFleur lamented his team’s poor practices leading up the game. Some would argue this can be blamed on the head coach.
The Minnesota Vikings
Some sportswriters pride themselves on being unbiased (see our own Tom Chappell’s piece on the Cleveland/Pittsburgh rivalry last week). I, however, am not one of them. As a Packer backer, it felt bad to write about my own team’s failings, but now I get to write about my rival’s failings.
If I’d told you at the start of the year that, after 5 games, the Jaguars and Lions would have twice as many combined wins as the Vikings and Falcons, you would have thought both Jacksonville and Detroit were playoff-bound.
The Vikings are now 1-5, and their quarterback (with a fully guaranteed contract) is openly talking about being benched if he doesn’t improve. Minnesota’s strength has always been on the defensive side in the Mike Zimmer era, but they dearly miss Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr (both on IR), and their issues up front are compounded by a shaky and banged up secondary.
It’s fair to wonder whether the Vikings have their eye on a franchise reboot with a first round quarterback next year.
I’ve always been a firm proponent of the ballsy two-point attempt - it makes sense to me to try everything you can to win, particularly in a season where extra points have been adventurous.
But this week in the NFL saw the analytics-favoured argument for more two-point attempts take a hit. The Eagles had managed to claw their way back to 30-28 against a sleepwalking Ravens team (with the aid of going 2-3 on two-point attempts) and needed to convert to tie the game with less than two minutes to go. LJ Fort and Matthew Judon combined to stonewall Wentz on a designed QB run, and the Eagles lost.
In New York, Riverboat Ron appeared to turn down the chance to kick an extra point and tie the game at 20-20, instead opting to try for the lead, only for Kyle Allen to not find anyone open and throw incomplete. Rivera has talked about wanting to avoid getting his players injured, and it’s clear that the Football Team just want to get out of this season and move on, so it made sense to try to win and avoid overtime.
The Texans turned down the chance to make it an 8-point game with 1:50 left, instead going for two in the hopes of giving themselves a two-possession lead. I loved this decision; interim coach Romeo Crennel has nothing to lose, and I would much rather put my chances of winning on Deshaun Watson than leaning on a suspect Texans D. Yes, the Titans would have needed to pick up a two-point conversion of their own to force OT if the Texans had kicked the extra point, but the Titans have Derrick Henry. I credit the Texans for making a good call. They failed to convert the two-point attempt and would go on to lose in overtime. Remember, folks - execution is everything.
Honorable mentions: Dan Quinn’s reputation, Trevor Lawrence’s draft outlook, any of the nine(!!!) Eagles offensive starters from the offseason who were injured by the end of the game, anybody in the UK hoping to watch an entertaining Sunday evening game, Ezekiel Elliott, the accuracy of the title ‘Mr Irrelevant’, my non-PPR fantasy team (by 0.14 points).