Monday, March 20, 2023

NFL Week 5 Sunday Scramble: Bills brilliant; Eagles, Cowboys shaping up for elite Week 6 showdown

Another Sunday of football is just about in the books. The Eagles stayed unbeaten (again). The Giants beat Aaron Rodgers overseas. The Cowboys rolled over the Rams. And that was just a taste of Week 5, with prime-time matchups still on tap.

Miss the first waves of Week 4 action? Get yourself fully caught up with our Sunday Scramble, a weekly rundown of top takeaways and tidbits. Like the best greasy breakfast plates at your local diner, this is meant to be a hodgepodge of the good stuff — from weekly MVPs and true-or-false narratives to a look ahead at next weekend’s best games and hot-seat candidates.

Now dig in, and let’s recap:

Week 5 Awards

AFC MVP: Chargers RB Austin Ekeler

Brandon Staley may have done his best to undermine Los Angeles’ victory over the Browns (more on that below), but his most underrated offensive weapon saved the day. Ekeler was a machine against Cleveland, running for 173 yards on just 16 carries while also scoring as a receiver. Justin Herbert can drop back comfortably knowing he’s always a dump-off away.

NFC MVP: Saints TE Taysom Hill

Take that, haters! Hill may not have a defined position, but that didn’t matter against the Seahawks, who had no answer for the Swiss Army Knife. With 112 yards on the ground, he led New Orleans’ rushing attack on a day Alvin Kamara also topped 100. And he also matched Andy Dalton’s TD count through the air, delivering a perfect strike to Adam Trautman in a 39-32 win.

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Coach of the Week: Giants’ Brian Daboll

Somehow, New York keeps doing it. This time, the G-Men traveled to London, got an efficient day from a banged-up Daniel Jones, stayed creative with Saquon Barkley, and knocked off Aaron Rodgers to get to 3-1. Daboll doesn’t have elite personnel on either side of the ball, but he’s gotten the best from just about everyone on the field.

Mr. Cool of the Week: Bills QB Josh Allen

Everything he did against the Steelers in a 38-3 rout just looked so easy. Pittsburgh was starting a rookie QB and a banged-up defense, and Allen chucked it up accordingly, reigniting Gabe Davis as a downfield threat and using Buffalo’s fourth win in five games as something of an arm tune-up. The Steelers simply stood no chance defending his cannon.

Sweet and Sour Teams of the Week

SWEET: The Giants, for spoiling Aaron Rodgers’ first game abroad with yet another ugly but successful outing under Brian Daboll. This team is finally putting Daniel Jones’ legs to regular use, not to mention wisely feeding the charged-up Saquon Barkley. They’ve already matched their 2021 win total, and they don’t even have a full complement of pass catchers.

SOUR: The Commanders, for once again living and dying by the arm of Carson Wentz, this time against Tennessee. They don’t really have a much of a choice, of course; Taylor Heinicke is the top alternative, and his ceiling is already established. And Wentz did have some pretty deep balls to threaten a comeback. But every game in his hands has been a roller coaster.

SWEET: The Jets, for running all over the Dolphins to shake up the AFC East standings. After knocking Teddy Bridgewater out of action on the first play, New York leaned on its collective rushing talent, keeping the ball in the hands of Breece Hall and Michael Carter Jr. to control the game. Zach Wilson may be unproven as a passer, but he and his buddies can move.

SOUR: The Lions, for failing to show up in the least bit against a Bailey Zappe-led Patriots team. Detroit came in with one of the NFL‘s busiest offenses, but Jared Goff and Co. were listless in New England, especially in the red zone. Dan Campbell’s squad has typically shown fight amid its steady losing, but this one wasn’t even close.

True or False

Which developing narratives — popular or artificial — are actually valid?

Brandon Staley is endangering the Chargers: L.A. will stay competitive as long as Justin Herbert is under center and Austin Ekeler’s legs are churning, but goodness, it seems as if Herbert always feels obligated to defend his coach’s decision-making, regardless of a win or loss. Whatever the analytics say, sometimes it’s just not smart to go for it on fourth down at midfield when your opponent is trailing by two. Staley has yet to prove he can get out of his own way. Verdict: TRUE

The Steelers need more big-picture changes:¬†Mike Tomlin accepted the possibility after the Steelers got steamrolled by the Bills, and why shouldn’t he? The offense under Matt Canada hasn’t looked consistently explosive in one and a half years, and the “D” is increasingly a sieve when T.J. Watt isn’t healthy. The trouble for Pittsburgh is, most of the higher-up changes that might reignite this team (i.g. an offensive coordinator change, personnel turnover) won’t come until later. Verdict: TRUE

Kliff Kingsbury, not Kyler Murray, is Arizona’s issue: The coach gets a lot of heat for the way the Cardinals‘ offense starts and stops in fits, and the team’s 20-17 loss to the Eagles on Sunday won’t win him many points from the hypercritical crowd. But Murray was just as, if not more, to blame against Philly. His actions on Arizona’s final drive, sliding early and spiking the ball on third down with no timeouts left, forced the Cards to rush their game-winning field goal try, which they missed. Verdict: FALSE

On the Horizon: Week 6

Hot Seat Alert: Panthers‘ Matt Rhule

Rhule was already at the top of our hot-seat rankings coming into this week, and now he’s fresh off a big loss to the 49ers at home, falling to 11-27 as Carolina’s head man. Baker Mayfield would almost assuredly be on the bench by now if it weren’t for Sam Darnold being hurt. With each week, it’s growing increasingly unclear whether Rhule will even be the guy to make the swap. All of his big bets on that side of the ball are coming to roost.

Game of the Week: Cowboys at Eagles

You thought we were gonna take the easy route and say Bills-Chiefs, huh? Not this time. Yes, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes‘ rematch will obviously be must-see TV, but how about this prime-time matchup atop the NFC East? The Eagles are 5-0 for the first time since their 2004 NFC championship season, and Dallas continues to roll onward without Dak Prescott. Micah Parsons chasing down Jalen Hurts figures to be elite “Sunday Night Football” material.

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