Friday, June 14, 2024

One thing we learned about each team in Week 5: Cooper Rush stalls, Chiefs comeback kings, Hill saves Saints

The NFL is still hard to figure out five weeks into the season. The Philadelphia Eagles remain the lone unbeaten team, as they and a few other teams are appearing to separate themselves from the pack. It’s ironic those four teams (Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and Buffalo Bills) play each other this week for conference supremacy in the NFC and AFC. 

While those four teams are establishing themselves as the cream of the crop, the league doesn’t have a winless them through five weeks. Twelve teams have two wins this season while eight teams have three, showcasing the incredible parity (or mediocrity) throughout the league thus far. Only six teams have four-or-more wins, the same amount as the one-win teams this year. 

Teams are still trying to find out what they are, which makes the week-to-week experiment of figuring out where each team stands even more difficult. Here’s the one thing we discovered about each team at the conclusion of Week 5.

Arizona Cardinals

Boneheaded mistakes still haunt Kyler Murray’s progress: Murray arguably played his best game of the season Sunday, as he completed 28 of 42 passes for 250 yards with a touchdown and an interception, moving the Cardinals offense efficiently down the field from the second quarter on as Arizona was on the verge of upsetting Philadelphia. 

The Cardinals had the Eagles on the ropes. Facing a second-and-10 on the Eagles’ 34-yard line with 36 seconds left, Murray had a nine-yard run and slid too early, not getting Arizona the first down at the Eagles’ 25. Instead of running on third-and-1, Murray spiked the ball in a 20-17 game — forcing the Cardinals to attempt a field goal for the tie. Matt Ammendola missed the 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds left that cost the Cardinals the chance at overtime. 

Kliff Kingsbury said the Cardinals were committed to clocking it as he thought Murray got the first down. He didn’t, and Murray spiked the ball not realizing the situation. Coach’s call or not, that’s a mistake Murray just can’t make — and he slid too early on top of that blunder. The Cardinals keep shooting themselves in the foot. 

Atlanta Falcons

Marcus Mariota has to get better throwing the football: The Falcons’ bread and butter is running the ball to keep a defense on its heels, but Mariota is a one-dimensional quarterback at this point. Mariota turned in another poor performance throwing the ball Sunday, completing just 56% of his passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in a  21-15 loss — and the touchdown was late. He also was sacked five times. 

Mariota is completing just 57.7% of his passes with 926 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions with a 78.8 rating through five games. Even without Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, Mariota’s delivery has to be better to what he has to work with. 

The Falcons shouldn’t bench Mariota, but they have to have more efficiency throwing the football. 

Baltimore Ravens

Don’t mess with Justin Tucker: If a game comes down to the fourth quarter against Baltimore, Tucker is automatic. Tucker has never missed a field goal attempt in the final minute of regulation in his career (regular season or playoffs). He’s 22 for 22 in those situations, including the game-winning 43-yard kick Sunday night against the Bengals (that would have easily been good from 50). 

Tucker has made 75 straight field goals in the second half and overtime and 61 straight in the fourth quarter and overtime — both NFL records. Teams can’t let the game come down to Tucker — he isn’t missing. 

Buffalo Bills

Gabe Davis makes an explosive offense even better: Davis has been battling an ankle injury in the early part of the season, yet it’s clear that’s past the playmaking wideout. Davis had three catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s blowout win over the Steelers, averaging an astonishing 57 yards per catch. 

Davis leads the NFL with 28.1 yards per catch, thanks to having the longest receiving touchdown (98 yards) for the franchise since Terrell Owens in 2009. He’s the fourth player in franchise history with multiple touchdowns of 60-plus yards in a game, and three of his past six touchdowns have gone for 60-plus yards. 

A healthy Davis is going to make the Bills’ high-octane passing game even more explosive.

Carolina Panthers

The rebuild has begun: The Panthers are back to square one after firing Matt Rhule on Monday, this after another poor showing by the offense against the best defense in the NFL in the 49ers. Carolina amassed 308 yards (which was their highest total this year) but just 15 points, the fourth consecutive game Carolina failed to score at least 24 points. 

Baker Mayfield is injured — and had the lowest completion rate and passer rating in the NFL to begin with. The Panthers had the fewest total yards and first downs in the league, so a change was necessary if this team was going to at least be competitive in 2022. 

Now, the Panthers have to win the fan base back and build from the ground up. They’ll use the rest of this year to evaluate, but they need a franchise quarterback to go anywhere in the league.

Chicago Bears

The growth on offense is finally showing: Justin Fields arguably had his best game of the season, completing 15 of 21 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown (118.8 rating). Fields beat blitzes and commanded the offense with poise, using his athleticism to leave the pocket when necessary — instead of forcing the issue. 

Chicago only punted twice in the game, and both came within the first three possessions. The Bears followed that up with 19 points on their next four possessions with a healthy balance of run and pass mixed in. For the first time all year, the Bears offense is growing — and it’s exciting to see the progress week to week. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Zac Taylor is trying to mask the boom-or-bust offense: The Bengals tried to feed Ja’Marr Chase early, banking on setting up a big play to get the offense going. Truth is, if the Bengals don’t have a big play, the offense doesn’t score points consistently. 

With a banged-up Tee Higgins, Taylor tried to get too creative in the red zone. He tried a “Philly Special” that Marcus Peters sniffed out for a 12-yard loss, then tried a shovel pass to the fifth wide receiver on fourth-and-goal two plays later that led to a turnover on downs. 

The Bengals are one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL (and only had 101 yards against the Ravens), which is another reason why this offense can’t find continuity. Taylor is responsible for fixing this, but trick plays or unorthodox plays aren’t the solution. 

Cleveland Browns

The run defense was dreadful: The Browns failed to get the memo that the Chargers can’t run the ball, allowing 238 rushing yards to an offense that came into the game averaging just 64.5 per game. Austin Ekeler — who had a career-high 173 yards — beat that average with a 71-yard run in the first quarter.

Myles Garrett blamed misalignments, but the Browns missed a lot of tackles in the loss. Cleveland missed eight tackles on run plays and didn’t have a single run stop, which resulted in Los Angeles averaging 7.0 yards per carry. 

The Browns run defense has gotten worse each week of the year. This needs to be fixed. 

Dallas Cowboys

Cooper Rush finally showed some vulnerability: The Cowboys are 4-0 in Rush’s four starts, and Rush has not committed a turnover and has a 97.1 passer rating in those games. Rush was not particularly good Sunday, going 10 of 16 for 102 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions — with two fumbles that his team was lucky to recover. 

Rush completed just 61.9% of his passes in these four starts, and the Cowboys haven’t scored more than 25 points in any of those games. The secret behind Dallas’ success is the defense, which has allowed just 13.3 points over the past four games. 

Rush has done his job, but if Dak Prescott is healthy for Sunday against Philadelphia, Dallas has to play him. 

Denver Broncos

Russell Wilson‘s shoulder isn’t the only thing hurting: Wilson just seems out of touch with the Broncos team and fanbase right now. The Super Bowl champion quarterback isn’t inspiring his teammates on the sidelines, nor does he seem to grasp how his poor play is impacting everything surrounding him. 

He threw an unacceptable interception in the end zone with the game tied, 9-9, in the fourth quarter and flat-out missed a wide open K.J. Hamler on fourth-and-1 in overtime that would have gotten the Broncos to 3-2 — in spite of his poor play. 

Wilson’s coaching is subpar at best, and he is trying to do too much, but he needs to command the huddle and become the player the Broncos are paying him to be. This version is just another mediocre quarterback the Broncos aren’t buying into. 

Detroit Lions

Fourth down was a disaster: The Lions went for it on fourth down six times in the shutout loss to the Patriots and came away with nothing. Detroit failed to convert any of its fourth-down attempts, all of which took place in New England territory. 

This was the NFL record for fourth-down futility, beating the 1995 Patriots for the all-time mark. Detroit averaged 3.66 yards to gain on fourth down, yet failed to convert on any of them. The Lions were 8 for 12 on fourth down entering the game, so Dan Campbell had a reason to be aggressive with a team that averaged 35 points per game. 

Campbell was too aggressive here, leaving the Lions on the wrong side of history. 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers needs a deep threat at wide receiver: Through five weeks, Rodgers still hasn’t found that reliable player who can produce downfield like Davante Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Christian Watson dropped a deep pass in Week 1 and Romeo Doubs dropped a deep touchdown catch in Week 4, part of the struggles amongst Green Bay’s new-look receiver group. 

Rodgers was hoping for a miracle when he was going deep Sunday, failing to connect with Allen Lazard on multiple chances and finishing 0 for 5 on passes that went for 20-plus air yards. The deep passes just aren’t there for Rodgers to break the Packers’ inconsistent offense out of long droughts, which is part of the reason why the offense goes stagnate. 

The trade deadline is coming up. Green Bay may be active in adding a deep-ball wideout if any become available.

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Houston Texans

Davis Mills finally showed up in the fourth quarter: Keeping up with the quarterback theme here, Mills’ struggles in the final 15 minutes of games was well documented as the Texans were winless through four weeks. Mills had a 54.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter, going 16 of 33 with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The completion percentage was significantly better Sunday, as Mills was 5 for 7 for 56 yards — highlighted by a 23-yard pass to Nico Collins on third-and-2 to extend what was eventually the game-winning touchdown drive. 

The efficiency in the fourth quarter gave Houston its first win of the season. Mills had a 94.5 passer rating in the fourth quarter this past week. That’s what the Texans need from their quarterback going forward. 

Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan is on pace to become the all-time fumble king: Daunte Culpepper and Kerry Collins share the NFL record for the most fumbles in a season with 23. Ryan already has 11 through five games, including two in Thursday’s win over Denver. Ryan has already matched his fumbles total from last year and is on pace for 37 this season — which would shatter that record. 

Ryan has 11 fumbles and seven interceptions, leading the league in both categories through five games. Somehow the Colts are 2-2-1 and right in the thick of the AFC South race. Imagine if Ryan cleans up the fumbles and giveaways. 

For the Colts’ sake, Ryan can’t get any worse in the fumbling department. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Travis Etienne wasn’t used enough: Etienne got off to a hot start in Sunday’s loss to the Texans, totaling 81 total yards that included six carries for 61 yards. The former first-round pick was the only sign of life in a Jaguars offense that desperately needed a spark. 

Jacksonville gave Etienne just six touches in the second half, as he recorded four carries for 10 yards and two catches for 23 yards. James Robinson wasn’t exactly taking carries away from Etienne, either, so it wasn’t like Doug Pederson couldn’t have used him in a game where the offense could only muster six points. 

Etienne is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 11.2 yards per catch while averaging just 11 touches per game. He needs to get the ball more in a struggling offense. 

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs continue to overcome ridiculous deficits: What Patrick Mahomes is able to do down double digits is why the Chiefs can never be counted out of any game. Kansas City was down 17-0 in the second quarter and was able to take a 24-20 lead by the third quarter — holding on for a thrilling 30-29 victory. 

Mahomes is 11-5 in games he trails by double digits (regular season and postseason) since 2019, having four more wins than Tom Brady or Ryan Tannehill (who each have losing records in those scenarios). The Chiefs quarterback masks many weaknesses during the game with his unbelievable quarterback play and ability to find different playmakers each week (this week Travis Kelce, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jerick McKinnon were those playmakers).

Under Mahomes and Andy Reid, the Chiefs aren’t out of a game until the clock hits zero. Monday reminded the league in case it forgot. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Josh McDaniels continues to cost his team with bad coaching decisions: Analytics or not, McDaniels can’t have a good reason to go for two down 30-29 with 4:27 left and an extra point to tie the game available. There was plenty of time left for Las Vegas to get a stop and the ball back — which it did — and earn another opportunity to upset the Chiefs. 

After the defense bailed McDaniels out, the Raiders had an opportunity to win the game with 2:29 left — driving down to their own 46-yard line with 47 seconds to play and no timeouts. Facing a fourth-and-1, McDaniels elected for the deep bomb instead of getting the yard and using clock to extend the drive. The play call was just one of many questionable decisions in the final five minutes for McDaniels in a game the Raiders had to win after being up 17-0. 

McDaniels is 12-21 as a head coach for a reason. This 1-4 start with a talented Raiders team may not be surprising at this point.

Los Angeles Chargers

Brandon Staley is way too aggressive: Staley’s fourth-down decision almost cost the Chargers on Sunday, as he’s fortunate Cleveland didn’t take advantage of the situation. Staley decided to go for the win on fourth-and-1 from his own 46 with 1:14 left in a 30-28 game, dialing up a Justin Herbert deep pass to Mike Williams that was ruled incomplete — which drew social media ire from injured wideout Keenan Allen.

Instead of punting the ball and forcing Cleveland to drive down the field for the win, the Browns only had to go 25 yards for the win. Staley gift wrapped Cleveland a win, and the Browns couldn’t capitalize. The Chargers paid for Staley’s over aggression last year — which may be the case this year, too, if the head coach doesn’t dial it back a bit. 

Los Angeles Rams

Allen Robinson isn’t the answer: The Rams offense has a lot of problems right now, from Matthew Stafford to a bad offensive line. Robinson is the one issue that may never get fixed. In year one of a three-year, $46.5 million contract, Robinson has 12 catches for 107 yards with a touchdown (8.9 yards per catch). 

Robinson had just three catches for 12 yards in Sunday’s loss to Dallas and has only five catches for 19 yards in the past two games. He’s on pace for 40 catches for 364 yards on the year, an atrocity for a player that’s supposed to be a No. 2 receiver. 

The Rams have to find other options. Robinson had 410 yards last year and just one touchdown. He might be past his prime. 

Miami Dolphins

Injuries are ruining a potentially great season: Feels like eons ago when the Dolphins were coming off back-to-back victories over the Ravens and Bills and were the class of the AFC at 3-0. Since the Tua Tagovailoa incident, the team hasn’t been the same as injuries are starting to pile up. 

The Dolphins didn’t have Byron Jones nor Xavien Howard in the loss to the Jets. Tyreek Hill was banged up prior to the game — and was seen after the game in a walking boot; left tackle Terron Armstead left the contest after re-aggravating a toe injury; and No. 2 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was ruled out after one offensive play with a concussion. 

The Dolphins have their issues on defense, but the injuries are mounting on both sides of the ball. The Jets might be good and the Bills are among the elite in the league. This year may be a lost one in Miami unless the Dolphins can showcase the depth on the roster we have yet to see. 

Minnesota Vikings

Third-down offense significantly improved: Minnesota was 3-1 despite its third-down offense being a pitiful 15 of 48 (31.3%) on the season. In Sunday’s win over an aggressive Bears defense, the Vikings went 12 of 15 (80%) that played a pivotal role in the victory. 

The Vikings went 5 of 5 on third down on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that gave Minnesota a 29-22 lead with just over two minutes left. The drive took seven minutes as Kirk Cousins went 6 of 8 for 57 yards and a rushing touchdown. Cousins looked more comfortable in the pocket and teh Vikings had their best offensive game of the year — goes hand in hand. 

New England Patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson has the looks of a RB1: The Patriots lost Damien Harris to a hamstring injury early, so New England had Stevenson carry the load. Stevenson crushed through tacklers to carry the ball 25 times for 161 yards, including a 49-yard run in the first quarter that led to an early field goal for New England. 

Not only did Stevenson have a career high in carries and yards, but he received the ultimate praise from Bill Belichick after the victory. Belichick clearly trusts Stevenson to carry an offense with a third-string quarterback — so expect him to get a heavy dose of carries with Harris sidelined

New Orleans Saints

Taysom Hill, season saver: Hill was the spark the Saints offense badly needed with Jameis Winston, Michael Thomas, and Jarvis Landry out Sunday (that’s not including Chris Olave leaving the game with a concussion). The tight end carried the offense with nine carries for 122 yards and three rushing touchdowns, along with a 22-yard passing touchdown, and a fumble recovery on special teams. 

Hil is the first player to have three rushing touchdowns, a passing touchdown and a fumble recovery in the same game. All his plays were responsible for five Saints touchdowns, getting New Orleans back on track with a much-needed victory. 

If the Saints turn their season around, Hill’s performance in Week 5 will go a long way. 

New York Giants

Daniel Jones showed the toughness that wasn’t seen under the old regime: What Jones did in the second half with an injured ankle and bloodied hand will be talked about in New York for a while, especially how he led the Giants to a thrilling upset win over the Packers in London. 

Jones was 13 of 14 for 136 yards in the second half of the comeback victory, throwing to Darius Slayton, Marcus Johnson, Richie James, and David Sills as his wide receivers. He also had 37 rushing yards (not counting kneeldowns) despite playing with that injured ankle. 

The Giants erased a double-digit halftime deficit thanks to Jones, whose three fourth-quarter comebacks are the most in the NFL. Whether Jones is the long-term answer in New York will be determined, but his play right now is playing a major role in the Giants’ shocking 4-1 start. 

New York Jets

Breece Hall may be the best player on a talented offense: Hall had a 79-yard catch to inflate his receiving numbers in an excellent performance, but that showcased the big-play ability the rookie provides out of the backfield. Hall finished with 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown while also finishing with two catches for 100 yards to lead the Jets in rushing and receiving. 

Hall was the first Jets player in franchise history with 90-plus rushing yards, 100-plus receiving yards and a rushing touchdown in a game. He’s the first Jets running back with 100 receiving yards since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2011. 

Averaging 6.7 yards per touch and 488 yards from scrimmage, Hall may be the best player in a Jets offense that has a bunch of young playmakers. The rookie back is just getting started. 

Philadelphia Eagles

Defense can hold teams without getting pressure on quarterback: The Eagles appeared more committed to keeping Kyler Murray in the pocket rather than blitzing him and letting the star quarterback get into video game mode. The plan seemed to work, as Philadelphia mustered just one sack while Murray and the Cardinals offense had 313 yards on its final five possessions.

How many points did Arizona get? Just 17, which was enough as the Eagles were able to hold a 14-0 lead and kept the Cardinals out of the end zone on two of those possessions. (Arizona had to kick a field goal before halftime.) The defense looked tired, but held serve and let the Cardinals beat themselves. Sunday was a “bend but don’t break” day. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Kenny Pickett has the leadership to be the franchise quarterback: What Pickett showed in the box score wasn’t impressive in a blowout loss to Buffalo, but the rookie making his first career start showed the Steelers will go to battle for him. 

Bills edge rusher Shaq Lawson dove low at Pickett’s knees after he rushed to get rid of the football in the fourth quarter. Pickett clearly didn’t like the play, shoving Lawson back and continuing to go after him before the referees broke up the scuffle. This was after the Steelers quarterback was hit by Damar Hamlin on the end of a slide in the third quarter — causing a brawl as James Daniels went to his defense.

Pickett has the grit to succeed in the NFL. He has good footwork and delivers accurate passes to a talented receiving core. The rookie just needs a competent offensive line. 

San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Wilson showcases the 49ers incredible depth: No matter who the 49ers put at running back, that player produces in Kyle Shanahan’s zone-run scheme. Wilson is the latest to thrive, finishing with 17 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown (133 yards from scrimmage), giving him 65 carries for 353 yards and two touchdowns since Eli Mitchell’s injury. 

Wilson has been a star for San Francisco this year, but it’s not just him. Kevin Givens and Hassan Ridgeway are valuable second-team players on the defensive line, and Jason Verrett will provide more depth in the secondary when he returns. 

The 49ers have a deep roster. They’re ready to make their push for the NFC West, leading the division after five weeks. 

Seattle Seahawks

The run defense remains nonexistent: The Seahawks had trouble stopping the run all season and Sunday was no different. Seattle allowed 112 yards to Taysom Hill on the ground and another 103 to Alvin Kamara — a total of 235 on the afternoon. 

The Seahawks haven’t had a game in which they allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing, ranking 32nd in the league in yards per game allowed (170.2) and 31st in rushing touchdowns allowed (nine). Seattle has three games in which it allowed more than 175 rushing yards, which is a formula for failure in the NFC West.

This run defense allows five yards per carry. The unit just has to be competent with the points the offense is putting up. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Leonard Fournette can catch: Fournette’s ability to catch the football shouldn’t be surprising, since he had 76 catches in his final season with the Jaguars (2019). Through five games this season, Fournette has 26 catches — tied for second among running backs in the NFL (22 have come in the last three weeks).

Fournette has worked on the receiving aspect of his game (had 69 catches last year) and has become a viable passing option for Tampa Bay underneath — which couldn’t have been said when he was drafted. Teams are trying to take away the deep ball from Tampa Bay, so Fournette’s presence as a viable pass catcher is more than welcomed. 

Tennessee Titans

Offensive line remains a major issue: Ryan Tannehill gets hit way too much in games to stay upright all year. Sunday was an issue for the quarterback, as he was hit 13 times and sacked five times — adding to a total that isn’t worth bragging about. 

Tannehill has been pressured 42.2% of the time per dropback (30th in the NFL) and is sacked 8.5% of the time (23rd in the NFL). The Titans quarterback has been hit 17 times (tied for sixth most in NFL) despite only being sacked nine times (five Sunday). 

Good thing Tennessee has its bye week. The offensive line needs to figure things out without Taylor Lewan or JaMarco Jones

Washington Commanders

Ron Rivera’s seat is getting hotter: The Commanders are sitting at 1-4 and are in last place in the NFC East. The Giants are turning a corner with Brian Daboll and the Eagles and Cowboys are two of the best teams in the league. 

Things just aren’t pretty in Washington right now, a team that looks to have another failed experiment at quarterback in Carson Wentz, an inconsistent offense, and many glaring holes on the roster that prevent the Commanders from winning games. The defense gives up too many big plays and doesn’t generate enough turnovers to make up for it, and on top of Wentz’s inconsistent play — Rivera essentially faulted Wentz for why the Commanders aren’t on par with the other NFC East teams. 

Washington better turn its season around, or Rivera will get the one change he doesn’t want to see. 

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