The eleventh week of the NFL season was as chaotic, strange and confounding as possible. The upsets shocked not just the football world but the playoff picture in both conferences. There’s still a lot to process and breakdown because most fans and analysts didn’t expect so many highlights. Time to break down the best and worst of week eleven.
Winners: Indianapolis Colts
Since a close loss to the Tennessee Titans where Derrick Henry suffered a season ending injury, everything’s swung in the Colts’ favor. Sunday opened eyes to the possibility of a different team winning the AFC South. Both the Buffalo Bills offense and defense are touted as top tier and Indianapolis dominated them.
Outside of quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo’s offense lacks a strong running game and the Colts used that weakness to their advantage. Allen barely threw 200 yards with two scores and two interceptions. While he was sacked once, Allen had a hard time finding receivers downfield and was under duress until a Colts victory was imminent.
Indianapolis’ offense was all anyone could talk about Sunday until the Los Angeles Chargers played (more on them later). Runningback Jonathan Taylor ran for four touchdowns and caught an additional score. Taylor’s first two touchdowns gave the Colts a double-digit lead early. It’s the first time in both franchise and league history anyone scored on the road five times.
Coach Frank Reich and his team had excuses to surrender after a brutal early season start. The defense is playing to last year’s levels. Despite an injury to guard Quinton Nelson, quarterback Carson Wentz eased more into the offense thanks to Taylor’s workload and the return of receivers Mo Alie-Cox and T.Y. Hilton. Finally, Indianapolis is over .500 for the first time this season and have a good chance at the division title because…
David Culley, Tyrod Taylor and the Houston Texans using the bye week to their advantage
…the one win Houston Texans stunned the football world by pummeling the Tennessee Titans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was under pressure the whole game. He threw four interceptions and was sacked twice. The lone touchdown thrown was near the end of the third quarter, and Houston’s defense smothered any chance of momentum after.
Most fans and analysts will say Tennessee choked and overlooked competition, but there was a good chance the Texans could win this game. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith didn’t have to worry about a running game with no Derrick Henry. The Titans average two and a half yards a carry since Henry’s season ending injury. Wide out Julio Jones wasn’t in the lineup. That meant Houston’s secondary could double cover A.J. Brown and Anthony Firkser.
On offense credit goes to coach David Culley and quarterback Tyrod Taylor using last week’s bye to fix parts of the game plan. Taylor played poor in a loss to Miami before the bye and said he could do better with more practice and easing back into schemes. While the offense was ok, it built confidence. Coach Culley needed this to keep his job and make sure his influence and coaching style grows with the team.
Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson
The Green Bay-Minnesota game was fun to watch, especially the second half. The highlights of round one in the divisional matchup featured two of the league’s best receivers.
Davante Adams caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns averaging 16 yards per catch. Adams’ play was a major reason the Packer offense briefly took a lead before Minnesota’s last possession. He’s the league’s best receiver despite constant double coverage and no solid number two wideout getting more attention.
Sophomore receiver Justin Jefferson had as good if not a better game than Adams. Jefferson’s eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns (both in the second half) gave the Vikings a comfortable lead and the ability to do anything against one of the league’s best defenses. Like Adams, Jefferson is one of the league’s best receivers and on the verge of breaking franchise records the great Randy Moss once held. Green Bay-Minnesota round two in Lambeau Field should be just as exciting on January second.
The sophomore Eagles quarterback is progressing because coach Nick Sirianni wants the ball run more. It’s helped Hurts deliver on throws without constant pressure. He’s also a mobile quarterback who contributes in the running game, and on some Sundays that’s be better than when he passes.
Sunday’s home game against New Orleans is an example. Hurts scored 12 of 14 points on Philadelphia’s first two drives. He ran for a 24 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cement a double digit win.
A lot of fans and analysts lavish praise on the other sophomore quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert for good reasons, but Hurts is growing at a steady rate on a team still in re-build mode. He could be the most successful of the 2020 class if the Eagles continue to let him learn naturally without forcing him to throw.
The Los Angeles Chargers offense
Sunday night could be a pivotal turn in Chargers franchise history. Usually known as perenial losers in epic fashion, Los Angeles won a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers where they went from double digit lead to losing because of turnovers. The offense led by quarterback Justin Herbert sparked a comeback late in the fourth quarter.
Herbert became the first quarterback to throw over 350 yards, run for 90 yards and post a win. Austin Ekeler tried to match Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown performance, running for two scores and catching two of Herbert’s three touchdown passes. The game ball goes to Los Angeles’ offensive line that allowed two sacks to a battered Steeler defensive line but helped Herbert read the field especially on man coverage.
Last but not least, the Chargers receivers expanded Herbert’s use of the offensive playbook. Keenan Allen had a 100 yard game on 13 targets and Mike Williams had the game winning touchdown and final lead change. Coach Brandon Staley still needs to work on the defense but he’s maximizing potential with Los Angeles’ offense.
Losers: Rookie quarterbacks not named Mac Jones
The 2021 quarterback class may wind up being one of the best after this season. However none of the rookies outside of New England’s Mac Jones will have happy memories.
Zac Wilson and Justin Fields took too many hits and wound up with multiple injuries. The general managers of the New York Jets and Chicago Bears chose not to build offensive lines to protect their most valuable assets. It doesn’t help that coaches Robert Saleh and Matt Nagy gave the rookies the green light to start early in the season to take beatings while playing in poor offensive systems. One has to wonder if both quarterbacks develop terrible habits when they return. Here’s hoping both have a resurgence in year two.
Trey Lance and Davis Mills may not see the field the rest of the season unless it’s fourth quarter action where a lopsided win or loss is inevitable. The 49ers are back at .500 because Jimmy Garappolo is playing better and throwing accurate passes to at least three excellent receivers returning from injury or benching. San Francisco won’t start Lance if they’re in the playoff hunt. On the opposite end, Mills had a chance to prove he’s a starter Houston can turn to when Tyrod Taylor’s contract expires and DeShaun Watson is traded. Mills lost every game played and his stats aren’t starting worthy. He may be a backup the rest of his career.
Then there’s number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who probably wants to forget about his rookie season despite it not finishing. No one can blame him either. Coach Urban Meyer is still struggling to adjust to Jacksonville’s talent. While Lawrence could wind up as the best quarterback of the class with the most potential, it’s his first season with this many losses in any phase of his football career. He’s a true starter not getting whacked every other play. The Jaguars just have to add more to get back to playoff contention.
Speaking of the Jacksonville Jaguars, they won’t win many games if their players pick fights against opposing teams.
Fourth year safety Rashawn Jenkins got frustrated early and decided to fight receiver Jauan Jennings. Jenkins’ dismissal hurt the Jaguars, and the defense gave up 30 points to a team coming off a Monday night home game traveling three different timezones.
Coach Meyer has a lot to clean up and work with but the issues earlier this season on the new coach setting a good example and not being careless comes into play. That’s important when veteran players make the same reckless decisions.
That blockbuster Khalil Mack trade between the Bears and Raiders
Back in 2018 when coach Jon Gruden decided to re-make the Oakland Raiders roster, he committed what many thought to be one of the most lopsided trades in contemporary NFL history involving pass rusher Khalil Mack going to the Chicago Bears for draft picks.
It’s a trade that when we look back three years later nobody won. The Bears gave up an astounding four draft picks (two first rounders included) while receiving two back (highest was a second rounder) in addition to Mack. Two of the picks Oakland/Las Vegas received aren’t on the team and one’s starting in place of a star receiver headed to prison. On the other end, Chicago’s second round pick in the trade Cole Kmet is rarely used by an inept offensive staff.
The Raiders’ best asset received from the trade is runningback Josh Jacobs, who hasn’t played well since a return from an upper body injury. Las Vegas started undefeated heading into October and is now at .500 after week eleven. This will be the third midseason collapse the team’s had, possibly missing the playoffs because the defense fell apart combined with drama off the field and a stagnant offense.
Meanwhile the Bears defense can’t stop 90 yard winning touchdown drives dating back to 2019 with or without Khalil Mack. Mack’s numbers have gradually gone down and it could be argued he hasn’t been the best player on Chicago’s defense after 2018. With little draft capital because of the trade, Chicago didn’t have a first rounder until this year, when they traded up with the New York Giants for Justin Fields (we know how that went, see above). The Bears are close to a total rebuild…and that requires trading Khalil Mack.
It’s beginning to look like Wilson hurried his recovery and came back earlier than he should have. Despite a 300 yard game from backup quarterback Colt McCoy, Wilson’s poor reading of the Arizona Cardinals defense is why Seattle walked away with their seventh loss of the season.
Two of Seattle’s first half drives resulted in Jason Myers field goals, and the Seahawks trailed at half-time 16-6. Those drives should’ve ended in touchdowns. After D.K. Metcalf bobbled a sure score, Wilson underthrew Freddy Swain at the one yard line. Swain had room to dive or reach the ball over the endzone line to tie the game at seven. Later on, Wilson couldn’t finish reads on second and third down, missing a wide-open DeeJay Dallas underneath for first and goal and taking more time off the clock to keep Arizona’s offense off the field. He threw into the endzone all three plays, and the third down pass flew out of bounds.
By the time Seattle scored a touchdown the Seahawks defense was exhausted with both starting cornerbacks injured. The Cardinal offense faced little resistance at the end.
The big question is what Seattle does with Wilson the rest of the season. The Seahawks have little chance of making the playoffs, but their franchise quarterback needs to start reading a field better and help Seattle not fully sink. We should have answers before Christmas.
Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboy offensive gameplan
Many analysts and fans will hype the Kansas City Chiefs’ return to being the best team in the AFC after Sunday’s home win against Dallas. There were good things Kansas City did on defense, notably Chris Jones’ three and a half sacks and the secondary intercepting quarterback Dak Prescott twice.
It’s easy to want that exciting Kansas City team back, but both teams were ugly on offense. The worst part was offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s gameplan. It was well known number one team receiver Amari Cooper wasn’t going to play. Dallas has the best runningback tandem in their conference and didn’t use them. When Ezekiel Elliott left with an injury, Tony Pollard took over and averaged seven yards a carry. The Chiefs’ run defense is the worst the league has seen in some time and yet Moore insisted Prescott throw the ball 43 times.
It got worse when sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb left with a concussion in the second half. That doesn’t happen if Dallas establishes a strong and dominant running game behind an offensive line needing confidence with left tackle Tyron Smith not playing. It would’ve cut down Dallas’ turnovers, mistakes on the Chiefs’ side of the field and force more errors or turnovers from Kansas City. Even if the Cowboys wanted to save their best in a re-match, they cost themselves a chance to lower the Chiefs in the AFC standings.