Week six was full of eye-opening play and revealed who is closer to being playoff-bound. On the opposite end, some teams are close to preparing for the offseason. Time to break down who or what won or lost the week.
Winners: Marcus Mariota
The former second overall pick in 2015 has a roller coaster career. His former offensive coordinator in Tennessee is the Falcons’ head coach, and Atlanta took a risk naming him starting quarterback after trading franchise icon Matt Ryan. Marcus Mariota is having a good season, but Sunday’s game against San Francisco should make other teams pay attention.
Mariota threw two touchdowns and 129 yards in a lopsided win versus the league’s best defense. He completed all but one pass for a 144.6 quarterback rating and also ran eight times for 50 yards (over 8 yards a carry). While the Falcons offense didn’t need much (due to the 49ers sputtering on offense and losing more players to injuries on defense), it did step up and exceed expectations.
This is the best season he’s played since last starting with the Titans during 2018 and even then he played eight of 16 games. Mariota hasn’t been sacked as much and he’s finding open receivers on better reads. While new head coach Arthur Smith is a factor, the roller coaster effect he brought every weekend is gone. He’s lead Atlanta to a first place tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unless something drastic happens, the Falcons could stay in the playoff race thanks to their new starting quarterback.
Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts
Everyone who watched that atrocious Thursday night football game on October sixth might have forgotten Indianapolis won a critical second game in their season. The week and a half off worked when the Colts outperformed a division rival that’s embarrassed them two of their last three games.
The Jaguars haven’t looked the same since their five turnover game in Philadelphia, but they ran the ball well against Indianapolis’ defense the first three quarters. Things changed when the Matt Ryan-led offense took advantage of coverage breakdowns. Ryan had his best game of the season throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and posting a 107.6 quarterback rating. His 32 yard scoring pass to Alec Pierce gave Indianapolis their second lead of the game, and the two point conversion after put more pressure on Jacksonville’s offense to score with 23 seconds left. That wasn’t going to happen against a better adjusted defense.
Head coach Frank Reich is muddling through most of 2022 with an underperforming roster that needs overhauling once the season ends. The pressure to beat a Tennessee Titans team that was on a bye last week will build, but there’s no denying the Colts needed a winning streak to stay in the middle of the AFC playoff race. Reich is showing there’s still time for everyone to find their rhythm.
Seattle has one of the worst defenses in terms of total points and yards allowed this season. A big part is on the defensive line and linebacker core that plays up front. Most of the secondary has shown promise, especially rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen.
Woolen is a rookie drafted in this year’s fifth round. On Sunday, Woolen recovered a Kyler Murray fumble and later intercepted Murray to help Seattle pull off their third win of the season. He’s the first starting cornerback in Seattle to have an interception in four straight games since 2011.
There are comparisons of Woolen to former cornerback Richard Sherman, and they are valid. During Sunday’s home win against the Arizona Cardinals, FOX showed a graphic that compared their Seahawks profiles. Both were drafted in the fifth round, but the separation is one pick (Sherman at 154, Woolen at 153). Most importantly, Woolen and Sherman played wide receiver at one point in college. It explains why the duo worked together in the offseason on form, reading quarterbacks and shutting down star receivers.
Tariq Woolen is one of three rookie cornerbacks to hold a quarterback to a 40 rating or below when there’s a receiver targeted in his direction this season. He’ll be fun to watch as Seattle fights for a playoff spot.
The NFL’s week six scheduling
Commissioner Roger Goodell knew what fans wanted to see before the regular season started and slotted week six’s games perfectly.
The early afternoon games were entertaining but there was nothing that grabbed headlines or stood out. Yes, Joe Burrow’s return to Louisiana, the Ravens versus Giants and a divisional game in the AFC South were fun, but the most anticipated games were in the late afternoon and nighttime.
Buffalo versus Kansas City was a close game and lived up to expectations in what could determine playoff seeding via tiebreakers. Sunday night’s divisional game between Dallas and Philadelphia had a captivating second half before the Eagles pulled away late to stay undefeated and assure audiences Dak Prescott really is the Cowboys’ starting quarterback when he returns.
There’s a lot of complaining about the NFL not flexing games earlier than expected because of disappointments (like next Sunday night’s featured game), but this time everything went right.
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Losers: Green Bay Packers
When star receiver Davante Adams signed a massive deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, a lot of people asked who would quarterback Aaron Rodgers throw to for 17 games. We’re still trying to figure that out after week six.
Rodgers’ top target through six games is Allen Lazard. He’s not a bad receiver but he isn’t a starting number one on another roster. Robert Tonyan is a good number one tightend. After those two, it’s anyone’s guess.
Both Marcedes Lewis and Randall Cobb look their age and can’t stretch a field. More alarming is Rodgers overthrowing his receivers regularly, the latest example being runningback Aaron Jones on what would’ve been a touchdown drive Sunday.
A big part of this is on Packers management for neither drafting nor signing an elite receiver who can make big plays and expose disguised coverages. A lot of teams last offseason signed or traded for big name pass catchers. There were also two recent drafts where quality receivers wanted to join Aaron Rodgers and be a focal point in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Green Bay declined them all.
It doesn’t help they extended a 38 year old quarterback who’s offseason workouts consist of psychedelics. This team might be uncomfortable to watch the rest of the season if there’s no move for a receiver at the trade deadline.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football package
Online shopping site Amazon has been trying to get into the NFL since creator Jeff Bezos said he wanted to buy a team. The digital empire outbid t.v. network FOX to carry Thursday night games. Since entering they’ve spent a lot of money on games, broadcasting crews, streaming and a pre and postgame analysis roster.
Surprisingly, everything Amazon’s done has been money well spent…unless we’re talking about the games they’re stuck with every Thursday night.
The last two games featured two Pro-Bowl quarterbacks who threw four combined interceptions and no touchdowns in five quarters, then two teams who have no idea how a professional offense works in the 21st century. The next two weeks aren’t hopeful either.
The upcoming Thursday night game features a below average New Orleans team and an Arizona squad that can’t protect the football and score. The Thursday after has an average Buccaneers team against a Baltimore Ravens roster that for the first time ever has held double digit leads in every game but doesn’t have a winning record.
I don’t think Amazon had this in mind when they signed an 11 year, $13 billion deal to stream games. For those keeping track, that’s over $78.8 million for each lackluster game aired. Ouch.
Cleveland Browns defense
The main topics from New England’s win in Cleveland consist of Bill Belichick tying league founder George Halas in all-time wins and excitement over third string backup Bailey Zappe, who’s undefeated after two starts. The bigger storyline is how bad the Browns defense is despite the amount of acquired talent.
Cleveland’s defense has given up less than 20 points once this season: a Thursday night win against the Mitchell Trubisky led Pittsburgh Steelers. That took a lot of effort since Pittsburgh continually pushed downfield but blundered drives. Zappe threw over 300 yards and two touchdowns against a secondary consisting of Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II and John Johnson III. Many analysts thought these players would strengthen a unit that’s struggled to defend the pass. It also didn’t help franchise star and defensive game-changer Myles Garrett left with an arm injury. That exposed Cleveland’s vulnerable interior.
The Browns have to play Baltimore and Cincinnati before their bye week and it’s already bleak at 2-4. While much of the talk will be on quarterback play later in the season, it might not matter if the defense keeps giving up 30 or more points a game.
A team usually fires a general manager when they’ve done illegal drugs such as cocaine instead of their job. The alternative what if said general manager stays instead of losing his job is playing out in Arizona right now.
I’ve pulled no punches when it comes to how bad the Cardinals are this season but what’s worse is how the team has to stick with the roster moves and contract extensions of players and coaches after this year. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has four years left on his deal after the flame-out 2021-2022 season. Offensive captain and starting quarterback Kyler Murray also has four years left on a contract that guarantees $160 million.
Both Murray and Kingsbury cannot adapt and haven’t worried about some aspects of the game nor security because the general manager has assured them everything is fine. When an offense scores three points against the league’s worst defense, changes need to be made. Arizona can’t do much because the people signed and hired are locked in for at least two more years.