Week 6 Recap: Ravens Ready to Challenge the Bills
Wondering how the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Los Angeles Chargers so easily? Worried that the Cleveland Browns don't have what it takes to be more than wild-card fodder in 2021? Struggling to make sense of teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and Chicago Bears? Unable to process all the zany stuff that happened in the Dallas Cowboys' overtime victory against the New England Patriots?
Don't worry. Walkthrough is here to sort it all out for you, starting with a handy Q&A segment.
Question: Can the Chiefs return to 2020/2021 form?
Answer: Don't count on it.
The Chiefs may have won the least-impressive 31-13 road blowout in history against the Washington Football Team on Sunday. Washington led 13-10 at half. The Chiefs defense allowed J.D. McKissic to convert third-and-16 on a shallow underneath route, then forgot to cover two receivers streaking up the left sideline on Ricky Seals-Jones' go-ahead touchdown. Chiefs receivers slipped and fell when running routes. Patrick Mahomes coughed up an interception while getting hammered by a defender that would have gotten a lesser quarterback laughed off the Internet. Tommy Townsend shanked a punt. It was plug-ugly.
The Chiefs eventually realized they were facing a pushover, downshifted into "semi-traditional offense" mode, took the lead, and watched Taylor Heinicke fling scatterballs to his non-weapons.
The Chargers' loss to the Ravens (more on that later) helps the Chiefs cause, and upcoming meetings with the Titans and Giants will get them off the endangered playoff species list. But if what we saw on Sunday was the new Chiefs normal, they're a one-and-done playoff team at best.
Question: How are the Raiders responding to Jon Gruden's resignation?
Answer: It doesn't matter.
The Raiders smoked the injury-ravaged Broncos, so they don't appear to be too despondent about Gruden's dismissal or too busy having sociopolitical debates to study their game plans. So the Raiders are likely to perform about as well this season as we expected them to as of one week ago. They're back-of-the-pack wild-card contenders who may be experiencing a brief "new boss" bump.
The Broncos, on the other hand, are falling off the back of the pack after their 3-0 start. That's going to create an opportunity for some also-ran, whether it's the Raiders, Bengals, Browns or an unanticipated team like, heck, the Colts.
Speaking of the Browns...
Question: Why can't the Browns beat quality opponents?
Answer: Because they're not very good.
A quick breakdown of what's ailing the Browns after their 37-14 meltdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
- Baker Mayfield is playing with an injured non-throwing shoulder.
- Injury aside, Mayfield keeps trying to tell us with his errant throws and strip-sacks that he's not accurate, reliable, or mobile enough to be an upper-tier starter. A segment of the football world keeps responding with, "Hmm, let's watch him complete a few more boot passes against opponents like the Texans and parse every possible extenuating circumstance before we pass final judgement."
- The Browns receiving corps is thin.
- They've had a revolving cast of characters at both tackle positions for most of the year, including Sunday. Yes, we're parsing extenuating circumstances. Play along.
- The Browns secondary is thin, particularly at cornerback. The Browns pass defense may have been overrated earlier in the year because: A) Myles Garrett covers a lot of sins; B) several of their defensive backs were high draft picks or flashy free-agent signings; and C) they faced the Bears.
Put it all together and the Browns are basically the Titans, but in a tough division instead of a silly one. And the Titans in a tough division would have little chance of reaching the playoffs.
Question: Who will we still be talking about in late December: the Carolina Panthers or the Minnesota Vikings?
Answer: Don't be silly. No team lingers in the wild-card picture like the Vikings.
We saw all the things that make Vikings football so delightfully exasperating in their 34-28 overtime victory against the Panthers:
- Too many penalties? 11 of them!
- Kirk Cousins throwing in front of the sticks? He threw a 3-yard pass on third-and-5 from the 10-yard line early in the game.
- Draw plays on third-and-13, deep in their own territory? Heck yeah, sometimes with a holding penalty, just in case Alexander Mattison gains more than 5 yards.
- Critical missed field goals in the fourth quarter? Two of them!
Fortunately for the Vikings, Sam Darnold threw an interception on the first play of the game, his receivers kept dropping passes (DJ Moore also fumbled), and the Panthers defense could not stop the run. The Panthers still crawled back into the game and are still alive at 3-3, but it takes experience to hover in the rearview mirror of the top contenders despite predictable team-wide mediocrity for an entire season. The Vikings have been doing it since Matt Rhule was losing Boca Raton Bowls, and they will do it again this year.
Question: Will the Bears keep clinging to the bottom of the playoff chase?
Answer: Very doubtful.
The Bears had the Packers right where they wanted them in the first quarter. Their pass rush was getting to Aaron Rodgers consistently (an injury to center Josh Myers was a major factor). Justin Fields threw a few early strikes. Rookie running back Khalil Herbert looked like the NFL's best Herbert. The Bears offense and defense then took the entire second and third quarters off, allowing the Packers to coast to a 17-7 lead, then hold on for a 24-14 win.
Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor, and their offensive thinktank has allegedly designed an offense to make Fields comfortable and successful. It just doesn't contain many designed runs, or many screens, or even that many rollouts to take advantage of Fields' wheels and cut down his reads. So maybe Nagy & Friends have concocted a whole new way to make a mobile rookie quarterback successful and it just hasn't clicked yet. Or maybe they have no clue whatsoever what they are doing.
Question: Will Urban Meyer make it through the year as Jaguars coach?
Answer: Calendar year, maybe.
Meyer bought himself a hall pass until early December with Sunday morning's mucky 23-20 victory over the depressing Miami Dolphins. We won't need to check in on his job security again until the next viral lap dance video, or until the college positions start to open up and the Khan family starts seriously thinking about how many competitors they will have on the NFL coaching carousel.
One more thought here: the Jaguars' close losses (and Sunday's narrow victory) may be hurting Meyer more than weekly blowouts would. If the Jaguars were getting creamed every week, they would be written off as a team with no talent, and Meyer would face fewer weekly questions about play-calling blunders. Tight losses have highlighted coaching gaffes such as terrible fourth-down decisions, which in turn have become embarrassing press conference soundbites that make Meyer sound like a clueless ninny.
Of course, the margin of victory has nothing to do with Meyer canoodling at the bar when he should be on the team flight or cramming his foot into his mouth on union matters. We're just trying to quantify the difference between getting fired in Week 7 and getting fired around Week 16.
Game Spotlight: Baltimore Ravens 34, Los Angeles Chargers 6
What Happened: The Ravens played their most complete game of the 2021 season. The Chargers played their most incomplete game of the season. Lamar Jackson only threw one truly bad pass the whole afternoon. Justin Herbert only threw one truly great pass the whole afternoon. The Ravens proved that they're the biggest threat to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC. The Chargers demonstrated that their somewhat middling DVOA rating entering Week 6 was entirely justified.
What it Means: Jackson spent the last six days answering the final lingering questions about his status as a championship-caliber quarterback. Jackson proved against the Colts on Monday night that he can consistently complete passes along the sidelines and lead the Ravens on comebacks when they are trailing big in the second half. He followed that up with a revelatory game as a ball-distributor from the pocket on Sunday.
Jackson's boxscore stats against the Chargers weren't all that impressive: 19-of-27 for 167 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions (one of which bounced of Rashod Bateman's chest), 51 rushing yards. But Jackson spent Sunday afternoon double-clutching and pump-faking to get receivers open on short passes, side-arming throws into tight windows, and scrambling judiciously for first downs. Jackson proved that he can be a game manager against a quality opponent if called upon. Throw in a much better effort by the Ravens defense than the one we saw on Monday night and the usual heroics by Justin Tucker and the return game, and the Ravens are the most complete team in the AFC south of Interstate 90.
Walkthrough listed two weaknesses for the Chargers in Friday's game previews: a porous run defense and terrible special teams. Both issues were on full display on Sunday. Jackson and the Ravens' 2016 fantasy first-rounder running backs (Le'Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, we think we saw Matt Forte out there at one point) combined for 187 rushing yards, while the Chargers missed an extra point and allowed long returns to Devin Duvernay when the game was still competitive.
We also pointed out that the Chargers' offense got better every week for five straight weeks according to DVOA. So they were either turning into the 2007 Patriots before our eyes or due for at least some degree of course correction. The latter happened, in part because the Chargers could not convert on several manageable third-and-medium attempts on Sunday.
The real Chargers offense lies somewhere between the one that couldn't stay on the field on Sunday and the one that smoked the Raiders and survived a shootout with the Browns. That offense can certainly pull a team that cannot stop the run or kick extra points to the playoffs. But it cannot pull them through the playoffs.
What's Next: The Ravens host the daisy-stomping 4-2 Bengals. The Chargers get a bye to search for solutions at kicker. Maybe the Jaguars can trade them one!
Game Spotlight: Dallas Cowboys 35, New England Patriots 29 (OT)
What Happened: The Cowboys convincingly outplayed the Patriots for 66 minutes but nearly lost because of some typical Cowboys mistakes and the Patriots "mystique," which is how Walkthrough frames "home-cooked Foxborough officiating" when we don't want to field angry emails from Patriots fans.
The Cowboys trailed 21-20 late in the fourth quarter when Trevon Diggs returned a deflected pass for a 42-yard pick-six. Diggs and safety Damontae Kazee were burned for a 75-yard touchdown by Kendrick Bourne on the very next play from scrimmage. The Cowboys then drove to kick a field goal to force overtime, their defense stopped the Patriots on their overtime possession, and Dak Prescott connected with CeeDee Lamb on a game-winning 35-yard rollout touchdown.
That's the best synopsis Walkthrough can offer without elaborating on a 12-to-5 penalty ratio or Prescott landing with everything north of his ankles in the end zone for an apparent touchdown that was spotted at the 1-yard line.
And before you send that angry email, remember: I'm a lifelong Eagles fan.
What it Means: We didn't learn anything about the Cowboys that we did not know before. Their defense can be picked apart. They're not the league's most disciplined team. Mike McCarthy can be a little quick to call for 51-yard field goal attempts on fourth-and-2. But Dak Prescott is playing so well, and the Cowboys offense is so balanced, that the Cowboys can win in a very hostile environment despite some red zone turnovers, a few unforced errors, and a 68-yard penalty differential.
The Patriots found a way (heh) to play another top NFC contender tough at home after nearly spoiling Tom Brady's homecoming flex two weeks ago. Mac Jones threw downfield more than he typically does and was legitimately impressive as opposed to theoretically impressive. The Patriots could fool someone who isn't watching closely into thinking they could be a legit wild-card team if they can turn some of their close losses around. But you know who isn't fooled? Bill Belichick. Watch him punt on fourth-and-short or kneel to run out the final 1:30 of the first half and you can tell Belichick realizes that his team is as close to 0-6 as it is to 2-4, if not closer. He's coaching not to lose, and it keeps almost working.
What's Next: The Cowboys get a bye, which means 93% of the population won't be forced to watch them in the 4 p.m. window. Sure, they were fun to watch this week. But can we give, say, the undefeated Arizona Cardinals a turn once in a while?
The Patriots host the Jets. It seems as though they get to face the Jets every other week so they can keep up appearances.
Extra-quick news 'n' notes from off the field this weekend.
Per an Associated Press Report: 'The NFL has found no other current personnel that have sent emails with racist, homophobic or misogynistic language like those written by Jon Gruden that led to his resignation as Las Vegas Raiders coach.'
Jokes about how unlikely this is to be true aside, a lot of NFL decision-makers probably saved themselves by not knowing how to use email or type in complete sentences.
Emails reveal that former Washington Football Team exec Bruce Allen and top NFL lawyer Jeff Pash traded jokes about creating a 'Lincoln Rule' as an alternative to the 'Rooney Rule.'
Walkthrough would love to see what grade Allen would earn on a seventh-grade history quiz. Unfortunately, Pash would end up grading it.
NFL on the Taunting Rule: 'We're right where we need to be.'
"Everyone's afraid to express themselves and we get to mete out arbitrary punishments without recourse or accountability. It's freakin' paradise."
Arizona Cardinals acquire Zach Ertz from the Eagles in exchange for rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick.
Remember when the Patriots traded a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu in 2019? LOL.
Christian McCaffrey placed on Injured Reserve
McCaffrey is looking more and more like Saquon Barkley, and the Panthers run the risk of turning into what the Giants would be if no one was paying any real attention to them.
Week 6 Awards
No week is complete until the awards are doled out.
Defensive Player of the Week
Intercepting two passes in one game is hard. Even when facing the Giants. Even when you and your defensive coordinator appears to know the Giants' game plan better than the Giants do. So this week's award goes to Rams defensive back Taylor Rapp for undercutting a pair of routes and getting Daniel Jones to throw two accurate passes directly to him. Here's one:
FIRST INT OF THE SEASON FOR @trapp07 😤
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 17, 2021
And here's the other:
ANOTHA ONE 👀 @Trapp07 with his 2nd INT of the day!
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 17, 2021
Honorable mention goes to Cowboys edge rusher Randy Gregory for a pair of sacks that gave Mac Jones a combined 1.45 nanoseconds to get rid of the ball.
Offensive Line of the Week
Let's not overthink it: the Cowboys rushed for 122 yards, and the Patriots were held without a sack, so the usual suspects Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terence Steele earn more hardware for the Plowboys trophy case.
Special Teamer of the Week
Luke Gifford blocked and recovered a punt against the Patriots, but the Cowboys couldn't punch in a touchdown because Dak Prescott needed to get more than his entire body into the end zone on third-and-goal, then fumbled on fourth-and-goal. So Gifford's play didn't have enough impact to earn him a trophy.
Frankie Luvu blocked a punt that Kenny Robinson recovered for a touchdown, but the Panthers lost to the Vikings and therefore will receive only derision and scorn from Walkthrough.
That leaves Jaguars kicker Matthew Wright , who wins this week's award for his trick-shot 54- and 53-yard curveballs to tie and win the game against the Dolphins.
Wright's three field goals today were the Jaguars' first field goals of the 2021 season. It only took Urban Meyer until the leaves turned to figure out how kicking works! He's sure to figure out fourth-and-short before Christmas! Just kidding: he'll be interviewing with power-conference athletic directors by Christmas.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Washington receiver Dyami Brown is either the greatest playmaking threat since Gale Sayers or the greatest actor since Sir Lawrence Olivier. Brown ran a little fake tunnel screen and three Chiefs defenders gaped flat-footed at him instead of covering the receivers streaking past them. L'Jarius Sneed appeared to have man coverage on Brown, so he's excused from criticism. But Mike Hughes and Ben Neimann let their receivers run free without deep safety support. Tyler Heinicke chose Ricky Seals-Jones as the recipient of the easiest fast-break score this side of the NBA All Star Game.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Burn This Play!
The Cardinals are undefeated, but Kliff Kingsbury and his COVID-negative lieutenants make some wacky decisions on the final play before halftime. Kingsbury called for a 68-yard field goal which resulted in a long Jaguars touchdown return in Week 3. On Sunday, Vance Joseph unveiled this innovative anti-Hail Mary scheme with three seconds left:
Baker Mayfield's Hail Mary 57-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones traveled 66.4 yards in the air, the longest completed pass in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) by 2.0 yards.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 17, 2021
It takes the dots to really do this defense justice. Linebackers Jordan Hicks (58) and Isaiah Simmons (9) are on the field because … reasons? Is a 4-2-5 really the best configuration when the opponent's only hope is a 50-plus-yard touchdown? The Cardinals appear to be playing quarters—not some deluxe protect-the-end-zone variation on quarters, but basic soft "third-and-15 leading by three scores" quarters, with everyone scooched just a little further back than usual. No defender rolls to the three-receiver side at all while two cornerbacks and a safety cover rookie receiver Anthony Schwartz (10), who must have been wearing an Odell Beckham mask. (Beckham was dealing with a shoulder injury at this point in the game).
Next time, we want to see a 4-0-6-plus-DeAndre Hopkins prevent package, and any defender who isn't within 3 yards of either the quarterback or the end zone when the pass is in the air gets traded to the Giants as punishment.
Do you think we get a little carried away with the first-quarter props and same-game parlays around here? It sometimes seems like Walkthrough loses a little money by wagering some arcane first-quarter split or moneyline-and-over combo instead of, you know, the result of the game.
Perhaps next week we will learn our lesson. But not this week, because it's time for yet another Same-Game Parlay and Prop-a-Palooza!
Jacksonville Jaguars First Half Moneyline versus Miami Dolphins at +135
Rationale: The Jaguars have been strong starters for most of the year; the Dolphins are both slow starters and a beatable opponent; and Walkthrough loves being able to use the first payout of the day on a breakfast sausage-egg-and-cheese sando on a long roll.
Result: We didn't count on the Jaguars defense being so squishy over the middle early in the game or their offense moving backwards on three straight possessions to set up short Dolphins field goal drives.
After trailing at halftime, the Jaguars then took the lead with the first drive of the third quarter and won the game just to troll us. LOSS.
Washington Football Team Under 2.5 touchdowns versus Kansas City Chiefs at -115
Rationale: We leapt on this when Terry McLaurin appeared on the late-week injury report, the Chiefs' terrible defense be damned.
Result: McLaurin played, but the Heinicke Hive has been exterminated. The Chiefs gave Washington multiple opportunities to make Walkthrough a loser, but Heinicke only took advantage of one of them. WIN.
Dallas Cowboys -1 After First Quarter versus New England Patriots at +105
Rationale: The Cowboys entered the game outscoring opponents 45-24 in the first quarter. The Patriots were getting outscored 23-10 in the first quarter because Mac Jones spends the beginning of most games getting poised.
Result: Curses! Foiled by a fourth-down stop, an interception in the end zone, and actual poise (as opposed to "say nice things about him because the Patriots has a huge fan base" poise) from Jones. LOSS.
Arizona Cardinals Moneyline versus Cleveland Browns +150
Rationale: We make many of these wagers on Thursday afternoon so they can be part of Friday's Walkthough. So sometimes we end up placing the bet before we know things like "the head coach has COVID." We could cash out or politely pretend the wager never happened for content purposes, but Walkthrough is just TOO REAL for that.
Result: The Cardinals don't need Kingsbury to have a good time, and it pays to be real. WIN.
Seattle Seahawks +5.5 and Over 42.5 points versus Pittsburgh Steelers at +265
Rationale: If Walkthrough has a system, it's A) bet on the backup in his first start of the season, and B) look for low over-unders in games that have a high points-off-turnovers probability. So this was a family-sized bag of sour cream and onion crinkle chips: the superego said "no way" but the id said "EAT THE WHOLE DAMN THING."
Result: Geno Smith was terrible, but the Seahawks ran the ball well enough to keep the game close. The turnover-fest never happened, but both teams crawled down the field often enough to force overtime. A parlay that looks odd on paper can make a dreary game watchable to the bitter, bitter, end. WIN.
Final Tally: Walkthrough came out ahead thanks to that Sunday night action. Now, let's keep the momentum going into Monday night.
Monday Night Action: Buffalo Bills (-6) at Tennessee Titans
No parlays. No historical ATS splits. (OK, one historical ATS split: the Bills are 18-9-1 ATS in non-divisional games since 2019). No musings about how strong the Bills are or how the Titans are practically the Lions with Derrick Henry, better luck, and a creamier schedule. Just take the Bills before the sharps show up two hours before kickoff and start pushing the line over a touchdown.