Week 7 Recap: Ja'Marr Chase has the Whole AFC Getting Moss'd
The 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year race is over. Ja'Marr Chase won the award hands-down with his eight-catch, 201-yard, one-touchdown afternoon in the 41-17 Cincinnati Bengals rout of the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. Anyone who disagrees sleeps in a Tedy Bruschi jersey that they have not washed since Super Bowl XLII and thinks "poise" is a quarterback stat.
But Chase should set his sights on more than just the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Chase is on pace for 85 catches, 1,821 yards, and 14.5 touchdowns in a 17-game season. To throttle back to 16 games for the sake of historical comparison, he would be on pace for an 80-1,723-13.7 statline in a typical year from 1978 through 2020.
No wide receiver in history has caught more than 70 passes, gained 1,500-plus receiving yards, and caught 10 touchdown passes in his rookie season, so Chase is on pace to do something historic and unprecedented. Widening the criteria to 50 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns results in seven outstanding rookies: Billy Howton for the 1952 Packers, Bill Groman for the 1960 Houston Oilers, tight end Mike Ditka for the 1961 Bears, John Jefferson for the 1978 Chargers, Randy Moss for the 1998 Vikings, Mike Evans for the 2014 Buccaneers and Odell Beckham for the 2014 Giants.
Randy Moss: that's the dude we were looking for. Chase reminds Walkthrough of Moss.
Just before halftime, Chase caught a pass on a dig route and ran 26 yards to set up a field goal. One of the fellows at our favorite tavern shouted "that Chase kid just burned a linebacker." Something else was happening on another screen—two Chiefs defenders were tripping over each other on a screen pass or something—so we didn't immediately check the replay.
Later in the game, Chase took a quick slant upfield for a 82-yard touchdown that ripped the Ravens' hearts out. "That linebacker got burnt again" the same fellow at the bar exclaimed. It turns out that he was confused by the "44" on the jersey of Marlon Humphrey, the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback covering Chase on both plays. Or perhaps our fellow viewer saw Chase running circles around someone on multiple plays and assumed Humphrey just had to be a linebacker to be so thoroughly outclassed.
That's Chase's Randy Moss factor. When he's at his best, he looks bigger than the biggest defender in the secondary and faster than the fastest guys on the field. He appears capable of winning in the first two steps like a 5-foot-10 slot jitterbug but can also rip a contested catch away from Thanos if necessary.
So Chase deserves to become the first wide receiver to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, no matter how many touchdowns Mac Jones throws against last-place teams. But Chase is playing so well and having such a huge impact on the AFC playoff race that he deserves more.
Most Valuable Player? No, that would be getting carried away.
Offensive Player of the Year? Unless the Curse of 370 strikes Derrick Henry on Tuesday morning, that ain't happening either.
One of those goofy Air and Ground or Best Fantasy Player awards? Sure, but who cares?
A Super Bowl ring? Maybe next year or the year after that. We'll get to the Bengals in more detail in a moment. But while the AFC playoff race is topsy-turvy right now, it's not quite "Bengals win the Super Bowl" topsy-turvy.
Some rookie records? Now we're talking. Justin Jefferson set the NFL rookie receiving yardage record with 1,400 yards last season; Gorman holds the pro record with 1,473 yards, but 1960 AFL records deserve an asterisk. Moss holds the rookie receiving touchdown record with 17. Anquan Boldin holds the receptions record with 101. Chase should shatter the yardage record, perhaps without needing a 17th game, and Moss' touchdown mark may be within reach.
And if Chase cannot quite sweep all the rookie receiving records but finishes the year around 85-1,800-14, he deserves recognition as the greatest rookie receiver ever, or at the very least the second-best behind Moss. He's that special.
All of that stuff is in the future, however, Right now, Chase and the Bengals have a playoff berth to pursue. So let's change the subject, but only slightly.
Game of the Week: Cincinnati Bengals 41, Baltimore Ravens 17
What Happened: There was more to the Bengals' blowout of the Ravens than Ja'Marr Chase's breakout-from-the-breakout-pack performance:
- Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for 111 rushing yards and consistently kept the Bengals ahead of the sticks with gash runs on early downs. The Bengals offensive line looked solid when run-blocking.
- Joe Burrow demonstrated remarkable presence in an exploding pocket when the Ravens brought constant first-half blitzes. C.J. Uzomah and Tee Higgins both made big plays after Burrow escaped the pocket or sidestepped defenders.
- Most significantly, the Bengals defense had another excellent all-around outing. Walkthrough was concerned that the Bengals defense was a strength-of-schedule mirage entering this game. Nope. It's very good, both along the line and in the secondary.
What it Means: The Bengals are now 3-0 in the AFC and 2-0 in the AFC North. They're building a playoff tiebreaker portfolio just as other teams (including the Chiefs) are falling off the chase. It's premature to count the Bengals among the Super Bowl contenders just yet, but we're also past the point where they can be written off as upstarts with a few fluky early wins.
There's no reason for the Ravens to panic just yet. But they lost right tackle Patrick Mekari to an ankle injury on Sunday, depleting an already tissue-thin line. Latavius Murray's absence further stunted the Ravens running game. And losses to the Raiders and Bengals could cause tiebreaker issues down the line for the Ravens.
Bottom line: Sunday could have been a statement win for the Ravens. Instead, they let the Bengals do the talking.
What's Next: The Ravens will try to get healthy over the bye. The Bengals get a glorified bye and a visit to New York to face the Jets.
Game Spotlight: Tennessee Titans 27, Kansas City Chiefs 3
What Happened: The Titans knocked the Chiefs out of Super Bowl contention and Patrick Mahomes out of the game with a head injury, in that order. It was impressive, but the Titans have suffered so many injuries of their own in their victories over the Bills and Chiefs that they may have scored a triple-knockout.
The Chiefs' defensive game plan appeared to be to stop Derrick Henry at all costs. The Chiefs did hold Henry to just 89 yards, but they also blitzed so recklessly that they reacted to every screen pass like ancient villagers witnessing their first solar eclipse. The Titans were 6-of-7 on third-down conversions in the first half, with Frank Clark jumping offsides to extend one drive, Jeremy McNichols taking a third-and-9 screen near his own goal line for 10 yards on the next, and A.J. Brown catching a 24-yard touchdown on an elusive "run straight up the left sideline" route to take a 14-0 lead that started the runaway.
As for the Chiefs offense, it lapsed into self-parody against a defense starting multiple rookies in the secondary: dumb turnovers, drive-killing penalties, a silly Travis Kelce lateral, and a stubborn insistence upon steering into the skid of their failing video game tactics instead of just playing football the way everyone else plays it.
What it Means for the Titans: The Titans are undeniable Super Bowl contenders after beating the Bills and Chiefs. The question is how long they can stay in the picture.
Linemen Rodger Saffold and Nate Davis were in and out of Sunday's game with injuries; Taylor Lewan was inactive with a concussion. Fullback Khari Blasingame was also hurt during the game, and of course the Titans use fullbacks more than many teams. Cornerbacks Kendall Fulton and Caleb Farley are both on a very long IR list after injuries over the last two weeks. T
The Titans don't really have the depth to survive so many injuries at critical positions. But perhaps they do not have to. The Titans can sew up the AFC South if they beat the Colts next week and already have an excellent portfolio of playoff tiebreakers. So they have some cushion while the offensive line heals up and solutions emerge in the secondary. Teams like the Ravens and the AFC West bunch don't have that kind of luxury. And as we just noted, the Ravens are hurting too.
What it Means for the Chiefs: Aaron Schatz and I had a conversation on the Thursday Schatz and Tanier podcast about whether "sloppiness" is really a thing in the NFL. Aaron argued that penalties and follow-the-bouncing-ball turnovers aren't persistent or predictive; teams that appear sloppy for a few weeks eventually slide back toward the mean.
That sounds convincing. But the key word here is "eventually." The Chiefs have been self-destructive for seven weeks, and they appear to be getting worse. Frankly and unscientifically, they look like a "Super Bowl hangover" team, or like a bunch of veterans who have freebased their press clippings and tuned out their coaches. Now they're 3-4 with a battered quarterback and slim Super Bowl odds. By the time regression to the mean occurs, they'll be regressing to the bottom of the wild-card picture at best.
What's Next: The Titans embark on a two-game road trip to visit the Colts and Rams which will propel them either to the front of the Super Bowl race or back to their traditional role as the designated AFC South representative. It sounds like Mahomes will be fine, and the Chiefs next host the Giants (hooray!) followed by the Packers (oh dear).
Walkthrough actually got to see all of the Week 7 early games thanks to a harmonic converge which only happens about once per season: the Eagles had a late kickoff (so the local tavern didn't have them on 75% of the screens, rendering its expensive satellite package nearly pointless) and there weren't many early games due to bye weeks and baseball.
That means we didn't have to stay up until the wee hours grinding NFL Game Pass. And that, in turn, means we can comment briefly and informatively about every single early game! (We usually end up discreetly hiding something like a Bills-Texans game in the Sportsbook segment).
If you didn't watch the early games carefully, you could come away with some misinterpretations or false reads based on the final scores or some individual statistics. But Walkthrough is here to help you look beyond the box score at what really happened.
Green Bay Packers 24, Washington Football Team 10
The Packers toyed with Washington like a bored tabby cat swatting a ragged toy mouse all afternoon. They also got a little help from some unforced errors and hinky officiating. Taylor Heinicke had a touchdown called back because officials ruled that he was "giving himself up" when he dove untouched for the end zone, which is totally a thing football players do on third-and-goal. The usually reliable Terry McLaurin dropped a potential fourth-down conversion and got hit in the facemask with what should have been a touchdown pass. The Packers took a semi-comfortable lead on Washington miscues and Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams dominance, then spent the rest of the game getting their field goals blocked and recovering their own fumbles while pinned near the goal line.
False Read: Contenders sometimes win flat games against third-tier opponents. This is the Packers' second such win in two weeks and feels like about their 15th such win in the last three years. Compare what they did against Washington to what the Buccaneers and Cardinals did to their cupcakes this week for a sense of what's likely to happen to the Packers (again) come playoff time.
New England Patriots 54, New York Jets 13
Mac Jones doesn't just throw screen passes to receivers 60 inches away—sometimes he throws intermediate crossing routes to tight ends and possession receivers who are wide open because the Patriots are facing a glorified expansion team or AAA affiliate! And when the Patriots want to throw deep, Jones can always flick the ball to Kendrick Bourne for a wide receiver option.
Zach Wilson got knocked out of this game on a pair of low hits, the first of which would get a defender arrested in Foxborough if it happened to Jones and buried up to his neck surrounded by hornets' nests and doused with Mountain Dew if he did it to Tom Brady. No flag was thrown. See Walkthrough from October 14 for more on this phenomenon.
False Read: The final score of this game will skew Patriots statistics and fuel "We'd be 5-2 if not for a few plays" fantasies in New England for weeks to come.
New York Giants 25, Carolina Panthers 3
The Giants led this game at halftime 5-3, and both teams came by that score honestly.
Panthers receivers dropped passes as if Sam Darnold were their mortal enemy. Then Darnold threw a red zone interception directly to Giants cornerback James Bradbury, which eventually led to his benching. P.J. Walker was 3-of-14 in relief, and he didn't play as well as his stats suggest.
The Giants appeared to be in third-and-12 for this entire game, got stuffed at the goal line on fourth down, and did many of the other things that make Giants games so unintentionally entertaining. (Daniel Jones started the game with one of his sneaky read-option runs, then tried to do the same thing early in the third quarter and was smothered by three defenders). They did everything they could to lose. The Panthers simply out-Giantsed them.
False Read: You know how this goes. The Giants interpret every victory as proof that they have turned the corner, are coming together despite adversity, and other assorted Gettleman-Judge hokum. Then they lose two or three more games.
Atlanta Falcons 30, Miami Dolphins 28
Tua Tagovailoa looked sharp throwing quick slants on the opening drive. He also came alive in the fourth quarter, because the goldfish my parents buried in a cigar box in the flower bed in 1979 could come alive against the Falcons in the fourth quarter. In between, Tua threw a pair of interceptions directly at defenders and could not move the offense against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
As for the rest of this game, let's quote another Sunday tavern patron (it was a lively crowd): "Is it just me, or do the Falcons and Dolphins play each other about 12 times per year?"
False Read: Tagovailoa ended up with four touchdown passes. There's already a cottage industry springing up among both Dolphins fans and the I understand quarterback play on deeper levels than you Internet crowd claiming that Tua is playing well in ways that those of us who were never NFL third-stringers cannot appreciate. This game will sustain them for weeks to come.
Whatever. Tua just had the multi-touchdown game that every Marcus Mariota or Mitch Trubisky has early in his career. Walkthrough wants to see real progress from a second-year quarterback, not "almost led his team to victory against the Jaguars and Falcons" progress.
Week 7 Awards
Served hot 'n' spicy the way you like 'em.
Defender of the Week
Markus Golden, who is filling in for Chandler Jones, followed up his two-sack performance against the Browns in Week 6 with two more sacks against the Texans. The first came on a nifty inside twist. The second resulted in a strip and a recovery by Golden, setting up the first Cardinals touchdown in the second quarter.
Offensive Line of the Week
The Patriots offensive line pushed the Jets out of the stadium and back down I-95 to New Jersey, but the Jets barely count as an NFL team anymore. So this week's award goes to the much-maligned (by me) Bengals offensive line of Jonah Williams, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, Jackson Carmen and Riley Reiff. The Bengals rushed for 111 yards, much of it before the game was a runaway. And while Joe Burrow had to Houdini his way out of the pocket now and then, his line got the job done when it counted, despite relentless Ravens blitzing.
Special Teamer of the Week
Adetokunbo Ogundeji blocked and recovered a Jason Sanders field goal attempt early in the second quarter, setting up the first Falcons touchdown of the game against the Dolphins.
If Brian Flores and his entire staff are canned at the end of the year, remember the day when the Dolphins were outperformed by the Falcons on special teams.
Honorable mention goes to Tremon Smith and Garrett Wallow of the Texans coverage team: Smith flipped the ball backwards just as it was about to bounce into the end zone, and Wallow pounced on it at the 2-yard line. Kyler Murray was sacked for a safety on the next play.
That downed punt (and the safety that followed) may have been the best thing that happened to the Texans since they won their opener. The organization should reward Smith and Wallow by releasing them.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Officially, this was a critical third-quarter sack by Giants defenders Leonard Williams and Azeez Ojulari (who deserves Defender of the Week honorable mention). Unofficially, this is Panthers rookie offensive tackle Brady Christensen's first sack, because he's the one who wraps his arms around Sam Darnold and flops on top of him.
3rd down sack for Leonard Williams & Azeez Ojulari! pic.twitter.com/7Mg51zNTBY
— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinner_) October 24, 2021
Christensen could have been flagged for roughing the passer because he landed with all of his body weight on Darnold. Walkthrough's theory that the rest of the Panthers consider Darnold their sworn enemy is starting to make more and more sense.
Burn This Play!
Let's examine the Eagles' surprise onside kick to start the third quarter:
An onside kick to start the 2nd half?
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) October 24, 2021
Who was supposed to recover this kick? Jake Elliott himself? If so, is he aware of that? Did any other Eagles player know it was coming? Is there any evidence that the Eagles ever practiced this play? What on earth gave Nick Sirianni the impression that the team was executing well enough to pull off such trickery when they were trailing 17-7 at halftime and had not done anything right since their first possession?
For contrast, check out how the Lions—THE LIONS—execute their surprise onside kick. Note the definitive purpose with which Austin Seibert chips the ball to a designated spot on the field, then stays out of the way as four teammates converge on the ball's location. The Lions recover even though a Rams touched the ball first. Elliott's onside kick could have caromed off three Raiders and there still wouldn't have been an Eagles player within range of a recovery except a sliding, flailing kicker.
In summary, Eagles coaches have now proven that they are incapable of game-planning coherently for any of the three phases of football.
Lions recover the 1st-quarter onside kick❗️
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 24, 2021
Walkthrough Sportsbook: Backdoor Cover Lovers Special!
There were three double-digit point spreads in Week 7. There are going to be many more in the weeks to come as the Texans, Jets, and other teams bumble through their schedules against far superior opponents. So let's examine Sunday's heavy underdogs and try to answer the biggest question on every backdoor cover lover's mind: can any of this year's weaklings be counted upon to cover a big spread in the weeks to come?
(All spreads as of Sunday morning around 10 a.m. Eastern on DraftKings.)
Houston Texans (+18 at Arizona Cardinals): lost 31-5
Walkthrough thought we had things all figured out when we took the Texans +10.5 for the first half this week. It was a brilliant play until the Cardinals drove for a field goal after the two-minute warning to take a 17-5 lead.
The Texans opened as 14.5-point home dogs against the Rams in Week 8; that line will probably drift quickly toward +17 or so. There is no reason on earth to bet on the Texans against any opponent unless you are getting 20 points. And that's unlikely to change much if Tua Tagovailoa, Gardner Minshew, or Taylor Heinicke is their quarterback in three weeks.
That said, Walkthrough will still look for bargains on first-quarter and first-half props because the Texans perform fairly well early in games, and also because we are sickos who love early-game props.
Detroit Lions (+16 at Los Angeles Rams): covered 28-19
The Lions are now 4-3 ATS this season, and the public should have them pegged as the team most likely to throw surprise onside kicks, fake punts, and possibly large boulders at opponents in an effort to claw out some wins.
The Lions can cover most spreads under a touchdown. If you like the favorites against them, consider a moneyline-and-over/under parlay so you don't lose when the Lions tie the game in the fourth quarter before losing themselves on a last-second field goal.
Chicago Bears (+11.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers): lost 38-3
This line dipped from +12 in between the time Walkthrough typed the first draft of the header above and the time we actually placed the bet on Sunday morning. Sharps clearly thought the Bears were undervalued, and the sharps were as wrong as we were. The Bears offense has flatlined so abysmally that there's nothing their defense can do to keep them in games against quality opponents.
The Bears are unlikely to be double-digit underdogs again until they visit the Packers in Week 15, though they will come in at at least -7 when they host the Ravens in Week 11. All of that is down the road. Until then, keep an eye on what happens when Andy Dalton takes over again as quarterback, then Matt Nagy is fired, then Justin Fields takes over again at quarterback.
New York Jets (+7 at New England Patriots): lost 54-13
Walkthrough didn't trust the Patriots as touchdown favorites, so we went with a same-game parlay of Patriots straight up AND over 42.5 at +150. And we won, baby! Just don't ask what the payout would have been if we had taken the Patriots minus the points instead.
Walkthrough doesn't trust the Jets to cover until the spread reaches about +14 because the whole roster just appears to be a step-and-a-half slower than opponents such as the Patriots at this point. (And the Patriots aren't exactly the Greatest Show on Turf). Zach Wilson's injury is likely to result in some lopsided spreads over the next few weeks. The Bengals opened -8.5 on the road against the Jets. Hit it before it climbs into the double digits.
Washington Football Team (+8.5 at Green Bay Packers): lost 24-10
Washington looks like a team that should backdoor cover, but they are 1-6 ATS. They blew multiple chances to make a game of things on Sunday, and the Taylor Heinicke Experience has been held over for a few more weeks due to Ryan Fitzpatrick's lingering hip injury.
Assuming no sane human wants any part of Washington at the Broncos next week, the game to watch is Buccaneers at Washington in Week 10. Don't look for the backdoor cover unless Washington is at least +12 or so.
Whatever you do, remember that Washington doesn't have a bad offense and a decent defense. They have a horrendous offense and a bad defense. And they have shown little evidence that they want to crawl back into games in the fourth quarter.
Monday Night Action: New Orleans Saints (-4.5) at Seattle Seahawks
We have seen what Geno Smith has become after three seasons of fermentation on the Seahawks bench: older Geno Smith. Walkthrough covered a parlay by wagering on Geno in his first start, but there's no way we're taking a chance on him in his second start.
We like the Saints but hate laying more than a field goal on their offense. So it's time for a same-game parlay! (Seems like it's always time for a same-game parlay). We're bundling the Saints straight up with the over of 42.5 at +177. That gives us a path to victory if this game becomes a points-off-turnovers festival or turns out like the Week 6 Sunday Night Snoozer: two bad offenses trudging up and down the field settling for field goals, but keeping things close enough that everyone is still trying to score in the fourth quarter.
On roughly this date 10 years ago, Tim Tebow made his first start of the 2011 season for the Denver Broncos.
What happened on that Sunday against the Dolphins and in the weeks afterward made history.
I'm planning some special Tebowmania: 10 Years After content for the upcoming weeks. But for now, take a look back at Audibles at the Line from that fateful week. The story that would dominate our lives for months and reshape my personal history and career arrived in full flower on that first Sunday. Everyone at Football Outsiders somehow knew something utterly ridiculous yet important was happening. Those Sunday night musings are like a firsthand account from Pompeii on August 24, 79 C.E.
Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Fortunately for Western Civilization, Tebowmania was both unrepeatable and unforgettable.