Jordan Love, Trevor Siemian, and The Replacements
NFL Week 9 - It turns out that the gap between Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers is rather significant.
The Green Bay Packers were without Rodgers this week, for reasons so well-publicized that Walkthrough's octogenarian mother is semi-familiar with the details. We all anticipated that Love would be a step down, but not three flights of stairs down.
Love (19-of-34 for 190 yards, one touchdown, one interception) was inaccurate on routine passes. He had no concept of how to recognize a blitz, make adjustments, or manage the pocket. He threw lots of passes up for grabs. Basics like being ready for the shotgun snap eluded him at times. He looked more like a Josh Johnson-type emergency quarterback than a first-round pick from two years ago who has supposedly been groomed for just this sort of scenario.
Sunday's loss to a Chiefs team that's barely scraping by won't hurt the Packers much. The NFC North remains theirs to lose. The race to the top seed in the NFC playoffs is a quagmire, thanks to recent Buccaneers and Cowboys upsets. And Rodgers will come back from quarantine feeling vindicated, which is his best possible feeling. The Packers' 2021 season outlook on Monday morning is not appreciably different than it was last Wednesday morning: they're poised to lose the NFC Championship Game due to the collapse of their run defense or (based on Sunday's C-plot) their special teams.
The Packers' long-term outlook is foggier. Love didn't look like Rodgers' heir apparent, and Rodgers apparently will need an heir rather soon. (More on Mister Personality at the end of today's recap.) Anyone hoping that Love would throw four touchdowns and create a smooth 2022 succession plan in Green Bay had to be disappointed, and by "anyone" we mean folks with last names such as "LaFleur" and "Gutekunst." But a contender cannot afford to look that far down the line. And the Packers are indeed contenders.
So are the Cardinals. And if we stretch the definition a smidge, so are the Titans and Saints. Let's see how their replacement quarterbacks (and running back) fared in Week 9.
Colt McCoy, Arizona Cardinals
Kliff Kingsbury hooked McCoy (22-of-26 for 249 yards, one touchdown) up with the deluxe veteran backup game plan in the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the 49ers: lots of short passes with YAC opportunities; some trickery (Christian Kirk's option pass); a dash of Chris Streveler Wildcat; plenty of rugged running from Chase Edmonds, James Conner, and Eno Benjamin. McCoy is a standard Get You Through a Game backup, and that's precisely what he did.
Kyler Murray is not expected to miss significant time, so McCoy's mission is likely accomplished. Walkthrough speculated on Wednesday that spot starts by backup quarterbacks will become more common in the era of the 17-game season. The Cardinals, unlike the Packers, demonstrated how those spot starts should be handled.
Adrian Peterson, Jeremy McNichols, and D'Onta Foreman, Tennessee Titans
By the time the Titans needed their three-headed Derrick Henry replacement committee, they already held a 14-3 lead thanks to Matthew Stafford's impersonations of Carson Wentz and 2013 Matthew Stafford on a pair of interceptions, a pick-six and an almost pick-six. When the Titans needed fourth-and-short conversions on the drive that gave them a 21-3 lead, they turned to Ryan Tannehill on a sweep and a bootleg. Peterson got a goal-line Wildcat carry, and the Titans tried to cross things up with a Marcus Johnson reverse (Jalen Ramsey tossed him into the stands for a loss), but the Titans' early game script suggested that they knew they couldn't expect much more than replacement-level production from their backfield.
As the game wore on, the Titans still got little from their running game and couldn't sustain second-half drives. Fortunately, the Rams offense never got its act together after a disastrous first quarter, and the Titans came away with a 28-16 victory.
How the Titans proceed from here is a mystery. They have won two straight games largely as the result of turnovers, but their defense isn't good enough to sustain that success. The upcoming schedule is full of winnable games (Saints, Patriots) but few gimmes (Texans). The Titans hardly found a new identity on Sunday night. Luckily, as is often mentioned here at Walkthrough, they have such a margin for error that they don't have to find themselves again until January.
Trevor Siemian, New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton's best bet may be to try to munch the clock for 540 minutes until the playoffs and see if any opponents notice.
The Saints' game plan was to let Siemian hand off and look busy until the Falcons imploded in the fourth quarter. And it almost worked! The Falcons tried to hand the game back to the Saints after taking a 24-6 lead: they committed 41 yards of penalties on one 54-yard Saints touchdown drive, moved backwards on offense while failing to control the fourth-quarter clock, and even allowed a 26-yard punt return to help the Saints take a lead. Alas, the Saints did not count on Cordarrelle Patterson high-stepping and tip-toeing up the sideline to set up a game-winning field goal, or the fact that their own secondary is now dangerously depleted. The Falcons, now somehow .500, prevailed in a 27-25 victory.
As for Siemian, the telecast claimed he was the victim of five dropped passes in the first half, and tight end Adam Trautman did drop a catchable ball on fourth-and-3 in the first half. But most of the "drops" were poorly placed or contested throws that receivers got a finger on. Siemian (25-of-41, 249 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions) was bad in a way that the Falcons defense and the stat sheet hides.
Taysom Hill only took a handful of snaps at quarterback. Hill completed two consecutive passes for 33 yards in the third quarter, only for Siemian to re-enter the game and get strip-sacked on the next play. It's as if Siemian has replaced Taysom as Payton's new obsession. For all his flaws, Taysom can do everything Siemian does, and also run.
Walkthrough has no idea how the Saints remain in the playoff picture with The Lovechildren platooning at quarterback. Our guess is that it involves the Panthers and Vikings stinking so thoroughly that the Saints get there by default.
Game Spotlight: Cleveland Browns 41, Cincinnati Bengals 16
What Happened: With the selfish, loathsome Odell Beckham Jr. finally out of the picture, the Browns refocused on fundamentals, rededicated themselves to teamwork, and rediscovered what it's like to be free of the mind-fracturing distraction of R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People playing on a loop in the background every time Baker Mayfield drops to pass, setting the stage for the team to climb into the upper echelon of Super Bowl contenders.
Or perhaps Joe Burrow threw a 99-yard pick-six to Denzel Ward to quash the opening Bengals drive, then a failed Bengals fourth-down conversion and a Ja'Marr Chase fumble in the second quarter gave the Browns a 24-7 lead. That lead snowballed into a blowout of an opponent that remains firmly in the Browns weight class. But Walkthrough's guessing the first version of this game summary would get more clicks.
What it Means for the Bengals: While the AFC North is full of unpredictable teams and remains up for grabs, it became clear on Sunday that the Ravens deserve their spot at the top of the standings, while the Bengals are heading for a spot near the bottom, with the Browns in between. (The Steelers probably belong near the bottom too.)
The Bengals just aren't built for the long playoff haul yet. Burrow isn't ready, their defense isn't ready, and their coaches may never be ready. The Bengals' only method for coming back from an early deficit is to bomb it out to Chase; if that fails, they are out of ideas. Contrast that with the Ravens, who clawed their way back against the Vikings with a mix of offensive adjustments, defensive stops, and the typical Justin Tucker heroics. The Bengals are capable of upsetting anyone on their best days, but they lack week-to-week consistency.
What it Means for the Browns: The real impact of Beckham's absence is that the Browns can now stop pretending they have an All-Pro deep threat to funnel their offense through. They can instead go about the business of manufacturing a ball-control attack and picking their spots with deep shots to Donovan People-Jones. The Browns would be a much better team if they had a receiver as dangerous as Beckham is purported to be, but they are ultimately better off without the unreliable shell of a playmaker that Beckham has become.
What's Next: The Browns have another chance to distinguish themselves from the passengers in wild-card steerage when they visit Foxborough to face the Patriots in Week 10. The Bengals have a bye, then a Raiders-Steelers-Chargers slate that should further clarify the AFC playoff picture (but will probably just end up muddying it some more).
Tank Watch Special Report: Miami Dolphins 17, Houston Texans 9
What Happened: This game was on the television next to Browns-Bengals at the tavern and we could not help but watch.
What Else Happened: Jacoby Brissett started in place of Tua Tagovailoa
because the Dolphins are desperate for any excuse to move on from Tua because Tua suffered a midweek finger injury that no one knew anything about. (It was a wild week.) Tyrod Taylor started for the Texans because no one in the organization wants to make a decision anymore because he's their best willing quarterback when able.
The Texans and Dolphins not only combined for nine turnovers but, somehow, nine different types of turnovers. Routine interceptions? Check. Tip-drills? Check. Off-the-helmet tip-drills? Check. Strip-sacks? Check. Peanut punches? Check. Fumbles at the end of punt returns? Check? Taylor shot-putting the ball Carson Wentz-style directly to a defender instead of stepping out of bounds? Check and mate. It was everything you could ask for from a matchup of one-win teams in November. And less.
The Dolphins prevailed thanks to a Myles Gaskin Wildcat touchdown and a pair of Randy Moss impersonations to keep drives alive by tight end Mike Gesicki.
What it Means: Thanks to the Jaguars' upset of the Bills (Walkthrough did not watch that game, has no idea what happened, and does not want to think about it until Monday's second cup of coffee, thanks), the Texans and Detroit Lions now have inside track to the top pick in the 2022 draft. The Lions, on bye this week, may be hard to catch, but they are still playing with a little pride, while the Texans offer nothing but disgrace and shame.
As for the Dolphins, Walkthrough is chiseling this take in stone: there is ZERO chance that the Dolphins open the 2022 season with Tua as their starting quarterback. If they can't swing a Deshaun Watson deal, they'll overdraft a rookie or overspend on a Drew Lock or Taylor Heinicke that they can foist off as a prospect.
We're not questioning whether Tua is injured, we're reacting to the Dolphins' eagerness to give him the hook in favor of The Jack of All Tip-Drills just four days after the Watson deadline expired. Tua was not injured enough to be deactivated, mind you: he was available to back up Brissett, but not to start, which is a rather fine needle to thread with someone who is ostensibly the future of your franchise. The Dolphins keep screaming at the football world that, for whatever reason, they are done-Done-DONE with Tua. The football world reacts by saying Hmm, that was a semi-impressive drive full of RPOs in the first quarter against the Falcons. We really need to see more before we pass judgment.
What's Next: Seriously, no one cares.
Walkthrough prewrites our midseason segments knowing full well that fate hates us and wants all of our selections to look ridiculous on Monday morning. Yet we keep prewriting, because Week 9 is a great time to look back on the season so far, and because the end of Daylight Savings Time is rough on early risers.
So, did Walkthrough curse the Cowboys to an ugly loss this week? Decide for yourself.
Offensive Line of the Midseason
The Dallas Cowboys entered Week 9 ranked first in adjusted line yards by a wide margin and fifth in adjusted sack rate. So Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terence Steele win this award, with assists from Connor McGovern, Ty Nsekhe, and La'el "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a clean urine sample today" Collins.
Honorable mentions go to the outstanding pass-blocking Los Angeles Rams line and the outstanding run-blocking Cleveland Browns line. We aren't listing out all of their names. Especially for the Browns, because they have had to play about a dozen dudes.
Defender of the Midseason
Not only does Trevon Diggs have seven interceptions, two of which were pick-sixes, but the Cowboys rank first in DVOA against No. 1 receivers (probably because, you know, Diggs keeps intercepting passes). Yes, he gave up a touchdown and a long pass interference penalty on Sunday. Pass-rushers have bad games, too. We just don't notice them.
Coordinator of the Midseason
Vance Joseph's Arizona Cardinals defense entered Week 9 ranked second in both DVOA and pass-defense DVOA. And he has done it without Chandler Jones or J.J. Watt for big chunks of the autumn. Unsung defenders such as Markus Golden (whose three sacks would earn him Defender of the Week if we were doing that this week) and Jalen Thompson have stepped up this season, while young fly-around guys such as Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins are developing. Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury get nearly all of the attention, but Joseph's unit is keeping the Cardinals in the Super Bowl picture.
Kellen Moore gets honorable mention, despite Week 9.
Special-Teamer of the Midseason
Shelby Harris wins this trophy for a pair of blocked field goals: one against the Browns and one that helped the Broncos climb back into the playoff race last week against Washington.
Honorable mentions go to Ravens returner Devin Duvernay, Raiders punter AJ Cole, Patriots returner Gunner Olszewski, Colts kick gunner Ashton Dulin (10 total tackles and a fumble recovery), and Dolphins gunner Mack Hollins (who loves downing a punt inside the 20 the way most receivers love catching touchdowns).
Undrafted Rookie of the Midseason
There's no James Robinson among 2021's undrafted rookies, but Ravens running back Ty'Son Williams entered Week 9 averaging 5.5 yards per carry and did his part to help quell a backfield emergency in Baltimore until the middle-aged cavalry arrived.
Unsung Hero of the Midseason
Jonathan Taylor leads the NFL in scrimmage yards (1, 114) and is averaging 5.9 yards per rush and 12.7 yards per reception. Taylor deserves Offensive Player of the Year consideration but was getting just +6500 odds on Sunday morning. It's hard to think clearly about the Colts when Carson Wentz is turning the organization into a one-man improv routine.
Honorable mentions: Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby, Falcons all-purpose back Cordarrelle Patterson.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
The Dolphins midfield logo earns this week's award for its sack of Tyrod Taylor late in the fourth quarter:
Big sack by Rex Burkhead. pic.twitter.com/em1ZDQgIXU
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 7, 2021
As Football Outsiders' own Rivers McCown pointed out, teammate Rex Burkhead deserves credit for the sack because he tripped Taylor during his drop. (Remember: Burkhead is on the roster to provide a championship-caliber veteran presence). Officially, Emmanuel Ogbah gets credit for flopping on Taylor. But that logo has been through a lot over the last few decades and deserves our respect and recognition.
Honorable mention: Outstanding 1980s/1990s Cardinals linebacker Freddie Joe Nunn, as seen on Chandler Jones' undershirt when Jones passed Nunn as the Cardinals' all-time sack leader.
Chandler Jones took this moment to honor the late Freddie Joe Nunn after surpassing him as the Cardinals all-time sack leader. pic.twitter.com/n97CG1EyEl
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 7, 2021
Justin Jefferson does NOT get honorable mention for whatever the heck he was doing during Dalvin Cook's long run against the Ravens. That's what theater types call "doing too much business in the background."
What is Jefferson doing lmfao pic.twitter.com/2sB5NVQ75Y
— 🎃sports tweeter Matthias🎃 (tone setter) (@KryzivenTake2) November 7, 2021
Burn This Play!
The Vikings lined up in the victory formation leading 17-10 with 19 seconds left before halftime. Kirk Cousins appeared to take a knee after the snap, but instead slipped the ball to Dalvin Cook, lined up as one of the "up" backs. Cook attempted to sneak unnoticed around left end, but the Vikings offensive line did such a great job of pretending that they had no reason to block that the Ravens defense spotted Cook and stuffed him in the backfield.
To give credit where credit is due, Cousins jogged off the field to the right (away from Cook) pumping his fist in the air as if he had just flipped the ball to the ref and was eager to grab a Gatorade. Cousins would have earned Best Supporting Actor if the play had worked. But the play was destined to fail, in part because its designer (Klint Kubiak, or some toddler Kubiak great-grandnephew who will "earn" a coordinator job before he can drive a car) hedged his bets. Tight end Luke Stocker ran a seam route up the right side to occupy the safeties, but that action only alerted the safeties that something was up. Cook would have gained 15 yards, at most, from the Vikings 29-yard line. Also, running a play where no one even tries to block is quite the tactic for a coach to talk himself into.
This is what the Vikings focus their energy upon instead of searching for ways out of the salary cap sinkhole they dug themselves.
Monday Night Sportsbook: Chicago Bears (+6) at Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers games are just 1-5-1 at clearing the over this year, while Bears games are just 2-6. That's the sort of trend the house corrects for, and Monday night's over is priced way down at 39. That's well within range of a Points off Turnovers Fest, so Walkthrough is taking it.
As for the line itself, we have no faith in the Steelers covering, nor in the Bears in general, so we'd rather root for mayhem. One DraftKings Special caught our eyes, however: Najee Harris AND Justin Fields over 124.5 combined rushing yards at +125. The Bears defense ranks just 24th in DVOA and tends to buckle when trying to force big plays to help their offense. Fields and Nagy's assistants appeared to discover that scrambling can be a good thing last week. Take the special and the over, enjoy the utter chaos, and don't worry about the result!
By the power invested in me by the so-called "woke mob," I hereby sentence Aaron Rodgers to a lifetime of being Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers is fabulously wealthy, transcendently talented, and fitter and healthier than most of us could ever aspire to be. He has been romantically linked to several glamorous paramours and pursues bucket-list careers as offseason side hobbies. He inspires awe on the field, and he should inspire jealousy off the field.
Yet Rodgers is a grievance junkie, perpetually dissatisfied with his coaches, his team, the NFL, the union, his own family, and now, apparently, the scientific community and much of mainstream society. Rodgers believes he's a better general manager, epidemiologist, and (presumably) game show host than the folks who do those things for a living, and he's bitterly disappointed at all of us who are foolish enough to disagree. He's never a very happy camper.
Rodgers is also stunningly fragile. He awkwardly misrepresented his vaccination status at the start of training camp (around the same time he was publicly castigating the Packers for 10 years of personnel decisions he didn't like), lest he endure the sort of criticism Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins weathered for about 72 hours each. He tangled Packers coaches and teammates into his sad little fabrication for months. Then he lashed out with one of his all-too-common self-serving manifestos when the fib was exposed.
Like many wealthy, successful people, Rodgers expects to be worshipped from afar. Unconditionally worshipped, in his case, and from very afar. But he just completed an evolution from "eccentric sports personality" to "polarizing sociopolitical personality," and will likely spend the rest of his life in that ecosystem. No ManningCasts or Newlywed Game gigs after retirement for Aaron Rodgers! Just appearances on wannabe-edgy podcasts which will patronizingly allow him to spew nonsense in exchange for engagement; hermetically scripted interviews with puff-piece journalists who will nearly be strip-searched before they are granted an audience; and finally a Hall of Fame speech that's sure to sound like a screed from a spurned lover.
Many folks thrive in the briar patch Rodgers just chose for himself: speaking your mind on the Internet can be fun (or at least tolerable) for the quick-witted and thick-skinned. But Rodgers hasn't found joy in a career and industry that has treated him with deference since he was barely old enough to buy a beer. He just spent three months twisting common sense into pretzels to avoid a little public shaming. He's not the sort of fella who will enjoy being one of the public faces of the anti-vax movement and its adjacencies.
So Rodgers is hereby sentenced to be himself. He is sentenced to someday endure a week of inescapable Super Bowl press conferences in front of the international media. He is sentenced to another offseason of trade/relocation conversations, this time infused with far more skepticism about the type of teammate/leader/individual his new team is getting than he dealt with last year. He is sentenced to getting name-dropped by political figures that he, at least publicly, wants nothing to do with. He is sentenced to SNL skits and future Josh Allen State Farm commercials.
I wish Rodgers everything he wishes for himself. I hope he plays and achieves success until he's Tom Brady's age, all the while contemptuous of his coaches, the league, the union, the media, the fans, and all but the few teammates consigned to his touring entourage, quietly seething until the end about his own perceived victimhood.
It's a punishment, after all, that truly fits the crime.