Eagles Avoid a Crisis, Cowboys Issue a Statement
NFL Week 11 - In this NFL Week 11 Monday edition of Walkthrough...
- The Dallas Cowboys cry out to be taken seriously, while the Minnesota Vikings cry out for help;
- Justin Fields has another spectacular game, unless you were actually watching;
- The Buffalo Bills discover an all-new strategy that might just catch on;
- Nathaniel Hackett comes perilously close to firing himself;
- The Jets are the Jets are the Jets, and Zach Wilson is Christian Hackendarnold;
and much more.
The Philadelphia Eagles Avoid Armageddon
Philadelphia Eagles fans can recite the team's history of late-season collapses like a mantra.
Old heads can remember 1981. The Eagles, fresh off a loss to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV, started the season 6-0 and then 9-2. Even DVOA retroactively considers them the best team in the NFL that year. And then came cocaine. Lots and lots of cocaine, fueling four straight losses down the stretch and an embarrassing wild-card meltdown against the Giants.
Then came 1994. Randall Cunningham returned after a year largely lost to injury. Charlie Garner was an early-season rookie sensation. The Eagles started the season 7-2. Then opponents realized Cunningham could barely run anymore. Head coach Rich Kotite overused the fragile Garner. The Eagles offense collapsed, taking a solid defense down with it for seven straight losses.
Enough ancient history. Surely you remember Chip Kelly's 2014 Eagles, who started the season 9-3 before opponents caught on to the quirks of Kelly's up-tempo, low-complexity offense? Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez suddenly began serving up turnovers in bunches, a gassed defense lost its legs, and the Eagles went 1-3 down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
Which brings us to 2022. The Eagles started the season 8-0. But there was an E-ZPass Lane running right through the heart of their defense, a void left by Fletcher Cox's rapid deterioration and rookie Jordan Davis' injury. The Commanders stabbed them right through that heart on Monday night, exposing their weakness for the whole NFL to see.
The Eagles signed Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph last week to fill the void and plugged them both into the defensive rotation on a few hours' practice. But Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts ran straight through the Eagles defense, Joseph and Suh included, for an early touchdown, and Nick Sirianni's offense, like Kelly's and Kotite's, suddenly looked "figured out" in a 16-10 Colts…
Stop the story. That's some of what happened, but it's not all of what happened.
- Jalen Hurts led a 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter with a lot of running, a little passing, and some blatant Colts pass interference.
- The Eagles defense stopped the Colts in the final seconds for a 17-16 win.
- Most importantly, the new Joseph-Suh tackle rotation gelled. The Colts finished with 99 rushing yards, but 47 of them came on the opening drive. Suh and Joseph also combined on a sack to confirm that they still have more to offer than ballast and name recognition.
The Eagles averted a very familiar nightmare on Sunday. Yes, they faced a Colts team with a rickety quarterback and the fitness instructor from a strip-mall gym as its head coach. But Philadelphia's road to the playoffs is littered with variations on the Colts. The Eagles' porous run defense over the last few weeks was troubling because it provided an easy recipe for bad opponents to keep things close against them. The Colts followed the Commanders' recipe, right down to the Eagles penalties (a series of positive plays were wiped out in favor of first-and-35 on one early drive) and fumbles by receivers (A.J. Brown this time). But the Eagles run defense became rugged again when it mattered, and Hurts added a fresh fourth-quarter comeback to his franchise-quarterback portfolio. Staying close is not the same as winning.
The 1994 and 2014 Eagles deserved to collapse. (The 1981 Eagles were Boogie Nights characters.) They were average-at-best teams with suspect coaches who caught some early opponents off guard. The same might have been said of the 2022 Eagles at the start of the fourth quarter on Sunday. Maybe the option-and-RPO offense was no longer fooling anyone. Maybe adding 30-something-year-old Pro Bowl defensive tackles from the mid-2010s was a sign of desperation. Maybe the Eagles were just a soft-schedule mirage.
Heck, maybe those things are still true. But at the final gun, the Eagles looked like a team that had solved its biggest problem, overcame its greatest weakness, and was ready for opponents like the Giants and Titans to try their darndest to beat them with nothing but inside zone.
Eagles fans who recite the Mantra of Collapse can also remember 2017, the year the team started 11-2 but their starting quarterback got injured. We all remember how that season ended. Some temporary setbacks are really opportunities. Not all flaws are fatal. And the epic downfall of the 2022 Eagles has been canceled until further notice.
Game Spotlight: Dallas Cowboys 40, Minnesota Vikings 3
What Happened: The Cowboys delivered a message. Please take us seriously. Dak Prescott is a fine quarterback with plenty of playmakers. Micah Parsons and our pass rush are amazing. Last week's overtime loss to the Packers was just a tough matchup against a feisty foe on the road. We're serious Super Bowl contenders, not some meme. Stop holding the last 25 years against us.
The Vikings also delivered a message. Duhhh, we thought we won the Super Bowl when we beat the Bills last week. That was all the excitement we can handle. Time to settle back into our comfortably familiar rut of also-ran irrelevancy!
The Vikings were essentially out of this game the moment Parsons strip-sacked Kirk Cousins on the opening series. The Cowboys scored on their first seven offensive possessions. It wasn't just a blowout, it was a Vikings surrender of dignity.
What It Means: It's hard to talk much about the Cowboys because there is little to say. Their pass rush is indeed awesome, Prescott and his supporting cast familiar, the team's history of prat-falling in the playoffs too well-established for anyone to make serious Super Bowl declarations about them in mid-November.
So we fall back on familiar tropes, like criticizing the running back rotation (both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard scored two touchdowns on Sunday, so how bad can it be?) and waiting for Prescott slumps or Mike McCarthy blunders to pounce upon. The Cowboys just aren't interesting when they do what they are supposed to do.
The Vikings were trailing 37-3 midway through the third quarter when Dalvin Cook decided to share some trash-talk with the Cowboys bench at the end of a long run, resulting in a penalty. Walkthrough hates "talking" penalties, but when you're trailing by 34 points you should know to STFU. The Vikings took a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-20 two plays later (hey, it's hard to relay in those surrender tosses), then Kris Boyd delivered a helmet-to-helmet wallop to a return man who clearly did not have the ball on the punt.
The Vikings got the ball back quickly after that punt. A few plays later, Cousins was sacked on another third-and-20.
There's getting blown out by a strong opponent one week after an emotional win and there's coming utterly unglued and forgetting how to play football when things are going sideways. The Vikings did the latter against the Cowboys, and it signaled that they aren't the buttoned-down, ball-control-and-execution team they claim to be.
Bottom line: there's little question that the Eagles and Cowboys are the two best teams in the NFC after Sunday. But there are seven weeks left, so let's settle in and make the best of things.
What's Next: Kirk Cousins in prime time against the Patriots on Thanksgiving? What could possibly go wrong?
Before that ceremonial roasting, the Cowboys will host the Giants and assist them in their tumble back to reality.
Game Spotlight: New England Patriots 10, New York Jets 3
What Happened: Grimy, slimy, plug-ugly football, featuring:
- seventeen punts;
- ten sacks;
- two missed Patriots field goals;
- at least two dropped Zach Wilson interceptions by Patriots defenders;
- one punt doinking off a gunner's head;
- Jonnu Smith fumbling on a jet sweep and somehow recovering it himself to set up a Patriots field goal, despite the ball bouncing around on the field for about two seconds;
- Wilson netting 44 yards of passing offense after his 33 sack yards are subtracted from his 77 yards on completions;
- More third-and-forever surrender plays than you could shake a clipboard at, including one where Mac Jones dumped off to Rhamondre Stevenson on third-and-16 so the Patriots could settle for a field goal but Stevenson barreled through several arm tackles for 18 yards (the Patriots later missed the field goal);
- and finally, an 84-yard punt return touchdown by Patriots rookie Marcus Jones in the final seconds of a game that the Jets never really believed in their tragic little hearts they could win.
What It Means: The Patriots continue to excel at bringing out the worst in opponents without bringing out anything particularly good in themselves.
Yes, Bill Belichick's defense remains capable of confounding terrible quarterbacks. But with eight penalties, the missed field goals listed above, and practically no offense, it's hard to argue that the Patriots are really winning with coaching and discipline. They're just turtling until their opponents out-dumb them.
Zach Wilson is a blindfolded preschooler throwing lawn darts. The Jets would be better off lining Michael Carter up in the shotgun and running the Wildcat on every play than keeping Wilson in the huddle. The Jets defense played an outstanding game, but Mike LaFleur is running out of "Hide the Doofus" tactics.
The Jets should be working hard for a wild-card berth. They'll never get one with Wilson at the helm. They probably finally figured that out on Sunday.
What's Next: The Joe Flacco (?) era triumphantly (??) begins (???) for the Jets against the Bears in Week 12. The Patriots will visit the Vikings for Puntsgiving.
Notes From Selected Games
Some things Walkthrough noticed on Week 11 Sunday.
Wins are Not a Justin Herbert Stat
Another Justin Herbert masterpiece, another Los Angeles Chargers loss. Herbert led a heroic fourth-quarter comeback against the Chiefs, with a third-and-18 bomb to Keenan Allen that set up a short toss to Josh Palmer to give the Chargers a 27-23 lead with 1:46 to play. But 1:46 is a minute longer than Patrick Mahomes needs to ruin your weekend, especially since the Chargers were incapable of covering Travis Kelce. Kelce caught his third touchdown pass with 31 seconds left. Herbert then threw an interception while vying for his second miracle in a 15-minute span.
Walkthrough often chuckles about Herbert's immunity to Internet criticism: everything wrong with the Chargers is blamed on his lack of receivers, the rookie-laden line, playcaller Joe Lombardi, the run defense, a bad horoscope, or what have you. Well, everything really was everyone else's fault in Sunday's loss. And thanks to the returns of Allen and Mike Williams, Herbert still almost dragged the Chargers to victory.
The Herbert we saw on Sunday was the guy we saw in Week 18 of 2021: the guy who makes breathtaking throws but still loses critical games. If the Chargers can't win when he's playing at that level, they don't stand a chance when he's performing like a mere mortal.
The Chargers visit the Cardinals and Raiders over the next two weeks. They need to sweep that road trip. Herbert shouldn't need that much help to do so. But a little would be nice.
The Buffalo Bills Discover a New Offensive Concept
In his rush to meet the snowmobile that would transport him across the frozen Arctic to the airport on Saturday afternoon, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey left the portion of his playbook labeled "Ridiculously Risky Passing Concepts to Jeopardize Leads With" on his coffee table. Left without his most prized possession, Dorsey was forced to deploy a novel new strategy against the Cleveland Browns: the handoff.
Devin Singletary rushed 18 times for 86 yards and one touchdown. James Cook added 86 yards on 11 carries. The Bills started slowly on both sides of the ball, settling for a pair of early field goals (one after a Singletary 18-yard run to the goal line was negated by holding), but they took control of both the game and the clock by late in the first half. Get this: the Bills possessed the football for 9:22 in the fourth quarter, with three field goals and no turnovers, staving off a late Browns rally in a 31-23 victory. They did it all by deciding that securing a win was more important than building Josh Allen's MVP case.
When a team is far superior to its opponent, it can afford to slow things down a bit by handing off and settling for field goals. The Bills are far superior to most of their opponents. Let's see if they learned their lesson when they face the spunkier-than-ever Lions on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Nathaniel Hackett is Jason Garrett with Less Personality
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett ceded play-calling duties to quarterback coach Klint Kubiak because Zindoodoo the Kaleidoscopic Unicorn, the playcaller for the first three months of the season, wasn't getting the job done and is also an imaginary creature only Russell Wilson can see and hear.
Kubiak's innovation involved much more rushing and dump-offs to backs and tight ends; not a bad idea against a Raiders defense that does not run or tackle very well. The Broncos moved the ball slightly more consistently than in past weeks. But Kubiak was unable to solve the Broncos' two major offensive problems:
- The Broncos rarely reach the red zone and were forced to settle for a string of long field-goal attempts.
- The Broncos are hilariously self-destructive on the rare occasions that they do reach the red zone. Melvin Gordon fumbled near the goal line just before halftime, and while the Broncos recovered, Brandon McManus' ensuing field goal attempt was blocked.
The Raiders defeated the Broncos 22-16 on a 35-yard overtime touchdown catch by Davante Adams. The Broncos are now 3-7. Hackett has already played his final self-preservation card, rendering himself 100% expendable. And the Broncos offense may simply be to injury-riddled to perform much better down the stretch. The Broncos could take a cue from the Colts and let John Elway, Tom Nalen, or a lovable golden retriever coach the team for the rest of the year.
But not Zindoodoo. He and Russ drank from the Sparkling Spring of Eternity and gamboled among the whispering dandelions after the game, so Sunday went roughly as well as they visualized.
Another Moral Victory for Justin Fields
Fields rushed 18 times for 85 yards and went 14-of-21 for 153 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in the Chicago Bears' 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Fields' runs were a mix of scrambles and a power sweep that the Bears call an awful lot; it's more like a Wildcat play for Taysom Hill than even a zone read. The Falcons defense often mush-rushed Fields on obvious passing downs, with four rushers maintaining their lanes to keep Fields from scrambling and everyone else sitting back into zones. Sometimes, Fields eventually found a receiver…
Watch @JustnFields extend this play. Electric.
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
That interception came on the Bears' final do-or-die drive, after Fields rushed twice for 5 yards on first and second down. It was the second straight week Fields had a chance to lead the Bears to victory but could not really begin to execute a late-game comeback.
Look, Walkthrough loves watching Fields and wants him to succeed. We'll take him over Mac Jones or (ugh) Zach Wilson any day. We know his receiving corps is a travesty. But we feel compelled to push back against the fantasy footballers and highlight scouters who are pretending he's already Josh Allen. He is simply not a reliable passer or decision-maker in the pocket yet.
The Bears face the Jets next week. Fields will probably be the best quarterback on the field. But if Wilson gets benched, there are no guarantees.
And the winners are…
Defender of the Week
Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys: two sacks, five hits on Kirk Cousins, one forced fumble (recovered by Dorance Armstrong, who also had two sacks) to get the snowball rolling.
Offensive Line of the Week
Have Dan Campbell's Lions finally turned the corner with three straight wins? Ask us after Thanksgiving! OK, that's not fair; they host the Bills on Thanksgiving. Ask us at the end of their Bills-Jaguars-Vikings homestand: a 2-1 record is an emphatic, sorry-for-doubting-you-Coach-Camogear YES.
Is the Lions offensive line among the best in the NFL? That we can answer by giving Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Evan Brown, and Penei Sewell a Week 11 award for helping Jamaal Williams, Justin Jackson, D'Andre Swift and company thump out 160 yards and four touchdowns while holding the Giants without a sack in a 31-18 Lions victory.
Special Teamer of the Week
Marcus Jones of the Patriots and Cordarrelle Patterson of the Falcons share this award for Jones' game-winning punt return touchdown and Patterson's 104-yard kickoff return touchdown. Let's give Cowboys kicker Brett Maher a nod for his 60-yard field goal as well.
Patterson, incidentally, fumbled at the end of a 17-yard run on the previous series, setting up a Bears touchdown. The Falcons have so few players anyone has heard of that guys like Patterson must provide both the highlights and the lowlights.
Burn This Play!
The Eagles decided to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Colts 39-yard line while trailing 13-3 midway through the third quarter. Sure, the 39-yard line is "no man's land." But nothing was going the Eagles' way on offense at that point; a punt would have forced the Colts to march the length of the field, something they only managed to do on the opening drive.
Sure enough, the Colts blitzed and Jalen Hurts got flushed and ended up taking a sack along the sideline; even a heave into the end zone for an interception would have been a better result.
Anyone who tells Walkthrough that going for it in that situation is backed up by "analytics" gets a wedgie.
Frame This Play!
Check out the little fold block Jason Kelce (62) executes after the snap to Hurts on this touchdown:
JALEN HURTS. @Eagles take their first lead of the game!
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
Linebacker Bobby Okereke (58) is keying on Kelce and follows him to the offensive right, which takes him out of Hurts' path! The pass blocking by the left side of the Eagles line and the convincing pass routes run by the Eagles' receivers also serve to take defenders out of the play on what is clearly a designed quarterback draw.
Credit to Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen for dialing up a play like that when it mattered most.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Tired: Giving BSASEH to Jesse Bates (30) for getting hurdled by Najee Harris at the end of a touchdown run.
Wired: Giving poor Cam Taylor-Britt (29) BSASEH for falling flat on his face while chasing Harris and not being involved in the play at all.
Art 🎨 #HereWeGo
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
Honorable mention goes to Ensign Brandin Cooks (no longer a captain) for getting hit directly in the face by a Davis Mills bomb on Darrick Forrest's interception in the Commanders cakewalk over the Houston No One Cares Anymore.
THE EFFORT ON THIS INT! @_Dfoe5
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
That was one of Davis' few decent throws on Sunday.
Also, while Marcus Jones didn't need Mack Wilson (30) to do this to Justin Hardee (34) to score that game-winning Patriots touchdown…
PUNT RETURN TD WITH 5 SECONDS LEFT! @Patriots
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
… it sure was a fitting exclamation point at the end of the Jets' afternoon.
Rando of the Week
Say, Michael Schofield, what's it like blocking for Justin Fields, who has 100% arrived as an elite NFL rusher/passer/decision-maker?
Justin Fields Helmet Accuracy: 99 pic.twitter.com/oIKf0bRPwm
— FansView (@FansView_App) November 20, 2022
But no, this week's real randos are the Eagles fans who shared a moment with Nick Sirianni after the Eagles' comeback victory:
Nick Sirianni was fired up to get a comeback win in Indianapolis where he used to coach and they fired his guy Frank Reich
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) November 20, 2022
Let's see, there's A.J. Brown jersey dude, DeVonta Smith jersey dude (about three of DeVonta could actually fit in that jersey) and Retro Reggie White half-'n'-half dude, plus arms-crossed Jonathan Taylor jersey person, who would have been wise to seek a running start at that moment.
If there are reports on Monday morning of a late-night incident at St. Elmo's steakhouse involving rowdiness, fighting, horseradish-tossing or light pole-climbing, these are your persons of interest.