Mike White Takes Manhattan; Aaron Rodgers Injured
NFL Week 12 - In this NFL Week 12 edition of Walkthrough:
- The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers reach into Aaron Rodgers' secret stash for the high-octane hallucinogens;
- Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have a heart-to-heart talk, and we all suffer as a result;
- Sam Darnold shines (sort of) on Day of the Derpy QBs;
- Josh Jacobs goes brrrr;
and much more.
Jets Dreaming of a Mike White Christmas
Newly anointed New York Jets Chosen One Mike White knows how to check down.
Checking down is a much-maligned quarterback skill, but it's a very useful one. Checking down moves the sticks, extends drives, and prevents catastrophes. It forces the opposing defense to take everything an offense tries to do somewhat seriously, something Jets opponents rarely did when Zach Wilson was loitering in the pocket and trying to remember who his secondary target was supposed to be.
White threw three touchdowns and a handful of crisp passes in the Jets' 31-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. White also benefited from some wide-open receivers, a defender or two who fell down on a rainy afternoon, a defense depleted by wait-till-next-year trades, and a Justin Fields-less Bears offense which could not move the ball at all after its first two drives. Despite the box score, White was merely ordinary. But ordinary looked awesome after witnessing Wilson's extraordinary ineptitude.
An example of the incredible power of baseline competence…
The Jets faced third-and-2 midway through the second quarter, trailing 10-7. White did not like what he saw downfield, so he squirted the ball to Ty Johnson in the left flat. Johnson rumbled for 16 yards, thanks in part to the fact that White quickly checked down to him and threw before underneath defenders could react.
On the very next play, White found Garrett Wilson over the middle for what became a 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The highlight never happens if White keeps his eyes locked downfield and throws a gopher ball into the teeth of the coverage on third-and-2 like a certain former Jets starter might have.
The Big Apple tabloids and talk shows are going to make too much of White's performance on Sunday, just as they made too much of White's shootout with the Bengals in 2021 and every encouraging performance by a Jets or Giants backup quarterback since mankind learned to walk upright. White spent the second half handing off, letting his defense do most of the work, and occasionally delivering a dagger throw. He benefited from a remedial game plan early and an ever-growing lead late.
But after watching Wilson flail around for much of the last two seasons, remedial quarterbacking looked like an honors seminar, and a quarterback who took what the defense offered was a welcome change from the one who handed the defense opportunities it never expected. White can lead the Jets to the playoffs just by not actively leading them away.
White is the Jets Quarterback of the Present. He's probably nothing more than that. But for the next six weeks, that's all he needs to be.
Game Spotlight: Philadelphia Eagles 40, Green Bay Packers 33
What Happened: The Eagles raced out to a 13-0 lead with the help of an Aaron Rodgers interception. The Packers came back to take a 14-13 lead after stopping the Eagles in their own territory on fourth-and-short. The Eagles answered by driving deep into Packers territory.
And then the first quarter ended.
This entire game was constructed out of cotton candy and guitar solos. Every play was a deep completion on fourth-and-5, a sack, a long fumble return, a long kickoff return, a missed extra point, or a 10-yard Eagles run. The Eagles had 183 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns at halftime.
Aaron Rodgers got knocked out of the game with a rib injury in the third quarter, and the Eagles took a 37-23 lead early in the fourth. So naturally Jordan Love hit Christian Watson on a crossing route which turned into a 63-yard touchdown, just as everyone expected.
A 54-yard Jake Elliott field goal with 2:16 to play after a clock-munching Eagles drive essentially put the game out of reach.
What it Means: An extended Rodgers absence will mean little for the NFC playoff chase—the Packers are all but eliminated—but it is likely to cause an existential crisis in Green Bay. Many Packers fans surely want to see Love succeed. Some have grown weary of the all-wins-but-no-fun nature of the late-era Rodgers Packers. But the changing of the guard is unlikely to be smooth, and Rodgers may not be gone all that long. If Love shines during a brief Rodgers absence, it will be a source of intrigue that keeps on giving well into the offseason.
The Eagles rushed for 363 yards, dominated in time of possession, won the turnover battle, and excelled in just about every area except run defense and kick coverage. They also defeated an opponent that the Cowboys lost too (tiebreaker implications) in a similarly wild game: another possible illustration that the Eagles are more postseason-worthy than the surging Cowboys.
What's Next: The Eagles host the Titans. The Packers will spend the week fretting about Rodgers' physical state—a change of pace after years of fretting about his emotional state—before visiting the Bears.
Day of the Derpy Quarterbacks
The Ghost of Jets Quarterbacks Present looked plucky, but so did one of the Ghosts of Jets Quarterbacks Past. Here's a quick roundup of Sunday's unexpected/mostly unwelcome starters.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
Darnold out-performed Russell Wilson in the Carolina Panthers' 23-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. That may not be saying much these days, but that's as much as really can be said of Darnold.
The Panthers took a 10-3 second-quarter lead thanks to their running game, stout defense, the Broncos' guttering ineptitude, and one Darnold deep ball to DJ Moore. They broke the game open (a 17-3 lead might as well be a 71-3 lead against the 2022 Broncos) with more of all of those things, including exactly one sideline teardrop to Moore, followed by Darnold's impersonation of a preschooler rolling down a backyard hill:
Sam Darnold Stop Drop and Roll fire drill TD I am deceased pic.twitter.com/pNcFYC4ymK
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 27, 2022
Darnold makes as much sense for the Panthers as Baker Mayfield and P.J. Walker at this point. What's noteworthy is that the Panthers keep playing hard and giving opponents a fight week after week. Unlike the Broncos.
Bryce Perkins, Los Angeles Rams
Imagine Justin Fields but with much less talent and (somehow) fewer weapons and a less creative game plan. That's what Perkins looked like in the Chiefs' 26-10 victory over the Rams. Perkins ran some Wildcat sweeps, scrambled his way into a few completions (including one on fourth-and-2), and floated one touchdown pass to Van Jefferson against a napping Chiefs defense. But the Rams offense did little for most of the afternoon, and the Chiefs defense intercepted Perkins twice when it mattered.
Perkins could play a Taysom Hill role once Matthew Stafford or John Wolford return. It wouldn't hurt for the Rams to try just about anything at this point.
Trevor Siemian, Chicago Bears
Siemian suffered an oblique injury during pregame warmups, but Matt Eberflus figured an injured backup journeyman was a better option than a healthy Nathan Peterman. It was Eberflus' most astute decision of the 2022 season.
Siemian moved the Bears offense efficiently on a pair of early-game drives, with Jets defenders missing tackles and taking awful angles on underneath passes to help the cause and Bryon Pringle leaping over a defender in the end zone for a touchdown. Then the Jets defense stiffened, Eberflus ran out of designed concepts that Siemian could handle, the rain picked up, and eventually, Darnell Mooney left the game.
Mooney's ankle injury appeared serious as of Sunday night. If Mooney and Fields are both unavailable, the Bears might as well give Peterman the Disaster Artist a look and see how far up the draft order he can lead them.
Kyle Allen, Houston Texans
Allen isn't really an NFL quarterback, merely a strawman spontaneously generated from the fetid soil of a cursed graveyard in 2018 to fuel anti-Cam Newton arguments. He is basically toxic quarterback narrative made flesh, so naturally he ended up on the Texans.
True to form, Allen was hilariously awful as the Dolphins mounted a 30-0 first-half lead—49 yards on 10-of-16 passing, three sacks, a strip-sack, an interception, lots of off-target routine throws—then managed to make his stats look respectable (26-39-216-1-2) when the Dolphins stopped caring, ensuring that he will keep getting opportunities to wash and repeat indefinitely.
Allen is worse than Davis Mills but Walkthrough defies anyone to watch enough Texans film to prove it without losing their sanity/dignity.
Game Spotlight: Las Vegas Raiders 40, Seattle Seahawks 34 (OT)
What Happened: Central tendency came a'calling for the underachieving Raiders and overachieving Seahawks. Eventually.
The Raiders tried all of their usual tricks to give the game away. Derek Carr threw two early-game interceptions to Quandre Diggs. The Raiders coughed up a 21-13 second-quarter lead moments after they mounted it. They even missed a field goal in overtime. But Josh Jacobs (229 rushing yards) and Davante Adams served up some OMG highlights, and the Seahawks matched the Raiders missed opportunity for missed opportunity: two Geno Smith turnovers, a pair of short early field goals to cap stalled drives, an overtime three-and-out.
Jacobs decided that enough was enough with an 86-yard touchdown run on the second Raiders series of overtime.
What it Means: The Seahawks are a fun, .500-ish team that enjoyed a mid-autumn hot streak. Back-to-back losses haven't so much exposed them as pulled them toward their proper level after a 6-3 start. The Seahawks are more like an evolved form of the Detroit Lions—lots of close, high-scoring games thanks to a strong offensive line play and weak NFC opposition—than anything more than wild-card fodder.
By extension, that makes Geno Smith a variation on Jared Goff: more mobile and better at improvising, but also older and with a little less on the radar gun. Walkthrough will now duck under the table and hide before our friends and colleagues see that comparison and come to burn us at the stake for
unpopular truth heresy.
The Raiders were better than their 2-7 record indicated two weeks ago and are also in the process of finding their true level. The Raiders should get enough from their front-line talent (we mentioned Adams and Jacobs; Maxx Crosby added 1.5 sacks) to end up around 7-10. That's disappointing, but it's not fire-Josh McDaniels, Broncos-level disappointing.
What's Next: The Seahawks visit what's left of the Rams next week and host the Panthers in Week 14. They need a pair of wins to spruce up their wild-card portfolio before a late-season Chiefs-49ers-Jets stretch.
In Week 13, the Raiders host a Chargers team eager to avenge a season-opening loss.
Notes from Selected Games
Insights and observations from the games Walkthrough watched closely on Sunday of Week 12:
The Arizona Cardinals Have Problems That Emotional Honesty Cannot Solve
You know the Cardinals were getting desperate when they resorted to ... shudder ... honest communication. Per Ian Rapoport, Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray spent Murray's two-week injury "talking through everything." That's right: Kingsbury set aside his stubble-sculptor, Murray his PS5 controller, and they had the sort of heart-to-heart Walkthrough pretends to have with our sons from time to time.
Cardinals talk therapy worked, too! At least a little. Murray was sharp in the first half as the Cardinals climbed out to a 17-14 halftime lead. The problem is that Kingsbury is a horrendous playcaller and Murray an erratic decision-maker, so you get fourth-and-1 results like this when they are on the same page:
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) November 27, 2022
Note James Conner waving for the ball in the right flat.
The Cardinals went three-and-out on their final three fourth-quarter possessions, granting Justin Herbert plenty of time to eventually get around to being the hero of a 25-24 win over an awful opponent. What? No! That wasn't Herbert criticism, Walkthrough swears! He threw three touchdown passes! He's practically already a Hall of Famer! Those fourth-quarter sacks and the trapped almost-interception never happened! He's double-plus good! Please don't subject me to the mindworms again!
Anyway, emotional honesty is the sort of thing that coaches scrap if it doesn't pay immediate dividends. All of the key Cardinals decision-makers should return to communicating only through veiled press-conference remarks, misleading social-networking posts, and ridiculous contractual clauses by Tuesday.
Trevor Lawrence Keeps Arriving
If you remained a Trevor Lawrence skeptic even after he led the Jacksonville Jaguars back from a 20-10 deficit for a victory over the Raiders in Week 10, Walkthrough respects your decision: there's too much "hE's aRrIvED" bibble-babble around young quarterbacks these days. But Lawrence skeptics may want to take a long look at the Jaguars' 28-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, specifically:
- Lawrence's 27-yard pass to Zay Jones on fourth-and-8 to set up the fourth-quarter touchdown that pulled the Jaguars within two points;
- Lawrence's back-to-back completions to take the Jaguars from third-and-21 to first-and-10 after the two-minute warning;
- Lawrence's 29-yard pass to Jones on third-and-8 in the final minute with the Jaguars out of timeouts; and
- Lawrence's 10-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones to give the Jaguars the lead that Justin Tucker's 67-yard field goal attempt fell just short of erasing.
These were high-leverage, extreme-degree-of-difficulty passes which required accuracy, touch, decisiveness, and a dash of fortitude. And they came against a strong defense, not the Raiders defense.
Skeptics will note that Lawrence fumbled deep in Jaguars territory to help the Ravens take a 19-10 lead and got strip-sacked at the start of that fateful game-winning drive (a Jaguars teammate pounced on the ball). There is still work to be done. But quarterbacks who can make outstanding crunch-time throws usually find ways to correct ball-security issues. Quarterbacks whose best attribute is an ability to not fumble rarely discover ways to make outstanding crunch-time throws.
The Baltimore Ravens Represent Their Own Branch of Analytics
Lamar Jackson fumbled on a fourth-and-1 run at midfield early in the Ravens loss, setting up Lawrence's first touchdown pass of the game. The Ravens are now 4-of-10 on fourth-down conversions, with eight of those attempts coming with 1 or 2 yards to go. For whatever reason, the Ravens are just lousy at converting fourth-and-short.
Opponents, meanwhile, are 12-of-17 on fourth downs against the Ravens defense; see the previous segment on how fourth-down conversions impacted Sunday's results.
The Ravens have also outscored their opponents 205-119 through the first three quarters but have been outscored 108-70 in fourth quarters. Maybe they just have bad luck. Maybe they need to hire a "short-yardage coordinator." Or maybe the Ravens are just what their 7-4 record claims they are—a solid but flawed team that relies a little too much on quarterback heroics and splash defensive plays—and all of their biggest mistakes just happened to be clustered in the fourth quarter.
Oh, and Jackson mixing it up with Twitter trolls hours after the game is hardly an encouraging sign.
Tennessee Titans Versus Sustainability
The Titans went 0-for-3 on red zone touchdown conversions in their 20-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They were 20-of-27 converting touchdowns in the red zone entering Week 12. Thanks to settling for all of those field goals, the Titans lost exactly the type of messy, physical, low-scoring game they have consistently won for much of the year.
The Titans have now scored between 16 and 19 points in five of their last six games. Consistency is not always a good thing, and a point total in the teens won't be enough against the Eagles in Philly next Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals versus The Gauntlet
The Bengals, meanwhile, manufactured a win in a sloppy penalty fest thanks to another week of rugged running from Samaje Perine in relief of Joe Mixon; a leaping Tee Higgins touchdown; great run defense; a clutch third-and-long catch in the fourth quarter by someone named Trenton Irwin; and a critical Titans special teams blunder after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. (A roughing-the-snapper foul by the Titans on a field goal gave the Bengals a free first down, allowing them to run out the clock instead of giving the Titans the ball back.)
It was a gutsy start to a brutal stretch of schedule: the Bengals host the Chiefs next week, then the Browns with their new quarterback in Week 13. With the Chargers and Jets winning on Sunday, the Bengals don't have much wild-card margin for error (though the Ravens loss keeps them in the running to win the AFC North.)
Don't sleep on the Bengals. Especially because they have help on the way:
Ja’Marr Chase getting some routes in. pic.twitter.com/EMwR4KBPvM
— Charlie Goldsmith (@CharlieG__) November 27, 2022
Bad-News, Not-So-Bad-News Buccaneers
The Buccaneers fell to 5-6 with a 23-17 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns. Fortunately:
- The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints also lost on Sunday; and
- Left tackle Tristan Wirfs’ late-game ankle injury may not be as bad as it looked when he was carted off the field.
The Buccaneers went three-and-out six times in Sunday's loss. Their offense was useless on their final seven possessions of a close game, straining their defense to the breaking point. The Buccaneers haven't scored over 21 points in a game since Week 4. They're like the NFC version of the Titans, but with a famous quarterback and their rushing and passing offenses flipped. The 49ers and Bengals should manhandle the Bucs down the stretch, especially with Tampa Bay's injuries mounting.
Could the Buccaneers still make the playoffs at 8-9 if they keep faltering? Probably. Should we care about them if they do? Of course not!
The Broncos Offense is Too Dreadful to Write About
We saw it. We cannot unsee it. The punts. The fumble in Panthers territory. The missed field goal. The sequence where it took 14 plays to finally score a touchdown when trailing 23-3 in the fourth quarter. We don't have the stomach to watch the replay or scour the play-by-play for insights. We just want the hurting to stop.
Some of Week 12's most important games took place on Thanksgiving. You have picked over the carcasses of those games by now, but here's Walkthrough's Cyber Monday Turkey Salad Sandwich Special.
With Von Miller-level injuries mounting; Josh Allen huffing the red kryptonite in the red zone; and their offense, defense and special teams taking terms serving up fourth-quarter blunders, the Bills remain Super Bowl contenders but should not be thought of as prohibitive Super Bowl favorites.
In fact, the way the Dolphins played in the first half on Sunday, the Bills may not even be the best team in the AFC East right now.
Dak Prescott's early-game interceptions are exactly as troubling as Josh Allen's late-game interceptions, though Team Dak will line-item veto each away as an isolated incident while the Dak Haters will offer them as further proof that he's secretly Zach Wilson's uncle.
Prescott also averages just 6.5 yards per attempt in the first half, so there's more to worry about than the occasional errant throw.
Slow/sloppy offensive starts have become one of the Cowboys' few real weaknesses. Fortunately for them, the Cowboys organization is known for their intensive self-scouting and brilliant late-season adjustments, so all shall be well.
(Snark aside, the Cowboys will get buried by teams such as the Eagles and 49ers in the playoffs if they keep coughing up early-game chances to their opponents.)
If the Lions can win two of their next three games, Walkthrough will take their "turned the corner" narrative seriously. Until then, they remain an excellent offensive line grafted onto a weak overall roster and a coaching staff that's barely meeting greatly reduced expectations.
Thanksgiving night brought us a classic 2022 Vikings victory: Justin Jefferson went HAM; the Vikings caught an officiating break (the Hunter Henry non-touchdown); their opponent made some uncharacteristic mistakes (the first kickoff return touchdown allowed by the Patriots since 2010, plus a roughing-the-punter foul); and they beat yet another fellow middleweight without really outplaying them.
From a playoff standpoint, it no longer matters whether this model is sustainable or not, because the Vikings are in.
New England Patriots
The Patriots cannot afford to lose games in which their offense looks competent AND their defense both dominates the line of scrimmage and provides an early takeaway. The Patriots can, however, lose interconference games with few tiebreaker ramifications without harming their wild-card chances too much. Still, Sunday's wins by the Jets, Bengals, and Chargers made this a rough weekend for Patriots fans.
Walkthrough might have believed in Mac Jones' Thanksgiving breakthrough if it had extended into the fourth quarter.
New York Giants
Brian Daboll was able to coach up bench-caliber starters early in the season. He has been forced to coach up the practice squad-caliber backups to those bench-caliber starters over the last few weeks, particularly on offense. The results were evident against the Cowboys.
The Giants did not quite sew up a playoff berth with their 6-1 start: they are 4-0 against the AFC and 3-4 against the NFC. They need to go at least 2-2 against the Commanders-Eagles-Commanders-Vikings over the next month to keep themselves from landing behind a tiebreaker eight ball.
Week 12 Awards
So many awards to hand out, so little time.
Defender of the Week
Remember Myles Garrett? He had 1.5 sacks and three hits on Tom Brady in the Browns' victory over the Buccaneers. Garrett's full sack came on third down in overtime, forcing the Buccaneers punt that led to the final Browns drive.
Brian Burns earns honorable mention for a pair of sacks against the Broncos. Seahawks defensive back Quandre Diggs also gets honorable mention for two early-game interceptions in a losing effort.
Offensive Line of the Week
D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard rushed for a combined 178 yards. Sam Darnold wasn't sacked once. And the Panthers deserve nice things! So let's hear it for Ickey Ekwonu, Brady Christensen, Bradley Bozeman, Austin Corbett, and Taylor Moten for more than holding their own against the rugged Broncos defense.
C'mon, Panthers fans: isn't this a little more fun than throwing Burns and DJ Moore away in a fire sale and spending the rest of the year twiddling with a mock draft simulator?
Special Teamer of the Week
Chargers punter JK Scott forced the Cardinals to start four of their drives at the 12-, 18-, 6-, and 10-yard lines in a 26-25 victory.
Honorable mention goes to Rams punter Riley Dixon for being the team's best pure passer on Sunday:
Punter Riley Dixon with the absolute dart! 🎯
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) November 27, 2022
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Walkthrough celebrates Jacoby Brissett's last day as a starter by highlighting his skills as a downfield blocker on Anthony Schwartz's end-around touchdown.
Anthony Schwartz on the reverse!
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2022
Honorable mention goes to Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis for his flop-'n'-grab coverage technique on Amari Cooper on the overtime catch that sealed the Browns victory:
Amari Cooper to the two-yard line!
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2022
Not seen in that highlight: Davis got up asking for a flag. Yes, Carlton, there should have been a flag. On you. Not that it would have mattered.
What do you think of those awards, Jacoby?
— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) November 27, 2022
Burn This Play!
The Texans trailed 30-12, but they had scored on two straight third-quarter possessions and had a chance to make the game competitive again with a two-point conversion. So naturally, they called a play-action goal-line pass to … left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Laremy Tunsil was SO CLOSE to catching this 😭 pic.twitter.com/MbtwUrCVLX
— Vault (@vaultsportshq) November 27, 2022
The "big man touchdown surprise" isn't a terrible play call here. But check out who is right behind Tunsil in the end zone. Yep, it's Ensign (not a captain like Tunsil) Brandin Cooks. The Texans ran a tackle-eligible play with their top wide receiver on the same side of the field as Tunsil! Of course, that probably cued defender Andrew Van Ginkel (43) to drop into underneath coverage instead of racing into the backfield and leaving Tunsil uncovered, something he might well have done with no receiving threat behind him.
Oh well, Josh McCown will sort all of this out when he becomes head coach.
Rando of the Week
We REFUSE to give this week's Rando to the Jaguars mascot and his nightmarish illustrated furry fanfic speedo:
— highlight heaven (@lowlightheaven) November 27, 2022
Seriously, we saw the opening credits of that anime and want no part of it.
Instead, we celebrate Panthers long-snapper J.J. Jansen, who played his 221st game with the organization, tying John Kasay's franchise record.
Jansen has been long-snapping for the Panthers since before Luke Kuechly or Cam Newton arrived in Carolina. When Jansen was a rookie in 2009, John Fox was the Panthers coach, Jake Delhomme their quarterback, Kasay their kicker, and Julius Peppers and Jon Beason their defensive stars.
Congratulations on a long career, Jansen! May you keep snapping until the Panthers are relevant again. It may not take as long as you think.