Week 11 Observations

I was 6-2 ATS through the first wave of games and, coming off a 9-4-1 Week 10, felt like I had the NFL tamed. The only negative were my DFS lineups that stacked Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis, but Mariota got hurt, I had the Colts ATS and there would almost certainly have been plenty of garbage time for the duo in the second half but for the injury. Then the second wave of games kicked off.

I went 0-3, losing my best bet, the Eagles, by a mile, the Chargers minus seven, who lost outright and the Cardinals minus four who also lost outright. Moreover, my top two Survivor choices were the Chargers and Cardinals, as I faded the Saints down to No. 3. The added kick in the ass on the way out the door was the Vikings failing to cover against the Bears, though it might have been different but for all the ticky-tack personal foul calls. I finished 6-6, pending Monday night, lost a re-start Survivor Pool already and lost in DFS thanks to Mariota-Davis. The lesson, for the 294th time, is the NFL is a wild beast, one you will never fully domesticate. Maybe you get to ride it for a short stretch, but you better brace for the collision when it tosses you off its back.

No one did anything of note for the Bears. Mitchell Trubisky (5.3 YPA, one TD, two picks) was overmatched, though he did help himself with 43 scramble yards and took only one sack.

Kirk Cousins (262 yards, two TDs, two picks, two sacks, 5.7 YPA) was equally bad, and one of his interceptions was taken to the house. All his production – and that of Adam Thielen (12-7-66) and Stefon Diggs (18-13-126-1) – was in garbage time. In his defense, the Vikings couldn’t run at all – (Dalvin Cook had nine carries for 12 yards, Latavius Murray four for five), and the pass rush was heavy for most of the game.

• The Vikings still might have covered but for the ticky-tack out-of-bounds personal foul on the Bears final drive that put Chicago into field goal range. The NFL needs to change its policy on fouls that don’t affect the play – fine, imprison or electric-shock the offender if necessary – but do not unnecessarily determine game outcomes based on referee’s whims.

The Eagles simply did not show up and are not a playoff contender. In fact, they’re one game ahead of the Giants now, and should the Giants win their rematch next week, Philadelphia would be tied with them for last place.

What happened to the genius analytics team that took down the Patriots and Vikings en route to a Super Bowl win with Nick Foles at QB? Why was Doug Pederson punting the ball on 4th -and-short from midfield to a team that kept shredding his defense? My Twitter feed suggested the loss of last year’s offensive coordinator Frank Reich (Colts) and QB coach John DiFilippo (Vikings) was a major factor. Whatever the case, Carson Wentz (4.7 YPA, three picks, three sacks, zero TDs) might as well have been Blake Bortles. Yet another data point for system being paramount, not the name on the back of the quarterback’s jersey.

Josh Adams was useful with 53 rushing yards and a TD, but 28 of the yards and the score came on one play. Golden Tate’s 8-5-48 was the closest thing the Eagles had to a useful pass catcher, and this was a game where the other team scored 48 points.

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Drew Brees owned the Eagles depleted secondary – 363 yards (12.1 YPA), four TDs and no picks. At 39, he’s still in his prime, so Tom Brady better play until he’s 50 if he hopes to have any of the NFL’s all-time passing records.

Is anybody else sick of Taysom Hill? Why waste any snaps with a random scrub when you have so many good options in your standard offense?

Mark Ingram (16-103-2) is all the way back to last year’s role. It hurts Alvin Kamara (13-for-71, 1-1-37-1) a little, but Kamara’s still a top-10 overall player. Michael Thomas (4-4-92-1) wasn’t needed much as Tre’Quan Smith (13-10-157-1) torched the depleted Eagles secondary. More touches for Smith, fewer for Hill would be a good idea.

Philip Rivers had another big game (401 yards, 9.3 YPA), but threw only two TDs, coughed up two picks and took three sacks. Keenan Allen (12-9-89-1) and the ancient Antonio Gates (7-5-80-1) led the way, while Melvin Gordon (6-6-87) chewed up yardage at will on screen passes and dump-offs. Gordon  struggled on the ground, though with 18 carries for 69 yards.

Case Keenum made the plays he had to and more importantly didn’t turn the ball over. He had only 6.4 YPA, no TDs and no sacks. Phillip Lindsay was the game’s offensive star with 11 carries for 79 yards and two TDs, as well as a 5-4-27 line as a receiver. Courtland Sutton (6-3-78) led the team in receiving, while Emmanuel Sanders went 6-4-56.

If you’re wondering how the Chargers could lose despite the massive disparity in production,  consider the minus-two TO differential, falling for a fake punt (basically another turnover that led to a TD) and a missed PAT. Bring back Younghoe!

David Johnson got his – 27 carries for 135 yards and one catch for 17 yards – but that doesn’t include the ~60-yard game- and cover-sealing TD that was called back due to a hold. Josh Rosen completed only nine passes (6.8 YPA), though three of them were for scores, two to Larry Fitzgerald (3-2-23-2) and one to Christian Kirk (4-3-77-1.) He also threw two picks and took a sack against a bad Raiders defense.

Derek Carr (6.2 YPA, 192 yards, two TDs, no picks, four sacks) did what he had to, connecting with Brandon LaFell (likely out for the year) and Jared Cook (6-3-31-1) for scores. Doug Martin and Jalen Richard were both modestly productive on the ground, while Richard also went 4-3-32 as a receiver.

For a team that just hurt its chances for the No. 1 overall pick, Jon Gruden and the Raiders sure seemed happy about the win. Maybe he’s considering keeping Carr, a massive mistake, after all.

Lamar Jackson got his first NFL start and delivered a win, breaking the record for QB rushing attempts in the process with 27. While he made some nice runs, it wasn’t an efficient use of his skills – 4.3 YPC is low for a QB, and he threw for only 150 yards (7.9 YPA), zero TDs and one pick. He also took two sacks. We’ll see whether Joe Flacco is ready for Week 12, and if not, whether they unleash Jackson as a passer more against the Raiders.

Speaking of which, after Jackson’s interception the broadcast cut to Flacco as if to say, “That wouldn’t have happened if their Super Bowl winning starting QB were playing.” Except that Flacco has been dead last in YPA since he signed his then record-highest contract, i.e., he’s been terrible since 2012 while crushing the team cap-wise. Virtually any cheap QB other than Nathan Peterman would have been a greater net positive than Flacco over that span.

Despite facing the league’s worst run defense, Alex Collins (7-18-1) not only did not produce, but might have lost his job to bruising undrafted free-agent rookie Gus Edwards (17-115-1.) At 6-1, 235, Edwards might be a better fit for the power-running style the Ravens prefer. With the Raiders up next, Edwards will be this week’s most coveted waiver pick up. Willie Snead (8-5-51) was the only receiver of note for the Ravens.

Justin Tucker nailed a 56-yard field goal through the center of the uprights with room to spare. If the NFL narrowed the uprights from 18.5 feet to 10, Tucker might be the league MVP.

Andy Dalton (5.9 YPA, two TDs, no picks, one sack) didn’t do much without A.J. Green on the road against a tough defense. He did rush for 29 yards, however. Tyler Boyd (11-4-71) led the team in receiving, while Joe Mixon (12 carries for 14 yards) got stuffed but contributed a 3-3-38 line as a receiver.

The Steelers rallied from a 16-0 deficit and a bad game from Ben Roethlisberger (6.7 YPA, two TDs, three picks, two sacks) to beat the Jaguars on the road. Roethlisberger also ran for a short score.

James Conner got stuffed – nine carries for 25 yards – and went only 9-6-24 as a receiver, dropping two seemingly crucial passes, including a fourth-down try and a easy would-be 27-yard TD late. It was by far his worst game of the year, though with Le’Veon Bell out Conner’s status is secure.

Antonio Brown (3-5-117-1) was shut down for most of the game, but scored a 78-yard TD on a blown coverage late. Juju Smith-Schuster (10-8-104) was the other receiver of note, while Vance McDonald (6-3-27-1) scored a TD.

Blake Bortles did less than nothing – 5.8 YPA, 104 passing yards, no TDs, no picks and six sacks. He also lost a fumble. Most of the Jaguars’ inept offense was run through Leonard Fournette – 28 carries for 95 yards and a score and two catches for 46 yards. He led the team in rushing and receiving, and no other player on the team got half as many yards in either category. He carries arguably the heaviest workload in the league.

Alex Smith broke his tibia and fibula a la Joe Theismann in 1985 with the leg sticking out at the wrong angle after a sack. Either from shock or because he’s the toughest person on the planet, Smith didn’t sport even a grimace on his face as he stoically sat on the cart that took him off the field. He’s quite obviously done for the year.

There are some eerie parallels between the Smith and Theismann injuries. For starters, they were both Redskins QBs, both happened on November 18th, both QBs ended the season with 301 passing attempts, both injuries happened at the 40-yard line, and the final score of both games was 23-21. And Theismann happened to be at Sunday’s game. Oddly, I recently finished a Netflix series called “Dark” (recommended), the premise of which is that history repeats itself every 33 years.

Colt McCoy took over for Smith and got tight end Jordan Reed (11-7-71-1) involved at long last. Expect McCoy to start on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys. Adrian Peterson struggled for most of the game but scored twice, to go along with 51 yards.

Deshaun Watson was efficient (8.7 YPA), but threw two picks, took three sacks and rushed for only seven yards. Lamar Miller went 20-for-86, while Alfred Blue went eight for 46. Keke Coutee (9-5-77) led the team in receiving, while DeAndre Hopkins (6-5-56-1) never gets denied.

Jameis Winston got his job back after Ryan Fitzpatrick characteristically threw three picks. The two, of course, combined for 366 passing yards, two TDs and four picks on the day. Winston himself managed 12.4 YPA, 199 yards, two TDs, one pick and rushed for 16 more yards. He also fumbled at the goal line, but it was recovered by Mike Evans for a TD.

Speaking of which Evans (7-6-120-1) led the team in receiving and had two TDs total. O.J. Howard (6-5-178) had a big game before hurting his ankle in the fourth quarter. Always appreciate when a player has the courtesy to produce before getting injured.

Peyton Barber went 18-106-1 and caught two passes for four yards. For God knows what reason the booth (Thom Brennaman and Chris Spielman) were lathering the praise on Barber like he were the second-coming of Terrell Davis. That said, Barber ran hard and is the team’s unquestioned starter. The booth also said nothing when Pat Shurmur shockingly punted on 4th-and-2 from the Bucs 37-yard line in the first half.

Eli Manning (12.8 YPA), completed 17 of 18 passes for 231 yards and two scores. He didn’t throw a pick, but took four sacks. Before you get excited about his performance, a few caveats: (1) The Bucs rank 31st in YPA with 8.9; (2) His incompletion was a badly thrown ball to a wide open Saquon Barkley who probably would have run down the sideline for a long TD; (3) His TD to Odell Beckham was so late the defender caught up with it, but Beckham was able to muscle it away from him with his hands; (4) The 54-yard completion to Evan Engram, their longest play of the game, might have gone for a TD had Eli not made Engram slow down to catch it; and (5) Eli was helpless in the face of the rush on each sack, crumbling straight to the ground. But he did play his best game of the year.

Saquon Barkley is 21 years old, faster than Tarik Cohen and heavier than Le’Veon Bell. He also had 142 yards, two rushing TDs and caught two passes for 10 yards and another score. Had Manning not missed him on the sideline throw, Barkley might have had a game for the ages. I’m looking forward to those who mocked the Giants for taking him over Sam Darnold citing their “process” two years from now in defense of the indefensible.

Beckham went 4-4-74-1, Engram 2-2-66 and Sterling Shepard 2-2-22. A pick-six by the defense and playing the game with a lead cut into the passing-game opportunities.

Andrew Luck shredded the Titans defense for 297 yards (10.2 YPA), three TDs, no picks and no sacks, the fifth straight game he hasn’t been dropped. Some of that is due to the offensive line and scheme, but Luck deserves a lot of the credit, too. How many QBs would get taken ahead of luck if the NFL were drafting from scratch right now?

T.Y. Hilton (9-9-155-2) led the team in receiving, while Jack Doyle (4-4-43) and Dontrelle Inman (6-4-34-1) chipped in. Eric Ebron, who had three TDs last week, didn’t see a single target, though he did attempt a pass to Luck in the end zone. Marlon Mack (16-61-1) led the way on the ground, and Jordan Wilkins (4-30-1) scored his first NFL TD.

Mariota did not have the courtesy to produce before getting hurt. The Titans offense was terrible all game under both him and Blaine Gabbert, though Jonnu Smith (8-6-44) had a career-high in yards.

“Riverboat” Ron Rivera had a chance to kick the PAT for a tie at the end of the game, but gambled on a two-point conversion and lost. While it’s more defensible when you have Cam Newton to go for it there, that only applies if Newton runs it (rather than takes a shotgun snap.) Moreover, there was still a minute left in the game, and the Lions had timeouts, i.e., even had the Panthers succeeded, the game was far from sealed. Instead of tying the game, and encouraging the Lions to play conservatively, Rivera, had the try succeeded, would have forced the Lions to use all four downs and aggressively try to win the game with a FG. It wasn’t the worst call a coach has made, but as the favored (and presumably better) team, taking his chances in overtime was a better bet than snapping it to Newton in the shotgun and treating him like any pocket passer.

Newton threw for 357 yards and three scores, but also had a pick, took three sacks and ran for only two yards.

D.J. Moore (8-7-157-1) is living up to his billing as the top receiver chosen in the draft. Last year’s top-two-round picks, Christian McCaffrey (8-6-57) and Curtis Samuel (7-5-55-1) also contributed. Devin Funchess (8-2-39) had a poor game. McCaffrey also had 13 carries for 53 yards.

Graham Gano missed a PAT and a short FG, ultimately costing his team the game. He beat the Giants with a 61-yarder earlier in the year, and it was his first missed FG of the year, so his job is probably safe even though he’s now missed three PATs.

Matthew Stafford backed into a win, despite 5.9 YPA, 220 yards and only one TD pass. He didn’t throw a pick, however, and took only one sack for five yards.

Kerryon Johnson (15-87-1) led the team in rushing and caught two passes for 10 yards before leaving with a sprained knee, the severity of which remains to be determined. Theo Riddick (7-5-30) and LeGarrette Blount (seven carries, one yard) would see more work should Johnson miss time.

With Marvin Jones out, Kenny Golladay (14-8-113-1) led the team in receiving, while Bruce Ellington (9-6-62) was the No. 2.

It’s odd that when Matt Ryan was throwing five TDs per game, Julio Jones (9-6-118-1) couldn’t find the end zone with a Thomas Guide, but in games where Ryan throws just one, Jones is suddenly DeAndre Hopkins. Ryan went for 291 yards (8.6) YPA, one TD, one pick and three sacks.

Tevin Coleman had eight carries for 58 yards and three catches for 27 yards. The Judge, Ito Smith, went a modest 6-for-10 and 2-for-12, respectively.

Dak Prescott did his caretaking – 6.5 YPA, 202 yards, no TDs, no picks and two sacks – but also ran in a TD. Ezekiel Elliott had another monster game – 23-122-1 and 8-7-79. Cole Beasley (7-5-51) led the receivers while Amari Cooper (5-3-36) was quiet. The Cowboys should be heavy favorites to win the NFC East.