Week 9 Observations

Week 9 had one of the weaker slates in recent memory with the exception of the Rams-Saints showdown and the Packers-Pats matchup on Sunday night. My Twitter timeline was filled with people suggesting the former lived up to the hype,  but it left me a little cold. I’d say the first half lived up to it, with the exception of the bad call on the fake FG, but the second half was more ordinary. Yes, the Rams came back from an 18-point deficit, but that was in part because Sean Payton went into a shell, running too much and getting to third and long too readily. Moreover, he punted twice on fourth and short, once in Rams territory, the other time from just short of midfield. No wonder the Rams came back.

At least the decisive play was bold and perfectly executed – the long TD to Michael Thomas. Everyone seemed to love the cellphone celebration and that the booth didn’t realize the reference to former Saints WR Joe Horn. Of course, once Joe Buck got around to mentioning it, it was to clutch his pearls. The only thing Buck does more than clutch pearls is say “Well played!” every time a defensive player makes a modestly good stop. Also a pearl clutcher, Troy Aikman’s speciality besides “I’m not so sure…” is to justify bad calls by the refs, like the non-interference on Brandin Cooks which essentially ended the game. I had the Saints minus 1.5 against the spread (before the line moved and the Rams were actually favored), but I found myself rooting for the Rams, especially after the two fourth-down punts. If I were coaching against the Rams or Chiefs and had the ball on fourth downs between the two 40s, it would take at least 4th and 10 before I seriously considered punting.

• Jared Goff is the elite real-life QB no one realizes is elite because he’s embedded in such a great system. But Robert Woods was no one before Goff, Cooper Kupp has below-average speed and Brandin Cooks is on no one’s list of top-10 real-life wideouts. Goff had 391 yards (9.8 YPA), three TDs, one pick and no sacks to go along with 17 rushing yards. He repeatedly threaded the needle with perfect throws through tight windows, including one into Tyler Higbee’s hands in the end zone which Higbee dropped. The next play, Goff scrambled out of trouble and threw a perfect pass on the move to Malcolm Brown who himself made a great play staying in bounds and scoring. The decision-making and accuracy were Tom Brady-esque, only with more arm strength.

• Todd Gurley had a modest game against a tough run defense that keyed on him, but still went 13-68-1, though with six catches for only 11 yards. Cooks led the team with an 8-6-114-1 line, Kupp 6-5-89 and Woods 9-5-71. Both TEs chipped in on the nine targets between them.

• Drew Brees is nearly 40 and still squarely in his prime. He had 346 yards, four TDs, no picks and no sacks. He also scrambled for 16 yards, somehow looking quick and athletic despite a lack of foot speed.

• The Saints oddly have the narrowest tree in the NFL right now: Michael Thomas (15-12-211-1) and Alvin Kamara (19-82-2, 5-4-34-1.) That’s it. Mark Ingram went 9-for-33 and lost a fumble, Ben Watson 4-3-62-1 and Tre’Quan Smith 3-2-22-1. I’d still expect Ingram to do more against lesser opponents, but Kamara’s role has expanded since last year at Ingram’s expense.

• I couldn’t tell if the Patriots defense just played really well, or if Mike McCarthy’s predictable play design made it easy on them, but Aaron Rodgers often had nowhere to go with the ball and finished with a modest 259 yards (6.0 YPA), two TDs, one sack and eight rushing yards.

• Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a 51-yard pass and led the team with 6-3-101. Jimmy Graham was active early and had 6-4-55-1 while Davante Adams (9-6-40-1) was held in check. Adams is reliable, but he lacks the run-after-the-catch burst of elite wideouts like Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown.

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• Aaron Jones looked great, going 14-for-76, while breaking tackles on almost every play and catching two passes for 10 yards, but he lost a soul-crushing fumble late in the game that helped the Patriots put things away. Jamaal Williams looked fine going seven for 34 and caught two passes for 20 more yards, but Jones is the starter and Williams the backup, it seems, fumble notwithstanding.

• Tom Brady had a modest, but efficient game – 294 yards, 8.4 YPA, one TD, no picks and two sacks. He’s found a new favorite target in Josh Gordon who made plays all over the field and finished with a 10-5-130-1 line. Julian Edelman also got 10 targets and went six for 71. At times, it seemed like Wes Welker and Randy Moss, and if Rob Gronkowski ever gets back to being himself, look out.

• James White (12-31-2, 7-6-72) had another monster game  despite leaving briefly with an injury. Cordarrelle Patterson looked like Eric Dickerson for a brief stint, going 11-for-61 with a score. Patterson is unusually big (6-2, 228) for a player with 4.4 speed, and it’s surprising his former teams didn’t use him more as a runner especially since his career average is 8.2 YPC on 72 carries. Sony Michel will be back soon, but Patterson could continue to be part of this rushing attack. It’s so Patriots to somehow have acquired Patterson, who’s also an elite kick returner, and Gordon for next to nothing.

• The Chargers are for real. Even though they nearly imploded at the end, getting a decisive win at Seattle is no mean feat. Philip Rivers quietly continued his MVP-level season – 228 yards (8.8 YPA), two TDs, no picks and two sacks. Keenan Allen led the team with a 10-6-124 line, but each of the Williamses caught one of Rivers’ two TDs, despite modest volume.

• Back from the hamstring injury, Melvin Gordon was his usual productive self – 16-113-1 and 4-1-10. He and Todd Gurley are to the 2015 draft class what Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson were to 2007’s.

• Russell Wilson wasn’t efficient against a tough Chargers defense, but he finished with 235 yards two TDs, one pick and four sacks. He also ran for 41 yards on five carries, a couple of which were designed.

• Doug Baldwin led the team with 4-4-77, while Nick Vannett (8-6-52-1) and tailback Mike Davis (8-7-45) chipped in. Jaron Brown caught the other TD, while Tyler Locket (4-3-22) had a modest day.

• Davis also led the team with 15 carries for 62 yards as Chris Carson (8-for-40), who was a game-time decision, sat out the second half and is iffy for Week 10. Maybe Rashaad Penny (4-for-11) will get his chance yet.

• Deshaun Watson threw for 213 yards (8.9 YPA), two TDs and no picks, but took four sacks. He also ran for 38 yards, all on the road against a tough Denver defense. He’s more or less back to the player he was last year.

• DeAndre Hopkins (12-10-106-1) always gets his. Demaryius Thomas went 3-3-61 for his new team against his former one. No one else, including the backs, did anything.

• Case Keenum was passable – 290 yards, one TD, no picks and two sacks, but only 6.9 YPA. Tight end Jeff Heuerman (11-10-83-1) was the offensive story of the game. Keenum went to him in key spots, and Heuerman made some athletic catches and runs. He looks like a viable starter with upside.

• Courtland Sutton went 5-3-57 in Thomas’ absence, while Emmanuel Sanders went 9-6-47. Phillip Lindsay had 17 carries for only 60 yards and two catches for 24. Devontae Booker (3-15-1) scored the lone rushing TD.

• Joe Flacco had another bad game – 209 yards (5.6 YPA), no TDs, no picks and two sacks. The Ravens are 4-5,  heading into a bye and drafted Lamar Jackson in the first round. It was funny to see Flacco ignore Jackson, who was wide open near the sideline on a play in the red zone, only to throw the ball well out of reach of his eventual target and settle for a field goal. It’s  possible the Ravens make a switch, though I’d bet against it.

• Rookie tight end Mark Andrews went 6-3-50, and the three targets that didn’t reach him were all in the end zone. Willie Snead (8-7-58) had his typical day, and no one else did anything except for the TD run by Alex Collins.

• Down seven in the closing seconds, the Ravens tried a desperation lateral play, and at one point the ball made it to Buck Allen who while being tackled, heaved it 20-plus feet high and backwards 10 or 15 yards into the hands of John Brown. It didn’t amount to anything, but it was the greatest lateral in NFL history.

• Ben Roethlisberger looked like he got hurt on a sack, but it turned out the wind was merely knocked out of him. Actually, the injury didn’t even look that serious, but the announcers kept emphasizing how the 270-pound defender’s body weight came down on his shoulder. In any event, he threw for 270 yards and two TDs and snuck in another, though he took a sack and got only 5.7 YPA.

• James Conner is matchup proof – 24-for-107 and 9-7-56-1. The Le’Veon Bell situation seems like a distant dream, and it’s time to move Conner into the top-12 overall where he belongs. Juju Smith-Schuster led the team with 9-7-78 while Antonio Brown went 11-5-42-1.

• Cam Newton’s MVP-level year continued – he had 247 yards passing (9.9 YPA), two TDs, no picks and two sacks, while rushing for 33 more yards.

• Christian McCaffrey had a monster game against the Bucs defense – 17-79-2 on the ground and 6-5-78 through the air. He’s more or less earning value for those who pushed him into the first round (I was not one of them.)

• Curtis Samuel had a big game, rushing for a 33-yard TD and catching two of four targets for 25 yards and another score. Greg Olsen (6-6-76-1) looks all the way back too. D.J. Moore and Devin Funchess had quiet games, as there are suddenly quite a few mouths to feed in this offense.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick looked more like himself – the one we’ve known for 10 years. He had 243 yards, but only 6.1 YPA, two picks and three sacks. He did throw four TDs, however, and rush for 23 yards.

• O.J. Howard (6-4-53-2) looks like a star, and more importantly, the Bucs use him in the red zone. Adam Humphries (8-8-82) led all receivers, while Mike Evans had an abominable 10-1-16 line.

• The Redskins got exposed, though Alex Smith managed 306 passing yards (6.7 YPA), one TD, one pick and three sacks. Maurice Harris (12-10-124) led the way, followed by Vernon Davis (7-5-62.) Josh Doctson (6-3-31-1) scored a TD, but no one else did much, least of all Adrian Peterson (nine carries for 17 yards.)

• Matt Ryan shredded the Redskins for 350 yards (9.2 YPA) and four TDs, but threw a pick and took two sacks. Julio Jones (10-7-121-1) led the team and finally got into the end zone for the first time in Week 9, defying my prediction made 10 minutes earlier he’d do so in Week 12. Calvin Ridley went 9-6-71-1 and Tevin Coleman 7-5-68-2 to go along with 88 rushing yards on 13 carries. The Judge, Ito Smith, went 10-60-1 on the ground and caught a pass for four yards.

• Matthew Stafford was dropped 10 times and looked like he was simply trying to survive in the closing minutes. He threw for only 199 yards (5.5 YPA) and no TDs. The running game was similarly stuffed.

• Kenny Golladay went 4-3-46 in Golden Tate’s absence, Marvin Jones led the team with 8-6-66 and Theo Riddick (knee) went 8-7-36 in his return.

With the defense dominating, Kirk Cousins didn’t need to do much, and he didn’t – 164 yards, one TD, one pick, one sack and one lost fumble. Unsurprisingly, Adam Thielen’s 100-yard game streak was also snapped, but he did score a TD on four catches for 22 yards.

• Dalvin Cook (hamstring) returned and had 10 carries for 89 yards, but 70 of them came on one play. Still, it appears his hamstring is okay. Latavius Murray had 10 carries for 31 yards and a score. I’d expect them to split work in the near term with Cook (four catches 20 yards) seeing more in the passing-game.

Maybe the Jets should have drafted Denzel Ward at 1.3. Sam Darnold had another bad game – four picks, four sacks, no TDs and 229 yards (5.9 YPA) against a soft Dolphins defense. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson were back, but both had modest showings. Chris Herndon (4-4-62) led the team.

• Isaiah Crowell had 13 carries while recently activated Elijah McGuire had seven, though McGuire also had three catches for 37 yards.

• Ever the compiler, Frank Gore had 20 carries for 53 yards, moving ahead of an all-time great, Barry Sanders, on the career YFS list. No one has strung out the decline phase longer or with more class than Gore.  Kenyan Drake had only three carries for nine yards.

• Brock Osweiler and the Dolphins receivers were no-shows, as the only TD in the game was scored on defense.

• Pat Mahomes had another huge game – 375 yards (11.3 YPA), three TDs, two sacks and one pick (a meaningless throw on the last play of the first half.) He also ran for 18 yards. While Rivers and Newton are quietly putting up MVP level seasons, Mahomes is doing it loudly. Barring a collapse, he’ll re-set the record books and win easily.

• Travis Kelce went 9-7-99-2, while the rest of the passing-game production was spread out. Tyreek Hill (groin) went 5-4-69 and looked healthy, but Sammy Watkins (5-5-62) is dealing with an apparently minor foot injury. Spencer Ware (5-4-69) also got into the act.

• Kareem Hunt (17-91-2 and 2-1-50-1) had another big game. As the weather gets harsher, I’d expect the Chiefs to rely on him even more down the stretch.

• Baker Mayfield played okay – 297 yards (7.1 YPA), two TDs, one pick and two sacks – but lacks outside playmakers. Jarvis Landry – 7-6-50 – is not dangerous, and Antonio Callaway (5-3-51) is still a work in progress. David Njoku (5-4-53) and Duke Johnson (9-9-78-2) are nice complements – and it was especially helpful to see Johnson involved – but neither is a substitute for someone who can stretch the defense outside.

• Nick Chubb had 85 yards and a score on 22 carries, but caught only one pass for five yards. He has no competition for carries at least.

• Mitchell Trubisky didn’t have to do much, so he didn’t. Jordan Howard had two rushing TDs, but the defense did the rest with an assist from Nathan Peterman, the most fantasy-defense-friendly QB in NFL history.

• Peterman had 3,9 YPA, took four sacks and threw three picks, one of which was taken to the house. The Bears also got a TD on a fumble return. LeSean McCoy danced around too much and had 10 carries for 10 yards. Chris Ivory ran better but hurt his shoulder and could be out awhile. That’s more than should be said about this game already.