Much of the same trends that we’ve seen so far this season continued in week 11. The Rams and Panthers continued to lose in poor efforts. Houston continued its march toward the #1 draft pick. Dallas looked like a true contender against a high-quality opponent. The Colts couldn’t protect their QB. None of these things surprised us, but we seem to be able to rely on them. That’s a strong comfort in a season with so much drama. It’s my job to pick out the true insights so you can be on top of the games. I’ll try to provide some insights in my week 11 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Rookie Receivers Shine, Titans Too Solid for Packers
The offensive improvement we saw from Green Bay last week was short-lived. It should have continued with the return of Randall Cobb from injury, but although the veteran led the team with 6 catches for 73 yards, the Packers didn’t get a whole lot going. They threw twice as often as they ran, which was partially a product of playing from behind. However, when they did run, they averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. Second-round rookie WR Christian Watson continued his TD binge, hauling in both of the Packers’ end zone scores. His physical ability is exceptional, but he needs to continue to become more polished as a route-runner. Aaron Rodgers remained out of sync, miscommunicating with Allen Lazard at least twice and missing some throws that he normally makes in his sleep.
Tennessee was much better in Ryan Tannehill’s second game back from injury. Aside from one poor throw where he never saw CB Rasul Douglas coming and was picked off, he looked much more in rhythm than he did last week against Denver. He finished an efficient 22/27 for 333 yards and 2 TDs. RB Derrick Henry (28/87/1) was mostly stymied on the ground, but he did throw a TD on a jump pass! Titans’ OC Todd Downing was very creative in his play calling, keeping Green Bay on their toes, but maybe skip the party next time? First-round rookie WR Treylon Burks, the man tasked with replacing the traded AJ Brown, was phenomenal in his second game back from an IR stint with turf toe. He caught 8 passes for 111 yards and was practically unguardable. Burks looks a lot like Brown in terms of his style of play, and he should provide Tennessee with a strong weapon for years to come.
Defensively, both teams played well against the run, but the Titans fared significantly better against the pass. Although the Packers had 3 sacks to Tennessee’s 1, it was the Titans who consistently got pressure and forced some hurried throws. They even made Rodgers commit intentional grounding at his one-inch line. That was the difference in a comfortable 27-17 win for Mike Vrabel’s team. This unit has quietly been one of the NFL’s best, so perhaps Green Bay’s offensive regression was to be expected. Moving forward, Tennessee has a stranglehold on the AFC South at 7-3, while Green Bay is struggling just to stay relevant at 4-7. They’re in danger of falling out of the playoff picture entirely, but maybe that’s simply what they are at this point: an also-ran.
Lions Beat Overrated Giants for 3rd Win in a Row
If you read my midseason power rankings, you’ll have seen me lament Detroit’s position while stating my lack of belief in the Giants’ offense. These two teams met on Sunday, and those storylines played out to perfection. The Lions played great offensively, and while the defense had their lapses, the New York offense couldn’t make any of the crucial plays needed to make this a competitive game. As usual, NYG scored 12 points in the 4th quarter. I’d argue that those were garbage time points though in a game that was lost 31-18. Detroit has quietly moved from 1-6 to 4-6 since their close loss to the excellent Dolphins. They’re hanging around the playoff race because…what’s that word…oh yeah…grit.
The Giants played decently against the pass, as Jared Goff threw for just 165 yards with no TDs or INTs. Their run defense wore out as the game went on, though. Three-and-outs by the offense made them tired, and Detroit pounded the rock for 160 yards on 37 carries. They also scored 4 TDs, 3 of which were punched in by Jamaal Williams. Detroit’s defense was average, and that is actually a great improvement over their prior performance. They surrendered over 400 yards of total offense, 341 yards passing, but much of that came when the game was already decided.
I need to talk about the NYG offense most of all. This was an abhorrent performance at home against the 32nd-ranked defense. QB Daniel Jones was back to his normal self as a turnover machine, tossing 2 dreadful INTs. In a game where Jones needed to throw to win, he piled up empty yardage and couldn’t hit 20 points. That wasn’t all his fault, as their 18 points were just 2 shy of 20, and kicker Graham Gano missed 2 PATs. He’s normally reliable, so I’m willing to chalk that up to a bad day in gusting winds. RB Saquon Barkley ran 15 times for just 22 yards and had no effect on the game. New York’s fast start to the season and easy schedule could earn them a playoff berth, but they’ll be easily dispatched if they play like they did this week.
Cowboys Make Statement in Potential NFC Championship Preview
Two of the NFC’s best (THE best in my opinion) played in Minnesota, and the 6-3 Cowboys completely dominated. Fresh off their squandered lead against the Packers, Dallas came into this game motivated and focused. Minnesota, riding high off their wild win over Buffalo, most certainly did not. Star DE/LB/pretty much any position Micah Parsons strip sacked Kirk Cousins on the first drive of the game. The Cowboys only went 18 yards, but they scored a field goal. They would never relinquish their lead. In fact, when Minnesota scored a field goal on their next drive, little did they know that would be their only score.
From that point on, the game would be all Dallas. Mike McCarthy’s team didn’t punt until midway through the third quarter, and that would be their only punt with the starting unit. The score was 37-3 at that point, and after one more FG to reach the final score of 40-3, Cooper Rush replaced Dak Prescott. It was a job well done. Prescott was surgical, going 22/25 (just 3 incompletions!) for 276 yards and 2 TDs. Kicker Brett Maher had a career game, going 4-4 on FGs, including one from 60 yards (he made that one twice after the first was taken off the board by an official review!). RB Ezekiel Elliott returned from injury, and though he gained just 42 yards on his 15 carries, he did score 2 goal-line TDs. That was the area where he was sorely missed.
The rest of the offense came courtesy of RB Tony Pollard. Zeke’s substitute the last couple of games, Pollard didn’t slow down with his backfield-mate in the lineup. He ran for 80 yards on 15 carries and caught 6 passes for 109 yards and 2 TDs. Pollard was dynamic, seemingly always ready with an extra gear to burst by defenders. The defense was excellent as well, battering Cousins throughout the contest and blanketing Minnesota’s receivers. MVP candidate Justin Jefferson caught just 3 passes for 33 yards thanks to sticky coverage by Trevon Diggs. The Cowboys piled up 7 sacks, their most in a game since 2008. Micah Parsons (2 sacks, 5 QB hits, forced fumble) continues to make his case for defensive player of the year.
On the Vikings side, there’s not much to say. Cousins never got comfortable in the pocket, and though RB Dalvin Cook averaged 6.5 yards per carry, the Vikings could only give him 11 carries as they abandoned the run once they got down by several scores. The defense, missing CB Cameron Dantzler, was a sieve, letting Dallas score almost at will. This game shows what Dallas can be at their peak: an explosive offense that can control the ball on the ground or barrage a team through the air, a complete defense with playmakers at all levels, and a special teams unit without any holes. Minnesota will learn from this game and come back stronger. They’d better; Philadelphia is not championship material, so the Vikings and Cowboys would very well meet again.
AFC West Race is as Good as Over
Kansas City may as well be crowned champions for the 7th time in a row already. As they showed against the Chargers this week, even when you play great, they can still beat you. QB Patrick Mahomes and TE Travis Kelce are simply too good, and they seem to have a telepathic connection. One always knows what the other is thinking, and they make magic almost every game. The offensive line, remade in 2021, might be the league’s best. DT Chris Jones is a monster up front, taking pressure off of the secondary while providing pressure against the opposing QB. At 8-2 and with a season sweep over the second-place Chargers (who are now 3 games back), there will be a home playoff game at Arrowhead once again.
The Chargers are a good team, but they just can’t seem to close out the Chiefs when they get the chance. They held halftime leads in both matchups this season but lost both games. Part of the problem is coaching. I’ve ranted before about how Brandon Staley is the worst coach in the league. More evidence for that can be seen in LA’s halftime adjustments. They’ve scored just 2 TDs in the second halves of their past 4 games. The defense has squandered leads or surrendered game-winning plays in the final minute. Ironically, their kicking game has been good despite the injuries at the position. Justin Herbert can be a great QB, Austin Ekeler is a perennially underrated RB, and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are star receivers (when healthy). Something always seems to hold this team back. Whether injuries, bad decisions, or bad luck is to blame, they tend to come up short.
The other two teams in the division, Denver and Las Vegas, are not threats at all. Both are 3-7 and floundering. The Raiders have only one win against a team OTHER THAN Denver. The Broncos have the league’s worst offense and coaching issues of their own. We’ll talk about both of these teams and dissect their problems in the weeks ahead. For now though, just know that they aren’t in the playoff race. The division is well out of hand, and the AFC is too deep for either to make a run. Even if one of these teams had a miracle run and won out, 10-7 probably isn’t enough to get in. Not all is well for Josh McDaniels and Nathaniel Hackett, two first-year head coaches that look way in over their heads.
Zach Wilson Continues to Hold Jets Back in Offense-Free Loss to NE
This was one of the poorest offensive showings I’ve ever witnessed. Mac Jones was efficient on the Patriots’ side, but 23/27 for 246 yards does nothing when you can’t get in the end zone, take 6 sacks, and score just 3 points on offense. Neither team turned the ball over, yet neither team managed more than a field goal offensively either. NE kicker Nick Folk had an unusually poor day, missing 2 of 3 FGs. As with Graham Gano above, this might have been due to heavy wind. Regardless, both teams constantly hurt themselves. The only end zone trip was a punt return by Marcus Jones with 5 seconds remaining, handing NE the season sweep with a 10-3 win. I’ll likely discuss Bailey Zappe vs. Mac Jones again at some point, but I’m going to focus on NYJ’s QB problem here.
Zach Wilson’s sophomore season should have seen him exhibit a lot of growth, but the year started off poorly when he sprained his MCL in the preseason. That missed practice time was critical, and he also missed the first 3 games of the regular season. Though he has won 5 of his 7 starts this year, the Jets have been winning in spite of him, not because of him. Thus far, Wilson has 4 TD passes, 5 INTs, and a 55.6% completion rate. His worst games were both against New England, as Bill Belichick knows how to attack young QBs. This week, he went 9/22 for 77 yards and took 4 sacks. It was a pitiful showing that, despite his protests, let down his defense, which performed admirably.
The reasons for his struggles are numerous. He’s not seeing the field well, alternating between being reckless with the football and being overly skittish. In the first matchup against the Patriots, Wilson threw 3 awful INTs that should have been thrown away, and coach Robert Saleh told him so. This time, he seemed overly cognizant of that fact and took no chances, which was best exemplified by the team’s TWO total yards of offense in the second half. Two. Accuracy has also been a struggle, with Wilson sailing passes over his receivers’ heads or missing them short.
Saleh’s biggest complaint appears to be Wilson’s leadership and accountability. He isn’t accepting the blame and learning from mistakes in his post-game press conferences, and teammates have taken notice. Contrast that with veteran Joe Flacco, and you’ll understand why Saleh is reportedly considering a QB change ahead of week 12. This is a really talented young defense. WR Garrett Wilson, who was irate with the offense after the NE game, is a likely star. The only thing keeping this team from making a playoff push is their second-year QB, who so far is looking like a bust. It remains to be seen whether Saleh rides with Wilson or switches to a veteran with his team surprisingly in the mix.