There are some things in the NFL that you can just expect. For example, Jets’ QB Zach Wilson played poorly enough to get benched (we’ll talk more about that if he doesn’t start next week), and Denver S Kareem Jackson was suspended again for a dirty hit. Others, such as Detroit QB Jared Goff and Houston QB CJ Stroud each throwing 3 INTS…yet still winning…are less predictable. Much of what you’ll read below relates to coaches, as they’re very much in the news this week. Some are being discussed for good reasons; others…not so much. I’ll try to provide some insights in my week 11 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Latest Burrow Injury Sinks Bengals’ Season
From the Bengals’ perspective, not much matters in this game other than the torn wrist ligament of QB Joe Burrow. This matchup was a pretty competitive affair until early in the second quarter. Burrow had just thrown a TD pass to RB Joe Mixon to take a 10-7 lead, but instead of celebrating, he grabbed his wrist in pain. He tried to throw on the sidelines but shook his head, at which point he headed to the locker room. Burrow would not return, and Jake Browning came into the game. Browning had 1 career regular-season pass attempt coming into this game. He did his best, but there’s a clear drop off from Burrow.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the Bengals are done in terms of Super Bowl contention. Losing to Baltimore already doomed Cincy in the AFC North race, but at 5-5 and without their franchise QB, the Bengals can probably forget the playoffs as well. Every team remaining on Cincinnati’s schedule came into week 11 with a .500 record or better. That was going to be difficult to navigate with Burrow. 2023 has been a bit of a cursed season for this team, so hopefully they can come back healthier next season. We’re still talking about a very talented squad, and that should remain true in 2024.
When you win 34-20 over a division rival, it’s a good night, but not everything was perfect for Baltimore. It is true that a lucky tipped pass went for a Nelson Agholor TD. The Ravens moved the ball well all night and committed no turnovers. However, this was a Pyrrhic victory, as star TE Mark Andrews was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Despite the new weapons, Andrews is still Lamar Jackson‘s favorite target, and his absence will sting. Still, everything else is favorable for Baltimore: Pittsburgh is overrated, while Cleveland and Cincinnati both lost their QBs for the year. The AFC North is looking extremely purple.
Commanders’ Failures Against NYG Could Have Consequences
Sam Howell can’t do everything by himself. Though the Washington QB threw 3 INTs (one on a desperation heave at the end of the game), you could see he was trying to do too much because he felt that was his only chance to win. I’m not sure he’s wrong. Three of his teammates lost fumbles, and he has no protection. Teams are figuring out that defending the deep pass is pointless because Howell won’t have any time for such a play to develop. Defensively, the team’s two best edge rushers were traded, preventing the Commanders from masking their true weak point: the secondary.
Somehow, the Commanders made UDFA rookie QB Tommy DeVito look like Joe Montana for the Giants. A player who looked like a deer caught in headlights before this game, DeVito completed 18 or 26 passes for 246 yards and 3 TDs, producing a sterling turnover-free line. That gave New York the season sweep over Washington, accounting for 2 of their 3 wins all year. None of this reflects well on Washington coach Ron Rivera. With a difficult schedule upcoming, he’s likely looking at a 4th straight year with a non-winning record. He has whiffed repeatedly on QBs, and he’s getting Howell, the one with promised, killed on a weekly basis.
It’s important to note here that the current regime did not hire Rivera. The Snyders did, and it would make sense for new owner Josh Harris to want his own people. That is doubly true if he doesn’t believe the current group can lead his team in the right direction. Based on the evidence we’ve seen, I sense he’s going to opt for changes. Nothing has really improved, and some things have even gotten worse. If Rivera loses his job at season’s end, he can look back on this sweep by a lowly Giants team as the final nail in the coffin.
Broncos Suddenly on Fire with 4th Straight Win
When Sean Payton took over as the Broncos’ head coach, we expected a turnaround. The team was so damaged that it took a bit longer than we thought, but it is here now. Just weeks ago, DC Vance Joseph‘s defense allowed Miami to drop 70 points on them, and that was with the Dolphins being kind. In the last 4 games, this has been one of the best units in the NFL both in terms of points allowed and turnovers. They’ve held each opponent to 22 points or less in that span. Poor Josh Dobbs didn’t stand a chance. The Vikings signal caller did his best, but he was harassed to no end.
At no time was that more apparent than on the final drive of the game. Russell Wilson had just hit WR Courtland Sutton for a go-ahead TD, and Minnesota needed a comeback. Due to the Denver pass rush, Dobbs fired numerous incomplete passes, took a sack, and committed intentional grounding. In 8 plays, the Vikings went -4 yards and lost 21-20. The Broncos snapped Minnesota’s 5-game win streak and took their own to 4 games. They are now ahead of the Chargers and Raiders in the AFC West at 5-5. Payton has Wilson playing efficient football and even making some Dangeruss magic.
Most importantly, the team is believing again. When a few things go your way and you beat theoretically “superior” opponents, why not dream bigger? Denver can legitimately dream about the playoffs, even though the AFC is still tough to crack. Cincinnati is likely out of the picture (see above), and Denver plays Cleveland and Houston the next two weeks to try and make up ground. Overtaking one of those teams plus Pittsburgh feels reasonable. All of this speculation may be premature; a few bad bounces could send Denver back to purgatory. Regardless, this is more of the team the Broncos thought they built last year, and that is a victory on its own.
My Annual “Fire Brandon Staley” Plea for the Chargers
I know, I know. I go on some sort of tirade against Chargers HC Brandon Staley at least once a season. I’m not sure I’ve ever outright called for his ouster though. Until today. LA fans (the few that followed the team from San Diego anyway) deserve better than what this franchise has given them. If you’ve been watching this team, you know that the issue is not a lack of talent. The Bolts have a franchise QB in Justin Herbert; an elite edge rushing duo in Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa; and other stars such as S Derwin James, RB Austin Ekeler, and WR Keenan Allen.
What Staley has done with those players almost defies belief. When a game is on the line, Herbert tends to come up short, even if it’s through no fault of his own. This team has an abnormal amount of injuries, too many to be attributable to bad luck. One oft-injured player, Bosa, is out again with a foot sprain, and no incident is more famous than Staley’s willingness to play WR Mike Williams in a meaningless game last season, leading to a serious injury. You also know from my past rants that Staley’s aggression is foolish and hurts his team more often than not. Now, he has added something new to pick on.
After this week’s 23-20 loss to a Packers team that everyone left for dead a week ago, Staley got very testy with reporters who asked him about his defense and play calling. This was not a poor question; a coach who was hired based on his defensive pedigree was producing an awful unit despite possessing ample talent, and the reporters were correct to ask the architect of that unit what was going on. It seems as though Staley’s recklessness goes beyond in-game calls. His off-putting combativeness only reinforces the notion that he’s the wrong guy to lead Los Angles where they want to go.
The Spanos family is notoriously patient, and I admire that. This has simply gone too far though. If they don’t want to waste Herbert’s prime, they must act now. I am far from the only one saying this anymore. Stephen A. Smith laid into Staley on First Take, and former coach Rex Ryan mockingly suggested that Staley should go coach a Division III team. The chorus is growing louder, and regardless of their reasons, everyone agrees on one thing: to save the Los Angeles Chargers, Brandon Staley must be replaced as soon as possible. With the team at 4-6, it might already be too late for this season.
MNF: Super Bowl Rematch Brings a Different Result
The Eagles stole this 21-17 victory. I’m only partly talking about the officials helping their cause (again!). On that front, the zebras let WR Olamide Zaccheus commit a clear hold on a TD run, they failed to call PI when Travis Kelce was being grabbed (probably because Taylor Swift wasn’t there), and they turned an obvious neutral zone infraction by OLB Brandon Graham into a false start on a critical 3rd-and-8 late in the 4th quarter. However, the Chiefs can’t really blame anyone but themselves. They were clearly the better team all night but made a few crucial and inexcusable mistakes.
KC committed 2 red zone turnovers, including a Patrick Mahomes INT and a Kelce fumble. The WR corps with the league’s worst hands dropped some crucial passes; none was more impactful than a deep TD dropped near the end of the game by WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Those 3 issues alone likely took 3 TDs off the board, and in a 4-point game, you can see why that matters. It’s a shame because the defense was stellar. CB Trent McDuffie was everywhere, blitzing the QB and swatting passes away. He and DT Chris Jones each had 2 of KC’s 5 sacks on Jalen Hurts. DC Steve Spagnuolo pushed all the right buttons.
The Eagles might be the worst 9-1 team I’ve ever seen. Hurts threw for just 150 yards and an INT, and star WR AJ Brown was held to 1 catch for 8 yards. As long as the officials and their opponents keep helping them though, they’ll have the inside track to home field advantage in the NFC. Kansas City’s division is easier than expected, but they need to stop playing around. At 7-3, they’re in fine shape, but this offense is still not clicking. Philadelphia came away with the win in the Kelce Bowl, but I doubt either team’s coach is thrilled with the way his squad performed.