Happy Thanksgiving everyone! One of the treats of the holiday is extra football. We’ll naturally start with that trio of Thursday football games, but that was just the beginning. Four teams started new QBs (3 of which were intentional; Justin Fields was injured), and we had some awesome comebacks (Browns/Jaguars). One of Brandon Staley’s decisions actually helped his Chargers, and the Jaguars benefitted from the same choice! A single unlucky team (Saints) even got shut out despite getting inside their opponent’s 5 twice. To find out what we learned, enjoy my week 12 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
Turkey Day Football: Recaps of the 3 Thanksgiving Games
Bills 28, Lions 25: Lions Make One Too Many Mistakes–Detroit was once again really competitive despite a large talent gap. The Lions got on the board first with Jamaal Williams’ league-leading 13th rushing TD. The teams then traded scores, with Buffalo taking a 17-14 halftime lead. Defense ruled the third quarter, with a Buffalo safety as the lone score. Lions’ QB Jared Goff took a shotgun snap in the end zone, but he held the ball much too long. The protection was decent, and you can’t take a safety in that spot. Each team committed a crucial turnover: Williams fumbled in Bills’ territory, and Josh Allen threw an INT in the end zone. Each kicker also made an awful mistake: Buffalo’s Tyler Bass missed a PAT that could have forced Detroit to go for a TD at the end of the game, while Michael Badgley shanked a 29-yard FG. Both kickers rebounded on their next kick. Badgley tied the game at 25, but the Lions’ defense made the last error. With 23 seconds left, they let Stefon Diggs catch a 39-yard pass, putting Buffalo in field goal range. Bass would make his 45-yard kick, winning the game. Detroit gives maximum effort, but the skill level difference between these two teams is staggering. It’s a testament to the Lions that they made this game so close.
Cowboys 28, Giants 20: Ill Cowboys Overwhelm Giants–Multiple Cowboys were suffering from an illness, but the defense seemed just fine. The offense struggled in the first half, with Dak Prescott throwing two INTs. One was a bad throw, but the other was a mere miscommunication with Michael Gallup. He rebounded to throw two second-half TDs (both to TE Dalton Schultz). On the ground, it was Ezekiel Elliott’s turn to shine. Zeke ran 16 times for 92 yards and a TD, showing burst that has been absent for some time. If he can play like this while splitting time with Tony Pollard, the Dallas offense gets even more dangerous. New York’s offense was stuck in the same rut that it was in against Detroit last week but without the turnovers. Daniel Jones was sacked 3 times, with 2 from Micah Parsons, who is boosting his DPOY resume. The book is out on how to beat this team: stop Saquon Barkley. Barkley was held to 39 yards on 11 carries, forcing Jones to try and carry the team through the air. That ended predictably (don’t be fooled by a garbage time TD with 8 seconds left). If you can build a lead over NYG and force them to abandon the running game, you’re in great shape. Both teams were 7-3 coming in, but there’s no doubt who has a brighter outlook.
Vikings 33, Patriots 26: Minnesota’s Explosiveness Overpowers Patriots–Fresh off their demolition by the Cowboys a few days ago, Minnesota wanted to start hot this time around. Kirk Cousins went to top weapon Justin Jefferson right away, and the latter hauled in a touchdown on the opening drive. Jefferson even completed a pass on that drive. New England’s offense, which scored just 3 points last Sunday, was much improved as well. QB Mac Jones looked better than he has all season, going 28/39 for 382 yards and 2 TDs. As usual though, when Jones was needed most, he came up short. On the penultimate drive, he took a bad sack that forced 4th and 16, which he failed to convert. The defense stood tall and got NE the ball with under a minute left, and Jones took another sack near his goal line. That killed any chance of a comeback. For Minnesota, Jefferson (9/139/1) was dominant once again. Adam Thielen (9/61/1) and TJ Hockenson (5/43/1) were also valuable contributors. Kirk Cousins threw for 299 yards and 3 TDs (1 INT), which was critical on a night where Dalvin Cook was held to just 1.9 yards per carry. The Patriots have a championship-caliber defense, but the offense is likely to waste it. Minnesota isn’t perfect, but they can engage in shootouts, which might be necessary in this NFC.
Three Teams Intentionally Make QB Changes
The Jets took my advice and replaced Zach Wilson, though they inserted Mike White instead of Joe Flacco. Houston surprisingly pulled the plug on the Davis Mills experiment in favor of Kyle Allen, suggesting that the team (correctly) does not view him as the franchise guy, but this does affect their tanking plans. Carolina also listened to me and spun the QB carousel again, granting Sam Darnold his first start of the year; we know what PJ Walker is, and Baker Mayfield is clearly not the answer, so this is the right move. Let’s look at how each of the 3 did in their season debuts. Note: Trevor Siemian is not discussed here because Justin Fields was not benched (he was injured).
Mike White easily had the best day of the 3 new starters. As he did against the Bengals in his debut last season, White lit up the Bears defense. In Chicago’s defense, their secondary has 2 rookies, and star Eddie Jackson left early with a noncontact foot injury. Still, you can’t ignore the rhythm White was in all game. He posted a sterling line: 22/28 for 315 yards and 3 TDs with no turnovers. The most encouraging long-term sign was that he was finally able to get #10 overall pick Garrett Wilson (5/95/2) heavily involved. White completed passes to 10 different receivers and looked in complete command throughout the game. Coach Robert Saleh said that Zach Wilson would return to the starting lineup at some point, but I don’t think you can swap again after this performance from White (in the rain no less).
In the exact opposite scenario, Kyle Allen provided a complete dud for Houston. I’m ignoring anything positive that happened after halftime. Miami stopped trying in the third quarter and even pulled QB Tua Tagovailoa, so the entire half was garbage time (and even that wasn’t perfect). Allen went 26/39 for 215 yards and a TD, but he threw two awful INTs. On one of them, I genuinely don’t know who he was throwing to, as only Dolphins were anywhere near the ball. He also took 5 sacks from holding the ball too long. Allen fumbled twice but was lucky to have his team recover both. With Miami selling out to stop RB Dameon Pierce, Allen still couldn’t make anything happen until the score was 30-0. Things got so bad that I wondered if Davis Mills might return.
Carolina should be encouraged by what they saw from Sam Darnold. He didn’t overwhelm the Broncos, and he had a few of his typical missed throws, but he was competent and, more importantly, turnover-free. Darnold went 11/19 for 164 yards and a TD, and he added a TD on a weird play in which he fumbled, recovered the ball, and rolled into the endzone untouched. The Denver defense is very good (in fact, they would be a Super Bowl contender with even an average offense), so the fact that Darnold played clean football cannot be ignored. I think he earned the opportunity to continue to start going forward. It’s CLEAR that he is a better option than Baker Mayfield, and this team is somehow still in the division race. Wilks has to see what Darnold can provide once he gets more first-team reps.
Time to Call it Quits on This Version of the Broncos
Zach Wilson isn’t the only Wilson who has been a massive disappointment. I already had to call it quits with TB and GB a few weeks ago, but it’s about time I did so with the Broncos’ offense as well. As with those other two teams, Denver has a veteran, Super Bowl-winning QB. You want to believe that Russell Wilson can turn things around. Sometimes, though, you just have to accept what your eyes are telling you. Wilson is playing much worse than either Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. While you can argue that other factors are harming the Buccaneers and Packers, that’s much harder to do with the Broncos.
Wilson has been fairly well-protected. His weapons, including Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, are very good. The running game is decent, though it took a hit once Javonte Williams tore his ACL. The defense is spectacular, keeping the team in games it had no business being in. New coach Nathaniel Hackett’s game management and play calling leave much to be desired, but ultimately it’s the players who execute the plays. Denver has scored 20 points just twice this season: in a loss to the then-0-3 Raiders and against the lowly Jaguars. A playcaller change didn’t work, and they’re even having sideline spats now!
Their only wins have come against the pitiful Texans (16-9), the 49ers in one of the ugliest games of the year (11-10 was the final score), and the aforementioned Jaguars. This week may have been their nadir. The Broncos scored just 10 points against the 3-8 Panthers, and 7 of those came in garbage time after a gift roughing the passer call. The defense was fine, and the running game (6.4 YPC) was good. The culprit once again was the passing game. Wilson misfired all game long, and he took 3 more sacks behind a decent line. I can’t identify a way out for this team. If Russ, who I remind you is on a new extension, is truly cooked, this team might be further away than it has been in years.
Trevor Lawrence Delivers Signature Moment of Career Thus Far
It goes without question that Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence hasn’t yet performed like the generational prospect that he was drafted to be. In fact, the offense wasn’t operating at a high level for much of this week’s game against the Ravens. Jacksonville mustered only 10 points through 3 quarters, and 7 of them came off a Baltimore fumble at midfield. Despite that, the Jaguars entered the final frame down just 2, as the defense was throttling the Ravens’ offense superbly (4 FGs through 3 quarters). Both offenses started to take off in the 4th, and it seemed as though Baltimore would win as expected.
A strip sack taken by Lawrence set Baltimore up at the JAX 25, and a quick TD put them down 19-10. Lawrence responded with a 75-yard drive, culminating in a TD pass to Jamal Agnew. Jacksonville took a 20-19 lead after another Baltimore fumble, but the Ravens responded with a TD drive and a 2-point conversion to go up 27-20. With 2:02 left on the clock, this seemed like another game where Jacksonville would have a chance to win but come up short. The drive started horribly, with Lawrence getting strip sacked on second down. His lineman recovered the ball, but he faced 3rd and 21. Consecutive passes of 16 and 10 yards extended the drive, and Lawrence would lead the team all the way down the field, throwing a 10-yard TD strike to Marvin Jones.
Not content with tying the game, coach Doug Pederson called for his team to go for 2. Lawrence dialed up a perfect pass to Zay Jones for the conversion. When Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (barely) missed a 67-yard field goal attempt, the Jaguars had the best win of their season and the best game of Lawrence’s career. He finished 29/37 for 321 yards and 3 TDs and no picks. Though he still needs to work on ball security when he gets sacked (4 sacks, 2 fumbles), the team hopes this game can act as a stepping stone. The last drive showed the type of play that was common for Lawrence and Clemson and what was expected of him in the NFL. The second-year QB is still a work in progress, but if Pederson can develop him, this game will be looked at as a significant turning point that set him in the right direction.
Miami is in Big Trouble if Terron Armstead Misses Significant Time
As well as the game against the Texans went for Miami (see above), not everything was perfect. Specifically, elite left tackle Terron Armstead exited the game late in the second quarter with a pectoral injury and was ruled out shortly thereafter. Saints fans probably understand this situation all too well; Armstead has never played a season without missing a game. He already missed one game this season, but that was a known short-term absence. This time, he is likely to be out longer. Reportedly, Armstead suffered a pectoral strain. That’s relatively good news, as it’s not a tear, which was originally feared. Losing the great lineman for any stretch would endanger Miami’s AFC hopes though.
Tua Tagovailoa’s pass protection changed dramatically as soon as Armstead departed. He was sacked 4 times in 9 plays, with 2 on consecutive snaps. Tagovailoa wasn’t holding the ball too long; replacement Brandon Shell was simply beaten off the edge repeatedly. That played into coach Mike McDaniel’s decision to yank his QB before the third quarter even ended, likely to prevent him from taking any more of these hits. Even when Houston started to pose a (short-lived) threat, Tua was never close to re-entering the contest. Backup Skylar Thompson similarly stood no chance behind his Armstead-less line.
I felt that the offseason signing of Armstead was even more important than the trade acquisition of WR Tyreek Hill. Hill has been dynamic and is a contender for the OPOY award, but Armstead is the key to the entire operation. McDaniel’s deep shots and play action game depending on Tua having time to let the play develop and go through his progressions. With Armstead manning the left side, that has been true all season. Without him, the offense seems to sputter. No offense to the Texans, but they don’t exactly have a fearsome pass rush. Miami will be tested against superior edge rushers, starting next week against San Francisco. I wouldn’t want anyone but Armstead going up against Nick Bosa.