Tom Brady is right. When he responded to a reporter’s question by saying that he’s seen “a lot of bad football” so far this season, he was merely stating the obvious. Maybe it’s the lack of preseason reps or perhaps it’s all the roster changes that took place during the offseason, but most teams are not firing on all cylinders even though it’s already week 5. The few teams that have things together are winning, even if their talent suggests that they’re currently overrated. A ton of games remain for squads to figure things out, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when a team shows you who they are, believe them. Here are my week 5 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Colts and Broncos Still Stuck in the Mud on Offense
This game HAD to go to OT! These two teams were just too equal…equally inept. The Colts squeaked out a 12-9 win after some highly questionable play calling by the Broncos. Indy has a couple of positives to take from the game, but it was mostly a poorly played affair. For a game with such bad offense, I have a lot to say about it (in fact, more than any subsection so far this season).
Colts QB Matt Ryan had a first half to forget. In one series, he threw a ghastly INT; on the very next drive, the offense made it to FG range, but Ryan took an 18-yard strip sack followed by ANOTHER 10-yard sack (6 sacks total) before kicker Chase McLaughlin (who was 4/4 on FGs including two from 50+) bailed him out. The second half was mostly the same, with another INT and strip sack thrown in, but Ryan calmly led a game-tying drive at the end of regulation. In fairness to Ryan, he wasn’t alone in his offensive struggles. Rookie Bernhard Raimann started his first game at LT, and he committed 3 holding penalties and a false start. The receivers dropped numerous passes, with play-by-play man Al Michaels musing that they had “the hands of a sturgeon.”
One big bright spot though was rookie WR Alec Pierce. He was Ryan’s go-to target all night, with 8 catches for 81 yards. In fact, Pierce played so well that the Broncos put Pat Surtain on him late in the game. The other star for the Colts was CB Stephon Gilmore. The 2019 defensive player of the year showed that he’s still got plenty in the tank. Gilmore picked off a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone as the Broncos tried to put the game away just before the two-minute warning, and then he knocked away a Wilson pass on 4th and 1 in OT to win the game.
Denver has less positives to take away. They had one big play, but it was weird. Wilson heaved a ball into heavy traffic, where two Broncos receivers both happened to be. Two Colts were also there, but an official got in the way and took down an Indy safety as he tripped. That enabled BOTH Broncos to get their hands on the ball, and Courtland Sutton came down with a 51-yard catch. Aside from that play and a couple chunk gains in OT, Wilson was erratic all night, throwing 2 INTs and taking a strip sack of his own. Denver’s aggressiveness in the 4th quarter and OT was misguided, as each time they trusted Wilson to win the game, he came up short.
Both of Wilson’s INTs came in plus territory, and one occurred in the red zone, where the Broncos continue to be the league’s worst team. Denver came into the game with a 30% red zone TD rate, and that got worse in this game. The Broncos went 0/4 inside the 20, with 2 FGs, an INT, and a turnover on downs. The running game came alive late, but the passing game looks completely out of sync. If Broncos fans want to be hopeful, I’ll remind them that it took Tom Brady around half a season to click with his new offense during his first season in TB. Perhaps Wilson could take that same path. Through 5 games though, the big contract and draft pick required to obtain him look like assets poorly spent.
Packers, Buccaneers, and Rams Don’t Look Right
It’s hard to say whether these three teams are struggling due to injuries or talent losses, but Green Bay, the Rams, and Tampa Bay are supposed contenders that don’t seem to be in sync, particularly on offense. They all have winning records, but none of them are moving the ball efficiently or putting up bunches of points like we’re accustomed to. Let’s try to figure out why.
The easiest culprit for the Packers’ offensive lapses is the trade of Davante Adams. Aaron Rodgers is used to being able to fling the ball in Adams’ direction whenever he needs a play, but that option is gone. Green Bay also ignored the WR position in the first round (again) despite great depth in the class. That has left Rodgers with two rookies, including a second-rounder (Christian Watson) he doesn’t trust, Allen Lazard (a quality secondary option), and Randall Cobb (a slot player Rodgers loves but who doesn’t change games).
Chemistry has undoubtedly been a problem, which does mean that Rodgers and his offense can improve with more reps. Still, it’s a bit sad to see Rodgers hang in the pocket, surveying back and forth across the field looking for someone, ANYONE, to get slightly open. Matt LaFleur’s play calling has also been a bit peculiar, as he’s shown an unwillingness to rely on his running game despite possessing two really good backs in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Reducing the pressure that Rodgers is feeling to overcome all adversity by himself would go a long way toward keeping everyone on the same page and moving the ball more consistently.
When discussing the Buccaneers, let’s get one thing out of the way: Tom Brady is not part of the problem here. In fact, he’s the reason things aren’t much worse. Injuries along the offensive line have harmed this team most of all, with center Ryan Jensen going down with a knee injury before the season started and LT Donovan Smith missing time as well. Combine that with the losses of two guards to retirement and free agency, and you can understand TB’s blocking woes.
WRs Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Russell Gage, and even Breshad Perriman have missed games due to injury, and Mike Evans was suspended for a game. Even still, Brady managed to move the ball. However, Tampa has been among the worst red zone teams in the league (in terms of TD%) due to a lack of options. They haven’t been helped at all by their running game. Mostly because of the aforementioned line problems, the Bucs have averaged 3 yards per carry or less in all but one game. This in turn has produced a one-dimensional offense, where opponents can freely rush the passer and add defensive backs to their formations.
This week, the offense went in the tank once again for most of the second half, including the entirety of the fourth quarter, allowing Atlanta to chip away at their 21-point deficit and make this a one-score game. Tampa was bailed out by an awful roughing the passer call against Grady Jarrett. Without it, the Bucs would have punted again, and who knows how things would have turned out? Brady and the receivers should be fine, but the line is an issue that will be much harder to fix.
In LA’s case, the offensive line has definitely been the biggest issue. LT Andrew Whitworth’s retirement has hurt a lot, and as much as Les Snead wants to “F- them picks”, when you’re a veteran team with a lot of big contracts, you need to replenish your talent with cheap rookie contracts. These Rams obviously can’t do that. Thus, the team lacks depth at various position. When one player gets hurt, the entire position group can be decimated. In the offensive line’s case, multiple players have missed type, preventing LA from achieving continuity and consistency.
What has that meant in terms of performance? For starters, the Rams cannot run the ball at all. I’m not sure that RBs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson are so good, but they have no chance when they’re getting hit in the backfield on every play. QB Matthew Stafford has also faced a lot of pressure, preventing coach Sean McVay from dialing up his trademark play-action deep shots. Stafford has been stripped and sacks numerous times, and the pressure has forced him into multiple INTs. He has made some poor decisions, but that is a very small part of the problem.
The receivers also haven’t provided Stafford much help, with the exception of Cooper Kupp, who has been spectacular as usual. New addition Allen Robinson, who was supposed to make this offense even more excellent, has formed no connection with Stafford at all. Stafford would likely say he’d prefer to have Odell Beckham back if you asked him. LA should get better as it gets healthier (including, perhaps, Beckham himself upon recovery from his ACL tear) and fosters more chemistry. As things stand though, this team is a work in progress.
Jaguars’ Feel-Good Start to Season Has Evaporated; Last Winless Team Gets on the Board
Jacksonville’s dominating wins over Indianapolis and the Chargers seem like they happened ages ago. Offensive meltdowns against the Eagles and now the (previously) winless Texans are fresh on fans’ minds, and they’re starting to wonder what’s wrong with Trevor Lawrence. The self-sabotage and turnovers reminiscent of the Urban Meyer Jaguars, a comparison that I’m sure Doug Pederson would loathe. One mitigating factor is that this is another one of those weird matchup trends: Jacksonville has now lost 9 straight to the Texans. Regardless, the team looks completely inept, but their defensive progress is tangible if you’re searching for a silver lining.
This also makes the early race for the #1 overall pick more interesting. The Chicago Bears seemed to have damaged their chances by stealing two wins against teams that beat themselves, but they’re now just one game ahead in the win column. Pittsburgh and Detroit turned in their worst performances of the season, and they seem to be spiraling with only one win apiece. Carolina and Washington are also a mere half game away from the Texans. The weakness of the AFC South means that Houston could win a couple more games, opening the door for other teams to pass them in the draft order.
League’s Highest-Scoring Offense Shut Out
You read that correctly: the 1-3 Lions had the most points in the NFL heading into week 5. The only problem is that no team had allowed more points either. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown was back this week, but his impact (4 rec/18 yards) was minimal. D’Andre Swift’s continued absence was certainly felt, but I’m not sure he would have significantly changed anything. The Lions turned the ball over on downs on their first possession and then did so on each of their final 4 possessions. They went 0/3 in the red zone, with not even a field goal to show for their efforts.
Jared Goff was scattershot with the ball all game, completing 19 of 35 passes. He threw 1 INT and lost a fumble on a strip sack that was returned by New England for a TD. Defensively, the Lions intercepted one pass, but they were short-handed in the secondary coming into the game. A scary injury suffered by DB Saivion Smith in the first half only made things worse. Detroit put up little resistance against the pass and the run, letting the Patriots dictate the terms of the game from the very start.
This weekend, Detroit was simply outschemed by a superior coach. Bill Belichick put on a coaching masterclass while starting his third-string rookie QB. Bailey Zappe was consistently given plays with easy reads and simple concepts, keeping him comfortable in his first career start. The trademark bend-but-don’t-break defense gave up a bunch of yards and several trips into NE territory, but they forced Detroit to come up empty each time. New England does not have a talented roster anymore, but Belichick consistently manages to make the most of it. Against a similarly talent-poor opponent, the Pats taught Dan Campbell a lesson.
Brandon Staley Nearly Costs Chargers Again with Reckless Call
Allow me to officially declare Brandon Staley the worst head coach in the NFL. With all due respect to Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Rhule, no coach has sabotaged his own team with poor decision making since the start of 2021 than Staley. After “earning” the Chargers job through the tried-and-true strategy of holding a clipboard for Sean McVay, Staley embedded analytics into the Bolts, with his most glaring change being his willingness to go for it on 4th down. On balance, that has been a disaster, and it almost was once again this week.
Up 30-28 late in the 4th quarter, the Chargers faced a 4th and 1 at their own 46. Instead of forcing the Browns to drive the length of the field with a shaky QB and kicker, Staley rolled the dice and threw the ball to try and ice the game. The pass fell incomplete, and Cleveland was gifted 1:10 to win the game with the ball almost in field goal range already. As expected, the Browns got a 53-yard FG attempt off, but Cade York missed it wide right, allowing the Chargers to escape in spite of their stupidity.
Proponents of analytics will likely point to last year’s game against the Chiefs, where a 4th-down conversion kept the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands and propelled Los Angeles to a win. However, at least two other times in 2021, Staley blew simple wins because of 4th down gambles gone wrong. While I certainly respect a coach trusting his players to make critical plays, common sense must prevail in some situations. Those calls were directly responsible for the Chargers missing the playoffs in last year, and in a competitive AFC, a mistake like the one he made this weekend could have caused major problems late in the season. Staley would be wise to learn from mistakes in victories before he’s forced to learn from them in defeats.
I can’t overlook the fact that Browns QB Jacoby Brissett came up short for the third time this season in the final minutes of a game. As in the first two occurrences, Cleveland was on a drive to take the lead, but Brissett threw an interception. He had a chance to redeem himself after the Chargers’ boneheaded move, but he missed three straight passes, forcing Cade York into a tough 53-yard FG attempt, which he missed. This isn’t all on Brissett of course, but the trend is haunting Browns fans.