This week started fast and never slowed down. Carolina’s fire sale began with Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson trades…and then they won. Joe Burrow had a career game, Seattle has sole possession of first place in the NFC West, and the Jets and Giants are a combined 11-3 due to cupcake schedules. The best teams are still the Bills and Chiefs, but that’s about all we’re sure of at this point. That won’t stop me from trying though! Here are my week 7 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: DeAndre Hopkins, Andy Dalton, Injured Saints Fix Cardinals
We finally got a Thursday Night Football game with actual scoring. This game exceeded the total score in last week’s trashfest in the first quarter. The Saints started hot with a 14-6 lead, as Arizona could only muster two field goals. Arizona has not scored a TD in the first quarter all year long, and it looked like their offensive woes would continue for another week. Things changed quickly, however, as Arizona marched down the field for a TD and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. The Saints were without 2 starters in the secondary, including star CB Marshon Lattimore, so this was an ideal opportunity for the Cardinals.
It turns out that Arizona’s best offense in this game was their own secondary. With the score 14-14, Andy Dalton threw two consecutive pick sixes. One was an accurate ball that Marquez Callaway simply dropped, but the other was an awful decision that gave Dalton his 3rd INT of the half. That made the score 28-14 at the half, and New Orleans never recovered. Dalton ended up throwing 6 TDs, but only 4 were to his own team. The final score of 42-34 looked competitive, but this game was 35-17 in the 4th quarter. Garbage time can be a beautiful thing (for Dalton and Wil Lutz fantasy owners anyway).
In his season debut, WR DeAndre Hopkins (6-game suspension) was a trusted security blanket for Kyler Murray all game long, catching 10 passes for 103 yards. Hopkins torched the Saints’ backups early and often, providing some key conversions to keep drives alive. Still, the Cardinals were mostly dependent on their running game once again, and the Saints’ rush defense is not the impenetrable wall that it has been in years past. Kliff Kingsbury hopes that his team can use this game as a turning point, but I don’t have a ton of faith. They’ll need to put up points without defensive scores against healthier opponents before I buy in.
My Last Comments for a While on the Poor Play of TB and GB
I am aware that I’ve gone after these two teams for several weeks now, so this is the last I’ll say on the topic until either one of them changes. Losses in games that should’ve been easy wins are the last straw for me. Neither team is a contender right now.
Tampa Bay should be embarrassed by their pathetic performance. Once again, it wasn’t the fault of Tom Brady, but the look on his face showed you how he’s feeling about the play of his teammates right now. The tone was set on the first drive when Mike Evans uncharacteristically dropped a perfectly-thrown 60-yard TD pass. Tampa would never come close to the end zone again. The Panthers have a decent defense, but there’s no excuse for a 3-point performance against a team whose front office seems more concerned with the #1 pick than competing.
The defense made QB PJ Walker look like a star when he couldn’t reach 100 yards passing a week ago. Big runs were common for a Panthers team that averaged 6.4 yards per carry on the day. Tampa’s own running game was putrid once more, totaling just 46 yards. Special teams seem to the only unit not failing Todd Bowles’ team. Perhaps Bruce Arians walked away too soon, or perhaps this team was more reliant on Gronk than we thought. I don’t see a path to improving through talent acquisition, so they simply need to play better with their current roster. They are somehow still leading this unexpectedly poor division, so all is not lost.
As with Tampa, Green Bay can’t pin their troubles on Aaron Rodgers, but he does share a bit of the blame unlike Brady. He’s missed more throws than usual, but that might be a product of him forcing the ball into tight windows because his receivers can’t separate. Otherwise, he’s had the same absurd accuracy that he usually does. The biggest issue with this team is the scheme. I complained last week that coach Matt LaFleur abandoned the run too early with 2 great backs, and he did the same this week with just 12 rushing plays. I get going after a secondary that has been marred by missteps, but there isn’t enough firepower on this offense to succeed.
On the other side of the ball, the secondary let the team down this time. Chunk plays extended drives time and time again, and though they got gashed for over 160 yards on the ground, allowing Taylor Heinicke, who was honestly terrible in this game, to slice you up in the second half is a harbinger of a team on the verge of collapse. In the first half, Heinicke didn’t complete 50% of his passes, threw a pick six, and had a fumble six overturned by an awful illegal contact call. Green Bay still couldn’t capitalize, despite not turning the ball over themselves. Minnesota sits at 5-1, so GB has less time to figure things out than Tampa does.
One side note: don’t be fooled into thinking that Heinicke is an upgrade over Carson Wentz. This Packers defense made the Jets look awesome. Sam Howell should be starting to show what he’s got before Washington spends another first-round pick on a QB.
Dak, Tua Return to Guide Their Teams Back to the Win Column
The Cowboys didn’t get off to a very good start in Dak Prescott’s first game back, but the defense was stellar (as we’ve come to expect) and forced Lions QB Jared Goff into 4 turnovers (2 INTs, 2 fumbles). A second-half shutout allowed the offense to find its way, and Dallas eventually put 24 points on the board. RBs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott formed an excellent support system, combining for 140 yards and 2 TDs. Dak was efficient, going 19/25 for 207 yards and a TD. He did not commit a turnover. An encouraging sign was that the offense looked better as the game went on and best in the 4th quarter.
As a reminder, Russell Wilson’s similar injury last season should provide us with a good benchmark to track Prescott’s progress. Wilson returned one game sooner than Dak did, but he didn’t look right for several games upon his return. He eventually looked great over the final stretch of the season. It would be reasonable to expect Prescott to take a couple of games to get back in rhythm, and consecutive games against Detroit and Chicago give the team a great opportunity to iron out the kinks while continuing to rack up wins.
In Miami, Tua Tagovailoa made his return after missing time due to a bad concussion, and he was exactly the stabilizing presence the Dolphins needed. This game wasn’t pretty, but it rarely is against this scrappy Steelers team that is one of the best at winning ugly. The key, unlike we saw with Teddy Bridgewater against Minnesota, is that Tua didn’t make the big mistake. He finished 21/35 for 261 yards and a TD. A couple of his throws were dangerous, as he was slightly out of sync because of the missed reps, and the Steelers’ CBs didn’t make him pay. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky.
A lot of factors were working against Tagovailoa. TE Mike Gesicki saw a potential TD pass bounce off his facemask, and I saw a few other drops throughout the game. The offensive line was mediocre other than Terron Armstead, and Liam Eichenberg in particular committed two costly penalties. Miami’s defense suffered through countless injuries, and the healthy pass rush did no damage to a porous Steeler offensive line. In spite of all that, the Dolphins got the win, and a big part of that is the return of their guy under center. Miami is firmly back in the AFC playoff chase.
Bill Belichick Wouldn’t Entertain a QB Controversy Before. Will He Now?
Mac Jones was the best rookie QB of 2021. He laughably made the Pro Bowl as an alternate after half the league dropped out, but still, he did well for himself, guiding NE to the playoffs and throwing for 3801 yards, 22 TDs, and 13 INTs. That made it interesting when Belichick spent a 4th-round pick on another QB: Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. Perhaps we shouldn’t have viewed this as odd because Belichick drafts mid-round developmental QB prospects as backups all the time. Jones had to know that Zappe was no threat…right?
Zappe put up ridiculous numbers in WKU’s offense, with 5967 yards and an NCAA-record 62 TDs to go with a 69.2% completion rate. He fell to the 4th round because that was his only year in the FBS (he played at Houston Baptist prior to that), and he has physical limitations. Zappe is 6’0″ which is fine for me but not for most scouts, and he doesn’t have a rocket arm. However, he’s smart, makes good decisions, and is accurate. Sound familiar? If you’re recalling what the media said about Mac Jones before the 2021 draft, you’re right.
This year, that has been where the similarities end. Mac Jones had a terrible start to the year, with just 2 TDs and 5 INTs. At the end of the Baltimore game, Jones sprained his ankle, leading to Brian Hoyer starting against Green Bay. Hoyer suffered a concussion that landed him on IR, which forced Zappe into action. Zappe was a bit overwhelmed and held the ball too long, but he was competent enough to force OT and went 10/15 for 99 yards and a TD. He started again against Detroit, going 17/21 for 188 yards, a TD, and an INT. Zappe broke out against Cleveland: 24/34 passing with 309 yards and 2 TDs (no turnovers).
All of this has caused fans and media members to wonder if Belichick has a QB quandary on his hands. Belichick wouldn’t entertain it, declaring Jones the undisputed starter on Monday Night against Chicago. Most dismissed Zappe, suggesting that new OC Matt Patricia just happened to get into a groove at the time when Zappe took over. Jones went 3 and out on his first two drives, leading the home crowd to chant Zappe’s name. An INT on drive #3 forced Belichick’s hand, and Zappe was inserted into the game to a raucous applause. Zappe proceeded to immediately erase a 10-0 deficit, leading two straight TD drives and going 4/4 for 97 yards and a passing TD.
Then, things swung in the opposite direction. The Patriots wouldn’t score again, and Zappe threw two interceptions while seeing 4 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Somehow, he still looked better than Jones. The second-half shutout might enable Jones to keep the job for now, but NE has deeper problems than QB. The run defense was abysmal all night. Against a QB in Justin Fields that can’t throw, the box should’ve been stacked and a spy should’ve been stuck on Fields. This is not a talented team, and Belichick must decide who gives his team the best chance to win right now.
Tight End Roundup
I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a good little discussion about the best tight ends of the weekend for National Tight Ends Day. Tight ends might be known as a “fantasy wasteland”, but they’re extremely valuable in real football. Many of them are now oversized WRs, but others can block as well as a right tackle. Let’s look at the standout TEs from this weekend’s games.
Naturally, when we’re talking about TEs, we start with Travis Kelce. The Chiefs’ best weapon was his dominant self, catching 6 passes for 98 yards. It’s a minor miracle that San Francisco kept him out of the endzone, but he opened things up for other receivers (like Mecole Hardman, who scored 3 times) and was Patrick Mahomes’ trusted option whenever he needed one. KC has been able to adjust to life without Tyreek Hill because of the presence of Kelce. Apart from Mahomes, nobody is as critical to the Chief’s offensive success than the NFL’s best tight end.
On the other sideline, the 49ers’ George Kittle also had an outstanding day, catching an equivalent 6 passes for 98 yards but scoring 1 TD. He’s also the league’s best blocker at the position since the second retirement of Rob Gronkowski. QB Jimmy Garoppolo loves throwing to Kittle and it’s easy to see why. He boxes out smaller corners and blows by slow linebackers. His catch radius gives Garoppolo a nice margin for error, something that the erratic QB surely appreciates. Whenever we think about the best TEs in the game, Kittle is one of the first couple of names that come to mind.
Another TE who had a great game was David Njoku of the Browns. He was on his way to career-best production with 7 catches for 71 yards, but he unfortunately left the game with an ankle injury and was seen on crutches and in a walking boot. Njoku caught the most passes on the team despite missing more than a quarter. He finished second in yards, proving himself to be Jacoby Brissett’s favorite option over the middle of the field. Hopefully Njoku’s injury is very minor, as he is having his best season yet as a pro after signing a long-term extension in the offseason.
I also want to give some props to Broncos’ rookie Greg Dulcich, who made his NFL debut last week. The UCLA product went on IR to start the season due to a hamstring injury, but he made the start in week 6 while Albert Okwuegbunam was inactive. Dulcich had an instant impact, catching two passes for 44 yards and a TD. He played well again in his encore, catching 6 passes for 51 yards (both were second-most behind Jerry Jeudy). On a day when backup QB Brett Rypien was starting and was, let’s say, not very effective, Dulcich still produced. He might break out a bit with more reps alongside Russell Wilson.