Week 9 Takeaways for the 2022 NFL Season

With the trade deadline behind us, all teams now face an invariant truth: unless you sign a fringe player (or Odell Beckham) off the street, you need to win with the guys you have. As it stands, the NFL is still having its most wild season in recent memory. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hit their nadir, Jacksonville completed a 17-point comeback, the Jets beat Buffalo, and no trade deadline acquisition other than Jeff Wilson and TJ Hockenson did much of anything. And that was just in the early window of games. So buckle up: here are my week 9 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!

TNF: Texans Give Valiant Effort But Can’t Hang With Eagles

For once on a Thursday night, we got ourselves a game…at least until midway through the 3rd quarter. The Houston Texans, a week off a pitiful performance against Tennessee, came to play against Philly. The team ranked 32nd in most power rankings gave the NFL’s lone undefeated a team a real run for their money in the first half. They opened with a crisp TD drive to score their first opening drive points of the season. The Eagles responded with an 8-minute TD march of their own, aided by several missed calls (2 false starts and an assisting the runner foul). Houston took the punch in stride, reaching the half 14-14.

While we’re talking about the well-fought part of the game, let’s look at Houston’s positives. Rookie RB Dameon Pierce continues to be a force, running for 139 yards on 27 carries. The offensive rookie of the year award is down to him and Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker. QB Davis Mills looked comfortable in the pocket early on, throwing some nice passes and 2 TDs. The defense, second only to Jacksonville in missed tackles, played inspired football and made key stops on several drives. Alas, they could not sustain the momentum in the second half, as the talent disparity between these two teams won out in the end.

Mills threw an ugly pick that led to 7 Philadelphia points, and the pass defense, growing tired after several punts by the offense, started to tire. Eagles receivers were running wild in the secondary by the 4th quarter. Houston only managed 3 more points in the game, and Philly won 29-17 in a game that was much closer than you’d assume by looking at the score. I still maintain that the Eagles are overrated. The run defense was EXTREMELY vulnerable without rookie DT Jordan Davis, who is now on IR. Teams are going to exploit that 335-pound hole.

When the game was in question and the Texans’ secondary was still fresh, Jalen Hurts had a hard time developing a rhythm through the air, and he lost a fumble on a strip sack. Houston dared him to throw, and in the first half, that led to mixed results. I question whether the Eagles would have beaten most other teams, as 90% of the league has more talent than Houston. Credit is due to Lovie Smith and the Texans’ coaching staff, who came up with a game plan that made a laugher on paper into a real battle despite the absence of WRs Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins. They remain in the race for the #1 pick, while the Eagles move to 8-0 but clearly have work to do.

Vikings Quietly Move to 7-1; Are They Really That Good?

Most NFC coverage concerns one of two things: how amazing the undefeated Eagles are and how disappointing Tampa Bay, Green Bay, and the Rams are. What you don’t see? Love for the one-loss Minnesota Vikings. Even the Giants at 6-2 are getting recognized for their turnaround under new head coach Brian Daboll. I don’t see Kevin O’Connell, the new coach of the Vikings, getting the same treatment, despite the good QB play provided by Kirk Cousins. Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: Minnesota’s schedule.

Detractors feel that the Vikings haven’t beaten anyone of note. They beat the shockingly bad Packers and the Dolphins with their backup QB. Minnesota also has 1-score wins over Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Arizona, and Washington. Admittedly, that’s not exactly the cream of the NFL crop. Their one loss was ugly: a 24-7 primetime drubbing by the Eagles. Still, I wonder how many other teams would have gone 7-1 against this schedule. As we’ve seen this season, supposed cupcake games have not gone the way many teams expected that they would.

I counter this schedule argument by noting how different this Vikings team is from last year’s version. In 2021, Minnesota lost 8 one-score games. So far this year, the team is 6-0 in such contests. Under O’Connell, the Vikings are much better finishers. They seem to have a belief that was missing before: a belief that they deserve to win these games. The changes that have gotten them here are easy to identify. An abysmal secondary has added Patrick Peterson, providing an instant improvement. New pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, stolen from the rival Packers no less, is among the league leaders with 8.5 sacks.

This week, the Vikings proved their mettle once more. Washington came into this game on a 3-game winning streak and held a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead. Minnesota didn’t blink, instead calmly scoring 13 unanswered points and milking the clock to steal a 20-17 win. New TE TJ Hockenson quickly made his mark, catching 9 passes for 70 yards. I’m of the belief that these Vikings are for real, but we’ll learn much more when they play an angry Buffalo team next week and a tough home matchup against Dallas the week after. For now though, with Green Bay and Chicago losing, Minnesota has a 4.5-game division lead to fall back on as they work out any kinks.

Bengals Play Their Best Game of the Season

After Monday’s nightmare showing against the Browns, Joe Burrow and the Bengals needed a bounce-back game. And boy did they deliver one. Cincinnati played its best game of the season BY FAR on both offense and defense. Admittedly, this came against a bad Carolina team, but the Panthers crushed Tampa and nearly knocked off Atlanta. It counts! This 42-21 contest was 42-7 before garbage time, and Burrow was pulled late in the 3rd quarter along with multiple other starters.

The best feeling to come out of this contest had to be the breakout performance by RB Joe Mixon. Cincy’s rebuilt offensive line has been much maligned this season for their poor run blocking. Mixon came into the game with a 3.3 yards per carry average, but he exploded in this one. Scoring a career-high FIVE touchdowns (4 rushing, 1 receiving), Mixon managed to gallop for 153 yards on 22 carries. He also added 58 yards on 4 receptions. Running on the right side of the line worked wonders, as La’el Collins is a much better blocker than LT Jonah Williams.

On defense, many wondered what the pass coverage would look like without CB Chidobe Awuzie, who was lost for the season to a knee injury against Cleveland. The answer: dominant. Cincinnati pitched a first-half shutout, with the offense scoring more TDs than Carolina had first downs. Panthers QB PJ Walker was 3/10 for 9 yards and 2 INTs, and he was benched at halftime for Baker Mayfield. The former Brown looked better than Walker, but he faced backup defenders for the most part. This is just one game, but as Scott Hanson of NFL Redzone noted, the Bengals started 4-4 last season too. That year ended in a Super Bowl berth.

Buffalo Collapses in Stunning Defeat vs. Jets

New York came into this game wondering if QB Zach Wilson could take them where they wanted to go. We’ll talk about that subject later in the season, but Wilson wasn’t the QB of concern on Sunday. Josh Allen, the MVP frontrunner to this point, played horribly. Though he led the team in rushing with 9 carries for 86 yards and 2 TDs, he struggled mightily through the air. Allen went 18/34 for 205 yards and 2 INTs, and he fumbled twice but only lost one. New arrival Nyheim Hines did nothing, with 0 carries and 0 catches on just 1 target.

The Jets on the other hand played smart, safe football. They didn’t ask Wilson to do too much; he threw for just 154 yards and a TD while losing a fumble. Instead, they kept the ball on the ground and ran 31 times, earning 174 yards (5.1 YPC) and a TD. Coach Robert Saleh will be most proud of his defense when he watches the tape. CB Sauce Gardner, the 4th overall pick, might be your defensive rookie of the year. He picked off an Allen pass and provided smothering coverage, holding WR Gabriel Davis to just 33 yards. On the final offensive play for Buffalo, Allen threw a deep prayer, and Gardner knocked it away.

Suddenly, the AFC East is an extremely tight division. Buffalo still leads at 6-2 due to an early bye, but NYJ and Miami are just a half game back at 6-3. The Bills have lost to each of these teams already this year. Even New England, mired in their own offensive struggles, is still lurking at 5-4. Buffalo might still wind up as the best team in the AFC or maybe even the NFL. Their margin for error is just much smaller than it was a week ago.

When Can We Start Discussing Tua Tagovailoa as an MVP Candidate?

The media, for the most part, is completely disrespecting Miami’s star QB. I blame former coach Brian Flores for some of it, as his sabotaging of Tua made him look like a limited passer. Now that the team has tried to set him up to succeed, he’s playing like the elite quarterback we saw at Alabama. GM Chris Grier acquired him an actual lineman in Terron Armstead, and he traded for game-breaking WR Tyreek Hill to complement Jaylen Waddle. Perhaps most importantly, the team hired Mike McDaniel as their new coach, which seems to have immensely boosted Tua’s confidence and provided a scheme that suits his strengths.

When I hear people talk about the MVP race, the names Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts always come up. Why aren’t people answering MVP questions with “Tua Tagovailoa”? He leads the NFL in both QBR and passer rating and is 4th in completion percentage. Tagovailoa has thrown for 1980 yards and 14 TDs despite missing 2.5 games with an awful concussion, including a bonkers 6-TD explosion in week 2. In the past two games, both shootouts, he has thrown for 684 yards, 6 TDs, and no INTs while completing over 75% of his passes. Hill and Waddle have the most combined yards by any receiving duo through 9 games in NFL history.

Josh Allen struggled mightily this week, as described above, and lost to Tua in week 3. Lamar Jackson isn’t throwing the ball particularly well. He and Jalen Hurts are mostly runners with some modest passing stats thrown in. Dak Prescott missed a bunch of games. Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Tom Brady have led greatly disappointing offenses. Only Mahomes seems to be on even footing with Tua at this point in the season. The pair of fully missed contests won’t hurt him over a 17-game season. To seal the deal: Miami is 6-0 in games where Tua plays more than half the snaps. They’re 0-3 when he doesn’t, so you can’t give all the credit to the receivers or scheme.

One more component to all of this is the Dolphin defense. For some reason, this team cannot rush the passer or tackle. At all. The secondary is also weak right now due to injuries to everyone but Jevon Holland (Xavien Howard is playing, but he’s been banged up). That’s leading to offensive battles with even theoretically inferior teams like Chicago and Detroit. If this continues, Tua will be forced to throw the ball a lot, leading to the counting stats that MVP voters love. Leading Miami back to the playoffs after several years at home would look great as well. He may not come out on top by season’s end, but so far, he belongs in every MVP discussion without any qualifiers.

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