November 28, 2022

The NFL season has officially reached its midway point, with surprising division leaders and contenders to make the playoffs across the board. The Seattle Seahawks lead in the NFC West while the Minnesota Vikings are in control of the NFC North, leading the division by 4.5 games after nine weeks. 

The New York Giants and New York Jets each have six wins as both are on track to make the playoffs, while the NFC East has three teams with six wins and the AFC East has every team over. 500. Of course, the Philadelphia Eagles are the lone unbeaten at 8-0. 

As the second have of the season begins, the first half wrapped up with an exciting Week 9 slate of games. What did we learn about each team this past week? For a lot of teams, more of the same. 

Offense continues to scratch heads: The play calling by Kliff Kingsbury is beyond frustrating, relying on bubble screens and passes behind the line of scrimmage. This leads to three possessions to open the second half where Arizona has 12 plays for a grand total of five yards. 

The Cardinals have talent on offense and DeAndre Hopkins is back in the fold. There is no downfield passing nor are Hopkins and Rondale Moore allowed to thrive in their roles. Unless Kingsbury adjusts his playbook, the Cardinals may have to set their sights on 2023. 

This team just can’t get over. 500: The Falcons set an NFL record with their 13th consecutive loss in which they played for an opportunity to get over the .500 mark with a win, breaking a streak with the late 2000s St. Louis Rams. Atlanta built a 10-0 lead in this one, but failed to hold onto the early advantage and allowed Los Angeles to steal a win. 

As good as the Falcons are running the ball, this is a hump they need to get over — especially with the NFC South up for grabs. The Falcons have four consecutive games against teams under. 500 coming up, so there’s a golden opportunity to finally get over .500 in the next few weeks. 

Justin Houston is still a feared pass rusher: Took the Ravens a year to get the full impact of what Houston can provide to a  defense, but the 33-year-old edge rusher is still one of the best in the game. Houston is the first player in Ravens history with multiple sacks in three straight games and is up to 8.5 sacks on the year — the most through a player’s first six games of a season in franchise history. 

Houston has 110.5 sacks in his career, but his first season in Baltimore was a disappointment (4.5 sacks). The Ravens are getting the pass rusher that had 19 sacks in his two seasons with the Colts (2019-2020), and more.  

The Josh Allen injury is scary: Allen is being evaluated for an elbow injury to his UCL, as the Bills are monitoring the situation. Allen — at best — will be limited this week, as Buffalo’s Super Bowl chances ride on him being healthy. Perhaps the Bills relied on Allen too much.

Not only does Allen lead the Bills in passing (2,403 yards), but in rushing too (392 yards and four touchdowns). This is an offense that relies on Allen to carry the unit and win games. If Allen is sidelined for a bit, how does Buffalo find ways to score points with a run game that goes inept without Allen’s mobility? 

Case Keenum is a solid backup, but he’s no Allen. This situation really is something to monitor. 

Baker Mayfield is an afterthought: The Panthers decided to go back to P.J. Walker for Thursday’s game against the Falcons, instead of Mayfield — who entered the season as their starting quarterback. Walker was just 3 of 10 for 9 yards with two interceptions (0.0 rating) in the first half of Sunday’s loss before being benched.

The Panthers are starting Walker and his career 62.5 rating over Mayfield, meaning the former No. 1 overall pick isn’t in the plans to play much for the rest of 2022. Sam Darnold was activated off injured reserve this week, so maybe the Panthers are planning to play him after this short week. 

Whatever decision the Panthers make at quarterback, Mayfield isn’t in the conversation. 

Justin Fields is becoming a star before our very eyes: Fields set the regular season record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game (178) in Sunday’s loss, while also becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for three touchdowns, rush for a touchdown, and rush for 150 yards in a game. 

Teams have tried to stack the box to stop Fields. They’ve tried to spy him to stop his mobility, but Fields has completed 65.3% of his passes with six touchdowns to one interception while rushing for 320 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games. 

Fields is already good, but he’s becoming the star quarterback the Bears envisioned when they drafted him. 

Joe Mixon steps up when needed most: The Bengals needed one of their playmakers to step up with Ja’Marr Chase out, particularly Mixon to take the pressure off Joe Burrow. Mixon delivered in a big way, rushing for 153 yards and four touchdowns while also having four catches for 58 yards and a score. 

Mixon became the third player in the Super Bowl era with four rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in a game, as his 153 rushing yards are the third highest of his career. Getting Mixon involved in the passing game was vital too, as he had his most receiving yards since Week 1. 

Mixon had a disappointing season before Sunday. Perhaps this performance is the one that gets him going. 

Tight end was a mixed bag after T.J. Hockenson: After the controversial trade of Hockenson to a division rival, the Lions were thin at tight end. James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra (who was called up from the practice squad) did score touchdowns, yet the Lions’ tight ends had just three catches on the day. 

Mitchell, a fifth-round pick, will get an extended look in the second half of the year. His blocking could use some work, along with getting consistently open. The red zone touchdowns are nice, but Hockenson made an impact everywhere on the field. 

Overall, it’s going to be very hard for Detroit to find a tight end that matches Hockenson’s production. 

Offense still can’t get out of its own way: The Packers offense put up yards against the worst defense in the NFL, yet couldn’t muster more than six points. Green Bay had five possessions that crossed the Detroit 40-yard line — and came away with nothing. 

Aaron Rodgers threw three red zone interceptions on three of those possessions and the other two were turnover on downs. The Packers are 23rd in red zone offense (50%) and 32nd in fourth-down conversion rate (20%). This is a huge reason why an offense with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback can’t score points. 

At this point, the offense is what it is. Rodgers needs to clean up his act and situational football has to be better in the second half. 

Dameon Pierce is the only player on this offense worth watching: The Texans are in tricky situation with Brandin Cooks as he reportedly feels betrayed by the organization for not trading him. Nico Collins is dealing with a groin injury, which left Pierce as the lone playmaker in the Texans offense. 

Despite the Eagles stacking the box, Pierce still rushed for 139 yards on 27 carries (5.1 yards per carry), earning plenty of his yards after contact as he wore down one of the best defenses in the league. 

Through eight games, Pierce has 678 yards and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry with three touchdowns. His running style is why it’s worth watching the Texans — or at least tuning in — every week. 

Frank Reich was the latest scapegoat: What Reich was able to accomplish with seven different starting quarterbacks was pretty remarkable, going 40-35-1 in his five years with the Colts. Reich never had the same starting quarterback for two consecutive seasons.

All the quarterback changes caught up to Indianapolis, as the Colts were dead last in points per game (14.7) at the time of Reich’s firing. The run game was the biggest culprit, ranking 30th in rushing yards per game (86.7), rushing touchdowns (three), and yards per attempt (3.7). A poor offensive line didn’t help matters either. 

The Colts changed quarterbacks, fired former offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, and now Reich. Three scapegoats for the poor job general manager Chris Ballard has done. 

Trevor Lawrence responds in a big way: Even though this is technically Lawrence’s second season in the league, learning a new offense under Doug Pederson feels like a rookie campaign again. There’s going to be good and bad. 

Lawrence was good in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, completing 25 of 31 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown (109.0 rating). This was the third game this season where Lawrence has completed over 80% of his passes — the most of any quarterback in the NFL. Lawrence also led the Jaguars to a 17-point comeback victory in the process. 

After completing just 52.7% of his passes over the last two weeks with one touchdown and two interceptions, Lawrence needed a game like this. 

Patrick Mahomes can run too: Watching the Chiefs in the Mahomes era, Mahomes never typically uses his running ability to make explosive plays. The Chiefs quarterback certainly used his full arsenal on Sunday, leading the Chiefs with six carries for 63 yards and a touchdown — including the tying score with 2:56 remaining in regulation. 

The 63 yards were a career high for Mahomes, but the quarterback does have seven games which he’s rushed over 50 yards. With Mahomes’ ability to make plays throwing the football, it shouldn’t be a surprise he doesn’t take off often.

Of course, Mahomes his excellent at buying time and an outside the pocket. Watching his scrambling ability shows he can win games with his legs if needed. He used the pitch he barely throws on Sunday night. 

Another 17-point collapse: The Raiders blew a 17-0 lead in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, the third game this season Las Vegas blew a 17-point lead — which already tied for the most such losses by a team in a season in NFL history. Las Vegas was 52-2 this century when leading by 17 or more points entering a game this season. They are 1-3 in those situations.

The 0-5 start on the road is the worst for the franchise in road games since 2014. Again, things were supposed to be better under Josh McDaniels. 

Slow starts are an issue: The Chargers trailed 10-0 after the first quarter, the fourth consecutive game Los Angeles trailed by double digits after just 15 minutes. They have been outscored 51-3 in that stretch. 

Think this affects the Chargers? They’re 3-1 in their last four games, but these slow starts needed to be addressed going forward. The Chargers have the 49ers and Chiefs coming up, so fixing the first quarter woes will be at the forefront of the preparation for those matchups. 

The fourth quarter is the Achilles heel: Okay, there are a lot of weaknesses on the 2022 version of the Rams — yet the fourth quarter woes continue to be a problem. The Rams have been outscored 71-10 in the fourth quarter this seaosn, and 24-0 since they returned from the bye week two weeks ago. 

Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers saw the Rams give up 10 points in the final 8:07 — and that included a defensive stop at when the Buccaneers were at their 6-yard line with 1:52 left. The offense ran 10 plays for four yards in the fourth quarter, so that didn’t help. 

Los Angeles just doesn’t have the same offense as last year, with a lot of holes on the offensive line and at wide receiver. This adds up to their fourth quarter problems. 

Tyreek Hill is the best receiver in the NFL: Hill has always been amongst the game’s best at his position, but he’s taken his game to another level through his first nine games with the Dolphins. 

Hill’s 1,104 receiving yards are the most for a player in his first nine games with a team. He has the fourth-most receiving yards through the first nine games in a season in NFL history, behind Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch (1,162; 1951), Raymond Barry (1,147; 1960), and Charley Hennigan (1,122; 1961). Hill has five games with 140-plus receiving yards this season, which is the most in the NFL. 

Not only his Hill unguardable, he’s making an impact in the locker room as well. He’s changed the fortunes of the franchise, while being on pace for 2,085 yards this season. 

T.J. Hockenson already making an impact: The Vikings traded for Hockenson for a reason and the early returns have been excellent. Hockenson finished with nine catches for 70 yards in his first game with Minnesota, which is the second-most catches in a game in his career. 

Hockenson was targeted nine times — and caught all nine passes. His first catch of 19 yards was the longest by a Vikings tight end this season. The Vikings pass offense is immediately better with Hockenson, and this is with him only having five days to prepare in a new system. 

What’s going to happen when Hockenson is caught up? 

The offense is still searching for a consistent passing game: Give Mac Jones credit for not throwing any interceptions, yet going 20 of 30 for 147 yards and a touchdown isn’t going to make anyone feel good — even in a blowout win. 

The Patriots averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt and had just eight catches for 53 yards from Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne. Meyers and Bourne each had a fumble and the Patriots scored just one touchdown on 13 possessions. Not ideal. 

The defense is good enough to get New England to the playoffs. The run offense can carry New England, but the pass offense has to step up in the second half of the year. 

The helter skelter run defense returns: Every other week, the Saints defense allows a big rushing total. Since New Orleans allowed 38 rushing yards last week, New Orleans was due to allow a high number against Baltimore. 

The result was 188 rushing yards allowed, the most since the Saints allowed 208 yards in Week 1. Heavy blitz packages allowed Lamar Jackson and Kenyan Drake to have 175 yards rushing, as the Ravens controlled the game on the ground. 

The Saints defense has been a major disappointment, particularly when it comes to stopping the run. 

Secondary is one of the best in NFL: The Jets secondary controlled the Bills’ passing game Sunday, holding Buffalo to just 183 net passing yards. Josh Allen had a season low 43.8 quarterback rating and 205 passing yards in the loss. 

The secondary being good is nothing new, but D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner are one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Allen had a 2.8 rating targeting Gardner and 56.3 rating targeting Reed as the duo allowed just 4 of 9 passes to be caught for 81 yards and an interception. 

This secondary is the biggest strength on a Jets team with a defense that should be talked about more. 

The run defense badly misses Jordan Davis: Philadelphia’s run defense was going to be tested without Davis, who is on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. The Eagles tried Marvin Wilson in Davis’ role against the run, and the Texans carved out 168 rushing yards — 139 from Dameon Pierce. 

Perhaps the Eagles need Javon Hargrave to resume his nose tackle days like he did in Pittsburgh, as Philadelphia will be seeing Jonathan Taylor and Aaron Jones while Davis is out. Perhaps the Eagles will face Derrick Henry without Davis, even though he’s eligible to return by that Week 13 matchup against the Titans. 

The run defense has been a problem over the last four games, as the Eagles have allowed 142.5 rush yards per game. That number has increased in each game during that span. The run defense is clearly a weakness on the unbeaten Eagles, and they’ll have to find ways to hold the fort down until their standout rookie defensive tackle returns. 

Geno Smith isn’t rattled by anything: Smith threw one of his worst balls of the season in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals, as Zaven Collins intercepted a bubble screen and took it for a touchdown to give Arizona a lead. Smith didn’t panic, going 10 of 12 for 123 yards and a touchdown the rest of the way, leading Seattle to three consecutive touchdown drives. 

Smith is certainly a different quarterback this year than in prior seasons — and his early season start isn’t a fluke. He’s first in completion percentage (73.1%) and third in passer rating (107.2), perfect for Shane Waldron’s system. 

Whenever Smith makes a bad play (or a bad play occurs), he shakes it off and plays better. That’s a sign of a quarterback that will succeed in this league — at least for the remainder of this season. 

Third down was better, situational football still not impressive: The Buccaneers went 9 of 21 on third down in Sunday’s win over the Rams, nothing worth bragging about — even if the 42.9% was a significantly better clip than the 25.6% during the three-game losing streak. 

Tampa Bay is just 23rd in the NFL in third down conversion rate (35.9%) and the Buccaneers are still 30th in red zone offense (40.4%). Situational football was better Sunday, but the Buccaneers still have a lot to work on (see 1 of 3 in red zone). 

The wide receivers are awful: Tennessee didn’t have a good pass catching group to begin with, but the wide receiver struggles have been magnified with Malik Willis at quarterback. The Titans have just two catches for 26 yards from wide receivers in the two games Willis started (both by Robert Woods), including zero in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. 

Tennessee is just the fourth team since 2000 to have wide receivers not have a catch in a game, having just 51 catches for 618 yards and one touchdown — through eight games. To make matters worse, A.J. Brown — who Tennessee traded — has 43 catches for 718 yards and six touchdowns this year. 

Hard to take the Titans seriously as a contender when they have no reliable pass catching threats. 

What happened to Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel?: The Commanders wide receivers were nonexistent during the fourth-quarter collapse to the Vikings, as neither were targeted in the final 15 minutes. That’s a major problem that falls on the quarterback. 

Samuel finished with three catches for 65 yards with a touchdown while McLaurin had five catches for 56 yards. Getting shutout in the fourth quarter is inexcusable. Washington had just 16 yards of offensive in the final quarter, as Taylor Heinicke went 2 of 4 for 8 yards with an interception.

Heinicke has to find his top pass catchers if the Commanders are going to have any consistent success on offense. They can’t be shut out. 

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