NFL News and Week 5 Recap: The biggest storylines from around the NFL

After another fun week of action, Mike Tanier's NFL News & Week 5 Recap returns to help break down all of Sunday's top storylines.

In a season full of question marks, postponements, and uncertainty, Week 5 of the NFL season tried to appease football fans with an impressive slate of action. We continue to see a historic amount of points scored, and the NFL Week 5 Recap is here to break down all the NFL news and everything we have learned from an action-packed Sunday. Starting with the brutal injury to Dak Prescott all the way to the surprising return of Alex Smith, this week was full of interesting NFL news and storylines.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to jump around throughout this column for the different NFL News & Recap segments, use the black box above titled “In This NFL Week 5 Recap…” At the end of each segment, you’ll see a divider that allows you to scroll back up to the top of this page if you wish to keep jumping around. If not, keep scrolling!

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League to consider adding an 18th week to the 2020 NFL season?

Before we get started with the Week 5 NFL Recap, I broke NFL news on Sunday morning that the league was considering adding an 18th week to the schedule in light of the positive tests on numerous teams throughout the league. For more on what my source told me, and what the NFL is thinking at the current moment, be sure to read how the NFL is preparing for a Week 18 schedule.

NFL News and Week 5 Recap | Dak Prescott’s injury places the Cowboys future in peril

Dak Prescott’s gruesome leg injury stopped the NFL world in our tracks on Sunday afternoon in Week 5. No one wants to see one of the league’s brightest young stars suffer a cataclysmic injury (and if you know someone who does because they root for another team, stop hanging out with them).

And Prescott’s injury doesn’t just impact the Dallas Cowboys in 2020: It has the potential to set the organization back for years. NFL News & Week 5 Recap hates to do it, but we must explore what life will be like for the Cowboys if they are forced — or force themselves — to move on from their franchise quarterback.

What happened to Dak Prescott and what’s next?

Prescott suffered a severe injury at the end of a scramble with the Cowboys leading 24-23 in the third quarter against the Giants. We’re not going to describe the play, because that would require re-watching it, and we still haven’t re-watched the Joe Theismann injury after seeing it on live television 35 years ago. Prescott’s foot was facing an unnatural angle as he signaled for the trainers. ‘Nuff said.

The latest NFL news comes from ESPN’s Adam Schefter as he announced that Prescott’s injury as a right ankle compound fracture and dislocation which required Sunday night surgery. He’s out for the yearAndy Dalton replaced Prescott and completed 9 of 11 passes for 111 yards, moving the offense well enough to spark a 34-31 Cowboys victory.

Prescott’s injury is potentially career-altering. But for the following exercises, let’s assume (and hope for) a best-case scenario for Prescott: He rehabs with no setbacks and puts himself on schedule to resume football activities sometime next offseason. Let’s also assume that he won’t suffer any severe long-term ill-effects from the injury, but that no one will be certain that’s the case when the time comes for the Cowboys to make a contract decision on Prescott. 

The best-case scenario for the Dallas Cowboys

Prescott and the Cowboys reach a contract agreement while he is rehabilitating. Jerry Jones doesn’t lowball Prescott so hard that his agent blocks Jones on his phone, but Prescott accepts something closer to a Ryan Tannehill contract (four-years, $118-million) full of injury guarantees instead of the $150-million Deshaun Watson-sized deal he would (and should) have angled for when healthy. Dalton helps the Cowboys climb to .500 and win the NFC East Patriot League, putting Prescott in a position to help the team compete for a Super Bowl in 2021.

The likelihood of this scenario playing out as written is incredibly low.

The worst-case scenario for the Dallas Cowboys

Jones becomes enamored with Dalton’s game-manager routine as he leads the team to a handful of wins, so Jones tells Prescott to pound sand. While Prescott replaces Philip Rivers for the Indianapolis Colts, Jones realizes that there is no quarterback of the future on the roster and that Dalton engineered just enough wins to keep the Cowboys out of Trevor Lawrence-Justin Fields-Trey Lance contention.

So Jones either talks himself into some third-tier prospect (as he did with Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter in the 2000s) or just rolls with Dalton until his grandson John Stephen Jones enters the draft. 

The likelihood of this scenario playing out is also low, though higher than the best-case scenario.

The most likely scenario for the Dallas Cowboys

Jones bites the bullet and franchise-tags Prescott a second straight time for $37.6 million. The move hamstrings the Cowboys financially as it did this year, forcing them to let go of infrastructure players on a defense in desperate need of infrastructure.

Playing behind the worst offensive line he has ever dealt with and less than 100% confident in his ankle, Prescott has the sort of year Carson Wentz had in 2018 and 2019: too many sacks and turnovers, some scattered injuries, lots of moments which make you wonder where the magic went.

Meanwhile, Jones doesn’t bother creating a viable exit strategy, either by drafting a quarterback or signing some Josh Rosen-type for Mike McCarthy to tinker with. That sets up Prescott to be even more expensive to keep in 2022, with Jones even less sold on him as his franchise quarterback, yet with no better options.

Some variation on the “most likely scenario” is, well, most likely. There are so many variables to consider — Prescott’s actual health, his contract situation, Dalton’s play, and the Cowboys final record, the vagaries of the quarterback market (a rash of retirements could cause Prescott’s marketability to skyrocket) — that it’s difficult (and a tad ghoulish) to do too much speculation while Prescott is still in the hospital. 

What’s undeniable is that the Cowboys, despite all of their blunders this season, had a discernible path to the Super Bowl in the next few years when Prescott was healthy. That path is now much narrower and harder to locate.

Their only real solution would have been to sign Prescott to a long-term deal in 2019, which would make keeping him a relatively-affordable no-brainer now, or to have drafted someone like Jalen Hurts as insurance if the team really has any doubts about Prescott. Jones chose the pay-as-you-go strategy. He’s now locked into it. 

What’s next for the Dallas Cowboys?

The Cowboys host the Arizona Cardinals before visiting Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles. They are very likely to be .500 and in first place at the end of that stretch. For a team that may soon need (or want) a quarterback of the future, that’s a mixed blessing.


NFL News & Week 5 Recap | Alex Smith, Jimmy Garoppolo highlight Week 5’s Studs ‘n’ Duds

Alex Smith, Jimmy Garoppolo highlight Studs 'n' Duds
LANDOVER, MD – OCTOBER 11: Alex Smith #11 of the Washington Football Team scrambles during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at FedExField on October 11, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

It was great to see Alex Smith back. It wasn’t so great to see Jimmy Garoppolo back. A Baltimore Ravens rookie settled a grudge, and some unwanted wide receivers made their former teams look foolish for letting them go. NFL Recap’s Week 5 edition of Studs ‘n’ Duds has everything you could ask for, from cheap shots to big dude tuddies.

Stud: Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Team

Smith’s inspirational return to the field for the first time since his catastrophic 2018 leg injury was a reminder that a person can come back from just about any disaster with enough hard work and perseverance. May he become a symbol for America as we move past 2020.

Dud: Ron Rivera, HC, Washington Football Team

Smith endured six sacks in Sunday’s 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, throwing for just 37 yards (six yards, once you subtract the sack yardage) in over a half of action. Rivera kept Smith on the field for Aaron Donald to use as a doormat even though starter Kyle Allen was cleared to return to the field after a second-quarter blow to the head.

Allen’s best attribute is his usefulness as a stunt double, so he should have been back on the field when it became obvious that neither quarterback had a chance against the Rams defense. Instead, Rivera forced us to cheer for Smith with our fingers over our eyes, bracing for something that would make 2020 even more depressing. Fortunately, it never happened.

Stud: Andrew Thomas, Offensive Tackle, New York Giants

We all needed something to smile about when Thomas snuck into the left corner of the end zone to catch a big-dude “touchdown” on a two-point conversion in the Giants 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, because the Dak Prescott injury really brought the mood down, and also because it’s always a little depressing to watch the Giants defense. The Giants will turn things around as soon as more of the 300-pound linemen Dave Gettleman insists on drafting transform themselves into receiving weapons.

Dud: Josh Jones, Safety, Jacksonville Jaguars

When the NFL officiating department looks for textbook examples of helmet-to-helmet hits for use in training videos, they should start with the hit Josh Jones delivered on Brandin Cooks in the third quarter of the Jaguars 30-10 loss to the Houston Texans. Jones lowered his helmet and launched himself at Cooks after a completion as if he was hoping to get his picture in Encyclopedia Britannica’s “unnecessary roughness” entry. Jones was ejected for the hit.

Studs: Discarded Wide Receivers

  • The Philadelphia Eagles gave up on Nelson Agholor after he became a pass-dropping meme last year. Agholor slipped past the Kansas City Chiefs defense for a 59-yard touchdown catch in a 40-32 upset victory by the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • The New York Jets let Robby Anderson leave for the Carolina Panthers in free agency because Adam Gase often displays the personality and decision-making skills of a three-year-old who missed his nap. Anderson caught eight passes for 112 yards in a 23-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Anderson also fielded the onside kick which ensured the victory. The good news for the Falcons is that none of their players injured each other while sprinting away from the loose football or anything.
  • The Houston Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins this offseason because Bill O’Brien can make Gase look like Winston Churchill. Hopkins caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown and leads the NFL in both receptions (45) and yards (528) as of Sunday night.

Dud: Kyle Shanahan, HC, San Francisco 49ers

Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo had a miserable game: two interceptions, three sacks, and just 77 yards before getting benched in favor of C.J. Beathard in a humiliating 43-17 loss at the hands of the lowly Miami Dolphins. And yes, Garoppolo often looks like he’s qualified to give a Ted Talk entitled How to Become Overrated and Overpaid. But he has never looked as bad as he did on Sunday.

Shanahan admitted after the game that Garoppolo’s ankle was impacting his ability to throw, and it showed. Shanahan should know better than to throw the franchise quarterback onto the field before he’s 100%, especially when there are a pair of backup quarterbacks on the roster who have been in the system for three years. A Super Bowl hangover — and the high expectations and pressure it creates — can cause even a smart coach to make dumb mistakes.

And now for the NFL Week 5 News & Recap awards …

Here are the NFL Recap’s awards from Sunday, including offensive line of the week, defender of the week, special teamer of the week, and more.

Offensive Line of the Week: Los Angeles Rams

Washington may be a bad team, but they have a great front seven. But Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards, Austin Blythe, Austin Corbett, and Rob Havenstein allowed the Rams running back committee to carve out 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jared Goff was sacked just once, and the Rams controlled the ball for 35:35.

Defender of the Week: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

Donald sacked Alex Smith four times.

Defender That Didn’t Make Us Nervous That He Would Ruin the Closest Thing This Nightmare of a Year Has to a Feel-Good Story with Every Snap but Still Played Very Well of the Week: Patrick Queen, LB, Ravens

Queen strip-sacked Joe Burrow to squash a second-quarter Cincinnati Bengals drive, then scooped up a fumble after a completion and raced for a 53-yard touchdown to put the Ravens’ 27-3 victory out of reach.

Queen has some sort of beef with Burrow, his teammate on the 2019 National Championship LSU Tigers. Whatever the feud, it doesn’t appear to be nearly as hostile as the Golden Tate/Jalen Ramsey feud over Tate’s sister (with whom Ramsey was romantically involved) which erupted in violence last week. In case you missed it, here’s that clip.

Special Teamer of the Week: Isaiah Rodgers, Kick Returner, Indianapolis Colts

Rodgers, a sixth-round pick from UMass, ran a kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown when the Colts were desperate for a big play in their eventual 32-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns. 

Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders earns honorable mention for five field goals in the victory over the 49ers.

Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight: Sloane Smith, Small Child, Washington Football Team

Alex Smith’s daughter wins this award for her adorable cheering every time the camera cut away to Smith’s family in the FedEx field stands.

The Smiths, it should be noted, appeared to be seated rather high up in the socially-distanced seats. Gardner Minshew’s father was also spotted by the television crew sitting up in the nosebleed section of NRG Stadium for the Jaguars-Houston game. 

Hey, since not many folks are allowed to attend games at all, maybe the families of quarterbacks can move down a little? Or be allowed to hang out in unused luxury boxes? Especially when it’s raining? 

On second thought, Dan Snyder would probably demand that the Smith family purchase PSLs or something if they wanted better seats.

NFL News & Week 5 Recap | Rebuilding blocks emerge in Week 5 for “tanking” teams

NFL Week 5 Recap | Rebuilding blocks emerge in Week 5 for "tanking" teams
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – OCTOBER 11: Marquis Haynes #98 of the Carolina Panthers sacks Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Some teams are already sinking helplessly in the standings after Week 5. But a lost season doesn’t have to be a worthless season. NFL News & Week 5 Recap watches the NFL’s worst teams so you don’t have to, and we’re keeping an eye on some important rebuilding blocks: Young players who have the potential to be difference makers if and when their woebegone teams turn things around. 

Atlanta Falcons (0-5)

The big NFL news out of Atlanta is the anticipated firing of head coach Dan Quinn, as reported by The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz. Whoever coaches the Falcons in 2021 (more on potential head coaching candidates in 2021 here from PFN) will have Matt Ryan and some outstanding offensive weapons to work with, but he won’t have much noteworthy young talent. Second-year right tackle Kaleb McGary and guard Chris Lindstrom have played fairly well, which is better than nothing.

Third-year linebacker Foyesade Oluokun recorded 12 solo tackles in Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, but NFL Recap is not sure how well Oluokun is actually playing, because life is too short to waste any time watching the Falcons defense.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1)

Joe Burrow had his first true “Welcome to the NFL, kid” afternoon in Sunday’s 27-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was nothing to panic about. 

Rookie WR Tee Higgins caught four passes for 62 yards on Sunday and now has 16 receptions for 214 yards and two TDs for the year. Those are good numbers as a complement to Tyler Boyd for an offense that needs to wean itself off A.J. Green after 23 years of waiting for him to get truly healthy.

Third-year safety Jessie Bates III also continued his breakout 2020 season with 10 tackles, two passes defended, and one tackle for a loss on a day when the Bengals defense played better than the final score would suggest.

Houston Texans (1-4)

It’s hard to get too excited about the Texans’ first win of the 2020 season because a) it’s mid-October; b) they beat the Jaguars; c) the lineup is loaded with veterans Bill O’Brien assembled for (giggle) his Super Bowl run, and d) the Texans don’t have a first-round pick until the human race is overthrown by highly-evolved giant insectoids (2022, in other words). 

Third-year tight end Jordan Akins had 14 receptions in the first four games but was inactive Sunday due to multiple injuries. Third-year pass rusher Jacob Martin recorded his second sack of the year on Sunday and has been effective in spurts as a situational edge rusher. Martin could help the Texans in the post-J.J. Watt future which is coming sooner than you think. Just try to forget that he was part of the 2019 Jadeveon Clowney trade. 

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) 

Running back James Robinson had another fine afternoon in a 30-14 loss to the Houston Texans, with 70 scrimmage yards to give him 516 total rushing and receiving yards for the season. All-purpose receiver and Wildcat threat Laviska Shenault added seven catches for 79 yards.

Both players should continue to emerge as versatile weapons, though the Jaguars need to tone down their red-zone shenanigans: Shenault lost three yards near the goal line on a gadget play that a toddler could see developing, while Robinson took a Wildcat snap that must be seen to be appreciated.

As for Gardner Minshew, he remains the perfect quarterback if the Jaguars want to keep enjoying inflated passing stat lines in 16-point losses to previously-winless teams. 

New York Giants (0-5)

Wide receiver Darius Slayton (eight catches, 129 yards in a 37-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys) is the closest thing the Giants possess to a young blue-chip prospect. NFL Recap hasn’t completely given up on Daniel Jones, but he won’t stay on the field much longer if he keeps getting strip-sacked deep in his own territory about three times per month. 

Most of the players performing well for the Giants are veterans like CBs James Bradberry and Logan Ryan. Veterans will do the rebuilding Giants little good, but general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t believe in rebuilding, so it doesn’t matter.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1)

Travis Fulgham spent 2019 and the start of the 2020 season bouncing around the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers practice squads before the Eagles grabbed him two weeks ago to quell their latest wide receiver emergency. Fulgham caught the game-winning touchdown pass for the Eagles against the 49ers in Week 4, then tore up the Steelers secondary for 10 catches, 152 yards, and one TD in Sunday’s 38-29 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fulgham was a draftnik favorite, but draftniks love all tall receivers from unusual programs, and Fulgham is 6-foot-2 and hails from Old Dominion. As Greg Ward demonstrated last year, Carson Wentz can still be an effective passer when he meshes with his receivers. The problem is that he only seems to mesh with receivers that the Eagles find at the last minute on LinkedIn.

Washington Football Team (1-4)

Second-year defensive end Montez Sweat, who has been making splash plays all season long, delivered a sack in Sunday’s 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Running back Antonio Gibson is a draftnik and a DFS player favorite despite generating just 51 yards for a bottled-up Washington offense on Sunday. Terry McLaurin is now a known commodity as a number one receiver. And Chase Young returned from his groin injury. 

These young building blocks will look better once Washington finds a quarterback. Right now, they are 0-for-3 for the year in that department. 

New York Jets (0-5)

This is a team that runs Joe Flacco, Frank Gore, and Chris Hogan (who left the game with a leg injury) out there so it can lose 30-10 to the Arizona Cardinals. We got nuttin.

NFL News & Week 5 Recap | How the Chiefs’ loss changes the AFC Super Bowl picture

NFL Week 5 Recap | How the Chiefs' loss changes the AFC Super Bowl picture
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – OCTOBER 11: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Nevin Lawson #26 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the third quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Chiefs are not invulnerable, and the Las Vegas Raiders proved it with a 40-32 win in Week 4. But does that mean that the defending Super Bowl champions are no longer the team to beat in the AFC playoff race? NFL News & Week 5 Recap surveys the field to determine what Sunday’s Chiefs’ loss means for the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, and other top challengers.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders Recap

Things started off as expected, with the Chiefs taking a 21-10 second-quarter lead on two Patrick Mahomes touchdown passes and a 10-yard Tyreek Hill end-around.

Then things got weird. Derek Carr began completing bombs, including a 75-yarder to rookie WR Henry Ruggs that must have had Al Davis smiling down (?) from heaven (??). Guys like Alec Ingold and Devontae Booker started making big plays for the Raiders as the Chiefs’ offense suddenly forgot how to stop anyone. 

Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ offense lost its rhythm and began relying entirely on Mahomes’ scrambling throw-across-the-grain heroics. Four straight Chiefs possessions netted just 25 total yards before Mahomes, pressing on 4th-and-long, forced an interception to Jeff Heath, setting up the touchdown which gave the Raiders an insurmountable lead. 

How the Chiefs’ loss changes the AFC Super Bowl picture

Everyone except the 1972 Miami Dolphins loses eventually, and the Chiefs were coming off a short week. So let’s not get overdramatic and proclaim that the CHIEFS ARE IN BIG, BIG TROUBLE, or anything. They remain the best team in the conference until proven otherwise. But the AFC playoff picture looks much tighter after Sunday’s loss. Let’s break down the chase.

Baltimore Ravens

Their 27-3 Week 5 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals wouldn’t earn many style points. Lamar Jackson (180 passing yards, just three rushing yards) looked flat on a soggy afternoon where the Ravens defense did most of the dirty work.

The Chiefs still have that convincing Week 3 win over the Ravens in their portfolio. But the Ravens look capable of winning games without an MVP performance from their quarterback. The Chiefs have a little too much riding on Mahomes’ shoulders right now when they face a decent opponent.

Pittsburgh Steelers

They have their own NFL News & Week 5 Recap segment! The short version: Their pass rush and overall depth make them dangerous challengers, but their secondary got fried so frequently that they almost joined the Chiefs in coughing up an upset loss.

Buffalo Bills

Remember how the New England Patriots used to “win their bye week” by staying home and watching the other contenders and the AFC weaklings lose? Well, the Bills won Sunday by waiting for an all-clear signal from the Titans and watching the other AFC teams look vulnerable.

NFL Recap is certain that some Bills fans are now proclaiming them the best team in the conference, league, or known universe. Let the record show that NFL Recap definitely believes that they deserve to be on the AFC contender shortlist. But let’s wait about eight days before issuing any decrees. 

Cleveland Browns

The 2020 Browns are the team many of us thought the 2019 Browns would be: balanced and creative on offense, devastating when rushing the passer, talented enough on both sides of the ball to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt.

The Browns appear to have found their level in Sunday’s wild-‘n’-wooly 32-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts. They’re still too mistake-prone to be legit Super Bowl contenders, but they are capable of beating any contender that lets its guard down, including the two contenders they share the AFC North with.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders aren’t serious Super Bowl contenders, but NFL News & Week 5 Recap wants to give them their due. The Raiders have now upset the Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, and their offense is unpredictable and loaded with diverse weapons. They could be troublesome spoilers if they can win their Week 1 rematch with the Chiefs. 

Indianapolis Colts

It’s all fun and games until Philip Rivers starts dishing out fourth-quarter interceptions like he did on Sunday, and through the entire second half of 2019.

New England Patriots

They looked like the Jets without Cam Newton on Monday night. Frankly, they don’t look all of that spectacular with Newton, either.

Tennessee Titans

They forfeited this segment due to health violations and not following proper protocols. Hey, someone has to administer a little justice, and NFL Recap has answered the call.

What’s next for the Kansas City Chiefs?

The most eagerly anticipated Chiefs-Bills game since Jim Kelly faced Joe Montana in the 1993 playoffs is now scheduled for [checks NFL memo] [checks additional NFL memo clarifying the previous memo] Monday, October 19th at 5 PM? Sure. Why not?

NFL News & Week 5 Recap | 10 reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated

NFL Week 5 Recap | 10 reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated
PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 11: Chase Claypool #11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a 35 yard touchdown pass in the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 11, 2020 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Chase Claypool announced his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy with a four-touchdown performance. T.J. Watt and the defense dumped Carson Wentz five times to bring their season total to 20 sacks. And yet the Pittsburgh Steelers almost let a 38-29 Week 5 victory at Heinz Field over the Philadelphia Eagles slip away.

The Steelers may not be as complete a team as some other top contenders in the 2020 Super Bowl race. But our NFL News & Week 5 Recap celebrates their first 4-0 start since 1979 with a breakdown of 10 reasons why the 2020 Steelers are undefeated, in first place in the AFC North, and poised to cause trouble for the AFC playoff front-runners.

The undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and how they found success

A deep offensive bench

Ray-Ray McCloud, the Steelers’ fifth wide receiver, gained 58 yards on an end-around against the Eagles. Players like running backs Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. and guards Matt Feiler and Kevin Dotson have made positive contributions off the bench through the first five weeks. In an injury-ravaged 2020, depth isn’t just the most important thing: It’s almost the only thing.

The veteran offensive line

Center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva have been as reliable as ever while the Steelers have been forced to scramble at the guard positions. Chukwuma Okorafor has been a solid pass protector at right tackle. Stability along the offensive line isn’t a sexy as a rookie receiver scoring four touchdowns, but it’s hard to have one without the other.

Ben Roethlisberger, game manager

Roethlisberger isn’t as daring and dynamic as he was two seasons ago. But like fellow quarterboomers Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees, he’s taking most of what the defense offers him, spreading the ball around and putting his teammates in position to take over games. 

The Chase Claypool delirium 

Claypool became the first Steelers rookie to catch three touchdown passes in a game since tight end Eric Green back in 1990. Per ESPN Stats and Info, he’s the first Steelers rookie to record both rushing and receiving touchdowns in one game since Franco Harris back in 1972.

And two of Claypool’s biggest highlights on a seven-catch, 110-yard afternoon were nullified because of an offensive pass interference penalty (granted, he deserved it) and an overturned call when he could not quite bring in a deep sideline pass (it was very close).

Watch: The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Blood and Rockets

The knock on Claypool leaving Notre Dame is that he was so burly and slow-footed that he would need to move to tight end. Claypool silenced that nonsense with a 4.42-second forty-yard dash at the scouting combine.

He’s a perfect “committee” receiver: His size-speed package makes him a great big-play threat and useful blocker, but he needs other receivers to be elusive and work the middle of the field, like …

The other Pittsburgh Steelers receivers

You know all about JuJu Smith-Schuster. Diontae Johnson had just one reception on Sunday but had a team-high 14 receptions for the Steelers in the first three games. Johnson’s speed and suddenness make him a lethal weapon on shallow crosses. James Washington is another burner who can do many of the things Johnson and Smith-Schuster can do when called upon. And if defenses figure out how to cover all the Steelers’ other weapons, it will likely be because they matched up Eric Ebron against their second-fastest linebacker. 

The Steelers’ run defense

Opponents are averaging just 3.3 yards per rush and 64 yards per game against the Steelers after four games. Miles Sanders’ 74-yard touchdown against the Steelers in Week 4 was the only big play on the ground they allowed this season, and it accounted for 29% of the rushing yardage the Steelers allowed this season. Linebackers Vance Williams (eight tackles for a loss) and Devin Bush have been outstanding against the run, as have role players like interior defensive lineman Tyson Alualu.

Bud Dupree

Dupree recorded a half sack and delivered a pair of hits on Carson Wentz in Week 5. He ranks among the NFL leaders in hurries and pressures. Dupree isn’t as consistent or as effective a run defender as a certain teammate (the suspense must be killing you), but he’s a major reason why the Steelers have the most feared pass rush in the NFL.

Cam Heyward

Heyward picked up his first full sack of the season on Sunday. He rarely lights up the stat sheet, but he disrupts blocking schemes for the Steelers edge-rushers, creates the pressure that keeps quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket, and eats up blocks so Bush and Williams can chase down ball carriers.

Think of Heyward as the secret of the Steelers 2020 success, if a 10-year vet and two-time All-Pro can really be thought of like a “secret.”

The Steelers’ schedule

NFL News & Week 5 Recap would be remiss if we did not mention that the Steelers have faced the Giants, Texans, Broncos, and Eagles this season, four teams with a combined 3-14-1 record when Recap was published (before the final in the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game).

The Steelers are certainly very good, but they’re only true test of the season against the Buffalo Bills was rescheduled, and the Eagles almost clawed back into Sunday’s game by exploiting their leaky secondary. The Steelers schedule will soon get tougher. 

T.J. Watt

The Steelers survived a scare when Watt suffered a shoulder injury late in Sunday’s game; he was back on the field for the final Eagles series. Watt recorded a sack at the start of Sunday’s win to bring his season total to 4.5. He also added three tackles for losses to give him eight for the season.

After taking a look at the NFL News & Week 5 Recap, it’s easy to see why Watt deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration. His ability to chase down even the most athletic quarterbacks and impact the running game will make him the most important Steelers player on the field in the upcoming matchups against the Baltimore Ravens.

What’s next for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

There are no pushovers on their upcoming three-game stretch against the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, and Baltimore Ravens. No, not even the Browns. 


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