The NFL is ugly right now, just as it was in NFL Week 7. It’s our job to make the most of it. Each week when we look at the schedule and try to figure out what the best games might be, it’s difficult to really identify the best matchups and determine which teams are really worth watching.
NFL Week 7 Recap
But as we did so, we found some interesting storylines with backup quarterbacks, Joe Burrow, Daniel Jones, and the state of running back contracts. This muck, in particular, led to an interesting storyline for some teams — those who can use this moment to really test out whether it makes sense to stick with the “starter” they planned on going with at the beginning of the season.
Some of these conversations are probably misguided — like abandoning Dak Prescott for Cooper Rush or Mac Jones for Bailey Zappe.
But some backup quarterbacks are demonstrating that teams had better solutions on the roster than the guy they were planning on going with — PJ Walker outperformed anything Baker Mayfield put together in a Panthers uniform, and Taylor Heinicke put together a more cohesive game than Carson Wentz has this year.
Even Brett Rypien, who had an extremely poor showing, showcased some more interesting moments than Russell Wilson did as a Denver Bronco. We might also see something out of Sam Ehlinger in the coming weekend as he replaces an injured Matt Ryan.
All of these teams have an opportunity to play those backups instead of their starters and may see more upside because of it. This is, in fact, what gave Wilson a shot in the first place; he out-competed presumed starter Matt Flynn in 2012 as a rookie and earned the starting job.
In short, we should continue the year of the backup quarterback. These players might not actually be the solution at quarterback, but given how poorly these teams’ seasons have been going, it’s worth a shot to see if any of these players have something worth developing.
Daniel Jones Could Be a Rising Star
Last week, we talked about the interesting year Daniel Jones is having, one where he’s strung together a series of high-value games in a way that makes him an interesting riser. It’s unusual for quarterbacks to bounce back this late in their career — though there’s one in Seattle who might disagree — and it’s interesting to see Jones improve the way he has.
In his 45-game career, three of Jones’ top five performances in EPA per play have come this year, with his Week 4 game against the Bears ranking eighth. Much of this comes from an improved passing performance — despite a dearth of receivers — but a good chunk of it comes on the ground.
Jones now ranks fifth in the NFL in total runs of 10 or more yards, just behind teammate Saquon Barkley at fourth and ahead of Derrick Henry, rookie phenoms Kenneth Walker III and Dameon Pierce, Aaron Jones, Jonathan Taylor, and Dalvin Cook.
It helps that Jones is getting rid of the ball quicker and seems to be playing more systematized football rather than high-volatility, aggressive play. But much of it has to do with how Brian Daboll can take quarterbacks with potential and coach out their weaknesses, whether that’s holding on to the ball too long or falling for defensive traps.
Against the Jaguars, where there was a bit of struggle, Jones played well enough that the Giants could continue their impressive pace of fourth-quarter knockouts.
The Raiders Aren’t Dead Yet
I’m not sure the Las Vegas Raiders are good, but they are certainly much better than they were to start the season. After starting off 0-3, they’ve won two of their next three games, with the loss coming against the Chiefs in what turned out to be just a one-point affair.
Some of that improvement looks like a revival in the running game, where Josh Jacobs has been more consistently productive, especially as they’ve found reasons to give him the ball a lot more often. It’s let that offense work in a rhythm that it didn’t have before.
Moving away from constantly relying on Derek Carr has shown up in better efficiency numbers for him, and his yards per passing attempt have gone up while his tendency to throw interceptable passes has gone down. After three games of Davante Adams earning 95+ yards, it might be safe to say that they’ve figured out how to balance their skill sets.
That’s led to the Raiders moving up to ranking third in the NFL in points per game. Defensively, they still need improvement and to become more than the Maxx Crosby and Duron Harmon show.
That’s possible, and we’ve seen flashes of play from some of their high-value defenders. But it will require players like Chandler Jones and Blake Martinez to step up and play better than they have, even if we acknowledge that Martinez has a difficult path in that regard as a mid-season signing.
The Bengals Got Their Groove Back
The Cincinnati Bengals nearly had three receivers with 100 yards against the Falcons this week, and it’s a testament to how much that passing game has rebounded, especially when funneled through Ja’Marr Chase, who once again looked spectacular, though this time starting off the game with fireworks instead of through trying to play catch-up in the second half.
The AFC North is difficult to parse, but it’s pretty unlikely that the Browns or Steelers could make a legitimate push, even with Deshaun Watson coming back for Cleveland or the excellent coaching we’ve come to expect from Mike Tomlin. With the Bengals and Ravens tied in the NFL standings, there’s a real opportunity for Cincinnati to take this passing-game revival and turn it into a series of wins.
Joe Burrow is currently the most-sacked QB in the league, and we’re not seeing as much from Joe Mixon as many were expecting. But with how well the Bengals’ defense is playing, there’s a good chance we’ll see a midseason push that might vault Cincinnati into relevancy.
Running Back Contracts Don’t Come With Warranties
Naturally, the Chiefs’ game against the 49ers wasn’t going to be much of a referendum on how useful San Francisco’s trade for Christian McCaffrey was. But it was an interesting weekend for that particular conversation given how well his former backups in Carolina did (218 combined yards between Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman on 28 combined touches) or how current and former 49ers backs did (Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon, and Jeff Wilson Jr. earned 211 yards on 31 combined touches).
Certainly, the Chiefs did a better job allocating resources entering the season, but that’s not what stands out.
Even more interesting to me is the meta-conversation about running backs on second contracts and how they generally don’t work out — and didn’t for the Panthers. The 49ers seem convinced that it will, simply because of McCaffrey’s age, and they might be right, but it’s not a strong history.
I looked at every RB who signed a contract since 2016 whose average annual value consumed at least four percent of the cap and compared their two years prior to a new signing or extension and the three years following. Two years is usually the body of work a player brings to a contract discussion, and three years is the typical guaranteed contract length.
I also looked at how many yards per scrimmage players earned per available game, a metric I wanted to use to account for the fact that running backs are one of the most injury-prone positions in the NFL, and contract discussions need to take that into account. This means we divided their total yards from scrimmage by 16 in 16-game seasons and 17 in 17-game seasons or account for how many games their team played in 2022.
|Player||Age||AAV% of Cap||Yards Per Game Before||Yards Per Game After||Difference|
Only four running backs made good on their contract — Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb and Alvin Kamara. David Johnson didn’t lose many yards per game, but it wasn’t an impressive start anyway. Same with Melvin Gordon III, and McCaffrey has thus far lost the most.
Other Observations Around the NFL
- The Breece Hall injury is a huge blow to the New York Jets, and I wonder if they might prefer to trade for a player rather than rely on Michael Carter. I doubt it, though.
- Tua Tagovailoa’s return from injury turned into a win with some great highlights, but with four dropped picks, it’s not as if we’re seeing Miami at full strength. Hopefully, that gets turned around, or we’re going to constantly be asking “what if” about the early-season 2022 Dolphins.
- The Seahawks-Chargers game felt like it could have proved something about which teams are ready to compete, as both of them could have risen through the muck. But, as it always seems to be with the Chargers, injury bit them hard, and now the picture isn’t any clearer for either team.
- The Jaguars aren’t playing well, but Trevor Lawrence is.
- Dak Prescott’s return was as underwhelming as Tagovailoa’s. Again, this would be another great thing to have turn around just to have more competitive teams in the NFL.
- Jevon Holland might be the next great NFL safety. Having him and Talanoa Hufanga in the same league could be exciting.