By Shaun Blundell and Lawrence Vos
Week 6 is in the books, here’s 10 takeaways as we hit the cruise control into the main belly of the season.
Super Bowl Aspirations Drifting Down The River(s)
Several teams have disappointed to start off the 2019 campaign, but if you are looking for an overwhelming underachiever look at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Many casual fans dark horse Super Bowl pick preseason the Chargers are unraveling and are only being kept in faint contention by the Chiefs having their own hiccups. This one got ugly early as Phillip Rivers turned the ball over twice early as the Steelers jumped into a 14 point lead that the Chargers would never recover from.
Rivers is becoming a bit of a turnover machine and he will need to correct a lot of wrongs if the Chargers are to make a playoff run. Melvin Gordon’s return has so far netted an average of 33.5 rushing yards per game, not exactly screaming “Pay Me!”.
Nothing Phoneyniner Here
Robert Saleh, take a bow my friend.
The 49ers defence bottled up the once thought unstoppable LA Rams offence to move to 5-0 on the year. The 49ers were a perfect 0-9 allowing 3rd down conversions and a perfect 0-4 allowing 4th down conversions limiting the Rams offence to just 165 total yards. Offensively another heavy dose of the run game was backed up by an efficient if not spectacular game from Jimmy G. George Kittle was of course the main target hauling in 8 grabs for 108 yards, not bad for a guy who was questionable to play.
Huge game in the division which now sees the 49ers in a convincing position.
Stop Having A Digg At The Vikings Passing Game
Make no mistake about it, this is still Dalvin Cook’s team, but for this week at least he took a back seat to the passing game.
The Vikings lead by an all of a sudden explosive Kirk Cousins saw his 2 favourite targets combine for 13 receptions and both find the end zone. Stefon Diggs was the main man this week as he compiled a season best 7/167 and 3 touchdown effort as the passing game that went missing for a few weeks continued its resurgence against a banged up Philly defence.
There were whispers of trades a week or 2 ago for the Vikings top pair on the outside, I’d label that as “fake news”.
Winston or Mariota? How About Neither
5 years after the debate of who the Buccaneers would take with the number 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft there is a new question about those 2 “top” quarterbacks. Which 1 is worse?
Jameis had a horror show in London, fumbling the ball away, getting sacked 7 times and throwing 5 picks. Just when you think he has turned a corner, he throws in a game like this just to remind you of how inconsistent he is. Mariota was benched as the Titans were shutout by the Broncos and replaced by Ryan Tannehill. The Titans offence has been anemic outside of their week 1 win over the Browns and this change has been a long time coming.
Jameis probably wins you more games but also costs you more games, either way look for both franchises to address the position next Spring.
Murray momentum mounts
With four weeks gone the Arizona Cardinals were winless and looking in trouble. After six weeks the same team is hotting up after a two-game win streak.
Yes the opponents have been the Bungles and the porous Falcons defense, but you can’t do any more than win against the teams on your schedule. Behind rookie quarterback Kyle Murray and rookie HC Kliff Kingsbury the Cardinals are starting to turn a few heads.
Their next four games are a real split of two winnable (Giants and Buccaneers) and two very tough matchups (Saints and 49ers). Murray completed just under 73% of his passes in the Week 6 win against the Falcons, and he has only thrown one pick in the last three games. His vision is on the rise as he has only been sacked once in the last two games, after taking twenty in his first four outings. In addition Kingsbury is allowing Murray to use his small but speedy legs, and this has resulted in 125 yards rushing in the two victories, more than his ground output in the first four combined.
If the Cardinals can get a winning record it will be a major achievement in the inaugural season for Kyler and Kliff. If they somehow scrape a Wild-Card berth it will be a minor miracle.
The Cardinals defense is the team’s Achilles heel, but when you have the talent of Murray and the ageless Larry ‘see you in Canton’ Fitzgerald catching the ball you never know.
Watch this space.
The Washington Redskins have a history of drafting wide receivers early in the draft who end up flaming out.
The latest example being Josh Doctson, picked 22nd in the 2016 draft. Doctson was jettisoned from D.C. during the offseason after racking up a disappointing 81 catches for 1,100 yards in 33 games. He is now on I/R with the Vikings.
In the 2019 Draft the Redskins waited until the third round to grab Doctson’s potential replacement, Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin. Six weeks in and McLaurin has 23 catches, 408 yards and a stellar five touchdowns, including two in the ‘Skins first win of the season against the Miami Dolphins. six weeks in and McLaurin leads all rookie WR in catches, yards and touchdowns, all this inclusive of not even suiting up in Week 4.
The last great Redskins player to wear the number 17 shirt was Super Bowl winning quarterback Doug Williams, now the Senior Vice President of Player Personnel. It’s a big set of shoes to fill, but at his current pace McLaurin is going to have a 1,000 yard rookie season and will be in the running for offensive rookie of the year honours.
Wins might be hard to come by for the 2019 Redskins, but sometimes you have to face adversity to see who is still standing. For Terry McLaurin he is not standing, he is streaking down the sidelines catching pigskins.
Redskins rookie QB Dwayne Haskins was McLaurin’s signal-caller in college, so if you think the results are good with Case ‘fill-in’ Keenum then 2020 could be a real blast.
Jets win sealed without a kiss
Over this side of the pond we call it glandular fever, but over in the land of the free and the home of the brave they call it mononucleosis or ‘mono’ for short. More affectionately known as a teenage kissing infection, ‘mono’ was the reason the New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had missed three games between Week 2 and 6.
After being declared fit for last Sunday’s game in Dallas there was not a high degree of expectation, so when the Jets travelled east on Sunday night with a victory it was headline worthy. 338 yards passing from Darnold was his second best output in his two seasons, and his 92 yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson was the longest by any QB this season.
In the win against the Cowboys the Jets at one point had an 18-point lead, but despite an impressive Dallas second-half comeback, this was a statement victory at Met Life Stadium. Leveon Bell scored his first TD in a Jets uniform, but had another ho-hum game, leaving the contest to be won or lost by Darnold. This was a weird game statistically as Dallas did not commit a turnover, and were far more efficient on third-down.
Sometimes the stats are not the story, and on Sunday this was about the Jets franchise QB returning to a team that had looked like it had thrown it’s hat in the ring for a chance at the number one pick in the 2020 draft.
With Darnold back the Jets are not a playoff ready team, but they are capable of 4-5 wins by the end of the season, something their AFC East division rivals the Dolphins can only dream of.
Watson outshines Sherlock Ma’Holmes’
Ok ok the headline is a stretch but it does not take a fictional detective to deduce that Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson is playing an an MVP type level after six weeks of NFL football.
Watson managed to out-duel his dynamic counterpart Patrick Mahomes last Sunday, with 280 yards in the air, and two huge touchdowns on the ground, including the game winner with just over six minutes left in the final quarter. Watson, like Kyler Murray, has avoided being sacked for two consecutive games, something he simply couldn’t avoid in 2018 when he was sacked a punishing 62 times in the regular season.
Watson now has 17 total touchdowns in six games, along with four wins and a division lead. The Texans were supported by a very solid performance from RB Carlos Hyde, part of a rushing attack that finished with just under 200 yards on the ground. Texans WR Will Fuller came back to earth after his stratospheric Week 5 performance. The Chiefs again were let down by their running game, a unit that simply has not been the same since dispensing of Kareem Hunt’s services last season. Hunt himself is nearing a comeback from a half-season suspension at his new team the Browns.
Talking of comebacks, Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill came back with a big fantasy splash in Sunday, with 5 catches, 80 yards and two touchdowns. It may only be Week 6 but this came could determine who ends up with the number two seed in the AFC when the regular season concludes.
Lazard the 6ft 5inch lizard pounces
In a game dominated by field-goals, a grand total of eight converted, including the 23 yard winner from the Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby with no time left on the clock, it was a lesser known WR who delivered the true highlight of Green Bay’s late late win against the Detroit Lions.
Allen Lazard’s first catch of the season, and only second catch of his career, was an absolute jaw-dropper. Aaron Rodgers threw a rainbow to the left side of the end-zone into a window smaller than that seen in a smurf’s double-glazed box room. On the receiving end was the lesser-spotted Allen Lazard who made a highlight grab to bring the Packers within three points of the leading Lions.
Lazard, undrafted in 2018, spent time on the Jaguars and Packers practice squad in the past two seasons. The former Iowa State Cyclones WR, Lazard holds a number of his college team’s receiving records, including catches, yards and consecutive games with a catch (48). Scoring your first NFL touchdown in front of a worldwide MNF audience is the dream debut score for anyone, and catching it from Aaron Rodgers is a big bonus. They both play second fiddle to helping your team move to 5-1. Lazard’s four catches, his first four of the 2019 season all took place in the fourth quarter. It helps when you have such a huge frame and wingspan, and when your superstar teammate Davante Adams is injured.
This performance will no doubt have the waiver wire buzzing, but even if Lazard doesn’t score again this season, his debut touchdown is one he can show his grandchildren in 40 years time through a holographic “lazar” chip projection device embedded in his ear-lobe.
Great to see so many NFL network personalities over to support the 2nd London game this year.
The Gameday Morning crew took the call, and although its not to everyone’s taste it adds a great deal of humour and personality to the proceedings in my eyes. The Around The NFL heroes also made their return to these shores as the boys helped out on Sky Sports coverage throughout the broadcast. Live shows and podcasts were also on the agenda throughout the week as the investment in the UK goes from strength to strength.
We should remind ourselves not take this stuff for granted, and be thankful we have so much content to get our teeth into.