Who was the real winner of week 6?

Seattle.

That’s it. That’s the piece.

Okay fine. So they didn’t even play, sure. But their main competitors for that #1 seed in the NFC all floundered.

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks
Abbie Parr – Getty

Green Bay became a shadow of themselves in a 38-10 hammering at the hands of Mr Brady and the Buccaneers. Sure, the Bears beat a Carolina team that had 4 INTs on the night, but can they really keep up their current form? I mean come on, it’s Chicago. The Eagles… actually no, let’s not even discuss the NFC East…

Then back in their own division, the Rams, who appear to be the Seahawks’ main competition for the NFC West this year, couldn’t get it done against the 2-3 49ers and helped Jimmy G bounce back after his woeful performance against the Dolphins last week. All this means that Seattle holds the early division advantage.

They face a tough couple of divisional games, starting at Arizona next weekend and then hosting the 49ers in Week 8, before they face a really testing road trip to Buffalo in Week 9. If Russell Wilson can lead the Seahawks to wins against two of those three teams, Seattle will have a 7-1 record at the half-way stage.

I was high on Green Bay early out of the blocks this season, but they looked poor on Sunday, really poor. Russell Wilson is once again throwing his hat in the ring for MVP and if he can keep up his outstanding 19 touchdowns to date pace, the Seahawks will breeze their way to the NFC #1 seed and that coveted play-off bye week. There’s only one this year and it feels like the other teams in the NFC are trying their hardest to avoid it…


Big-time Back

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two of the major off-season stories this year regarded the bolstering of the running back position yet, after another impressive game against the Green Bay Packers this weekend, it seems as though the answer was right in front of their eyes the whole time. 

Ronald Jones, the former USC Trojan, once again had a huge day against Aaron Rodgers’ Packers in Week 6, with an impressive 113 yards on 23 carries, while also adding two scores to the board. 

The performance gives him three consecutive 100+ yard rushing games for the first time in his young NFL career. He continues to recover from slow rookie and sophomore years, which led Bruce Arians and management to believe that they needed to bring in both LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette for this season. 

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Douglas Clifford – Tampa Bay Times

While Fournette did miss the game with an ankle injury, there will be no surprises should the former Jacksonville Jaguar keep his back-up spot to Jones when he does return.

Like McCoy on Sunday, expect Fournette to play a bit-part role, especially in short yardage situations, but with Jones’ tough running style and improving hands, the need for a stable of backs is becoming far less required. 

Of course, Jones is being helped by the gradually improving pass attack, as Rob Gronkowski gets back into game-shape and stud wide receiver Chris Godwin returns, but the yards that Jones has put on the table so far this year deserve all the credit he is rightfully getting. 

‘RoJo’ has become an enjoyable runner to watch with his aggressive style. He seems to have improved both his balance and his agility over the course of the last year and has resulted in him become a seriously good inside and outside runner. 

The Bucs face the Las Vegas Raiders next week. They have also struggled to stop the run, so Jones may have a credible shot at another 100+ rushing yard game.


Ryan’s in Fitz

Tua Tagovailoa saw his first taste of NFL action this week, coming in for mopping-up duties against the Jets.

Big deal, we knew this was going to happen at some point. However, I think it is worth mentioning Fitzpatrick’s reaction and the encouragement he gave both Tua and the crowd from the sideline.

Fitzpatrick has had a colourful if what unsuccessful career, but he’s had a lot of fun on the journey. I guess that’s how you have to be when you are drafted 250th overall in the 7th round. He’s been on eight different NFL teams in his career, with his stint in Buffalo (four years) being the longest.

He’s 58-86-1 in his career as a starter and has almost 35,000 yards through the air. His gunslinger mentality has seen him total 220 TDs and 168 INT. Another fun fact: Fitzpatrick has appeared in 160 NFL games — playing either for or against every NFL team but the Green Bay Packers — yet but never played a snap in the postseason.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better role model, tutor and all-round great guy in a football team.

Some quarterbacks in the past (not naming names) have shrugged in similar situations and not been a willing team mate when there is a changing of the guard so it’s really nice to see that the bearded one is more than happy to pass on his knowledge, thoughts and support to a guy that is taking his job.

Fair play to you, Ryan.


WHEN THE ‘W’ IS ALL ABOUT THE ‘D’

In Week 6, the Ravens and Bears both moved to an impressive 5-1 (Baltimore matching most of our general expectations, Chicago largely exceeding those of everyone bar their most ardent supporters) yet neither are fully firing on offence. You might think that would affect your record adversely but both teams are currently disproving that theory.

With the misfiring Mitchell Trubisky giving way to an erratic Nick Foles, Chicago’s attack has flitted between lacklustre and anaemic. With only two rushing TDs in six weeks, the Bears are not so much leaning on their defence as using it as scaffolding. In Sunday’s 23-16 win over the Carolina Panthers, there were errors aplenty: 12 men on the field twice (on the same drive); running out of bounds short of a first down, forcing a punt; wasting a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty that they received anyway; dropped passes; missed blocks; inaccurate throws.

So yet again, it was all about the Bears D stifling the run game and making crucial red-zone and third-down stops. They nearly earned a safety on the first drive, then intercepted Teddy Bridgewater on the next play to set up a short-field TD. The defensive line pressured and blitzed all day and the secondary tracked their men across the field, forcing Bridgewater to improvise on the fly. The QB was sacked by Khalil Mack and co. four times and the Bears forced three turnovers.  

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Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sport

So kudos to Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano for helping to restrict Bridgewater (16-of-29 for 216 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INT) enough to register his worst passer rating of the year (50.4). To date, Chicago have conceded just four passing TDs, the fewest in the league, and held four of their six opponents to under 20 points. If you do that every week, you’re giving your offence every chance to win the game.

As for Baltimore, they were also sloppy, giving away 12 penalties for 132 yards in their 30-28 win over the Eagles, and their offence struggled for a second week. Lamar Jackson completed just 16 of 27 for 186 yards and one TD, leaving the Ravens 30th in the league for passing (1,159 yards). With Gus Edwards, JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram held to just 74 yards from 28 rushing attempts between them, the running game wasn’t on point either, and they needed some trademark bursts by Jackson to dig them out of a hole.

So, as with Chicago, it was all about the Baltimore defence doing the business at key moments. From 17 points down, Carson Wentz led Philly to within two, only to set the stage for the Ravens to spoil the party at Lincoln Financial Field. They stuffed what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion, with Matt Judon and LJ Fort swarming all over Wentz as he went for the line. Game over.

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BaltimoreRavens.com

In total, the Ravens recorded three forced fumbles, 16 QB hits and six sacks (three by Calais Campbell alone), and put Wentz under pressure for almost half of his dropbacks, according to ESPN. They have now logged at least one takeaway in the last 19 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. While they may not look like the well-oiled machine of a year ago, John Harbaugh’s men keeping adding to the wins column, thanks largely to a defence that has held opponents to a league-leading average of 15.2 points.

Something’s clearly off-kilter with both these outfits but their records to date just show how a solid defence can compensate for any offensive limitations. Whether either can find a way to grind out victories over a longer period without their attacks doing more of the heavy lifting, only time will tell.


BAKER CAN’T HANDLE THE HEAT

He may well have entered the game with bad ribs but Baker Mayfield will probably wish he could have had an afternoon on the sidelines on Sunday. The upstart Browns were put well and truly in their place by a Pittsburgh side that destroyed the Browns O-line. Despite the unit’s talented members, it put up hardly any fight against the Steelers’ powerful front. In addition to four sacks, Pittsburgh recorded seven total QB hits, resulting in a ridiculous amount of pressure. Baker was pressured on 52% of his drop-backs in the defeat, unsurprisingly a career-high mark.

It resulted in the 11th multi-interception game of Mayfield’s career. His first pick was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, and his second gave Pittsburgh a short field. And he barely got Odell Beckham Jr. (two catches, 25 yards on four targets) and Jarvis Landry (three catches for 40 yards on five targets) involved in the passing game. With the run game not able to come to his rescue, his arm could not help the Browns when they needed it most.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
Joe Sargeant – Getty

Mayfield has yet to throw for more than 250 yards in a single game this year, and his 6.4 yards per attempt was tied for 26th among qualified passers entering the game. Some of that inconsistency undoubtedly stems from the fact that this is Mayfield’s first season working with HC Kevin Stefanski, but Browns general manager Andrew Berry is heading towards a difficult decision in the off-season. His fantastic rookie season continues to remind fans of what he can do, question is can he reproduce it consistently enough to push the Browns on?


A point in the hand is worth two in the bush

Sad to hear that Steelers second-year LB Devin Bush is out for the season, but this takeaway is not about injuries. It’s about two NFC (L)East failed two-point conversions over the weekend that cost each team an opportunity at a rare win. For Washington fans, the call made by HC Ron Rivera to try and win the game was the wrong one. Down 20-19 in a shockingly poor contest, ‘Riverboat’ Ron decided to forgo the XP to tie the game, instead opting for a two-point attempt. The play itself was a horror show. Kyle Allen dropped back and saw his paltry set of options man marked and after a little scramble, threw the ball to the invisible man in the end zone.

Kyle Allen likely remains starting QB for 1-5 Washington
John Minchello – AP

Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Eagles managed a furious comeback against the Ravens, clawing back to 30-28 down. Coach Pederson had no option but to try the two-point play, which was snuffed out by Matt Judon who blew out the Philly candle with a superb tackle of a flustered Carson Wentz.

The NFC (L)East is setting a new benchmark in poor play. Are we actually going to see a 6-10 division winner? Surely there is an NFL bylaw to omit such teams from the playoffs, even in an expanded seeding format? 


The Jags are kicking themselves

One story that has not really hit the top of the news list (mainly because it isn’t an offensive player position) is that the Jacksonville Jaguars are on their fifth kicker of the season.

The problem started when Josh Lambo went to IR with a hip injury, leaving the Jags to go with Brandon Wright. He did not attempt a FG and then went one-of-two on XPs but suffered a groin injury. Former Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas came in and did OK against the Bengals (4/5 on FG and 1/1 on XPs) but he too found himself on the treatment table. Stephen Hauschka’s time to shine failed miserably and he missed both his field goal attempts against the Texans, and was duly released two weeks after signing.

Step forward Mr Jon Brown, who had never kicked a ball in a meaningful game throughout his life (though kicked a few in pre-season for the Bengals). He’s a former soccer player who took to the field to attempts kicking duties for the team.

Getty Images

It started off well, nailing his first FG attempt from 31 yards, but then he missed from 32 yards in the second quarter. He did make his only XP attempt.

It remains to be seen where the whistle-stop tour ends for Brown and as soon as Lambo is healthy, it’s likely Brown will be replaced. Lambo, who is 126/142 on FG attempts in his career and 136/149 on XPs, has made a bit of a name for himself and is a sure-footed kicker.

At the other end of the spectrum, and for context, Green Bay have only had five kickers attempt a field goal since 1989! So it seems the “Kickers Matter”/”Kickers are people too” slogans vary in importance throughout the NFL front offices.


Vikings looking vacant 

Oh boy, you thought the NFC (L)East was full of rotten franchises… well another NFC team is looking equally abysmal: the Minnesota Vikings.

Both the Washington Football Team and the Vikings lost last week to teams that were 0-5. The Vikings’ collapse against the porous Falcons was a new low in the fading career of Kirk Cousins, who is about as much value for money as an Lidl snack helmet. The Minnesota defence is embarrassing itself week after week and, while Atlanta was due a win, allowing 40 points at home is the sort of performance that loses a coach his job.

After loss to Falcons, Vikings' bye week to-do list is long | Star Tribune
Jerry Holt – Star Tribune

Another three interceptions by Cousins and he will be looking at a benching. The only problem is that the back-up is the 6’6″ Sean Mannion, who is completely unproven. It’s likely, with the Vikings being down big in games, that Cousins will be finding rookie sensation Justin Jefferson for more monster performances. Nine catches for 166 yards and two scores is a fantastic individual output but if it is being accrued in garbage time, then it means very little.

A rather large blood-stained Viking axe is hovering above HC Mike Zimmer’s head.


BELOW-AVERAGE ANDY

I think we may have over-egged the NFC (L)East pudding by now but by way of a postscript, we can’t go without mentioning the Cowboys’ poor showing last night against the Cardinals. As Cincy fans know, whenever you stick Andy Dalton on MNF, it’s a recipe for disaster. ‘Average Andy’ just doesn’t do primetime.

In their 38-10 mauling by Arizona, the Dallas offence – led by Dalton in his first start – was horrible. I’ve seen reports using ‘hapless’, ‘atrocious’, ‘putrid’ even; suffice to say, it was one hot mess. Andy threw what one Twitter follower called “the worst throw in NFL history” but somehow, it wasn’t picked off. Two others were, including one by his old Bengals teammate, Dre Kirkpatrick. They led to a combined 10 points for the Cardinals.

Obviously, we all know he’s no Dak but still, Dalton went 34 of 54 for 266 yards, with one touchdown, two picks and three sacks. But to be fair, it’s not all on the QB: his depleted O-line (something he should be used to) got weaker still when guard Zack Martin was concussed and Zeke Elliot lost two fumbles. The Cards also became the first team in the Super Bowl era to win a game by 25+ points when their QB had 25 fewer completions than the losing team’s passer.

The defence didn’t help either, taking Dallas into the all-time top five for points allowed in the first six games of a season (218), coughing up a league-worst 36.3 points per game. A staggering 84 of those have come through offensive turnovers.

Yet despite all that, due to the sheer ineptitude of their rivals, they still top their division. That’s about all Cowboys fans can be positive about at the mo, plus the fact that they play Washington and Philadelphia next. But even if they hold on to win the NFC East (probably with a sub-.500 record, based on this showing), that elusive first playoff win will probably evade Mr Dalton yet again.

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