Lessons Learned – Week 9

by Al Scherer, November 8, 2021

1) Thursday Breakdown – Teams Don’t Want to Play the Colts!

When the Indianapolis Colts lost their first three games of 2021, it looked like the year might be over before it started. To that point, Carson Wentz had three touchdown passes, had taken eight sacks, and was completing 60-percent of his passes. Since then, though, they’ve won four and lost two, both losses in overtime, to the AFC North-leading Ravens in Week 5 and to the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans in Week 8. In Week 9, they rolled over the Jets, the 45-30 final score not reflecting how one-sided the game really was.

 

This team has completely turned their season around and, in Week 10, host the Jaguars with a chance to get back to .500. The rest of the AFC hopes they don’t make the playoffs.

 

In his last six starts, Wentz has now posted 14 touchdowns against only two interceptions and has had a passer rating over 105 five times.

This week, Jonathan Taylor blazed a 22.05 mph 78-yard touchdown run which, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, was the fastest play by any ball carrier this year. Whose record did he beat?  His own that he’d set a week earlier. In total, Taylor put up 172 yards and two scores on just 19 carries. He and Nyheim Hines combined for 246 rushing yards on 25 attempts.

At wide receiver, Michael Pittman has quietly become an NFL WR1 in just his second season. He is top-10 in the league among qualified wide receivers in Snap Share, Routes Run, Receptions, and Receiving Yards. He leads the Colts in almost every receiving metric and has put up four touchdowns in his last three games. Indianapolis doesn’t throw a lot, their 34.5 Team Pass Plays per Game average ranks No. 20, but when they do, Pittman is their WR1.

If the Colts make the playoffs, they’ll have earned it with games against Buffalo, Tampa Bay, New England, and Arizona looming. But if they do, watch out AFC!

Action:

Ride the wave and confidently start all your Colts. Look for backup Colts for the end of your bench. If Pittman is still attainable, do what you can to get him.

2) Josh Allen Stuns Josh Allen!

The Buffalo Bills brought the NFL’s No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense into Jacksonville in Week 9 as 14.5-point favorites.

Though Jacksonville had only one win coming in, the Jags had at least been competitive in a number of games this year, leading Arizona at the half in Week 4 and the Bengals into the fourth quarter in Week 5 before beating Miami in Week 7. Going into Week 9, they were actually No. 3 in the league in fewest Rushing Yards Per Attempt. Still, they should have not had a chance here.

 

But Josh Allen had other ideas.

 

No, not that Josh Allen. Jacksonville’s edge rusher Josh Allen, who became the first player in NFL history to sack a quarterback with whom he shares the same first and last name. Then, Jax Josh went a couple steps further by intercepting a Buffalo Josh pass and recovering a Buffalo Josh fumble. Jax Josh’s pressure and turnovers not only kept the Jags competitive, they actually stunned the first place Bills in Week 9, beating them by an old-fashioned, 9-6 score.

Now, so far in 2021, the Bills’ Allen has just not repeated his lofty performances of the last two seasons. He has posted less than 6.0 Yards per Attempt in consecutive games, and four times in eight starts this year. He only had three such games in all of 2020, and four in all of 2019. His 2021 True Completion Percentage, Clean Pocket Completion Percentage, and Catchable Pass Rate all sit outside the Top 20. All of these metrics were top-10 last year. And Allen’s 7.3 (No. 16) Yards Per Attempt in 2021 is a step down from his 7.9 (No. 6) score in 2020.

On a side note, while it shouldn’t have been necessary, the Bills didn’t even try to run today. Nine times they handed the ball to Devin Singletary or Zack Moss; 52 times, Allen threw it or ran it himself. Having lost two of three, expect the Bills to regroup in Week 10 against the Jets, who have been bad against everything; both the pass & the run.

Action:

Don’t take too much away from this game. Expect the Bills to bounce back and for them to bring at least a little attention to running next week. And maybe we just shouldn’t assume that anyone against the Jaguars is an automatic start anymore.

3) There are Still Guys That Can Get Open in Cleveland

Having had an up-and-down 2021 season heading into a Week 9 showdown in Cincinnati, it would have been understandable to expect a bit of a letdown with Cleveland’s off-field turmoil this week. Instead, the Browns went into Cincinnati and put a beat down on the Bengals. The Browns are a tremendous running team. No surprise there. When your roster includes the amazing Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt (when healthy) and a great offensive line, that’s what you do. The Browns went into Week 9 No. 1 in Rushing Yards, Touchdowns, and Yards Per Attempt.

 

No matter what some folks’ videos might suggest, the Browns still have guys that can get open and can catch passes. While the running backs posting 6.7 yards per rush today, Baker Mayfield and company put up 10.1 yards per pass attempt.

 

There’s Jarvis Landry, the consummate possession receiver who, despite a modest output today, headed into Week 9 No. 1 in Target Rate, Hog Rate, and True Catch Rate. And their tight ends have been catching over 70-percent of Mayfield’s throws. But the Browns receiver to get most excited about is Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Not particularly dominant at Michigan (but hey, it’s Michigan, where no receiver is ever dominant), Peoples-Jones is a great athlete, boasting a 106.7 (86th-percentile) Speed Score and 145.2 (99th-ppercentile) Burst Score. And he has the requisite size at 6-2 and 212-pounds to be a difference maker in the NFL. On a tiny sample across two NFL seasons, DPJ has caught 76-percent of his targets at over 21 yards a clip. He is bigger, has a better Speed Score and Burst Score, and is more than six years younger than the guy they just got rid of. He has five scores in six career starts. Odell Beckham, by comparison, leaves Cleveland with seven scores in 29 starts and a 54-percent Catch Rate.

Action:

Get Peoples-Jones now if he’s available. Don’t bother with Beckham but feel free to sell quickly if he lands in an exciting location.

4) Jimmy G was the Plan?

The 49ers went into their must-win Week 9 game against Arizona with an interesting strategy.

Hosting the Cardinals, who had been giving up the second-most Yards Per Rush Attempt yet the second-fewest Yards Per Pass Attempt, one might have thought the 49ers would lean on top-10 running back Elijah Mitchell, coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances and averaging 5.3 Yards Per Carry on the season. Facing a Redbirds squad without Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins, and without Chase Edmonds most of the afternoon, that was the direction one might have expected.

 

Well, one would have been wrong.

 

No, the 49ers decided to lean on 30-year old Jimmy Garoppolo from the get go, throwing four times as often as they ran. Maybe it was his impressive win over the Bears in Week 9 (*chuckle*), his -1.1 (No. 32) Production Premium, or -1.3 (No. 47) Expected Points Added, but that was the plan. Unsurprisingly, they never got closer than two touchdowns and now sit in last place in the NFC West… tied with the Geno Smith-led Seahawks.

Action:

The 49ers have to start playing for next year soon, don’t they? They have to play Trey Lance soon, right?  Yes, Jimmy G put up 300-plus yards against a prevent defense today, but they can’t keep playing him. Can they??

5) James Conner – We Can Fight the Facts No Longer!

I can fight this no longer. Yes, Arizona Cardinal James Conner is just not a great athlete by NFL standards. But you can put his 4.65 (31st-percentile) 40-Yard Dash, 105.8 (5th-percentile) Burst Score, and 11.72 (18th-percentile) Agility Score metrics aside if teams rely on him in important situations. His three scores today give him 11 for the year, leading the league on only 125 touches. And he only has one fumble. With the Cardinals top-5 in Game Script and Conner top-5 in Goal Line Carries, although touchdowns aren’t “sticky,” odds are really good that Arizona, and Connor barring injury, will get lots of scoring chances the rest of the way.

The Cardinals even have a really nice schedule coming up, including games against Seattle, a beaten-down Bears team, the Rams (not what they used to be vs the run) and Detroit. Whether Edmonds’ injury is short-term or if it lasts longer, the Cardinals have confidence in Conner, and we must too.

Action:

Ride with Conner if he’s on your roster. Also consider stashing Eno Benjamin in the event Edmonds misses any time.

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6) Jordan Howard? Nah!

Since being picked up by Philadelphia before Week 8, Jordan Howard has the Eagles’ most carries, most yards, and three touchdowns in just two weeks. The Eagles crushed the Lions in Week 8 and then went up against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 10, the team giving up the most total yards and the only team giving up more than 5.0 yards per carry.

 

A lot of guys look good rushing against the Lions and Chargers.

 

On the other hand, Howard does hold onto the ball and can fall into the endzone. In 2020, when he averaged 1.7 yards per carry for Miami and the Eagles, he managed four scores on just 35 attempts. Though it’d been more than two years since he had back-to-back games with double-digit carries.

The Eagles are now 3-6. They must see what they have in Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott until Miles Sanders returns. There’s little for them to gain by continuing to give Howard significant touches going forward. Jalen Hurts will even compete for rushing scores when they get in the red zone.

Action:

Don’t rush to get Howard from the waiver wire. If you have him, his price is the highest it will be. If you find a desperate league-mate, move him now.