Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 11: Bow before Lamar Jackson and NFL's best team, the Baltimore Ravens
Plus more stories from the week that was in the NFL
Unquestionably the most debunked preseason narrative of 2019? "Lamar Jackson can't pass." Another week, another big win over a top-end AFC foe and another set of highlight reels plays for Jackson, who has emerged as the clear-cut front-runner for the 2019 NFL MVP.
At a certain point things we think could be the truth simply become facts. And factually, Lamar Jackson is a cheat code.
Sunday featured another gasp-inducing, ankle-breaking lengthy run where Jackson showed he is just a different breed of athlete than everyone else on the field.
But to me this is the whipped cream on the sundae. Or perhaps you prefer the gravy on the turkey? Jackson's development as a passer is the real story this season. Anyone suggesting he can't be accurate or win from the pocket or that he looks to run before he throws is simply living off a preconceived notion.
A wild Week 11 is almost in the books and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Jackson showed as much against an admittedly thin Texans defense on Sunday. He got the protection Deshaun Watson so sorely needed, but he was never worried about sitting in a clean (albeit tight) pocket and waiting patiently for a receiver to get open in the red zone.
The Ravens protection was outstanding. It's what might separate them from other contenders. But there was some pressure getting home up front as the play developed. A lot of guys, without having Jackson's speed, might have taken off there. Jackson waited for Seth Roberts to get open and delivered a strike in the end zone, a ball perfectly placed up in the air to give Roberts a shot at getting it and without putting the ball in harm's way. Gareon Conley might have made a fantastic pass breakup, but he wasn't going to intercept the ball.
Jackson's second touchdown pass, this time to Mark Andrews, was even more impressive. It came after Jackson was sacked on a rare Houston pressure from Brennan Scarlett to set up a 2nd and 17 just outside the red zone.
Jackson dropped back out of an empty backfield formation and once again got impeccable protection from his offensive line.
Again, there were SWATHS of open field for Jackson to run. If he's a run-first quarterback, he could run first. He's not. He sat comfortably in the pocket and hit Andrews in the end zone for an easy score. The ball was, as Ian Eagle noted on the broadcast, an absolute strike.
The ball placement was perfect. There was only one person who was getting that ball and it was Andrews, who caught it in stride for the score to go up 14-0.
The game wasn't over at this point, but with the way Baltimore was pressuring Watson, it sure felt that way. The Ravens didn't stop pouring on the points, either, walking away with a very casual but emphatic 41-7 drubbing of a would-be contender. Watson's MVP candidacy probably died in Baltimore Sunday, while Jackson's resume was only further burnished.
Jackson isn't a freak athlete winning occasionally with his arm. He's a superstar, plain and simple.
The Ravens quarterback is now fourth amongst qualified candidates in passer rating (106.3, behind only Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott) while also checking in at 10th in terms of rushing yards among ALL NFL players (788, trailing a bunch of running backs).
He's a cheat code. The idea that Jackson would just run and run and run and never develop as a passer pervaded not just fan but media thinking this offseason. It has been completely and utterly debunked.
Let's look at some other preseason myths that have evaporated into the ether 11 weeks into the season.
The Bears won the Khalil Mack trade
Everyone had a good chuckle at Jon Gruden's expense for well over a year after he dealt Khalil Mack to the Bears only to spend the next six months complaining about a lack of Raiders pass rush. Mack was energizing the Bears towards a divisional title and was a DPOY finalist. The Bears locked him in for the long haul and would set off on a bountiful stretch of football buoyed by their defense.
Or not. Chicago fell to 4-6 on Sunday night with a hefty dose of depressing reality from the Rams in a 17-7 loss on the West Coast. The Bears offense was bad enough that Mitchell Trubisky was removed from the game in the fourth quarter and Chase Daniel took over on the final series for Chicago. It didn't amount to any points scored, but it did create some controversy.
Conventional wisdom said Trubisky was benched. The Bears did not provide any info to the NBC broadcast or reporters when it happened. "Now you've got ... Chase Daniel has come into the game at quarterback," an astonished-sounding Al Micheals said as Daniel threw his first pass. "So ... for whatever reason, here's Chase Daniel."
NBC cameras captured a commercial break chat that Matt Nagy had with Trubisky on the sideline, in what looked like an emotional and awkward "I'm sorry, son" talk.
Chicago would later say Trubisky suffered a hip injury earlier in the game and was battling through it. He was listed as questionable to return, but no doctors ever talked to him and he just stood there looking awkward for the rest of the game, occasionally spotted conversing with his teammates in hushed tones.
Look, everyone believes Nagy benched Trubisky. It's hard to believe what happened was relating to an injury. Nagy's press conference on Monday only confirmed it even more for me: he said that Trubisky couldn't sit down on the bench the entire second half. And he was fairly dodgy about how everything was handled.
Why bench him for that one series in the first place, though? Why not just have him hand off a couple of times? It's clear Nagy doesn't view Trubisky as the answer long term, but should we be asking questions about his play calling versus simply blaming the quarterback? I say yes. Third down was especially problematic for the Bears on Sunday night.
The Bears finished just 6-of-17 on third down Sunday night, including a disastrous 3rd-and-1 with 2:53 left in the third quarter, the Bears trailing 10-7 and starting to generate some momentum on offense. That's when Nagy dialed up an option play out of the pistol. Trubisky didn't execute it well, but this is adorable play calling in this spot.
Maybe it works if Trubisky attacks the defender he's supposed to read or if Trubisky fakes a pitch and takes off for the first down. But there's too many other things that CAN work to pull this out. It's even worse with the hindsight of Nagy claiming he knew Trubisky was struggling to stand up/sit down/handoff at this point. He ran an option play with him? That's not ideal.
We saw another third-and-1 come up short with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. This play call featured trips left designed to get Tarik Cohen open in the flat, but he was well covered and Trubisky basically had to throw an uncatchable ball ahead of him.
That's not great footwork and perhaps Trubisky's hip was bugging him here. Why not have Daniel in already if that's the case? This playcall has to have multiple options for Trubisky in the event Cohen's covered. Credit the Rams defense for getting pressure but the Bears have to be better in these spots to overcome a bad offense.
So what does this ranting about Nagy's play calling have to do with the Mack trade? Well, here's the thing: the Bears are in a disastrous position as a franchise right now. A year ago, they were setting themselves up perfectly for a window with Trubisky's rookie contract. Now? They look like the 2018 Jaguars, a defense-based team with a top-five pick at quarterback, pushing all in on the next few years to try and win a title after a surprising playoff run who all of a suddenly completely cratered back to Earth.
The Bears best case scenario for 2019 is pretty dicey. They're out of the playoff race at this point and still have the Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings left on the schedule. 2-4 down the stretch is hardly unreasonable, which would mean a 6-10 season. Even at 3-3 to close out, they're probably finishing with a worse record than the 6-4 Raiders. Which means they will be handing the Raiders a fairly choice pick in the draft. They will also be giving the Raiders a pretty stout third-round pick. I don't think they'll end up with a top-10 pick because the bottom feeders are bad this year. But it likely will be a top-15 pick. Which means the third they send to the Raiders will be a top-75 pick.
Meanwhile, Oakland is going to play the Chiefs in two weeks with a potential chance to take the AFC West lead. If the Chiefs lose Monday night and the Raiders handle the Jets next weekend, Oakland will be in first place in the division when the two teams meet in Week 13. What a ride.
Derek Carr manages to end up with a yards/attempt number that is at least two yards more than my eyes tell me on a weekly basis. I think I mean that as a compliment, but I don't know. He's playing his best football since 2016 for sure. Gruden and Carr are clicking right now. Josh Jacobs had a bad fumble in the red zone early against the Bengals, but he's a top 10 running back in the NFL already, maybe top five. The group of weapons around Carr have been remarkable. The Antonio Brown situation feels like a decade ago.
Will the Raiders be a legitimate postseason threat? I'm not sure about that. They have a -25 point differential, which is not the hallmark of a 6-4 team. The defense is suspect, at beast, largely due to injuries. I think they could end up being exposed a little down the stretch.
But long term they're in good shape. After getting three first-round picks last year, the Raiders now will have at least five picks in the top 100 in 2020. That's a bounty for Mike Mayock to work with.
Early returns for Mayock's first foray into the GM job are eye-popping. Jacobs is a stud. Johnathan Abram flashed before getting injured. Clelin Ferrell takes a lot of flak (it could have been Josh Allen!) but it's early in the process and I'm going to trust his pedigree. Maxx Crosby has 6.5 sacks. Fabien Moreau has been a perfect piece alongside Darren Waller. Hunter Renfrow ... how did he not get drafted by the Patriots again? Guy just grinds, man.
If you were given a choice to take over the Bears or Raiders for the next decade right now, it wouldn't be remotely close. Oakland is in pretty good shape right now and we all deserve a little crow for the piling on from last season.
The NFC playoff race would be thrilling
Hope you weren't expecting drama in the NFC. Because it's not happening outside of the race for first place in the NFC East. Dallas (at New England, Turkey Day vs. Buffalo) and Philadelphia (vs. Seattle, at Miami) should be in a dogfight for first down to the wire. The Cowboys sweeping the Eagles probably gives them the edge, but anything is possible with Philly's cake schedule if they can manage to win a game against Seattle this week.
One reason to be pessimistic for the Eagles is the possible absence of Lane Johnson. With their stud right tackle on the field, Philly marched all over the Patriots. When Johnson left after the third series with a concussion, the Eagles offense fell off a cliff:
|Eagles Offense Week 11||First 3 Drives||Rest of Game|
If Johnson is missing for any length of time moving forward and Jason Peters, who left late in the game, is out as well, the Eagles are in trouble. The ground game doesn't operate physically the way they want and Carson Wentz notoriously sees a major drop in production with Johnson off the field.
We could add "Dak Prescott is an average quarterback" to this list as well, by the way. Dak has been outstanding this season and he had another monster game on Sunday against the Lions in Dallas' 35-27 win in Detroit.
Prescott finished the game 29-of-46 for 444 yards and three touchdowns. He stretched the ball vertically and commanded the offense to perfection. Prescott is the MVP candidate no one is talking about. Or not enough people are talking about -- Prescott's 16-game pace right now is 5,154 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with an 8.9 yards per attempt average. If the Cowboys were steamrolling people instead of sitting at 5-4, Prescott would be neck and neck with Lamar.
On the wild card front, the Panthers' loss to the Falcons probably snuffed out any remaining hope for someone other than the Rams to make a run. Los Angeles is 6-4 and found a little life in the run game. The Rams also hit on some deep shots to Cooper Kupp (ruled down at the one) and Josh Reynolds (negated by penalty) that could have made Jared Goff's final stat line look better were it not for some fluky bad luck. But I'm not sure they have the juice to catch the 49ers and Seahawks, both of whom continue to stack wins, sometimes despite themselves.
With Minnesota (8-3) and Seattle (8-2) sitting atop the wild card standings, it may just be too much for the Rams to overcome. If the Vikings and Seahawks keep winning, the NFC will be the most boring playoff race we've seen in a while.
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