photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
By Anthony Goss
Sunday marked the midpoint of the strangest NFL season in history.
The league has felt the impact of the Coronavirus and has moved games around to fit the needed changes. Despite the weekly outbreaks, most usually in small numbers, the NFL has arguably handled this situation well. While games and bye weeks fluctuate, no cancellations have occurred.
Testing has been crucial, and contact tracing with it. In some states, fans have been able to attend games in pods. With another half of the season still to go, as well as the playoffs, the NFL has navigated this season as safely as possible without the benefits of a bubble.
Three Good Things
Steelers Stay Undefeated
The victory was not pretty, but the Steelers managed to steal a big divisional game in Baltimore. The Ravens gashed Pittsburgh’s run defense for 265 yards and kept the Steelers offense out of the end zone in the first half.
The second half told a different story, as the Steelers put together the pieces on offense, QB Ben Roethlisberger tossed two touchdowns and RB James Conner ran one in as well. Despite their inability to stop the Baltimore running game on Sunday, the defense continuously made big plays and kept the pressure on Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. Pittsburgh’s defense finished the day with four sacks, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions, one of which LB Robert Spillane returned for a touchdown.
One more stat that fell under the radar was the penalty yardage of each team: Pittsburgh tallied three penalties for thirty yards, but Baltimore finished with six penalties for 110 yards. In an ugly grudge match, the discipline instilled by head coach Mike Tomlin prevailed, but the Steelers (7-0) have lots of room to improve.
DK Dominates the Niners
Thinking back to the criticisms of WR DK Metcalf leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, experts could not have been more wrong.
Metcalf showed flashes of talent in his rookie season, but this year he has asserted himself as a future star in the league. Besides a down game in Arizona last week, Metcalf has not finished a game this season with less than 90 receiving yards; Sunday’s matchup against San Francisco showcased all the talents of the star receiver. On a hitch route, Metcalf caught a pass and dashed across the field, running past the secondary for his first score. Metcalf scored again on a goal-to-go play with a defender draped over him, using his size and strength to seal the defender and secure the catch.
His size combined with speed make him such a tough cover for defenses and the perfect weapon for QB Russell Wilson. For years, Wilson has managed to carry the Seattle offense with receivers ranging from average to good in skill level, but Metcalf stands out among the others. Metcalf should continue to put up high numbers next week as the Seahawks travel to Buffalo in what should be a high-scoring matchup.
Colts Keep Winning
The Indianapolis Colts are an underappreciated team that has shown the ability to do a lot of things well. In an impressive showing on Sunday, QB Philip Rivers led the Colts to a necessary win against the Detroit Lions.
Despite the injury to WR TY Hilton, Rivers made plenty of plays in the passing game and completed passes to eleven different receivers. RB Jordan Wilkins stepped up in the run game as well, finishing with eighty-nine yards and one touchdown on twenty carries. The final score shows a twenty-point victory for the Colts, but with just under three minutes in the third quarter, LB Darius Leonard’s strip sack of Lions QB Matthew Stafford halted a Detroit drive and ultimately boosted the Colts to a 41-21 victory.
Defense continues to be the calling card for this team, which gave up only twenty-nine rushing yards and returned an interception for a touchdown. Quietly, the Colts’ 5-2 record has them tied with Tennessee atop the AFC South and in prime position to secure a playoff spot. The Colts will be tested in the coming weeks though, as they will face Baltimore, Green Bay, and Tennessee twice within the next four weeks.
Three Bad Things
Titans Take Another Loss
Following a tough home loss against Pittsburgh, the Tennessee Titans fell once again in Cincinatti. Through the last few weeks, many of the Titans’ issues have come on the defensive end. Hidden in their historic 5-0 start was the absurd number of points given to arguably bad teams in their winning efforts. Lately, these problems have really come to light and cost them two consecutive games.
QB Joe Burrow shined for Cincinnati with 249 yards and two touchdowns, taking care of the ball, as well. RB Derrick Henry put in another solid one-hundred-yard performance, but it was not enough for the Titans in a 31-20 loss. The Bengals built a lead in the first half by controlling the time of possession and keeping the Titans defense on the field. Despite the problems Sunday’s matchup presented, the Titans should fare well going forward. Offense can still win games for the Titans.
QB Ryan Tannehill has been good this season, and their run game, led by Henry, has been outstanding. The acquisition of Chargers DB Desmond King should provide a boost to the secondary once he passes COVID-19 protocols and takes the field. The Titans host the Bears on Sunday, but a big divisional matchup against the Colts on the following Thursday looms large.
Bad Offense Bears
After a solid 5-1 start, the Bears have had a rapid fall from grace. The offense has been abysmal, especially in the last two games and a noticeable disconnect between the players and coaches has appeared, mainly between QB Nick Foles and head coach Matt Nagy.
WR Allen Robinson also distanced himself on the sideline Sunday, appearing frustrated with the lack of passes thrown his way. On the field, Foles missed on many throws and struggled with the pressure from the Saints defense, making many throws off his back foot. The offensive scheme was inconsistent and fell apart as the game went on. The success of the Bears seems predicated on the play of the defense, but this plan fails without an offense that can score consistently and give the defense manageable field position.
Sitting at 5-3 is not the end of the world by any stretch, but Chicago needs to put together more complete offensive performances to stay in the playoff race. The question remains is if they have the right quarterback to do so.
Cam Fumbles Away a Prime Opportunity
After several weeks of poor performances, the Patriots found themselves in position to steal a crucial win in Buffalo on Sunday. Deep in Buffalo territory late in the fourth quarter, New England was looking to run the clock and score a game-winning touchdown, or at least send the game into overtime. On a designed quarterback run, QB Cam Newton fumbled the ball inside the red zone and handed the Bills the game.
For the Bills, they finally exercised their demons against the Patriots. As for New England, it blew a prime opportunity in a must win game. Against Seattle, Denver, and Buffalo, the Patriots have had chances to win but have not been able to finish, resulting in a 2-5 record and one of the longest losing streaks in recent memory.
Newton’s performance exceeded those from the previous two games, but the costly turnover against a division rival stings and could spell trouble for the Patriots playoff hopes and his future.
Keep an Eye On….
Dolphins Sudden Success
After the Dolphins throttled the Rams on Sunday, fans should keep an eye on Miami in the coming weeks. The decision to switch quarterbacks was a strange one, since QB Ryan Fitzpatrick provides more stability on offense.
Nonetheless, the Dolphins have held their own against some of the better teams in the NFL, and an upset win in Arizona next week could enhance their presence on the national stage.