So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 8, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 things I care about
Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones both have strong roles
Once a source of frustration for the beleaguered Aaron Jones’ truthers, it’s rare to see anyone complaining about Jamaal Williams these days. That is not because Williams has been cast aside in favor of the more explosive Jones. Quite the contrary. Williams has a clearer role than ever as the 1B to Jones in the backfield. And it’s good.
Jones led the backfield with 13 carries for 67 yards and turned in a massive game as a receiver, hauling in seven catches for 159 and a pair of scores on nine targets. Williams also found the end zone twice, once as a rusher and another on a gorgeous toss in the red zone. The two backs each had double-digit touches.
As the wide receiver corps has been in flux with injuries and Jimmy Graham has more often than not been a dud here in 2019, Williams and Jones have emerged as staples in the offense. This isn’t some frustrating ground and pound unit of the past or a predictable committee with one passing back and an interior banger. Jones and Williams have developed to the point where they’re both good in all phases and this just makes them more difficult to defend. The duo is soaring at the same time.
Aaron Rodgers is full-on en fuego mode right now. When he plays like this, the offense reaches a new height. It lands at a point where all players on the board are options and the players at the highest level of the pecking order are every-week fantasy plays, no questions asked. Right now, it’s looking like both Williams and Jones have reached that level. If you want to turn away from running backs playing alongside Aaron Rodgers while he’s peaking, be my guest.
Green Bay just gets more dangerous every week. The pass rush revealed itself to be a game-wrecking asset to start 2019. The last few weeks Rodgers has settled into this offense and started to hit his stride. Now the backfield appears ready to offer us a pair of difference-makers. Not a soul in the NFL wants to see this squad on the other side of the field on game day.
Miles Sanders’ big game
Those who drafted Miles Sanders have long waited for this type of performance. The rookie back scored via the air and on the ground in quick-strike fashion against a strong Bills defense.
A fifth-to-sixth-round pick (at the latest) by the time August drafts rolled around even the least optimistic Sanders drafter had to be hoping he’d seize a 1A role on the team by now. He hasn’t even come close. Over the last month, Sanders has developed a solid role as a receiver with three-plus catches in four-straight games. That’s also coincided with a run of games with single-digit carries. There just hasn’t been any predictability or pattern to his usage, despite some banger games this year.
We still don’t have enough evidence to declare this any different from those popup games but it’s worth asking the question for no other reason than the Eagles desperately need it. In last week’s edition of this piece, we discussed how the Philly offense was clearly lost at sea. What they were doing wasn’t working; who they thought they were was a false identity.
In the pursuit of change, perhaps the Eagles turn their eyes to the running game. It seems they’ve already evolved to featuring their two tight ends more, as Dallas Goedert found the end zone for the second-straight week. The pass protection and wide receiver play haven’t been good enough to unleash Carson Wentz and let the ball fly all over the yard. Sanders and Howard would likely remain a committee-based duo in a more run-centric approach but Sanders clearly brings juice, something this offense has lacked for far too long now.
Again, this is all hypothetical and Sanders leaving the game with a shoulder injury complicates matters. The Bears are on the docket next week and they’ve been run on of late. A bye week and a date with the Patriots will follow that. Then a run of matchups with the Seahawks, Dolphins, Giants, and Washington brings the possibility of a strong run. Miles Sanders would be in for a much better second half of the season.
Darrell Henderson’s expanding intrigue
Darrell Henderson wasn’t the show-stopper for Los Angeles today. That would be Cooper Kupp and his 220 yards. However, he did lead the backfield with 13 touches for 69 total yards. He led the team in both carries and got three passing game looks to one for Todd Gurley.
At some point, Henderson will have a big role in this offense. He’s clearly explosive and showed the Rams once again he brings something of value. The Rams look like they could be out Brandin Cooks for a decent stretch after the vertical threat sustained another concussion. In his absence, the team could turn to their elusive and speedy rookie back.
The Rams still need answers on offense. They stacked two big wins and strong offensive numbers against hideous defenses in Atlanta and Cincinnati. No one would tell you they’ve solved their core problems though. They’re still evolving into what they’re going to be by the time they truly need to push for a playoff spot in a tough division. Henderson needs to be a part of where that process lands.
Both things can be true in Tennessee
Corey Davis was once a fifth-overall pick in the NFL Draft. There's a small handful of the football population who still view him with that clout. Through the last three seasons, it was common to hear that crowd constantly offer that Davis was dealing with bad quarterback play and that it’s held him back.
There is no denying that. However, as is too often ignored in football discussion, there can be more than one right answer. As I constantly must remind people on Twitter, both things can be true.
Davis has indeed been made to endure lifeless quarterback play by Marcus Mariota. He is the farthest thing from an elevating passer. However, it’s equally true that Davis, to this point, has been about an average starting receiver. It’s nonsensical to say he’s been bad. He can hit big plays and has good hands in tight spaces. Davis is a good asset to have. He just hasn’t offered anything close to a player worthy of that high draft capital, even when you isolate his play from that of his quarterback.
We saw a bit of evidence toward that portion of the equation when he dropped an ugly two catches for nine yards into the box score on six targets in Week 8. He did that while playing in a gorgeous matchup against Tampa Bay with a verifiably improved quarterback situation. Ryan Tannehill tossed three touchdowns in Week 8 and more importantly, kept the offense moving.
He was a bust of a first-round pick and should not even be considered as a possible future solution for the Tennessee Titans but Tannehill is a solid quarterback. His insertion into the starting lineup has been a welcome reminder that the Titans have a bevy of interesting skill position players. The problem for Davis is that he’s yet to distinguish himself by leaps and bounds from them.
Texans develop another Achilles heel
The Texans looked like they could breathe a sigh of relief. The addition of Laremy Tunsil and a bundle of rookies had not made them one of the best offensive lines in the league by any means but they were no longer the disaster-level unit of previous seasons. Sadly, just as they shored up that Achilles heel, another emerged.
The secondary is starting to look like a massive problem in Houston. The team was so desperate for help they took on a former first-round pick in Gareon Conley. The Raiders were so willing to unload Conley, they shipped him to the team they were slated to play against in Week 8. Oakland wasted no time in shredding their one-time compatriot and his new mates.
Derek Carr was having a solid year but was mostly padding his completion percentage sans big plays. Not against Houston. Carr managed 9.5 yards per pass attempt and tossed three touchdowns as constant holes emerged in Houston’s secondary.
It’s starting to look like Houston’s pass defense is turning into one of the worst backend units in the league, one passers carve up on a weekly basis. That’s unlikely to get any better now that J.J. Watt is done for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Gardner Minshew and the intriguing Jaguars wideout corps will take on this busted unit in Week 9.
5 Things I don’t care about
Tevin Coleman’s competition
Tevin Coleman’s eruption game against the Panthers saw him find the end zone a whopping four times, three times on the ground and again through the air. He was the hammer the 49ers repeatedly dropped on a Panthers defense that is far better rushing the passer than stopping the run.
Even with that noted, Coleman still saw the same number of carries as Matt Breida (who got banged up for a stretch in this game) and ceded work to Raheem Mostert, who found the end zone and ran for 60 yards late in the game. Coleman caught just two balls, the only ones he saw thrown his way on Sunday.
Yet, we should come out of Week 8 not too worried about what’s going on around Coleman in this backfield. There has been something appealing about Coleman’s bottom-line box score in every game since he returned from an early season injury. He scored in his first contest back and cleared 20 opportunities in the next two games. That type of usage gave us hints that a fantasy week-winning outing could be in the cards down the line, especially considering the team he plays for in 2019.
Coleman leads the backfield for a team that has one of the best defenses in the NFL. It’s time to stop trying to invent excuses for why they are dominating. They are just this dominant. Nick Bosa’s arrival has not just introduced a truly elite performer as an individual but he’s making everyone else around him better. As defensive attention has gone up the ladder toward him, players like Arik Armstead — who was a constant menace against Carolina — are seeing better opportunities.
With a stop unit like this constantly leaving the 49ers offense in positive game scripts, the running game will continue to be the focus of the San Francisco attack. Coleman is the leader of that backfield, one that's born out of the league’s most creative and hard-to-defend running game scheme with Kyle Shanahan at the controls. You can’t ask for much more out of an ecosystem for a breakout running back.
What happened in the Lions backfield in Week 8
Fantasy Twitter erupted in tears as their expectations shriveled into meaningless space dust. Ty Johnson was one of the more popular pickups of the week after Kerryon Johnson went on IR. Yet, it was Tra Carson who got the first crack at leading the backfield.
Not only did Carson get the initial look, he led the way with 12 carries for 34 yards. Johnson chipped in with seven for 25 and led the backfield with four targets. It was highly tilting but in all honesty, this shouldn’t be something that bothers you much.
For starters, the Johnson running back bet was a thin one. Yes, it’s one that I made; talked about him in a pickups video and added him in my own leagues. However, this wasn’t some Alexander Mattison-type situation. There were some indicators Ty would replace Kerryon as the primary back. Ty had 10 carries and four catches on four targets in relief of Kerryon when he went down. That’s one game, a mid-contest adjustment to an unforeseen circumstance. It wasn’t the type of line that guaranteed he’s the locked-in starter like it may have been for a player carrying a higher investment like Mattison.
You still needed to make the bet. The shot was worth taking. You just caught the L on it. Oh well. Sit with that.
Honestly, the Lions may have done you a favor. Detroit started to slowly chip away at your hopes of you acquiring a starting fantasy asset in Ty Johnson by deploying Tra Carson ahead of him, rather than just outright crushing them with no warning when they trade for someone of more note this week. That’s my prediction.
Whatever spin the Bears weave on Mitchell Trubisky
Matt Nagy said after the game he gave zero thought to running or passing the ball when he elected to have Mitchell Trubisky kneel to set up a potential game-winning field goal. The kick would ultimately sail wide and the Bears would lose by a point.
No thought; says it all. Mitchell Trubisky was on his way to another ho-hum day filled with brutal mistakes featuring a pair of turnovers. We’re used to those. Nevertheless, he led the Bears down the field to set up this potential game-winner. For all the dubs, he had some momentum.
If you have any faith in your quarterback, you at least let him take a shot at the end zone. You don’t play scared. Nagy made a call that reeked of a man terrified of how his quarterback might screw it up. For that reason, we can’t possibly care about or take seriously anything the Bears ever tell us about Trubisky again. This era is already over.
DK Metcalf’s low raw volume
It is without a doubt that much will be made of DK Metcalf scoring despite seeing just five targets. We do this all the time with good Seahawks receivers. It’s as if we constantly need a reminder that Russell Wilson is so hyper-efficient, his receivers don’t require traditional levels of volume to produce.
What’s even more important is that Metcalf’s usage foretold of a multi-score game like this outing. It could have come in a few different ways. He’s a deep threat. Despite Tyler Lockett’s history in the vertical game, Metcalf leads the team with 622 air yards. He’s the top target in scoring position. Coming into this week, Metcalf was top-10 in the league with 10 red-zone looks.
His issue was just conversion. Before Week 8, he had yet to haul in any of those targets inside the 20-yard line. On Sunday he snagged two. More positive regression could be coming his way. And he won’t need bulk raw targets to get it while receiving money usage like deep and red zone targets.
Metcalf has legitimately been playing well. So far in his young career, he’s offered the Seahawks quality starting receiver play. Seattle’s role assignment for him to this point shows he can be even more than that. Bet on them being right.
The hot hand
After I posted my column on why there should be no debate in Carolina about whether or not to turn back to Cam Newton once he was healthy, there was a handful of chirping Twitter users who insisted, “You can’t turn away from the hot hand.” What does that even mean? Of course, I understand the concept but it doesn’t add any value to the discussion.
The thing about this mythical “hot hand” idea is that it can evaporate at any time. The hand can ice up without a moment’s notice.
That’s exactly what happened to the Panthers today, as Kyle Allen led the offense to a disaster-level performance in a 51-13 loss to the ferocious 49ers. His white-hot statistical- and- QB Wins streak came to a crashing halt. He’s not the hot hand anymore after this outing.
So where does that leave the Panthers? In the exact same place they were, heading into Week 8. They have a backup quarterback under center right now who has proven himself more than capable of just keeping the ship afloat while the team waits for their franchise figurehead to get healthy. Allen deserves all the praise in the world for what he did the last month-plus. He has a bright future in the league. While all that is true, this is Cam Newton’s team. It has been all along. It always will be until he decides to walk away or his body gives out on him for good.
When Cam Newton is ready, he will be the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. Allen’s outing was a reminder that the ceiling for this well-built offense is just higher with Newton. Several plays came and went on Sunday where the Panthers quarterback left meat on the bone by not expecting pressure or missing throws by an inch. With the former MVP under center, the margin for error gets wider.