A handful of news, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the fifth Sunday of the 2018 NFL season.
1.The Jets are privately excited with the steps Sam Darnold took against a Denver defense that challenged Patrick Mahomes six days earlier. Darnold’s numbers (10-of-22, 198 yards, 3 TDs, INT) hardly jump off the page, and the run game’s big day (Isaiah Crowell had 219 rushing yards, Bilal Powell went for 99) didn’t hurt the rookie either. But all three of Darnold’s touchdown passes were legit downfield shots; to coaches that represents a quarterback who’s starting to see the field better, and shedding the natural rookie tendency to be overly cautious with the ball. There was also a third-and-12 throw in the third quarter—a deep out-cut to Jermaine Kearse for a first down—that had Darnold’s teammates buzzing, too. The arrow is pointing up there. And while we’re here, yesterday, everyone got to see Todd Bowles’s ability to call a defense, which we haven’t seen as much since he’s been in New York. The players saw the difference too, which could make things interesting when the reins are handed back to Kacy Rodgers, the defensive coordinator who missed the game while dealing with a serious illness.
2. After all the Odell Beckham Jr. drama over the weekend, it makes sense for the Giants to try and eliminate any sort of sideshows this week. And so Ereck Flowers, who was neither good on the field nor off it, is gone (or, officially, will be gone tomorrow). My feeling is that Pat Shurmur has done a really good job connecting with players, and bringing the team together in his first 10 months on the job—that was evidenced in Beckham’s decision to report in the spring and earn his stripes in the new program. This, of course, is a different kind of test of where it all stands, natural timing to cut the cord with Flowers.
3.If you want a look at where the Eagles problems are, start with penalties and red-zone efficiency, and then go to the offensive tackle position, where the staff feels like the return on investment hasn’t been where it needs to be. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are on deals that combine to average just over $20 million per. Peters has played through pain the last few weeks. Johnson has underachieved. Both have relatively low cap numbers this year (Peters is at $6.9 million, Johnson is $5.0 million). Both have bigger figures next year—Peters at $10.6 million, Johnson at $15.5 million. Add the amount of hits Carson Wentz has taken the last couple weeks, and this is most certainly a spot to watch.
4. We mentioned the Chiefs front seven’s improvement against the Jags in MMQB, a nice development for K.C. ahead of a showdown in Foxboro. Making it even nicer: rookies Derrick Nnadi and Breeland Speaks are playing major roles. The nose tackle and edge defender combined to play 96 snaps in the win over Jacksonville.
5.The Jags, on the other hand, really missed Leonard Fournette for the first time. The team’s jackhammer would’ve helped slow the game down in a hostile environment.
6.The Bengals didn’t waste any time reintegrating Joe Mixon, who was coming back off a meniscus injury, against Miami. He finished with 25 touches, good for 115 yards. And to hear his coaches is to know how much untapped potential there is there: “The important thing to remember this is the beginning of what everyone hopes is a long, fruitful career,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor told me. “We went into this offseason with Joe talking about becoming a complete player at running back, and that’s what he’s on a path to doing—receiving, pass blocking, along with inside running, outside running. Put it all together, there’s nothing Joe can’t do. All I’m gonna say is I’m sure he took another step forward today … better. The sky’s the limit for Joe, and I think he can be a complete player.” Internally, the Bengals felt like, just as a player (without his off-field issues factored in), Mixon was as good as anyone in a loaded 2017 running back class. It’s easy to see why.
7.Deshaun Watson is still taking too many hits, and it’s obvious the offensive line won’t be truly fixed in Houston without some reinforcements, but give the Texans staff credit for managing the problem on the fly over the last few weeks. Putting Julien Davenport back at left tackle helped, as did the emergence of Kendall Lamm, who’s now starting at right tackle. And the staff has done its part with chips and doubles, and calls to get the ball out quick. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s better than it was, which is why they’re getting more from Watson and their playmakers.
8.What kind of difference did Julian Edelman make for Tom Brady on Thursday? I don’t think the Patriots have ever been further up a creek at the slot position than they were over the first four games of this year. Brady had 251 career starts coming into 2018. I crunched the numbers, and over that time, there were only six games where he didn’t have at least one of the following slot-capable receivers active: Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Edelman. It’s a vital spot in the New England attack and they’ve been not just good, but deep there over the years. If the Patriots looked a little discombobulated offensively over the first month of the season, that might be why.
9. He probably won’t get his due for this, but Hue Jackson has done a really good job keeping the team engaged through choppy waters the last three years. It’s been obvious over the first five weeks—to opponents, too—that the Browns play their tails off for him, which should count for a lot.
10. As for tonight, it’s pretty amazing to consider the path—one that was anything but a straight line—Drew Brees traveled to get within 201 yards of the all-time passing yardage record. A bad injury in high school. A bad injury in the pros. A slide on draft day. A few benchings in San Diego. His replacement taken with the fourth overall pick. And yet, here he is. So I asked Pete Carmichael, who’s been with him since his second NFL season, what he thinks the record will mean to Brees. The Saints offensive coordinator’s answer: “There’s so many people that he would tell you have been a part of it. It’s gonna be a special moment for him. Whenever it happens, I don’t think he’ll lose focus on the game, but maybe he’ll have an opportunity to enjoy it after the game and the success that comes along with it. I think he’s gonna always be the type of guy, the success is such a tribute to him, but he’ll always be talking about all the players over the years that have been a part of it.” And you can tell how that’s rubbed off on his teammates. His top receiver, Michael Thomas, actually told me a few weeks ago that part of his motivation is to get Brees another ring. Which is to say I’m sure tonight will mean a lot to a lot of people.
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