The biggest news of the season happened Monday night, when Jon Gruden resigned following a New York Times report detailing his use of hate speech in emails over a several-year period. We wrote about the fact that the Raiders coach faced accountability only once the emails were made public, and why the rest of the details collected during the NFL’s investigation into a toxic workplace culture overseen by one of its owners should also be released. The fallout will continue to affect the Raiders and, hopefully, will spur others around the league to confront and correct their own use or encouragement of derogatory and demeaning behaviors.
There’s no way to transition from this serious topic, but in case you need a break from the heavy news of the day, here are some of our observations after the Week 5 games.
1. Lamar Jackson keeps finding new ways to win. Jackson continues to disprove the narratives about him, most recently that the NFL would “figure him out” this year. That notion made little sense first of all, because part of Jackson’s magic is his ability to create plays with his quickness and evasiveness, even when opponents know he’s keeping the ball. Then, Monday night against the Colts, Jackson won a game in a way he hadn’t before, leading the team back from a seemingly insurmountable 16-point fourth-quarter deficit. Because of their run-heavy offense, the Ravens have struggled to claw their way out of big deficits in the past. But Jackson was up to the challenge, becoming the first QB in NFL history to complete more than 85% of his passes while throwing for more than 400 yards. Jackson’s 335 passing yards in just the second half and overtime were more than he’d had in any other regular-season game. (The now-infamous streak of 100-yard rushing games did, however, end at 43.) When Jackson fumbled at the goal line midway through the third quarter, the Ravens offense only had managed three points. But with his back up against the wall, Jackson found a way to win, proving yet again that he has more dimensions to his game than some have given him credit for.
2. Urban Meyer hasn’t given the NFL much reason to trust his coaching, either. The Jaguars head coach couldn’t wait to play a football game after he invited scrutiny upon himself by not flying back to Florida with his team after a Thursday night loss to the Bengals and then being filmed dancing with a woman at his eponymous restaurant in Ohio. But the football game, a loss to Tennessee, didn’t help much. There was the bizarre moment, chronicled by MMQB editor Gary Gramling, in which Meyer threw an ill-advised challenge flag in a theatrical show that looked a lot like a coach desperate to make up with his players. Then there was the even more bizarre explanation for why the Jaguars have not run a QB sneak with Trevor Lawrence. John Shipley over at Jaguar Report has detailed everything Meyer and Lawrence said, but after the game, Meyer seemed to put the inability to use the sneak with the No. 1 overall pick, saying, “he’s not quite comfortable with that yet.” To which Lawrence said, “No. I feel comfortable.” Meyer then tried to clarify on Monday, saying that the offensive coaching staff did not want to run the sneak in a critical game situation because Lawrence hasn’t yet been able to try it live. This is a head-scratcher. Sure, there’s an adjustment to playing under center when you played out of the shotgun in college, as Lawrence has. But Meyer has known Lawrence would be his QB since Jan. 14, when Meyer was hired by the Jaguars. Lawrence, viewed by talent evaluators as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, is capable of learning how to do basically anything on a football field, including the QB sneak. If Meyer does not feel comfortable calling a QB sneak for Lawrence on Oct. 10, more than five months after Lawrence was drafted, that is a reflection only on Meyer. There were plenty of opportunities to get “practice” live reps of the sneak, namely live periods during training camp and preseason games. Meyer, however, split the reps in a faux competition between Lawrence and Gardner Minshew, a player Meyer would trade. That time would have been better spent getting the starter, Lawrence, ready to run a fundamental skill like the QB sneak live. If Meyer had cited other reasons for not wanting to run a sneak, like not wanting to risk injury to the face of the franchise, that would have been understandable. But a lack of preparation certainly won’t help rebuild the confidence Meyer has already eroded.
3. Justin Herbert’s ball placement is a thing of beauty. The second-year QB has many attributes that have contributed to his rapid ascent. His big arm. His excellent mobility. But what might be his best attribute is his ability to place the ball for his receivers: fitting it into tight windows, putting it where only they can grab it and locating it so they have the opportunity to gain yards after the catch. Over the last three weeks, he’s thrown 11 passing TDs with no interceptions, and the Chargers also have the fourth-most YAC in the NFL. His ball placement skills far exceed his experience level, and are a major reason why he’s been able to have so much success at the position so quickly. And while he has excellent receivers to throw to in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, he’s the rare young QB who is also symbiotically making them better, too.
4. The 4–1 Bills have the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule. At the risk of making too much out of strength-of-schedule rankings just five games into the season, when we are still figuring out who teams are, the Bills have a very navigable path ahead as they try to remain atop the AFC. Their 12 remaining opponents combine for a .390 winning percentage, tied with Tennessee for the weakest remaining schedule, per Tankathon, and just four have a winning record. On the other hand, last year’s AFC top seed, the Chiefs, have the toughest remaining schedule in the conference: Their remaining opponents combine for a .583 winning percentage, and 9 of 12 currently have a winning record.
5. Ja’Marr Chase is playing like the Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Bengals rookie receiver already has 456 receiving yards and five TDs in five games, statistics that have put him in rare company. He’s only the fifth rookie with 50-plus receiving yards in each of his first five games, and he’s just the third rookie receiver to record five TDs in the first five games, along with Calvin Ridley and Randy Moss. Expectations were lowered for Chase after he had four drops in the preseason, and he was teased for his honest admission about the differences in catching a college vs. professional football. But he’s proven wrong those who wrote him off too soon, instead showing that he was using the preseason for what a rookie should use it for: an opportunity to get ready to play. He’s created a deep passing game for Joe Burrow, improving both the Bengals offense and the Bengals overall. Only three receivers have won OROY this century: Anquan Boldin (2003), Percy Harvin (2009) and Odell Beckham, Jr. (2014). Chase has a good opportunity to be the next one.
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6. The Browns need to finish games. The Chargers-Browns game was the most enjoyable game of the weekend, with two good and interesting teams going toe to toe for a full 60 minutes. But for the Browns, this even matchup ended with a familiar result, as they experienced Week 1 against the Chiefs and also in last year’s season-ending divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium. In each situation, the Browns were in position to pull out a huge road win against an elite conference opponent, but couldn’t quite close it out. We discussed on The Monday Morning Podcast how you correct this. In this specific situation, the Browns may look back and wish they were more aggressive when they got the ball back with 3:08 to play and a one-point lead after the Chargers missed the extra point. (Though Baker Mayfield expressed frustration after the game about what he thought were two DPI no-calls on their one pass play on that three-and-out.) And when they got the ball back for one final chance with 1:31 to play and no timeouts, Mayfield threw three straight short passes, advancing the ball just 11 yards while 50 seconds ticked off the clock, then threw a fourth pass of just 10 yards. But other teams have taken on the concept of finishing more directly, including the 2011 Giants, for whom Tom Coughlin made “Finish” a mantra after the team had in recent seasons piddled away good early records. On the first day of training camp, he showed the team a video of a high-school cross country runner, Holland Reynolds, crawling across the finish line after collapsing during a state championship race. “Finish” became a constant theme throughout the season, and Coughlin showed that video again the night before the Giants won their second Super Bowl in four years. Whatever works, right?
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