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Week 9 Takeaways: The Real Browns Stand Up, Cagey Colt McCoy, Jordan Love’s Slow Start, Josh Allen on Josh Allen

Plus, Broncos secondary forces Dak’s bad day, Vikings can’t close again, Jaguars D figures it out, the most poorly officiated game maybe ever, and much more!

Welcome to the Week 9 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...

Things That Made Me Giddy

Browns Offense Without OBJ: Odell Beckham Jr. is still a really good talent—maybe not elite as he works his way back from from the torn ACL, but still a legitimate No. 1 receiver. But it’s undeniable that the Browns have been better off without him. Perhaps because they no longer feel pressure to force-feed Beckham for fear of his father posting another R.E.M.-scored lowlight reel. Because there are so many more melancholic R.E.M. songs OBS can choose from (my goodness, just on “Automatic for the People” alone!). Anyway, Sunday’s performance in Cincinnati was another exhibit that the Browns will be fine with decent receivers who operate within the scheme as long as that run game is doing its thing. And if the defense is going to take the ball away multiple times each week...

Browns Takeaway Luck Turns: Long ago, circa October 2021, a brilliant man told you all about small-sample-size stats like turnover differential, fourth-down conversion rates and red-zone efficiency, which tend to have huge impacts on games but are also volatile and unpredictable. The Browns have been in the bottom half of the league in every small-sample-size stat, including just five takeaways—only the Jaguars had fewer coming into Sunday—despite having a four-man pass-rush that should lead to takeaways. On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Browns got a long pick-six on the opening drive and added a downfield strip and fumble recovery later in the first half as they put the game away (they added a third takeaway in the third quarter). If they simply get a takeaway or two per game from here on in, Cleveland stands on the precipice of a big finish in 2021.

Jaguars Takeaway Luck Also Turns: They had two takeaways on the season coming into Sunday, and ended up with three against the Bills.

Give Joe Cullen a Pat on the Back: Yes, getting a couple of bounces that become takeaways makes a world of difference for any defensive coordinator, but on Sunday the Jaguars defense—a unit that has struggled early in the down against highly schemed offenses—stayed disciplined against a Bills offense that thrives on getting late into the down and maximizing stress on defensive backfields.

Colt McCoy Madness: For the second straight year, he filled in for an injured starter and stole a win on the road, though unlike last year’s win in Seattle while leading the Giants, McCoy did a little more lifting in Santa Clara on Sunday. Granted, he got a boost from James Conner and a not-very-good collection of 49ers cornerbacks. But he was “veteran backup QB savvy” all afternoon, whether it was as a distributor, tucking the ball to draw in linebackers before reloading and throwing, escaping pressure on a couple key third downs, or converting a third and long by duping officials into a phantom roughing flag (lesson to all quarterbacks: if a sack is imminent duck your head then point to your helmet after the play).

Broncos Separating Man from Ball: It was an off-day for the Cowboys’ offense, but much of it was due to what the Broncos were doing to them, especially in the secondary. There were a number of Dak Prescott throws either knocked away at the catch point or taken out of a would-be pass-catcher’s hands.

Bill Belichick’s Full Ownership of Sam Darnold: Darnold has looked lost more often than not so far in his NFL career, but against the Patriots he tends to look like he’s playing against 17 defenders.

Patrick Graham’s Defense Is Up to the Task: Giants second-year safety Xavier McKinney’s interceptions (one of them a needed pick-six considering the offensive coaching staff’s continued lack of interest in scoring points) were the result of a well-coached young defensive back anticipating plays. And with the Raiders getting into the red zone late for a potential tying TD, it was the pass rush that took over, with Quincy Roche winning around the edge against stalwart Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller and forcing the game-clinching fumble.

It’s Never Easy for Justin Herbert: It took another 445 yards of offense and a late field-goal drive to win against an Eagles team with whom the Chargers, maybe, shouldn’t have had so much trouble. The Eagles punted only three times and scored points on four of their last five possessions, but Herbert put up points in each of L.A.'s four second-half possessions to keep a step ahead.

No Turnovers for the Chiefs: Only 13 points, but Mahomes missed a couple of deep balls by a very small margin—that is unlikely to happen with the current frequency as the year goes on. And, most importantly, they didn't give it away against a Packers team that needed a gift or two (though Mahomes did put one in Kevin King's hands).

James Conner After Contact: He got chunks in the screen game, but he (and, coming off the bench, Eno Benjamin) repeatedly steamrolled 49ers defenders.

Speaking of Which, Javonte Williams Is a Handful: The rookie was dragging Cowboys on his hips all day on Sunday, going for 111 on 17 carries as he and Melvin Gordon combined for 191.

Also, Tim Patrick Is Just Neat: And I think not enough people realize how good he is. That is all.

SI Recommends

Kene Ngwanu’s Speed: He took the second-half kickoff back 98 yards to give the Vikings an unfamiliar two-touchdown lead in Baltimore. Read all about him from friend of the show Marcus Krum.

The Good and Bad of Josh Allen: The bad being the quarterback’s worst performance since 2019—he worked late into the down frequently (what he wants to do) but created too many negative plays (three turnovers) and not enough big ones on a day when the Bills just needed to avoid the big mistakes. Meanwhile, pass rusher Josh Allen dominated, including a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery. The whole thing had a real “Max on Max” quality to it (link NSFW-ish?).


Regrets

Jordan Love Was Not Quite Ready: While the Chiefs aren’t a good defense statistically, it’s not an easy defense for a young quarterback to play against. Worse, the Packers defense didn’t get any takeaways and special teams missed two field goals, meaning Love was going to have to deliver two or three plays; he just isn’t at a point when he can do that. Some bad reads, some off-target throws, some miscommunications, a couple flashes of the traits that made him a first-round pick, but in the end not enough.

Mike Zimmer Playing for Overtime: A Minnesota touchdown had cut it to 31–30 in Baltimore with 63 seconds left. The most important question is always, Do you have a play that you like? You’d think between Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen’s red-zone dominance and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings do. On top of that, Minnesota's defense had already been on the field for 71 plays and was gassed, and you’re talking Justin Tucker vs. Greg Joseph for the kicker matchup in OT. Instead of extending the game, Zimmer has to go for two and the win.

Sean Payton’s Bizarre Relationship With Taysom Hill: The previous three seasons, Payton insisted on frequently taking his Hall of Fame quarterback off the field to get snaps for Hill. When Brees got hurt last season, Payton remade the offense for Hill rather than turning to Jameis Winston. Then this summer, with a thin receiving corps and a roster seemingly more suited for Hill than Winston, Payton gave the starting job to Winston without giving Hill much consideration. And despite watching his offense underwhelm so far, when Winston was hurt Payton is now turning to Trevor Siemian instead of Hill, despite the fact that there is no argument to be made for Siemian over Hill, who would at least give the Saints a unique 11-man rushing attack that could be complemented by a highly schemed, play-action passing game. Siemian got dinged by a ton of drops on Sunday, but subpar receiver play is what the Saints do. (Tl;dr: Payton found snaps for Hill when it didn’t make sense, but won’t get him on the field now that it does make sense. So, like… What’s up with that?)

One of Those Days for Dak: The Denver secondary made some plays on the ball, but Prescott was uncharacteristically scattershot on a bunch of throws.

The Bengals Are Suddenly Struggling to Tackle: It’s what did them in a week ago in the upset loss against the Jets, and it was an issue against the Browns (though at least Nick Chubb is tough for everyone to tackle).

The Bills-Jaguars Officiating Crew: (Disclaimer for anyone who loves an absurd conspiracy theory: The Jaguars clearly outplayed the Bills on Sunday and deserved to win.) On the game’s opening drive, this crew threw a ticky-tack taunting flag on the Jaguars that they, at first, mistakenly assigned to the Bills (ID’ing Mitchell Trubisky, to be exact), in what would be a common issue in this game but far from the most problematic. Two plays later, they threw an absurdly ticky-tack unnecessary roughness flag on Jags WR Tavon Austin, Jacksonville sent out their punt team, then referee Land Clark came back out to reverse the call to a phantom flag on Bills CB Tre’Davious White, incredibly making things worse. In all: Eighty seconds of action, two drive-altering phantom flags, five real-time minutes of delays. Somehow, Clark’s crew only got worse from there in what seemed to be performance art of what would happen if seven people who had never seen a professional football game tried to officiate one. It was an afternoon of missed calls, phantom calls and, for a crew operating well below an acceptable level of competence, far too many flags thrown after the play in a misguided attempt to regain control of a game they lost the second they stepped on the field. I’m not sure what the solution is, but it’s going to be tough for the league office to justify sending this crew to another NFL city next week.

Officials Who Think Flagging a Retaliatory Hit Discourages Chippiness: It’s been the reality for decades now: Flagging a retaliation only encourages cheap shots, because it lets the players know a flag-happy crew is going to reward you for baiting an opponent.

It Was on the FCC to Cut Any and All Feeds Carrying Dolphins-Texans: It was billed as the worst game of the season, and it lived up to that billing. (Also, I’d be curious to hear why the Dolphins’s nine-man offensive coordinator committee runs the same offense with Jacoby Brissett that they do with Tua Tagovailoa, quarterbacks who are polar opposites stylistically.)


Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

C.J. Ham Fullback Ball Skills: To keep the game-tying drive alive...


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Another Year Is Getting Away from the 49ers: They’re far from out of it, especially in an NFC where nine wins might get you the last Wild-Card spot. But they’re sitting at 3–5, including 0–3 in the NFC West, after losing to the Colt McCoy-led Cardinals in their own building. While it was a couple of downfield fumbles and a phantom roughing the passer call that put them in a hole, the defense was stunningly non-competitive in the second half. Their veteran cornerbacks continue to struggle in coverage, Dre Kirkpatrick gave up a touchdown when he got trucked by a third-string running back, and Josh Norman continues to be a magnet for flags, both before and after the play.

The Vikings’ Habit of Letting Opponents Off the Mat: One week after coughing one up to the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, Minnesota took a 14-point lead on a second-half kick return TD and then allowed three touchdowns, while punting twice, in Baltimore. Kirk Cousins was once again tasked with mounting a late drive to come back, but Zimmer ultimately chose to extend the game rather than going for the two-point conversion and the win.

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