maya (Maya Sweedler, copy editor): The NFL’s opening weekend had some fun surprises (Overtimes! A safety kicking an extra point!) and some fun not-surprises (The Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills are good! The Green Bay Packers showed up to Week 1 not ready to play! The Dallas Cowboys aren’t going to win the Super Bowl this year!). Week 2 brought more of the same. Before our two Monday night games, the only 2-0 teams in the NFC are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (sure) and the New York Giants (huh?). On the AFC side, it’s the Chiefs and Miami Dolphins, while the defending conference champion Cincinnati Bengals are 0-2.
But beyond wins and losses, there were some pretty notable numbers in this weekend’s slate of games. Let’s start with the wild comebacks. We saw the Arizona Cardinals and Dolphins both come back from 20-point deficits in the second half — the first time multiple teams have overcome a 20-point halftime deficit on the same day. How are we feeling about these Dolphins, who at one point hung 21 unanswered points on the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter?
neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): I think it’s fair to say this Dolphins offense has been a revelation early on. Only Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have more offensive EPA than Miami so far this year (although to be fair, the Bills have only played one game as of this chat).
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): They’re all so fast!
neil: I also want to point out that the QB play on both sides in that game was unbelievable. Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson dueled for what was, according to our QB Elo values, the best combined QB performance in a game since 1950.
|Date||Team||QB||vs. Avg||Team||QB||vs. Avg||Har. Mean|
|9/18/2022||MIA||T. Tagovailoa||+321||BAL||L. Jackson||+485||386|
|12/11/1982||SD||D. Fouts||481||SF||J. Montana||299||369|
|9/9/2018||TB||R. Fitzpatrick||399||NO||D. Brees||328||360|
|1/23/2022||KC||P. Mahomes||470||BUF||J. Allen||282||352|
|9/16/2018||KC||P. Mahomes||363||PIT||B. Roethlisberger||315||338|
|11/1/2015||NO||D. Brees||454||NYG||E. Manning||266||335|
|9/26/2004||IND||P. Manning||385||GB||B. Favre||286||328|
|12/11/1983||SD||D. Fouts||304||KC||B. Kenney||341||322|
|1/10/2010||ARI||K. Warner||433||GB||A. Rodgers||246||314|
|10/6/2013||DEN||P. Manning||332||DAL||T. Romo||297||313|
And in related news, Lamar had the best performance by a starting QB on the losing side of a game in that span. Even given the caveat that it’s easier to make that list in the modern game because QBs throw so much more … that’s still remarkable.
maya: Neil, that table is crazy.
neil: Right? It gave me an excuse to remember this insane FitzMagic performance, too.
joshua.hermsmeyer: It really was a ridiculous game all around. Just to kind of underline what a massive outlier the Ravens collapse was: Teams leading by 21 or more in the fourth quarter had won 711 consecutive games. And the Ravens had been 53-0 (including the postseason) when leading by 21 over the past 20 seasons.
Not a fun time as a Ravens fan …
maya: But if any facet of this Ravens team was going to spark this collapse, I guess I’m not surprised it was their passing defense? The Ravens secondary has in recent years faced some of the toughest injury luck. Last year, they had multiple corners end the season on IR. And while it was great to see Marcus Peters back on the field, it’s so hard to come back from an ACL tear and immediately line up across the deep vertical threats Miami has in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Agreed, Maya. Obviously the offense played well enough to win. So my theory for why the Ravens defense imploded so spectacularly is that the Baltimore pass rush just got gassed. Over the first three quarters of the game, the Ravens had a pass rush win rate of 58 percent. In the fourth quarter, their win rate plummeted to 22 percent, one of the worst marks in the fourth across the league in Week 2.
To compensate, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald started blitzing more — Baltimore blitzed Tua five times in the fourth quarter after sending an extra man seven times through three quarters — and it exposed a young and injury-depleted secondary that was trotting out rookie corners. Damarion Williams played 17 of the team’s 20 fourth-quarter snaps while Jalyn Armour-Davis played nine.
Both of Tyreek Hill’s touchdowns involved the blitz. The first TD came on a blitz on third-and-10. Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, a first-round pick, didn’t help with Hill deep, letting him run right by. Hill was so open even a pretty egregious underthrow by Tua couldn’t spoil the play. The other Hill TD came on third-and-6 with 5:19 remaining. The Ravens showed blitz, crowding the line, then dropped back into coverage. But they were way out of position, and the end result was that once again the cornerback covering Hill had no deep safety help, and Hill ran right by.
I think if their edge rushers had stayed effective through the fourth, the Ravens could have protected their young DBs more and probably avoided a historical collapse.
maya: And that young secondary got a real workout. According to Next Gen Stats, Ravens defensive backs traveled a total of 6,131 yards (3.5 miles!) on pass plays, the most by a DB group in a game since the start of last season.
neil: Meanwhile, it was also uncharacteristic to see the Ravens not really be able to milk the clock in that fourth quarter. They went into the quarter leading 35-14, but they ran only 17 offensive plays and picked up only six first downs (none rushing) in the quarter. In the game, Lamar had 77 percent of their rushing yards. For a team that is usually known for its ball control, the Ravens were unable to keep the Dolphins’ offense off the field long enough to prevent the comeback.
dre.waters: I agree, Neil, and they showed they could burn time off the clock in the first quarter with a drive that seemed to take up nearly the entire quarter.
The team’s first offensive drive was 10 minutes and 52 seconds, but after that, none of their drives were longer than about three minutes.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Does Harbs ever go for it on fourth down again?
dre.waters: I think he should, I know it hasn’t worked out for them as much in the last two seasons. But, if he and the staff believe in what the numbers suggest … they kinda have to keep going for it, right?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I hope they do! But that midfield failure out of jumbo went about as wrong as a failed fourth-down call can.
(As an aside — spread to run, Greg Roman!)
dre.waters: But to be honest, I would argue that the miscue in the red zone on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter was even more costly.
maya: I’m at the point where I firmly believe in Lamar, I just am not sure I believe in this Ravens offense. They’ve seemed to live and die by Jackson these last few seasons, and while he’s a remarkable player, I’m not sure his skillset can compensate for everything else this team is missing. If they can’t be more efficient on the ground, if they can’t take advantage of all the shallow safety sets their opponents keep showing — I’m not sure where that leaves them.
neil: Yes, this team really ought to be better than 8-6 with Jackson starting over the past two seasons.
dre.waters: But the lack of production on the ground could be attributed to injury in the same way their pass defense could. Their first two RBs on the depth chart, just like last season, are RBs that they picked up after they were cut from other teams. Last season it was Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray. This week, it was Kenyan Drake and Mike Davis (J.K. Dobbins was out with a knee injury).
maya: That’s fair. And their offensive line looks quite different than it did during Jackson’s MVP year.
Let’s turn to the team that was able to capitalize. Guys … are we buying whatever Mike McDaniel is selling?
neil: I’m sure the Tua haters will still hate, but having the combo of Hill and Waddle to throw to seems to be working wonders. Those two have already combined for 524 receiving yards, and Tua leads the NFL in passing yards right now. The McDaniel offense is clicking right away.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I am bullish on McDaniel. And I was higher than consensus on Tua coming into the season, but I’m selling that this is the type of player he will be moving forward. We may have seen his best ever game as a pro.
dre.waters: I love McDaniel as well, and I think the combo of the weapons they have there will allow him to flourish. But I’m not sure what to make of Tua’s season so far.
joshua.hermsmeyer: He almost screwed up THIS wide-open TD throw:
maya: I’ve been struck by how effective Miami’s passing game has been out of 21 personnel, which they’ve run a league-leading 37.5 percent of their plays out of thus far. They average 10 yards a play in it! (Though ironically, the team with the most offensive EPA from those two-RB, two-WR, one-TE sets is … Baltimore.)
dre.waters: Yeah, Maya, I think that’s all due to the skill of Waddle and Hill. Those two with Mike Gesicki at tight end are enough to threaten defenses in the passing game out of what’s usually a run formation in football now.
maya: Like the Ravens-Dolphins game, the other big comeback we saw yesterday featured a young gunslinger who’s also been quite polarizing. What do we make of Kyler Murray and this Cardinals team, and the wild scramble they (well, Kyler, mostly) put together to beat the Raiders?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I think the Cardinals only win when Kyler goes off script and plays hero ball, because Kliff Kingsbury’s script is awful.
Yeah, even in the win yesterday, if I’m a Cards fan, I still have a hard time being optimistic going forward
joshua.hermsmeyer: Completely baffled by the extension the Cards gave him.
maya: I wonder if Kingbury’s new contract includes mandatory film study?
neil: LOL. Nice, Maya.
That game really encapsulated everything good, bad and otherworldly about the Kyler experience.
Like, who does THIS?? (Or about a dozen other things he did late in that game.)
That play was the living embodiment of Tecmo Super Bowl where you take over Bo Jackson and have him run circles around for a whole quarter.
maya: But agreed, I’m not at all sold on this Cards offense beyond Kyler’s ridiculous ability to extend plays. I’m pretty fascinated by the defense, though. Small sample size caveats, of course, but they’ve been showing a lot of blitzes (like …. on a league-leading 45 percent of defensive snaps) and single-high looks. It feels like old-school NFC West defense, in some ways.
neil: Meanwhile, we talked at length last year about how the Raiders probably got lucky to have the record they had, and how they probably would regress this year. There’s still a lot of football left to be played, but they’re 0-2 and have the fourth-hardest future schedule in the league by average opponent Elo.
dre.waters: Although during all of those convos about the Raiders’ potential regression, we never thought they’d add arguably the best WR in the league (in Davante Adams) to the roster.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Josh McDaniels started his head-coaching career 6-0. Since then, he is 5-19.
maya: Speaking of luck, how are we feeling about the third and final notable comeback of yesterday? Is Joe Flacco the quarterback the New York Jets have been waiting for?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes? (I’m trying not to make fun of the Jets anymore since I fear I’m on some list Saleh is keeping.)
maya: LOL. I think the entire NFL media ecosystem is on that list …
neil: We joke, but that was Flacco’s most Elite™ performance by QB Elo value since he was a Raven.
maya: The Jets aren’t the only team in a similar position with their No. 2 quarterback. We’re up to as many as five teams starting backup QBs already (depending on how the fracture to Justin Herbert’s rib cartilage heals — he’s currently day-to-day). What did folks make of the other performances by backup QBs this weekend?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Cooper Rush had a 78.2 QBR! Cowboys are fine.
dre.waters: I know somebody who could be better at a low cost … ¯_(ツ)_/¯
I think they should try to make a play for Skylar Thompson out of Miami. Even after Rush’s performance, the team should still be looking at other options. If they didn’t believe in Rush coming into the week, I don’t think that changed after Sunday’s game.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Googles furiously.
dre.waters: Thompson is the third-string QB for the Dolphins, and after a WILD preseason, the team was so high on him they decided to roster him just to keep him away from other teams on the practice squad.
maya: What about his skillset makes you think he would fit in Dallas, Andres?
dre.waters: First, he’s literally almost the exact same build as Prescott and he’s pretty mobile. He didn’t get a chance to show it much during his three preseason games. But he can move well and has the arm to get the ball into the hands of playmakers.
Otherwise, statistically, he was one of the best QBs. In three preseason games, he threw for 450 yards with 5 TDs and 0 INTs. He had a 75 percent completion percentage with a 138.4 QBR.
I’m not saying he should be the team’s starting QB, but I think he’s a legitimate backup option for a team that could be looking to upgrade there.
neil: I like it! The Cowboys have never had a good Dak insurance policy,1 and yet always seem to act like they shouldn’t expect him to be hurt for at least some of the season, despite his injuries in recent seasons.
maya: So we have what could become a murky situation in Dallas. The situation in San Francisco, though, seems much clearer with Trey Lance reportedly out for the year. Are folks excited for the return of Jimmy G?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I am! Cooper Rush may need replacing, but I think the 49ers know what they have in their replacement QB. Jimmy G led the team to the playoffs last year, and in my mind SF became a Super Bowl contender yesterday. The problem for the 49ers is if they do go deep into the playoffs, where the hell are they next season at QB?
maya: WOW, Josh, a Super Bowl contender? Are you not high on anyone else in the NFC, or do you just really love San Francisco’s handsomest quarterback?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Jimmy G will always have my heart, Maya.
neil: And you can’t knock Jimmy G’s history of winning!
Jokes aside, I do feel very bad for Lance. I fear he will always exist more as an idea than an actual QB.
joshua.hermsmeyer: That’s a perfect way to put it.
But I was hoping he’d at least get this season to definitively prove things one way or another. Instead, he’ll still be in that small-sample purgatory.
dre.waters: If finding a good QB is hard enough in the league, clearly it’s even harder to find a good QB that’s a legit run threat.
maya: And then keep him protected enough that he remains a run threat without getting hurt …
dre.waters: The question for me though, is if his sample size wasn’t too good, what led to all the hype around Lance? Is that just overwhelming belief in Kyle Shanahan’s offense?
neil: “What led to all the hype around Lance?” is going to be the question of this era for SF if they don’t end up winning a Super Bowl.
maya: (whispers) I sort of believe in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Maybe not this iteration. But over the last few seasons, I’ve really enjoyed watching San Francisco play around with how it uses all the talent at its skill positions — they’ve run some fun stuff with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, even Kyle Juszczyk, and I hope returning to a more traditional pocket passer won’t stop them from involving such entertaining players at scale.
dre.waters: I know it’s hard to say because of the nature of the sport. I believe in Shanahan, but the 49ers keep racking up injuries with their top players.
So I don’t know how much I believed in them this season even before Lance went down
neil: Our friend Ty Schalter had Chris Mortensen on his podcast last week. Mort said that Kyle Shanahan had actually wanted to trade up to get Mac Jones, but the combination of the 49ers’ personnel department and the potential for bad PR convinced him to draft Lance instead.
joshua.hermsmeyer: If that’s true, then Shanny gets 0 points, and may God have mercy on his soul.
neil: IDK, give him a Patriots QB who wears No. 10 and watch the magic happen.
maya: Before we start repinning our posters of Jimmy G back on the walls, anyone have quick takes on tonight’s two MNF games? Is Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson going to play like a maniac again? What are we watching for in Bills-Titans?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m going to watch the Bills-Titans to see how Titans rookie WR Treylon Burks fares. I think he’s an exciting talent. Justin Jefferson is just an alien, so we know he’ll do otherworldly things.
dre.waters: Yeah I think Bills-Titans is worth watching. I want to see if the Titans can get the run going enough to keep Josh Allen off the field
neil: It’s a non-Manningcast MNF week, so I’m going to still be watching, but watching in protest.
maya: Give me forehead jokes or give me nothing.
neil: Come to think of it, Joe Buck is a good replacement in that regard …
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