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The Ravens didn’t even play a game and somehow won last week. Pittsburgh beat Cleveland in yet another AFC North slugfest. Plus, Cincinnati lost to the Jets and their backup quarterback, Mike White. White’s immediate impact has already started the “quarterback controversy” debate, and he gets an island game to showcase his talent to the league. I pulled together some notes to preview Week 9’s TNF and recapped all of the news coming out of practice from Wednesday.
TNF Preview: Mike White Takeover?
As a Bengals fan, I’ll say that losing to the Jets has a different feel than in previous years. Sure, it sounds like a coping mechanism. But that wasn’t the same dysfunctional squad from the previous year. It wasn’t even the same crew from the previous week. Even before the controversial use of helmet foul, there was a sense of inevitability late in the game. The Jets certainly felt it.
Cincinnati came into the matchup fifth in EPA per play allowed and had no answers for the New York Mike White’s. The Jets were first in the league in total yardage (501) with 6.6 yards per play (fourth). The last time New York eclipsed 500 yards in a regular-season game of consequence was Week 5 of 2018. They shattered seasonal averages of 27.1 yards and 1.3 points per drive at 43.1 YPD and 2.8. PPD. All they had to do was keep it simple.
Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur just asked White to rely on his pass-catchers. His 2.49-sec time to throw was fifth fastest last week. Nearly half of his attempts (20 of 45) were short curl, screen, or flat routes. White had an aDOT of 4.2. As a result, the Jets’ playmakers racked up 292 yards after the catch. It was the offense we envisioned at the start of the season.
The easy question is, “Why hasn’t Zach Wilson been used the same?” Well, the answer likely falls into some nuanced diatribe involving early-season injuries along the offensive line and facing Bill Belichick twice in five weeks. Regardless, Saleh can answer that while the Colts try to defend it.
Indianapolis is 21st in adjusted points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and 22nd in EPA per dropback allowed. A.J. Brown just dunked on them with an 11-155-1 stat line, but the Jets don’t have a comparable player. Plus, White isn’t throwing that far downfield. Nonetheless, slot receivers and tight-ends have feasted on the Colts’ interior.
Deebo Samuel tagged them for 91 yards and a score on six targets in the rain, and Mark Andrews bullied his way to 147 yards and two touchdowns on their comeback win in Week 5. The environment sets up well for Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios, who split slot duties on Sunday. Rookie Elijah Moore should also factor into the mix as he’s seen six targets in two consecutive weeks along with work out of the backfield. It may be weird to say, but the Jets’ diverse attack will be fun to watch on Thursday night. The Colts should also keep things interesting.
I wanted to use this play to highlight how Indianapolis’ offense is improving. Not because of the touchdown. Not even because of who caught the touchdown (I’ll get to Michael Pittman in a bit). But look at how much time Carson Wentz had in the pocket. Of course, it’s one play, but the offensive line has been trending up.
Wentz had the highest pressure rate of any quarterback throughout the first month of the season. Two busted ankles and contests against the Rams and Titans didn’t help, but he was constantly under siege. And, as he went down, so did the offense. They were 23rd in EPA per play and 24th in yards per play with a single win against Miami. As Wentz and his linemen have gotten healthier, so have their metrics.
Wentz has been 26th in pressure rate over the last month. As a result, the Colts are eighth in both EPA per play and yards per play. They’ve also started building more significant point totals with 29.3 points per game. They’re hitting their stride at the perfect time to face the Jets’ defense.
New York is dead last in EPA per play allowed and 31st in EPA per dropback allowed. Their front has been able to put pressure on quarterbacks for 11 sacks over their previous four games. However, seven of them came against the Titans in Week 4. Enemy passers are averaging two touchdowns per game, and two of their last three opponents have topped 300 yards. Even without T.Y. Hilton out, Wentz has enough options to keep the Colts’ passing game on track.
Points of Interest in TNF
For the Jets, my sole interest is Michael Carter. His touch share has steadily risen since Week 4 from 56.0% to 70.6%. He just had 14 targets on Sunday. We can scan the boxscore all we want and say he looks the part, but Carter’s film does most of the talking for him.
If you haven’t seen this play, pause it at eight seconds. Carter has three defenders in front of him, four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Only one gets blocked, but Carter still gets the first down. That sequence is emblematic of Carter’s skillset. Good hands, patience as a runner, contact balance, and burst are all on display in seven seconds. We may have questions about who their starting quarterback will be, but there’s no question about who should lead this backfield.
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Carter earned 10 of his 14 targets while the point differential was still within one score, indicating an intent to keep him involved regardless of the situation. Plus, he was more efficient as a runner when compared to Johnson. Carter’s role has expanded, was the overall RB1 for Week 8, and now gets a primetime slot to prove Week 8 wasn’t a fluke.
For Indianapolis, my eye will be on Michael Pittman. I wince whenever Wentz drops back to pass, but I’ll sit up once Pittman comes into view. You can’t miss him, honestly.
Pittman was a fantasy favorite throughout the offseason. His collegiate athletic profile was impressive, and he showed he was capable of beating man coverage last season. But we had questions about his situation. Not if T.Y. Hilton would siphon targets away, but if Wentz could support any receivers after a tragic end to his time in Philadelphia. And, for the last month, we’ve got our answers.
Since Week 5, Pittman’s target share has risen from 15.0% to 29.4%. He’s led the team in either air yards or targets in two straight games as the Colts’ offensive line continues to gel. Overall, it’s helped Wentz as he’s fourth in deep-ball rate over the last month and down to 1.5 sacks per game. He just needs to work on not throwing picks with his left hand. Regardless, Pittman has the chance to get loose on the Jets’ secondary that ranks 31st in EPA per dropback allowed.
The news cycle over the last 48 hours has been shocking and sad on multiple levels. We’re seeing first-hand how personal decisions can change a career or their entire life. The ramifications extend past football, but most are focusing on Sunday. At least, that’s how the Packers wish things could be.
I used this tweet specifically because it’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Of course, the team declaring Aaron Rodgers out and Jordon Love set to make his first start is league-altering news. But, how the story came to be is what’s gotten more attention. Regardless, Love becomes a potential streaming candidate assuming Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are activated in time to face the Chiefs. Cleveland has a whole other set of problems on their hands.
“Excused from practice.” “Sent home by Kevin Stefanski.” Use whichever storyline you like. Odell Beckham Jr. was absent today. After Beckham’s father released a video about the Browns’ offense, the team decided to distance themselves from their star receiver with rumors of his release on the table.
Meanwhile, Jarvis Landry opened the week with a DNP as he’s struggled to stay healthy since returning from IR. The drama adds another layer to Cleveland’s injury-riddled season as they set up for the “Battle of Ohio” against Cincinnati. Luckily, the rest of the news is relatively normal.
I don’t know what “pretty limited” means, but it was good to see Christian McCaffrey back out on the field. Carolina designated him for return from injured reserve, but his status for Week 9 is far from certain. However, even if he plays, he may be taking handoffs from a different quarterback.
Sam Darnold was limited in practice Wednesday as he progresses through the concussion protocol. I would have spontaneously combusted after a similar hit, but P.J. Walker may take the field against the Patriots on Sunday. Walker completed just three passes in relief of Darnold in Week 7, so it’s hard to trust anyone from that offense. We should know more about both by the end of the week. San Francisco is in a similar spot.
George Kittle returned to practice after being placed on IR in Week 5. The team has already designated him to return, but his status for Week 9 is still undecided. The idea was to give more options to Jimmy Garoppolo, but two starters are in question. Elijah Mitchell (ribs) and Deeno Samuel (calf) missed practice. Kyle Shanahan hopes Mitchell will get in “some” practice and expects Samuel to play despite the aggravated injury. Joe Judge can’t expect the same from one of his receivers.
Shepard exited during the first half of Week 8 and now has a quad strain. The team hasn’t placed Shepard on IR, so he’ll likely return for their Week 11 matchup against Tampa Bay. In the meantime, Kadarius Toney becomes the alpha in New York’s passing attack, with Kenny Golladay still on the mend. Their division mate is dealing with similar issues.
Jalen Reagor’s absence to start the week isn’t much of a surprise. He missed some time during Philadelphia’s blowout win over Detroit, so the DNP is likely precautionary. Beat reporters saw him on the side field, which indicates he’s got a shot to return by Friday. However, it's hard to trust anyone outside of Jalen Hurts with the Eagles pass rate over expectation plunging in Week 8. Taysom Hill is in a similar spot.
It’s good to see Taysom Hill back after he suffered a brain injury in Week 5. His extended absence only hints at the severity of the hit, but he has perfect timing. Sean Payton is yet to declare a starter against the Falcons, and Trevor Siemian would be the next man up with Jameis Winston done for the year. Hill’s dual-threat ability would provide a spark, but he’ll need to be cleared before we can start making lineup adjustments. Arizona’s injury situation almost looks like the Saints’.
Kyler Murray was noticeably limping at the end of their wild loss to the Packers. His DNP to start the week, along with some line movement on the game total, suggested the Cardinals’ signal-caller would be out. However, Murray was made available to the media and said he felt good. Arizona could use the help as the team placed A.J. Green on the reserve-COVID list and DeAndre Hopkins missed practice due to the hamstring injury sustained during Week 8. We’ll need to monitor practice reports as they gear up for their divisional rematch against the 49ers. At least Baltimore’s injury report isn’t as dire.
Sammy Watkins comes out of the bye with a DNP after not seeing the field since Week 5. Reports suggest he’s close to returning, but John Harbaugh has provided no timeline. Also, Latavius Murray remains sidelined with an ankle injury. The Ravens’ backfield has devolved into a committee headlined by formerly relevant running backs like Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell. Regardless, it’s tough to trust any of them moving forward. And, finally, let’s check in on the Bills.
During the second half on Sunday, Beasley was seen with the medical staff after taking two shots to the ribs. He did earn 13 targets but played slightly fewer snaps (71%). There’s no indication Beasley will miss time, but practice reports on Thursday and Friday will give us a better idea of his status.