So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise.
In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 8, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
Eagles: Why can’t you just be normal?
Maybe we just need to give it a week. It’s been a while since all of these parts have been together. We might need to allow some coalescing, some time to get rolling after some long injury absences.
With all that said, it was still wildly frustrating watching the Philadelphia Eagles just flop on opportunity after opportunity against an ultra-generous Dallas Cowboys defense.
The Eagles offensive line suffered some nicks during this game and was once again without Lane Johnson. Young star running back Miles Sanders isn’t back yet. But, Carson Wentz finally got important players like Jalen Reagor and Dallas Goedert to complement emerging top receiver Travis Fulgham and he still turned in an error-filled outing.
The most frustrating part about Wentz in this game is that many of his errors seemed unforced. You could tell he wanted the big play in this game, to light up Dallas like so many passers before him. However, with the wind a factor, too many of his deep throws sailed on him. His second interception, courtesy of rookie corner Trevon Diggs, came on a pass to John Hightower that just wasn’t even close.
That play just perfectly sums it up from a decision-making sense for Wentz. Not only did he force a deep pass, but with Reagor back (and playing well — 3-16-TD) and Fulgham continuing to show the chops of a No. 1 outside receiver (6-78-TD), why is Hightower your choice when he’s struggled to track those shot-plays all season? We know Wentz is better than this. He played solid football against Pittsburgh and Baltimore but was shaky all throughout primetime games against the Giants and Cowboys. That’s tough to explain.
Again, the Eagles may just need a little more time for these skill-position players to get up to speed. The offensive line should get Lane Johnson back soon and he’s a no-questions-asked difference-maker when he’s on the field. Still, the Eagles welcoming back guys like Reagor and Goedert is inching them closer to “real-team status” and not just another NFC East horror show. We should start judging them as such.
One thing is for sure: After struggling with the wide receiver position for so many years, Philadelphia has a legit duo in Fulgham and Reagor. Both of these young players shined against Dallas and Fulgham has been stacking excellent games for over a month now. Even in this still-shaky environment, you want to consider these receivers fantasy starters.
Colts unveil the best version of themselves
The 2020 Indianapolis Colts are probably not going to become one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL. Through eight weeks, we know where their talent-level ranks and what Philip Rivers is and is not capable of.
That doesn’t mean that Indianapolis isn’t solid and, in fact, they looked like the best version of themselves in Week 8.
With Darius Leonard back leading a fly-around defense, the Colts offense unleashed a spread-out attack. Heading into halftime, Nyheim Hines had thrown it back to Week 1 with two receiving touchdowns. He led the team with 54 yards on the day, which speaks to the diverse identity of their Week 8 approach.
By the end of the second quarter, 10 players had recorded a catch for the Colts. All three tight ends in Trey Burton, Mo-Alie Cox, and Jack Doyle got involved. The wide receiver rotation was led by Zach Pascal, who ran a route on just 80 percent of Rivers’ dropbacks. T.Y. Hilton did suffer a groin injury in this game but he had been miles away from a featured receiver as it was.
Rivers was hyper-efficient in this version of the Colts offense. By just picking and choosing the open man or favorable matchup, Rivers was largely mistake-free and sported a 123.5 passer rating, his highest mark of the season in a game that didn’t feature the Jets.
It was great to see if you’re a Colts fan but this was problematic if you have Jonathan Taylor on your fantasy team. He was just not a factor in this excellent offensive performance at all. Even more worrisome, the move to lighten his load kind of made sense.
Despite their great offensive line, the Colts have ranked 32nd in rushing success rate pretty much all season. With Taylor as their lead back, they have been a bad rushing team. After the Colts got a lead with their uptempo passing game, the back they leaned on to maintain it was Jordan Wilkins (20-89-TD), not Taylor (11-22).
At some point, the Colts are going to want to get the best out of a highly touted second-round pick, so we don’t need to act as if Taylor will get removed from the game plan. But they were perfectly fine in Week 8 with him playing a bit role.
Chargers distribution clears up a bit
Justin Herbert has now thrown three-plus touchdowns in four-straight games. Despite his coach’s best efforts to sink the team by playing hyper-conservative football late in games, Herbert is building something special in LA — at least on offense. As a result, we really care where the ball is going in here.
With Mike Williams and Keenan Allen absorbing 44.2 percent of Herbert’s targets against the Broncos, this looked like the type of distribution we’d expect.
It’s tough to predict Williams on a weekly basis, as Herbert has been content to throw deep to guys further down the depth chart. But man, his skillset just lines up so perfectly with the ball placement of Herbert. Keenan Allen, meanwhile, continues to cook with the rookie under center. Allen now has double-digit targets in all of Herbert starts outside of the Saints game where he suffered an injury. He’s cleared 90 yards and/or scored a touchdown in five of six. He’s a clear-cut WR1.
The more interesting note may well be in the backfield. Folks were excited about Joshua Kelley after strong Week 1-2 stat lines but he’s starting to fade the longer Austin Ekeler sits out. The rookie (7-32) fell behind Troymaine Pope (10-67) in the rushing rotation.
Even more important, both were well behind Justin Jackson. This was his best game in fantasy since Ekeler’s injury as he ran the ball 17 times and totaled 53 yards on three catches. While Jackson hasn’t really turned in a dominant line, you have to like his status as the obvious RB1 in LA.
Perhaps we project that first big game against the Raiders in Week 9.
Bengals get the biggest win of the Zac Taylor era
At this point in their development, we would settle for the Bengals being a frisky team that puts out entertaining football every single week. Stealing a win from a Titans team that paints itself as a clear AFC contender is next-level.
Amid blustery conditions in Cincinnati, it was the Bengals, not the hard-nosed Titans with Derrick Henry, that looked completely comfortable. For the second-straight week, Joe Burrow operated a high-end spread passing attack. He didn’t push the ball down the field often but Burrow dropped back to pass 37 times and completed 70 percent of his throws at 6.7 yards per attempt. The best thing about this Bengals passing game under Burrow is how many people get involved.
Seven Bengals caught a pass on Sunday with three (Higgins, Tate, Boyd) snagging at least six and clearing 60 yards.
The Bengals have found a clear identity of late as a high-end spread offense. Even without Joe Mixon the last two weeks, Giovani Bernard has performed admirably in his annual relief duty, scoring three times in two games as a starter.
Not only is there plenty of fantasy goodness to be found on the Bengals roster but after a quality win like this one, we need to take their overall operation more seriously. That’s not to say Zac Taylor will find his team even close to the playoff discussion but they can be a really tough-out in the second half of the 2020 season.
The Raiders ride Josh Jacobs
It could have all been weather-related but the Week 8 Raiders looked much more like the team we expected to see in 2020. Coming off a week of deserved praise surrounding Derek Carr’s new-look deep-passing offense, Las Vegas turned to the ground game. Josh Jacobs and a rugged rushing attack was the engine of the offense in grinding out a close win over Cleveland.
Jacobs has been battling injuries this year and was riding a long slump. He scored three touchdowns in Week 1 against Carolina and dropped a pair of scores into the box score against Kansas City but outside of that, Jacobs has been ultra-quiet. Not on Sunday.
With the wind whipping in Ohio, Jon Gruden and company knocked over all the pieces on the chessboard and just got back to basics. The Raiders saddled Jacobs up for 31 carries against the Browns and he responded with 128 yards, more than Derek Carr put up through the air (112). It was just the second time all year he’s cleared 4.0 yards per rush.
The Raiders can really be a dangerous offense when their old and new identities meet. Their ability to actually hit vertical shots off play action, not just check-downs, while a good run game rumbles on the ground would be spicy. We’ll see if Jacobs is up for an encore against the potent Chargers next week.
5 Things I don’t care about
Ben DiNucci peppers Michael Gallup
Alright, maybe I care a little. My long-term takes on Michael Gallup’s value wouldn’t mind someone like Ben DiNucci padding his stat lines to run out the clock on a miserable Dallas season. It would help remind people this is indeed an excellent young receiver:
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) November 2, 2020
And yet, DiNucci’s strong preference for Gallup probably doesn’t matter at all when projecting forward this year.
Gallup led the way with 12 targets for Dallas against the Eagles. It was more than double the total for any other Cowboys wideout. Amari Cooper recorded just one catch for five yards and was held catch-less for much of the night. CeeDee Lamb is usually the layup guy in this receiver corps but he saw just five looks go his way. He averaged 6.8 yards on his four receptions.
So it appears for now DiNucci has a clear favorite in Gallup. But if he draws another start, which he might not, who’s to say this won’t all be completely flipped? Lamb or Cooper could be the ones seeing all the volume next we (sadly) watch the Cowboys. And even so, Gallup ended up with just 61 yards on his 12 targets. These DiNucci passes don’t carry much value. We’re probably best just not messing around with this Dallas passing offense, no matter what.
The J.K. Dobbins 100-yard game ...
I really like J.K. Dobbins and his fit in this offense, so hear me out on this one.
My first reaction to the rookie putting up 113 yards on 15 carries was, “Of course he did.” Dobbins is good. Given enough opportunity, he will do good things for the Baltimore Ravens. Dobbins’ 113 yards were easily the most for a Ravens back this season, while Gus Edwards retained his usual role and recorded 87 yards ... which happens to be the second-most for a Ravens back.
The three-man committee turning into just a backfield duo made this all much easier to understand.
Therein lies the rub and why it’s tough to care about this right now. Odds are, the second Mark Ingram gets back in the mix, this backfield goes back to a three-way split. Then you’re taking a lot from Dobbins and a bit from Edwards, as well. We’re right back to three guys finishing somewhere between seven to nine carries and 40 to 60 yards. That’s not what you want.
Sure, Dobbins could easily be a fantasy league-winning type of back if he was the leader of the backfield with Edwards as his lone running mate. It happened today and it could well happen again in Week 9. But it would be a stretch to expect it whenever Ingram gets back.
Tua’s Week 8 stat line
The obvious story for Miami going into Week 8 was rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa drawing his first NFL start. Leaving the game, it’s not top of mind.
Tua and the offense weren’t tasked with much against the Rams. The scoring unit recorded just eight first downs and 145 yards on 48 plays. The story of the day was the Dolphins’ defense taking over the game.
It looked like an encore of the 2018 season Super Bowl with Brian Flores absolutely taking Jared Goff’s lunch money. Goff’s game-end 66.0 passer rating somehow feels generous after watching this game. The Rams quarterback threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, including one that Miami took back for a touchdown. It was full-on domination for the Dolphins defense. It took well into the second-half down multiple scores for the Rams to even pad their receivers’ stat lines.
Miami has had their issues handling rushing attacks in 2020 but when top corner Byron Jones has been in the mix, their pass defense has been rock solid. Before taking it to LA on Sunday, they ranked sixth in pass defense DVOA. Flores has this team playing well on defense; Miami is no pushover.
The Dolphins will eventually need Tagovailoa to be the central figure and the reason the team wins. And we should feel good about his chances to be that guy. The fact they don’t need him to assume that role right away is a good sign.
Cam Newton’s end of game fumble
Anyone with a vested interest in the Patriots’ team certainly cares that Cam Newton had the ball punched out of his hand on a late fourth-quarter drive. It provided the final note to seal a Bills win over New England. However, making that the main focal point of the game would be a mistake.
No one is going to argue that Newton or the Patriots looked elite in Week 8. The last month has shown us that neither is set up to do that with how this Patriots team is currently constructed. So, now that we’ve appropriately set the bar, we can see Week 9 was actually a solid step in the right direction for these Patriots.
Given how Cam Newton had looked like a complete train-wreck in each of his last two starts, this was strangely a positive for him.
The Newton-led Patriots from Weeks 6 and 7 didn’t look capable of putting together a drive on an NFL field. In Week 8, they took an AFC contender in Buffalo down to the wire, and perhaps most importantly, Cam got involved once again as a rusher (9-54-TD). Perhaps that shows he’s getting back to full form, again, on the sliding scale of 2020 Patriots.
If anything, the Patriots might need to ask themselves some hard personnel-based questions. Why weren’t young guys like Jakobi Myers (10 targets), who Cam Newton has clearly jived with of late, and the explosive Damien Harris (16-102-TD) playing more before Sunday? Sure, they may have been redundant with veterans like Julian Edelman and Sony Michel involved, but they clearly have more juice. Time to figure it out.
Any big separation in the Bills backfield
We’re going to have a similar discussion with Zack Moss as we just had above with J.K. Dobbins. Perhaps Moss’ two touchdowns will be enough to sway the backfield toward a 65:45 split in favor of the rookie but it’s not a strong indicator.
Moss had the exact same number of carries as Devin Singletary with 14. The former had 81 yards, the latter 86. Both backs drew just one target. Of course, the touchdowns do show why Moss should be ranked slightly ahead of Singletary. He’s been the guy in scoring range for Buffalo both before and after his injury. However, everything is so dead-even we can’t be too confident both of their fantasy scoring won’t be volatile.
That said, the Bills need some sort of change in the offense. It seems like the Bills’ first move just hasn’t been able to adjust after defenses have learned to work around that move — that move being Josh Allen and the wide receivers making big plays all over the field. Allen throws to wide receivers over 70 percent of the time in 2020, by far the highest rate of any quarterback.
The Bills need a counterpunch, which could come in the form of Moss as a feature back to improve on a running game that was ranked 32nd in rushing DVOA heading into Week 8. It could also come by just getting the running backs or tight ends more involved in the target distribution. Either way, Brian Daboll, who was thrown around as a head coaching candidate, needs to get into the lab on this one.