Right now, no one is hotter than Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He hasn’t been merely an improvement over Marcus Mariota. He has been performing at an MVP level since being named the starter. Tannehill obviously won’t come close to sniffing the award because he’s only started 7 games, but look at his numbers during that stretch:
When they actually have a passing game to go with Derrick Henry and their defense, the Titans are a completely different team. They are currently tied with the Texans for first in the AFC South, with Houston traveling to Nashville this Sunday for arguably the biggest game of the week.
It appears age is finally catching up to one of the best to ever do it. Even Tom Brady can’t play at an MVP level forever. Recently, he hasn’t even been playing at a league-average level. His numbers during the Patriots’ recent 5-game slide are below:
Yes, the offensive line is not quite as strong as it was a year ago. And opposing teams are capitalizing on the uncertainty in the passing game outside of Julian Edelman. We’ve seen defenses focus more on Edelman recently and take their chances in 1-on-1 matchups elsewhere. That said, Brady’s struggles are not just due to these issues, as we wrote last week.
Last season, at least the Patriots were able to turn to their running game with Brady having a down year (relatively speaking). They racked up nearly 180 yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the ground during their final 5 games, running the table on their way to yet another Lombardi Trophy.
This year, that doesn’t seem to be an option. As much as Brady and the Patriots miss Rob Gronkowski’s presence in the passing attack, they miss him that much more in their running game. One of the underappreciated aspects of Gronk’s skill-set was his ability to run block. He was like another tackle on the offensive line, regularly moving linebackers and defensive ends off the line of scrimmage and clearing out defensive tackles inside on WHAM runs. New England’s tight ends this year don’t have quite that same impact.
Is the Chiefs Defense improving, or are the last 3 games just a mirage? K.C. has allowed only 14 points per game since giving up 35 to the Titans a few weeks ago (Tannehill has been wreaking havoc on the NFL!). They’ve generated 8 turnovers in those 3 games after creating just 12 in their first 10.
Steve Spagnuolo’s defense is not an easy one to play in. Mastering the different looks he gives an offense requires familiarity and great communication on the field. It’s possible the defense is just now starting to get comfortable right in time for the playoffs.
49ers vs. Saints
This was probably the best best game of the 2019 season. But should Sunday’s 94-point showing worry the Saints or the 49ers?
The Saints have now allowed an average of 28 points over their last 5 games. They allowed just 16.8 during their previous 6. In fact, New Orleans went 6-0 during Drew Brees’ absence largely because of the defense. This unit has struggled since he returned, though.
The 49ers, on the other hand, were unable to get to Drew Brees, which allowed him to complete over 70% of his passes for 349 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 49ers have transformed themselves on defense from a year ago, largely due to their ability to get to the quarterback. They ranked 23rd in sacks in 2018, and their secondary was exposed often as a result. San Francisco’s current defensive backfield is very similar to last year’s group. As we learned last season and saw again on Sunday, if quarterbacks have time to throw, they are susceptible to big plays. Losing Richard Sherman and Dee Ford for a few games due to injury certainly won’t help matters either.
The Mysterious 10-3 teams
Can anyone figure out the Seahawks and Packers? Both have had stretches where they’ve appeared to turn back the clock to earlier in the decade. Both have had moments where they inexplicably don’t show up at all. Both look like prime candidates for 1-and-dones in the playoffs as a result.
Plenty can change between now and January. For the Packers, it’s about getting more consistency on offense. They have allowed 19 sacks in their last 6 games, including 4 on Sunday against the Redskins. If the Packers can’t protect Rodgers, they have no chance of making any noise in the playoffs.
For Seattle, it seemed like their defense had turned the corner after a tremendous performance against the 49ers. They followed that up with a 17-9 win against the Eagles but then allowed 58 points over their next 2 games. Right now, their defense ranks 22nd in points and 27th in yards. It seems that if Jadeveon Clowney isn’t health and rolling on all cylinders, this defense can’t compete against good offenses. It goes without saying that this will be a problem in the playoffs.
How Concerning is Lamar Jackson’s Injury?
The obvious answer here is that it depends on the severity. That being said, Lamar Jackson’s legs are what make the Ravens Offense special. Everything that makes them dynamic is either based off Jackson keeping the ball or the threat of him keeping the ball. It doesn’t appear that he will miss any games due to his injured quad, but his level of health is critical because his passing skills become more exposed if the threat of his legs is neutralized.
The Ravens are averaging 13 fewer points per game this season when Jackson attempts 30 or more passes. If the threat of his legs is neutralized due to injury instead of scheme or extra players being dedicated to him, the offense will change overnight.
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