As we do every Monday here at the 33rd Team, here are my top five takeaways from this week’s NFL action:
1) Lamar Jackson and Ravens finally beat Chiefs
The Lamar Jackson-led Ravens beat the Chiefs for the first time in a Sunday Night Football thriller. Patrick Mahomes was previously 3-0 against Baltimore, and he was also 11-0 with 0 INTs in the month of September; the Ravens erased all of that Sunday.
Despite throwing two interceptions, including a pick-6 on the first drive of the game, Jackson was sensational. In the passing game, he was 18 of 26 for 239 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. On the ground, he had 107 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs. Rookie Odafe Oweh out of Penn State then made the biggest defensive play of the game late in the fourth quarter; he forced and recovered a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble, giving the Ravens an opportunity to pick up a first down and win the game.
They did just that. On fourth-and-1, head coach John Harbaugh asked Jackson if he wanted to go for it. Jackson, of course, said yes — and the analytics more than backed up the decision. Jackson ran for 2 yards and the Ravens downed the Chiefs, 36-35, in the process.
2) Cowboys successfully make adjustments
In my Week 2 Matchups to Watch story, I discussed how the Cowboys would need to run the ball to beat the Chargers. Unlike Todd Bowles, who entices teams to pass by loading the box, Brandon Staley plays lighter boxes, forcing teams to run. Dallas recognized this disparity, as they had 27 pass attempts versus 31 carries in Week 2. Compare this to Week 1, in which Dak Prescott threw the ball 58 times and they only had 18 carries. In turn, the Cowboys were very successful running the football against the Chargers; they had 198 yards on the ground and 2 rushing TDs.
In addition to running the ball, the Cowboys made key defensive adjustments. Due to DeMarcus Lawrence’s broken foot, Dallas moved rookie Micah Parsons to EDGE. According to PFF, Parsons had 8 pressures, which is the most by a rookie since Nick Bosa in 2019. The Cowboys also benefited from improved play from Jaylon Smith (9 tackles), Leighton Vander Esch (7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL), Trevon Diggs (6 tackles, INT), and Damontae Kazee (crucial INT in end zone at the end of the third quarter).
3) QB injuries
Six QBs got hurt in Week 2—two returned (Baker Mayfield and Derek Carr) but four did not. Here’s a snapshot of those four and their backup situations. In terms of replacement options, I would rank the situations like this:
- Bears: Andy Dalton left with knee injury; backups: Justin Fields, Nick Foles
- Dolphins: Tua left with ribs injury; backup: Jacoby Brissett
- Texans: Tyrod Taylor left with hamstring injury; backups: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel
- Colts: Carson Wentz left with ankle injury; backup: Jacob Eason
Although Fields struggled (47.7 PFF Passing Grade) after coming in for Dalton, his potential — coupled with former Super Bowl MVP Foles behind him — gives Chicago the edge in replacement options. Moving on to Miami, Brissett actually played better than Tagovailoa this week, according to PFF; Brissett had a 69.5 Passing Grade, and Tua’s was only 52.2 (although Tua only had seven dropbacks). Neither QB, however, was able to score against Buffalo’s defense.
As for Houston and Indy, their backup situations are not as strong. Focusing on Houston, Taylor would be a big loss, as he has played very well thus far. He has a PFF Grade of 75.8, and he is 31 of 48 for 416 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs.
For the Colts, it’s notable that Wentz’s injury could affect the trade compensation they send to Philadelphia. If Wentz plays over 75% of the snaps in 2021 or over 70% and the Colts make the playoffs, the conditional 2022 second-round pick would be a first-rounder.
4) Brady continues to set the standard
After the Falcons cut it to a 3-point game in the third quarter against Tampa Bay, Tom Brady and the Bucs scored 20 unanswered to put them away. Mike Edwards certainly was a major factor with two pick-6’s, and Brady improved to 8-0 in his career versus Atlanta. Remarkably, he is also 14 TD passes away from having more TD passes in his 40s than in his 20s. Brady had 147 TDs in 96 games in his 20s; he has 134 in 66 games in his 40s. In the 2021 season, he already has 9 passing TDs. Brady continues to set the standard and push it forward.
5) Panthers and Raiders look impressive
According to PFF, Carolina has the top defense in the NFL based on Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play at minus-0.354. As a unit, their defense is second to the Rams in PFF Defensive Grade at 79.7. They also have 10 sacks and 21 QB hits in their first two matchups. Per NextGen Stats, Brian Burns has two of the top 12 fastest sacks in the NFL this season — the only other player to have at least two such sacks in the top 20 is Chandler Jones. Going into this season, the Panthers defense seemed to be underrated. Their defensive front in particular is young and athletic, and they have invested substantial resources in their defense (recall that they used all seven of their draft picks in 2020 on defensive players).
The Raiders, meanwhile, are 2-0 against the AFC North. Las Vegas followed up their win against Baltimore on Monday night by beating the Ravens’ rival, Pittsburgh, on Sunday. The Raiders are now 2-0, and QB Derek Carr is playing at an MVP level. Carr leads the NFL in passing yards with 817. He has also posted an impressive PFF Passing Grade of 81.0, putting him firmly in the top 10 thus far. On the defensive side, the Raiders pass rush has been exceptional. According to NextGen Stats, the Raiders pass rush built off its hot start, pressuring Ben Roethlisberger on 31.0% of his dropbacks. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue both generated 5-plus pressures for the second consecutive game. In recent years, the Raiders’ defense has been their clear weakness, so it would be an impressive turnaround if it becomes a strength this season.
Grant Reiter contributed to this story