What the Browns and Chargers decision making tells us about their QBs
In Week 5, the Chargers and Browns each went for it on 4th down four times, with the Chargers picking up the first down on each attempt. The fact that Brandon Staley was so aggressive in high-leverage situations tells us everything we need to know about Justin Herbert. In contrast, on a crucial 3rd-and-9 with 2:55 left, Cleveland ran the ball and came up well short, forcing a punt. This led to what was ultimately the game-winning touchdown for Los Angeles. Stefanski was aggressive for most of the game, but unlike Staley with Herbert, he did not trust Baker Mayfield on one of the Browns most important plays.
Herbert’s performance on the most impactful plays was one of the primary reasons the Chargers won. It’s also one of the reasons why he is a legitimate MVP candidate. According to Next Gen Stats, Herbert leads the NFL with +39.5 pass Expected Points Added on 3rd/4th down this season (Matthew Stafford is 2nd at +26.8). On Sunday, Herbert continued his success on later downs, completing 8 of 13 passes for 185 yards and a TD (+12.3 pass EPA). With a 4-1 record, the Chargers now sit atop the AFC West by themselves. The Browns will host the undefeated Arizona Cardinals in Week 6.
The Chiefs’ lack of depth
From a resource allocation standpoint, the Chiefs put a lot into their offensive line this offseason. They gave LG Joe Thuney $16M APY, which is the second highest average for any guard behind only Brandon Scherff, who was franchise tagged for the second straight season. Kansas City also traded their 2021 first-round pick in a package for LT Orlando Brown Jr., and they selected C Creed Humphrey in the second-round. To their credit, the Chiefs recognized the O-Line as a weakness and used substantial resources to address it.
However, doing so came at a significant cost. It’s apparent that they lack cover corners and players to generate pressure. Ultimately, their lack of depth and talent on the Defensive Line and at CB could hinder ability to get back to Super Bowl. They had no answer for Josh Allen and the Bills on Sunday Night.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills chose to defend Patrick Mahomes without blitzing. Per Next Gen Stats, they ended the game with zero blitzes on 56 dropbacks. The Bills have blitzed Mahomes on just 7% of his dropbacks in three career matchups, compared to a 30% blitz rate vs. all other QBs. This strategy worked. Mahomes had his lowest YPA of the season at just 5 yards and was intercepted twice, including a pick-six by Micah Hyde.
The Chiefs are now 2-3 and find themselves in last place in the AFC West. Their schedule didn’t do them any favors with games against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, and Bills. The remainder of the schedule should be easier, but they could be playing for a Wild Card spot for the first time in Mahomes’ career. Likewise, if they want to get back to the Super Bowl, they will have to face these AFC contenders again.
How will missed FGs and XPs affect decision-making?
Prior to Mason Crosby finally hitting the game-winning field goal to beat Cincinnati in overtime, there were five missed FGs by him and Bengals’ Kicker Evan McPherson. All five of these misses could have been game-winners, and all occurred within the final three minutes of regulation or overtime. Around the league, it was a terrible week for kickers; there were 16 missed FGs and 13 missed XPs. The XP was moved back in 2015, and this is the first week in which there were double-digit missed FGs and double-digit missed XPs since then.
Based on kicker struggles around the league, look for teams to be more aggressive on 4th down and opt to go for it rather than kick. This will be a trend to watch for the rest of the season, but teams that have been aggressive in high-leverage situations have had great success.
How Zeke’s resurgence and Diggs’ breakout season will impact the Cowboys
For the first time since Week 8 of 2019, Ezekiel Elliott has put together consecutive games with over 100 yards rushing. The 2020 season was the worst of Zeke’s career based on multiple metrics, including a career-low in yards per carry at 4.0, and a career-low in total yards at 1,001. Thus far in 2021, Zeke has regained his old form, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also has a PFF Rushing Grade of 83.7, which would be his career-high. In turn, the Cowboys’ success running the ball will help QB Dak Prescott. The only game Dallas lost was Week 1 against Tampa Bay, a game in which they had 58 passing attempts and just 18 carries. Since then, the Cowboys have deployed a balanced attack and have not lost.
On the defensive side, Trevon Diggs intercepted another pass, bringing his league-leading total to 6. For reference, the rest of the NFC East combined only has 8 interceptions, per Cris Collinsworth. Diggs also has played 205 coverage snaps without allowing a TD, which is the most this season, per PFF. It’s early, but Diggs is firmly in the mix for DPOY. His ability to play man-to-man has enabled the Cowboys defense to thrive despite playing 30 different players. Their ability to play both man and zone has given DC Dan Quinn options. This is a defense that has played well and set up to play even better when players return, such as DE DeMarcus Lawrence.
While fans do not want to hear it, no team has been more impacted on one side of the ball than the Giants on offense. They are now down 7 of their 11 Week 1 offensive starters. In Week 5, Saquon Barkley was carted off early in the game, and he is believed to be “week-to-week” with a low-ankle sprain. QB Daniel Jones (concussion) and WR Kenny Golladay (knee) also both left Sunday’s game and did not return.
Jones has played well this season — he’s 4th in PFF Passing Grade — yet the Giants are just 1-4. The state of the Giants is not strong right now, but there have been bright spots. Andrew Thomas, who was selected fourth overall in 2020, has played well when healthy. His pressure rate allowed is down from 9.9% in 2020 to 3.6% this season. Meanwhile 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney had his best game of the season against Dallas, catching 10 passes for 189 yards. Due to the team’s slow start and injuries, the Giants margin of error moving forward is very small if they want to have a chance of reaching the postseason. The good news, however, is that they have found a franchise QB in Jones and their most recent first-round picks look promising.