Some analytic observations from a busy Week 7 in the NFL:
Buffalo 18 @ New York 10
The Jets had their first halftime lead of the season on a productive first half from Sam Darnold. Outside of a late interception on their final possession, he was 11-for-15 with over 6 yards per attempt. With Le’Veon Bell now in Kansas City, Frank Gore also had his most prolific half of the season, rushing for 46 yards on only 8 carries. His 5 carries for 28 yards on first down in the first half was also his most prolific output in 2020. For Buffalo, Josh Allen was only 12 of 20 for 118 yards in the first half, but as a team the Bills averaged over 8 yards a carry. Despite this, they still threw on over 70% of all first half plays, including 80% of first downs.
In the second half, the wheels fell off for New York’s offense. Darnold was only able to complete one pass for 4 yards, was sacked four times, and added another interception on the Jets final possession. Their 14% first-down success rate in the second half tied Dallas’ first-down success rate in the second half as the worst by any team in Week 7. Allen was very effective in the second half, completing 18 passes on 23 attempts for over 7 yards a pass. In the second half, Buffalo shortened their passing game, decreasing their ADOT by almost three yards. They primarily relied on Cole Beasley, who had 12 targets and over 100 yards including 7 catches for 59 yards in the second half. While New York punted on their first four second-half possessions, including three 3-and-outs, Buffalo attempted five straight field goals, making four, to outscore the Jets 12-0 in the final 30 minutes.
Carolina 24 @ New Orleans 27
In his return to New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater had an extremely productive first half, completing 84% of his 13 attempts for over 13 yards a pass. In the second quarter, he was 8-for-8 for 136 yards, leading two touchdown drives to take a 17-14 lead with under two minutes in the half. Drew Brees was equally productive in the first half, going 18-for-21 for 160 yards for 2 TDs, including a touchdown pass to Deonte Harris with 2 seconds left to take a halftime lead. Carolina struggled to establish anything on the ground, rushing 14 times for just 37 yards. Only Atlanta, which averaged 2.5 yards a carry had a worse day on the ground.
In the second half, New Orleans did a great job limiting the big-play ability of Carolina’s receivers, holding Bridgewater to under 5 yards an attempt on his 12 completions. Brees was able to do just enough in the second half, going 12-for-15 for 109 yards while leading two field goal drives. Without his top two receivers, Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Brees relied on Marquez Callaway and Alvin Kamara, who each had eight catches for 65-plus yards. Brees continues to avoid throwing the ball downfield, with an ADOT of only 4.3 for the game and 3.5 for the second half. New Orleans also got very conservative in the second half, running on two-thirds of first downs and 56% of second downs for an average success rate of 33%. This forced them to pass on 89% of second-half third downs, but managed a 78% success rate. In that span, Brees was 8-for-8 for 93 yards.
Cleveland 37 @ Cincinnati 34
After starting the game 0-for-5, Baker Mayfield was dominant the rest of the game, completing 22 of his next 23 passes for 297 yards and 5 TDs. The Browns tried to establish the run in the first half, rushing on 80% of first downs for a 50% success rate. In that span, Kareem Hunt had seven attempts for 4 yards a carry. This forced the Browns to throw on 71% of first-half second downs and 75% of first-half third downs for a combined 50% success rate. Bengals QB Joe Burrow was productive in his own right, going 20-for-25 in the first half for nearly 7 yards an attempt. Without star running back Joe Mixon, Cincinnati averaged only 2.8 yards a carry in the first half, but only ran it on 22% of first downs and 40% of second downs. They were able to take a 7-point halftime lead.
In the second half, Mayfield was perfect after Odell Beckham Jr. went down with a serious knee injury. Outside of a spike on the final drive, he was 18-for-18 for nearly 15 yards an attempt. The Browns’ vertical passing game was also not hurt without OBJ; Mayfield had an ADOT of over 10 in the second half. They passed it on 53% of first downs and 80% of second downs. After opening the game with an interception, punt and field goal, the Browns responded with five straight touchdown drives, including a game-winning touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds left.
Dallas 3 @ Washington 25
Without Dak Prescott leading the Cowboys, Dallas continued to struggle to establish any offense. Andy Dalton was just 8-for-15 in the first half for only 2.5 yards a pass. Zeke Elliott also managed only 21 yards on his five first-down carries for the game. His 45 rushing yards and 3.75 yards a carry were both season lows outside of his 14-carry, 34-yard performance in Week 3 against Seattle. For Washington, Kyle Allen was effective in the first half, going 9-for-16 for 7.5 yards a pass. Despite only having a 38% first-down success rate in the first half, Washington ran it on 70% of second downs for a 77% success rate. Washington averaged 7.4 yards a run on its 17 first-half carries. They utilized all three backs with rookie Antonio Gibson having his most productive game with 128 yards on 20 carries. J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber added a combined 15 carries for 69 yards. All of Gibson’s carries came on first or second down, while the other two split the majority of the third-down work. In the second half, Dallas continued to struggle, averaging only 1.5 yards a pass. As we mentioned, Dallas’ 14% first-down success rate in the second half matched the Jets as the worst from Sunday from either half. With Dalton in the concussion protocol, the Cowboys may be forced into starting seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci against Philadelphia in a game that could be for first place in the division. Washington did suffer a huge loss, losing starting safety Landon Collins to an Achilles injury.
Pittsburgh 27 @ Tennessee 24
Coming off of a dominating performance in Week 6, Derrick Henry was facing a Pittsburgh team that was second in the NFL in rush defense, allowing only 66 rush yards a game. In the first half, the Titans ran it on 62% of first downs and managed only a 12% success rate. A week after Henry had 83 yards on first-down, first-half carries, he managed only 5 yards on four carries in that scenario. For the game on first downs, Henry managed only 41 yards after gashing Houston last week for 196 yards and 12 yards a carry. Ryan Tannehill was also less effective in the first half, completing only 50% of his 12 attempts for 4.2 yards a pass.
For Pittsburgh, they came out aggressive, throwing on 59% of first-half first downs for a modest 35% success rate. They also threw on 71% of first-half second downs for a 71% success rate. Overall, in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger was 18-for-26 for 6.2 yards per attempt. With a 24-7 lead at the half, they got more conservative in the second half, rushing on 50% of first downs for a 43% success rate. Despite ending the game with two punts and two interceptions, the Pittsburgh offense did just enough to hang on to a three-point victory. Pittsburgh also welcomed back Diontae Johnson this week. Johnson led the team with 15 targets and 2 touchdowns. His 9 catches matched JuJu Smith-Schuster for the team lead. Coming off a few big weeks, rookie Chase Claypool was an afterthought catching his only target for minus-2 yards.
San Francisco 33 @ New England 6
Cam Newton and the Patriots’ offense struggled all game to move the ball against San Fran. In the first half, Newton completed just 50% of his passes for less than 4 yards a throw. For the second straight week, New England ran on over 60% of first-half first downs but managed only a 38% first-down success rate. In the first half, they also only averaged 3.6 yards a carry and did not successfully convert a third down. On their five first-half possessions, the Patriots managed only a field goal while punting twice and throwing two picks. Before being benched, Newton was 9-for-15 for 98 yards and 3 INTs with a QBR of 3.5.
San Francisco had a very productive day offensively. For the game, they averaged over 5 yards a carry while running it on 68% of all first downs for a 65% total first down success rate. Both of those marks were league highs in Week 7. In the second half, with a big lead, the Niners ran on 100% of first downs for a 60% success rate. San Fran’s .75 EPA/pass trailed only Cleveland (.83) and their .22 EPA/rush trailed only Seattle (.28).
Tampa Bay 45 @ Las Vegas 20
Tom Brady was dominant in Week 7 at Vegas, averaging over 8.5 yards per attempt on his 45 throws. In both halves, Tampa ran the ball on 60% of their first downs for a total first-down success rate of 41%, despite only averaging 3.4 yards a carry. They did manage 5 yards a carry in the first half. Brady was particularly productive on second downs. In the first half, Tampa threw on 85% of second downs leading to an 85% success rate. In that span, Brady was 10-for-12 for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. For the game on second down, Brady was 14-for-19 for 168 yards and the two first-half touchdowns. Brady continues to push the ball down the field. His 9.37 ADOT for the game was the highest from Sunday. Tampa’s .37 EPA/play was also the highest from Sunday’s action. Chris Godwin (9 catches) and Scotty Miller (6 catches) led Tampa in targets each with 9 each, while Rob Gronkowski continues to produce (5 catches 62 yards and a TD).
For Vegas, they struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.2 yards a carry in the first half, despite running on 54% of first downs in that span. Led by second-year linebacker Devin White, the Buccaneers defense continues to excel. On Sunday, White had a game-high 11 tackles and 3 sacks. Tampa Bay, which leads the NFL in rush defense, only allowing 66 rushing yards per game, gets a Giants team next week that is 27th in rushing yards per game.
Seattle 34 @ Arizona 37 (OT)
In the game of the day on Sunday, Arizona tightened the race in the NFC West on a late overtime field goal. Seattle was able to take a 10-point halftime lead by passing on two-thirds of all first-half plays. They passed on 64% of first and second downs in the first half for a combined 70% success rate. In the first 30 minutes, Russell Wilson was 16-for-24 for over 10.4 yards an attempt with an ADOT of 10.6, the highest by any player in a half on Sunday besides Kyler Murray — who averaged 10.8 air yards in the first half himself. Murray was 15-for-19 in the first half with 9.8 yards per attempt, but trailed 27-17 going into the break.
In the second half, Seattle managed only 7 points. On first down, they were much less effective, running 64% of the time but only averaging 4.6 yards a carry after averaging 10.6 yards a carry in the first half. Through the air, Wilson was only 10-for-16 for 75 yards. Murray continued to push the ball down the field, going 16-for-21 in the second half for over 7 yards a pass to erase a 10=point deficit and force overtime. In OT, Seattle threw on 12 of its 13 plays. Wilson was 7-for-10, but for less than 4 yards a pass and was sacked twice. After a screen to Metcalf, that went for a touchdown but was called back for holding, Wilson threw his third costly pick of the game, setting up Arizona to win on a 48-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal with just 15 seconds remaining.