After reviewing the Week 8 game reports, here are some quick-hitter observations from key games:
Miami Dolphins 28, Los Angeles Rams 17
In Tua Tagovailoa’s first start for Miami, it was the Dolphins’ defense that took control of this game. After Tua fumbled on his first dropback, the Rams were able to take a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard run by Robert Woods. Miami would punt on its next two possessions, gaining just 17 yards on eight plays. Towards the end of the first quarter, Rams QB Jared Goff was picked off by DT Christian Wilkins, setting up Miami inside L.A.’s 35. Six plays later, the Dolphins would find the end zone with Tua going 3-for-4 for 26 yards with a TD pass. The Rams offense was abysmal the rest of the half, with Goff fumbling twice (one returned for a TD), punting twice (one returned for a TD) and throwing an interception before kicking a field goal to end the half down 28-10. Overall in the first half, Goff was just 15 of 32 for less than 4 yards per attempt. The Rams ran the ball on the majority of their first-half first downs while averaging 5.7 yards a carry. Third down was particularly rough for Goff, who was just 5-for-13 for 37 yards and 2 interceptions with a third-down success rate of 33% in the first 30 minutes.
The second half opened with six punts and a turnover on downs before L.A. found the end zone again on an 11-yard TD pass to Robert Woods. After getting the ball back with 6 minutes left, a missed field goal by Kai Forbath ended any chance the Rams had of coming back. In the second half, the Dolphins punted on all six of their possessions, running it on 78% of first downs for only a 33% success rate. They also only averaged 1.8 yards a carry after halftime. In the second half, Tua was 7-for-11 for 5.4 yards an attempt but had an average depth of throw (ADOT) of just 1.5. His 5.36 ADOT from Sunday was the fourth-lowest from Week 8. The Rams’ minus-.41 EPA/passing play and the Dolphins’ minus-.45 EPA/passing play was only better than Philadelphia (minus-.45) and Dallas (minus-.56) from Sunday.
Denver Broncos 31, Los Angeles Chargers 30
Justin Herbert, who had thrown 7 TDs and 0 INTs his last two games, opened the game with an interception on a deep ball intended for Jaylon Guyton. He would continue to struggle for much of the half with the Chargers punting twice and turning it over on downs. In the second quarter, Herbert found his groove, going 13-for-15 for over 9 yards an attempt, leading two TD drives to take a 14-3 halftime lead. In the first half, the Chargers threw on 60% of first downs, 70% of second downs, and 90% of third downs.
L.A. opened the second half with a 10-play drive that ended in a 24-yard Mike Williams TD reception to take a 21-3 advantage. After a Denver three-and-out, they added a field goal to extend their lead. The Broncos would go on to score touchdowns on four of their final five drives to close the game. After going just 9-for-15 in the first half for under 4 yards an attempt, Broncos QB Drew Lock was much better in the second half, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 7 yards an attempt. Third down was a massive improvement for Denver which had just a 14% success rate in the first half compared to 67% in the second half. Down by six and driving, the game ended in some controversy when L.A. was called for pass interference in the end zone on fourth down with just a second left, setting up Denver on the 1. Lock rolled right and found rookie K.J. Hamler in the back of the end zone to complete the comeback win.
The Chargers are the first team in NFL history to blow four leads of 16 points or more in four straight games (losing three of those games). They again played very conservatively in the second half, running on 80% of first downs for a 35% success rate before being forced into throwing on 75% of third downs for a 25% success rate.
Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Baltimore Ravens 24
In a battle for first place in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh defense did a great job dictating Lamar Jackson’s offensive playmaking, which included taking a 7-0 lead on a pick-6 by Robert Spillane on the first possession of the game. Baltimore responded with a touchdown drive to tie the game at 7. The rest of the half belonged to the Ravens defense. On Pittsburgh’s four first-half drives, they managed just 89 yards while punting three times and losing a fumble. Ben Roethlisberger was just 4-for-10 and only averaged 2 yards a pass. Without Mark Ingram, Baltimore’s rushing attack did not suffer against one of the best rush defenses in the NFL. Led by J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, they averaged over 6 yards a carry in the first half while running it on 80% of first downs. Late in the first quarter, Baltimore suffered a devastating injury, losing LT Ronnie Stanley, their second offensive lineman to go down, to an ankle injury. On their next drive, the Ravens ran on eight of their nine plays to march 80 yards and take a 14-7 lead. They would add a field goal to take a 10-point halftime lead.
In the second half, the Steelers did a great job limiting Jackson’s playmaking ability. They opened the half by forcing another interception, the first time Jackson has thrown two picks in a game since Week 5 of last year. (also against Pittsburgh). They also only allowed six second-half completions. They played close to the line of scrimmage and kept Jackson off-balance all half. On the ground, Jackson managed 65 yards but was held to 4 yards a carry and fumbled twice. Roethlisberger was much better in the second half going 17-for-22 for over 6.5 yards a pass. Down 17-14, they scored a third-quarter touchdown working primarily out of empty to retake the lead. On the drive, they passed on 80% of plays with Roethlisberger going 6-for-6 for 65 yards and a TD pass. After Baltimore regained the lead, Pittsburgh again worked out of empty, passing on all eight plays of the drive. Big Ben was 7-for-8 for 80 yards with a go-head TD pass to Chase Claypool. Baltimore’s comeback hopes ended with Jackson failing to find someone in the end zone as time expired after working the ball to the edge of the red zone.
Indianapolis Colts 41, Detroit Lions 21
The Lions continued their trend of scoring first in every game after a first-quarter blocked punt set them up in Indy territory. Two plays later, Matt Stafford connected with Marvin Jones to take a 7-0 lead. Coming off their bye, the Colts offense again struggled in the first quarter, punting on their first three possessions. In that span, they ran on 62% of first downs with only a 12% success rate while averaging only 1.2 yards a run on their 10 first quarter carries. Philip Rivers was not much better, going 8-for-11 but for only 4.2 yards a pass in the first 15 minutes. In the second quarter, Rivers led three touchdown drives to take a 20-7 halftime lead. Indy opened up the offense, passing on 60% of first downs with Rivers going 9-for-11 and averaging nearly 11 yards an attempt. He added 3 touchdown passes on those drives. They never relinquished the lead.
Rivers: Last Two Games
*Average Depth of Target
New Orleans Saints 26, Chicago Bears 23
The Saints offense was virtually non-existent in the first half. After kicking a field goal on their first possession, New Orleans followed that up with a missed field goal and two three-and-outs. Chicago responded by scoring a touchdown and kicking two field goals on three of their first four possessions to take a 13-3 lead. Nick Foles was effective, going 9-for-14 for 6.8 yards an attempt, with Chicago also having its most explosive rushing half in over a month with 73 yards on just 11 carries. For the fourth straight week, New Orleans scored a touchdown after getting the ball back with less than 2 minutes before half. In all four of those games, Drew Brees has relied almost exclusively on the pass to score.
The Saints would go on to score the first 13 points of the second half to take a 10 point lead. Foles responded in the fourth quarter, leading two scoring drives to force OT. In the fourth, he was 13-for-17 for 90 yards and a TD pass. In the second half, the Bears threw on 87% of first downs for a 60% success rate after only passing on 40% of first downs for a 30% success rate in the first half. In overtime, after both teams punted, New Orleans won on a field goal to win their fourth straight and set up a showdown with Tampa next week for first place in the division.