Each week The 33rd Team reviews Sunday’s games by looking behind the box score to find the key statistics that affected the outcome of each game. Here, we will look at why these teams won:
Detroit Lions 29 – Minnesota Vikings 27
Lions Key Stat: 5 Pressures Allowed
The Lions got their first win since December 6th, 2020, exactly the way they wanted to – on the strength of their offensive line. The rush game had 1.1 yards before contact per attempt, with nearly a third of their rushing yards on the day before contact. Their passing game had allowed the 7th-most pressures in the league but allowed only 6 on the day against Minnesota and the league’s fifth-most expensive LB room. When Jared Goff was given time in the pocket he was effective, going 24/36 (including three drops) for 8.1 yards per attempt and a great 81.8% adjusted completion rate. The game may have come down to the final play, but the line of Penei Sewell, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Evan Brown, Jonah Jackson, and Taylor Decker held up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 – Atlanta Falcons 17
Buccaneers Key Stat: 7.2 Yards per Pass
Tom Brady threw a pick for the fifth consecutive game, only the third such streak of his career, but a passing game like Tampa’s was always going to overcome that kind of speed bump. Chris Godwin had a franchise-record 15 catches while Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette only barely missed the century and half-century marks for receiving yards. Give Rob Gronkowski his two touchdowns and it’s clear – the offense was rolling. The 8/13 mark on third down is a symptom of a team that’s getting close to top gear, a scary proposition for the NFC. Don’t forget, the last starting QB to win back-to-back Super Bowls was a 27-year-old Brady in his fifth professional season. The rest of the league surely hasn’t.
Miami Dolphins 20 – New York Giants 9
Dolphins Key Stat: 19/19 Passing on Throws Under 5 Yards
With their seven-game losing streak solidly in the rearview mirror, the Dolphins can instead be proud of the five-wins-and-counting run they’ve followed it with. Their defense has stepped it up, allowing only 55 points over that span, but the rise of Tua Tagovailoa has been another key factor. Some have pointed out that he’s succeeding nearly exclusively on underneath and RPO passes, but with a defense playing at this level and a set of YAC-based receivers, he doesn’t need to do more. Against New York, just under half of his attempts were under five yards down the field, but he completed all of them and led his receiving group to 61 yards after the catch. The Giants haven’t been the stoutest team against the run this season, but they held the Dolphins to 2.7 yards per carry and forced Tagovailoa to deliver. Fortunately for the Dolphins, he did.
Philadelphia Eagles 33 – New York Jets 18
Eagles Key Stat: 0/4 Allowed on Second Half Passes of 20+
For the sanity of those who report on such things, there’s not a quarterback controversy in Philadelphia (yet), but new starter Gardner Minshew played well. He was 14/15 in the first half – but was nearly matched by his 12/14 counterpart in Zach Wilson. However, the Eagles clamped down in the second half as an increasing edge forced the Jets to attempt deeper and deeper passes. Primary corners Zech McPhearson, Darius Slay, and Avonte Maddox each played 23+ snaps in the second half and were targeted a combined 9 times but allowed only five catches. Safeties Marcus Epps, Anthony Harris, and Rodney McLeod shut down the deeper part of the field and Wilson was forced to hold onto the ball long enough for the defensive line to force him off his spot. What started as a shootout became a blowout and the Eagles moved into a playoff spot.
Los Angeles Chargers 41 – Cincinnati Bengals 22
Chargers Key Stat: -0.566 EPA/Rush Allowed
The Bengals are known as a team loaded with offensive weapons. Joe Burrow, J’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd all call this offense theirs. However, the Chargers allowed only 22 points to this group due to an immovable run defense that may not look outstanding from their counting stats (25 attempts for 96 yards and two touchdowns), but was far stronger when you dive in. The Bengals attempted 9 runs on second down and lost an average of over 1.25 expected points. Joe Mixon had five of those attempts and got only three yards with a lost fumble. This stonewalling forced the Bengals to be one-dimensional on third down, throwing the ball on each of their 12 attempts. Justin Herbert was again excellent, recording 7.3 yards per dropback, but he was great last year and the Chargers finished 7-9. If the defense can start stringing these performances together, particularly to the level of their fifth-rated pass defense, this team could go deep in January.