Five things I care about
Brock Purdy elevates 49ers offense
Week 5’s Sunday Night Football game was billed as a game between two contenders in the NFC. What transpired on the field looked like anything but the even match many were hoping to get.
The San Francisco defense did what it always does to the Dallas offense: it put it in a headlock and never let it out. We’ve seen that part of the Cowboys vs. 49ers story play out multiple times over the past few seasons.
It was the other side of the ball where we watched something outside the norm.
The narrative around Brock Purdy is that he’s a point guard. A distributor. Kyle Shanahan’s symbiote, just coloring inside the lines drawn up by the rockstar play-caller. That’s not the quarterback we watched tonight against a defense that is supposed to be one of the best units in the league.
In my view, it’s been clear ever since he first took the field for this team in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo last season: Purdy does more to elevate this offense than any of the previous quarterbacks in the Shanahan 49ers era.
Purdy creates and redirects in the pocket. He isn’t just unafraid to shoot it downfield, he’s actively looking for the chunk plays made readily available in the offense. Purdy isn’t quick to get to the check-down or content to let his numbers be YAC-boosted by short throws into space. Trust me, as a big Brandon Aiyuk backer, all of these traits have been on my radar for a while. It’s no coincidence the star wide receivers became fully unleashed the moment No. 13 took over.
If all of that hasn’t been clear about Purdy this whole time, it’s hard to deny it after Sunday night.
Purdy averaged 8.7 yards per completion, the fifth-highest among Week 5 passers, per Next Gen Stats. His 9.2 air yards per attempt show he wasn’t just dinking and dunking. He bought himself some extra time on occasion and still looked to fire it downfield. No quarterback has been more productive this season on chunk throws.
Brock Purdy threw all 4 of his TD passes from outside the tackle box, the most in a game in the NGS era.
Purdy completed 7 of 10 passes over 10 air yards for 166 yards & 3 TD. He leads the NFL in completion percentage (72.1%) on such passes this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 9, 2023
We watched a decisive, aggressive and accurate quarterback take the controls of the 49ers’ super-weapon offense and wipe out a defense that ranked No. 1 in EPA per dropback allowed coming into this week. And nothing about it should be a shock. Purdy has been this guy, this high-level quarterback, for quite some a while. It’s past time we stop questioning what our eyes are telling us, until our eyes give us some other evidence to the contrary.
We can go through some fruitless exercise of trying to divorce Purdy from his surroundings. Would Purdy be as productive if he was the Panthers quarterback? No. He would not be. Great analysis.
Does Purdy have great weapons in an elite play-caller’s offense? No question. Those George Kittle touchdowns were some A+ work picking the right spots to attack in Dallas’ man-coverage heavy aggressive defense. An excellent deployment of a superstar talent.
Yet, it’s Purdy that’s making those plays right. Purdy who is shining a light on talents like Aiyuk in ways we weren’t allowed to see under old quarterbacks, elevating his stock to the national stage. It wasn’t as if Christian McCaffrey took this game over. He had a long run of eight yards.
No, Week 5 Sunday Night Football: this was Brock Purdy’s night.
At some point in the “we have 12 more minutes of game-time to fill and backups are already playing” portion of the game, the broadcast made an analogy that essentially compared this quarterback situation to one Kyle Shanahan has faced before. In this version, Trey Lance was the Robert Griffin III and Purdy the Kirk Cousins. While it fits the “lower-drafted guy beats out high-draft pick” genre, it’s not a perfect overlap for a number of reasons.
Chief among them, Purdy is not Cousins. Purdy is operating at or above the level Cousins took over a decade to reach. You can make that argument based on film, stats, whatever you want.
Most importantly, anyone who watched Cousins early in his career knows the deal. Primetime game, critical situation or any sort of big moment, you didn’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop; it was falling on its own. Those demons still haunt Cousins — fair or unfair — to this day.
With Purdy, the other shoe has never even come close to dropping. And I, for one, am tired of waiting around pretending it will any time soon.
Calvin Ridley and Trevor Lawrence take over
I said on just about every show this week that my panic level on Calvin Ridley and the Jaguars offense was just about zero. Sunday’s win over the previous red-hot Bills was a bit of vindication.
The Jaguars got the first lead over the Bills and never surrendered it. They once again showed why I like this offense: They can do a little bit of everything and do it well.
The running game was electric, as Travis Etienne finally broke through the brick walls he was running into — to little fault of his own — with a big rushing day. Christian Kirk drew eight targets and had another solid outing. Trevor Lawrence helped move the offense in the run game.
And yet, the icing on the cake was the Lawrence-to-Ridley connection.
Ridley absorbed 42.4% of the team air yards and was putting on a route-running clinic while gaining separation on comeback and deep curl routes downfield against man coverage. He helped ice the game with a beautiful go route that earned a dime from Trevor Lawrence. Ridley caught all three of his third-down target for a hefty 58 yards.
Those late-game shot plays perfectly illustrated exactly why Ridley is so valuable to this offense. Last season, the Jaguars didn’t have a vertical X-receiver who could beat man coverage. No one on the roster could line up in isolated coverage and win on timing routes. Lawrence is excellent at throwing those outside-the-numbers big-boy routes and now he has a star-level player on the other end.
Fantasy players missed the forest for the trees with some volatile production in Weeks 2-4. That just happens sometimes with this position. Ridley’s role remains as critical as ever, even when he doesn’t get the ball and just dictates coverages as we saw in Week 4. But when he is the focal point in high-leverage situations, he takes this operation to new heights.
That’s it. That’s what I care about. Or rather, who.
Justifiable panic began to sink in around the Cincinnati Bengals the last two weeks. The offense was a far cry from their heroic days, with Joe Burrow struggling with his calf injury. The defense began to crumble under the weight of staying on the field far too long. If they lost in Week 5, fear would have begun to permeate through every level of anyone remotely invested in this team.
Luckily, Ja’Marr Chase looked like a man possessed with determination to stop that from happening.
DJ Moore’s 45 fantasy points at the wide receiver position on Thursday Night Football seemed untouchable but shoot, if Chase didn’t get close (44.7) on Sunday. It felt like that kind of game watching it play out.
Chase drew a target on 41.3% of Burrow’s throws. Chase had a handful of downfield catches but a lot of this was, “Just get the ball in Chase’s hands.” He only averaged 9.1 air yards per target, which is actually a bit further downfield than his season average. This isn’t the shot-play magic of the early Burrow-to-Chase days but it’s just as impressive and more importantly, sustainable.
The most impressive part of Chase’s game, however, was when he did it. Seven of Chase’s targets came on first down, resulting in six catches for 124 yards and one of his three touchdowns. One thing the Bengals can’t do right now is get bogged down with long drives. Having their best player rip big plays on first down is crucial.
The Bengals’ Week 5 win was simple: elite player does elite things.
I don’t think we are all the way out of the woods with the Bengals and Burrow’s progress just yet. But I said this week that Chase was insulated from some of the disaster because of just how special he is and how he can be a one-man offense. Sunday proved why.
Transformative injuries in Chiefs at Vikings
The Chiefs and Vikings ended with just 47 points and fantasy managers will certainly leave this game feeling a bit underwhelmed. That’s going to happen when two of the most transformative non-quarterbacks in the league miss time with injuries.
Travis Kelce went down with a non-contact injury that sent him to the locker room. He ultimately returned and caught a touchdown but his absence is felt when he misses time. Patrick Mahomes has such innate trust in Kelce and so little baked-in chemistry with the other receivers, the Chiefs offense goes haywire when Kelce isn’t on the field.
Honestly, on that note, we’re to a point where I think the Chiefs’ rotating of wide receivers is detrimental to the team. No one is going to get better or build timing with Mahomes if they’re constantly on and off the field. Let’s get a trio, or even four guys to throw the ball to six to eight times per game and just settle on it.
It would seem that Kelce is going to be fine as he reportedly has a low-ankle sprain and even got onto the field as the deep safety on the Hail Mary defense. Presumably, he wouldn’t be out there if he was at any risk. Even if he’s not close to 100%, his mere presence on the field keeps Mahomes in a safe zone.
The more concerning malady may be on the other side of this game. Justin Jefferson left the game with a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said there is “no timetable” for when he may return.
Here’s all we know about Justin Jefferson’s hamstring injury. There were signals the Vikings are bracing for some time without him, but no one was saying that just yet. https://t.co/8od6YkOFYd
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) October 9, 2023
The Vikings have some good players on offense. Jordan Addison has looked like a good player to this point and T.J. Hockenson is a safety blanket for Kirk Cousins. That’s great but Jefferson is a truly transformative player. This entire unit won’t go at the same level without him.
If Jefferson misses time, fantasy managers may be tempted to start slicing up the pie and giving boosts to Addison or others. Not so fast.
A Vikings offense without Jefferson isn’t the same unit. Right now they’re a volatile warhorse offense with Cousins pushing the ball all over the field as defenses do everything possible to scheme Jefferson out. It doesn’t work 95% of the time but it does open things up for other players.
You remove that player from the offense and no one gets a boost. Everything just gets harder.
Desmond Ridder’s late-game play
There were major frustrations with Desmond Ridder after last week’s Falcons’ loss in London. Arthur Smith had to answer questions about his starting job during Monday’s press conference. I know I was personally thinking about Taylor Heinicke earlier than I wanted to this season.
Week 5 served as a reminder as to why progress isn’t a straight line with some of these young quarterbacks. While Week 4 was about as discouraging as it possibly could have been but Ridder was legitimately good on Sunday, most importantly in critical moments.
Atlanta kept it close and competitive with the upstart Houston Texans throughout the game. This win required a game-winning drive and strong fourth-quarter play. Ridder delivered both.
Ridder dropped back 13 times in the fourth quarter and completed 10 of his 12 passes for 118 yards (9.8 YPA) and a touchdown. He scrambled once and didn’t take a sack. He pushed them into field-goal range where Arthur Smith was completely content to let all-star kicker Younghoe Koo drill home the winning field goal.
Even from a distribution standpoint, this is what we want to see out of the Falcons. Kyle Pitts isn’t 100% healthy (and it’s so obvious to see) but he still drew a team-high 11 targets and caught seven for 87 yards. No. 1 wideout Drake London was second on the team with nine targets and hauled in a huge 32-yarder to help push them late in the game. Jonnu Smith had seven looks; no one else registered more than two.
Sometimes it helps these young quarterbacks when you can narrow things down and just focus on getting the ball to the top threats. It also helps when those young passing-game targets play closer to their peaks. That’s what the Falcons offense looked to in Week 5. That gives you something to build on with Ridder. We’ll see where we go from here.
Five things I don’t care about
Waiting for the Dallas Cowboys “normal game”
By any advanced metric, the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be an elite defense and an efficient offense. None of that looked true on Sunday night and any rational person must be left wondering how much heavy-lifting Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and the positive game scripts they all afforded Dallas were doing in those equations.
I said plenty of times this past week that we haven’t seen the Cowboys’ offense in a normal game. The temptation will be to say that’s still true. Nothing about the way they got their doors blown off from the first whistle Sunday night was normal. There has to be something between skating to a smooth blowout win over the Patriots and getting thrashed by the 49ers.
That said, I can see you in that kind of abnormal game we witnessed tonight and know what you are. I don’t have to wait to see how you operate against the Chargers on Monday night next week, in Philadelphia in Week 9 or god forbid how you’ll play against the Giants and Panthers in Weeks 10 and 11. Whatever that normal is, it’s about a 10% reduction on the ceiling case for whatever my preseason expectations were.
The Cowboys didn’t lose to the 49ers, they were taken to the woodshed. Their running game — which frankly has never really taken a game over — was stifled and their quarterback looked utterly incapable of digging his way out of a hole in unideal conditions. That second part is becoming all too familiar of a trend. They faced one of the best teams in the NFL and didn’t make them break a sweat. That doesn’t mean we need to do a referendum on every big-name player on the team but you’d be foolish not to question your prior ceiling cases.
I’m sure the Cowboys have a “normal” game coming down the pipe soon. I am just no longer convinced it’s going to feature the high-level operation I thought it might.
De’Von Achane regression
I’m sure at some point the math will even out with De’Von Achane. You won’t catch me out there playing regression police in this situation, though.
The rookie wasn’t involved in the offense the first two weeks of the season. He was actually a healthy scratch in Week 1. And yet, heading into Sunday Night Football, he sat atop the league in rushing yards. That, despite carrying the ball just 38 times.
So, sure, at some point, his 12.1 yards per carry — that feels insane just to write — will come down. This is obvious analysis and ultimately adds nothing to the conversation. This is a uniquely built offense that’s perfectly suited to prop up a player like Achane. It’s not like every other offense in the league.
Achane is not like every other running back in the league, either. His game speed is truly special:
You could have told me they loaded Achane into a cannon, lit the fuse and shot him out of that thing the way he exploded out of the backfield on that touchdown. There aren’t many players who can hit the jets and rip through a crease like that. Credit Mike McDaniel for drawing up these runs but that’s a special play from a unique player.
I’m sure I’m not the first to make this comparison but Achane’s speed, ability to read out blocks and contact balance reminds me of Chris Johnson. The legendary back ran for 2,000 yards in his second season but started out his rookie campaign splitting touches as a sub-200-pound back. The more the Titans saw of him back in 2008, the more it became irresistible to load him up with work on their way to a 13-3 season. It looks like we’re heading that way with De’Von Achane.
Any Jonathan Taylor concerns
Jonathan Taylor inked a big and rather surprising extension over the weekend. Now, it’s not surprising because of the caliber of player Taylor can be when he’s healthy but rather, it’s surprising given the tone around the negotiations this offseason. It makes all the sense in the world to commit to and feature this kind of guy.
Taylor was anything but featured in Week 5, his first outing of the season. Instead, his “backup” and early-season replacement dominated the workload.
Elite showing in Jonathan Taylor’s first game back:
– 80% snap rate
– 68% route participation
– 25 touches for 195 scrimmage yards and 2 TD
That’s RB1 stuff.
Oh, no. Those aren’t Taylor’s numbers, sorry. That’s all Zack Moss, baby.
— Jacob Gibbs (@jagibbs_23) October 8, 2023
Zack Moss out-snapped Taylor 49 to 10. But this isn’t shocking at all. It was even reported that this was going to be the case early Sunday morning. It makes sense.
For starters, Moss has played well in relief of Taylor. The run game hasn’t been incredibly efficient but he has produced and held up to some extreme workloads. He showed off his talents once again while facing the NFL’s top run defense in the Titans.
Remember that Taylor has missed a ton of time. He wasn’t healthy enough to finish last season and didn’t practice at all this offseason while rehabbing his ankle injury. This was the most action Taylor had seen in many months. It would have been irresponsible and likely ineffective to hand Taylor anything close to the workload they assigned to Moss.
Don’t expect that to be the case forever.
There may be a bit more of a split between Taylor and his running mate than some of the most optimistic projections would have hoped for prior to Week 1. Moss has earned having some kind of role but they didn’t commit future resources to Taylor for no reason. He’ll be a huge factor soon enough.
The only concern for the entire Colts run game is the status of rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who left the game with a shoulder injury. The combination of Richardson and Taylor could be uber-efficient. Hopefully, we see it at the height of its potential soon enough.
Injuries in Detroit
The Lions walked into Week 5 without one of their best players in Amon-Ra St. Brown and first-round rookie running back, Jahmyr Gibbs. Luckily for them, they were welcoming a wildly underwhelming Carolina Panthers team. Detroit breezed to a 42-24 win that, somehow, didn’t even feel that close.
Their easy win over the Panthers revealed how well-rounded this team is on offense.
Obviously coming out of their Thursday night win and even more so with Gibbs out of the mix, this team was going to feature David Montgomery. And that they did. Montgomery handled 19 carries and cleared 100 yards. He got the party started with a 42-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. Backup Craig Reynolds also handled seven carries and scored but mostly got in the mix when this game was well in hand. Montgomery continues stacking evidence for his case to be considered one of the key cogs in this dangerous offense behind a road-grading offensive line.
#Lions Week 5 RB opportunities (carries + targets):
David Montgomery – 25
Craig Reynolds – 7 (all in 4th quarter)
Zonovan Knight – 1
— Jared Smola (@SmolaDS) October 9, 2023
And despite missing their clear-cut alpha, the Lions’ passing game was more than fine. Jared Goff continued to run a hyper-efficient operation. Despite averaging just 5.4 air yards per attempt (Next Gen Stats), he had an 8.4 YPA. Play-caller Ben Johnson continues to show why he’s such an excellent schemer.
The Lions have other threats beyond St. Brown, though. Sam LaPorta scored twice, one coming on a 31-yard shot play. The first-year tight end may well end up in the Pro Bowl this season. He’s been one of the best players at the tight end spot this season and one of the top rookies overall.
Josh Reynolds led the team with 76 yards and found the end zone. He may be one of the most underrated role players in the game. His rostered percentage somehow went down throughout the week and it made no sense. He’s one of the best bye-week fill-ins right now.
My guess is that the plan was never to feature Jameson Williams in his first game of the season — he dropped his first target and caught the other two for just two yards — but if he can ever show something, that’s just another dimension for this offense.
Some will just dismiss a win like this against a bad Panthers team. I don’t. Great teams make light work of bad teams and just simply blow them away at home. To do it without some of your offensive firepower without breaking a sweat, that shows you something.
The Patriots legacy
The New England Patriots are a bad football team. They are not a “far cry from their glory days,” league-average-level operation. The version we are watching right now is actively bad.
New England is 1-4 after the first five weeks. Its lone win came against the Jets in Week 3, who had not hit their stride with a backup quarterback and couldn’t outscore the Patriots’ measly 15 points. The wheels have really fallen off since.
It was one thing to suffer an embarrassing 38-3 blowout in Dallas at the hands of a furious Cowboys team. What happened on Sunday was something beyond humiliating. Getting shut out at home 34-0 by a Saints team that’s far from perfect and has an injured starting quarterback is the stuff of nightmares.
The Patriots have now pulled their starting quarterback in back-to-back games. Bill Belichick has said Mac Jones was only removed in both contests because of the score, not that he is in immediate danger of losing his job to Bailey Zappe, whom the team cut coming out of the preseason. That may well be true but the far more consequential question is whether there is any possible reason for the Jones era to continue after 2023. Frankly, we’re getting to a point where it’s worth wondering if is there a single reason for any of this to continue beyond this season.
That’s the type of team the Patriots are right now. An operation where the former first-round quarterback’s future is looking bleak. An offense where the one promising young player who was drafted with any level of optimism in fantasy, Rhamondre Stevenson, is utterly doomed. An organization that has the entire football media space in debate over whether it’s time to part ways with one of the best coaches to ever walk an NFL sideline.
Forget the legacy of the franchise. Call it what it is.