5 Things I care about
Ravens win ugly
If you told me Lamar Jackson was going to throw four interceptions on Sunday Night Football, I’d have guessed there was no shot the Ravens would pull out a win.
I would have been wrong.
So much of the Ravens’ success this season has been Lamar Jackson-driven. He’s been the same dynamic rusher as always but had given the team a boost as the most aggressive vertical passer in the NFL. In Week 12, he was not that player.
Jackson did pile up 68 yards on 17 carries, both of which led the team, but he committed costly mistakes as a passer and averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt. It was by far his worst day through the air all season. There was no running attack to save this team while Jackson let them down. The team scored just 16 points overall.
Instead, it was the defense that stepped up to flummox a Browns offense that for whatever reason tried to win through the air. The Ravens clamped down in crucial moments and never gave up much to Cleveland after a questionable David Njoku touchdown catch. The Ravens had allowed too many explosive passing plays all year but it never felt like they were in danger of breaking on Sunday night.
Baker Mayfield averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt. Don’t forget that the last time we saw the Ravens they were bleeding vertical plays to Andy Dalton, Darnell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin. That was the state of this team.
The Ravens are the current No. 1 seed in the AFC. If they’re going to continue to hunt at that level, Jackson will need to play his best ball and be the centerpiece of the team. We know he can do that. But it was equally important to see some evidence that the Ravens, long known for their ability to throw punches down in the muck, can still win ugly.
The 49ers identity
Despite some early hiccups, the 49ers helped push this game into an extremely fantasy-friendly script. It felt like as soon as a weird Juan Jennings-centered trick play failed, Kyle Shanahan scrapped the gimmicks and just got back to what has made the San Francisco offense the third-best in weighted DVOA coming into Week 12.
Jimmy Garoppolo shook off some early weird moments to finish as the seventh-best quarterback in completion percentage over expectation this week. Brandon Aiyuk continued to make massive plays through the air, averaging 30.3 yards per catch.
Aiyuk wasn’t just the leading receiver either — he was the only pass-catcher to clear 40 yards.
Most importantly, the 49ers just continued to run the hell out of the ball. Despite coming off an injury, Elijah Mitchell was saddled up with 27 carries and ran for 133 yards and a score. Deebo Samuel continued his cheat-code role. Despite going long stretches of this game without a catch, he handled six carries, ran for 66 yards and scored twice.
This is exactly what the “What you see is what you get,” safe version of the 49ers offense with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm was supposed to look like.
It’s working with all their guys fully integrated and Shanahan settling into his bag of tricks. All of this might be put to the test if Samuel has to miss time but they can withstand his loss. The running game is firing just enough and there’s still room to expand both Aiyuk and George Kittle’s roles. As long as it’s just a game or two he misses (if indeed he does miss time), this team will be fine.
Jaylen Waddle’s 57-yard catch
The Dolphins offense has been RPO-heavy all season. Their offense is in their own zip code when it comes to play-action percentage. When that approach meets a pair of too-often conservative quarterbacks and a leaky offensive line, the Miami passing offense has been an ultra quick-game-obsessed outfit.
That’s clearly been pushing down Jaylen Waddle’s yards per reception figure all season.
Yet, anyone familiar with his scouting profile knew it was only a matter of time until this player dripping with speed turned all of this volume into some big plays. It’s begun to happen and Waddle turned up the volume on this change with a 57-yard catch and run against the Panthers. Sunday marked the third time in the last four games he’s averaged double-digit yards per catch.
— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2021
Waddle is on pace for over 100 catches this year and has long graduated to “every week fantasy starter” status.
The best could be yet to come in 2022 and beyond.
Tee Higgins finally erupts
On the Week 12 Yahoo/4for4 DFS collaboration podcast, my co-host TJ Hernandez implored me to trust the process with Tee Higgins. Good call.
All of the target volume, team air-yards volume and red-zone volume metrics between Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase didn’t come with a huge gap. Yet, the public sentiment around the two players couldn’t have possibly been more different.
TJ noted that this frustrated sentiment combined with Higgins’ deflated DFS salary just made him the perfect play. He went on to catch six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown on a team-high eight looks. As irritating as it can be to just continue to follow peripheral indicators despite the results not being there, more often than not things do course correct for proven talents.
Cordarrelle Patterson is crucial to the Falcons
The correlation equals causation game can be dangerous in the NFL, especially in small samples. However, it’s impossible to ignore that the Falcons looked like a completely lifeless, hope-free operation against the Patriots last week but were filled with spunk against Jacksonville in Week 12.
The difference, of course, is that Cordarrelle Patterson missed last Thursday’s action and was back in action this Sunday.
Patterson touched the ball 18 times for 135 yards and a pair of scores. Whereas he was trending more toward wide receiver usage prior to his injury absence, almost all of Patterson’s production (two catches for 27 yards) came on the ground.
There’s no real fantasy take here. You know that Patterson is an every-week starter at this point. I just don’t think we can say enough good things about how crazy of a season Patterson is enjoying. He is one of the stories of 2021.
5 Things I don’t care about
Hope for the Browns passing offense
The Ravens came into the week ranked 31st in explosive passing play rate allowed. Outside of a few cute plays to Jarvis Landry, you wouldn’t know it watching the Browns play against them Sunday night.
Baker Mayfield just doesn’t have enough going on in the passing game to mount any kind of legitimate threat.
We know the personnel is a problem. The team has no speed at wide receiver and none of their current players is a big-time ball-winner downfield. No one wins outside. Mayfield himself is a fundamentally flawed player who also happens to be physically compromised. One of his biggest issues is bailing on clean pockets and operating under pressure. It’s an issue that’s only getting worse with Jack Conklin in and out of the lineup with injuries.
For whatever reason, the Browns never seemed interested in establishing the run or trying to get their backs out in space as receivers. Massive Nick Chubb runs are the Browns’ best hope at creating field-flipping plays on offense and they just got Kareem Hunt back from IR. In addition to that 31st ranking in explosive passing-play rate allowed, Baltimore also sported a 30th ranking in defending explosive runs. And despite all that, Cleveland doled out 15 carries to Chubb and Hunt compared to 37 Mayfield pass attempts in a game that was close throughout the night.
I’ve been out on this Browns’ passing attack for months now. It’s strange that the coaching staff didn’t feel that way against the Ravens.
The Rams loss
I hate to “yada-yada” over the Rams’ three-game losing streak. Especially when those games came against actually great teams after they had been on a tear of destroying bad teams. And yet, I’m going to dip one toe into the waters of doing just that.
The Rams have issues. They’re not a perfect team.
The defense can get pushed around a bit in the run game and the secondary has too many holes beyond wherever Jalen Ramsey is lining up. One has to wonder if their insistence on using Ramsey as the “STAR” defender in the slot and near the line of scrimmage is making them too vulnerable to perimeter wideouts.
You really have to ask if they are still getting too cute on offense with all the spread/dropback passing game calls and should consider returning to some of the roots of McVay’s original motion-heavy deceptive offense.
Nevertheless, the LA passing offense did continue to hit big plays. Cooper Kupp got his weekly 90-plus yards. Van Jefferson hauled in a 79-yard touchdown. Odell Beckham played a full complement of snaps, got 10 targets and hauled in a 54-yard score. The aerial attack remains quite dangerous even after some troubling reports surfaced around Matthew Stafford’s health Sunday morning.
The Rams run game can get better if they commit to it. The defense has the horses to play well with a lead. And it’s no shock they lost to the Packers — Green Bay is one of the best teams in the NFL, even if they’re not at full strength. Someone had to take an L today. That’s how football works.
The fact it was the Rams doesn’t change that much to me in terms of their Super Bowl hopes. If their offense had come out and floundered, that might have moved the needle.
At the very least, we got full confirmation against an improving defense that we should not panic about the Rams’ passing game players. Despite their troubles of late, I’m not freaking out about the Rams’ long-term outlook as a real-life team either.
The Colts loss
There’s no shame in losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Especially not after you held a lead for most of the afternoon and had a chance to win the thing at the end.
The Colts are a pretty good team. They didn’t secure the win but held a 10-point halftime lead over the Super Bowl champs. They did this while getting almost nothing from Jonathan Taylor in the first two quarters. It was Carson Wentz’s three first-half touchdowns that sprung them forward to that lead. Taylor finished that day with 97 total yards and a score on 20 touches after heating up later in the game.
Eventually, the dam broke and the Bucs’ offense got rolling as Tom Brady continued to take what the defense gave him. Brady and Leonard Fournette (four total touchdowns) got the team where it needed to go.
The only real question for Colts — and it’s a rather big one — is how long can they stave off Wentz’s errors. When the game got close, some Wentz mistakes ended up costing them. That’s always going to be the boogeyman for this team but beyond that, this is still a pretty solid football operation.
Najee Harris’ floor
“But the volume, but the volume, but the volume.”
That was the retort to just about any negative note in Najee Harris’ outlook. Considering he was the RB5 coming into this week, that’s been the right answer for most of the season. But the last couple of weeks should have us raising at least one eyebrow.
Harris’ 37 total yard disaster of Week 12 stands out as the outlier game this season. Still, it feels bad when it’s coming on the back of a 12-39 outing on the ground against the worst run defense in the NFL last week. His receiving output has been on the steady decline of late, as well. Harris has cleared four catches in just one game over his last five. The beefy target totals we saw early in the season just aren’t coming back.
The problem for a floor-play, volume-based guy like Harris is that that floor can always crumble when the team goes to hell. After a blowout loss to the Bengals that puts their playoff odds in a problematic area, the Steelers might be heading in that direction.
Bucs WRs disappoint
Leonard Fournette, Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski accounted for 17 of Brady’s 25 completions. The day was mostly won on the back of a 100-yard, four-touchdown effort by Leonard Fournette. It wasn’t a wide receiver-heavy day.
We’ve talked all season about the struggles of big-name quarterbacks trying to get over the hump of these two-high defenses.
Do you know who has lived through multiple eras of NFL defenses, both the original cover-two wave and the subsequent pivot to the cover-three/old Seahawks styles? Tom Brady.
So when he went against the most strict, old-school cover-two team in the NFL, Brady went with a dink-and-dunk approach against the Colts that involved getting the ball out quick to tight ends and running backs. That style of passing — and leaning on a ground game that’s been underrated all season (top-five in EPA per rush) — is exactly how you beat this type of defense.
The Bucs are multi-dimensional and can beat you in a variety of different ways. What happened to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin today was simply a matter of game plan.