5 things I care about
Colts young stars have the juice
The thesis behind Indianapolis getting Carson Wentz and completing a full-on rehab of his career was that they’d drop him into a perfectly constructed ecosystem. We knew that Frank Reich being the head coach and play-caller was an asset. When the offensive line is at full strength it’s a huge advantage, especially for a quarterback like Wentz.
Beyond all that, you looked over their depth chart and it was clear they were absolutely counting on two young skill-position players to make the leap in order to make their battle station fully operational.
They won the bet — because Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman have fully arrived.
On a rainy, sloppy night of football, both second-year Colts players cleared 100 yards from scrimmage.
Taylor was the engine of the offense in this road win. The 49ers ranked 28th in explosive run play allowed coming into this game — and it showed. Taylor ripped off runs of 10-plus yards all night, with a long one of 33 yards. He might be the freakiest size/speed combination player at running back this side of Derrick Henry.
Michael Pittman was the guy for Wentz all night through the air. He hit him on a 57-yard deep shot early. From there, Wentz threw it up to Pittman over and over but mostly just came away with long pass interference calls. The Colts will take it; even if it doesn’t help your fantasy team, it moves the offense. The dam would eventually break late in the game as Pittman leaped into the air to win a contested 28-yard touchdown that sealed the win.
Pittman is an every-week fantasy starter at this point. You’re not going to find many receivers who were drafted well outside the early rounds yet present his combination of big-play ability and bankable volume. What a great draft pick. We know Taylor is a guy you play every week but as the Colts get healthier on the line and begin to level out overall, it might be time to boost him closer to the top-five running backs of fantasy.
The Colts are getting great returns out of the Wentz experiment. There is no way that’s happening right now if Pittman and Taylor didn’t have the seasons they’re currently enjoying.
Bengals win with the pass
Joe Burrow had 24 passes in the first half to eight Joe Mixon runs. He finished the day with 38 throws to 23 combined rush attempts from Mixon and Samaje Perine. It was only his second game with more than 35 attempts.
This was an important development for the Bengals because this was the type of offense we expected them to run heading into the year. Burrow had been riding the bus as Mixon and the running game paced the attack to start the season.
He drove the bus on Sunday.
Even with the volume kicked up and the matchup quite difficult against a physical press-man defense, the passing efficiency remained. Burrow averaged nearly 11 yards per attempt and threw three touchdown passes. It was his third game with three passing scores.
With Ja’Marr Chase fully en fuego during a massive 200-yard game while being in the coverage of top corner Marlon Humphrey, this passing game is taking flight. Burrow playing his best game of the season on the road and against a division rival like Baltimore is such a huge win.
The start to 2021 has already been great for the Cincinnati passing attack. The second half might be even better.
Kyle Pitts continues to shine
Kyle Pitts has now stacked two great games back-to-back with the Falcons’ bye sandwiched in between. After pushing past the century mark against the Jets in London, he absolutely filleted the Dolphins in Week 7.
The rookie tight end rang up 163 yards on eight targets. He didn’t have a catch shorter than 10 yards and made multiple deep catches lined up outside with legitimate cornerbacks in coverage.
Everything that we wanted out of the dynamic top-five pick, we got in Week 7. Even if there were some slower moments out of Pitts and the entire Falcons offense to start the year, it’s looking like those days are well in the past. Pitts should be, at the very worst, the TE4 overall in your rest-of-season fantasy rankings.
Raiders are 2-0 sans Gruden
Raiders starting running back Josh Jacobs offered an interesting quote after the first game of the post-Jon Gruden era. He noted how “calm” the sideline was during the Raiders’ Week 6 win:
"Man, the sideline was just so, it was like, it wasn't no anxiety. It was weird. It was like everybody was calm, you didn't have somebody cussing at you, or going crazy at the refs. None of that. Something bad happened and it like, 'OK, next play.'" - #Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) October 20, 2021
That was an enlightening statement. I find it even more interesting in the wake of the Raiders dialing up a second win in as many weeks without the disgraced former head coach. My initial lean was to not give the Raiders the typical interim head coach bump usually earned by a team when they get that breath of fresh air. Perhaps that was wrong and Gruden’s ouster, while not as anticipated as a typical mid-year coach firing, is also juicing up the Raiders.
Another change that’s clearly taken place during the post-Gruden days for the Raiders is the emergence of Kenyan Drake. It sounds like Jacobs avoided a major injury but he left and was ruled out of this Week 7 game quite quickly with a chest injury. That allowed Drake to stack another strong effort following a big day against Denver in Week 6. He touched the ball 17 times for 79 yards and scored a touchdown.
We can’t know if Drake’s emergence has anything to do with Gruden being gone. However, we should be willing to follow the correlation. The Raiders have a bye in Week 8 but get the Giants and Chiefs when they get back. Even if Jacobs is out there, they need to keep Drake involved.
Cooper Kupp sustains
The Rams receiver is off to a historic start to his 2021 season. With another 150-plus yards and two more scores in Week 7, he just continues to dominate.
I’ve seen some rumblings from fantasy managers — I can guess who they drafted out of this offense — that Matthew Stafford’s hyper-focus on Cooper Kupp is actually bad for this offense as he’s just locked in on his top receiver every play.
For starters, I can’t imagine having a worse take.
A dominating player continuing to crush it each and every week for an offense that’s been efficient is nothing but good.
Secondly, it was quietly apparent today (but it’s been clear every week) that Kupp isn’t always the first read. Stafford just comes off the first read when that guy doesn’t get open and can almost instantly just throw it to Kupp because he’s almost always open. Stafford also has complete trust that he knows exactly where Kupp will be on every play. Kupp has been one of the best zone-beating receivers since he stepped on the NFL field. He has elite hands in the open field, contested situations, and in the red zone.
His leap with a superior quarterback in place isn’t at all shocking.
I’m sorry that you drafted Robert Woods ahead of Kupp but please, don’t let fantasy football disappointment break your real football brain like this. Kupp is playing at an extremely high level — just like he always has. He and Stafford are just on another level and it’s a fantastic development.
5 things I don’t care about
Trying to guess at the Brandon Aiyuk situation
I didn’t expect the Sunday Night Football broadcast to spend a full five minutes on Brandon Aiyuk’s slow start to the season. Since they did do that and I drafted Aiyuk in so many places ... I figured I should just get this out on digital paper.
Why isn’t Brandon Aiyuk more involved? I don’t know. I see him getting open. He’s just not getting targets when he’s out there.
Why isn’t he getting targets? It sounds like they’re not happy with him for some reason and almost every report seems to emphasize practice performance. I don’t know. I’m not at practice and the team decision-makers don’t talk to me.
Why were we so excited about Aiyuk coming into this season? That one I know. He was legitimately good last year. Not just by the eye test or my metrics. Aiyuk was extremely productive and made electric plays as a rookie. Almost every receiver that shows that much promise as a rookie makes a leap in their second season.
Could we have seen this coming? There were volume-based concerns about everyone in the 49ers passing game this year but this ... this is way more extreme than anyone could have seen coming.
Do I think this 49ers’ offense is good enough without getting Aiyuk involved? Well ... are you watching the games? They desperately need some more juice beyond Deebo Samuel. Kyle Shanahan and co. can say Aiyuk isn’t “grinding hard enough” all they want but this team is 2-4 and likely to miss the playoffs. I don’t know how they expect him to get going if he never gets a target.
It might be time to try something else.
Sometimes in life, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” And I am without a doubt truly stumped on this one. I feel bad for everyone that drafted him because of my analysis. I still believe that Aiyuk can be a good receiver in the NFL, especially since he was one less than a year ago. I can’t pretend to know any more than that. This whole thing is one of the more tilting developments I can remember in my career.
Hope for the Chiefs defense
Sitting at 3-4 and in third place in their own division, there will continue to be massive panic about the Kansas City Chiefs. If you’re not ready to do so, it’s at the very least way past time to accept the reality of what this team is: A completely one-sided operation.
The Chiefs are 3-4. They are:
32nd in turnovers
32nd in points allowed
32nd in yards allowed
32nd in yards per play allowed
31st in pass yards allowed
31st in receiving yards allowed
31st in rush yards allowed
32nd in 1st downs allowed pic.twitter.com/o6LKEtjw2Y
— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 24, 2021
Notice the key repeated word in the tweet above? Allowed. The Chiefs defense is bad and there is not a realistic, projectable path to it getting better.
Kansas City’s issues aren’t with the scheme. Steve Spagnuolo has been there for years and they aren’t doing anything different. The players just aren’t good enough. The linebacker unit might be the weakest in the entire NFL, the secondary has major holes and the front-line group beyond Chris Jones is high-key hit or miss.
The offensive turnovers aren’t a stable metric, though you could argue Patrick Mahomes has been pressing more often than usual this year. At some point, we expect that course to correct.
But make no mistake, they’re going to be playing with a poor defense all year.
A.J. Brown whining season
A.J. Brown drafters, we know it was a frustrating start to the season. From drops to hamstrings to Chipotle; it was one series of weird twists and turns to another. But those days are done.
Over the last two games, Brown has caught 15 balls for 224 yards and a touchdown. He’s been the elite receiver you drafted him to be. He ate up chunks of yardage on in-breaking routes out of the slot against the Bills in Week 6. He made huge catches in the vertical game and around the sideline this week in Kansas City. Winning contested catches and obliterating defenders in the YAC game are his two calling cards. We’ve seen them both pop up now.
Oh, by the way, Brown is still not all the way back. He is still struggling to gain the weight that he lost during his Chipotle-induced battle and admitted he’s still feeling it. The best is yet to come for Brown. He’ll get the Colts, Rams, Saints, Texans, Patriots, and Jaguars over the next month-plus.
Whining season is officially closed on A.J. Brown.
Years ago, I started the #NeverJets campaign in fantasy football. That was many coaching staffs and quarterbacks ago but we might be right back there already with the Robert Saleh-led Jets.
Saleh was so frustrated after the game he let the F-word fly in the post-game presser. It’s tough to say what was more irritating for Saleh: His rookie quarterback getting injured, the complete lack of progress on offense, his defense getting completely steamrolled by New England, or just ... everything.
65% of Harris’ yards came before contact.
Sixty-Five. They railroaded New York https://t.co/z1NxrhxCCJ
— Diante Lee (@PFF_DLee) October 25, 2021
That yards-before-contact stat is embarrassing.
The biggest storyline coming out of this loss will be Zach Wilson’s injury. He’s getting an MRI Monday but the Jets sound like they’re bracing for a multi-week absence. That means they’ll turn to Mike White. Not familiar? Of course not. Week 7 was his first-ever NFL action.
The Jets' decision to go with zero NFL experience ahead or behind Wilson in the quarterback pecking order was always a strange one. No one knows whether having a veteran in the room might have helped Wilson get off to a smoother start in the NFL but there’s no question it looks like a bad call now that the No. 2 quarterback has to take the field. If the talented Wilson couldn’t thrive in this offensive situation, there’s almost no hope now.
The Bears passing game
If ever there was a moment for the Bears passing game to show some signs of life, it was this week against a beleaguered Bucs secondary.
Spoiler alert: This ended up not being the week.
Justin Fields was sacked three times and threw as many interceptions. The Bears offense never moved the ball much and when they did, Fields committed drive-killing mistakes. They scored just three points despite mounting a strong rushing game against the vaunted Bucs run defense.
It is very easy to blame Matt Nagy for everything. There is no question Nagy is a net negative for this team at this point. Not one soul is in doubt that this offensive line is a debilitating issue. But man, a performance like this from Fields is truly discouraging. His flaws definitely shoulder some of the blame for the Bears being a completely non-functional passing game.
We’ve seen some flashes from Fields so far. He’s had some very brief moments of strong play. No one should be willing to close the book on Fields for good but I am willing to close the book on 2021. Between Nagy’s incompetence, the personnel problems, and Fields’ own growing pains, there’s too much negative to bear.
Nagy will be gone, perhaps sooner than later, and Allen Robinson isn’t coming back to this team. Everyone needs a fresh start here. It will be up to the next Bears coach to get the best out of Fields.