By: Edwards Kemedjio | October 21, 2021
Highs and Lows has returned as the NFL season continues to move forward. The heavyweight battles in Cleveland and Baltimore left a lot to be desired but were enlightening nonetheless. While the cinema that is pro football didn’t match the production of previous weeks, we were still given some great football and there is plenty to discuss. I am simply here to narrow your focus a bit.
Skills to Slay the Bills
The Tennessee Titans took down the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in a Monday Night Football thriller. The prior two instances I’ve mentioned the Titans as a team were in reference to their losses, one to the Cardinals to start the season and one to the Jets for their only win of the year. The reality is that Tennessee is 4-2 and two games clear of the second-place Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. They are playing good football and Monday they took down the team that I believe to be the best in the AFC.
The Titans have the 8th best scoring offense in the league and the 11th best yardage-wise. This is despite multiple injuries to their offensive line and wide receiving core. Derrick Henry is putting together one of the greatest running back seasons in recent memory, with shades of 2012 Adrian Peterson on display every time he takes the field. He is 260 yards clear of the second-place rusher in the NFL and has five more rushing touchdowns than any other player as well. His MVP caliber season is propelling the Titans to playoff position early in the year.
You Like That?
The most overlooked player in the NFL right now is Kirk Cousins. On Sunday the Minnesota defense allowed Sam Darnold to lead a 96-yard touchdown drive and Vikings kicker Greg Joseph failed to convert a 47-yard field goal to win the game in regulation. Cousins responded with a nine-play 75-yard drive in overtime capped off by a 27-yard strike to K.J. Osborn for a walk-off win against the Carolina Panthers.
Cousins is top ten in both passing yards (7th) and touchdowns (9th) and is last in interceptions. While the Vikings are 3-3. Their first loss came on the road in Cincinnati and no team has provided more of a challenge for the undefeated Cardinals than the Vikings did in week two. In both games Cousins let drives late in the fourth quarter to tie or take the lead. If not for a missed 37-yard field goal by Joseph at the end of the game the Vikings would be a game out of first in their division and the league would have no unbeaten teams. The Vikings are better than their record suggests and Kirk Cousins is the reason why.
The Chase Begins
Following a turbulent preseason that featured a myriad of drops, Ja’Marr Chase through six games has already inserted himself among the elite receivers in the league. The fifth selection in the 2021 draft has 27 receptions for 553 yards and 5 touchdowns to start his NFL career. His yards rank fourth in the league and his touchdowns are tied for fourth as well. Keep in mind Chase did not play last year for the LSU Tigers, choosing to opt-out of the COVID season. After a year without taking the field Chase along with his college quarterback, Joe Burrow is lighting up NFL defenses. The highest-picked receiver made quick work of proving his doubters wrong, and we may be watching the start of a special NFL career.
The Miami Dolphins are 1-5 on the season. If not for a Patriots fumble while setting up for a game-winning field goal in week one, they would be winless. On Sunday they traveled across the Atlantic to participate in the NFL’s second international game this season. Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s return from injury was supposed to set the reeling Dolphins back on track. Instead, Matthew Wright, who was a software engineer a month ago, hit two field goals in the finals 3:40 of the fourth quarter including the one at the buzzer to stun Miami 23-20.
In front of 60,000 London fans, the Dolphins gave the Jacksonville Jaguars their first victory in 20 tries, snapping one of the longest losing streaks in league history. Miami, who was 10-6 last year despite missing the playoffs, are massive underperformers in a year that came with elevated expectations from league insiders. Instead of vying for a playoff spot they sit at 29th in scoring and 30th in yards on offense. The defense, which was 6th in scoring and 3rd in turnovers, currently sits at 29th and 24th in those departments. Tua hasn’t shown he can stay healthy and even without him, this does not look like a good football team. Brian Flores needs to right the ship or he’ll find himself without employment by Wildcard Weekend.
Trouble in the Trenches
The Los Angele Chargers were taken to the woodshed in Baltimore to the tune of 34-6. As the NFL’s most anticipated matchup of the week turned out to be a blowout, I could use this time to prop up the Ravens as the contenders they are, watching that game Sunday made one thing painfully clear. The Chargers are incapable of stopping the run.
Lamar Jackson had a relatively pedestrian performance against Los Angeles. Despite this, the Ravens offense moved the Chargers up and down the field. The NFL’s most elite rushing attack had 187 yards on the ground Sunday. I considered that to be impressive until I realized that it was only the third-highest rushing output against Los Angeles this season. In the six games the Chargers have played, only one team has failed to tally 126 yards on the ground. The Chargers have already allowed rushing performances of 186, 187, 198, and 230 this season. They sit dead last in yardage and 28th in touchdowns on the ground defensively.
While the increase in analytics in football has served to devalue the run game, what every football player and coach understands is that if you cannot stop the run, you will not win football games when it matters. A bottom-ranked rushing defense means the opposing team can dictate the pace of the game and the physicality of the game as well. If Los Angeles wants to be taken seriously come January, they’re gonna have to at least slow the run game defensively.
The Cleveland Browns, thought by some to be Super Bowl contenders leading up to the season, are beginning to unravel. The Brown lost 37-14 against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals, falling to 3-3 on the season. The Cardinals blew out the Browns on the road despite not having their head coach Kliff Kingsbury on the sidelines Sunday. Baker Mayfield had 3 turnovers, two of which occurred in his own territory, and on his third Mayfield aggravated a shoulder injury that he had been playing through for the past few weeks. Even prior to the injury it was clear that the shoulder was having an effect on his throwing accuracy. His one intercepted ball sailed over the head of a wide-open receiver before hitting the Cardinals defender between the numbers on his chest.
The Browns are teetering on the edge of collapse. Playing in the AFC North means they cannot afford to drop games, but with a matchup against the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night looming, Baker’s injury is only one of their concerns. Superstar running back Nick Chubb wasn’t able to play Sunday with a calf injury and won’t play Thursday. His partner in crime Kareem Hunt also injured his calf during the game and will miss at least three weeks after being placed on Injured Reserve. Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is dealing with a shoulder injury and is questionable at the moment. The Browns are banged up and spiraling, hopefully, they can get back on track Thursday.
That’s it for Highs and Lows this week. The NFL is in full swing. True contenders are separating themselves, slow starts are being shaken off, and frauds are being exposed. Week seven should be as entertaining as the rest.