Through nine weeks, only one unbeaten team remains! Playoff pictures are coming into focus and with that comes some breakout performances, disappointments, and other awards to hand out.
Offensive Player of the Week
QB Russell Wilson (29-43, 67.4%, 378 yards, 5 TD, 133.7 passer rating)
Wilson had a great game that will shine in the eyes of the MVP voters. He brought his team back several times throughout the matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to eventually win in overtime. Mr. Wilson can throw a football down the field better than anyone else in the NFL. He can drop the ball in a breadbasket anytime he wants, which is great for his receivers because the only thing they have to do is hang on to it. Wilson is leading the race for league MVP and if it ended today he would be the clear and obvious winner.
WR Tyler Lockett (18 targets, 13 receptions, 152 yards, 2 TD)
Tyler Lockett is the worst-kept secret in the NFL today. The 5’10” receiver from Kansas State is having his second straight breakout season and people still aren’t taking notice. After having a league-record perfect 158.3 QB rating when targeted by Russell Wilson last season on 70 attempts (no duo had done that on more than 15 attempts), Lockett is having another great season. Now that he has D.K. Metcalf on the other side, Lockett has been able to do more of the things that make him a unique number one receiver by moving all across the formation and using motion to utilize his speed. If Lockett were playing in a major market like New York or Dallas, you would already know how great he is, and because he is partially hidden in Seattle, it’s a damn shame.
RB Christian McCaffrey (24 attempts, 146 yards, 6.1 YPC, 2TD, 3 targets, 3 receptions, 20 yards, 1 TD)
“Run CMC” very well may be the best all-purpose weapon in the entire sport. McCaffrey sports excellent power and contact balance, while also being a legitimate pass-catching threat out of the backfield. While the Carolina Panthers continue to defy the odds without Cam Newton, McCaffrey has made his claim (a strong one, I might add) thus far to being the first running back to win the MVP award since Adrian Peterson in 2012.
Defensive Player of the Week
S Minkah Fitzpatrick (7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Fitzpatrick is a great defender that has shined since arriving in Pittsburgh by trade from the Miami Dolphins. He has given this defense what they were missing and that was a hawk in the secondary that can break on the ball and create game-changing moments. He did so this week with a pick six and seven tackles. If the Steelers keep up this type of play they could honestly be fighting for the North and Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leading force behind that possibility.
EDGE Joey Bosa (4 tackles, 1 tackle For loss, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits)
With his little brother Nick getting all of the attention, Joey has entered the chat. In an absolute slaughter of the Green Bay Packers, Joey Bosa was a big reason why. He was in the face of Aaron Rodgers all game, hitting him 4 times and racking up 1.5 sacks. One of the best pass rushers in football, he will have to keep this up to help propel the sputtering Chargers back into the playoff hunt.
CB Gareon Conley (8 solo tackles, 2 passes defended)
Houston Texans newcomer Gareon Conley is fitting in nicely already. His play will be vital as the Texans look to run away with the AFC South in this latter stretch of the season. After being traded from the Oakland Raiders, Conley will look to take over as the top corner in a Houston locker room that features an aging, slowing Johnathan Joseph and an oft-injured Bradley Roby.
Breakout Player of the Week
WR Tyreek Hill (6 receptions, 140 yards, 1 TD)
His stat line may not be the most impressive, nor may he be considered by most to have a breakout game but to Chiefs Kingdom he definitely did. His presence in this game was felt from the beginning and was what changed the outcome for the Chiefs to get the W. Everyone saw him chase down Damien Williams on the 91-yard touchdown run but no one is talking about was his ability to come down with two big catches that kept Kansas City in the game. Matt Moore threw the ball and gave Hill an opportunity to make a play and he did so, twice. Hill is developing into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and this week was his breakout performance that should be grabbing everyone’s attention.
RB Melvin Gordon (20 carries, 80 yards, 2 TD, 4 targets, 3 catches, 29 yards)
After his four game holdout, this was the Melvin Gordon we expected from the get go. While Austin Ekeler filled in admirably, Gordon is the better back and is now performing like the player we knew him to be going into the season. In a must-win situation, Gordon was able to carry the load against a really good Packers defense. Moving forward under interim offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, we can expect Gordon to be the focal point of this offense.
WR Zach Pascal (6 targets, 5 receptions, 76 yards, 1 TD)
With star wideout T.Y. Hilton forced out of action with a calf injury, the Indianapolis Colts looked to unheralded receiver Zach Pascal to be their #1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and for the second time in three weeks, Pascal had a great showing. Pascal is a fan favorite and is a monstrous blocker, but this week with the offensive burden effectively being placed on his shoulders, he showed crisp route running and sticky hands. With Parris Campbell injured again and fighting ball security issues, and Deon Cain virtually nonexistent, the Colts appear to have secured their WR2 for the season, if not the future.
Disappointing Performance of the Week
QB Daniel Jones (26-41, 63.4%, 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 fumbles, 74.2 passer rating)
Daniel Jones has been playing like a rookie as of late and Monday Night Football was another example. Personally, I have been praising Jones’ willingness to stay in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield amidst pressure all around him. As of late that willingness has been costing him sacks and turning into poor decision-making. He was sacked five times on Monday night and threw yet another interception with two more fumbles as well. There is plenty of blame to go around the for the New York Giants struggles this season, but Monday night was a disappointing one for Daniel ‘Danger Zone’ Jones.
WR Stefon Diggs (4 targets, 1 catch, 4 yards, 1 rush, 12 yards)
After having a monster 3-game stretch, Diggs had a major letdown game when the Vikings needed him the most. With his star counterpart Adam Thielen re-injuring his hamstring on the game’s third play, the Vikings needed Diggs to have a game like a number one receiver should have. Even with his rough game, it isn’t all on him. Diggs was getting open, but Cousins was missing him due to mechanics and the wind at Arrowhead. In order for this team to stay on the right track, Diggs and Cousins need to get back on the same page.
QB Gardner Minshew II (27-47, 57.5%, 309 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT)
I’m not sure what was more disappointing here, the performance or the timing. With Nick Foles seemingly on the verge of returning from his clavicle break, Minshew laid an egg against the Houston Texans in London. Minshew required nearly 50 passes to reach 300 yards, and could not move the needle against the Texans. The Jaguars paid a pretty penny to get Nick Foles under center, so I understand them going back to their QB1, but when will we see Gardner Minshew slinging the pigskin again?
Under-the-Radar Storyline of the Week
Jimmy Garoppolo Puts Up a Big Stat Line
Jimmy Garoppolo‘s game on Thursday Night Football quieted the noise of his critics, going 28-37 with 317 yards, 4 TDs, and a 136.9 QBR. Many were questioning his ability to own a game strictly through the air and create plays for his team outside of what was called from Kyle Shanahan. Garoppolo moved in the pocket fluidly and hit his guys in perfect stride to catch the ball and keep moving down field. He had a near perfect game and gave 49ers fans even more hope on their chance of having a perfect season. It will be a very interesting storyline to follow for Jimmy G, as their schedule gets stronger the rest of the way. Now is the time for Jimmy to show why he should be in the discussion for MVP this season.
The Unique Strategy Of Rostering Kickers
Throughout the league, we have seen a number of teams with kicker issues. Some of them have stayed the course, but others have started to cut ties rather quickly, most notably the Vikings last season with Daniel Carlson and the Jets this season with Kaare Vedvik. What makes this strategy interesting is that other teams with struggling kickers are keeping their struggling kickers (Eddy Pineiro, Adam Vinatieri). While kickers are easily replaceable, having a great kicker can make all the difference, just ask Bill Belichick. The real question is at what point do you cut the cord and try somebody else out? As the NFL evolves, this will be interesting to watch, especially since Daniel Carlson has been excellent after the Vikings cut the 2018 5th round pick only two games into his rookie season.
The State of Refereeing in the NFL
I have been hesitant to talk about this for some time now. Sports fan absolutely love to chastise and ridicule referees across all of the national sports, but the truth is it is a very difficult and thankless job. That being said, the refs are becoming a real problem in this league. This is not a new problem, but it feels as though every single week now we are viewing games that are being critically impacted by phantom calls, missed calls, and general mediocrity. What’s the solution? I have no idea, but for the sake of my (and your) sanity, I hope the league takes action soon.
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