5 things I care about
The Packers battle station is fully operational
The running back rotation on Sunday night really, perfectly encapsulated just how dangerous this Packers team is right now.
Aaron Jones was a huge catalyst to the offense getting over the hump in the early third quarter. Jones capped off the first scoring drive of the second half with a three-yard touchdown and then snagged a 23-yard pass to bring down his second score for the night. He only touched the ball eight times but that big-play seasoning makes the offense that much better.
AJ Dillon just went to work after that. The hulking back pushed the pile all throughout the late third and fourth quarters. He registered a long run of just 11 yards but consistently moved the offense slowly but surely down the field. It was a thing of beauty in Green Bay this time of year. He’s just the finishing touch this offense needs.
Of course, this was all while Aaron Rodgers sliced right through a broken Bears defense. Rodgers turned it on after some off drives to start the game and finished with 340-plus yards and four scores. Davante Adams was getting open at will while Rodgers elevated the bit players.
Rodgers and the Packers offense is at the height of its powers even with the offensive line continuing to shuffle guys. Even if the Bears are far from a good team, these types of showings from Rodgers encapsulate exactly what the Packers are: A team well worth being considered a Super Bowl favorite.
Pete Carroll has fibbed when projecting playing time many times over the years but he actually shot it straight when telling us Rashaad Penny would “lead the way” in Week 14.
The Seahawks head coach might have been referring to the fantasy leaderboards, not just his own running back rotation.
Indeed, Penny was the highest-scoring back on Sunday, trailing only Dalvin Cook’s eruption on Thursday night for the week. Penny’s 16 carries and 137 yards were both career-best marks. Given the rocky nature of Penny’s career, it’s no shock it’s taken this long to get this type of breakout performance.
The question now will be: Was this a legitimate breakout for a team that desperately needs it, or just a fluke against the lowly Texans?
Penny only played 57 percent of the snaps and didn’t play much of a role in the passing game, running a route on less than half the dropbacks. He’ll need to boost those numbers in order to be a trustworthy guy going forward. The Texans and their lack of interest or ability in the art of tackling certainly helped propel his end-of-game numbers.
However, if there’s any hope this keeps up, it’s that this team so desperately needs an answer in the running game. For as much as Pete Carroll has constantly expressed his desire to be a good rushing team, they haven’t been anything more than league average since the Marshawn Lynch days … try as they might. Penny was supposed to be the answer when the team drafted him in the first round back in 2018. There have been so many pitfalls since but the team would certainly welcome a late return on the investment.
We shouldn’t outright rule out any talented player suddenly flipping the switch in a post-Cordarrelle Patterson-breakout world. Penny’s Week 14 outing may look like a fluke when we look back in a month but it’s worth keeping your mind open here.
Justin Herbert elevates
Keenan Allen is one of the 10 best receivers in football. Luckily for the Chargers, they have the type of quarterback who can elevate lower-level players, who doesn’t need his superstars to thrive.
Herbert distributed the football in big moments to a variety of pass-catchers to make up for Allen’s absence while on the COVID list. No one had more than seven targets and the guy who led the team with those seven looks wasn’t even an established starter like Austin Ekeler or Mike Williams.
It was rookie Josh Palmer.
Palmer, Jalen Guyton and veteran tight end Jared Cook all hauled in touchdowns from Justin Herbert. The Chargers’ star quarterback had a 7.8 average depth of throw, which wasn’t quite as beefy as his double-digit mark from last week but is still higher than earlier this season. It reflects a balance of the aggressive shots Herbert took to his supporting cast and the smart matriculation of the passing game down the field.
The Chargers coaching staff hasn’t always put Herbert in the best positions this year and he’s had some rough, albeit short, moments. But make no mistake, this is one of the best offensive ecosystems in the NFL because of this quarterback.
Jimmy Garoppolo might be Chiefs-Alex Smith
I won’t rag on Jimmy Garoppolo after he mounted several strong drives to secure a win for the 49ers. Nevertheless, whenever you watch this offense you can see there is just so much juice left to squeeze.
George Kittle is a truly out-of-this-world talent. The dynamic tight end was just plain showing off late in this game with clutch play and dynamic catches. Kittle finished with 151 yards and a score on 15 targets. He’s strung two of these types of face-melter games in a row. He should be doing it every week.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk continue to impress. While Samuel drew just one target in the passing game he, as usual, made up for it on the ground. Aiyuk finished second on the team with 11 targets and scored the game-winning touchdown with a display of alien-like balance.
Aiyuk specifically, however, will never be fully unleashed in this exclusively middle-of-the-field-oriented offense.
Garoppolo, much like Alex Smith for the 2017 Chiefs, has this offense humming. No one was complaining about Smith during that regular season and it’s hard to pick many nits with Garoppolo when he has the team running like this. But one can’t help let the imagination wander.
Whether Trey Lance can hold up his Patrick-Mahomes-end-of-the-bargain here is a massive question but there’s no doubt he has the supporting cast to pull it off.
Bills passing game is a bit off
Just like Jimmy Garoppolo above, it’s tough to throw many arrows at Josh Allen after he scratched and clawed his team back from 24-3 in the first half to push the game to overtime. It feels even worse to do so when 90percent of the Bills’ offensive plays were either Allen runs or passes.
Yet, that’s just the thing; when the offense is so Allen-centric, the Bills need the passing game to be nearly as flawless as it was last season.
And it’s just not.
The Allen-to-Stefon Diggs connection has been just a bit off for most of the year — especially on deep shots. Allen continues to miss him by just a hair down the field. Even without the wind excuse from last week, there were moments in Week 14 where the ball was just on the wrong shoulder for Diggs.
Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t made any noise in quite some time. It was odd they were asking the veteran receiver to be a lid-lifter at this stage of his career when his game is built more on craft. That boat has run out of steam.
You don’t want this team trying to be a dink-and-dunk, matriculate-the-offense-down-the-field type of team. They need the field-flipping plays and they just aren’t getting them. Gabriel Davis doesn’t play a ton of snaps but he seems to get targeted quite a bit of late when he is on the field. Davis has flaws and didn’t earn a big role this offseason but maybe more of him is part of the solution.
All of these on-field concerns will now be magnified if Josh Allen, who was seen in a walking boot after the game, is physically compromised. The Bills almost pushed this thing over the line in Week 14 but even if they pulled off a comeback for the ages, it’s past time we come to terms with the 2021 Bills not coming close to matching the output of last year.
5 things I don’t care about
The Bears losing
Bears fans shouldn’t care either.
The 2021 season has been destined to fail for a long time now. Perhaps it was set up to fail long before it even began. You could certainly make the case it was the moment we all knew Matt Nagy was slated to return.
For weeks now the only thing that matters for anyone invested in the Bears is how Justin Fields fares the rest of the way.
It was far from a perfect showing by the rookie in his first game back from a rib injury but expecting that from a young quarterback in this environment is impossible. Fields had moments in the first half when he looked like he was going to make this a game. Few would have expected the Bears to put up 30 points (one special-teams score) against a Packers defense that’s been soaring.
No one knows what the future will hold for the Bears but this team is so invested in Fields he will have to be part of the equation. All that matters the rest of this season is trying to build a foundation for the rookie, even if many of the faces around him won’t be a part of his journey next year.
Tonight’s loss wasn’t a worst-case scenario in that quest.
The Cowboys playing Ezekiel Elliott
It was tempting to juice Zeke’s expectations back up to top-10 running back status without Tony Pollard this week … right until you remember the images of Ezekiel Elliott pulling up lame when trying to run away from defenders the last few weeks. He’s just not healthy.
Elliott finished the day with just 14 touches and didn’t find the end zone. For much of the early second half, the Cowboys seemed inclined to do the right thing and were running Corey Clement over Elliott. The former finished with 13 carries for 44 yards and caught one pass. However, when the game started to slip away from them after a few Washington scores and a puzzling Dak Prescott interception … guess who trotted back out there.
Dallas is a good team but they just haven’t managed to get the entire offense healthy all at once. The offensive line was banged up early and then when that unit got right the wide receiver room suffered some missed time just as Michael Gallup was ready to return. Now that all three wideouts are healthy and playing full snap shares, the backfield is suffering. Through all that, Prescott missed a game with a calf injury that might have been more serious than imagined.
Dallas had some puzzling moments even as they cruised to a win over Washington. It’s worth asking why Prescott has seemingly slowed down since his calf injury and whether it’s a lingering issue. One thing is for sure, it would behoove this team to give Elliott some serious rest over the next few games, especially with a winnable game against the Giants up next.
It’s often not wise to look ahead but since Dallas managed to avoid a disaster against Washington, they can afford to look forward as the likely NFC East winner. We just need them at full health to make some noise in the postseason.
Hunter Renfrow might be the only Raiders player who deserves to be talked about after this game.
What a nightmare performance by Las Vegas. By the looks of it, this team completely forgot that they were the lone team to make the 2021 Chiefs look like the 2020 version. The Raiders showed no new wrinkles and no adjustment to prevent getting beaten in the exact same fashion they did during their last meeting with the Chiefs.
Renfrow, however — this guy is so good. He’s coming off his third-straight 100-yard game and his play matches the production. Renfrow is obliterating zone coverage — frankly, he’s been doing that his entire career — but he’s also putting cornerbacks in blenders in single-coverage situations this year.
Renfrow has given the Raiders some semblance of a lifeboat while their passing game has consistently sunk deeper after the Henry Ruggs release. It makes you wonder why he wasn’t a featured player for this team at the start of the season or last year after he flashed some of these skills as a rookie.
I bet he’s still underrated in dynasty.
Get this guy out of here.
We’ve all seen the person just walking around the office who absolutely hates their job and can’t manage to hide it on their face. Urban Meyer hasn’t been able to wipe that look off his face at any point this year.
I have been a bit nervous that the Meyer-run Jaguars were going to ruin Trevor Lawrence from the moment he was hired. Today was the first time I all-out panicked about it. The Jaguars aren’t running out a serious NFL offense at any level and it’s thwarting any progress their prized, generational prospect could be making.
Between some of the offseason chaos, the James Robinson incident, the early-season bye week humiliation, the reporting by Tom Pelissero about the bizarre relationship Meyer seems to have with everyone all combined with the fact he might be jeopardizing Lawrence’s future, the Jaguars have more than enough reason to call it a day with Meyer. If he isn’t one and done in Jacksonville, we can never take this organization seriously ever again.
If I was a fan of the team and Meyer is back in 2022, I wouldn’t give this team an ounce of support or a second of my time.
New York hasn’t been a consistently good offense at any point this season. They shined brightest during a few cute moments with Mike White but those didn’t last.
Now that bad unit is unrecognizable due to injury, losing essentially all their promising talent.
Running back Michael Carter flashed serious potential in both phases of the game but has been on IR for several weeks. Corey Davis is their lone established above-average veteran but he’s now out for the season after dealing with multiple maladies. The dam broke late this week when electric rookie Elijah Moore was placed on IR after not practicing with a calf injury.
Moore is a potential superstar in this league but now it’s fair to wonder if we see him again in 2021. The Jets might not feel inclined to rush their best player back for the last two games of the season with nothing to play for.
If Moore is out of the mix, just forget about it. There was some temptation across the fantasy space to try and trot out Jamison Crowder or Keelan Cole against a Saints defense that has been picked on at times by wide receivers. That’s tough to justify.
We talked about Moore in this column last week as a player who could overcome the weaker moments for Zach Wilson. The guys left for New York? Nope.