Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day’s action and examines the significance of those events moving forward.
Rams’ offense is broken – and the O line is to blame
For all the unknowns heading into a football season, a high-flying Rams offense was supposed to be a certainty. The ultra-talented group of skill-position players was still in place for 2019, and the league’s brightest young coaching star was heading into his third year running the show.
Instead, we’re getting yet another example of the importance of a competent offensive line.
Credit for L.A.’s offensive success over the past few seasons unsurprisingly went elsewhere, but the key was always an elite five-man group in the trenches. Its effectiveness in both the run game and pass protection opened things up for everyone else and allowed McVay to truly maximize his system.
In the span of just one offseason, the Rams’ offensive line has suffered so steep a dropoff that it’s now unquestionably one of the league’s worst. It’s no coincidence L.A. is off to a disappointing 5-4 start. The latest loss, coming Sunday against the Steelers, saw the Rams put up just 12 points with Jared Goff under constant pressure. He’s not the kind of quarterback who’s going to overcome those kinds of deficiencies, and even the most talented of running backs, like Todd Gurley, can struggle to create if consistently met by defenders at the line.
The time to address the offensive line was during the offseason or, at the very least, prior to the trade deadline. It’s tough to see things magically getting better midseason with the current personnel. This offensive line – and a lack of decisive action to strengthen it – is going to prevent the Rams from chasing down the 49ers and Seahawks in the NFC West.
Don’t try to make sense of Saints-Falcons
The most shocking result of this NFL season might be the Falcons steamrolling the Saints 26-9 in New Orleans.
The 7-1 Saints entered Sunday’s game on a six-game winning steak and were finally at full strength on offense with Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook all healthy for the first time since Week 2. The 1-7 Falcons entered as losers of six straight amid deafening calls for head coach Dan Quinn’s dismissal.
So how did the Falcons hold the Saints to fewer than 10 points at home for the first time in the Drew Brees era?
Penalties played a role, with the Saints taking 12 of them for 90 yards. Injuries to cornerback Marshon Lattimore and guard Andrus Peat also hurt New Orleans. Quinn surrendering play-calling duties for the Falcons’ defense may have contributed, too, as the Saints appeared to be outcoached on several plays.
But that’s not nearly enough to explain how an Atlanta defense that entered Sunday with an NFL-worst seven sacks on the season harassed Brees all afternoon, bringing him down six times – the most sacks he’s taken in a game since 2013.
Sometimes football is just dumb.
Cowboys made mistake delaying Dak deal
Dak Prescott is going to get paid sooner or later, and he’s going to get paid in Dallas. That much we know. But as the young quarterback continues what’s easily been his best season yet, the Cowboys have to regret not finding a way to get this done sooner.
The comeback effort fell short Sunday night against the Vikings, but that’s not on Prescott. He was the reason the Cowboys were in the game at all, throwing for 397 yards and three touchdowns against a tough Minnesota defense. The price is, quite literally, going up by the day.
At this rate, Prescott will reset the market for quarterbacks, which currently tops out with Russell Wilson’s $35-million annual average. The longer his dominance lasts, the more likely it is that Prescott looks to top an eventual Patrick Mahomes extension, which could conceivably approach $40 million a year.
The Cowboys would be wise to get this done as soon as possible. With so many expensive contracts on the roster – and several other players waiting for significant paydays of their own – managing the salary cap and avoiding breaking up a talented roster will prove increasingly challenging the more money they’re forced to dedicate to one position.
Bengals taking over for Dolphins
With two straight wins, the latest coming in an upset over the Colts, the Dolphins are officially off the schneid – and potentially falling out of the race for the No. 1 overall pick.
The Bengals have to love what they’re seeing in Miami.
Cincinnati, now 0-9, is the NFL’s lone remaining winless team. The decision to bench Andy Dalton in favor of fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley isn’t exactly a move made in the hopes of stacking victories, as we saw in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Ravens.
The Bengals are now the clear front-runners for the top pick in this year’s draft. It’s tough not to draw the all-too-early connection to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who had his Heisman Trophy moment in a phenomenal win over Alabama on Saturday. Landing one of the draft’s top signal-callers and potentially escaping quarterback purgatory would be a real win, even if it means not getting any others this season.
Minkah trade paying off
When the Steelers traded a first-round pick to the Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick the same day news broke that Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury was season-ending, the move was almost universally derided.
How could a team be so shortsighted as to trade a potential top-five pick for a player who had underwhelmed to that point in his NFL career, critics sneered. The Steelers would surely rue trading the rights to draft Roethlisberger’s successor for a tweener DB whose role within a defense was still a matter of debate.
It turns out the Steelers knew exactly what they were doing. Weeks later, Fitzpatrick is the NFL’s best deep safety. Since donning black and yellow in Week 3, the Alabama product has five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns.
Finding an eventual replacement for Roethlisberger remains a problem the Steelers will have to solve – and probably sooner than they’d hope. But their next passer, whoever he is, will have a clearer path to victory with a defense anchored by a stud like Fitzpatrick.
Pass interference rule keeps getting worse
The NFL’s new pass interference rule was supposed to prevent missed penalty calls from deciding games. It failed Sunday, as it often has this season.
As time expired with the Buccaneers leading the Cardinals 30-27, Kyler Murray heaved a desperation throw to Pharoh Cooper, who was contacted from behind by Jamel Dean well before the ball arrived and didn’t make the catch. No flag was thrown and the game ended. Officials didn’t appear to even entertain the notion of reviewing the play for pass interference, despite the blatant pass interference that occurred.
How is this possible? The explanation lies in the NFL’s different rules governing pass interference on Hail Mary plays. Though Murray wasn’t throwing to the end zone, his toss qualified as a Hail Mary and thus a higher standard for pass interference was applied. Yes, the rules specifically allow defenders to interfere more than usual on deep throws with the game on the line.
If this doesn’t sit well with you, you’re not alone. What happened to the Saints in last year’s playoffs was decidedly unfair, but the NFL’s attempt to prevent future injustices has been an utter failure. Coaches hate the rule, fans hate the rule, and surely enough players have been wronged that most of them hate it by now, too.
The first item on the rules committee’s agenda after the season should be fixing this mess.
Giants the bigger joke in New York
The Jets were the laughingstock of the NFL over the past few weeks, but it seems all they needed to take a little heat off was a matchup with their MetLife Stadium co-tenants.
We knew the Giants were bad – that shouldn’t surprise anyone. But losing to the Jets amid all their well-documented dysfunction shows just how far the Giants themselves have to go, too.
Despite a pair of promising young quarterbacks, football isn’t a whole lot of fun for either New York team right now. That’s how poorly these rosters have been constructed.
Both franchises should be looking for new head coaches to kickstart some much-needed offseason turnarounds. Perhaps the Giants should be first to make the move.
Titans’ statement win says…very little
The Titans have their signature win of 2019 after beating the Chiefs 35-32 in Patrick Mahomes’ return from injury, but what does it really mean for the franchise? Those who’ve followed the Titans over the last half-decade know how this story ends – and how little this particular chapter truly matters.
Rewind exactly one year to Week 10 of the 2018 season. Mike Vrabel’s squad laid a thumping on the mighty Patriots, sending Tom Brady and Co. packing as 34-10 losers. A few bottles were popped in Nashville that week, but the Titans lost their next two games and went on to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs. The Patriots, of course, managed to overcome the crushing loss.
Tennessee had a few big wins in 2017, too, but also finished 9-7.
Former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was widely mocked for constantly finishing 8-8, but is the Titans’ position any better today? 9-7 is still purgatory. And make no mistake: With Ryan Tannehill under center, 9-7 is the best the Titans can hope for this year.
Every win against the Chiefs, or Patriots, or any team with realistic Super Bowl aspirations merely cements the Titans’ unenviable position: too good to tank, not good enough to contend.
NFL load management?
LeSean McCoy was a surprise inactive Sunday against the Titans, and Andy Reid explained after the loss that the decision was made in order to keep the veteran running back fresh down the stretch.
“LeSean’s not getting any younger, so it’s important I manage him the right way as we go,” Reid said, according to Adam Teicher of ESPN.
Might a load-management strategy, like the one the Toronto Raptors so successfully employed with Kawhi Leonard en route to an NBA championship last season, be making its way to the NFL?
Probably not. In a 16-game schedule, every contest is just too important to sit a healthy player. The NFL potentially expanding to a 17- or 18-game regular season won’t change that, either.
It’s an interesting thought, though, and the Chiefs won’t have any regrets if a spry McCoy is helping them to light up the scoreboard throughout the playoffs. But for the time being, regardless of McCoy’s recent struggles, it’s difficult not to wonder whether he could have helped in an ultimately stunning loss.
Tight race for Coach of the Year
This year’s race for NFL Coach of the Year is shaping up to feature the longest list of contenders in recent memory – and possibly ever. It seems we’re reminded every week why yet another coach deserves consideration.
The front-runner, of course, is Kyle Shanahan. Nobody pegged the 49ers as the best team in the league heading into the season, but that’s certainly what they look to be through 10 weeks. If this continues, the honor is his.
But there’s no shortage of other legitimate cases: Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh, Matt LaFleur, Sean McDermott, Jon Gruden, Mike Tomlin, and Frank Reich are all staking their claims.
The most intriguing sleeper candidate at this moment has to be Tomlin. After Ben Roethlisberger’s injury appeared to have them destined for a top-10 pick, the Steelers have strung together some impressive wins to suddenly find themselves back in wild-card contention. Overcoming the loss of Big Ben to make the playoffs after trading Antonio Brown and losing Le’Veon Bell in free agency would be the ultimate coaching job.