NFL

One thing we learned about each NFL team in Week 12: Chiefs’ major weakness unveiled; Broncos star CB in slump

The NFL certainly had an interesting Week 12 slate of games, including a record number of comebacks. Sunday was the first time in NFL history that four teams won after trailing by seven-plus points in the final two minutes of regulation. In all, five games were decided by a game-winning score in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime this week.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers scored the game-winning points on a two-point conversion in the final 15 seconds of the fourth quarter, the first time in NFL history this has occurred on the same day (and just the third and fourth time overall). The league has seen the most comebacks through 12 weeks in history. 

As the league switches into December, here’s one thing we learned about each team in Week 12  with the playoff races heating up. 

Kyler Murray finally has DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown in the lineup: It only took the Cardinals until the last week of November to finally have their top two receivers in the lineup. Hopkins and Brown combined for 10 catches (on 14 targets) for 133 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Chargers. 

Even with both of his top receivers in the lineup, Murray averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt (slightly above his season average of 6.4). The Cardinals also went three-and-out on their last three possessions, targeting Brown and Hopkins only once. That’s unacceptable. 

Arizona has added weapons in its offense, yet the results remain the same. 

Tackling remains an issue on a tired defense: The Commanders made sure the Falcons defense was on the field for the majority of the second half in Sunday’s loss. The Commanders held the ball for 19:42 in the second half, exposing tackling woes that have plagued the Falcons the majority of the year. 

Atlanta missed seven tackles against the run, and part of that was a result of being on the field for 60 plays as the Commanders won the time of possession battle in the second half. Atlanta hasn’t stopped the run all year (21st in the league) and part of the issue is the missed tackles in run-stop situations. 

The Falcons allow 27.9% of first downs via the rush, the third-highest rate in the league. Not good. 

Red zone issues part of another late-game collapses: This collapse can absolutely be blamed on the defense, but let’s not miss the fact Baltimore went 2 of 5 in the red zone in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars. In goal-to-go situations, Baltimore was 1 of 3 — as Lamar Jackson was only 1 for 4 for 5 yards in those situations. 

The Ravens are 24th in the NFL in red zone offense (51.7%) and 20th in goal-to-go situations (66.7%). Jackson completed just 46.4% of his passes in the red zone, although he has 13 touchdown passes — but only six since Week 4. 

If the Ravens score more touchdowns in the red zone, perhaps the two-score collapses will be less frequent. That was part of the case this week. 

Welcome back, Tre’Davious White: In his first game this season, White played 15 of the Bills’ 67 defensive snaps in the Thanksgiving win over Detroit. The Bills have been waiting for their superstar cornerback to return from his ACL tear, and it finally happened.

In his first game back, White wasn’t even targeted in his seven coverage snaps. He already earned the respect form the Lions offense, even in a game where he was the most vulnerable. 

White’s snaps will increase during the stretch run, and the Bills pass defense could use him for the playoffs. Buffalo’s 19th in pass yards per game allowed and 13th in passing touchdowns allowed, so White is a more-than-welcome addition. 

Brian Burns is one of the elite pass rushers: Plenty in Carolina know how good Burts is, but is play isn’t nearly talked about enough amongst the elite pass rushers in the game. Burns finished with eight pressures, three quarterback hits, and two sacks to lead a Carolina defense that held the Broncos to just three points in the first  57 minutes.

Burns has been terrorizing quarterbacks all season, as the Pro Bowler now has 10 sacks on the year. He also has 53 pressures, 17 quarterback hits, and a 14.8% pressure rate. Burns is fourth in the NFL in pressures and tied for fifth in sacks. He’s one of the elite pass rushers in a game.

Perhaps Carolina not winning is why he isn’t discussed enough amongst the best at his position. 

Offense has to get Chase Claypool going: Claypool had his best game in his short time with the Bears, finishing with two catches for 51 yards in a game where Justin Fields didn’t play. With Darnell Mooney out for an extended period of time (perhaps the rest of the year), it’s time for Claypool to step up. 

The 51 receiving yards amassed his output through his first three games. Claypool only had just 5 catches for 32 yards in his first three games with the Bears (7 catches for 83 yards overall). If the Bears are going to thrive when Fields gets back, they need to focus on Claypool more and get him acclimated to the offense. 

There are two No. 1 wide receivers on this roster: It didn’t take much to convince most people Tee Higgins would step up in the absence of Ja’Marr Chase, but Higgins put up No. 1 wide receiver numbers in the four games Chase missed. Higgins had 26 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns over the last four games, averaging 14.3 yards per catch. 

He had 16 catches for 262 yards and a touchdown over the last two games (16.4 yards per catch), Chase-like numbers. The Bengals are going to be even more dangerous when Chase returns, knowing opposing defenses will have to stop Higgins too. 

Good luck. 

Jacoby Brissett gives Browns a shot in 2022 with Deshaun Watson returning: A 4-7 start may still be too much to overcome for the Browns to make the playoffs, but their playoff hopes would have been smashed with a loss to the Buccaneers. Brissett wasn’t great in Sunday’s win (23 of 37, 216 yards, touchdown and interception), but he was 8 of 14 for 116 yards with a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime (108.0 rating). 

Brissett held down the fort while Watson was suspended, compiling an 89.1 passer rating in the 11 games he played. With the Browns three games out of a playoff spot and six to play, it may be too late. At least Brissett went out a winner and gave them an outside chance. 

The tight ends are more dangerous than they let on: Dalton Schultz looks back to his 2021 self after catching two touchdown passes against the Giants on Thanksgiving. Schultz had his third touchdown in the last three weeks, while having 13 catches for 107 yards in that span. 

Peyton Hendershot also scored a touchdown on a jet sweep, making him a red zone threat if the Cowboys want to go to two tight end sets. This also includes the dangerous running back tandem of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to account for. 

The Cowboys have plenty of dangerous red zone targets, but now defenses have to account for the tight ends. Expect them to be utilized more in the coming weeks. 

Patrick Surtain is in a slump: Surtain is one of the best coverage corners in the game, but his last two games have been far from elite. In Sunday’s loss, Surtain was targeted five times and allowed three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown (104.2 rating when targeted). That touchdown was the five-yard pass to Moore. 

The week prior, Surtain allowed five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns (118.8 rating). These were the only two games Surtain has allowed over an 80 passer rating all year. Surtain has allowed three touchdowns passes the last two weeks (zero the previous eight). 

Surtain is a great cornerback, but he’s struggled of late. 

The Lions have a significant guard problem: Injuries derailed the Lions at guard on Thanksgiving. Detroit had 71 snaps each from Kayode Awosika and Dan Skipper (along with four more from Logan Stenberg). Awosika and Skipper combined to allow four pressures and two sacks, as Jared Goff faced pressure up the middle throughout the game. 

The Bills also had seven tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits. The Lions were held to 3.4 yards per carry, but that’s expected when the No. 5 and No. 6 guards are starting. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is likely done for the year and Tommy Kraemer has been out since Week 7. Evan Brown (ankle) and Jonah Jackson (concussion) may be back this week, which will help.

Detroit has a good offensive line, but it needs Brown and Jackson back to get back on the winning track. 

Two-minute defense still isn’t good: The Packers have been abysmal on defense in the final two minutes of the first half this season, allowing 60 points in the 12 games played. That’s five points per game. 

The two-minute defense reared its ugly heading Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, as Philadelphia got the ball with 2:16 left and drove nine plays for 66 yards and a touchdown — picking apart Green Bay’s defense in the process. 

Green Bay had the Eagles facing second-and-10 from the Packers’ 30-yard line with 19 seconds left, but Jalen Hurts threw a ball on the money to Quez Watkins — who made a spectacular catch for the touchdown. Hurts was 5 of 6 for 73 yards on the drive and he was sacked twice. 

The Packers just don’t make plays to end the first half — and they ended up losing by four on Sunday. 

Dameon Pierce has hit the rookie wall: The Texans are already the worst team in the NFL, and their offense is nonexistent when Pierce can’t get going. Pierce has 15 carries for 16 yards over the last two games, and the Texans have averaged just 4.5 points over the first three quarters in that stretch. 

Pierce is still a front-runner to win rookie of the year, but opposing defenses know they have to stop him to shut down the Texans. He has 788 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but the yards per carry average slipped to 4.4.

The Texans have to get more creative to free up Pierce in the final six games. Teams are just loading the box now. 

Run defense had another off night: After allowing 141 rushing yards to the Eagles, conventional wisdom suggested the Colts run defense would bounce back against the Steelers. All Pittsburgh did was rush for 172 yards and average 4.8 yards per carry against Indianapolis — a team that had allowed just 3.9 yards per carry on the year. 

Benny Snell didn’t have a carry all year, yet had 12 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown. The Colts held Najee Harris to 35 yards, but still let the Steelers offensive line bully them on the ground. Kenny Pickett generating 32 yards didn’t help matters. 

Quarterbacks that can run definitely hurt the Colts. Dak Prescott may want to make a note of that this week. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Trevor Lawrence had his best fourth-quarter performance: Lawrence showcased why he’s the franchise quarterback the Jaguars envisioned he was when they took him No. 1 overall. In the fourth quarter against one of the most aggressive defenses in football, Lawrence went 15 of 19 for 173 yards with two touchdowns to zero interceptions and a 139.7 passer rating 

Sunday was just the second time in Jaguars history they won a game when trailing by seven-plus points in the final two minutes of regulation (first since 1996), all thanks to how Lawrence played. He has completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,655 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions (93.6 rating) — all significant improvements over his disastrous rookie year. 

Over the last three games, Lawrence has completed 28 of 36 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter (125.9 rating). The Jaguars quarterback is figuring out how to perform late in games, an excellent sign.

Special teams is the lone weakness: The Chiefs are last in the league in hidden points at a -9.3 (per Football Outsiders), a sign their special teams is getting taken advantage of by opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance. Kansas City is at a huge disadvantage here, which is probably why the Rams tried a fake punt against Kansas City in Sunday’s game — and converted. 

Teams have tried to take away possessions from Kansas City to keep Patrick Mahomes and the offense off the field. Special teams could cost the Chiefs a Super Bowl appearance. 

Josh Jacobs bails Josh McDaniels out: McDaniels had a questionable decision in overtime to kick a field goal in fourth-and-2 from the Seahawks’ 38-yard line — and Daniel Carlson missed the 56-yard kick. He’s fortunate to get the ball back after Seattle was held to a three-and-out, which set the stage for Jacobs and his 86-yard winning touchdown. 

With how Jacobs played (313 yards of total offense), giving him the ball in a short-yardage situation seemed like a no-brainer. Not for McDaniels, even though a field goal wasn’t winning that game. McDaniels also passed on challenging a Seattle run defense that can’t stop anyone — with arguably the best running back in the league this year. 

How many wins would this team have without Jacobs? 

Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert finally got going running the football: Due to Herbert’s rib cartilage injury, the Chargers quarterback hasn’t been as mobile as he’s been in previous seasons. Herbert rushed for a season-high 38 yards on four carries (9.5 yards per carry), including a 23-yard run that helped set up a final quarter where he finished 13 of 17 for 84 yards and a touchdown — including a two-point conversion that set the Chargers up for a crucial win. 

Herbert had 536 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. This season, he has just 128 yards and no rushing touchdowns (3.6 yards per carry). What makes Herbert dangerous throwing the football is his ability to extend the pocket and make plays, along with taking off in open space.

Herbert may be getting back to his 2021 version with his rib injury improving by the week. 

Tutu Atwell needs to play more: The Rams already have more injuries at wide receiver than they can handle, but it shouldn’t have taken them this long to give Atwell a shot. Atwell had just two catches for 23 yards Sunday, but caught both his targets. 

Atwell isn’t a one-trick pony and isn’t getting the targets he should be getting. With Allen Robinson and Cooper Kupp out, it’s time to give Atwell a fair shot in the passing game — even with that being limited. The Rams are thinking about 2023 anyway, and Atwell could be a valuable piece in that offense. 

Terron Armstead is the key to this offense: Forget how well Tua Tagovailoa is playing, how dominant Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are, or how efficient the run game is. This offense doesn’t function as efficiently without Armstead — whose addition arguably was the Dolphins’ best offseason move. 

Armstead suffered a pectoral injury late in the first half and didn’t return, significantly altering the pass offense. Tagovailoa was sacked four times in a span of nine plays, but was 2 of 2 for 21 yards in the second half. The Dolphins were wise to pull Tagovailoa when they did, but Armstead is going to be out for a bit. 

The Dolphins will have to survive without their Pro Bowl left tackle, and keep Tagovailoa upright in the process. This offense doesn’t function consistently if QB1 is pressured. 

Kirk Cousins can perform in prime time after all: The Vikings really shut down the “Kirk Cousins can’t play in prime time” narrative, as the quarterback went 30 of 37 for 299 yards with three touchdowns and one interception (116.5 rating) in a win over a Patriots defense that is one of the best in the league. 

Cousins is just 11-18 as a starter in night games in his career, but he avenged the three-interception performance in a Week 2 loss to the Eagles (which was a night game). He still only has an 81.4 passer rating with four touchdowns and four interceptions in two night games this season, but Cousins got rid of some prime time demons in Week 12. 

Uncharacteristic mistakes from a Bill Belichick team: The Patriots’ two-minute drill in the first half had a few mental lapses, starting with Hunter Henry failing to get out of bounds off a 22-yard catch, forcing Belichick to use a timeout. The next mistake happened later in the drive, as Mac Jones slid on a run rather than force an incomplete pass. 

Belichick was fired up having to use another time out and forcing Nick Folk to convert a field goal on third down. Four points may have been taken off the board in a game New England lost by seven. 

Belichick coached teams just don’t make those mental lapses. Very odd to see that from the Patriots. 

The offense may prevent them from winning another game the rest of the year: As if Sunday’s shutout loss to the 49ers wasn’t bad enough, where do the Saints have another win in them? The offense has averaged just 253 yards per game and 12.5 points per game over the last four weeks, numbers no where near good enough to win games in the NFL. 

Sure, three of the Saints’ last six games are against the NFC South — but can anyone really expect New Orleans to compete with these teams knowing how inconsistent the offense is? Alvin Kamara can’t get going and there aren’t many available options at wide receiver outside of Chris Olave. Andy Dalton hasn’t been good either. 

Pete Carmichael’s future may be in doubt if this play keeps up. 

’21 personnel’ needed to help Saquon Barkley: It’s no coincidence Barkley’s slump is coinciding with the Giants’ first losing streak of the year. Barkley has just 26 carries for 61 yards over his last two games, as defenses have certainly zeroed in on stopping him — and the Giants offense in the process.

The Giants are trying to use ’21 personnel’ — or a two-back system — to combat this. Gary Brightwell was the back paired with Barkley in this set, having five carries for 31 yards late in the game. New York has to get more creative on offense to get Barkley going, which hasn’t been a problem until the last few weeks. 

Perhaps more ’21 personnel’ will do the trick. 

Mike White got Elijah Moore going: The key benefit to Mike White starting over Zach Wilson was that the Jets wide receivers could actually play to their talent level. Just ask Elijah Moore, who finished with two catches for 64 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Chicago. 

Moore’s had a rough season in New York, but Sunday was his highest yardage output of the year. Not a coincidence when White was starting. Prior to last week, Moore had just three catches for 28 yards since Week 5 and had a public disagreement with the franchise. 

Maybe having a quarterback that can get the ball to his receivers will get Moore back to being the player he was in his rookie year. 

Reed Blankenship may be good enough to start: Blankenship was the man the Eagles called upon when C.J. Gardner-Johnson had to leave Sunday’s game with a lacerated kidney, getting the nod over K’Von Wallace in the role. Blankenship picked off Aaron Rodgers, who had a 0.0 passer rating when targeting him (that was Rodgers’ only target his way). 

Blankenship was going 100 miles per hour at skill position players looking to make plays, a different approach than how most defenders play skill position players in the league. His play may be a breath of fresh air for a defense that could use a hard hitter over the next few weeks. 

The Eagles will need to see more of Blankenship, but he proved he’s good enough to start the next week. There aren’t many other options on the roster, at least until Avonte Maddox comes back (if Philadelphia wants to move him out of the slot). 

Kenny Pickett continues to thrive against the blitz: Pickett has a 71.7% completion rate against the blitz, which is the highest among all NFL quarterbacks. In Monday’s win over the Colts, Pickett went 7 of 9 for 69 yards with a 98.6 passer rating, playing mistake free football when defenses send an extra rusher to challenge him. 

Pickett has a 106.9 rating against the blitz without an interception. Not bad for a rookie quarterback with a poor offensive line. The Steelers quarterback has had his struggles, but facing the blitz is not one of them. 

Defense is on another level: Since allowing 44 points to the Chiefs in Week 7, the 49ers defense has allowed 40 points combined. Part of that is players getting healthy, as this unit is scary good. The 49ers allowed just 258.8 yards per game over the last four contests, including just 59.3 rushing yards per game. 

The 49ers rank first in points allowed, yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, rushing yards allowed, yards per carry allowed and points per possession. This unit seems to get better by the week too. 

No wonder the 49ers are on a four-game win streak. They’ll be challenged by Miami, but the Dolphins won’t have Terron Armstead

The defensive success in midseason was fools gold: Seattle’s defense was torched by the Raiders offense, as Las Vegas amassed 576 yards against the unit (293 passing, 283 rushing). The Seahawks have allowed 497.5 yards per game over the last two games — both losses — and an astonishing 22 rushing yards per game. 

The defense that allowed 282.8 yards per game in the four contests prior to Munich is long gone. Seattle has been gashed on the ground and the defense can’t get off the field on third down (29th in NFL). Seattle won’t make the playoffs if this defense can’t make stops. 

Tom Brady needs to throw to Chris Godwin and Rachaad White more: Brady was a putrid 9 of 22 when he was throwing to pass catchers that weren’t named White or Godwin — and that includes Mike Evans. While caught all nine of his targets for 45 yards while Godwin caught 12 passes (on 13 targets) for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Brady had a 111.2 rating targeting White and Godwin, two players who are producing more in the offense by the week. If the Buccaneers aren’t going to go deep and use a lot of air yards on Brady’s throws, the slot and underneath route to White and Godwin are the ticket.

Get the yards after the catch. 

Shocking red zone performance: The Titans were the No. 2 team in the red zone going into Sunday, but didn’t score a touchdown on any of their three red zone trips in the loss to the Bengals. The Titans have to settle for three field goals, but only got six points (Caleb Shudak missed a field goal). 

In a four-point loss, the failure to convert in the red zone definitely hurt. Derrick Henry had just three carries for seven yards in the red zone, but most importantly — no touchdowns scored. The Titans will have to get this corrected this week against the Eagles, as 16 points won’t be enough to beat a potent offense. 

Based on how the red zone offense has performed, Tennessee should get back on track. 

The stout run defense hits a snag: Washington’s run defense has been excellent over the last several weeks, allowing just 68.8 rushing yards per game over the last five games — a huge reason the Commanders won 4 of 5 heading into Sunday. 

The Falcons are one of the best running teams in the NFL, finishing with 167 yards against a Commanders run defense that allowed just 171 yards total in the three games prior. Washington’s run defense will face Saquon Barkley and the Giants for the next two games, so there’s a cause for concern against one of the top running backs in the league. 

The run defense will be tested over the next two games. 



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