5 Things I care about
Raheem Mostert giving the Dolphins counterpunch
The Dolphins have been flying in the dark with their rocky quarterback situation over the last month. Even with Tua Tagovailoa back, the passing game wasn't all the way back.
While the stats don't look bad with a 92.7 passer rating, the Steelers left about four dropped interceptions on the field. They hit some long passes to Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and even Trent Sherfield, but it was more sporadic than from the early weeks of the season.
Enter Raheem Mostert, who has been the best player on the offense since the team turned to him as the clear starter since Week 4. He's carried the ball 63 times for 310 yards, good for 4.9 yards a pop, with eight catches and a score layered on top.
Mostert was excellent against the Steelers in the Sunday night win. That should continue. The Dolphins get the Lions, Bears, Browns and Texans over their next four games. That’s about as good as you can ask for.
It’s never been a question of ability with Mostert in this offense. It’s just the injury concerns. He might not be here for a long time but it will be a good time. Enjoy the ride.
The Bengals are back
The Bengals were among many good teams that felt like they were in an extended "figuring out" period to start the season. Unlike other contenders around the league, it looks like Cincinnati has found its path.
Joe Burrow and co. have combined for 65 points over the last two weeks and they've come via their bread and butter, big plays in the passing game.
Ja'Marr Chase found the end zone twice in Sunday's win including a 41-yard catch and run. He scored a pair of touchdowns including a 60-yarder against the Saints a week prior. There was never anything wrong with Chase as an individual, they just needed to diversify his route portfolio a bit while chasing the big plays. Those highlight moments will always be in his back pocket. We've seen them in the last two weeks but the shorter routes that set him up for YAC plays are more important than the constant go-route use.
Of course, Chase doesn't go it alone in the passing game. Tyler Boyd went wild against the Falcons down the middle against cover-two, getting over 100 yards before you could even blink. Tee Higgins has sprinkled in plenty of big catches and may have been robbed of a close touchdown in this one.
The Bengals' passing game is officially back. Never get too spoiled with these high-end players. Dry spells happen but when they get rolling, you know which operations are week-winners.
Ken Walker is a force
Over his last three games, Ken Walker has carried the ball 52 times for 353 rush yards and four touchdowns. He's the NFL's leading rushing since Week 5.
Walker hasn't just looked like a nice injury fill-in for Seattle after losing Rashaad Penny, he looks like one of the best backs in football.
I know I'm not the first to make the comparison but Walker reminds me so much of Nick Chubb. Maybe it's just the success despite the lack of ideal receiving usage. However, I think it's more about the way he's a sustaining, rhythm runner while also being a big play threat.
It’s hard to find ten backs you’d rather have in fantasy football than Walker the rest of the way. The Seahawks have found a grounding central figure in their offense.
Gus Edwards comes back roaring
Whenever Gus Edwards has gotten opportunity for the Ravens, he's balled out. You can now add his 2022 season debut in Week 7 to the long list.
It was a long road back for Edwards after a complicated preseason injury from last year but the wait was worth it. Obviously, the two touchdowns are the highlight for fantasy football but Edwards easily performed like the best runner the Ravens have featured all year. His 50% rushing success rate was the sixth-best among backs with at least an 11% share of their team’s rush attempts.
Baltimore's offense has regressed a good bit since Lamar Jackson's white-hot start to the season. They badly need Rashod Bateman fully healthy and re-integrated into the offense as a full-time player. In the meantime, getting the run game going will help matters. Edwards looks like the answer
Early look at CMC 49ers
It was an ultra-weird week for Christian McCaffrey considering he didn't even learn he was being traded until late Thursday night. So I don't think there's any need to take anything away from his individual performance or stat line. It is worth noting some of what went on around him in the 49ers' offense in our first look at the team post-trade.
Again I’m not going to read too much into the rushing work. McCaffrey only had 40% of the team's rush attempts. He will never sink that low again.
The passing game is a bit more interesting. McCaffrey only ran a route on 21% of the team dropbacks and drew just two targets. Those will also go up throughout the season. McCaffrey will primarily work in the same area of the field as Deebo Samuel who finished behind both Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle with seven looks and averaged 3.6 air yards per target. Some of those schemed touches that go to Samuel may now make their way to CMC. That's troubling considering his rushing work has all but evaporated too.
The one thing I am sure about: The 49ers will continue to be a team that doesn't get enough out of its skill position talent because of their quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo is a fine player but will just always leave meat on the bone. It was apparent so often on Sunday. Now there's another player to pick at what's there.
5 Things I don’t care about
Building up any hope in the Steelers offense
The game deciding-drive for the Steelers was so emblematic of watching this team all season. There were moments on that drive where multiple skill-position players had shining moments, Kenny Pickett made some nice throws but it all ultimately crashed in the biggest spot while utterly erasing any sense of optimism that preceded it.
I was hopeful that a different quarterback would breathe life into a unit that was so hampered in 2021. That’s been so far from the case. Matt Canada’s offense is what it is; needlessly dramatic with its window dressing and yet so fundamentally stale. It’s all slant routes and sideline targets.
Pickett has some clear strengths but also looks like he might be ready to join the “writes checks his arm can’t cash” club.
It’s also generally unfair to ask a rookie quarterback, who wasn’t an elite-level prospect, to be the rising tide that lifts all boats. And this isn’t a well-oiled machine at this point. It’s a unit that needs to be elevated because of the fundamental issues with the offensive design. It’s hard to say if Pickett will be that guy at some point but it’s certainly looking too early for him to be that guy right now.
There is so much skill-position talent in Pittsburgh. For now, we can’t care about getting our expectations high for those players because of the offense.
The struggles of the Bucs and Packers offenses have often been linked because they both employ veteran quarterbacks. But they are not the same.
The Packers lost one of the best offensive talents in the league, Davante Adams, and didn't come close to replacing him. It's understandable why they are struggling. I'm not sure what the Bucs excuse is supposed to be at this point considering they have almost all their guys out there.
Todd Bowles keeps making critical comments directed toward the "old guys" on the roster. That's concerning but also … not wrong.
Tampa Bay has so much proven veteran talent the team can click at any moment. It doesn’t sound like the coaching staff is taking that as a given right now. We shouldn’t either.
Early-season for the Chiefs WRs
All three of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman have been publicly derided by observers this season. You wouldn't know it watching the Chiefs beat the 49ers on Sunday.
Hardman scored three times, including twice as a rusher. He’ll never be a volume receiver but it’s great to see him pop up as a gadget player.
MVS was signed to do exactly what he did on Sunday. Make big plays down the field. He averaged 26.5 air yards on his four targets. Again, not much volume but the impact is what mattered.
JuJu is the most interesting of the bunch. After some slow box score results to start the year, he’s now the WR19 in fantasy football following back-to-back big games. That’s how the position works for all the non-elite guys. He looks much more comfortable in the offense and should continue to play well going forward. JuJu is not a star but is a high-quality role player in the NFL’s best offense.
It’s not about how these Chiefs receivers got started. It’s about how they finish.
Jets keep winning
With news that Breece Hall officially tore his ACL and is out for the season, I care much more about the near future for the Jets than the past. Even though the past and this recent four-game win streak have been awesome.
Hall's explosive ability in both phases has been one of the keys to the Jets' success along with a rapidly improving defense. The Jets have a good RB2 in Michael Carter and realistically can expect him to give them starter-level play. They cannot expect Carter to offer the same juice and big plays that Hall brought to the table.
That means they’ll need to ask more of their passing game, which offered them anything but big-play ability in Week 7.
The Broncos defense is good. There’s no shame in not hitting big plays against them but the schedule doesn’t lighten up with the Patriots twice and the Bills in the next three games.
They’ll just straight up need the passing game to play better to continue winning. There’s no way around it.
The Browns have two wins. This was not the plan for the early portion of the season as the team prepared to welcome Deshaun Watson back late in the year.
The defense has been one of the worst units in the NFL. The passing game lacks a counterpunch with Amari Cooper being extremely volatile based on where the game is played. Now they'll be without tight end David Njoku for a long stretch. He's been their best-skill position player outside of Nick Chubb.
I don’t care about the Browns in the late portion of the season. By the time Watson returns, it will be too late for this team to make any noise in an AFC that has some wiggle room for contenders beyond Buffalo and Kansas City. Cleveland needs to focus on the here and now but it’s hard to find the fix. This team just might be what it is.