Week 9 Reflections

Photo via Associated Press

Home field advantage was the theme for Week 9 of the NFL season. For the six morning games, four afternoon games and the Sunday Night Football game, all the home teams won. The only road teams that won were the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, the Houston Texans at London, and the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. After an exciting week in the NFL, here are my thoughts on the state of the NFL after Week 9.

  • Los Angeles Chargers, that’s more like it. After having a very disappointing record to start the season, the Chargers put on their best performance of the season with a dominant 26-11 victory over the Green Bay Packers. The great pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa showed up to deliver a dominant defensive performance, and for the first time this season, the offense got into a rhythm. They looked like the great 12-4 team they were last year, and once again they are turning it on in November. In 2017, they started 0-4 and then finished the season 9-7, nearly making the playoffs. In 2009, the Chargers started 2-3 and finished 13-3. The Chargers are a second-half team and if they can beat the Chiefs and Raiders, they will be 6-5 coming off their bye week and will most likely have Derwin James returning.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are a resilient and gritty team that all of a sudden, finds themselves in the playoff race after defeating the Indianapolis Colts 26-24. Minkah Fitzpatrick has been sensational for the Steelers with four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a huge pick-six that turned the game around for Pittsburgh. He is this year’s Amari Cooper: a team gives up their first-round pick for an impact player that turns their season around. They have an easy schedule to end the season with games against the Browns twice, the winless Bengals, Cardinals, and Jets. That’s five games that they can win and they can find themselves on the cusp of a wild card berth and it’s in part due to the impact of Fitzpatrick.
  • The Oakland Raiders are a nice team. They have the fourth-fewest giveaways in the NFL with only eight on the season, they have one of the league’s top rushers in potential rookie of the year winner Josh Jacobs, and they have one of the best tight end corps in the NFL. They have a good all-around offense, and they do not give the ball away often. This is a good recipe for success and it’s amazing the Raiders are 4-4 considering they didn’t have a home game at the Black Hole from weeks 3-8. They have a huge game on Thursday against the Chargers at home and if they win that, they have the Bengals and Jets. So, the Chargers game becomes a must-win for this team.
  • I don’t understand the Washington Redskins’ decision to have Dwayne Haskins’ first start be against the Buffalo Bills. They have a top-five defense and it was in a hostile environment. That is throwing Haskins into the lions’ den and it was not an ideal situation for Haskins. They could have waited to start him at home against the Jets after their bye week and raised his confidence. Instead, they throw him in against a stout Bills defense which did not do much for his confidence. The Redskins continue to be the worst run organization in the NFL.

Goodbye Ken Whisenhunt, Hello Shane Steichen

Photo via Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

After offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers, Ken Whisenhunt was fired about a week before the big matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the Chargers offense was reignited under Shane Steichen as they won 26-11 to defeat the Packers.

The 7-1 Packers traveled to Dignity Health Sports Park to face off against the Chargers last Sunday. The Chargers broke the four-game win streak the Packers previously held.

Steichen has a new approach to the offense, and it may end up working in the long run. 

After having a pretty slow start to the season, playoff dreams were slowly fading out of the picture for quarterback Phillip Rivers and the Chargers. However, on Sunday, Rivers looked revamped and undoubtedly performed the best we’ve seen from him and the Chargers this season.

Rivers finished the game completing 21 of 28 passes for 294 yards. Running back, Austin Eekler has been proving himself this season and did so in the game as he had 12 carries for 70 yards. Wide receiver, Mike Williams was a standout as he caught for 111 yards on just three catches.

The Chargers offense kept making plays and driving down the field but struggled in the first half to get into the end zone, which is a scary place to be against one of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen. 

Melvin Gordon wasn’t having the best season, especially when you look back at week seven against the Tennessee Titans when Gordon fumbled the ball on the one-yard line on fourth down ultimately losing the game for the Chargers.

Gordon then turns it around and makes a highlight play hurdling over defensive Chandon Sullivan getting the first down and bringing the Chargers into Green Bay territory. Gordon went on to score two touchdowns in the win.

Not only was the Chargers offense giving the Packers defense a hard time, but the Chargers defense was not giving Rodgers any room to make big plays as he was sacked and hurried multiple times by Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

Ingram continues to be a vital part of the Chargers defense. He missed three games this season after suffering a hamstring injury. The game against the Packers was the second game he played in since the injury and the Chargers are currently on a two-game win streak.

The Chargers defense held Rodgers to only completing 11 out of 19 passes for 61 yards through the first three quarters. Rodgers’ final stats were 23 for 35 for 161 yards with one touchdown.

In the post-game interview with Rodgers, he had no excuses for the performance as he explained the game as, “… a nice slice of humble pie.” The Packers will play the Carolina Panthers at home next Sunday.

The Chargers have a short week as they travel to The Oakland Coliseum for Thursday Night Football. The Raiders are currently second in the AFC West and are currently 3-1 in four home games on the season.

Don’t just blame Jameis Winston for the Bucs’ hard times

2010 was a great season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They finished 10-6, which was their best finish since going 11-5 in 2005, and were led by a young and promising core that included Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, and Aqib Talib. They nearly made the playoffs over the team that would win the Super Bowl in the Green Bay Packers, but just missed out in part because of a tough 23-20 OT home loss to the 6-10 Detroit Lions in Week 15. They looked good for the future, but since that, the franchise has seen rough times.

They haven’t won double-digit games since that season and they haven’t made the playoffs either. Their records from every year since are as follows:

2011: 4-12

2012: 7-9

2013: 4-12

2014: 2-14

2015: 6-10

2016: 9-7

2017: 5-11

2018: 5-11

2019: 2-6 so far

The Bucs have gone through five coaches this decade and can’t seem to find consistency.

They drafted Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. They drafted him in hopes that he would give the quarterback position some stability and consistency, along with some success. As the records above state, this hasn’t happened.

Most people are quick to blame Winston for this and they have valid reasons. Winston, for one, got suspended for three games last season for inappropriate behavior toward an Uber driver, and that has caused distractions and added to his already long list of poor decisions. But the main reason is his inability to keep possession, despite having a top-five receiver in Mike Evans.

In his first professional pass, he threw a pick-six to Titans’ cornerback Cody Sensabaugh, and that has set the tone for his tenure. In his rookie season, he was tied for sixth in interceptions with 15. The next season, he was third with 18 interceptions, then in 2018, he was tied for fifth with 14 in only nine games played. He’s had turnover problems for sure, but looking at the Bucs’ the last couple years, their defense has been the real problem with this team, particularly in the secondary.

In 2017, they were 32nd in both total defense and pass defense and were 23rd in rushing defense. Last season, they were 26th in total defense, 27th in pass defense, and 24th in rush defense. This season, they are first in rush defense, but they are only 23rd in total defense and 31st in pass defense.

The secondary has struggled despite drafting Florida DB Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round in 2016. Their unit usually consists of a mix of struggling youth and past-their-prime defensive backs. Despite finishing 32nd in pass defense in 2017, they made a puzzling choice taking Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea over Florida State safety Derwin James, who put on a dazzling display as a rookie for the Los Angeles Chargers.

With this, the Bucs have been in many shootouts that Winston has had to do his best to keep up in. Let’s look at this season alone. They had to score 55 points to hold off the LA Rams, they lost at home 34-32 to a quarterback making his first career start, and just yesterday, they lost 40-34 to the Seattle Seahawks. While Winston does make costly turnovers, he does throw for a lot of yards when he plays. In his first two seasons, he eclipsed 4,000 yards and 3,500 yards in 2017, a season where he missed three games due to injury. His yards per game this season has been 300.9 and that is fifth in the NFL. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been awful either. He has been productive and puts up yards to keep his team in most of the games they have played this season.

You may notice in the season where they had a winning record of 9-7 in 2016. That’s due to a great five-game stretch the defense had in the middle of the season where they allowed less than 22 points each game and the offense didn’t have to score a bunch of points to win them. This included a 14-5 win over the Seahawks. However, it didn’t last as they were torched in weeks 15 and 16 by the Cowboys and Saints. 

If the defense can have stretches where they play like they did in 2016, the Bucs can maybe find themselves in another wild card race. Yes, Winston produces many untimely turnovers, like his fumble against Seattle yesterday in the 4th quarter that led to their defeat, but the defense has not helped matters at all. The Bucs led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 and finished 5-11. That sums up how bad this Bucs’ defense is.

With the next couple drafts, the Bucs need to bolster their secondary and pass defense or else they are going to continue to waste the great talent that is wide receiver, Mike Evans. He has put up insane numbers in the first five and a half seasons of his NFL career and the Bucs have done nothing with it.

Jameis Winston needs to have better decision making, but one thing that would really help the Bucs is having a defense that can help the offense out and one that doesn’t force the offense to win shootout after shootout.