In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 9, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.
A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates.
Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird that is colored mostly black; metaphorically speaking, it’s an unforeseen event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.
Week 10 Pawns
Everyone else is going to be talking about some of the controversial finishes from Week 10, but you’ll be the life of the party when you bring up the performances of these players, instead. (No promises about the whole life of the party thing, though.)
The NFC East
After we spent an entire year ripping on them for combining for 26 wins and sending a 9-7 team to the playoffs last season, the whole division has responded with a vicious middle finger to the rest of the league.
Not only does the NFC East possess the team with the best record in the NFL – the Cowboys at 8-1 – but its quartets has a combined 24 wins right now. They are also the only division in football that doesn’t have a single team below .500 – the Eagles are in the basement at 5-4.
“But what the hell does that have to do with Week 10, Ty?”
Thank you for asking. The NFC East’s dominance was put on display in Week 10 as the division went 4-0. The teams they beat makes that all the more impressive. The division recorded wins over the Falcons, Steelers, Vikings, and Bengals. Entering the week, three of those four teams were at least tied for the best record in their respective divisions.
To continue the boasting, only two teams have started a rookie at quarterback in every game this season, and both reside in the NFC East.
Am I ready to retract my statements from last year? Of course not. But I’ll stop calling you the “NFC Least,” and if you keep this up, you’ll soon become the “NFC Beast.”
Seahawks Interior Defensive Linemen
While everyone is talking about whether Kam Chancellor interfered with Rob Gronkowski on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line, I’d like to give credit to the guys that forced New England to put the ball in the air in that situation.
Before that crucial 4th down, the Pats had 1st-and-goal from the two and couldn’t punch it in on three running plays. The Seahawks had the same three interior defensive linemen on the field the whole time. Ahtyba Rubin was lined up at nose tackle, while Tony McDaniel and Jarran Reed were anywhere from a one to three-technique on opposite sides. These three players may not have always made the tackles, but they certainly were major factors in preventing the Patriots from tying the game.
On the first play, Tom Brady tried a quarterback sneak, which has been almost automatic over the course of his career. However, Rubin stood the center up at the snap of the ball, while Reed and McDaniel were able to split the gap between the guard and tackle on their respective sides, allowing for no push by the offensive line. Brady was able to get a yard, but the Pats still found themselves another yard away from the endzone.
Next, the Pats would test their luck handing the ball to LeGarrette Blount. Once again, Ahtyba stood his ground and Reed took on the guard and tackle on the strong side, freeing up his linebackers to make a play. I also have to throw a bone to defensive end Cliff Avril for not only holding up his blocker, but bringing him into the original hole. The efforts of those players allowed Bobby Wagner to slice through the gap and Chancellor to come around from the backside to grab Blount’s legs, resulting in no gain.
On third down, the Pats went back to the sneak, but Brady bobbled the ball and had to dive backwards to recover it.
Thanks to their goal-line stands on the first three (ok, maybe two) downs, New England chose to go away from the run and put the ball in the air. The resulting play will be discussed for a while and the phenomenal performances by Ahtyba, McDaniel, and Reed will be lost in the drama; so here’s to the big boys who made it all possible.
Dennis Kelly, Left Tackle, Titans
To be clear, Kelly is not the Titans starting left tackle; Taylor Lewan is. But Lewan only played one snap in this game before he was ejected for contact with an official. Since I am not a Titans fan, Lewan’s ejection was about as humorous as Jeff Triplette trying to hand out three penalties on the play.
Although the Titans offense became less efficient with Kelly in the game, it still managed 371 yards and scored on their next three drives following Lewan’s ejection.
Kelly did not just step in and do an adequate job at left tackle, he performed to the level of a legitimate starter. The backup did not allow a single sack, and the Titans were able to run the ball comfortably to his side as well, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Not every team has one player who can excel at left tackle. Tennessee somehow has two. Side note: the Titans trading Dorial Green-Beckham for this swing-lineman looks pretty good right now.
Cairo Santos, Kicker, Chiefs
Since I know you guys read this article for the kicker-love I’m constantly serving up, here’s the kicking performance of the week. To be clear, when I said “you guys,” I was referring to NFL kickers.
In a game where the Chiefs found themselves down 17-0 to the Panthers late in the second quarter, they jumped on the back (or leg) of their kicker, Cairo Santos.
On the day, Santos nailed all four of his field-goal attempts, including three came in the fourth quarter alone. Santos was successful from 47, 36, and 33 before nailing the 37-yard game-winner as time expired. Sure, none of those were sexy field-goals (oxymoron?), but when his team needed him, Santos came through.
Thanks to Santos’ execution, the Chiefs extended their winning streak to five games and took over the top spot in the AFC West.
Week 10 Black Swans
I could sit here and pick on Blair Walsh again, but I think losing your job is embarrassing enough; since none of these guys have been cut yet, let’s highlight their poor weeks.
Jay Cutler, “Quarterback,” Bears
I know it’s not often you see a quarterback featured in this article, and Henry has already touched on this a little bit, but the performance Jay Cutler just put forth in Week 10 was one of the worst I have ever seen. Now you get to hear why. (Before we get into it, I want to state the obvious by saying it’s so Cutler for him to do this after winning back some Bears fans with a great performance against the Vikings in Week 9.)
Cutler went 16/30 for 182 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions (55.1 passer rating) in Week 10. If that doesn’t look bad enough, it should be noted that Cutler’s second interception of the game, which occurred on the Bears’ third drive, was returned for a touchdown, giving the Bucs a 7-0 lead.
Those passing numbers are horrible regardless of who you’re playing. But Cutler was facing one of the worst pass defenses in the league. In the Bucs prior two games, they’d allowed 325 and 498 net yards through the air. Yet, Cutler could only manage 161. What makes this even worse is that 50 of those yards came on a lucky Hail Mary to close the first half. Another 24 were gifted to them on the last play of the game.
On top of the disgusting passing performance, Cutler also committed two costly fumbles. His first fumble came on a 3rd-and-four early in the second quarter from the Bucs four-yard line. Had Cutler held onto the ball, the Bears would have at least put a field goal on the board to pull within one point. The quarterback’s second fumble came late in the third quarter, backed up against his own goal-line with his team down 27-10. The fumble was batted out of the endzone and resulted in a safety, adding to the Bucs’ lead. Sure, both of the fumbles came while Cutler was being sacked, but neither one can be put on his offensive line; Cutler’s poor awareness was put on display in both instances; he was showing no urgency even though he was outside of the pocket trying to find a man downfield.
Cutler’s past two performances epitomize his career. He’ll take up his rightful position on the sideline, clipboard in hand, come 2017.
Hue Jackson, Head Coach, Browns
In their Thursday night game against the Ravens, Jackson made a terrible coaching decision that may have blown the Browns’ last chance of getting a win this season.
Cleveland entered the second half with a 7-6 lead and were receiving the ball first. Unfortunately, Cody Kessler went three-and-out on that possession, and then Baltimore scored on the ensuing drive to take the lead, 13-7. Jackson sensed that Baltimore was seizing the momentum and felt he needed to do something to spark his team. So the Browns head coach turned to backup quarterback Josh McCown.
When Kessler was pulled from the game, he was 11/18 for 91 yards and a touchdown – good for a 92.6 passer rating. These stats are nothing to write home about, but they’re also not deserving of a benching, especially against the Baltimore defense. This decision looks so much worse when you consider McCown came in and went 6/13 for 59 yards, two interceptions, and a pitiful 19.9 passer rating. He was absolutely awful and helped Baltimore run away with the game.
In the end, the Browns lost 28-7 and fell to 0-10 on the season. Of all the ways the Browns could have found to lose this game, a Hue Jackson coaching mistake wasn’t one I foresaw.
Sean Davis, Safety, Steelers
First of all, what a game the Steelers and Cowboys put on. If you were not entertained, then you don’t enjoy football.
But let’s get to the goat of the afternoon, Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis. After Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown to take a 30-29 lead, Dallas got the ball back with 42 seconds remaining. Dak Prescott drove his team down the field by dinking-and-dunking underneath. It was another solid, veteran-style performance from the super-rookie, but he also got a ton of help part way through the drive from Davis.
As Jason Witten hauled in a pass just over midfield, he was swarmed by Pittsburgh defenders who went fishing for the ball. Unfortunately, Davis was not very careful with his hands, and wound up grabbing Witten’s face mask. The resulting 15-yard penalty moved the Cowboys to the Steelers’ 32-yard line. On the next play, Ezekiel Elliott, simply attempting to run down the clock before a game-winning field goal attempt, took it to the house.
Had Davis been more disciplined, the Cowboys would have still needed another ten yards to get into field goal position, and they would have only had 15 seconds to do so. By no means do I excuse the gaping hole that allowed Elliott to rumble to the endzone, but the Steelers probably would have lost anyway thanks to Davis’ boneheaded penalty.
Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver, Saints
Broncos fan that I am, I’ll admit that Denver was lucky to escape New Orleans with a 25-23 win on Sunday. We are all going to remember Justin Simmons hurdling the Saints’ long-snapper and blocking the extra-point attempt, allowing Will Parks to scoop up the ball and return it for the game-winning two points. But does anyone remember the game Michael Thomas had?
The rookie receiver was responsible for three turnovers on the day – only two show up on the stat-sheet, though.
The first came on the opening play of the second quarter, when Drew Brees put a ball right in Thomas’ hands over the middle. However, with Bradley Roby draped all over him, the rookie tried to squeeze it too hard, popping it up in the air. The ball found its way into the hands of safety Darian Stewart, and Denver would put three points on the board on the resulting possession.
The receiver’s second turnover came on the team’s first possession of the fourth quarter when they were up 17-10. Drew Brees found Thomas on an option route over the middle, and the rookie turned it up field for what was going to be a nice gain, putting New Orleans in Denver territory. However, Roby would chase Thomas down from behind and punch the ball loose. Once again, Stewart was in the right place at the right time; he returned the fumble to the Saints 27-yard line, and Trevor Siemian would tie the game on that possession.
Thomas’ third and final giveaway of the game came with just over three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and the Saints down 20-17. New Orleans was starting the drive at its own 13-yard line; on the second play, disaster would strike again. Thomas caught a quick hook out of the slot and tried to do too much with it. When the rookie turned upfield, he saw Broncos linebacker Corey Nelson waiting for him. Instead of lowering his shoulder into the contact, Thomas tried to dance around Nelson and jumped back inside towards the pursuit. This resulted in defensive end Jared Crick crushing the receiver and forcing another fumble. The Broncos recovered again, deep in Saints territory, and put three more points on the board.
Of course, the three turnovers Thomas was responsible for, which resulted in 13 points for the Broncos, would have been forgotten had the Saints converted their extra-point attempt and pulled off the victory. But without Thomas’ turnovers, the Saints wouldn’t have been in that situation.