NFL Week 8: What we learned from Sunday's games

Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Baltimore Ravens 24

1) The Steelers defense started the division tilt with a pick-six and ended it with a game-sealing pass breakup in the end zone to stay undefeated on the season at 7-0. The Pittsburgh defense made big play after big play despite giving up a whopping 265 rushing yards and 25 first downs. Robert Spillane, filling in for the injured Devin Bush, picked off Lamar Jackson for a touchdown and recovered a Jackson fumble on fourth down late in scoring range. T.J. Watt served notice in his DPOY campaign, pestering Jackson on seemingly every dropback. Watt compiled a whopping five QB hits, one sack and five tackles. His impact on the game was even greater than the stat line indicates. Pittsburgh forced Jackson into four total turnovers, including two fumbles in the red zone. Isaiah Buggs was massive in the middle of the Steelers defense, crumbling the pocket and making a key tackle of Jackson late. Mike Tomlin’s defense gave up a lot of yards, but it stepped up in big spots to turn the tide of a game that Baltimore (5-2) controlled early. In a league with few good defenses, Pittsburgh owns a legit crew that can carry the load when the offense has an average day.

2) The loss is brutal for the Ravens, who fell two games behind in the AFC North and lost star offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury. The defeat stings worse considering Baltimore controlled the game, leading 17-7 at halftime despite two Jackson turnovers. Jackson’s four-turnover day came after he turned it over three times last year against the Pittsburgh defense. Baltimore’s run game was nearly unstoppable against a defense that entered allowing the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL. J.K. Dobbins did most of his damage on the outside, gashing for 113 yards on 15 carries. Gus Edwards drove his bus right down the Steelers’ throats for 87 yards and a score on 16 carries. Jackson went for 65 yards on 16 carries. It was Jackson’s pass attack, however, that continued to struggle. The QB looked rattled, and nothing in the pass game came easy or in rhythm for Baltimore. Jackson completed just 46.4% of 28 attempts, took four sacks, threw 2 TDs, two INTs and fumbled twice. It took busted coverages from the Steelers secondary for the Baltimore pass attack to gain chunks. The Ravens run game is great enough to win games this season, but to beat good clubs, Jackson’s passing must improve, and he can’t turn the ball over as carelessly as he did Sunday.

3) Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense got off to a wicked-slow start. The QB had just 24 passing yards in the first half as the Steelers got down. Big Ben remains off-target on downfield throws, but generates enough defensive pass interferences to make the field-stretching shots worth it. Big Ben completed just three passes of longer than 10 air yards on the day, and none more than 15 air yards. The Steelers were able to move the chains with more regularity in the second half, earning 14 first downs after netting just five in the first two quarters. The key to the game was the red zone, where the Steelers went three of three, while Baltimore converted just three of five RZ trips and turned it over twice. Despite getting out-gained 457 to 221 and being out-rushed 265 to 48, Pittsburgh made enough big plays, particularly on defense, to beat a division rival on the road. The offense wasn’t pretty, but the W is all that matters for the 7-0 Steelers. The rematch comes on Thanksgiving night. Don’t load up on tryptophan before kickoff. 

— Kevin Patra

Miami Dolphins 28, Los Angeles Rams 17

1) Tua Tagovailoa’s debut as a starter left a lot to be desired from a production standpoint (12-of-22, 93 yards), and got off to an inauspicious beginning when Aaron Donald caused him to fumble on Miami’s second offensive snap. Drops by Miami receivers, including two by WR Preston Williams on the same drive, didn’t help matters. Tagovaila was sacked just once, but many of his throws were quick first reads to shorter routes, presumably designed to keep the Rams’ prolific pass rush off of the rookie. The game plan appeared to be one to keep as much pressure off of Tagovailoa as possible, and with a big early lead after the early fumble, he managed the rest of the game without another turnover.

2) The Miami defense befuddled Jared Goff for most of the game with a varying package of blitzes — fake blitzes, delayed blitzes, you name it. The Dolphins (4-3) even dropped defensive linemen into shallow coverage occasionally, allowing DT Christian Wilkins to come up with his first career interception on a short pass intended for Cooper Kupp. They tipped away several of Goff’s throws at the line of scrimmage as well. It all served to throw the Rams (5-3) offense off its rhythm, and although Goff ended up throwing for 355 yards, Miami turned away drive after drive in allowing just three points in the second quarter and none in the third.

3) Two non-offensive touchdowns for Miami — a 78-yard fumble return by Andrew Van Ginkel and an 88-yard punt return by Jakeem Grant that broke a club record — will be the more memorable highlights from the Dolphins win. But for sheer difficulty, those scores had nothing on DeVante Parker’s touchdown. On Tagovailoa’s first career TD pass, Parker was hammered in the end zone by David Long before the ball had even gotten to him, but showed remarkable concentration in making the catch after early contact. A DPI flag on Long, of course, was declined, and Parker made as tough a three-yard catch as there is.

Chase Goodbread

Minnesota Vikings 28, Green Bay Packers 22

1) Week 7 featured National Tight End Day, but Sunday of Week 8 became Dalvin Cook Day. Cook ripped through Green Bay’s defense to the tune of 163 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, but his greatest play was in the passing game, when Cook took a screen 50 yards through traffic down the middle of the field for a game-deciding score. Minnesota nearly gave it up at the end, but never would’ve been there without Cook. Anyone questioning Cook’s value prior to him signing an extension this summer had their queries answered in resounding fashion Sunday. The contrast between the Vikings offense without him versus with him is jarring in a good way when Cook is available, because he essentially transforms them from an also-ran unit relying too heavily on Kirk Cousins to a balanced attack with a do-everything back at the center of it. A 2-5 hole is a deep one to climb out of, but the Vikings have a much, much better shot with Cook out there.

2) Inclement weather affected the NFL’s northernmost games from Green Bay eastward Sunday, meaning those contests would have to be won on the ground. Minnesota came away with a victory in that department by a landslide as a result of both the return of Cook and the absence of Aaron Jones. Jamaal Williams put together a decent performance (16 carries, 75 yards), but it’s clear who is a key player for Green Bay’s offense. Aaron Rodgers did his best to try to carry Green Bay, and unlike the loss to the Buccaneers, the Packers (5-2) weren’t bogged down by turnovers. They simply just didn’t execute consistently enough to keep pace and they’re walking away with an unsettling loss.

3) When the Packers win, it looks pretty damn good, but like they did in 2019, Green Bay seems to wilt when facing a similarly competitive team. In terms of record, Minnesota was not that type of team entering Sunday, but Cook’s return and the windy conditions leveled the playing field enough to put the Packers in a sudden bind. It’s in these moments that the Packers prove perplexing, lingering in a multi-score deficit before awakening with too little time left to complete a comeback. Two weeks after getting thrashed by Tampa Bay in a result that came from a drastic turn of events, the Packers again experienced a quick flip of the game, driven this time by Minnesota’s offensive awakening powered by Cook. The Packers were able to get off the mat and land a few more punches, but ultimately, the effects of the knockdown were too great to overcome. If we want to take them seriously after they went 13-3 and then fizzled on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, these Packers are going to have to prove to us that they can hang with the big boys on a consistent basis.

— Nick Shook

Kansas City Chiefs 35, New York Jets 9

1) Patrick Mahomes toyed with a New York Jets defense that continues to suffer from a bad case of gangrene. The star QB sprayed the ball all over the gridiron, hitting 10 receivers for 416 yards and five touchdowns. Four Chiefs caught TDs. The Jets (0-8) had no answer for Travis Kelce (8/109/1) over the middle or Tyreek Hill (4/98/2) deep. Mahomes had all day to find any receiver he wanted. The highlight machine gave us an underhanded flip TD and a picture-perfect arching score that fell from the heavens. In the first half, the Chiefs (7-1) scored three TDs on four drives. The Jets kicked three field goals and missed another. The game was essentially over from there. For most of the tilt, it felt like K.C. was in practice mode, testing out different plays. That’s what happens when a Super Bowl contender faces a DOA winless squad.

2) What exactly does Adam Gase do during halftime? Play tiddlywinks? The Jets certainly aren’t making adjustments — at least none that work. A week after earning four second-half yards, the Jets offense was once again befuddled after the break. In the final two quarters, Gase’s offense generated two first downs and went three-and-out five times, earning 63 total yards. One of those two first downs came on a drive that ended in a Chris Herndon fumble, and the other was on the game-ending drive. Credit the Chiefs defense for swarming to the ball and hitting hard, but this Jets offense is about as putrid as possible. Sam Darnold looked rattled from the start and might have re-injured his shoulder late. In a hopeless season, facing Mahomes and the Super Bowl champs was a reminder of how far Gang Green is from competing.

3) At least the Jets didn’t have to watch Le'Veon Bell go off in a revenge game. The new Chiefs running back took just six carries for seven yards with a long of four. Bell added three catches for 31 yards. The Chiefs didn’t need much from their run game. Despite being up double-digits for the bulk of the contest, K.C. rushed just 20 times for 50 yards. Even when Chad Henne entered, Andy Reid still elected to throw the ball. Kansas City doesn’t need to establish the run to salt away the clock.

— Kevin Patra

Buffalo Bills 24, New England Patriots 21

1) It may have taken eight weeks, but the Bills run game finally came alive. Facing less than ideal weather conditions and a defense that’s struggled to stop the run, the offense featured a steady dose of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. From the moment Singletary set the tone with four straight runs on the Bills’ opening drive, all signs pointed to the young tandem having success, so long as it kept churning away. And that’s exactly what happened. Both toted the rock 14 times and compiled a season-best 167 total yards with Moss finding the end zone twice. Josh Allen, who was without a TD pass for a second straight game, added to the rushing barrage with 23 yards and a score. The Bills (6-2) have yet to recapture their early-season offensive magic, but they brought just enough grit to edge out their opponent in what ended up being a smashmouth affair.  

2) With injuries ravaging the WR corps, the Patriots were forced to generate offense with a skeleton crew. Tossing passes to the likes of Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd, Cam Newton did all he could to push the ball down field, but relying on the run once again dominated the game plan, similar to how it has even with a full arsenal. Newton (9/54/TD) and Damien Harris (16/102/TD) mustered up 156 yards rushing to pace New England, but it wasn’t enough. After recording two FGs in their previous six possessions, back-to-back second-half TD drives gave the Pats hope, but, as you’ll see in the next point, a team that lives by the run is even more prone to succumbing as a result of it. The already grim “Belichick-Brady era” graphics that have followed this team all season certainly won’t look any better after this one.

3) In a game largely decided by the run, how fitting was it for this one to end the way it did? After a Tyler Bass FG, the Pats took over on their 21 down three with 4:03 remaining. Runs on six of their next 11 plays helped bring them inside the red zone and in striking distance of a chip-shot FG. Rather than take the more sure option, they decided to go to Newton, who took off down the field for a five-yard gain, only to have the ball punched out by defensive tackle Justin Zimmer. The game-deciding turnover handed the “little brother” Bills, who sit firmly atop the division, their first home win over New England since 2011, and gave the Pats (2-5) their first four-game losing streak since 2002.

— Jelani Scott

Cincinnati Bengals 31, Tennessee Titans 20

1) Cincinnati’s offensive line enjoyed what was probably its best performance of the season. Much maligned for its play this year, it usually gave Joe Burrow plenty of time to throw, and when it didn’t, Burrow’s mobility bought a lot more. The Titans (5-2) logged no sacks. Burrow kept his eyes downfield while escaping pressure, and has an instinct for when to step up and when to roll out. As usual for the pass-happy Bengals (2-5-1), there wasn’t much of a ground game. But the Cincinnati front paved the way for an 11-play drive, mostly runs, that took 5:40 off the clock at the end of the game to put the win to bed.

2) Between the Titans failure to target A.J. Brown in the first half and the Bengals’ coverage of him in the second, it was a mostly forgettable day for the second-year pro. A week after Brown shredded the Steelers (6-153-1), he was targeted just once in the first half, stuffed at the line of scrimmage on his first catch in the third quarter, and had his third target broken up nicely by Bengals S Vonn Bell. Tennessee got some of Brown’s usual production from Corey Davis, who had his best game of the season (8-128-1). Brown finally got into the end zone in the fourth quarter with two broken tackles on a red zone reception, but the Titans needed him more involved early in the game.

3) Tee Higgins’ rise as one of the league’s top rookie receivers flashed again. He grabbed an acrobatic 50-50 ball from Burrow on the right sideline for 24 yards on the Bengals’ opening drive, and had another big catch before the half in which he broke off his route on a scramble and got open over the middle of the field. The Bengals obviously want to get him more touches — he even rushed twice for six yards, the fourth game in a row he’s gotten at least one carry. He’s a big, reliable target for Burrow who is proving to pair nicely with Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green in the Bengals WR corps.

Chase Goodbread

Las Vegas Raiders 16, Cleveland Browns 6

1) Mother Nature respectfully waited until the calendar turned to November before she unleashed her wrath on the NFL field perched alongside Lake Erie, and she showed no mercy Sunday. Temperatures near freezing produced a frequent rain-ice mix that swirled within FirstEnergy Stadium amid wind gusts of nearly 40 mph, whipping flags in and around the stadium in every possible direction and creating a hazardous environment for any air-based activity involving the football. Daniel Carlson’s first field goal attempt broke from right to left like a right-hander’s slider would on the diamond, banging off the left upright in a sign of things to come. Neither offense found much success, with only one play — a Baker Mayfield completion to Jarvis Landry with 3:50 left — going for more than 20 yards the entire afternoon. The passing lines for Mayfield and Derek Carr tell the story. Each were forced to get busy with their legs and played admirably, but this was not a game for the modern fan of shootouts. It was little surprise to see this one finish first among all NFL 1 p.m. ET games Sunday.

2) The Raiders (4-3) haven’t had their envisioned offensive line together for really any of this season, but they’re winning with physical play that extends beyond their blockers. Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker made a living out of breaking tackles and falling forward Sunday, with Jacobs rushing 31 times for 128 yards, and Booker adding five rushes for 29 yards and one reception for 17 yards. As a team, Las Vegas rushed for 4.6 yards per carry, constantly creating running lanes and surges up front and rarely going down on first contact. On the backs of its rushing attack, Las Vegas simply bullied Cleveland (5-3), caught a stroke of luck on replay review to account for its only score (which made a questionable earlier review that went against the Raiders a wash) and punctuated its grind-it-out win with a hard hit on Landry that jarred the ball from his grasp in the end zone, forcing a field goal attempt that was also hijacked by the wind and essentially ended things.

3) The Raiders were far from the friendly dome that is their new home, yet they managed to play the old-school, tough style of football that is necessary to win in inclement weather better than the ground-reliant Browns. Two key stats tell you everything you need to know about this one: Las Vegas was seven for 13 on third down, and dominated the time of possession battle by a difference of more than 13 minutes. It’s a poor reflection on a Browns defense that has thrived on takeaways early this year, but hasn’t been able to stiffen enough to make much of a difference, including Sunday, when a few of those third-down conversions (and one that didn’t, but took the Raiders from third and 18 to fourth and inches) felt like back-breakers for the Browns. Their best stand came too late, when they stonewalled Jacobs to force a field goal at the end of a possession that ate up nearly nine minutes of clock in a one-score game. Simply, with the Browns at home in poor conditions — a situation in which coaches have long touted Cleveland’s supposed advantage — they were beaten at their own game by a team hailing from the desert. They’re 5-3, but they probably don’t feel that great headed into the bye.

— Nick Shook

Indianapolis Colts 41, Detroit Lions 21

1) Another week, another Colts victory that began with a slow start. It’s been a theme midway through the 2020 season for Indianapolis (5-2), but Frank Reich’s team never wavered. The Colts turned things around starting in the second quarter by going into a no-huddle offense which tired the opposing defense early on. The Colts also took advantage of the untimely penalties made by the Lions (3-4). Without much of a running game, quarterback Philip Rivers executed designed short throws for much of the afternoon, and running back Nyheim Hines had a pair of spectacular catch-and-run touchdowns, which were part of a 20-point quarter before half that went unanswered. The Colts maintained a lead the rest of the way and RB Jordan Wilkins found a rhythm on the ground in the second half with a team-leading 89 rushing yards on 20 attempts. After T.Y. Hilton left the game early with a groin injury, Rivers (23-of-33 for 262 yards, three TDs) had to make due with what was left. There were 11 Colts with a reception and none of them had more than three. It was an all-around team effort for the Colts, who now position themselves atop the AFC South with a win and go on to host the Ravens in Week 9.

2) Welcome back Darius Leonard. The Colts All-Pro linebacker is back after missing two games with a groin injury, and the Colts defense returned to form coming off its bye week. Leonard had a game-altering strip-sack in the third quarter that not only prevented the Lions from taking a potential lead, but the turnover led to a Colts TD. Leonard’s presence fired up a Colts defense that had five sacks of Matthew Stafford and its constant pressure (seven QB hits) led to a pick-six by Kenny Moore in the fourth quarter which put the game out of reach. Tyquan Lewis and Denico Autry had two sacks apiece, and there was plenty of opportunity as the Colts defense pigeon-holed the Lions by allowing just 29 yards on 13 rushing attempts.

3) Looking for a wild ride? Look no further than a weekly commute on the Lions’ emotional roller-coaster. Everything seemed right for Detroit in the first quarter as it played with great energy and took advantage of big plays. The Lions defensive line stifled the Colts offense and Miles Killebrew blocked a punt that set up the game’s first score to give Detroit a 7-0 lead. Everything fell apart in the second quarter, where crucial penalties and a leaky pass defense aided a 20-point unanswered counter by the Colts that flipped the Lions’ disposition into a despondent mess. A missed field goal by Matt Prater punctuated a horrific second quarter of play. The Lions fired back with an opening-drive TD to start the second half, but that was it. A lopsided time of possession (Lions held the ball for 22:14 for the game) likely exhausted the Lions defense and Detroit’s non-existent running attack on offense kept drives short and predictable. It certainly didn’t help that Kenny Golladay left the game midway through with a non-contact hip injury. Marvin Jones caught two TD passes and second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson had a career-high seven receptions for 65 yards in his absence. Stafford went 24-of-42 for 336 yards and three touchdowns, but walked away with a bloody left hand after a hectic day on offense that ended with a turnover on downs. The Lions came up short of winning three games in a row, which would’ve been a first in the Matt Patricia era.

— Michael Baca

Source: Read Full Article