Kings for a Day: Kyler and Kliff
The Arizona Cardinals got their first win of the season Sunday against a Cincinnati Bengals team that is pictured next to the word futility in the dictionary. Kyler Murray made a couple of throws during the game that were next-level. On a third-and-seven on the Cardinals own thirty-nine-yard line Murray floated a ball up the seam between three defenders that somehow nestled itself into the arms of Pharaoh Cooper at the nine-yard line. Murray routinely picked up yards with his legs as well breaking contain against the Bengals defensive line at will. The Cardinals’ Achilles heel all season has been converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. The theme continued today as they were forced to attempt five field goals, converting four of them. The Cardinals’ inability to score touchdowns was the only thing that kept the hapless Bengals in the game. The Impotent One, also known as Andy Dalton, was able to tie the game in the fourth quarter with an uncharacteristically sharp pass to Tyler Boyd. Kyler Murray, undaunted led his team 62 yards down the field with great aplomb, including a 24-yard run that got the field goal unit into chip-shot range. Zane Gonzalez kicked the winning field goal as the 5 Bengals fans that were at Paul Brown Stadium trickled out of the venue. So, Kyler and Kliff both get the first win of their careers. Against a woebegone team in disrepair, but a win is a win in the NFL. If the Cardinals can fix their red-zone play-calling they could be a potent offense until then they will have to rely on playing teams like the Bengals to eke out wins.
Christian McCaffrey: MVP?
Has there been anyone in the NFL more impressive than Christian McCaffrey in the first five weeks of this season? That’s a rhetorical question, and the answer is no. Sunday at Jacksonville he submitted his best performance so far, racking up 237 total yards and three touchdowns. McCaffrey also scored the ever-important cool points when he leaped over a defender on his way into the endzone. McCaffrey leads the league in rushing, with 587 yards on 105 carries which is good for 5.6 yards a tote. He’s second in rushing touchdowns only to Aaron Jones who just scored four against the Cowboys. He’s also caught 31 passes for 279 yards and picked up 17 first downs on receptions. McCaffrey has had 175 total yards in four of the five games played. He has accounted for 805 yards through five games. This puts him on a 2,771-yard pace for the season, which would be a record. McCaffrey has done all this against defenses that know full well that he is going to be fed the ball. He’s doing this with Kyle Allen as the starting QB which makes his performance all the more remarkable. Barring injury this guy could run away (get it?) with the MVP.
I think it’s fair to say that we should give up trying to predict what this team is going to do. Last week they lost to the Raiders, a team that everyone agreed wasn’t very good. This week they come to Arrowhead with an ailing defense going up against the most potent offense in the NFL, and they win? Brissett was average to bad and threw an unconscionable interception. So how did they win? One, Marlon Mack ran hard all game long and they dominated the time of possession battle. The Colts had the ball for 37 minutes during this game, to the Chief’s twenty-two. The best defense against a quarterback some have deemed impossible to stop is keeping the ball completely out of his hands. And, two, when their defense was on the field they held all night long, outside of an absolutely ridiculous Mahomes’ pass in the second quarter. Them getting constant pressure and hits on Mahomes certainly helped things. Mahomes was hobbled for a good portion of the game and sitting in the pocket is anathema to him. He likes to get outside of the pocket and make plays out of thin air. Mahomes’ magic was in short supply tonight.
Jon Gruden and the Raiders
One team that I absolutely wrote off before the season started was this Oakland team. I didn’t like the quarterback, the defense left a lot to be desired, and the situation with one Antonio Brown looked like it was going to go as well as a gun-powder factory placed next to a lighter manufacturer. Somehow, I still don’t understand it, the Raiders are 3-2. I don’t know if they’re good or not. Their season record is a mixture of wins against a bad team (Broncos) and two good teams (Colts, Bears). Their two losses were both two good teams (Chiefs and Vikings). So the operative question is, are the Raiders a good team? Resoundingly maybe. Derek Carr is not good, Josh Jacobs is good, the receiving corps is bad, the defensive backfield is good (Including former first-rounder Gareon Conley who had an interception Sunday). Time will tell with this team, but Gruden has done a good job fielding a competitive team despite early-season craziness.
The Cowboy’s, America’s most hated team, are on a two-game losing streak and neither one of the losses has been particularly spirit-lifting. They lost to a short-handed New Orleans Saints team and could only muster 12 points. On Sunday they got shredded by the Green Bay Packers and made Aaron Jones look like Gale Sayers. The Cowboys couldn’t run the ball because they played from behind nearly the entire game. Dak Prescott had to throw the ball 44 times, not an ideal scenario for the Cowboys when Ezekiel Elliott only carries the ball 12 times. The vanilla play calling is most at fault for the Cowboy’s lack of explosiveness. If Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LeFleur or Andy Reid had an offense this talented they would be among the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Unfortunately, “offensive-guru” Kellen Moore is in charge of the offense in Big D. His idea of an innovative play-call is a counter run against an eight-man front.
The Baltimore Ravens won this Sunday, but they shouldn’t feel good about it in the slightest. Their quarterback was sloppy, their defense was exposed, and their “revolutionary running offense” (according to John Harbaugh before the season) sputtered. The Ravens went for138 yards on the ground and only 161 more through the air. That’s a sign of an anemic offense. The defense didn’t perform much better. They missed tackles, had breakdowns in coverage, and couldn’t force turnovers against a second string, then a third-string quarterback. Lamar Jackson has to be better. He threw three interceptions on Sunday, two of them were ill-advised throws. They won ugly today, and have played ugly every week since their trouncing of the Dolphins (their win over the Cardinals was closer than they would like to admit). This defense assuredly isn’t like the Ravens defenses of yesteryear.
The New Browns
The “new” Browns are the Old Browns, everybody! Cleveland continues its record streak of not having anything nice. If you missed the game last night, the Browns offense looked about as putrid as their colors, and their defense got gashed by an emergent 49’ers running attack. The 49’ers went for 275 yards! Their offensive line road-graded the Browns defensive front; they nearly had two 100-yard rushers in the same game. Baker Mayfield received his comeuppance from Nick Bosa, as the former Ohio State Buckeye Bosa forced Mayfield into an intentional grounding call and after planted a flag; a mockery of Mayfield planting an Oklahoma flag after a victory at the ‘Shoe. Mayfield was 8/22 for 100 total yards and a QBR of 1.4. Not good. I’ll leave you with a word from German, schadenfreude, that is pleasure, and self-satisfaction from the humiliation of others.