So much happens on any given Sunday in the NFL. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that we learned this week and give you the five things I care about coming out of Week 12, along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care for. Good news for you: We’re going to do this exercise in emotional turmoil every Sunday of the regular season.
5 Things I care about
You can’t call Jimmy Garoppolo a problem
When looking at the biggest strengths of the San Francisco 49ers, the passing game and quarterback play may not make the top-five. However, Jimmy Garoppolo, as some may want to paint him to be, is far from a problem.
We haven’t gotten to watch the handsomely paid quarterback with a full cast of characters for much of this season. The Niners aren’t a fully operational battle station on offense but he did have his pass-catching trio on lock. The all-star George Kittle, wildly impressive rookie Deebo Samuel and veteran No. 1 receiver Emmanuel Sanders all played despite nursing some injuries of late. That is a big improvement over what the team played with earlier in the season.
The result was a wildly efficient performance from Garoppolo. He racked up 253 yards on just 20 throws. That was good for 12.7 yards per attempt with a 145.8 passer rating.
Doubters will surely be quick to point out most of his production came on a 42-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Samuel and Kittle’s 61-yard scoring bomb. But that’s just it. The offense finally has pieces in place that can make plays for the quarterback. Kyle Shanahan’s system is designed to make life easier for the player behind center with a litany of layup receptions and open windows. The extra juice comes when you have players on the receiving end of those that can add value to their targets.
The 49ers now clearly have that and Garoppolo runs the system in pristine fashion. After a gutsy comeback against the Cardinals when the offense was off-script, we saw him demonstrate how lethal it is when the script is in motion. The 49ers don’t have a passing problem anymore.
If, for some reason, they weren’t already, the NFC should be afraid.
DJ Moore is one of the toughest receivers in the business
The Panthers wide receiver debate in the offseason got stupid fast. As if it was impossible to not like both players, even if you were like me and quite high on Curtis Samuels’ talent. But enough about that, let’s live in the present.
In this timeline, DJ Moore is having an awesome season. No qualifications required. His skill set as a short-area, quick-hitting slant route specialist just fits so well with Kyle Allen. The backup passer’s clock runs fast. He struggles under pressure and that brings short-area options like Moore into focus. I liked the Moore pick for Carolina so much a couple of years back because he is the perfect layup-reception creator. Few quarterbacks needed that more than Cam Newton. His injury-based replacement has reaped the benefits.
Moore also had verifiable strengths that shined through his rookie film, even as he did struggle as a route runner. He’s a verifiable playmaker and is adept at functioning in tight spaces. Both of those were on display as he dropped 126 yards and two scores on nine targets against New Orleans. He did all this while nursing a few injuries here in Week 12. Moore is a true fantasy rockstar the rest of the way and an emerging picture of reliability for Carolina.
The Browns simplify
The game broadcast had a nugget during the Browns win over Miami that helped explain their early season quite well. To paraphrase, Baker Mayfield told the crew he was too focused early on satisfying his receivers and making sure they were fed while not just taking what the defense gave him. That led to him pressing and far too many options popping up in the passing game.
It was clear during their win over a painfully inferior Miami roster that this offensive attack is starting to figure itself out. They’re simplifying things and more importantly, cutting out the fluff.
Too often in the season’s first few months, we saw way too much of bit players like Antonio Callaway, Demetrius Harris, Dontrell Hilliard, etc.
None of that anymore.
In Week 12, no other running back touched the ball besides Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In the passing game, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry combined for 21 targets. The backs combined for seven. No one else saw more than two. The Browns have good players. That’s never been in question. We’re just finally seeing them featured properly.
The results are undeniable. Cleveland has ripped off three-straight wins and Mayfield has a passer rating of 104.3 in that stretch. We might just get something much closer to the Browns we hoped for to close out 2019.
Falcons defense, that was fun
You could point to legitimate causes for the Falcons defensive turnaround coming out of their bye. With Dan Quinn relinquishing play-calling duties to his assistants and especially Raheem Morris moving back over to the defensive staff, it was fair to wonder if this stop unit had turned a corner after whipping up on the Saints and Panthers.
Atlanta’s loss to their third NFC South rival lends a lot of credit to the idea that those two weeks were just a random blip. No, you don’t get any credit for getting two picks of Jameis Winston. The most generous passer in the league will always find a way to give you a shot at some takeaways. Once Winston settled after the early two picks, he thumped the Falcons stop unit. Atlanta never brought him down for a sack.
The Falcons were never going to make a push for the playoffs. What the defense has shown us for not just all of this season, but the vast majority of the Dan Quinn era is far more important than those two flashes in the pan. Atlanta will be headed for a full-on makeover this offseason and remains a beatable defense for the rest of 2019.
Raiders don’t unveil a counterpunch
You can call it a trap game but that would be a miscalculation of where the Jets currently stand. More on that later. However you choose to label it, the Raiders showed some major cause for concern.
Oakland was set to take on the top run defense in the NFL, at least in terms of yards per carry allowed this season. They are on offense built around the efforts of their outstanding rookie back, one of the best pure runners in the game this season. Josh Jacobs was taken out of the action as the Raiders fell behind and he finished with just 10 carries, tying a season-low. No other portion of the offense came to bail them out.
Derek Carr has played extremely efficient football this season, especially over the Raiders 4-2 run from October leading into this week. The problem is that most of it came within the structure and on a specific leading script. When they were thrown off schedule here in Week 12, Carr offered a miserable performance with a 4.7 yards per attempt average. Every member of the passing game sank, no matter what volume we saw from players like Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller heading into this matchup.
Going forward, the Raiders have a game against the Chiefs in Kansas City next week that could see them thrown off schedule again. After that, there isn’t a formidable foe on the ledger, depending on what you think of the Titans. The Raiders can still push for a sixth seed but if they want to get anything more out of this season beyond pats on the back for exceeding expectations, they need to unveil a counterpunch for when the script goes awry.
5 Things I don’t care about
The Packers ran into a buzzsaw in Week 12. It was easy to see coming. Neither fantasy managers nor real-life NFL prognosticators should incur much panic as a result.
For fake footballers, the Packers volume remained funneled through its main players. Davante Adams found the end zone for the first time all season and inhaled 12 targets. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams didn’t flood the box score but split 31 touches. The Packers got off script and down their starting right tackle, just got lit up by the 49ers swarming defense. Aaron Rodgers was in a tough spot and it only got worst as the night went on. His 3.2 yards per attempt isn’t a sight we should expect to see again.
The Packers have real flaws. A defense that once looked like a possibly resurgent group has turned into a weakness. The 49ers had massive throwing windows far too often in Week 12. The best hope for fantasy players is to continue to deploy weapons against this group. It’s produced sleepers and sneaky flex plays all year.
Green Bay can continue to carry those flaws through the rest of 2019 and still make noise in the NFC. Sitting at 8-3, they still hold the first place spot in their division. The strengths of their roster can still help them defeat quality teams when they get hot. The 49ers have undressed plenty of teams this year. Here in Week 12, we saw them do so and get a quality win over a good opponent. We don’t need to make it anything more than that.
Singular views on Carson Wentz
Carson Wentz is the ultimate “both things can be a true” storyline, an all-too-often ignored explanation in the game of football. One-way views of what’s wrong in Philadelphia right now should be ignored.
The supporting cast in Philadelphia is broken. That cannot be disputed. A receiver corps composed of Greg Ward Jr., Jordan Matthews and a raw rookie in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is just not NFL caliber. Tight ends and running backs caught 22 passes for Wentz on Sunday. Injuries have sunk this unit to the point it’s beyond salvageable.
A depleted wideout room is no doubt part of the reason Wentz is on a disaster run. In each of the last two games, Wentz has gone under 5.8 yards per attempt with a sub-76 passer rating. He hasn’t thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game since October 13. Again, he hasn’t been getting any help from his wide receivers but Wentz must own some blame for this slump.
Wentz’s last two games have featured hopeless misses and bouts of inaccuracies but mainly, troubling signs we’ve seen creeping all season of a quarterback no longer as comfortable operating in chaos. It was a stark contrast to see him on the same field as Russell Wilson, long-reigning as the NFL’s master of the latter trait.
However you slice it, this unit looks like it needs the offseason in the worst way. The Eagles offense needs a reboot.
The outright disaster we saw Sam Darnold undergo on Monday Night Football against the Patriots has people suffering from take-lock. Island games have a tendency to do that. This particular case was made even worse by the defining “seeing ghosts” line and a followup performance the next week that saw Darnold toss three more picks. However, on balance, Darnold has played well this season.
Since that three-pick Jaguars loss, Sam Darnold is averaging 274 passing yards per game with an 8:2 touchdown to interception ratio. The Jets are 4-1 in that span. Don’t forget that his first outing after returning from mono and before that MNF nightmare was an efficient takedown of the Cowboys.
The Jets have scored 34 points in three-straight games. The season has long since been over for the New York franchise but they’re stacking positive signals from their young franchise quarterback. That’s all they need heading into 2020. And here in the present, we need to adjust expectations for teams playing this Jets squad. The days of them being a pushover are gone.
Courtland Sutton flops
Despite DeVante Parker posting a solid line against this Bills secondary, we know it’s one of the more ferocious backends in the league. Shutdown corner Tre'Davious White remains one of the best in the business. There’s no shame in Courtland Sutton getting shut down.
The hulking Broncos receiver posted just one catch on Sunday. That was despite seeing eight targets. However, he’s still on his way to a great breakout second season. Sutton has already cleared 800 yards on the year.
The reality is, despite Joe Flacco leaving much to be desired, Brandon Allen under center is a problem for Sutton’s weekly production floor. The journeyman quarterback has completed fewer than 50% of his passes two weeks in a row now. That just isn’t going to cut it. We saw one of those games feature big plays from Sutton and a 100-plus yard effort. The ceiling is intact with this type of passer but the floor has been taken out.
The real question is what kind of passer will Drew Lock be for Sutton. It’s clear we are going to see him soon.
Jaylen Samuels turns to dust
Were people still relying on Jalen Samuels? That’s a shame. Yes, the matchup against the Bengals was juicy, especially with James Conner out. However, Samuels has proven over and over again that he cannot be a key cog in the team’s running game. He just doesn’t have it. With just five touches in Week 12, the final nail is in the coffin.
If you want to put the tin foil hat on, you could make the case the team ultimately decided that Samuels’ presence on the field encouraged Mason Rudolph’s insatiable urge to check down. By removing the temptation of dumping the ball off to the hybrid player, they could take out the potential for ultimately meaningless receiving lines like Samuels offered at times this season, such as a 13-73 line against the Colts and 8-57 in the previous matchup with the Bengals.
Those types of outings do nothing but continue to stall the offense. Rudolph does that enough on his own. Removing Samuels in favor of a true running back was their best shot at getting rid of the extra layer.
It didn’t matter because Rudolph left them no choice but to give him the boot. That changes the complexion of the offense, as Devlin Hodges can keep it on schedule. As such, Week 12 did bring us another strong outing from Benny Snell. He took a whopping 21 carries for 98 yards in his first full game since he rocked the Chargers on the ground in Hodges’ last start. I’m taking the L on doubting Snell. He’s a strong fit for a team that wants to run with power and has the defense to keep them in those scripts.