TMF: Jonathan Taylor For MVP? Defense Has Chiefs Back On Top, Problems in Buffalo; More From Week 11
Jonathan Taylor could carry the Colts to the playoffs; Defense could be key to the Chiefs making a run; Bills need to get tougher. Plus: 10 things from Week 11
A good word that adequately describes Week 11 in the NFL, and maybe even the entirety of the 2021 NFL season thus far.
Sunday was a key example of why we love this sport. Regardless of how much we despise seeing a player receive a 15-yard taunting penalty for pointing at a defender, it simply doesn’t matter – because the National Football League has us all hooked. Week 11 featured the top seeded Tennessee Titans losing to the worst team in the AFC; the Houston Texans. Wild, right?
The wild week didn’t end there.
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense were shut down by a dominant and increasingly impressive Kansas City Chiefs defense. Not something we’d have imagined writing six weeks ago, that’s for sure.
Cam Newton made his return to Charlotte and faced his former head coach Ron Rivera, and the Washington Football Team. It was a nice moment for Newton and Panthers fans. Yet, Newton’s glorious return to Carolina was spoiled by Washington’s defense.
Indianapolis picked up a huge 41-15 upset in Buffalo on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan Taylor was the best player on the field, as he has been in most of the Colts' games. In the win over the Bills, Taylor became the first player in Colts history to score five touchdowns in a game.
If we ever see a non-quarterback win the MVP award again, Taylor may be the guy to do it. Realistically however, he may have to settle for NFL Offensive Player of the Year. (More on that later)
TMF Headline: Jonathan Taylor is a star
In the first half of Sunday’s win over the Bills, Jonathan Taylor had already totaled 98 yards and three touchdowns. Whether you’re a Colts fan or not, his elusiveness and power is truly remarkable to watch live.
Indianapolis was up 24-7 and behind Taylor, were controlling the game with ease. By the third quarter, Taylor put the game away when he fought to keep his balance on a 40-yard run down the sideline. On the very next play, he would score a 10-yard touchdown, stiff-arming a defender in the process.
Taylor will most likely win the rushing title this season, assuming he stays healthy. He currently leads the league with 1,122 rushing yards with the next closest active player behind him at 851 yards. He’s also leading the league in total yards from scrimmage, which again, indicates how special a season he’s having in Indianapolis. Taylor should put up 2,000 total yards and perhaps even score 20-25 total touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the MVP award is still a long shot for Taylor.
Since 1993, no non-quarterback has won NFL MVP without a 2,000-yard rushing season or setting an NFL touchdown record. Both Adrian Peterson (2012) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) accomplished one of those features when they won the award. And unless Taylor absolutely goes on a tear the next six games, he’s not currently on pace to hit either.
But the NFL Offensive Player of the Year is certainly on the table for Taylor. As of today, Rams WR Cooper Kupp looks to be the clear frontrunner – but of course, a lot can change between now and Week 18.
Regardless of which awards Taylor wins or doesn’t, the Colts know what they have in their young star running back. More importantly, the Colts know what they’re capable of accomplishing because of him.
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LEAD TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 11
Defense coming up big for Kansas City. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
It was just a few weeks ago when we were saying how dreadful this Chiefs defense had looked to through the first quarter of the season. Now, Kansas City is legitimately winning football games because of its defense. Now that’s a story not many could have predicted.
Kansas City’s elite offense has not looked the same for large portions of the season, and until a few weeks ago, the Chiefs defense weren’t giving Mahomes and the offense much room to figure things out slowly. Through the first five weeks of the season, Kansas City gave up 30 or more points in four games. Over the last six weeks, the most they’ve allowed in a single game was 27.
Let’s rewind for a quick minute:
Remember, the Chiefs entered the 2021 season the same way they entered seasons in recent years: A Super Bowl favorite with a dangerously talented group of players on offense. Kansas City has its future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid, and a 26-year-old franchise quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, who’s clearly on pace to join his coach in Canton one day; many, many years from now. That same quarterback passes the football to, arguably, the most feared wide receiver in the NFL and one of the greatest tight ends in league history.
The questions in both seasons past and present have remained the same: how many points will Mahomes and the offense have to score in order to win games?
The defense has never been truly awful in Kansas City, not for an entire season, that is. But it’s never really been a strength of the team either. This season, however, they may need it to be. Or at the very least, one of the strengths.
On Sunday afternoon, the Chiefs D faced one of the more dangerous offenses in the league in the Dak Prescott led Dallas Cowboys. And in a 19-9 win over Dallas, the defense was a clear strength for the Chiefs.
This Chiefs defense has been warranting more respect each and every week, the likely aftermath when a unit allows just over 15 points per game through a full five-game stretch. If Kansas City can continue to improve on offense, and get this type of play from the defense; the Chiefs could quietly be a Super Bowl favorite. One we thought we’d be talking about before the season, and should probably start talking about more again.
With a legit defense, Kansas City is still the team to beat. And when the lights shine brightest, don’t bet against Patrick Mahomes.
What’s the problem in Buffalo?
Out of all the surprises we’ve seen throughout this season, the highs and lows from the Josh Allen led Buffalo Bills might be the biggest of them all. Heading into the season, many believed that this would be the season that saw Buffalo finally challenge Kansas City in a AFC Championship game. Behind a rising star at QB in Josh Allen, and a defense that looks pretty darn good on paper, Buffalo would surely be the next team to beat in the AFC for years to come. Right?
If not right now, when?
On Sunday afternoon, we watched a Buffalo team fall on its face badly against Jonathan Taylor and the Indianapolis Colts. With that loss, the Bills (6-4) gave away the AFC East lead to the Patriots (7-4).
Are the Bills working through tweaks, or is there something much larger happening in Buffalo?
Buffalo essentially elected to ‘run it back’ after falling short in the AFC title game a season ago. GM Brandon Beane wanted to bring the whole gang back together after a 15-4 season that had the Bills a few plays away from a Super Bowl appearance. And while it looked like a good move at the time, it’s fair to question how good this team is given the performance we’ve seen through ten games. At 6-4, Buffalo has truly only beaten one good football team this season: the Kansas City Chiefs.
As we’ve seen similarly from other great teams, a group as talented as the Bills, are more than capable of turning things around midseason. Hell, we’re seeing it now from Kansas City and that ascending defense.
It’s entirely possible we’re writing a completely different story on the Bills six weeks from now. But how do we get there? How does Buffalo flip a switch and change the results come game day?
Sounds cliche, but something as cliche and small as those two things could mean a world of difference for this Bills team. Buffalo is one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Between the undisciplined play and the self-inflicted mistakes that can easily be corrected, this team has continuously punched itself in the face more times than not.
The toughness believed to be ingrained in Buffalo’s DNA simply isn’t there. And they better find it. Soon.
The undisciplined play has been evident, but the softness portrayed by this Bills squad is something new, in a lot of ways. Sean McDermott comes across as a no-nonsense, strike-first and strike-hard, type of head coach. Yet that’s not the mentality we’ve seen from the Bills this season. Not even close. We’ve seen an offensive line play inconsistent for large portions of the season, a unit that many believed would be much better to this point. It’s not even all on the players though, at least not that we can factually state. How are we certain that the o-line isn’t great at run-blocking when they never line up as run blockers consistently? Maybe Zack Moss and Devin Singletary would play better if the team would place an emphasis on actually involving them in the game plan, week in and week out.
Maybe opposing defenses would game plan for you differently if the offense found ways to move the ball in other ways besides throwing the ball to a plethora of wide receivers every offensive snap. The Bills have built a team suited to compete in the modern NFL - a pass heavy offense equipped to compete in a shootout with any offense in the league. But again, as we’ve seen from the dynamic Chiefs offense, adjustments are a must. Because at the end of the day, a defensive coordinator watches film too. Great defensive-minded coaches look to take away your greatest strengths and make you beat them other ways.
Right now, the Bills looks like a team suited to win football games the same way as they did a season ago.
After giving Allen $258 million, the lights will shine brightest on him. And he knows it. But if Buffalo wants to compete for a Super Bowl, both this season and beyond, they’ll have to find ways to win. Because asking your franchise quarterback to play hero ball like he’s a custom-made Madden player isn’t a recipe for success in the NFL.
TEN THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Even in a losing effort, Cam Newton looked impressive in his return to Charlotte. The Carolina offense looked much more efficient at times as Newton clearly hasn’t lost his chemistry with Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore. Newton may not be the long-term answer for Carolina, but he’ll certainly help give them an identity in the present.
It took a few weeks for it to show but on Sunday, it was crucially evident just how important Derrick Henry is to the Tennessee Titans. No need to hit the panic button just yet, but losing to the worst team in your conference surely isn’t a confidence booster moving forward.
In his first Sunday Night Football appearance, Justin Herbert not only beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also the narrative of a sophomore slump. Herbert threw for 382 yards passing and three touchdowns, and also a career-high 90 yards rushing. Herbert’s decision-making and presence in a wild fourth quarter that saw both teams score a combined 41 points was truly impressive. The Chargers entered the game on Sunday night having lost three of their last four games. They badly needed this one and more importantly, needed their young star quarterback to lead them. That’s precisely what Herbert did.
For the second times in the last three weeks, the Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily to move the ball efficiently. Being without left tackle Tyron Smith made Dak Prescott’s day dreadful, as the Dallas offensive line failed to protect Prescott from Kansas City’s strong defensive front. Things are trending in the wrong direction for Dallas too, as they are already without Amari Cooper due to Covid-19 and saw CeeDee Lamb exit the game Sunday with a concussion. Kellen Moore has to find ways to get this offense rolling because in a loaded NFC, Dallas can’t afford to sink any further.
Kliff Kingsbury, Coach of the Year. Not only do the Arizona Cardinals look like a reliable contender more weeks than not, but they’re also winning games without two of their best offensive players due to injury: Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Kingsbury has received a lot of heat since taking over in Arizona, but whatever doubts there were about his abilities as a NFL head coach should begin to fade away.
Are the New England Patriots the team to beat in the AFC? It’s not a given, but it’s extremely difficult to look at the contending teams within the AFC and say the Patriots aren’t in a good position. After Buffalo’s loss to Indianapolis, the Patriots have sole possession of the AFC East lead. But the Patriots and Bills still have to play each other not once, but twice. In an ever confusing AFC conference, the Patriots will need to prove they can beat teams like Buffalo and Tennessee over the next few weeks. If they do just that, don’t rule out Belichick leading the Patriots on another postseason run.
Jalen Hurts should be the guy in Philadelphia. And honestly, it shouldn’t even be a debate anymore. There is no transcendent talent at QB in the 2022 NFL draft – and there’s certainly no quarterback prospect that projects to have a higher ceiling that Hurts has already displayed he has this season. The Eagles should build a team around Hurts, and let him do his thing.
The Packers falling to the Vikings in a close divisional game isn’t excessively concerning if you’re a Packers fan. After all, this game was an absolute must-win game for Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings. And Aaron Rodgers was going into the game on Sunday with what sounds like a painful toe injury. The Packers are still in control of their division, and in a loaded but uncertain NFC conference, Green Bay still remains in the mix of legit contenders.
Russell Wilson may not take as polite an approach with his trade request this offseason. It’s ugly in Seattle. Very ugly. Wilson knows it, and if we’re reading between the lines – he may have known that this was the direction things were trending for awhile now. The biggest question in Seattle is what’s next?
As we’ve said with other contending teams: if a game is a coin flip, take the team with the better quarterback. The Bengals have a ton of flaws. But guess what? So does everyone else in the AFC. For the most part, of course. As long as Joe Burrow stays healthy behind an improving offensive line, there’s no reason to believe Cincinnati can’t make some noise come playoff time.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
(Weekly AMA questions can be sent via twitter @coreyalex, or by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org)
–What’s wrong with Josh Allen? Doesn’t look like the same guy.
Not sold it’s as much of a Josh Allen problem as it is a complete team, and coaching, problem. Buffalo is one of the most penalized teams in the entire league. As we’ve seen with Mahomes in Kansas City, and with Rodgers in Green Bay, an elite quarterback can win you a lot of football games. But you still need good coaching and solid situational football to win consistently.
Buffalo has played a lot of soft football this season. And that’s not on the QB, it’s on the coach.
–Where will Allen Robinson play next season?
Green Bay, Vegas, Buffalo, New England maybe?
–What team should trade for Russell Wilson this offseason?
Any team that believes they can win a SB with him next season. Denver or Carolina come to mind.
–What could Atlanta get if they traded Matt Ryan after this season?
With that contract, probably nothing worth trading him for.
–What position do you think Belichick/Patriots will focus in on in the first-round of 2022 draft?
DB, OT, LB.
–I’ve read your Patriots/Mac Jones coverage in detail; do you really believe the Pats will be contenders for years to come because of Mac?
I believe they have a better chance at developing Jones and building around him than other teams do with their young quarterbacks.
FOURTH AND LONG: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 12
Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
Green Bay Packers (8-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)
New England Patriots (7-4)
Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
Tennessee Titans (8-3)
Buffalo Bills (6-4)
Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)
Cleveland Browns (6-5)
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1)
San Francisco 49ers (5-5)
Minnesota Vikings (5-5)
New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Carolina Panthers (5-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)
Denver Broncos (5-5)
Washington Football Team (4-6)
Miami Dolphins (4-7)
Seattle Seahawks (3-7)
Chicago Bears (3-7)
Atlanta Falcons (4-6)
New York Giants (3-7)
Houston Texans (2-8)
New York Jets (2-8)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)
Detroit Lions (0-9-1)