Week 10’s Top NFL Storylines: DeAndre Hopkins, Drew Brees and Lamar Jackson’s Struggles
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
Following last night’s divisional matchup between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, Week 10 of the 2020 NFL season is over and done with. While we can’t get to everything — like the Patriots upsetting the Ravens on Sunday Night Football — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 10, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The DeAndre Hopkins trade will prove to be one of the worst in league history
By now, you’ve almost certainly seen DeAndre Hopkins catching a Hail Mary from quarterback Kyler Murray to give the Cardinals a win over the visiting Buffalo Bills in the desert on Sunday afternoon.
If not, enjoy.
The win pushed Arizona’s record to 6-3 on the season and moved the Cardinals into a three-way tie with the Seahawks and Rams for first place in the ultra-competitive NFC West. Were it not for Hopkins, who had seven catches for 127 yards on the day, the Cardinals would not be where they are this season, and they have former Houston head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien to thank.
O’Brien, who traded Hopkins to Arizona for the 40th pick in the 2020 draft, a fourth-rounder in 2021 and running back David Johnson (who went on injured reserve with a concussion last week), continues to look more and more foolish each week as Hopkins makes highlight-reel plays and the Texans, who managed just seven points against the Cleveland Browns during an ugly loss on Sunday, continue to lose games.
The teams on either end of the trade are headed in completely different directions and, as simplistic as it seems, the piece separating them is Hopkins. After Sunday’s effort, Hopkins now has 67 catches and 861 receiving yards this season, second in the NFL to only Stefon Diggs. A constant threat to move the chains, Hopkins co-leads the league in first downs with 42 and the attention he draws from opposing defenses is one of the reasons Arizona has been so proficient rushing the ball this season. (The Cardinals lead the league with 168.9 rushing yards per game).
Meanwhile, without Hopkins, the Texans have gone 2-7 and have not beaten a team that isn’t named the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. Houston is 25th in the league in scoring at just a tick over 22 points per game as the players who were acquired to replace Hopkins — Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks — have been relative non-factors for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
As bad as things are this year for Houston, they are only going to get worse as O’Brien, who was already fired by the team, traded the Texans’ first- and second-round picks in the 2021 draft. It may be piling on at this point, but Sunday’s Hail Mary is just the cherry on top of the blame sundae O’Brien and the Texans deserve after making the most lopsided trade in recent memory.
Sell: The Saints are in trouble if Drew Brees misses time
On Monday afternoon, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has multiple rib fractures on both sides of his chest and a collapsed lung on the right side. Brees, who was forced from Sunday’s win over the 49ers after taking a brutal but clean hit from San Francisco defensive tackle Kentavius Street, is almost certainly going to miss multiple weeks for the Saints.
And guess what? New Orleans (7-2) is going to be just fine.
When Brees was hurt last season, the Saints turned to backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and reeled off five straight wins. Relying on a strong defense and star running back Alvin Kamara, who caught seven passes and totaled three touchdowns in Sunday’s win, New Orleans got enough out of Bridgewater to keep winning games with Brees on the sidelines.
Though Bridgewater is now the starter for the Panthers, the Saints have a pair of solid backup options in former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston and part-time gadget player Taysom Hill.
When Brees was hurt against San Francisco, Saints coach Sean Payton turned to Winston, not Hill, and the former Buc completed six-of-10 passes for 63 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers. Hill did play one series at QB in place of Winston, running the ball four times for 36 yards with a lost fumble.
While neither performance should inspire much confidence, Payton will have time to gameplan heading into Week 11 and design an offensive attack that will highlight Winston and Hill’s strengths while hiding their weaknesses. Part of that plan will likely be a heavy does of Kamara, who has 11 touchdowns on the season and is a threat as both a rusher and passer.
Riding a six-game winning streak heading into a home game against Atlanta this weekend, the Saints should stretch their string of victories to seven, whether it is Hill, Winston or some combination of the two under center.
The Saints proved last year they can win without Brees. They’ll do it again.
Buy: Alex Smith is already the Comeback Player of the Year
After being forced into duty last week following an injury to starting quarterback Kyle Allen, Alex Smith got the start for the Washington Football Team on Sunday, a 30-27 loss to Detroit.
For Smith, it was his NFL start since suffering a brutal lower-leg injury 728 days prior that required 17 surgeries and nearly cost him his career as well as his life.
Against the Lions, Smith completed 38-of-55 passes for 390 yards, a new career-high in passing yardage. Though he didn’t have any touchdowns, Smith helped lead a 21-point comeback in the second half and would have gotten the chance to attempt to win the game in overtime had it not been for a last-minute field from long range.
Since taking the field in place of Allen, Smith has completed 71.3 of his passes for 715 yards, averaged 8.22 yards per attempt and completed nine passes for 20-plus yards. Also, the past two weeks are the first time in Smith’s career that he has thrown for 300 or more yards in back-to-back games.
Even though Washington is losing, Smith has impressed, and now coach Ron Rivera is considering the possibility of rolling with the veteran quarterback past this season.
“That’s something we as coaches and as an organization have to talk about most certainly if he continues to play at this level,” Rivera said. “He’s back as a player.”
Realistically, it seems unlikely that Washington will stick with Smith moving forward as, now at 2-7, the team should have a top pick and the chance to select their potential quarterback of the future high up in April’s draft. But based on how he’s played this season, Smith should have a chance to latch on with another starter-needy team or stick around in Washington as a backup or stopgap measure next season.
And even if Smith doesn’t throw another touchdown pass and Washington loses out to finish at 2-14 (which is a possibility), he should become the third quarterback in the row to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, following in the footsteps of Andrew Luck (2018) and Ryan Tannehill (2019).
Sell: It’s time to panic about Lamar Jackson
During his MVP season last year, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson ran a Baltimore offense that averaged a league-leading 2.95 points per drive, better than the eventual Super Bowl winners in the Kansas City Chiefs and their second-place 2.59 points per drive.
But following Baltimore’s 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Ravens are averaging only 2.2 points per drive, putting them behind the very average offenses of teams like the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins, according to Pro Football Focus.
Since Jackson is the focal point of Baltimore’s offense and the team is playing with essentially the same offensive unit as last season, many have come to the conclusion that the team’s dip in scoring is the third-year quarterback’s fault, and it is time to worry that the rest of the NFL has figured him out.
Thing is, even if that is true, Jackson is still talented enough it shouldn’t matter. Blessed with breakaway speed and the ability to see the field like a running back, Jackson, even when he struggles, is one of the most elusive weapons in the NFL.
Case in point …
True, Jackson has not been quite as efficient as he was during his breakout campaign and has seen some regression in his completion percentage, passing yards per game, passing yards per attempt, passer rating, sacks taken and rushing yards per game. But that regression comes after a season in which he was the MVP of the league despite being surrounded with less talent than what Patrick Mahomes is working with in Kansas City.
Jackson, despite taking a step back, is still one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and as long as he can keep the turnovers under control (his eight giveaways in 2020 thus far are the same amount he had in his entire 2019 season), things will be just fine for Baltimore.
“We’re ticked off,” the 23-year-old quarterback said following Sunday’s loss. “Don’t nobody like losing … especially when we have a lot of talent on our team. We’ve just got to regroup.”
They will and so will Jackson. There’s no need to panic … yet.
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