Week 10’s Top NFL Storylines: Baker Gone Bust, Russ Misery and the Packers’ New Weapon
Plus, it appears Bill Belichick is getting his groove back for the Patriots
With Monday Night Football between the Rams and 49ers from San Fran in the rearview, Week 10 of the NFL’s first 17-game season is officially over. While we can’t get to everything — like players somehow still not realizing NFL games can end in ties — here are four of the top storylines to emerge with the season’s 10th week in the books, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Packers will be just fine with AJ Dillon
Thrust into action after starting running back Aaron Jones was forced from Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field late in the third quarter with a right knee injury, running back AJ Dillon punched in two short touchdowns after taking over as the workhorse back for Green Bay as the Packers rolled to a 17-0 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Though the game marked the return of stars quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, it was Dillon who stole the show with 128 total yards, including the 50 he racked up on a powerful catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.
Not too bad for a second-year player who has been knocked for his pass-catching chops but still managed to snag two balls on Sunday for 62 yards one week after catching all four of his targets for 44 yards against Kansas City.
Graded as the sixth-best rusher in the league this season by Pro Football Focus, Dillon will be Green Bay’s feature back for as long as Jones, who is going to be out for at least a couple of weeks with a sprained MCL, is on the shelf. And the Packers, who are undefeated at home this season and are tied for the best record in the NFC at 8-2, will be just fine in the interim.
A second-round pick out of Boston College, 23-year-old Dillon (6-foot, 247 pounds) is more than capable of carrying the load for Green Bay and has all the motivation in the world to do so with the Packers primed to make s strong push for the NFC’s top seed. Dillon, who caught only two passes for 21 yards last season as an NFL rookie but has 16 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown through 10 games this season, will also want to continue to prove he’s an all-purpose back, not just a short-yardage specialist sometimes referred to as “The Quadfather.”
“How about that 50-yard reception down the sideline?” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Dillon after the win. “Just his ability to break numerous tackles. I think people are not going to sleep on him as a weapon out of the backfield. He’s just got great hands and does a great job. Just runs really hard. I think that’s one thing you’ve seen from him, I would say, is his ability to run behind his pads and lower his pad level.”
Dillon’s pads may be low, but Green Bay’s expectations should still be sky-high while Aaron Jones rehabs his knee.
Sell: Russell Wilson can turn things around for Seattle
While Dillon was starring for Green Bay, the return to the field for Seattle’s starting quarterback was far from triumphant, as Wilson was shut out for the first time in 166 starts for the Seahawks.
Now sitting at 3-6 on the season and the basement of the NFC West with a matchup with division-leading Arizona looming in Week 11, the Seahawks appear to be in grave danger of finishing below .500 for the first time with Wilson at quarterback, snapping Seattle’s streak of consecutive playoff appearances at three.
Wilson, who was cleared to return from the finger injury that required surgery and caused him to miss three full games and a portion of another, had the fourth-worst passer rating (43.7) of his 10-year NFL career on Sunday against the Packers and did not appear to be able to throw the football with his usual zip and accuracy. Pressured by the Green Bay pass rush, Wilson completed 20-of-40 pass attempts for 161 yards and two picks in the loss.
It was ugly for the 32-year-old, and with more than half of the season now over, there’s little time for him to right the ship in what was already shaping up to be a lost season for the Seahawks prior to his injury.
In the six games that Wilson has played this season, he’s been held to one touchdown pass or fewer in three and thrown for more than 300 yards just once. In the last 41 drives Wilson has led dating back to a Week 3 loss to the Vikings in Minnesota, 20 have ended in punts, three have ended in turnovers on downs and just seven have resulted in touchdowns. Despite having top targets in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Seattle’s offense has been largely dysfunctional all season, and Wilson, even when he was healthy, has been a big part of the problem.
What’s unclear at this point is if Wilson is going to be part of the solution — or if he even wants to be after offseason rumblings that he would like a trade out of Seattle for a fresh start somewhere else. “Sabers were rattled last year by Wilson and his agent, and I just wonder if an 8-9 season might make Seattle GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll wonder if rewriting the script and getting three first-round picks and maybe one top player from a Carolina or Denver or Pittsburgh or Miami or Philadelphia is smarter than trying to keep Wilson happy,” writes NFL scribe Peter King.
Crazy as it seems, don’t sleep on the possibility of Wilson leaving Seattle after his first losing season as a Seahawk.
Buy: Bill Belichick is getting his groove back
Following a 2-4 start to the season that included a number of questionable coaching decisions as well as a Week 1 loss to the Dolphins that looked worse and worse as Miami (3-7) continued to lose games, Bill Belichick has started to look like his old self in more ways than one, as the Patriots have now won four in a row following a 45-7 romp over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Since a Week 6 loss to the Cowboys that featured a horrendous late-game breakdown on defense with Dallas facing a third-and-long, Belichick has seemed to be more involved in New England’s defensive game-planning and schemes. The team has responded, as the Patriots have surrendered an average of 12.5 points over the last four weeks to push their point differential to +98 on the season, second only to the Bills in the AFC.
A huge reason the team has turned things around is success on third down, where the Patriots have converted a league-best 53.7% of their attempts and allowed opponents to convert just 31.9% of their tries during New England’s four-game winning streak. While both of those stats will likely regress back toward the mean, the Patriots should still be able to win ballgames thanks to their strong running game and solid special teams. The wild card is really rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who has been solid but far from spectacular through his first 10 games. On Sunday, he threw three touchdowns with no interceptions while looking extremely efficient passing the ball downfield.
Obviously a key addition on offense, Jones is probably the second most valuable piece of New England’s offseason, as the move to bring in edge rusher Matthew Judon as part of Belichick’s $160 million spending spree in the first nine days of free agency has paid huge dividends to the tune of 9.5 sacks. Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore, who Belichick traded up to draft in the second round out of Alabama, has also been a major factor, indicating that — along with Jones and last year’s first-rounder safety Kyle Dugger — the team has finally made some solid draft picks after a half-decade with far too many misses.
There’s a long way to go this season and there will be growing pains for the defense as well as Jones, but the Patriots finally appear to be headed in the right direction after well more than a year of looking lost. “I think we’re confident. We know what the formula is for winning the game,” Jones said on Monday. “We just have to continue to do that. We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at. We’re not where we want to be.”
But with Belichick looking like his old self, the Patriots finally appear to be getting there.
Sell: The Browns will be able to fix Baker Mayfield
A natural in front of the camera in his Progressive Insurance commercials, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield may be able to have a second career as a bit-part actor once his playing days in the NFL are over.
Unfortunately for the 26-year-old QB, those playing days may be over much sooner than expected, at least in Cleveland. Now in his fourth year as a starter in the NFL, Mayfield is coming off a disastrous game against the Patriots that saw him complete just 11-of-21 passes for 73 yards with a touchdown and an interception before exiting the aforementioned blowout loss to New England with a knee injury that is considered day-to-day. Though Mayfield only had one pick, he threw multiple passes that easily could have been turnovers.
Adding insult to injury, literally, backup Case Keenum closed out the game for Cleveland and put up more yards in a single quarter than Mayfield did in three quarters of action.
The loss isn’t all on Mayfield, as the Browns were horrendous on defense and were playing without their top two running backs, but the former No. 1 overall pick’s stock is certainly trending in the wrong direction, and the Browns may have to start rethinking whether he is the best long-term option to play quarterback in Cleveland.
Mayfield, who has had three different head coaches (and an interim) during his four seasons in the NFL, is now just 27-27 as a starter during the regular season and has not shown the consistency required of a franchise quarterback. As the coaching carousel in Cleveland demonstrates, Mayfield’s inconsistency isn’t totally his fault, and he handled a difficult situation with recently departed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. like a leader and a pro. That said, the Browns can’t be overly excited about his progress and development as an NFL passer. Instead of extending Mayfield this past offseason, the Browns exercised the $18.8 million fifth-year option in his rookie deal and have him under contract for next season.
That means the Browns can have Mayfield — if they want him. But a change of scenery might be best for both sides, as Mayfield is far too inconsistent for a player with his potential. He may not be broken for good, but Cleveland’s chances of fixing him look increasingly unlikely.
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