Week 14’s Top NFL Storylines: Chase Young, Trouble in Pittsburgh and the Vikings’ Kicking Nightmare
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
With Monday Night Football wrapped up and no additional games scheduled for the first time in weeks, the 14th Week of the NFL season is officially over. While we can’t get to everything — like Jalen Hurts leading the Eagles to a win in his first NFL start — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 14, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Chargers won … but they should still fire Anthony Lynn
A week after getting embarrassed in a 45-0 blowout loss to the Patriots in Los Angeles, the Chargers were able to take advantage of Matt Ryan’s second interception of the day and beat the Atlanta Falcons 20-17 thanks to a last-minute field goal. Though the Chargers were able to win the game, the team continued to mismanage critical in-game situations, a trademark of head coach Anthony Lynn (and the franchise for the last 10 to 15 years, if we’re being honest).
After making a number of embarrassing blunders on special teams during the loss to New England, one would think the Chargers would have been more prepared to play intelligent football against the Falcons. Clearly that was not the case, as evidenced by a play LA made at the end of the second quarter on Sunday.
Facing a third-and-1 play at Atlanta’s eight-yard line with no timeouts and 22 seconds on the clock, the Chargers clearly needed to pass the ball to ensure they would have enough time on the clock to kick a field goal on fourth down if they were unable to pick up the first down.
Instead, the Chargers ran Kalen Ballage up the middle and he was stopped for no gain with the clock running. The Los Angeles field goal unit tried to set up for a kick, but there wasn’t enough time and the Chargers headed to the locker room with three fewer points than they should have had.
After the game, Lynn indicated he knew that the dumb play call cost his team three points.
“You cannot run the ball in that situation,” Lynn said following the game, via The Orange County Register. “You just can’t. We try to be aggressive, but you can’t run the ball in that situation and that right there, that’s an area where we’ve got to improve as a coaching staff, communication-wise, and we will. But you cannot run the ball there.”
Do you know what else you can’t do? Allow the team to run the ball there if you are the head coach.
As the coach of the team, Lynn should have final say about what to do in a situation like the Chargers were facing at the end of the second quarter. And when he heard offensive coordinator Shane Steichen stupidly call for a run, Lynn should have superseded him and called for a passing play.
The fact he didn’t just speaks to the level of dysfunction Lynn has allowed to permeate the organization under his watch. Now 30-31 as the head coach in LA, Lynn has had more than enough time to right the ship since going 12-4 just two seasons ago, and the team would be smart to fire him now.
But Lynn will reportedly keep his job through the end of the season, giving the Chargers at least three more chances to make the braindead plays and foolish decisions that have come to define the 51-year-old coach’s tenure.
Sell: The Steelers will win a playoff game
A little more than a week ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were undefeated at 11-0 and chasing a perfect season as well as the top playoff seed in the AFC. Now, following back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Football team on national television, the Steelers are 11-2 and trail the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC and the No. 1 postseason seed.
In addition to hurting Pittsburgh’s playoff position, the defeats to the Bills and WFT have exposed something: the Steelers are not ready for primetime. Averaging 18.2 points against this season, Pittsburgh’s defense ranks as the best unit in the league and has recorded at least one sack in 70 consecutive games, an NFL record. But Bud Dupree, who’s amassed 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons, tore his ACL earlier this month and is out for the season, and the Steelers D has also been hit by a number of other key injuries, particularly at linebacker.
As a result, the team has given up 19, 23 and 26 points over the last three weeks, and more pressure has fallen on a Pittsburgh offense that went from averaging almost 30 points in the first 10 games of the season to just 17 in the last three.
Though one of the reasons Pittsburgh has had such a big drop in scoring is dropped passes — the Steelers lead the league in that category — the team’s inability to run the ball is the root cause of the offense’s struggles. Averaging just 89.1 rushing yards per game (second-worst in the NFL), the Steelers have only amassed 70 or more rushing yards once in their last seven games and rank last in the NFL in rush yards per game and yards per rush since Week 7.
Pittsburgh has become so one-dimensional on offense that opposing defenses can set up to defend the short, quick passes that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has reverted to using in lieu of a running game to stop the Steeler offense in its tracks.
Buffalo was able to do that on Sunday night, holding the Steelers to an average of just 4.1 yards per play, not nearly enough to keep Pittsburgh competitive.
“Defenses can play fast if you can’t run the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “We need to do better at being a more balanced offense. We need to do better at executing the plays that are called.”
If they don’t, it is going to be a very, very short playoff run — no matter what seed Pittsburgh ulimately finishes the regular season with.
Buy: Chase Young is the face of a dangerous Washington Football Team
For most organizations in the NFL, the quarterback is the face of the franchise. But since the team does not really have a franchise quarterback (no disrespect to ironman Alex Smith), that isn’t the case in Washington, where the player who appears to be emerging as the leader of the organization is rookie defensive end Chase Young.
The No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, Young finished Washington’s upset win over the 49ers in San Francisco with six tackles, one sack, two QB hits, one tackle for loss, two passes defended and one forced fumble.
Led by Young and the rest of the defense, Washington was able to improve to 6-7 on the year and stay in first place in the NFC East despite being outgained 344 to 193 and failing to score an offensive TD in a 23-15 victory.
“It feels good because we’re seeing flashes of what we talked about early in the season,” Young said after the win. “The only thing [we have to do is] keep going. We can’t let up.”
It was a breakout performance for Young, who also nabbed his first career touchdown with an impressive scoop-and-score.
Already the odds-on favorite to win the 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Young became one of five players since 2000 to record a sack, force a fumble, recover a fumble, record a defensive TD and have two passes defensed in a single game on Sunday.
While Young’s play on the field is enough to make him a star, the way the former Ohio State standout carries himself with the media is also entertaining, and should quickly endear him to fans around the league. For example:
With games left against the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles, Washington has a good shot at finishing at 8-8 and going to the playoffs despite starting the season 1-3 and having to bench quarterback Dwayne Haskins in favor of Kyle Allen, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury four games later and was replaced by Alex Smith.
If Washington does make the postseason for the first time since 2015, it won’t be because of Haskins, Allen, Smith or any other offensive player. It will be because of the WFT’s formidable front seven on defense, with Young as their ringleader.
Sell: Dan Bailey will finish the season as Minnesota’s kicker
A week after missing three kicks (one field goal and two extra points) in a win over the Jaguars in a game that should never have gone to overtime, Minnesota Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had another bad day at the office — and it will likely cost him his job.
Entering Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay ranked sixth in NFL history with an 86.9 percent field-goal percentage, Bailey missed kicks from 36, 54 and 46 yards out. He also failed to connect on an early PAT.
Though the Vikings ended up losing to the Bucs by a 12-point margin, having the 10 points that Bailey’s misses left off the board would have changed the way Minnesota managed the game down the stretch and may have also helped flip the game’s final result.
The Vikings, who have a long history of poor kickers from Blair Walsh to Kai Forbath to Daniel Carlson, are now 6-7 and one game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC’s final wild-card spot. With three games left to go, the Vikings cannot afford any slip-ups, and though there’s no guarantee Bailey’s replacement would be any better, the team would be wise to make a change at kicker.
Given Bailey’s solid history, coach Mike Zimmer may decide to stick with the veteran even though his success rate on field goals this season is 67 percent after never having a year in which he made fewer than 75 percent of his attempts.
“If you guys want me to fire guys for making a mistake here or there, we wouldn’t have any players,” Zimmer said following Sunday’s loss. “Let’s not put this all on Dan Bailey.”
Fair enough. But if Bailey costs the Vikings another game, it may be time to blame Zimmer for not getting rid of him.
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