Week 6’s Top NFL Storylines: Dak Prescott, Cam Newton and a New Record in Futility
Also, one NFL coach who shouldn't have his job by the time the season is over
Following Monday Night Football wrapping up last night, more than one-third of the NFL’s first 17-game season is over. While we can’t get to everything — like the continuing fallout from Grudengate in Las Vegas — here are four of the top storylines to emerge with Week 6 of the season in the books, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Cowboys are legit because of Dak Prescott
Penalized 12 times for 115 yards against the Patriots on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys were nonetheless able to leave New England with a 35-29 victory to head into their bye week at 5-1 with a five-game winning streak.
At this point in the season, it’s clear the success Dallas is having thus far has everything to do with star quarterback Dak Prescott and nothing to do with bumbling head coach Mike McCarthy.
During Sunday’s game, McCarthy made repeated irrational and inconsistent fourth-down decisions, committed a number of obvious clock-management gaffes, burned timeouts needlessly and, as mentioned above, allowed his team to be undisciplined enough to commit a dozen penalties. (Ring any bells, Green Bay fans?)
One of those penalties was a stupid personal foul that put the Cowboys, who were trailing by three points at the time, at third-and-25 with about 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Needing to pick up nearly all of the yardage to put Dallas in field-goal range, Prescott was somehow able to convert in order to keep the Cowboys alive.
The play was emblematic of a day that saw McCarthy’s coaching continuously dig the Cowboys into holes and Prescott, as he’s done all year, lugging Dallas out of them to move the chains. With 445 passing yards (the most allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team), three touchdowns and an interception on the day, the 28-year-old QB now has 16 TDs and four INTs on the season, just a year removed from suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the whole team,” Prescott said after Sunday’s win. “It’s about the practice we put into it. It’s about the way we go about our practice, the way we built our team. I’m just a product, I guess, of the stats, but at the same time, it’s the unselfishness. It starts upfront with the communication in how we’re protecting and those guys getting open. They make my job easy. We know we’re for real and we believe we’re for real.”
Prescott is right: they are. But it’s because of his excellence and despite McCarthy’s buffoonery.
Sell: The Detroit Lions will win a game this season
One of just two teams to go 0-16 on the season (the Cleveland Browns are the other), the Detroit Lions will become the first team in NFL history to go 0-17 in the league’s new expanded format.
Now 0-6 following a 34-11 drubbing at home by the Cincinnati Bengals, the Lions are the only winless team in the NFL and have not been playing with the energy and effort that first-year head coach al Dan Campbell was brought in to help inspire.
Campbell, who literally broke down in tears last week after the Lions lost on a game-winning field goal from more than 50 yards out (for the second time this season), is doing what he can with limited resources, but there’s only so much he can get from a roster that features quarterback Jared Goff as its centerpiece.
Acquired from the LA Rams this offseason along with draft picks in exchange for longtime Lion Matthew Stafford, Goff has been terrible in his brief tenure in Motown. Goff, who last led the Lions to a first-half touchdown in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, finished 28-of-42 for 202 yards on Sunday with no touchdowns and an interception. It was the second straight week the former No. 1 overall pick threw a pick without tossing a TD.
The 29-ranked quarterback in the NFL in Adjusted QBR, 27-year-old Goff has been “up and down” this season through six games, according to a self-assessment of his play. Considering Goff was still confused about which direction the sun rises from after attending Cal, it’s possible he isn’t quite sure about the definition of “up,” because his play has been anything but. With what’s coming up for the team on the schedule, it’s hard to see that changing.
Losers of 10 straight games dating back to last season, the Lions have to travel to LA this weekend for a matchup with Stafford and the Rams (5-1) before heading back to Detroit to host the Eagles (2-4) on Halloween. If the Lions don’t win at home against Philly, things will get downright scary, because Detroit only has one other game on the schedule against a team with a losing record after that. That game comes the day after Christmas against a punchless Falcons team (2-3) that may already be looking ahead to next year. But given that the game is in Atlanta instead of Detroit, the Falcons will likely be favored to win.
Barring Campbell working a miracle or Goff waking up from his season-long slumber, the Lions probably won’t be favored in any of the 11 games remaining on their schedule, nor will they likely be pulling off upsets in any of ’em.
Buy: Joe Judge won’t finish the season in New York
Approaching the halfway mark of his second season as an NFL head coach in a city that’s been starved for NFL wins for half a decade, New York Giants head coach has a career record of 7-15 following a 38-11 beatdown by the Rams on Sunday.
The loss was the second in a row the Giants have lost by more than 20 points, and New York has now opened the season with a record of 1-5 in both of Judge’s seasons as head coach. It isn’t all his fault: the roster general manager Dave Gettleman has built is full of holes, and third-year quarterback Daniel Jones (who is now 9-23 as a starter in the NFL) doesn’t appear to be getting any better. But Judge isn’t doing himself any favors by employing an old-school approach in an ever-evolving league.
A coach who makes his players run laps for practice mistakes but makes plenty of his own, Judge showed a total lack of judgment by keeping Jones on the field in the fourth quarter against the Rams when the game was totally out of reach just two days after the young quarterback had cleared concussion protocol.
Foolish at best and reckless at worst, the decision to keep Jones in a game that was already decided was meant to demonstrate that Judge and the Giants weren’t going to throw in the towel. But no one was buying it.
“Players in the locker room don’t like Timmy Tough Nut coaches when you’re losing football games,” ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said on Monday. “Timmy Tough Nuts from Joe Judge, and you’re losing football games, and everybody on your team is hurt, you’re down 38 to 3 at the end of the game, your quarterback is still in the game with like two minutes to go and he’s taking shots with everybody on your team hurt.”
Speaking after the Week 6 loss, Judge said his team won’t be quitting on the season and neither will he. But it may not matter if higher-ups within the organization decide that they’ve seen enough and elect to tap out.
Then we’ll see if Timmy Tough Nuts really don’t crack.
Sell: Seattle should swap Geno Smith for Cam Newton
In his first NFL start since 2017, quarterback Geno Smith was not impressive for Seattle, and the strip-sack he suffered at the hands of outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the waning minutes of overtime on Sunday night led to the Steelers kicking a game-winning field goal and escaping with a 23-20 victory.
On Monday, Seattle coach Pete Carroll revealed that the team, ostensibly because they do not view Smith as a suitable fill-in for Russell Wilson for however long he is out with a hand injury, reached out to Cam Newton.
“I talked to him a couple times, just trying to see what was going on his world and all that,” Carroll said. “We’re wide open and continuing to compete with that and there was nothing to be done then. And you know we’re really counting on Geno to do the job. And that’s how the conversation went with him, too, we were counting on Geno to do the job and all that. So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Smith is far from perfect, but the Seahawks should stick with him if Seattle wants winning to be what happens next.
Newton was cut in the offseason by the Patriots at least partially due to his vaccination status, though it was announced over the weekend that he’s now been vaccinated for COVID-19. Still, he was largely ineffective in 15 starts last season for the Patriots, going 7-8 with more interceptions (10) than passing touchdowns (eight). While he continues to be efficient in picking up short gains in the running game, Newton was unable to get around the corner the way he could earlier in his career, and the threat of him picking up chunk yardage on the ground is a distant memory.
With the Seahawks, who ran for a season-high 144 yards on 27 carries against the Steelers on Sunday, already focusing on the running game with Wilson out, bringing in a quarterback who can’t really throw (and doesn’t know the playbook) to help complement that plan of attack makes little sense.
Smith, who completed a higher percentage of his passes on Sunday night than Newton did last season and led four scoring drives in the second half of the loss to the Steelers, is not great. But at this point in his career, neither is Newton. Seattle is better off sticking with the underwhelming QB they know than the one they don’t.
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