Week 7’s Top NFL Storylines: Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Seattle’s Hapless D
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
Following a Monday night matchup between the Bears and Rams in Los Angeles, Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season is complete. While we can’t get to everything — like Tom Brady and Drew Brees playing hot potato with the all-time record for passing TDs — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 7, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: Seattle’s defense will cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl
During a Sunday Night Football showdown with a division rival in the Arizona Cardinals, the defense of the previously undefeated Seahawks surrendered 37 points and allowed more than 500 yards of offense as Seattle lost 37-34 in overtime.
Playing against Kyler Murray, the Seahawks didn’t record a single quarterback hit or sack on the No. 1 pick in 2019, who had 48 passing attempts and more than 50 dropbacks in the game and was able to lead his team back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with little resistance.
Already allowing a league-worst 471.5 yards per game entering Sunday night’s game, Seattle is now giving up 479.2 yards per contest, more than 50 more than any other team in the NFL. Leading the league in yardage (425.5) and points (33.8), Seattle’s offense has been great, but that won’t be enough to compensate for a defense that has yet to give up fewer than 23 points this season and has given up 30 or more points in half of the team’s six games.
That includes giving up 30 points and 397 passing yards to Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who managed fewer than 100 yards against the 49ers on Sunday while throwing three interceptions and leading his team to just six points.
Seattle has the MVP favorite in Russell Wilson, a dynamic group of receivers headlined by Tyler Lockett (15 catches on 20 targets for 200 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday) and DK Metcalf and a solid running attack, but that all will be meaningless if the defense can’t figure out how to stop hemorrhaging points and get off the field on third down.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of us,” head coach Pete Carroll said following the loss to the Cardinals. “I think it’s going to come here in time and we’re going to have a chance to see us. It’s a long season.”
The season may be long, but Seattle’s will end well before the Super Bowl if the defense can’t turn things around by the time the playoffs roll around.
Sell: The Buccaneers need Antonio Brown to be a contender
Sitting at first place in the NFC South a 5-2 and third in the NFL in scoring at 31.7 points per game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are almost certainly going to extend their record to 6-2 courtesy of an upcoming Monday Night Football matchup against the hapless New York Giants (1-6) in Week 8.
In Week 9, the Bucs will take on the New Orleans Saints for the second time this season and, for this first time, they’ll be able to deploy Antonio Brown after signing the troubled wide receiver on Friday afternoon.
Brown, who flamed out after one game last season with the Patriots and was subsequently suspended for the first eight games of this year due to a variety of offenses and allegations, clearly made an impression on quarterback Tom Brady during his brief stint in New England.
Brady, who already has a trio of Pro Bowl pass-catchers at his disposal in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, was able to convince Tampa Bay to bring in Brown despite coach Bruce Arians saying the wide receiver was “not a fit” with the Bucs back in March. So why did the Bucs decide to add Brown to a receiving corps that also includes Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller (who led the team with six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown on Sunday)?
For some reason, Brady, who reportedly had motivational speaker Tony Robbins talk to Brown, loves him and insisted on it — no matter what Arians says. It’s a bizarre development. As is fairly obvious with how well the Tampa offense has played thus far despite being banged up, they don’t requite any more weapons, let alone a combustible one like Brown.
Brady’s obsession with Brown’s talent, at some level, makes sense. Even at 32, there are only a handful of receivers who are as dangerous as Brown. His ability to stretch the field as well as go across the middle makes him an extremely versatile threat, and he’s the kind of shiny new toy Brady didn’t have (except briefly) during his final years in New England.
Thing is, Tampa already has Brown-esque talents on the roster in Evans and Godwin. Brady may want Brown, he doesn’t need him. And if Brown blows up in Tampa, Brady will wish he realized that sooner.
Buy: No team develops wide receivers as well as the Steelers
After trading Brown to the Raiders prior to last season (on the heels of losing Le’Veon Bell for nothing following a season-long holdout), things went from bad to worse for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger was hurt in Week 2 and the team limped to an 8-8 finish and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Things have been completely different in 2020, as a rejuvenated Roethlisberger has Pittsburgh off to the team’s first 6-0 start since 1978 — a season that ended with the Steelers hoisting the Lombardi Trophy — following Sunday’s 27-24 win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans.
Sixth in the NFL in scoring at 30.5 points per game, Pittsburgh’s offense is anchored by a core group of receivers — JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Chase Claypool — that may be the deepest in the NFL. That fact should come as no surprise, since the Steelers have a long history of drafting and developing elite pass-catchers.
Selected in consecutive drafts starting with Smith-Schuster in 2017, all four players have now tallied at least one game this season in which they were the most-targeted receiver, led the Steelers in catches (or tied for the lead) and scored at least two touchdowns.
Through six games, Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Claypool and Washington have 12 touchdowns, 91 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards between them. To put that in perspective, all 15 players who have caught a pass for the Patriots this season collectively have just 116 receptions, 1,261 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The way Roethlisberger has been able to use his receiving corps this season shows exactly why the Steelers were fine with trading Brown prior to last season — for them, at least, he was replaceable.
“Oftentimes, we’re willing to let the opponent determine who the hot hand is,” coach Mike Tomlin said after Sunday’s win. “So we’re just trying to distribute the ball. We’ve got a bunch of capable men.”
They certainly do — and each one was taken in one of the last four drafts between the 49th and 66th overall picks. Impressive stuff.
Sell: The Browns will miss Odell Beckham Jr.
After going 0-for-5 in the first quarter and tossing an interception that led to Odell Beckham Jr. tearing his ACL and being lost for the season, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield went to another level in the final three quarters on Sunday, going 22-for-23 for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-34 win over the Bengals.
Playing without Beckham, Mayfield’s lone incompletion was a spike in the game’s final minutes, and it came just before he completed a bomb to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone with 15 seconds remaining to give Cleveland the lead and the win.
It was an impressive performance that Mayfield should be able to replicate going forward despite not having his three-time Pro Bowl receiver for the rest of 2020.
Freed from the pressure of having to feed Beckham targets to keep him happy, Mayfield completed passes to wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Harrison Bryant and Peoples-Jones, tight end David Njoku and running back Kareem Hunt out of the backfield. Higgins hauled in six passes for 110 yards and Hunt, Njoku, Peoples-Jones and Bryant each caught a touchdown (Bryant had two).
With all of those weapons at his disposal in addition to getting the team’s No. 3 receiver to start the season, KhaDarel Hodge, back from injury, Mayfield should be able to build on his stellar performance going forward. Beckham is an immense talent to be sure, but for whatever reason, he and Mayfield have never really developed a great connection. Now, with him out of the lineup, the team won’t have to worry about forcing touches Beckham’s way, and Mayfield will be able to focus on finding the open receiver as opposed to the highest-paid one.
“You never replace a player of Odell’s caliber with one player,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. “We are not doing that with Nick Chubb. It is going to take multiple guys to replace these players. That is kind of the challenge that we have, and I think our guys will be up to the challenge.”
It’s sounds crazy given the historical ineptitude of the Browns, but we agree.
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