Aaron Rodgers finally matched up with Tom Brady. It did not go well. Getty Images
Week 9 of the NFL was highlighted by several key matchups. Some decided conference supremacy, while others were clashes of quarterback titans. Here’s how I saw it all go down:
-In what was billed as the two G.O.A.T.s, Tom Brady’s Patriots bested Aaron Rodgers’ Packers 31-17 Sunday night. It’s not often that we get to see two of the very best duel in prime time. It reminded me of the September 20, 1993 Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Broncos that pit Joe Montana against John Elway. I watched that game on a TV my parents plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car as we drove back to Atlanta.
-So much is made of older quarterbacks like Brady, Rodgers, and Drew Brees that we tend to sleep on what Philip Rivers is doing with the Chargers. He now has 19 touchdowns, only three interceptions with a 69.1 completion percentage on the season. He only completed 50% of his passes in the win against the Seahawks Sunday, but his two touchdowns made up for it.
- Much has been made of Chief’s quarterback Pat Mahomes and his historic start. I truly think it is Kareem Hunt that provides so much versatility to that offense. The 141 total yards from scrimmage on 18 touches and three touchdowns in their 37-21 win over the Browns proves my point.
-The Ravens were 4-2, leading the AFC North and had a feared defense. Since then, they’ve lost three straight by an average of less than eight points per game. No longer are they leading the division, they’re now looking up at the Steelers and Bengals with little to no hope of making the playoffs.
-Jon Gruden continues to play Madden with the Raiders. His latest move was to release veteran pass rusher Bruce Irvin. Irvin was their highest paid remaining defensive player. He’s been seldom used as if he turned into an out of date version of the popular football video game Gruden seems to be replicating in real life. Part of me hopes he can turn the moribund franchise around, but part of me loves the trainwreck.
-Monday Night Football featured two 3-4 teams in the Titans and Cowboys. I know those teams may be popular around Texas given one is located here and the other used to be. But they’re both trash and don’t deserve my attention outside the +6.5 I put on the Titans in the pick ‘em challenge.
-The Redskins lost at home to the Falcons 38-14. They were down at one point, two or three starting offensive lineman. Had they lost one more, defensive tackle Matt Iaonnidis would’ve been thrust into duty. The fact that they had almost twice as many penalty yards (147) as they had rushing (79) is something I don’t recall seeing happen very often...
-…until I saw what the Bills did against the Bears. They managed to actually double their rushing yards (64) with penalty yards (129). I’m imagining this happens more often than what I care to notice. Bad football gives me cooties.
-The Dolphins beat the Jets 13-6 in a game that set football back 30 years. The teams combined for 450 total yards and a collective 5/29 on third down conversions. The only touchdown scored was off a pick six with 11 minutes left in the game.
Week nine went down as the week the Rams finally lost (’72 dolphins are popping champagne), Brady emerged victorious over Rodgers, the Chiefs machine kept rolling. Dolphins/Jets set a new low for performance, and Monday Night Football rendered itself ineffective. Teams continue to establish their positions as others fall further into irrelevance. Question is: whose built to last and who’s scouting for the draft?
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.