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Friday, June 21, 2024

Barkley, Saturday, Toney shine; Cowboys, Bills give games away: NFL notes and analysis


The season is now past the midway point, but it is still hard to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders in a week-to-week league. 

Although a few teams like the Chiefs and Vikings have started to separate from the pack, the surprising losses of the Bills and Cowboys make it hard to consider them heavyweights in their respective conferences. With the Dolphins, Giants and 49ers making noise with solid wins, the stretch run of the regular season should provide plenty of interesting moments. 

After taking some time to digest all of the Week 10 action, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout.

Three things I liked

1. Tua Tagovailoa: MVP? 

The Dolphins’ much-maligned quarterback should be in consideration as the top player in the league based on his performance this season. Tagovailoa is unbeaten in games in which he has started and finished while ringing up an impressive statistical résumé. 

The third-year pro leads the league with a 118.4 passer rating on the strength of a 71% completion rate and an 18-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Tagovailoa continues to torch opponents with pinpoint throws to a collection of world-class track athletes running around in space. From the “dink-and-dunk” throws on screens and quicks to the occasional deep shots thrown over the top of the defense, Tagovailoa’s effectiveness as a distributor should silence the critics and skeptics picking apart his game. 

Mike McDaniel not surprised by Tua Tagovailoa’s success

If Miami’s first-year coach isn’t surprised, Emmanuel Acho and Joy Taylor discuss whether we should be surprised by Tua’s success this season.

As an MVP candidate, the Dolphins quarterback has built a compelling case based on his team’s success and his individual numbers. Although Tyreek Hill‘s presence has certainly aided his emergence as a franchise player, Tagovailoa deserves his flowers for directing an offensive juggernaut that is the catalyst for a title contender. 

2. Kadarius Toney is the Chiefs’ X-factor 

Do not look now, but the Chiefs might have found the big-play weapon that could help the offense regain an explosive dimension. Kadarius Toney, a former first-round pick acquired from the Giants, tallied 90 scrimmage yards on six touches (four catches, two runs) that showcased his potential as a multi-faceted playmaker on the perimeter. 

The second-year pro flashes enough speed and quickness to take the top off coverage on vertical routes while also showing the running skills to make explosive plays on jet sweeps and razzle-dazzle plays. Toney’s dynamic skills are not quite to Tyreek Hill’s level, but he gives the Chiefs a versatile weapon that Andy Reid can build a game plan around. 

Considering how the Chiefs have a knack for maximizing the talent and potential of their top weapons, Toney might be the X-factor who helps this team roll through the AFC down the stretch. 

3. Jeff Saturday pushes the right buttons

After facing intense scrutiny throughout the week after being named interim head coach despite his lack of coaching experience, Jeff Saturday showed the football world that he might know a thing or two about the game with a win over the Raiders

The Colts‘ Ring of Honor member made a handful of key decisions that helped the team get back into the winning column after a series of dismissals, distractions and defeats that led to his arrival as a substitute coach. Saturday reinserted Matt Ryan into the starting lineup to steady an offense that needed his experience and expertise as a former NFL MVP. The veteran quarterback responded with a solid effort (21-of-28 for 222 pass yards and a touchdown) that complemented a strong performance by Jonathan Taylor and the offensive line. 

Jay Glazer reveals the backstory of Jeff Saturday’s hiring

Jay Glazer reveals the thought process behind the hiring of Jeff Saturday and discusses his potential future with the Colts. 

With Ryan throwing the ball effectively on a variety of quicks and intermediate play-action passes, the Colts were able to utilize a ball-control approach that enabled them to play the game on their terms. Saturday’s decision to prioritize Taylor as the focal point of the game plan certainly helped the Colts get back on track. The combination of power runs between the tackles and on the edges forced the Raiders to commit extra defenders to the box, which opened up the field for Ryan’s play-action passes. 

As a former offensive lineman with a track record of success with the Colts, Saturday helped his franchise get back into the winner’s circle by getting back to the basics. By taking a simplistic approach, Saturday coached the game like a veteran while earning his first win. 

Three things I did not like

1. Dennis Allen is willing to go down on the Andy Dalton ship

Maybe the Saints coach will be rewarded for his loyalty to his veteran quarterback down the road, but I cannot understand why Allen continues to stick with Dalton amid the team’s struggles. 

The Saints have lost five of his seven starts, with Dalton posting a passer rating of 89.6 while completing 65% of his throws with an 11-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Those middling numbers are certainly not enough to make him an untouchable starter on a team that has underachieved mightily this season. 

Although the original starter, Jameis Winston, has also struggled with turnovers (five giveaways in three games), the offense is more explosive and dynamic under his direction. In addition, Winston adds a deep-ball dimension to the offense that would create more space for Alvin Kamara as a runner. 

With seven games remaining and the Saints fading fast, it is fair to wonder how long Allen will stick with his struggling starting quarterback. 

2. The Cowboys give away an important game

To win big games, most NFL coaches stress the importance of avoiding self-inflicted mistakes. In a league in which games are frequently decided by one score, the most consistent teams avoid the self-inflicted errors (turnovers, big plays allowed, penalties and kicking game errors) that gift wrap wins to their opponents. 

The Cowboys handed the Packers a win by repeatedly violating this principle in a 31-28 overtime loss that could impact Dallas’ playoff chances. Dak Prescott committed two turnovers, including a costly red zone interception that robbed the Cowboys of a chance to take a two-score lead early in the game. The egregious error breathed life into a Green Bay team that was teetering on the brink after its own costly miscue. 

With the defense compounding the error by allowing rookie receiver Christian Watson to sneak past the defense on a 58-yard bomb, the Cowboys cost themselves dearly with their lack of discipline and attention to detail. 

Cowboys blow big lead in Mike McCarthy’s return to Green Bay

The Cowboys blew a 14-point lead in the second half and committed nine penalties in their 31-29 OT loss to Green Bay. Colin Cowherd breaks down why this means the Cowboys are the same team that can’t win in big spots.

Mike McCarthy also contributed to the implosion with a head-scratching overtime gamble on fourth down that gave the Packers the ball in prime field position. Moreover, the failed fourth-down conversion ensured that Green Bay could win with any score on its next possession due to the overtime rules. Given the opportunity to attempt a field goal from a reasonable distance, McCarthy’s decision leads to more concern about the Cowboys’ ability to win high-pressure games down the stretch. 

The self-inflicted mistakes and suspect coaching decisions reflect poorly on a team with title aspirations. 

3. Josh Allen‘s mistakes are killing the Bills

Allen is an MVP-caliber player, but his mistakes are torpedoing the team’s title chances. The fifth-year pro has tossed at least two interceptions in each of the past three games as part of a turnover spree that has halted Buffalo’s momentum. 

Although Allen’s freewheeling ways have transformed the Bills offense into a juggernaut, the recklessness displayed by the gunslinger is problematic for a team that values the ball and winning the turnover battle. Maybe Allen’s recent turnover woes are simply a case of an elite player trying to do too much to help his team win, but the Bills need their No. 1 playmaker to curb his mistakes before it costs the team a solid seed in the playoffs. 

Josh Allen’s late-game struggles continue

The Bills lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Vikings 33-30 in OT. Josh Allen’s late fumble led to a Minnesota TD, and he also threw a game-clinching interception to seal the loss. Colin Cowherd shares his biggest takeaways, including Allen’s struggles and why his team needs to give him more support.

As the best player on the field in most instances, Allen has been encouraged to push the envelope as a playmaker. However, he must weigh the risk-reward factor when putting the ball in harm’s way, particularly in the red zone. 

My top 10 teams

1. Philadelphia Eagles: The NFL’s lone unbeaten team is the most complete squad in football. While Jalen Hurts & Co. get much of the credit, the Philly defense has emerged as a disruptive force under Jonathan Gannon’s tutelage. 

2. Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid has his team peaking at the right time. The Chiefs are firing on all cylinders on offense with the defense routinely coming up with key stops and timely takeaways. 

3. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have repeatedly found ways to win without playing their best football for 60 minutes. Although the nerve-racking nail biters are not for the faint of heart, the Vikings’ collective confidence and resilience will make them a tough out in the postseason. 

4. Miami Dolphins: The M-V-P chants cascading on Tua Tagovailoa are warranted with the third-year pro directing the most explosive offense in the game. The Dolphins are capable of putting 40-plus points on any opponent, and that firepower gives them a chance to make a run at the title.

5. New York Giants: It is not always pretty, but the Giants have mastered the art of winning games with a complementary football approach that prioritizes the running game, ball security and stingy defense. Although there are more talented teams on this list, the Giants deserve a spot due to their winning ways. 

6. Baltimore Ravens: John Harbaugh’s team could be the best in the AFC if it learns how to properly finish games. The Ravens had blown double-digit leads in three of their first six games before reeling off three straight wins prior to the bye week. If the Ravens fix their closing skills, this team could vault to the top of the charts as a title contender. 

7. New York Jets: The Jets have discovered a winning formula (run game + defense = wins) that could make them a tough out down the stretch. If second-year QB Zach Wilson takes care of the ball, the Jets will make life miserable for their opponents in November and December. 

8. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen’s miscues and the team’s overall complacency have led to a string of losses that have cost the team the inside track to home-field advantage and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. While there is plenty of time to get back on track, the Bills’ surprising slump has put them behind the eight-ball in the AFC race. 

9. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys could regret giving away a winnable game in Green Bay. The loss not only dropped the team to third in the NFC East, but it could force them to become road warriors in the playoffs. 

10. San Francisco 49ers: The return of several key players could spark a late-season run that puts the 49ers back in title contention. The addition of Christian McCaffrey to an offense that is loaded with firepower makes the 49ers downright scary as a contender. 

Week 10 Game Balls

Most Valuable Player of the Week: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota’s playmaker extraordinaire dazzled against the Bills, totaling 193 receiving yards and a touchdown on 10 catches despite everyone knowing he was the Vikings’ No. 1 target. Jefferson outmaneuvered, outworked and out-jumped defenders to snag a variety of balls all over the field. With Jefferson’s impressive ball skills and hand-eye coordination, the football world is ready to anoint him as the No. 1 wideout in the game. 

Justin Jefferson’s jaw-dropping catch propels Vikings to OT win

Late in the fourth quarter, Justin Jefferson made an incredible one-handed catch on fourth-and-18 that kept the Vikings alive. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe talk Vikings-Bills.

Offensive Player of the Week: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Despite not reaching an agreement with the Giants on a long-term contract extension this week, Barkley enhanced his value to the team with a spectacular performance that showcased his skills as a workhorse back. Against the Texans on Sunday, the fifth-year pro logged a career-high 35 carries for 152 yards and a score. The heavy workload not only showed the football world that Barkley’s skills are back, but it provided confirmation that he still possesses the stamina and endurance of an old-school RB1. 

Defensive Player of the Week: Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

White deserves the award after taking over the game against the Seahawks. The ultra-quick linebacker totaled nine tackles with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. The stat-stuffing performance sparked a Bucs defense that finally played to the standard set by Todd Bowles as a defensive-minded head coach with a reputation for building elite units. 

Unsung Hero of the Week: Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Tennessee Titans

The Titans are not known for their passing game, but Mike Vrabel might consider opening things up after Westbrook-Ikhine’s breakout performance against the Broncos. The third-year receiver posted the second 100-yard game of his career with a five-catch, 119-yard effort with two scores vs. Denver. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound playmaker blew past the defense on a flea-flicker and put another ball in the paint on a textbook corner route that showcased his precise route-running skills. Although Derrick Henry is the Titans’ undisputed No. 1 offensive weapon, Westbrook-Ikhine’s impressive showing should move him up the priority list. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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