nfl week 11: four things to keep an eye on
By Tayyib Abu
Bill Parcells once proclaimed that the NFL season didn’t start for real until Thanksgiving was in sight. Most Parcellsisms aren’t true, but this one might be. The last NFL gameday before Thanksgiving Thursday is upon us, and we are nearing crunch time in the 2021 regular season.
The Patriots kicked Week 11 off as they ruthlessly shut down the Atlanta Falcons. Sunday sees another packed slate of games and the last football action before everyone gorges on Turkey and despairs at Chicago, and Detroit’s abysmal play should serve up more drama.
Here are four things to watch in Week 1 of the new season…
The Laser Show Lands in Cleveland
The Detroit Lions are the last winless team in the NFL. The Honolulu Blue’s have scratched, kicked, and fought all season, but they’ve nothing to show for the effort. Last Sunday saw the Lions follow a familiar script. They went punch-for-punch in the horrendous swamp-like conditions of Pittsburgh against the Steelers. Fortunately for the Lions, their Dan looks much more comfortable when his team needs to get down and scrap in the swampland. Sadly, reserve kicker Ryan Santoso missed a PAT, and a game-winning field goal in overtime, and the Lions returned home still searching for a win.
Week 11 features a matchup for the NFL sadists. The luckless Lions take on the beleaguered Browns. Both franchises share a lot in common. However, there is one thing they don’t share, their ambitions. The Browns are aiming for a divisional title; the Lions just want one solitary win, and this week’s quarterback is the enigmatic Tim Boyle.
Jared Goff’s oblique injury paves the way for Boyle to make his first NFL start. Detroit elevated the former Packers quarterback off IR. Lions fans erupted with intrigue as the rocket-armed signal-caller stepped onto the practice field to lead the first-team offense.
One Lions beat writer likened Boyle’s arm to a missile. They even suggested that if Boyle needed to throw a ball at a brick wall, he’d back himself to throw the ball through the wall, such is his velocity to let rip. All of the above makes this a near nightmarish prospect for the Browns. Boyle is a complete wildcard. Under Goff, the Lions were the worst passing offense in the NFL. The former Ram played conservatively and hesitantly, despite having a running game that rampaged the Stealers’ front seven as Detroit picked up over 200 rushing yards. The Lions achieved that without power-back Jamaal Williams and third-string runner Jemar Jefferson.
One of the few offensive threats the Lions possess is the running game. The Browns surrendered 184 rushing yards in Week 10 as the Patriots routed them in a one-sided beatdown. Detroit’s one-two punch of Swift and Williams could negate Cleveland’s pass-rush, and their 26th ranked passing defense could provide Boyle opportunities.
During his stint in Green Bay, Cheeseheads affectionately nicknamed Boyle the ‘Laser Show.’ The quarterback could resemble Charlie Sheen’s Wild Thing character from the film Major League. The Lions are in a situation where they can’t lose anything; the Browns could lose more ground in the wild playoff race in the AFC. The last thing Cleveland wanted after a bruising battering was to take on a team with an unpredictable quarterback. Boyle is a complete unknown. One thing is for sure, he won’t hold back, and that could spell more chaos for the Lions and the Cleveland Browns.
Return Of The Cam
The Carolina Panthers faithful may have sung an amended version of Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack this week. Why? Well, Cam Newton is indeed back! Last week, the former MVP returned to NFL action as the Panthers downed the Cardinals in the Arizona desert. Newton makes an emotional return to Charlotte this week as his Carolina Panthers welcome Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team.
Due to the top-heavy nature of the NFC, the Panthers are right in the mix for the final playoff spot. Powering Carolina is a stifling, aggressive defense that currently sits third in defensive DVOA. Carolina shut down Arizona’s high-flying offense last week. Washington presents a different problem altogether for the Panthers. Taylor Heinicke is a mercurial talent capable of brilliance and head-scratching mistakes. Ron Rivera’s team tries to play a complementary style of football that places them in high-leverage situations.
It worked perfectly last week as Washington took advantage of two Tom Brady turnovers to triumph over the reigning world champions. Washington’s talented defense made plays and put their offense in successful situations. Per Football Outsiders, Washington is one of the worst offenses when they start drives between the one and 20-yard lines. When Washington starts offensive drives between their 40-yard line and the opponent’s 40-yard line, they rank fourth in offensive DVOA.
Ron Rivera will prime his defense for the physical nature of Carolina’s running game. Christian McCaffrey will shoulder the load, but Joe Brady could dial-up read-pass options with Newton under center. Chase Young will miss out as his season ended last Sunday due to an ACL injury. It will be fascinating how Newton goes against a young defense hungry to cause chaos and meet him with physicality. How Newton deals with aggression is the mystery question. Newton is 32-years old, and the hits have taken a toll on him. He infamously declined to dive on the ball against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and Ron Rivera will want to test Newton’s guts as the maverick quarterback returns as a starter in the NFL.
Is This Cowboys Country?
The Dallas Cowboys are eyeing the one seed in the NFC. America’s Team got back to winning ways as they smashed the abysmal Atlanta Falcons. Now, the Cowboys face off one of the toughest teams left on their schedule, the Kansas City Chiefs are alive and kicking, and Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking come kick-off.
The Chiefs revived their season as they hammered the Raiders in primetime. Patrick Mahomes’ patience played a principal role in the victory as the former MVP settled down and stopped playing like a playground quarterback. So far this season, teams have stopped blitzing Mahomes. He is one of the great quarterbacks against opposition blitzes. Between Week 5 – 9, Mahomes’ EPA against non-blitzes was a miserable -27.5. The Raiders blitzed Mahomes on a paltry six dropbacks, and yet Mahomes played phenomenally. His EPA came in at +17.5. Mahomes maintained a clear mindset, and he then torched Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 Legion of Boom-style defense.
Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is another apostle of the Cover 3 methodology. Quinn has worked wonders with a unit that bottomed out in 2020. The Cowboys’ secondary currently ranks third in overall pass defense, and they are first at taking away the opponent’s X receiver. If Quinn’s secondary can stay alert in the defensive backfield, their linebackers could keep the short-passing game in check.
Offensively, Dak Prescott looked great throwing to the sidelines and outside the numbers last week. Scouts often report that throwing an intermediate or deep out is the archetypal NFL throw. Prescott flawlessly attacked the soft zones or ‘Turkey Hole’ in the Atlanta defense. The Chiefs’ defense could offer equal chances for him, although he will miss CeeDee Lamb due to Covid. Dallas’ receiving corps will test a tigerish but flawed Chiefs defense, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should own a few clues as to how to crack the Spagnuolo defensive code.
The Cowboys are currently riding a lot of momentum, and they are brimming with confidence. A road trip to Kansas City is always a stern examination of a team’s credentials. If the Cowboys return from Arrowhead with a win, there could be a new favorite in the NFC.
What Is Going On With Justin Herbert?
Four weeks ago, the LA Chargers looked like the team to beat in the west. A handful of defeats later, and the Chargers have stuttered in the playoff chase. The Chargers are still playing at a decent level. Outside of the aberration against Baltimore, they’ve lost one-score games. However, central in the slump has been Justin Herbert looking human for the first time in his career.
Herbert is experiencing regression syndrome. His numbers last year in high-leverage moments were incredible but unsustainable. At the start of this year, the numbers were unsustainable, and now the second-year quarterback is playing just ok. The Chargers are not a team set up to win when their quarterback plays down a level.
The Chargers are an average NFL team, and their overall DVOA ranking of 16th references that. Luckily for the Chargers and Herbert, they come up against an injury-ridden Pittsburgh Steeler side after a bruising and bizarre encounter against the Detroit Lions.
Defensive lynchpins TJ Watt and Joe Haden are out of the game due to injury. They are significant losses for the Steelers, primarily when the team relies on its defense. Last week, the Steelers failed to pressurize Jared Goff due to an efficient running game and a quick passing attack. If Herbert can cut loose with his arm, and if the Chargers can establish a running game, the Chargers could get Herbert playing at his early-season form. The Steelers won’t run away from Brandon Staley’s side. Consequently, it’s on the offense to pick things up for the Chargers.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1