Willo's 2021 stock report: Week Nine

By Thomas Willoughby

What an odd week of football, eh? Teams you expect to win lost, and teams you expect to lose won. Game winners came from the most unlikely of places. Best of all, we finally got to learn which Josh Allen truly is the superior model. Until the next time they play.

Just an odd week in football, but it’s welcome. We’re about halfway through the season, so we now have a bit of an idea as to who is going to be competing for those elusive playoff spots. So, who’s in pole position, and who’s crashed out at the first corner? I don’t know anything about F1, but that feels like it makes sense. Anyway, stocks!

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It’s not exactly a surprise to give props to the Baltimore Ravens at this point. They are, after all, a good football team, with good football players. But I want to give special mention to their running backs room. That is a unit that has been decimated like no other in the league. Yet, despite the almost revolving door nature of the way they’ve handed the position, the Ravens are getting production out of just about whoever lines up in the backfield. Incredible.

Heading into 2021, the Ravens were set up to start J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill. All three suffered season-ending injuries before the season had even kicked off. For a time, they thought Ty’Son Williams might offer RB1 vibes, but it was clear he couldn’t do it all. Enter: Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray, and Devonta Freeman. All three have held the title of RB1 at some point over the last half-decade, but all three were cast out of the league. And all three have contributed.

Against the Vikings of Sunday, Devonta Freeman looked like the guy that could command a pay rise the week of the Super Bowl. 79 yards from 13 carries is good, especially when you’ve been effectivly out of the league for the past two seasons.

Who carries the credit here? Running Backs coach, Craig Ver Steeg? Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman? The offensive line in general? Or just the guys in the room making the right cuts? Whoever it is, they’re keeping the Ravens offense clicking against the odds. And it’s fun to watch.

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Trending Up

Less a “trending up”, more an “I really want to talk about Matt Ryan so let’s talk about Matt Ryan”. There are people out there who don’t rate Matt Ryan. Those people are not smart. Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback, he’s always been an excellent quarterback, and, right now he’s playing at a ridiculous level. That’s right.

15 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, over 2000 yards, and a completion percentage of 69.4%. That’s really good! On Sunday, the Falcons traveled to New Orleans, a team that literally everyone associated with the Falcons hates with a burning passion. This is a big one. And Ryan played like it was the big one. 343 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown, and a completion percentage of 76.7%. Against the Saints. That’s absurd.

It would be easy to overlook Ryan’s performances this season if you didn’t take the context behind them into account. Ryan is playing behind a patchwork offensive line. His WR1 is a tight end. His WR2 is a running back. HE is the Falcons RB1. A player of 36 shouldn’t be put in this position.

The Atlanta Falcons are 4-4, and, alarmingly, in the hunt for a playoff spot. I have absolutely no idea whether they actually have the ability to stay the course and nab a spot in the Nickelodeon Bowl. But, if they are going to, the right arm of Matt Ryan is going to be the overwhelming reason why they do. He’s so good. He’s always been so good. Please don’t make me look stupid this weekend.

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Well, this is awkward. Way back in week three, I had the Steelers as a bottom-tier team facing a tough season and a lengthy rebuild on the horizon. Since then, they’ve won 4 of their last 5 games, are 2nd in the vaunted AFC North, and currently occupy one of the seven available playoff spots. Mike Tomlin, you genius.

And I don’t say that lightly, by the way. On the 3rd episode of the Touchdown Review some weeks back, I praised him highly (look let me have this one). The Steelers are a winning franchise anyway, but Tomlin has them operating at a machine-like level. That machine took a little while to warm up this season, but they seem to be cooking now.

That come-from-behind win over Chicago isn’t that impressive, given who Chicago are, but it gave us an insight into who the Steelers are. Despite the decline of Roethlisberger, they’re going to find ways to play teams close, and put themselves in a position to win games. I’m not ready to call them playoff contenders or anything. But I am saying their next four games will be well worth tuning in for. That’ll show us who they really are in 2021.

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Trending Down

I think we’re at the tipping point with Kyle Shanahan. The offensive genius (which he is) has been at San Francisco’s helm for 5 seasons, and, 2019 aside, has failed to log more than 6 wins in a season. There are legitimate reasons for this, of course. 2017 was a rebuilding year. 2018 Looked promising, but an early-season injury to Jimmy Garoppolo ended it prematurely. 2020 saw just about everyone in red and gold suffer some sort of injury. It’s been tough sledding. But 2021 feels different. It feels like his seat is legitimately warm. And for good reason.

The moment you trade the farm for a quarterback is the moment you put yourself in the firing line. There are no two ways about it. Shanahan signed off on handing Miami a king’s ransom in order to acquire Trey Lance. We all know that Lance is going to be one for the future, but that doesn’t help you now. In order to mitigate the loss of picks, you have to win now. San Francisco are not winning now. They’re just not winning full stop. 3-5, and bottom of the NFC West, the 49ers are a million miles from where they want to be. 

Now don’t get this mistaken; I am not suggesting #ShanahanOut needs to become a thing. Plenty of teams will lose to the Cardinals this season. But something has to change. Shanahan is blessed with the NFC being pretty weak towards the bottom. They could conceivably put together a winning run and nab that 7th spot. But, if they don’t, do not be surprised if Kyle Shanahan’s name is printed as one of the Black Monday list of casualties. If you want my honest opinion; I’m not sure they make a season of 2021.

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I’ve not waded into the Sam Darnold debate thus far this season, and I have my reasons. I wasn’t convinced by him when he was flat out balling early on, and I wasn’t sure whether he was as bad as was being made out when the Panthers were struggling. But I have seen the light, and I am willing to plant my flag. Sam Darnold: he is not good.

The Jets isn’t a great situation for anyone (RIP Zach Wilson’s career), but Darnold showed flashes of what made him a top 5 draft pick in 2018. Those flashes earned him a shot at redemption in Carolina, who ended their long pursuit of Desean Watson in favour of the USC product. It looked a shrewd bit of business early on but has descended into a mirror of his time in New Jersey. In the past two weeks, Darnold has struggled (yes, you read that right) to put points up against the Falcons, and was utterly decimated against the Patriots. The Panthers are now 4-5 and in something close to disarray.

The long and short of it is that Darnold is about to lose his job. 172 yards and 3 picks is an awful showing by anyone’s standards, and questions have and will be asked about his viability. The move to sign Stefon Gilmore made it feel like Carolina believed their window was open, but Darnold is closing it up as best he can. The jig is up, I’m afraid. Chalk this one down as a failed experiment, and give PJ Walker a proper crack at it.

Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Bachman-Getty Images

Thomas Willoughby