The Debrief  

 

The Debrief, Week 5: Fresh faces top Watchability Rankings

Print

Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 5 to Week 6.

Mitchell Trubisky's Welcome to the NFL Moment came with under three minutes left in a flag-filled Monday night loss to the Vikings. Accurate for much of the night despite completing fewer than half his passes, the next great quarterback hope of the Chicago Bears forced a throw on the run that Vikings safety Harrison Smith picked off. Not many safeties on this planet, let alone the ACC, make that play.

For Bears fans giddy about the dawning of a new era, there was plenty to like from Trubisky despite the ugly final box score. (He finished with 128 yards on 25 throws with a touchdown and the interception.) Trubisky's first NFL throw was a pinpoint sideline out on third-and-long. Later that drive, Trubisky threw a dime down the field on the move, although the play was wiped out by a penalty as Trubisky's teammates established a theme for the night. The Bears' coaching staff took advantage of the rookie's athleticism with a ton of throws outside the pocket and a two-point conversion that contained more inspiration in two seconds than a month's worth of football with Mike Glennon.

The interception denouement felt familiar to a Chicago crowd still absorbing eight seasons with Jay Cutler, but the bigger concern is how routine it is to see a Bears quarterback fighting uphill. Trubisky's teammates let him down with penalties, pass protection on the edge and a lack of playmakers at receiver that can't be fixed this season. Like Jared Goff a year ago, Trubisky will learn by experience with a cast of wideouts and possibly a coaching staff that probably won't be around when he's truly ready to succeed.

That's typical of how a young quarterback develops in a league that runs on impatience and rewards experience. The NFL is a place where a fifth-year journeyman like Minnesota's Case Keenum can outplay the No. 2 overall pick, and no one is surprised.

A season altered

One drive can change so much. In the span of eight defensive plays Sunday night, the Houston Texans transformed from one of the most entertaining teams in the NFL to one that won't feel whole until 2018.

Every team must deal with injuries, but losing J.J. Watt to a tibial plateau fracture and pass rusher Whitney Mercilus to a torn pectoral muscle for the season in such quick succession felt too cruel to a squad shaping up to be the most compelling in the franchise's history. My early list of the most watchable teams in the NFL is below, a list the Texans don't fit on any longer without their transformative defensive end. Finding a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson will make this season successful for the Texans, but their Super Bowl hopes were all but extinguished Sunday night.

Only two months ago, I pleaded with the Football Gods to allow Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to be healthy together for just one season in their primes. It's worth wondering now if Watt's prime is over.

Including three Defensive Player of the Year Awards in a four-season span, Watt's early career can only be rivaled by that of a young Lawrence Taylor. Watt recovered well from the back injury that kept him out of 13 games last season, ranking first among all 3-4 defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus through the first quarter of this season. Perhaps Watt can come back just as strong from this setback, one that left Watt "devastated" on what turned out to be a devastating weekend for some of the game's biggest stars.

Watchability Rankings

A reminder for those new to this exercise: These rankings, unlike Elliott Harrison's scientifically engineered Power Rankings, are completely subjective and change on a whim. It's all about which teams are the most fun to watch. Below are my top five through Week 5 of the 2017 season. To see my full-league rankings from September, click here.

1) Philadelphia Eagles: My two favorite plays of the season were authored by Carson Wentz and Nelson Agholor, which is a very 2017 thing to write. Facing a third-and-19 against the Cardinals on Sunday, Wentz saw a blitz coming, stepped up in the pocket and tossed the ball high enough into the Philly sky to bring rain. Agholor did the rest, complete with a splash into the end zone:

Wentz will miss a routine throw or four each week, and he'll make some head-scratching decisions, like on his red-zone interception against Arizona. But he's so much fun to watch, like a cross between the young versions of Daunte Culpepper, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. His other possible Play of the Year, a wild Week 1 scramble before finding Agholor deep, was typical of this season, in which defenses have been unable to get Wentz to the ground:

In a league bereft of capable offensive line play, the Eagles are strong up front on both sides of the ball. Their best defender, Fletcher Cox, was out -- but the team barely missed a beat because of Tim Jernigan and Brandon Graham. Until Sunday's blowout win against Arizona, their games have come down to the final minutes each week, making the Eagles a safe pick for an entertaining game in a season needing a few more. There's no way to guess where they go from here, which is sorta the point.

2) Los Angeles Rams: Like the Eagles, the whiff of something new makes this Rams team fascinating to watch develop. They were a Cooper Kupp catch away Sunday from controlling the NFC West and accumulating runaway hype, but perhaps the setback against Seattle isn't such a bad thing. The official team of The Around the NFL Podcast can continue to grow out of the spotlight, while Wade Phillips' defense keeps improving and the team's entirely new set of pass-catchers learns the finer points of coach Sean McVay's offense.

3) Denver Broncos: From peak Von Miller to vintage Jamaal Charles to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders breaking ankles to cornerback Aqib Talib busting chops, this is a team with players who pop off the screen on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Trevor Siemian could captain the More Talented Than You Think They Are All Stars.

4) Dallas Cowboys: Sunday's Packers-Cowboys tilt was a great early candidate for Game of the Year. It also felt familiar. Just think back to the Tony Romo-Peyton Manning duel of 2013 or the Cowboys' comeback in the "Odell Catch" game in 2014 or the shootouts with Pittsburgh and Green Bay last season. All of those games had something in common: A Cowboys defense that doesn't get many stops. Watching this young Dallas team, already with as many losses (three) as it had in all of 2016, trying to find itself will be one of the stories of the 2017 season.

5) Carolina Panthers: The Panthers won in Detroit despite averaging 1 yard per carry (!) on 28 tries. I never thought a Panthers team without a rushing attack could be 4-1. It gives this team room to grow, with so many players on each side of the ball that can win a game on a single play -- starting with a suddenly in-form Cam Newton. In other words: Carolina's best should rival that of any team in the NFC.

Honorable mention: Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. Any teams with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers near the peak of their powers are going to be watchable. And the Chiefs deserve kudos for delivering every week in a topsy-turvy league.

Moving up

Doug Martin's fantasy football owners: Don't discount Martin's eye-opening 2017 debut against the Patriots (74 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries) just because he was facing the 32nd-ranked defense. That burst, which was also present through the preseason, will travel. Aside from Kareem Hunt in Kansas City and Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville, there isn't an NFL running back I'm more confident in than Martin, who I expect to pile up numbers the rest of the season.

Spread offense concepts: Whether it's zone-read plays, run-pass options or the shovels and sweeps infiltrating the league, the style of offense that everyone wrote was dead to explain away Colin Kaepernick's lack of employment keeps showing up on television every Sunday.

Dallas took the lead over Green Bay late with a read-option play in which Dak Prescott ran in for a touchdown. Cam Newton threw a shovel-pass touchdown to Christian McCaffrey that took advantage of the threat of a sweep by receiver Curtis Samuel or a run-option to Jonathan Stewart. Marcus Mariota was using his legs more than ever with option plays in Tennessee before being sidelined last week with a hamstring injury. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is running Clemson 2.0 for Deshaun Watson. This crazy concept of NFL coaches building offenses around the strengths of their most important players might just stick.

Earl Thomas doing Earl Thomas things: Thomas' goal-line chop of Rams running back Todd Gurley, forcing the first of Los Angeles' five turnovers Sunday, was a reminder of why the Seahawks are still the favorites in the NFC West until proven otherwise. If the play looked familiar, it's because Thomas forced an incredibly similar fumble that turned into a touchback against the Rams in Week 17 of 2014.

The Seahawks' defense hasn't quite looked right this season, but big plays from Thomas, Richard Sherman, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark gave the unit a familiar feeling heading into Seattle's Week 6 bye.

Doug Marrone's Platonic ideal of football: Months after the Jaguars coach said he would ideally not throw the ball at all, Jacksonville got pretty close by running on 18 straight plays from scrimmage against Pittsburgh, including a 13-play field-goal drive. The Jaguars ran 37 times with only 14 throws for Blake Bortles, as Leonard Fournette nearly doubled Bortles' yardage. Just as Marrone once dreamed.

Moving down

Bruce Arians' Platonic ideal of football: The Cardinals coach just doesn't have the personnel to run his "no risk it, no biscuit" philosophy. With Arians leaving only five linemen in to protect, quarterback Carson Palmer kept having to dump the ball off on third-and-long Sunday because pass-rush pressure was coming. Arizona is out of biscuits.

(UPDATE: On Tuesday, the Cardinals made a trade with the Saints for veteran RB Adrian Peterson.)

Carlos Hyde's breakout season: The 49ers' starting running back was benched for most of the second half Sunday in Indianapolis after gaining just 11 yards on eight carries. Hyde has looked excellent all season, but coach Kyle Shanahan's decision to sit him in favor of Matt Breida is a reminder that very little is set in stone for the winless, hard-luck 49ers. (Their last four losses are by three points or less.)

Buffalo's offensive depth: Losing wide receiver Jordan Matthews shouldn't be this devastating for the Bills' offense, but the team simply doesn't have any other reliable wideouts. Matthews' loss will be felt even more following the knee injury to tight end Charles Clay, which will require surgery. It's amazing that Tyrod Taylor, No. 31 in the league in attempts entering Sunday, threw the ball 25 times in the first half of a game where his top weapon was tight end Nick O'Leary.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop