After a few weeks of surprise stars headlining the stat sheet, some of the established guard made their mark this past week. The Los Angeles Chargers' Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen -- featured previously on Fast Connections -- teamed up for 190 yards and two scores. The Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan and Julio Jones nearly matched that production, finishing with 128 yards and a touchdown. And despite those huge numbers, neither held the top mark of the week.
Daniel Jones to Evan Engram, New York Giants
The long-awaited passing of the torch from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones finally took place last week, with the latter making his first regular-season start. The Giants garnered almost exclusively criticism when they made Jones the No. 6 overall pick this past April, and it doesn't take much to understand why. Jones put up relatively pedestrian numbers at Duke, far from a college football power. Still, Jones has quickly assimilated to the NFL, showcasing his efficiency during the preseason -- 29 completions on 34 attempts for 416 yards and two touchdowns -- and building trust with the coaching staff.
But the preseason and several months of practice still couldn't have prepared the Giants for what they saw from Jones last week. The rookie signal-caller played smart and aggressive, attempting throws downfield while still avoiding critical mistakes. To cap it off, Jones took the ball in the final minutes of regulation and produced his first fourth-quarter comeback.
Though Jones spread the ball around, he appeared to have the best rapport with his tight end, third-year man Evan Engram. Engram's speed and size make him a difficult matchup for any defense, and he victimized the Buccaneers while hauling in six of his eight targets for 113 yards and a score. Now with Jones feeding him the ball, Engram can more regularly unlock his full potential.
Next Gen Stats says ...
Thus far, Jones hasn't shied away from throwing downfield. He averages 9.7 air yards per attempt (eighth-highest among quarterbacks, first among rookies) and 22.8 yards of air distance per attempt (10th, first). It helps to have a receiver that regularly creates separation, and Engram has done that this year. An impressive 53.3 percent of his targets have come when the tight end has put at least 3 yards between him and the nearest defender and 20 percent of Engrams targets occur when he has 5 or more yards of separation.
Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston's first season under head coach Bruce Arians didn't start as the Buccaneers had hoped. Winston tossed three picks during his first start of the season and struggled to reach the end zone the following week. Winston continued to display many of the problems that characterized his first four seasons in the NFL: poor reads, overaggressive throws, and a tendency to let mistakes snowball.
At least for one week, Winston found a way to get back on track. The quarterback extensively targeted Mike Evans, leading to a career day for the veteran wideout. Though he only converted just over half of his 15 targets into receptions, Evans recorded eight catches for a career-best 190 yards and three scores. If not for a defensive meltdown during the second half, Tampa Bay would have escaped with a victory and a 2-1 overall record.
Next Gen Stats says ...
Winston throws into tight windows (less than 1 yard of separation between receiver and defender when the pass arrives) on 20.4 percent of his attempts, the eighth-highest rate in the NFL. That partially explains his struggles thus far in 2019, but it also highlights Evans' value. This year, Evans has caught 4.6 percentage points above expectation, often in those tight-window situations. If Winston continues to put the ball where defenders can reach it, the Buccaneers better hope he has Evans on the receiving end.
Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
So much of Patrick Mahomes' damage this season has come on connections with his seemingly bottomless group of talented wideouts. Even without Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman in reserve. Each has produced a game with at least 97 yards and a touchdown this year. Dazzling football fans and fantasy managers everywhere.
As a result, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce has become the somewhat overlooked member of the Kansas City receiving corps. Though he has only one touchdown so far this year, he has recorded at least 88 yards in each of the Chiefs' three games. And while Mahomes looks to his speedy wideouts for the big plays, he still comes back to Kelce in high-leverage situations.
Next Gen Stats says ...
Mahomes' ability to drive the ball down the field has few peers in the NFL. He averages 9.2 air yards per attempt and 23.0 yards of air distance per attempt. Though most tight ends run routes that don't take them far from the line of scrimmage, Kelce makes his way down the field like a wide receiver, averaging 11.9 air yards per target. Kelce also creates at least 3 yards of separation on 32 percent of his targets, second-highest among tight ends with at least 15 passes thrown in their direction.