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High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes: Wk 11

Every Wednesday, Dan Hanzus combs through the expert findings of the NFL Media Research Department to share nuggets (also known as "nugs") that fascinate, frighten or change him on a fundamental level. This is the Week 11 edition of High-Flying Adventures In The Research Notes.


That's oversimplifying things, of course, but it is somewhat ironic that the Saints turned their ground attack into an unstoppable juggernaut right after trading the greatest running back of the past 20 years. Bringing Peterson to NOLA in the first place was a mistake, but it was extremely wise to end that experiment as quickly as the Saints did. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are the perfect pairing for Sean Payton's offense. No more cooks in the kitchen were necessary.

New Orleans' devastation of the Buffalo Bills was built on Ingram and Kamara's dominance. You can point to any portion of the game and find one of the backs doing damage, but I'll point specifically to a punishing touchdown drive in the third quarter. Here's the play-by-play:

You get a cameo from fullback Zach Line and a touchdown scramble from Drew Brees, but the guts of this drive -- this Saints season, really -- has been Ingram and Kamara grounding the opponent into chalk. I don't even think the Bills quit in this game -- the Saints just kept coming at them until they had nothing left. Scary and impressive.


Remember a few weeks ago when Football Twitter was wringing its hands about the idea of the Steelers' offense being too reliant on Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell? JuJu Smith-Schuster was quietly producing then, and now his presence can no longer be denied. He has been a huge lift for a Pittsburgh offense that has learned the hard way that trying to bring Martavis Bryant back into the fold was a much bigger challenge than expected.

JuJu (we'll use his first name as much as possible here because ... why wouldn't you?) has pretty much locked up the No. 2 receiver gig in the last two weeks and could be the type of midseason pickup that wins titles for you fantasyheads out there. I thought it was telling that JuJu was the engine on offense against the Colts in a game that began with Ben Roethlisberger forcing a deep ball to Bryant that ended up as an interception.

Meanwhile, here's the best-case scenario for the Steelers: Big Ben continues to improve, Antonio Brown and JuJu keep doing their thing, Bell stays healthy and does his thing, and Bryant eventually works himself into a defined role as a chunk play terror. How does this team not score 30-plus points per game?


Speaking of Football Twitter, there is a large swath of fans and analysts out there who had completely written off Jared Goff after his debut supporting role in Gone Fishin'! The Jeff Fisher Farewell Spectacular. I'm not going to white knight it here and pretend I fearlessly looked beyond Goff's ugly numbers in 2016 and knew for sure he'd thrive under Sean McVay. But I did enter this season giving Goff something of a free pass for his rookie foibles. He deserved a blank slate, and now he's made the most of the fresh start McVay and Co. allowed.

Despite his gaudy production, I'd probably have Goff a distant third in the MVP race behind Tom Brady and Carson Wentz. Still, even a bronze medal in that race would be an enormous accomplishment. (Yes, I know they don't hand out awards for coming in third in MVP races, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't. Back off!)


On paper, this is one of the biggest mismatches of the season. If you're a Browns fan, the distant hope here is some carry-over after Deshone Kizer played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Lions. When Kizer is making plays, you can see why the Browns were so excited about him entering the season. The Browns -- maybe more than any other team in the league -- need something positive to take out of another lost season, and second-half strides by their quarterback would certainly qualify.

The less optimistic possibility though -- and let's face it, the scenario that will likely play out given the team involved -- is an ugly blowout that wipes away Kizer's hard-fought mental gains in Detroit. After all, this is the worst team in football welcoming one of the best defenses of the past 15 years. Just surviving four quarters might be a victory.


Raise your hand if you look at those numbers and the first thought is, "Get rid of the quarterback!"

Yes, Tyrod Taylor played poorly in losses to the Jets and Saints. But he could have been a Aaron Rodgers/Randall Cunningham hybrid monster (Aaron Cunningham!) last week and the Saints still would have decimated the Bills and their sieve-like defense. I think that's part of the reason so many people were left scratching their heads on Wednesday morning when coach Sean McDermott announced the decision to move Nathan Peterman into the starting lineup.

That said, there is some logic to it if the Bills simply don't believe in Taylor as a franchise quarterback. Armed with a waterfall of premium draft picks and staring down an incoming class with several highly esteemed quarterback prospects, perhaps Buffalo decided it was more important to get a look at Peterman than make a full-tilt push to end their 17-year playoff drought.

That would be an extremely tough pill for Bills fans to swallow, but, at least going by my mentions, it seems like a lot of Bills fans were ready to move on from The Artist Formerly Known As TyGod anyway. The upshot: We all get to look forward to that Tyrod Taylor Revenge Game when the Jets come back to Orchard Park in 2018.

Until next week ...

Follow the NFL Media Research Group on Twitter at @NFLResearch. Follow Dan Hanzus, too.

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