We're getting down to the nitty-gritty as we head into Week 13, with 30 NFL teams still in contention (sorry, Jets and Jags) for the 14 spots in this year's expanded postseason.
Ideally, teams should be playing some of their best football in December as they try to secure a postseason berth, but if I'm being honest, there are a number of offenses that I still don't trust. Surprisingly, a lot of them belong to teams currently holding a playoff spot or knocking on the wild-card door. Here's a look at six offenses (in alphabetical order) I don't trust heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
Simply put, the Cardinals' offense hasn't been the same since Kyler Murray sprained his shoulder against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. A notable change in the last two games is the difference in Murray's sack rate, evaded pressure rate and scramble rate. Murray was sacked five times over the last two weeks after being sacked 13 times in Weeks 1-10. That is notable -- but it's his scramble numbers that really caught my eye, as he's scrambled on just five dropbacks since Week 11 (down 2.7 percentage points from Weeks 1-10), per Pro Football Focus. That may not seem like a lot, but when you consider Murray ranks in the top three in the league in scramble categories, including attempts (35, third), first downs (14, third), yards per rush (9.2, third) and rushing yards (321, first), the production adds up.
Murray's decreased production tells me that the Cardinals are relying too heavily on Murray's ability to extend plays, rather than playing inside and executing the scheme. Watching how the New England Patriots limited Murray on Sunday proved as much. The Pats' disciplined pass rush kept him from stepping up in the pocket and forced him to work laterally. Combine that with limiting DeAndre Hopkins (which Stephon Gilmore was able to do), and the offense will stall. As great as Murray is on the run, Kliff Kingsbury needs to get his offense playing within the scheme and less off-schedule.
I'm not considering anything I saw in Wednesday's game vs. Pittsburgh, because, well, very few offensive playmakers, including Lamar Jackson, were on the field for Baltimore. Now that that's settled, Jackson had to be extra special this season after losing Marshal Yanda to retirement this offseason and All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending injury in Week 8. He hasn't been, and neither has Greg Roman's play-calling, which I wrote about last month.
I remember watching the Ravens play the Rams in Los Angeles last season and leaving in the second quarter because I knew the game was over. And it was. Baltimore punched the Rams in the mouth early and often. That's how explosive Jackson and the Ravens were that night and most nights in 2019. Then, that same dynamic offense was bounced in its first postseason contest, and things haven't been the same since.
When I look at this year's unit, I don't know where they're going to get the production if defenses load up the box to stop the run. Jackson hasn't consistently thrown the ball with accuracy or precision yet, and I don't think bringing in Dez Bryant is the answer. Unfortunately, relying on a guy who hasn't played football in three years to provide a boost this late in the year is pretty revealing of the dire straits this offense is in.
The only way the Ravens return to 2019 form is if Roman is able to draw up more innovative plays. He'd better get to it, 'cause Baltimore is running out of time.
It's great if the Browns can ride Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to 200 rushing yards every week. But what if they can't? I don't trust Baker Mayfield to be the hero, because he simply hasn't been that guy all season. One area that concerns me is Mayfield's performance under pressure this season. He's been one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the league, being pressured on just 21.9 percent of his dropbacks (seventh-lowest in the NFL) according to Next Gen Stats -- but when defenses have been able to get to him, he's struggled, ranking in the bottom three in completion percentage (37.3), yards per attempt (3.8), TD-to-INT ratio (0:3) and passer rating (24.6) among 32 eligible quarterbacks under pressure.
I will say Mayfield made a some good reads and throws to convert on third down and on play-action passes against Jacksonville on Sunday. Yet, if he falls short on just one or two more plays (like when he missed on a pair of passes to Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins in the end zone), the Browns lose to the one-win Jaguars. By design, Kevin Stefanski doesn't ask Mayfield to do a lot -- but the franchise quarterback has to step up to the plate when his number's called. I'm not so sure Mayfield will.
The biggest issue for this offense going forward will be the injuries to the offensive line, with both tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) and center Ryan Kelly (neck) expected to miss time down the stretch. The Colts have struggled to run the ball consistently all season, and their 21st-ranked rushing attack takes a hit whenever Kelly, who missed Week 12, is not available; the Colts are averaging 3.1 rush yards per carry without Kelly on the field this season, compared to 3.7 when he's on the field. Not having these two stellar players on the line will also hurt 38-year-old veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who is dang-near immobile at this stage in his career. As we've seen already, this unit will struggle if plays go off-schedule, and I just haven't seen enough as a whole to have real confidence in the Colts.
While the defense has been somewhat consistent, I don't think the Dolphins really know who they are offensively. I like what Brian Flores has done, but how can I trust this team to go blow for blow with the best teams in the AFC when its quarterback situation is in flux? Ryan Fitzpatrick has been more productive this season than the player he was benched for, Tua Tagovailoa, during the bye week. And while Tua is 3-1 as a starter with wins over the Rams (7-4), Cardinals (6-5) and Chargers (3-8), he was benched for Fitzpatrick in the loss to the Broncos (4-7). Under Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins' offense has recorded roughly five more points per game and over 100 more offensive yards per game than it has under the rookie.
DeVante Parker is a good playmaker, and the run game has flashed at times, but this is an offense that can go an entire half without moving the ball. There are one too many unanswered questions for an offense that lacks a true identity heading into a tough final portion of its schedule
I don't think I'm crazy to think that Bruce Arians and Tom Brady aren't on the same page. Earlier this week, Arians told NFL Network's Michael Silver that "Tom Brady picks all the plays now. ... We call what he picks. We just have to get better."
That statement from a coach who has already been critical of his veteran quarterback tells me there's a bit of a disconnect right now, and it's led to the Bucs losing three of their last four games. The first of several issues is this: Brady's strengths are understanding coverages based on pre-snap looks, motions and alignments, but the Bucs are rarely motioning their running backs to give Brady a tell as to what the defense is doing, leading to poor decision-making and miscommunication. On top of that, I'm seeing a lot of vanilla NFL football where the Bucs are relying on their elite wide receivers (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown) to win, and that's extremely hard to do in this league. I don't care who you are. This offense will remain stagnant at times if there is no creativity.
Another glaring concern is the downfield passing game (passes of 20-plus air yards). Over the last four games, Brady has completed just four of 21 deep passes (19%) for a 1:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 33.5 passer rating, according to Next Gen Stats. Part of the issue is the offensive line play. He hasn't had much time in the pocket, as he's been pressured on nine of those 21 dropbacks and faced the blitz 42.9 percent of the time. Brady has been hit more times (44) in 12 games this season than he had in 16 games (37) last season. I think it's time to put the stubbornness aside; Arians and Brady must change and adjust the offense during this bye week. By getting back to a quick passing game, the Bucs can alleviate some of the pressure off the offensive line and allow the offensive playmakers to go to work.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 13 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.
Patrick Mahomes continues to amaze every time he takes the field. He put on a clinic vs. Todd Bowles' defense on Sunday with three TD passes and 462 passing yards, the most ever by a quarterback in a game against Tom Brady. Dare I say we might see Mahomes dazzling us again on this same field in two months' time?
Against a Broncos squad that trotted out an undrafted wide receiver as its quarterback on Sunday, the Saints really didn't need to lean on their offensive MVP. Alvin Kamara finished the game with a season-low 12 touches in the win. He could get the rock a lot more next week against a Falcons' defense that decided to finally show up in Week 12.
Davante Adams is on pace to become the only player in NFL history to average at least eight receptions and one TD per game for a full season. It doesn't matter who defends him, Green Bay's No. 1 receiver finds a way to get it done.
Derrick Henry absolutely took over against the Colts to give the Titans the AFC South lead. The reigning rushing champion rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the win, his seventh career game with at least 150 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. The only other players to have more such games since 1950: Hall of Famers Jim Brown (13), LaDainian Tomlinson (12), Barry Sanders (10), Eric Dickerson (nine), and Emmitt Smith (nine). Henry's making a convincing MVP case.
You know why Aaron Rodgers is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league? It's simple. In games immediately after a loss since 2018, he has thrown 29 touchdowns to one pick. Four of those TDs came in Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears.
In Sunday's comeback win over Carolina, Dalvin Cook had his fewest amount of touches in a game (22) since returning from a groin injury in Week 8. He did suffer an ankle injury that caused him to briefly miss time in the second half -- he shouldn't miss any time going forward -- and the Vikings playing from behind for almost all of the second half didn't help his production. One spot away from the final NFC wild-card slot, I expect Minnesota to get back to leaning on its run game next week against the Jaguars.
After hauling in 82 yards on eight receptions in the Chiefs' statement win over Tampa, Travis Kelce is knocking on the door of his fifth straight 1,000-yard season.
Deshaun Watson is playing some good football right now -- like, real good football. Despite losing his top target in an offseason trade, the Texans signal-caller has a 112.5 passer rating this season (third-best in the league) and has six straight games with at least one passing touchdown and zero interceptions, the longest streak of his career and the longest active streak in the NFL. His exceptional play since the Texans' Week 8 bye has helped them win three of their last four, but it's about to get a lot tougher as Watson will be without No. 1 wide receiver Will Fuller -- suspended for six games for violating the NFL's PED policy -- against the Indianapolis Colts' top-five overall defense.
After a rough midseason patch, Russell Wilson has returned to prime form over the last two weeks, completing 76.3 percent of his passes with three passing TDs, zero INTs and a 112.7 passer rating in a pair of wins. More impressive is the fact that Wilson has the best record in prime time among quarterbacks with a minimum of 20 starts under the lights since at least 1950, according to NFL Media Research. He improved to 29-8-1 under the lights and reclaimed the top spot in the NFC West after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.
Josh Allen had some nice plays in Sunday's 27-17 win over the Chargers, but he also had some really alarming plays, as well. While I like the way he's getting rookie Gabriel Davis involved, he can't have reckless turnovers like he did Sunday if Buffalo intends to make a deep playoff run. Not every team is going to be the Chargers.
Nothing went right for the Raiders on Sunday. Derek Carr had one of the poorest performances in years against the Falcons, which included four total turnovers that ultimately led to his fourth-quarter benching. Having lost two straight, the Raiders have fallen out of the AFC playoff picture. There's no more room for letdowns.
Bill Belichick's defense deserves a lot of credit for limiting Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and Co. on Sunday. Hopkins was unable to get into a rhythm against 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore as he was held to just three catches for 26 yards on four targets vs. Gilmore, according to Pro Football Focus. The Cardinals' offense is in a slump -- and to make matters worse, it faces a ferocious Rams' defense in a meaningful Week 13 bout.
Tyreek Hill has been heating up the last few weeks, and I'd be a fool if I didn't include him after Sunday's out-of-this-world performance. The guy had seven catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone. (Yes, you read that right!) Mahomes and Hill were out there playing a backyard game of two-on-11. And dominating. This duo could rival any other right now.
While Baker Mayfield has been very mediocre this season, Nick Chubb has been at his very best when he's healthy enough to be on the field. Chubb is the offensive engine, setting the tone for everyone around him. In seven games with Chubb this season, Cleveland is 6-1 with 11 rushing TDs while averaging 26.1 points and 199 rushing yards per game. In four games without him, the Browns are 2-2 with zero rushing TDs, 20.5 points per game and 95.5 rush yards per game. Simply put, if Chubb stays on the field, the Browns will end their 17-year playoff drought.
DK Metcalf was the star of Seattle's prime-time victory with 10 catches for a career-high 177 yards. After feeling slighted by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Metcalf proved once again that he's one of the best wide receivers in the game right now. And statistically, he is the best, with 1,039 receiving yards this season.
DROPPED OUT: Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals (previously No. 11); Tom Brady, QB, Buccaneers (No. 13); Stefon Diggs, WR, Bills (No. 14); Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (No. 15).