Somehow we’re seven weeks through the 2017 season and somehow it feels like seven times we’ve had to note what a weird week it was in the NFL. It really has been a strange season and the longer it goes on, the less definites it feels like there are. One week a team can look great then lay an egg the next. Maybe it’s league-wide parity, or maybe just no one is all that good. This week featured seven teams that did not score an offensive touchdown, so that might be your answer. Let’s look at a few other things that happened this week:
Another big, bad injury
Another thing it it feels like we do every week is start this column off by going over at least one major injury to a top tier talent. This week it’s Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer went down on a hit following an interception in the second quarter and it was later announced he broke his arm and would miss at least eight weeks. Entering Week 7, Arizona had allowed the highest pressure rate on offense per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. Palmer, of course, was never the most mobile quarterback and he had been taking a beating behind that offensive line all season.
While the Cardinals’ season appears to be over at 3-4, that wasn’t the case when Palmer was injured on Sunday. With a win against the Los Angeles Rams, the two teams would have had the same 4-3 record and both would have been just a half game behind the 4-2 Seattle Seahawks. At the time of Palmer’s injury, the Cardinals were only down 6-0 -- or 13-0 if you count the Todd Gurley touchdown on the first play after the interception. With Palmer, Arizona had a chance to come back and create an interesting three-way race in the NFC West. With Drew Stanton, the Cardinals stood no chance. Palmer will turn 38 years old in December. Larry Fitzgerald is 34. Bruce Arians is 65. This is now a franchise that needs to figure out what the next step will be for all of their aging key components.
Rams are for real
The final score of that game was 22-0 with the Rams getting a decisive victory. Los Angeles now sits at 5-2 with the second-best record in the NFC and, unless the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Redskins by 32 points on Monday Night Football, the best point differential in the NFL.
Just about everything the Rams are doing right now is clicking. Jared Goff’s past two weeks haven’t been as stellar as his start to the season, but he’s still lightyears ahead of where he was as a rookie last season. It’s clear now he can run a high-powered NFL offense. Todd Gurley is also starting to get going this season. He already has four games with over 100 yards rushing after having none in 2016. He’s also become a threat in the passing game. He already has three receiving touchdowns and his 293 receiving yards are just 34 fewer than his career-high set last year in 16 games.
Even the defense is coming along after a slow start. Much of that is thanks to Aaron Donald. As Donald has gotten more run with the defense after his Week 1 holdout, he’s returned to the gamewrecker he’s been in his career. Heading into Week 7 Donald has 27.5 pass pressures, per Football Outsiders. The next best defenders were Demarcus Lawrence of the Dallas Cowboys and Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals at 19. Against the Cardinals, Donald had a sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits.
This is who the Giants play in two weeks.
Jacksonville’s dominant defense
Speaking of defenses excelling at getting pressure, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been running wild. Jacksonville entered the week fifth in defensive pressure rate, per Football Outsiders, but there has been no better team at converting pressure to sacks. That’s just what they did against the Indianapolis Colts, bringing down Jacoby Brissett 10 times. The Jaguars have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 12.3 percent of their drop backs, which is easily the league-high. No team has finished a season with a sack rate above 10.0 percent since the 2008 Dallas Cowboys (10.4 percent) with a peak DeMarcus Ware, who had 20 sacks on his own that season.
It’s not just the pass rush that’s dominating, it’s the whole pass defense. Jacksonville leads the league in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) on defense at just 2.8. ANY/A adjusts yards per attempt by also factoring in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks. That 2.8 mark is the best since the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the season at 2.3. No team since has finished under 3.0. For some more reference, the Giants defense last season finished second at 5.3 ANY/A while the Broncos were first at 4.4.
Andrew Luck shouldn’t play this season
After the game against the Jaguars, Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton was not subtle about improvements that need to be made:
T.Y. Hilton following the #Colts 27-0 loss: "It is the offensive line, they need to block."— Charlie Clifford (@cliffWISH8) October 22, 2017
It wasn’t just this particular game against the Jaguars that was a struggle for the Indianapolis offensive line. The line is part of the reason Andrew Luck has been out with an injury for so long and it’s a big reason why Luck probably shouldn’t play at all this year. The only team to allow more offensive pressure than the Colts this season has been the Cardinals and we just saw what happened to their quarterback.
The Colts are 2-5 and have little to play for going forward. With Luck continuing to have setbacks in practice, there’s no reason to force him out on the field behind a line that won’t be able to block oncoming defenders. Yes, it would be nice to get Luck some reps on the field before 2018, but even if he comes back late in the season the pros feel like they don’t outweigh the cons.
Indianapolis’s last five games come against the Jaguars, Bills, Broncos, Ravens, and Texans with three of those on the road. That’s not a welcoming set of defenses for anyone. There’s nothing more important for this Colts team than a healthy Andrew Luck, so if holding him out until 2018 is the only way to guarantee that, do it.
Long live SkyCam
Thanks to a ridiculous amount of fog during the Falcons-Patriots game Sunday night, NBC had to switch from its traditional cameras to the SkyCam view late in the broadcast -- and it was great. The camera behind the quarterback gave a whole new perspective for the game. The view gave the vantage point of the quarterback or running back. It was easier to see how and when routes and holes opened up. It was an overall great viewing experience.
It would be great to see a whole game broadcast from that angle, but ESPN’s Kevin Seifert talked to some executives at NBC who explained why there’s some logistical limitations to that. Still, even if that can’t be the case for the whole broadcast, a few more plays like that per game would be a welcome addition each Sunday night.