PFF Senior Analysts Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo reviewed the film, advanced stats and grades to offer their key takeaways from Week 13 of the 2019 NFL season.
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Run more trick plays
Trick plays work. The league should run more of them. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that they become the staple of any offense, but they are effective enough that teams should start to ramp up the frequency and find the point of diminishing returns. In 2019 the average non-trick pass averages 7.2 yards per attempt, and quarterbacks have a roughly 2:1 touchdown:interception ratio. Trick passes average more than half a yard more per attempt and have a TD:INT ratio of 20:6. Non-quarterback trick play passes are even more effective, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt, though the TD:INT balance swings back on these. We saw a couple of big trick plays this week, as we seemingly do every week. It’s time we increased the frequency.
Drew Brees’ performance this week should scare the rest of the NFL
Nobody has carved up the 49ers defense this year the way Brees just did. He has been playing well this season when he has been on the field, but he has been reluctant to push the ball down the field. Against arguably the best defense he has faced, Brees took the shackles off and started firing. He took three deep shots in the game, completing two of them, but also owned the intermediate middle of the field, completing everything he attempted in that zone and adding a touchdown. Brees is an excellent quarterback, but there have been some wondering if he still has the juice to pull out his best game against elite competition. This game answered those concerns.
50 players went above A.J. Brown in the draft — why?
For some reason the NFL wasn’t in love with Brown at draft time. 50 different players had their name called in the draft, including three wideouts, before Brown finally saw his slide halted. This despite dominating SEC competition over his final two college seasons for more than 2,500 receiving yards and more than 100 yards a game. He was No. 2 on PFF’s Big Board and the 20th-best player overall according to our analysis. His display against Oakland was only his second 100-yard outing of the season, but he has already showed dynamic impact and big-play ability. At the very minimum he looks like a draft steal.
Career day for Danielle Hunter? Nah, he just played David Blough
Three sacks for Hunter looks like the performance of his career, but not all sacks are created equal. Lions quarterback Blough was largely responsible for much of the pressure, holding onto the ball or just generally inviting the finish from Hunter as opposed to being merely the victim of a great pass-rushing rep from within the pocket in normal passing rhythm. Hunter, in fact, didn’t get any additional pressure on top of those sacks despite 46 total pass-rushing snaps, and this game will not rank among the best games of his season, let alone career. A nice example of how the box score won’t tell the whole story, and sometimes end-result stats can flatter a player’s performance.
Houston’s inconsistency comes back to bite
The Houston Texans have been playing with fire all season, particularly on the back end where their coverage unit ranked 26th with a 52.0 grade coming into the game against the Denver Broncos. Houston has taken the reins as the inconsistent team in the AFC South that cycles between “playoff contender” and “fraught with too many holes” and their 38-24 loss to Denver highlighted the holes. The defense allowed .241 EPA/play, fourth-worst on the week, and they did so against rookie QB Drew Lock, who was making just his second NFL start.
Never a dull moment with Jameis
The Jameis Winston show is a roller coaster of emotions, and his amusement park ride rarely takes a week off. Nothing sums Winston up better than his annual ranking among the top-five quarterbacks in positively graded throws, but also a top-five ranking in turnover-worthy plays, and his game against the Indianapolis Colts, a 38-35 win, had all of the above. Winston’s aggressiveness may turn off the old-school coaches who preach ball control and ball security, but when paired with a skilled group of playmakers, Winston’s ability to push the ball down the field can light up the scoreboard. While his PFF grade is in the bottom third of quarterbacks this season, Winston has led multiple Bucs passing offenses that rank in the top-10 in EPA/play, but it’s often a cringe-worthy ride that includes a few turnovers along the way. That’s what makes the offseason decision on Winston’s future so difficult in Tampa Bay.
Patriots still looking for answers on offense
Nothing summed up the New England Patriots passing offense quite like a three-play stretch in the second quarter. On second-and-7, the Chiefs show blitz and Tom Brady drops back to throw a back shoulder to WR Phillip Dorsett who doesn’t look for the ball. Miscommunication. On third-and-7, Brady has to get rid of the ball quickly again, this time hitting rookie WR Jakobi Meyers in stride, but the ball clangs off his hands. Drop. New England decides to go for it on fourth-and-7, Brady looks to target an open Julian Edelman for a likely first down and he fails to reset his feet and misses the throw. Off target. A three-play sequence that featured a miscommunication, dropped pass, and off-target throw to encapsulate a Patriots offense that simply can’t find any rhythm as it’s failing in multiple ways, from the receivers to the quarterback to the pass protection.
Rams offense starting to figure it out?
Some offenses have found answers. The Los Angeles Rams suddenly look like the 2017-18 version of themselves as they rank third in EPA/play (.353) over the last two weeks. We never want to buy into small sample sizes, but there’s a noticeable difference with the Rams who have a crispness and tempo to the offense, and they have second-level defenders running in circles with motion, misdirection, and play action. It may be too little, too late for the Rams, whose playoff hopes are slim, but it bodes well for the future, as head coach Sean McVay has had a Jameis-like ride from genius to figured out to, perhaps, learning how to adjust to the adjustments made by opposing defenses around the league. McVay’s ability to evolve his offense remains one of the biggest stories in the NFL.