News & Analysis

NFL Week 8: PFF Team of the Week, key takeaways, player awards and more

From Jared Goff in the early slate to the Sunday night disaster between Ben DiNucci and Carson Wentz, this week was not one for strong quarterback play. There was more bad than good in that facet, but there were plenty of standout performers on the defensive side of the ball — some not so surprising (our Defensive Player of the Week) and some who unexpectedly stepped up (our Rookie of the Week).

PFF is here to break NFL Week 8 down for you in greater detail using advanced data and our unique play-by-play grading. Here, we present to you the PFF Team of the Week, big takeaways and player awards from Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season.

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PFF TEAM OF THE WEEK

Offense

QB: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
RB: David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
WR: Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
WR: DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
TE: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
FLEX: Auden Tate, Cincinnati Bengals
LT: Jesse Davis, Miami Dolphins
LG: Rodger Saffold, Tennessee Titans
C: Ben Jones, Tennessee Titans
RG: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
RT: Rob Havenstein, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DI: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
DI: Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
EDGE: Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
EDGE: Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
LB: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
LB: Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
CB: Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
CB: Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys
S: Rayshawn Jenkins, Los Angeles Chargers
S: Vonn Bell, Cincinnati Bengals
FLEX D: Malcolm Butler, Tennessee Titans

3 BIG TAKEAWAYS

1. Tua had one of the most lethargic first wins ever

Expectations were relatively low for Tua Tagovailoa’s first career start as he went up against a stout Los Angeles Rams defense led by one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history, Aaron Donald.

He did not exceed those low expectations, finishing as the week’s fourth-lowest graded passer (45.2) and leading the Dolphins to the third-least efficient passing offense of the week, ahead of only the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Yet, the Dolphins managed to come away with a 28-17 victory over the Rams thanks to an interception that set up Miami's offense with good field position at the end of the first quarter, a defensive touchdown, a punt-return touchdown and a fumble recovery that was returned to the 1-yard line for a punch-in score all in the second frame.

There were very few Tagovailoa passes to speak of that could be labeled “good.” He had twice the number of negatively graded throws as positively graded ones and completed just one pass over 10 yards downfield. Overall, Tagovailoa's accuracy was all over the place. He finished third-to-last in percentage of accurate passes thrown (47.6%) despite tying for the lowest average depth of target (5.1). There were also some instances where Aaron Donald imposed his will on him.

Concerned? I wouldn’t be — it’s the signal-caller's first career start in the NFL, and it came against a great defense. Tagovailoa doesn’t deserve much credit for this win, but we have all the confidence he will be the one most responsible for victories eventually.

2. The Steelers are 7-0 and have a good chance of going 10-0, but don’t let that muddy the waters about which team is truly the NFL's best

Pittsburgh went to Baltimore as 6-0 underdogs and pulled off the upset, defeating its division foe, 28-24, to remain undefeated. Of those 28 points scored, 14 should be attributed to the defense — the Steelers' first (and only) points of the first half came on a Robert Spillane pick-six on the third play of the game, and an interception on Lamar Jackson’s first pass of the second half placed them right in the red zone. Two plays later, Pittsburgh scored to cut the lead to 17-14.

Ben Roethlisberger then led the offense to touchdowns on two of the next three possessions. The Steelers had the fifth-most efficient passing offense in the second half among teams Sunday, and it’s almost all due to the short, quick throws from Roethlisberger that prevented the Ravens' daunting pass-rush from making any big impact.

In the second half, Roethlisberger completed 14-of-16 passes targeted fewer than 19 yards downfield for 124 yards and a touchdown. For the game, Roethlisberger had just a 2.15-second average time-to-throw — that’s the third-quickest we have seen this year by a quarterback (minimum 20 passes). Roethlisberger now owns the first-, second-, third- and fourth-quickest single-game average time-to-throws this year, all of which have come in the past four weeks.

Roethlisberger has earned a higher passing grade this season on throws 9 yards or fewer downfield than when throwing 10 or more yards downfield. He is one of just six starters to do that (Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles, Drew Lock, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield). In the coming weeks, he and the Steelers will play the Cowboys, Bengals and Jaguars — and it is very likely that they win all three of those.

If Pittsburgh does in fact go 10-0, chatter is bound to start popping up about the team being the AFC and Super Bowl favorites, but until Big Ben consistently throws the ball downfield and leads this team to victory with his arm, that chatter is hard to buy into.

3. The Patriots must tank the rest of the year for Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft

Following Tom Brady’s departure, it looked like the New England Patriots would go with Jarrett Stidham as their starting quarterback job. That made us all think Bill Belichick was going to tank the 2020 season to try and secure a highly coveted quarterback in the 2021 class.

But then the Patriots signed Cam Newton, and with him under center, they were rolling through the first three games to a 2-1 record. However, things have taken a steep decline since, coming to a head with their fourth straight loss. 

Now, the division title and even a Wild Card berth are both pipe dreams for the Patriots this season. That leaves Belichick with a hard decision of either continuing to play to win and extending Newton at the end of the 2020 season or throwing in the towel and tanking for a quarterback such as Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft (assuming the Jets don’t move out of that No. 1 spot).

The latter is without question the best route for Belichick and the Patriots — otherwise, it looks like they will be stuck in quarterback purgatory with Newton. So far this year, this Newton-led passing attack has generated positive expected points added per pass play in just two games and ranks 30th among 32 offenses in that metric this season.

Outside of that Week 2 game against the Seahawks, Newton has struggled to effectively throw the ball downfield. He completed 15 throws over 10 yards downfield in that game, but he has just 17 completions combined in his other five outings.

On defense, regression has hit hard for New England. The unit has allowed positive expected points added on 51% of plays this year, the third-worst rate in the NFL. That’s over 12 percentage points higher than the group's league-leading rate in 2019. In other words, neither side of the ball looks like it is going to flip the script for the Patriots this year — it’s time to start thing about the future and throw in the towel.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

G Rodger Saffold, Tennessee Titans

After being one of the models of consistency and posting top-15 PFF grades in each of the last three years, Saffold had gotten off to a rough start in 2020. Through the first seven weeks, Saffold had just a 62.4 PFF grade that ranked 37th among 76 qualifying guards. Granted, that’s still good, but that was not up to Saffold’s standards. But against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Saffold showed there is no reason to be worried about a decline. He had a career day, posting a 95.2 PFF grade for the game. Not only was that the best by a left guard so far this season, but it was one of the five best we have recorded by a left guard in a single game in the last decade. Saffold didn’t lose any of his 34 pass-blocking snaps and tied for the highest positively graded run-block rate of the week among all offensive linemen. 

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

DI Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

To no one’s surprise, Aaron Donald takes home the PFF Defensive Player of the Week award for his career day against the Miami Dolphins. Donald has had numerous dominant outings throughout his NFL career, but none were better than what he did on Sunday, as he recorded an astounding 94.8 PFF grade. It was the sixth time this season Donald earned a 90.0-plus pass-rush grade. There’s only one other interior defensive lineman with multiple single game pass-rush grades above 90.0 — Chris Jones with two. He gave Tua his “welcome to the NFL” moment on his very first dropback with a strip-sack fumble and, as expected, made life difficult for him and the Dolphins offense all game long.

ROOKIE OF THE WEEK

CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

The start of Diggs’ NFL career really could not have been much worse. Through his first seven games, Diggs gave up a whopping 437 yards in coverage — the second-most in the entire NFL. That helped give the second-round rookie a 46.9 coverage grade, ranking 91st of 113 qualifying cornerbacks. The change of direction and makeup speed concerns we had throughout the pre-draft process were showing up on the field. And against Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football, it was looking like another game where Diggs was going to get fried after he gave up a 32-yard gain on a go ball to Travis Fulgham and then subsequently a two-yard touchdown. 

But from there on out, things got better for Diggs. He had his first career interception near the end of the first half in the end zone with a diving snag. He then had his second career one early in the third quarter. On top of that, Diggs tacked on two forced incompletions.

The rookie corner still gave up a couple of other big plays and finished the game with four combined touchdowns and first downs allowed, but at least he made up for his big plays allowed this time with these plays on the ball.

OFFENSIVE LINE OF THE WEEK

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s offensive line entering the week was nothing more than average, week-in-and-week-out. The unit as a whole ranked 17th in overall PFF grade, 15th in pass-blocking and 19th in run-blocking. Against the Patriots in Week 8, though, that all changed. Buffalo’s big men had an incredible day from top to bottom and were the only team to finish the day in the top three in both unit pass-block grade and run-block grade. Every offensive lineman to see ample action earned a PFF grade above 75.0 and ranked in the top eight at their respective position. 

Considering there was some shuffling they had to do along the interior early in the game as starting center Mitch Morse suffered a concussion on the first drive, this was a bit of a surprise to see. Especially the play from Ike Boettger, who came in at left guard after Joe Feliciano kicked over to center with Morse out. Boettger, a 2018 UDFA out of Iowa, had seen considerable snaps in just four games in his NFL career prior to Week 8, and none of those turned out well. They all were sub-55.0-graded games. The most recent actually came in Week 7 against the Jets and that was his worst game of all — he earned a 43.3 PFF grade at left guard and gave up nine pressures on 50 pass-block snaps en route to a 16.9 pass-block grade. Against New England, Boettger posted a 94.1 PFF grade and didn’t lose a single one of his 18 pass-block snaps.

SECRET SUPERSTAR OF THE WEEK

CB Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos

Callahan was one of the most underappreciated players of the 2018 season with Chicago Bears — he was a big reason for the defense’s success that year, as he locked down the slot and put up the sixth-best coverage grade at that position. He came to Denver with Vic Fangio after that year but missed all of 2019 due to injury. Callahan played on the outside to start 2020 due to a depleted unit, but Fangio flipped him back inside at the half in the Jets game in Week 4. He played well when on the outside but looked natural in the slot and was back to producing at a high level. And that was no different against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. 

When lined up in the slot against LA, Callahan allowed just one catch for three yards and had a game-saving interception in the end zone late in the third quarter when down 14 points:

Callahan won that battle against Mike Williams, who is seven inches taller and over 35 pounds heavier than him. Without that INT, the Chargers more than likely put points on the board via a field goal and the game changes. After this stellar outing that landed him on the PFF Team of the Week, Callahan has a 90.5 coverage grade in the slot — that is over 13 grade points higher than any other defensive back with at least 80 slot snaps this season. It’s time to start recognizing Callahan as an elite defensive back.

PLAY OF THE WEEK

It was looking like the Rams-Dolphins game was going to be a competitive defensive affair early in the second quarter. The two teams were tied at seven and both of those touchdowns were scored off a turnover by the struggling offenses. After a Rams punt to start the second quarter of action, Miami got the ball at their own three yard line and another offensive mishap occurred as Myles Gaskin fumbled the ball — giving it back to Los Angeles within the 10 yard line. Then the second play into their attempt of taking advantage of the turnover and putting themselves up seven, another offensive disaster play occurred and this one was a game-changing one. Jared Goff dropped back to pass and gets piped by an unblocked Emmanuel Ogbah, causing a fumble that is picked up by Andrew Van Ginkel and taken to the other end of the field:

The Dolphins took the lead and never gave it back up. That play was a possible 14-point swing and Miami, according to PFF’s Lee Sharpe, gained 32% win probability as a result.

AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK 9…

Next week’s slate of games is among the best of the season with a notable game in every single time slot from the Green Bay Packers versus the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football to Sunday Night Football as the New Orleans Saints take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The top game of the 1:00 PM slate contains two high-octane quarterbacks, as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks travel across the country to take on Josh Allen and the Bills. Those two quarterbacks currently rank first and sixth at the position in passing grade, and while Allen hasn’t been able to sustain the hot start he had in the last three weeks, the offense still has been relatively efficient. 

Then in the 4:00 p.m. slate, there is a matchup containing two of the NFL’s rising, young stars: Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Arizona’s Kyler Murray. Tagovailoa can’t rely on the kind of defensive performance the Dolphins had in Week 8 every week and will need to do a lot more against the Cardinals than what he did in his debut to secure a W. As for Murray, he is coming off his best game of the season as a passer in Week 7 and a bye in Week 8. With what he has done both through the air and on the ground, Murray is inching his way to being one of the top 10 quarterbacks in PFF grade for the first time in his career. He currently sits in 11th and will look to improve that rank against Miami.

And to cap off Sunday, we get a divisional matchup that has a lot of playoff implications involved. The Saints took down the Buccaneers to open up the 2020 season and would secure the tiebreaker with a win here and tentatively hold the first place spot in the division with a win. 

Oh, and Antonio Brown makes his debut as a Buccaneer.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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