1 - Does Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa shine brighter?
We have been absolutely spoiled by rookie quarterbacks in 2020. Joe Burrow has been steady all year; despite a poor record, the Bengals find themselves outside the bottom-10 in point differential and have been in close games all year. Justin Herbert has been one of the stories of the season, as he’s simply torn through the league.
Now, Tua Tagovailoa is ready to steal the show after an excellent performance in his second start. He gets a shot in Week 10 to straight-up upstage Herbert when the two face off.
Herbert will certainly face the toughest matchup in this game, as the Dolphins have been a top-10 pass defense for weeks in Football Outsiders DVOA efficiency metrics. The Chargers aren’t too far behind at 14th but Miami’s defense is the more difficult unit to go against right now.
Even in a difficult spot, Herbert has already shown us we shouldn’t downgrade him too much due to his truly transcendent traits. Herbert still boasts an 89.1 passer rating when under pressure, a top-five mark among starting quarterbacks. He’s been both accurate and fearless under duress. He has also been lights out on difficult throws, with a 14 percent touchdown rate on passes where the receiver has less than a yard of separation (Next Gen Stats). He’s averaged 70.9 yards per game on such throws.
If picking one of these two guys straight up right now, you have to go with Herbert simply because he’s played like a true star as a rookie.
That said, Tua Tagovailoa showed some of those same star traits, albeit in limited looks. He was pressured on just one pass attempt last week. While that does show he plays in a better ecosystem than Herbert, it’s also a credit to his decisiveness and ability to get the ball out before trouble arrives.
Just like his counterpart, Tua has been much better than I would have anticipated on tight-window throws. He posted a 116.7 passer rating throwing to receivers with less than a yard of separation while sporting an absurd 17 yards per completion figure. That’s great news for his chemistry with DeVante Parker, who makes his living on those pays. Parker is a pretty attractive $17 in Yahoo DFS contents and is the last man standing at receiver with Preston Williams on IR and Isaiah Ford shipped off to New England. He could be the beneficiary on Sunday.
Tua and Herbert will be compared to each other for years to come after going right by each other in the 2020 NFL Draft. Sunday won’t be our last time seeing them go head-to-head, but it’ll be hard to beat the excitement of the first time.
2 - Will we see a rebound from Tampa Bay?
Fantasy managers threw up all over themselves as they watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get embarrassed on Sunday night. Not a single Bucs player made it happen in the box score, despite playing in garbage time essentially all game. It was one of the most stunning and embarrassing performances of 2020.
Despite all that, I’m not too worried about that side of the ball.
The Tampa Bay coaching staff certainly put together just about the worst gameplan possible to face the Saints. The worst culprit on the field was the blocking unit. Tampa Bay’s offensive line came into the game as one of the NFL’s best pass protection groups. Even after that debacle, Brady sports the seventh-lowest pressure rate (16.3 percent). As long as that group plays more in line with what we saw coming into Week 9, Brady and his bevy of receivers will get theirs.
On the other hand, the defense’s whiff was much more problematic. The Bucs defense still ranks first in Football Outsiders defensive DVOA but the Saints did expose a real weakness.
Tampa Bay is the most blitz-heavy team in the league at 43.5 percent but they don’t get a ton of pressure with just four guys. None of their interior players are big-time pass rushers and edge players Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are playing on over 80 percent of the team snaps; depth is a big problem with this team. The lack of a rotation up front can get exposed when the blitzing doesn’t work. If quarterbacks just get the ball out of their hands quickly in the short areas over the middle, they’ll find favorable coverage. Linebacker Devin White, for as aggressive and rangy a player he is, has struggled in coverage this year while giving up a 120.8 passer rating and 87 percent catch rate.
Such a weakness in your defense is like blood in the water for the Saints offense. Even more problematic, the Bucs’ Week 10 opponent in the Carolina Panthers share plenty of offensive DNA with New Orleans. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and offensive coordinator Joe Brady have brought that same uptempo, quick-release style to Charlotte.
Expect Carolina to get the ball out fast against Tampa, mimicking what they just saw last week. That’s great news for Mike Davis’ floor projections as he draws another start in place of Christian McCaffrey. Davis is tied for second among running backs in targets. In the receiver room, expect Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel to face good matchups. Samuel is playing excellent ball of late as a rushing threat and slot receiver hybrid. Anderson’s slot routes have increased of late as the team looks to get the ball in his hands in space. The only player who hasn’t been getting those types of targets, for whatever reason, is DJ Moore, with the highest average depth of target (12.1) on the team.
3 - Is it time to start worrying about Greg Roman’s history?
The 2012 San Francisco 49ers offense took the league by storm with Colin Kaepernick taking over the starting job. Two years later, it had all been figured out; the operation had gone stale.
The 2015 Buffalo Bills found success with another mobile quarterback with Tyrod Taylor turning into a surprising starter. By 2016, the passing unit had dropped 15 spots in the net yards per attempt rankings. Despite a fine rushing attack, this unit went stale.
The throughline between those two clubs? Current Ravens offensive coordinator, Greg Roman.
It’s not the first we’ve seen Roman struggle to keep up the momentum after he’s been bandied about as a hot head coaching name. It looks like he’s going for a three-peat.
And about halfway through last week’s Ravens win over the Colts, it felt like the entire football universe was ready to declare this Baltimore offense old-news.
Then, Lamar Jackson took over. The young quarterback took the reins, kicking Baltimore’s offense into a higher pace, upping the no-huddle, and subsequently completing all 10 of his passes in the second half along with scoring the game-winning touchdown. Roman agreed in his own press conference that this approach “really kind of helped jumpstart us a little bit in that particular game.” It might be time for Roman to ditch the early down rushing, vertical-shot passing game he’s been too committed to all year and just let his top-level athletes run the show. Even if the offense hasn’t offered many explosions in 2020, Jackson, Marquise Brown, J.K. Dobbins, and Mark Andrews are some of the best athletes at their respective positions.
The Ravens are about to go on a stretch of excellent passing game matchups. It starts this week with a Patriots defense that has turned out to be one of the league’s worst, ranking 31st in Football Outsiders defensive DVOA metrics. The team is light on true starters after COVID opt-outs, has no pass rush, and is old and slow.
The pure athletic advantage is heavily on the Ravens’ side in this spot. Expect Jackson to turn in the type of 2019 throwback performance that does away with any sort of Greg Roman questions ... for now.
4 - Can Russell Wilson get back into the front of the MVP race?
After the first month of the season, Russell Wilson taking home his first MVP title felt like a lock. Now that Seattle has dropped two of its last three games and Wilson has moved into the top four in terms of interceptions thrown, he’s losing ground.
Patrick Mahomes is in the middle of reminding us why he’s the best player on the planet and Aaron Rodgers probably presents the best narrative of the three. Those two are likely ahead of Wilson in the imaginary horse race of this award. He’s probably closer to dark horse guys like Kyler Murray or Josh Allen, both of whom play on teams that have beaten Seattle.
However, the seas can change quickly when it comes to the MVP race and Wilson could easily be right back at the top of it after a run of quality wins.
Week 10 provides an excellent opportunity to go on a run if Wilson can avoid the wrath of the two elite athletes on the Rams’ defense. Of course, Aaron Donald can wreck a game upfront but the more interesting matchup is on the backend.
The Rams don’t use Jalen Ramsey as a true shadow corner. Frankly, his role is always tough to project as they move him all over the field; they’ve even had him track slot receivers at times. So there’s always a chance we see Ramsey square off with Tyler Lockett. However, given Ramsey’s own impressive size and movement skills, it might make sense to have him stick with DK Metcalf all game. While Metcalf has indeed played like a top-five wideout this year, it’s hard to imagine that not being at least a slight downgrade for Metcalf. Ramsey has been excellent this year coming off a fat contract extension, allowing just 5.3 yards per target and a 77.5 passer rating in coverage.
We’ve already seen what can happen when a team chooses to focus on Metcalf — Lockett can quite literally drop three touchdowns on you. So this might be a week to bump expectations up for Lockett.
5- Will Michael Thomas finally drop a 2020 hammer?
Despite a meager five catches for 51 yards in the Week 9 box score, Michael Thomas is all the way back after one of the strangest starts to a season in recent memory.
Drew Brees dropped back to pass 33 times against the Buccaneers last week and Thomas ran 28 routes. He led the team in this mark. Thomas also led the team with a 26 percent share of the air yards and tied with Alvin Kamara for the team-lead in targets. He reassumed the role of the alpha wideout in this offense right away.
In Week 10, we should see Michael Thomas remind the NFL world he’s one of the best players at his position with a monster statistical performance.
The 49ers defense has started to show some cracks after largely plugging the dam all year despite a number of big injuries. Once a top-five unit, San Francisco has slipped to 19th in Football Outsiders pass defense rankings. That’s troubling because they’re walking into a week against a Saints passing offense that’s begun to find itself.
Brees has the highest expected completion percentage in the NFL at 71 percent, per Next Gen Stats. There are plenty of layups here given Brees’ declining physical skills but when he’s taken shots downfield, he’s been effective with a 135.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards. That’s the second-highest among quarterbacks to start all year.
With how this offense is rolling, don’t be shocked if this wildly efficient Brees/Thomas duo announces itself back into the NFL world with a 10-catch performance.