What Have We Learned From Week 7 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Dontae Johnson, Jason Croom, Marlon Mack

Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) heads for the end zone for a touchdown past the block of wide receiver Chester Rogers (80) on Buffalo Bills defensive back Dontae Johnson (36) during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 7 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Mack’s emergence helping Colts put together balanced offense-INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Frank Reich made it clear from the moment he accepted the Indianapolis Colts coaching job that he wanted to build around a strong ground game.

    He might finally have the foundation.

    Since returning from a lingering hamstring injury, Marlon Mack has turned heads, piled up numbers and given the Colts’ offense a more balanced look. He helped Indy snap a four-game losing streak Sunday and if he keeps it up, Mack could help the Colts win more games this season.

    “He’s explosive. He turns a 5-yard run into a 15 or 20-yard run,” Reich said after Sunday’s 37-5 rout of Buffalo. “(He’s) an excellent inside and outside runner, so (we are) really glad to have him back in the mix.”

    The Colts (2-5) envisioned Mack fitting perfectly into this role.

    They drafted him in the fourth round in 2017, believing South Florida’s career rushing leader would eventually start after spending one season as the understudy to Frank Gore, the NFL’s No. 4 career rusher.

    At training camp this summer, team owner Jim Irsay projected Mack could run for 1,500 yards this season — a feat only one NFL player achieved over the past three seasons and an astoundingly high number in the era of rotating running backs.

    But Mack showed everyone what he could do the past two weeks.

    After missing four of Indy’s first five games, he returned against the New York Jets and ran 12 times for 89 yards just 2 short of his career high. On Sunday against the Bills defense, ranked No. 3 overall at the time, he had 19 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown while catching two passes for 33 yards and another score.

    Suddenly, he and the Colts looked as if they could start alleviating the heavy early season workload on Andrew Luck’s repaired right shoulder.

    “The middle three guys were definitely moving some people and when that happens, you get gaps in there and Marlon was setting up guys pretty well,” longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo said Tuesday. “The good thing is it wasn’t perfect so we can still get better.”

    Mack is still getting on the same page with a relatively young offensive line.

    Center Ryan Kelly was Indy’s first-round pick in 2016 and has returned to his rookie form after missing most of last season because of injuries. The Colts (2-5) have seen left guard Quenton Nelson, the No. 6 overall pick, settle into his new gig and believe he can emerge as a perennial Pro Bowler if he stays healthy.

    Braden Smith, a second-round pick this spring, took advantage of injuries to crack the starting lineup sooner than anticipated and appears to have found a home at right tackle. Castonzo, a first-round pick in 2011, just turned 30 in August and 26-year-old Mark Glowinski has filled in admirably at right guard since Matt Slauson went down with a season-ending back injury in Week 5.

    The result: Luck has only been sacked once in his past 125 attempts and the offensive line is increasingly creating creases Mack can burst through.

    “Marlon, he is patient and he’s able to predict where guys end up based on the structure of the defense,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Marlon just has a unique vision quality and he can really hit it when it’s time to hit it. It’s like he’s patient setting up the block, but he has that acceleration to hit the hole before they can get off on him.”

    Right now, it looks as if it’s a perfect combination.

    Mack already has flirted with back-to-back 100-yard games, something the Colts haven’t achieved since October and November 2007 when Joseph Addai went for 100 and 112 yards against Carolina and New England.

    This week, against the Raiders’ No. 27-ranked run defense, Mack hopes to add his name to the list.

    “It’s just something to build upon. The offensive line and us coming together and working hard,” Mack said after Sunday’s game. “It (a 100-yard game) is a great thing as a running back that you want to have for your career.”

 

  • Unbeaten LA Rams rolling behind Aaron Donald’s dominance-LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Sean McVay was standing on the sideline to watch it, the head coach still had to check the video before he truly realized the scope of Aaron Donald’s dominance in the Los Angeles Rams’ latest win.

    The All-Pro defensive lineman was in vintage form against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, leading a stellar defensive effort as the Rams (7-0) extended their longest perfect start to a season since 1985 with a 39-10 victory.

    McVay saw Donald’s four sacks, and he knew Donald had forced a fumble that led to a score. Turns out, there was much more.

    “I knew he had a really productive day, but then you go back and you just tally up all the plays that he made,” McVay said. “How he’s getting there and affecting and influencing the game in a variety of ways from his position was really impressive. That’s why he’s the man.”

    Donald is back at the peak of his disruptive powers after a self-described slow start to the season possibly caused by missing the Rams’ entire offseason program and preseason during his contract holdout. With the $135 million man causing regular misery for opponents’ offenses, the rest of the Rams’ defense is backing him up with big plays — particularly against offenses that are still works in progress, such as the Niners’ injury-plagued unit.

    All told in Santa Clara, Donald had nine tackles, five quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, that forced fumble from Matt Breida and a fumble recovery.

    Los Angeles will need Donald’s leadership during its upcoming four-game stretch against four of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. The Rams are the NFL’s only unbeaten team as they begin the gauntlet with a visit from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) on Sunday.

    McVay and Wade Phillips, his veteran defensive coordinator, haven’t said much to their players about the Rams’ unbeaten record yet. They’re aware of the length and difficulty of a full NFL season, and they don’t want the Rams to get ahead of their next challenge — particularly not before their bye week next month.

    “The narrative is written every single week, and we want to continue to try to do a good job,” McVay said. “We don’t have to do anything other than try to be the best that we can one day at a time, and hopefully that leads to a good performance.”

    The rest of the defense fed off the advantages created by Donald’s performance by forcing two fumbles and two interceptions. None of those turnovers arose from lucky bounces or deflections: Instead, McVay praised his defense for actively making plays to create opportunities for the Rams’ prolific offense.

    “That was a big part of being able to win,” McVay said. “Get those short fields. Ultimately, it’s about scoring points. The yards are the yards. That doesn’t matter. What matters to us is scoring as many points as we can.”

    McVay’s offense could be healthier when the Packers get to town on Sunday. Playmaking receiver Cooper Kupp is making steady progress back from the knee injury that sidelined him against the Niners, although McVay isn’t sure whether he’ll need one more week of rehab before playing again.

 

  • Running game starting to emerge for Lions-ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions have won two straight and three of four in large part because they finally have a running game.

    In Sunday’s 32-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Lions churned out 248 yards on the ground, their highest single-game rushing output in 21 years.

    The Lions averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Kerryon Johnson ran for 158 yards, including a 71-yard burst in the first quarter.

    It was the first time all season that the Lions had executed more run plays than pass plays in a game.

    “I think just as a team it makes it a lot better for everyone,” Johnson said. “I feel like (Lions quarterback) Matt (Stafford) feels like he doesn’t have as much pressure on him. Our O-line knows what they’re capable of doing. Our defense knows that we can go on sustained drives.

    “I think as a team it just helps everybody mentally, and obviously it helps us win games.”

    It was their best rushing performance since the Lions ran for 249 yards in a 32-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 23, 1997. Barry Sanders rambled for 216 yards in that game. It was also the first time Detroit averaged at least 7.0 yards per carry on at least 35 attempts since Nov. 24, 1991.

    Johnson had 100 rushing yards in the first half, becoming the first Lions player to do so since Reggie Bush on Sept. 29, 2013. Johnson joined Isaiah Crowell as the only NFL running backs to rush for 100 yards in the first half of a game this season. Johnson also became only the fifth rookie running back to have multiple 100-yard rushing games in Lions history.

    This is the same team that ran for just 39 yards in a season-opening 48-17 loss to the New York Jets.

    “We’re always going to try to be balanced the best we can,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We want to be able to run it if we have to and throw it when we have to do that. It was good to see the run game be productive.”

    “Look, when you go out and you can execute and do it the right way, it looks really good. We’ve seen it when it doesn’t look so good the other way.”

    Detroit is 11th in the NFL in rushing yardage, averaging 122.3 yards per game. The Lions were last in the league in rushing in 2017, averaging 76.3 yards per game.

    That forced the team too often to be reliant on Stafford’s arm. He finished fourth among QBs in pass attempts last season. This season, Stafford is 19th in the NFL in pass attempts.

    “As an offensive lineman, you know if you can establish the run game, you don’t have to sit there and drop back and pass the ball 50 times,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said. “That’s part of the game, but that’s not always the most fun for an offensive lineman.”

    Run-blocking, where they get to attack the defense, is a far more enjoyable experience for the offensive linemen.

    “When you’re able to establish a run game, that opens up everything else for us,” Decker said. “It’s going to open up our play-action pass. That’s going to open up our passing on third down, because we’re going to have a lot more calls to go to.”

    As good as their ground game has been, the Lions believe that there are more yards to be gained.

    “There are definitely plays that we see on film that we could have done a better job,” Patricia said. “We could have blocked better, we could have identified better, to get that extra yardage that was left out on the field.”

Middle

  • Cowboys get Amari Cooper from Raiders for 1st-round pick-DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys made a bold move for the present Monday, trading a first-round pick for Oakland receiver Amari Cooper in Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s latest play for the future.

    The Cowboys gave up their top pick in the next draft in hopes of giving quarterback Dak Prescott another weapon just a few months after releasing franchise touchdown catch leader Dez Bryant in a cost-cutting move.

    Dallas (3-4) has struggled to score points while losing all four road games, including 20-17 Sunday at Washington . And Cowboys receivers haven’t made many big plays in their first season without Bryant and retired tight end Jason Witten, the club leader in catches.

    The Cowboys decided Bryant wasn’t worth $12.5 million in 2018 after three subpar seasons since signing a big contract following his only All-Pro year in 2014.

    Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Cowboys executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones called last week to say he’d check in on Cooper on Monday and offered the first-round pick that the Raiders were holding out for before making a deal.

    Cooper was the fourth overall draft pick by the Raiders out of Alabama three years ago. He started his career with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and had two 100-yard games this year, but had just two targets and one catch since the second of those games.

    The 24-year-old Cooper — five years younger than Bryant — was placed in the concussion protocol after leaving Oakland’s last game against Seattle on Oct. 14.

    Dallas receivers have just one 100-yard game combined through seven games, by Cole Beasley in a Week 6 win over Jacksonville. The Cowboys are going into their bye week, and the Raiders are returning from their break to face Indianapolis at home Sunday.

    For Gruden, dealing his most accomplished receiver doesn’t compare to the preseason trade that sent two-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago. But it is another example of the Raiders (1-5) looking to the future.

    Oakland figures to have a good shot at the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, and now has three first-rounders with the Cooper trade.

    “This is where we get a great opportunity to build,” McKenzie said. “We’ve got pieces now, but we can really rebuild on what we have. With this group, the coaches that I’ve got here, knowing where we’re heading schematically on both sides of the ball and special teams, we’re going to build this thing . we’ve got the ammunition to build this thing really well.”

    Cooper was the third receiver started his career with back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards receiving and 70 catches, following Odell Beckham Jr. and Marques Colston but has been unable to build on that success the past two years.

    He has just 70 catches for 960 yards since the start of 2016 as his inconsistency has become a bigger problem. Cooper has been held under 30 yards receiving in 13 of his past 26 games. Cooper has 3,183 yards and 19 touchdowns in three-plus seasons.

    The Raiders have now dealt two key pieces away from a 12-win team in 2016 and look to be in major rebuilding mode now.

    “It’s disappointing. Real disappointing,” McKenzie said. “It was starting to get that way last year when we somewhat took a nosedive, but I understand the NFL, the system will not allow you to keep them all.”

    It’s not the first time Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has made a big trade for a former top-10 pick at receiver, and the other two attempts didn’t go well.

    In 2000, Jones sent two first-round picks to Seattle for Joey Galloway before the first of three straight 5-11 seasons. Galloway, drafted eighth overall by the Seahawks in 1995, didn’t have a 1,000-yard season in four years with the Cowboys.

    About this time 10 years ago, the Cowboys got Roy Williams from Detroit for three draft picks, including a first-rounder. The former Texas standout’s first full season with Dallas was his best, with 596 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

    The Cowboys made the playoffs once in two-plus years with Williams, in 2009, when they won the franchise’s first postseason game since the last of five Super Bowl victories following the 1995 season. Williams was drafted seventh overall by the Lions in 2004.

Downs

  • Bengals’ challenge: Get over yet another prime-time meltdown-CINCINNATI (AP) — Marvin Lewis went to sit in his chair and realized someone had lowered it. The chair didn’t cooperate as he struggled to get it to a comfortable level.

    “I guess that’s what happens when you get beat up,” the Bengals coach joked.

    Beat up, and then some.

    The Bengals unraveled in prime time yet again, playing their worst game on the Sunday night stage. A 45-10 loss at Kansas City was the second-most-lopsided during Lewis’ 16 seasons in Cincinnati, surpassed only by a game in which they rested starters to get ready for the playoffs.

    There was a lot at stake in this one: national recognition and first place in the AFC North. The game was flexed from an afternoon slot to Sunday night so fans nationwide could see a pair of up-and-coming teams in an offensive showdown.

    Instead, the Bengals (4-3) were dominated in every respect as millions watched.

    “That’s when your pride gets affected,” receiver Tyler Boyd said Monday. “That hurts more than anything.”

    For the first time this season, the Bengals are looking up in the standings. Pittsburgh (3-2-1) leads the division by percentage points. Much of the Bengals’ momentum from a 4-1 start has been wasted by another last-second home loss to the Steelers and a blowout at Kansas City in consecutive weeks.

    Cincinnati has lost nine straight on Sunday night, when it’s 3-16 overall. The Bengals’ last such win was over the Dolphins in 2004. They’re 6-15 in prime-time games since 2011, when Andy Dalton and A.J. Green arrived — 0-6 on Sunday night, 2-5 on Monday night, 4-3 on Thursday night and 0-1 on Saturday night.

    Back on the big stage, they missed tackles , botched coverages, missed blocks, messed up a fake punt and had an interception returned for a touchdown . They struggled to get even the simple things done right.

    “This one’s going to be hard to swallow just because it was in front of everyone,” safety Jessie Bates said. “Everyone was watching.”

    The Bengals are trying to escape their history of meltdowns in big games. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history. Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs, the worst mark for a head coach.

    They had a chance to end that Sunday night streak. Instead, they gave viewers reason to tune out early in the third quarter.

    For one night, it was a Bengals rerun.

    “It’s a bad look for the whole team to see this happen,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “It’s such a big score difference. You never want to go out there and get blown out on a Sunday night, (especially) when it’s been something we’ve been waiting to show the whole league what we can do.”

    It was their sixth loss of at least 30 points during Lewis’ 16-year tenure. Their worst loss over that time was a 37-0 defeat against the Jets in 2009, when they rested regulars for the final regular-season game knowing they’d play the Jets again in the playoffs the following week. They lost that one, too.

    They lost 37-3 at Kansas City in the final game of the 2005 season, when they had wrapped up the division title and were getting ready to play the Steelers in the first round.

    The Bengals lost 35-3 at Indianapolis in 2008. They’ve had a pair of 31-point losses: 44-13 at Baltimore in the 2012 season opener and 34-3 against Baltimore in 2008.

    They host Tampa Bay (3-3) on Sunday before heading into their bye week. Four of their next five games are at home.

 

  • Giants can’t fix season-long scoring woes in loss to Falcons-ATLANTA (AP) — Handed the perfect setup against a depleted, struggling Atlanta defense, the New York Giants’ offense again fell short.

    No one was more surprised than Odell Beckham Jr .

    “I did think this was going to be a big day for us,” Beckham said.

    Instead, the Giants were held to two field goals through three quarters of their 23-20 loss to the Falcons on Monday night. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns were not enough to win the game or convince anyone in the New York locker room that answers had been found for season-long scoring woes that led to the Giants’ fourth straight loss.

    The Giants (1-6) were frustrated by an Atlanta defense which has three starters on injured reserve and had allowed the second-most points and third-most yards per game in the NFL.

    After the game, Beckham sat facing his locker, holding his head in his hands before finally heading off to his shower.

    When he faced reporters later, he was calm but frustrated.

    “It’s the little things, the little pieces that you’ve got to put together, the little things that are the difference between losing and winning,” Beckham said. “We just haven’t found a way to put it all together.”

    The statistics would suggest Beckham did his part with eight receptions for 143 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown catch with only 5 seconds remaining.

    The touchdown made the final score look more respectable, but it brought Beckham little comfort. He chastised himself for failing to catch a 2-point pass that could have cut the Falcons’ lead to 20-14 with about five minutes remaining.

    “That’s something I have to go home with at night,” he said. “That’s tough.”

    Despite having such weapons as Beckham, Sterling Shepard, who had five catches for 167 yards, rookie standout running back Saquon Barkley and two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants have found no answer to their season-long inability to turn yards into points.

    “We know we have talent,” said tight end Evan Engram. “We’re doing things. We’re just not putting the big picture together. That’s what’s frustrating. … We’re just going to keep working, and it will eventually pop.”

    The Giants have scored no more than 20 points in five of their seven games.

    “I can’t give you the answer,” Barkley said. “We’re not executing. We’re not finishing drives. That’s the gist of our season. … We’ve got to find a way to execute and finish our game.”

    There were no turnovers to blame. Manning threw for 399 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, but he was sacked four times for a loss of 27 yards. Entering the game, the 37-year-old Manning had been sacked 20 times, third-most in the NFL.

    Barkley was held to 43 yards, his second-lowest total of the season, on 14 carries. He added nine catches for 51 yards.

    “Honestly, personally I didn’t play a good game,” Barkley said. “… I wasn’t the player I usually am.”

    The difficulties in scoring might have influenced coach Pat Shurmur’s aggressive play-calling.

    With Atlanta leading 10-3 early in the third quarter, Shurmur left his offense on the field for a fourth-down play from the Atlanta 1. Manning’s pass for Scott Simonson was incomplete.

    Shurmur again left his offense on the field to go for a 2-point play after Barkley’s 2-yard scoring run cut Atlanta’s lead to 20-12 in the fourth quarter. Giants players supported the call, which ended with the incompletion to Beckham.

    “He has faith in us that we’re going to put it in the end zone,” Shepard said. “I love that the coaches have faith in us.”

    Added Beckham: “I like the call. I love being aggressive.”

    Shurmur said analytics show “You increase your chances by 50 percent if you go for it and make it there, so that’s what you do.”

    Shurmur said going for 2 was “an aggressive approach. … I think from a head coaching perspective, I want to be aggressive for our guys.”

 

  • Browns’ Jackson not pointing fingers, will “help” offense-BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Hue Jackson only wants to help. Honestly.

    A day after Cleveland’s embattled coach strongly suggested he might take control of his team’s sputtering offense following an overtime loss at Tampa Bay, Jackson said he was merely offering assistance to coordinator Todd Haley and that he has no intention of calling plays.

    Jackson said he spoke with Haley and that he plans to “infuse” himself into Cleveland’s offense.

    “I still think that two heads are better than one in certain situations,” said Jackson, who served as Cleveland’s OC while going 1-31 during his first two seasons. “Obviously, somebody has to lead it and that is Todd’s job. But at the same time, if I see something where I can help and help us be a little bit better, I think that is my job, as well.”

    As for his principal job, Jackson believes he still has the support of owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam despite his 3-35-1 record and the Browns’ inability to win tight games.

    “No doubt. No doubt. None,” Jackson said of the Haslams’ backing. “No question.”

    Why so confident, coach?

    “Conversations,” he said without offering specifics.

    But Jackson’s days could be dwindling if the Browns (2-4-1) don’t start stringing together some victories. On Sunday, they dropped their 24th straight road loss — two shy of tying the NFL record — when Tampa Bay’s Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 59-yard field goal. It was Cleveland’s fourth OT game already this season, and yet another example of a game the Browns could have won but found a way to lose.

    Afterward, Jackson, who is now 3-14-1 in games decided by six points or less, grew irritated and defensive when pressed about his relationship with Haley, who came to Cleveland following six seasons with Pittsburgh. Jackson said his intention was not to butt heads with Haley and three times said, “I’m the head coach of the football team.”

    Jackson explained he wasn’t criticizing Haley or any of his assistants and that his remarks were rooted in his passion to win.

    “I think sometimes the way maybe it came off — and I take responsibility for that — was not in harshness of staff,” he said. “It was in harshness of ‘God, I want to win.’ I want to do whatever I think it is going to take to help our football team win. That is where my motivation was coming from.”

    His comments rang hollow to some Browns fans irritated with the losing who want Jackson fired immediately. Twitter timelines filled with scathing comments about him and sports talk radio airwaves buzzed with anti-Jackson rants.

    Jackson understands fans are angry. He is, too. But he’s more committed to building the Browns into a winner, and accepts full blame for their problems.

    “When you’re a 1-31 coach from a year ago, everybody is going to take it as I am passing the buck,” he said. “People are going to feel the way that they feel. I am human just like anybody else, and I want to win. I want to assist. If there is an issue that I can help as a head coach, I would think that is something that you do. I did not feel like I said anything wrong.

    “I know what I meant and I know what I said, and I still feel the same way today. I am not changing off of that. At the same time, people say, ‘He is not winning. He has to move it someplace else.’ That is not what I am trying to do. All of this falls squarely on me.”

    While the Browns have been competitive and shown growth, they continue to be plagued by slow starts, mental mistakes and penalties. They were whistled 14 times for 114 yards against the Bucs, who picked up several key first downs on Cleveland infractions.

    That’s not all on Jackson, who still seems to have his players’ attention.

    Center JC Tretter, who played Sunday despite a sprained left ankle, said the Browns aren’t letting the losses divide them.

    “We’re not frustrated to a point of fracture,” he said. “We’re frustrated because we’re not winning and we expect to win and the amount of preparation, the amount of work we put in, we feel that and we want to win. It’s frustrating. But it’s not to a point where we’re turning on each other or turning on the coaches.”

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