Week 5 in the NFL saw the league’s two most physically talented quarterbacks, Justin Herbert (LAC) and Josh Allen (BUF), add to their MVP cases, the Packers beat the Bengals in overtime after a comedy of errors that included five straight missed field goals, and three “good” defenses for the Broncos, Chargers, and Browns turn in horrendous results.
The NFL’s exciting weekend of action also featured a number of injuries that changed the team’s outlooks moving forward. It started on Thursday Night, when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson injured his throwing hand, continued when Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow was taken to the hospital with a throat injury after the Packers game and peaked when the Giants lost quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, and wide receiver Kenny Golladay in their loss to the Cowboys.
This article will examine the implications of the continued demise of defense in the NFL, as well as what the week’s injuries mean to the NFL moving forward.
The Death of Defense
The idea that “defense wins championships” is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the NFL. Decades ago, coaches could teach cornerbacks to hit opposing receivers in the groin if they ran a vertical route, but the NFL has steadily tweaked the rules to shift the advantage to the offense, which has turned the NFL into something closer to the Arena League. The product remains entertaining, but it is a far different game than fans were watching as recently as the 2000s.
In the 2010s, memorable defenses including Seattle’s Legion of Boom, The No Fly Zone in Denver, The Sacksonville version of the Jaguars, and the early post-trade versions of the Bears with Khalil Mack and the Steelers with Minkah Fitzpatrick have been able to fuel playoff contenders, but those groups may have been the last of a dying breed in the NFL. It is still possible to play good defense in spurts, but good defense is increasingly reliant on bad offense and game-to-game consistency has been elusive across the NFL this season. The tape shows a game more like the NBA, where the best a defense can do in many cases is contest the shot.
The Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers both feature elite talent and brilliant schematic minds on the defensive side of the ball, yet the final score of their game this weekend was 47-42. Cleveland’s defense, which dominated lesser offenses (Chicago and Minnesota) over the past two weeks, had no answer for Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who racked up 427 total yards and five total touchdowns, while the Los Angeles defense allowed the Browns to rack 230 rushing yards on 35 carries (6.6 yards per attempt) and another 305 through the air.
In the morning slate, a Denver Broncos team supposedly built with an outstanding defense and a “protect the ball” offense became the first defense to allow Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris to post respectable yards per carry average in a game where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger posted his most efficient passing numbers of the season. The loss dropped the Broncos, who started the season 3-0, to 3-2 ahead of this week’s matchup with the Raiders and it’s becoming questionable whether Denver’s once-viable roster-building formula can succeed in the modern game.
Buffalo’s win over Kansas City on Sunday Night Football was a reminder that defenses aren’t irrelevant, but expectations for defensive performance have to be shifted in the modern NFL. Suffocating defense is a thing of the past; today’s game is about derailing drives with negative plays, creating turnovers, and limiting offenses to field goals in the red zone. Defenses will continue to have a place in the formula for a championship team, but it’s about the defense giving the offense the opportunity to win championships, rather than the defense “winning” the championship.
Russell Wilson Injures Throwing Hand
The reports surrounding quarterback Russell Wilson’s recovery timeline from Thursday Night’s hand injury have been optimistic, but even the best scenario in the initial prognosis of four to eight weeks would create a difficult obstacle for the Seahawks to overcome.
Seattle is entering a relatively advantageous stretch of their schedule, with a trip to Pittsburgh followed by home games against the Saints and Jaguars, but those games are far from certain with backup quarterback Geno Smith running the offense. It would be one thing if Seattle played in the AFC South, but as the 2-3 Seahawks are already behind the Cardinals and Rams in the NFC West, going 1-2 over this three-game stretch would make it challenging to get back in the playoff race.
The Seahawks are an offensive-heavy team that relies heavily on Wilson’s playmaking ability, which will make it difficult to post a winning record without him. This offense drops from the ranks of the league’s most talented units to a below-average group in his absence, which significantly impacts the fantasy prospects for running back Chris Carson and receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Geno Smith is an adequate quarterback, so Seattle’s offensive stars should remain playable for season-long fantasy players, but expectations should be tempered.
Arizona’s win over the 49ers also played a role in the odds shift, but the NFC West Division odds now have the Rams and Cardinals as co-favorites at +110. It was a division that had the potential for as many as four playoff teams, but the 49ers and Seahawks are already hard-pressed to rebound and get back in the Wild Card race.
Joe Burrow Taken to Hospital
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow finished Sunday’s game against Green Bay after a hard open-field hit from safety Darnell Savage forced Burrow to the medical tent early in the contest, but he was taken to the hospital after the game with a throat injury.
Burrow, the first overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, has played at a high level in his return from last year’s ACL tear and his absence would be a significant blow to a Cincinnati team currently in the thick of the early playoff race. Cincinnati plays at Detroit this week before a trip to Baltimore the week after, but it could be argued that Detroit is the game the Bengals can’t have Burrow miss; the Bengals want to establish themselves as a playoff contender and playoff contenders don’t blow games against bottom-five NFL teams.
This Cincinnati team appears to be progressing, but it will be difficult to continue the positive momentum if Brandon Allen is forced to replace Burrow at quarterback for any extended period. The Bengals are a clear favorite on the road with Burrow at the helm, but the winless Lions could end up favored by three if they’re facing Allen. Burrow’s absence would also cause a downgrade for running back Joe Mixon and receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd in fantasy.
Giants Down to Backups
The Los Angeles Rams, who played Seattle last week and face the New York Giants this week, are on an incredible run of opponent injury luck.
The Giants were already missing wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, but given the emergence of first-round pick Kadarius Toney and the play of veteran Kenny Golladay in New York’s Week Four win over the Saints, there was some reason for optimism on offense entering a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
That narrative changed dramatically throughout New York’s 44-20 loss. Left tackle Andrew Thomas was unable to start due to a foot injury, then the Giants lost running back Saquon Barkley and Golladay to knee injuries and quarterback Daniel Jones to a concussion. The one bright spot was that the NFL doesn’t have some of college football’s rules about disqualifications extending across games, or they would also spend the first half without the rookie Toney, who was ejected for throwing a punch at the end of a breakout performance that saw him make 10 catches for 189 yards.
The Giants had a moment of hope after last week’s comeback victory, but with matchups with the Rams, Chiefs, and Buccaneers looming in their next five games, it’s hard to see how this 1-4 rebounds. New York also has a game at the Chargers and their second matchup with the Cowboys later in the year, so there’s no easy stretch of schedule awaiting them. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon lacks the mobility to be productive behind a mediocre offensive line, particularly with this depleted group of skill players. Toney is the only fantasy play for the Giants if their top guys don’t return and Toney would be a high-risk play given the offense around him.
New York’s season wins total on DraftKings is down to 4.5, which is tied with the cross-town Jets for the second-lowest total in the league behind Jacksonville (3.5). The Cowboys are now NFC East favorites at -550 and the line on NYG-LAR moved from LAR -6.5 to LAR -10.5 after Sunday’s action, which limits the angles available to play against the Giants. The market is well aware of how bleak this team’s prospects have become; the Giants should be at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft.
This article recapped developments around the NFL from Week Five. For more of The Professor’s content, including his DFS Fantasy Football Targets for Week Five, check him out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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