Key takeaways and analysis from Week 6 in the NFL
Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day's action and examines their significance moving forward.
How's that for an upset?
The Jets knocking off the undefeated Eagles may well go down as the most surprising result of the entire season. Not only was New York counting on Zach Wilson to keep pace with Jalen Hurts, but the absence of top corners Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed figured to present some equally problematic mismatches on defense.
As it turns out, any such concerns underestimated how much the Jets' defensive front could pick up the slack.
New York managed to force Philly away from the run game like so few defenses can, holding the Eagles to a season-low 3.6 yards per carry and getting a big D'Andre Swift fumble late in the first half.
Putting the game almost entirely in Hurts' hands - his 45 pass attempts are his most since October 2021 - didn't work out so well for Philadelphia, either. The Jets' supremely talented pass-rush rotation got home consistently, notching 10 quarterback hits and having a key role in New York's three interceptions.
You certainly weren't alone if you wrote off the Jets on account of Aaron Rodgers' injury. And you won't be alone if you're hesitant to buy back in at this still-early stage. But credit where it's due.
Wilson has quietly been minimizing the backbreaking mistakes, doing his part not to lose games for New York. And with a defense like this, that can be all you need to win more often than not.
Might the Jets have enough to create chaos in the AFC playoff race?
Browns stun 49ers
If you, like me, have been resisting the urge to jump on the Brock Purdy bandwagon, you might be inclined to make this result about the 49ers disappointing. However, you might want to resist that urge.
While we could raise several concerns about what we saw from Purdy and the 49ers Sunday, the Browns defense was the real story in this one. More specifically, this game was a showcase for the best assistant coaching hire of the year.
Jim Schwartz's defense didn't just give San Francisco some trouble during an off day for the squad. Cleveland terrorized Kyle Shanahan in a way we haven't seen over his seven-year run with the 49ers.
As with any great defense, it all started up front. Sound familiar? The 49ers run game couldn't find any sort of consistent yards before Christian McCaffrey left with an oblique injury. And Schwartz's schemes had Purdy under more pressure than he's seen this year.
Entering the week with some mounting MVP buzz, Purdy completed just 12 of 27 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The rain was a factor, as were the injuries to McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel. But this was a dominant effort from the Browns nonetheless.
Knocking off the previously undefeated 49ers without your starting quarterback is one heck of a statement for Cleveland's potential and Schwartz's impact as a coordinator.
Let's go ahead and add another name to the list of next year's top head coaching candidates.
MVP race wide open
Your MVP favorite through the first six weeks of the season is, well, nobody.
There is no shortage of potential contenders, and we can wager some guesses as to which ones will separate themselves in the coming months. For the time being, though, it's anyone's game.
Patrick Mahomes has been great, but he isn't quite producing at the god-like level we've unfairly come to expect of him. While Josh Allen has been a little up and down for front-runner status, the highs are as good as it gets. Lamar Jackson is playing the best football of his career, but the Ravens are still working out the kinks in a new offense and his receivers aren't giving him much help.
Tua Tagovailoa probably has the best case of any quarterback thus far, and he's certainly deserving. But would he get full credit for the success of a juggernaut Dolphins offense? Or might Tyreek Hill, who remains on pace to shatter the single-season receiving record, take some votes away from his teammate?
At the risk of setting the stage for some peak Chargers absurdity, perhaps we shouldn't rule out Justin Herbert. The star quarterback has been quietly incredible in Kellen Moore's offense, flourishing in a more vertical attack and throwing just one interception through four games. He enters Monday's contest ranked sixth in EPA/play, according to Ben Baldwin's database.
Lighting up the Cowboys in front of the whole country would be a great way to kick-start his MVP campaign.
Bengals D steps up
The Bengals' offense remains a work in progress. It's impossible to say whether Joe Burrow and the rest of that unit will truly get back on track this season, but the defense is providing some room for error. Cincinnati suddenly finds itself back at the .500 mark after the defense closed things out against Seattle with two massive red-zone stops. Perhaps the defense carrying this team will finally get Lou Anarumo his long-awaited opportunity as a head coach.
A third-round kicker
The 49ers have done a masterful job of building their roster. It's hard to nitpick specific decisions when the overall body of work has been that good, but we'll do it anyway. Taking a kicker in the third round of this year's draft was always a hilariously bad move. Jake Moody missing a pair of field goals in a 19-17 loss to the Browns drives home the reality that the position is too volatile for that kind of draft investment.
There were rumblings last year that the Rams really liked little-known backup running back Kyren Williams. Now we're starting to see why. The former fifth-round pick was a steady force in Sunday's win over the Cardinals, recording 20 carries for 158 yards and one touchdown. An improved offensive line and an emerging Williams have allowed the Rams to re-establish the kind of running game that was so important to early iterations of Sean McVay's offense. That could be a dangerous complement to a resurgent passing game.
Howell sack rate
Sam Howell has been sacked 34 times through six weeks. That puts him on pace for an unfathomable 96 sacks over a 17-game season. In other words, he's on track to eclipse David Carr's dubious record of getting sacked 76 times by Week 15. Protection is part of the problem here, but Howell also invites a lot of the pressure himself. His pocket presence needs to improve if he's ever going to be anything more than a low-level starter.
Here's a great example of the madness opposing defensive coordinators are dealing with against the Dolphins.
Mike McDaniel scheming up space opportunities for the NFL's most explosive group of playmakers remains wildly unfair. Good luck defending this offense.
Texans are for real
DeMeco Ryans has immediately laid the foundation for what appears to be an increasingly bright future in Houston. Nailing the C.J. Stroud pick helped matters, but you don't have to strain to see Ryans' immediate impact, particularly on defense. That group gave up just 13 points in Sunday's win over the Saints, again showing some early signs of the relentless effort we saw from Ryans' defenses in San Francisco. The next time you hear a new coach or GM preaching patience when it comes to changing the culture, just know they're only trying to buy themselves time.
Small samples are bad samples
The last few weeks gave us reasons for optimism about Justin Fields and Desmond Ridder. This week was a reminder that overreacting to a game or two, good or bad, does nothing for anyone. Fields again looked uncomfortable in the pocket before a hand injury forced him from Sunday's loss to the Vikings. Meanwhile, some poor accuracy and decision-making from Ridder was the difference in Atlanta's loss to Washington. Both young quarterbacks still have upside, but there's a long way to go.
A feel-bad win
The Raiders should be happy, in theory. A second straight win brings them back to the .500 mark, keeping them very much alive in the early AFC playoff race. However, what the standings don't tell you is that each victory has somehow been less inspiring than the last. Allowing the Patriots to hang around this week, after a two-game stretch in which New England was outscored 72-3, demonstrates how far this team has to go on both sides of the ball. Wins like this will only make it harder for Las Vegas to come out of next year's draft with a quarterback, and each victory probably eases the pressure on Josh McDaniels. Is either one really a good thing for the future of the Raiders?
Ditto for the Vikings
The Vikings getting a win this week should have zero impact on their strategy looking ahead to the trade deadline. If anything, barely holding on against the Bears and undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent reinforces that there needs to be a fire sale of veteran players. Minnesota has come crashing back to earth after significantly outplaying its talent level last year. And Justin Jefferson going to injured reserve for at least four games all but confirms that this team isn't going anywhere. It's time to build for the future.
Stat of the week
Cowboys vs. Chargers
Now this is a prime-time game. The Cowboys desperately need to bounce back from last week's embarrassing loss to the 49ers, but the Chargers won't make it easy. Is the Dallas defense more like the unit we saw over the first month of the season? Or did a particularly favorable schedule lead to this group being overrated? A Chargers offense led by one of the league's premier quarterbacks, with Austin Ekeler suiting up for the first time since Week 1, will be a great test. On the other end, this is the kind of game the Chargers need to win if they're ever going to shake the label of perennial disappointment.