Five things I care about
The Chiefs’ running game
The Chiefs offense just isn’t all the way there yet. On a night when Patrick Mahomes was far from perfect against the Jets, that’s even more evident.
Travis Kelce led the team in receiving, as expected, with six catches for 60 yards but it’s hard to watch him play right now and feel like he’s close to 100%. He’s still coming back from a serious knee injury that caused him to miss the opener. He’s also a 34-year-old tight end, or he will be later this week.
I’m not saying for sure he can’t get there but if Kelce isn’t able to perform at the level we saw last season, it’s a problem. I remain unconvinced there is a secret superstar waiting in this receiver room. These guys can be quality role players in the NFL but all of them have a long way to go to be a high-volume threat.
I won’t be the media member to do “Chiefs panic.” I’m not perfect but I’m not that dumb. They have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Their floor is somewhere around the 10th-best offense in the league on an efficiency basis — they ranked seventh in EPA per play coming into Week 4. But I am quite sure they need to find some more consistent answers beyond Mahomes bailouts.
Weirdly, I come out of the first month of the season feeling best about the Chiefs’ running game as the unit to be one of those answers.
Isiah Pacheco has an unorthodox running style that makes him a tough player to scout, but he’s a physical player who has real big-play juice. That allows him to operate as a sustaining grinder back who also offers the ability to flip the field.
Rather quietly, as we’ve outlined on the Stat Nerd Thursday episodes of The Yahoo Fantasy Football Show, Pacheco has been taking over this backfield. He’s run more routes than Jerick McKinnon on the season and has been an asset in the receiving game. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has barely been a factor. With the way the Chiefs passing offense is still figuring things out, I can see Kansas City making it a priority to ensure Pacheco gets off the bus with 15 carries and even push him closer to 20 in some games. Much like they did tonight when it was clear from the jump he was running with authority against a good defense.
If you play fantasy football, you know there are maybe 10 other running backs right now whose teams view them in this fashion. Based on what Pacheco has shown this season and the conditions around him behind an offensive line that’s much better run-blocking than pass-protecting, he should be one of them.
Drafters had a ton of questions about Pacheco coming into the season. Would he dominate the backfield, what’s his ceiling and does he have any receiving upside? Slowly but surely he’s answering those and the one clear positive in his corner remains as true as ever: even if the Chiefs offense is facing questions, we still have faith long-term in the ecosystem.
Josh Allen’s statement game
Josh Allen and the Bills played like a team that read all the Miami Dolphins hype coming out of last week. Buffalo has been the team to beat in this division over the last few years. More than a few outlets suggested Miami was about to take that title.
The Week 4 result emphatically said: “Not so fast.”
Allen in particular was incredible in the victory. Passer rating is far from a perfect statistic but it’s still notable when a quarterback checks in with a perfect 158.3 rating, as Allen did on Sunday. That essentially described Allen’s play: Nearly flawless. Oh, he also popped in a rushing touchdown. Not a bad day.
Josh Allen in his last two games against Vic Fangio coached defenses:
49/65, 679 yards, 6 TD, 33 first downs, 62.3% success rate, .58 EPA/dropback
7 rushes, 50 yards, 3 TD
Bills 2-0 with 96 combined points.
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 1, 2023
It wasn’t like Allen always operated from a clean pocket either. Miami was able to heat him up but Allen was calm, reset his platform and still fired the ball downfield. After the meltdown we watched Allen bring upon himself back in Week 1, this was incredibly encouraging.
The Dolphins defense under Vic Fangio is supposed to be a unit designed to take away big plays. I imagined that if the Bills were going to dominate this game offensively, it would be on their newly revived run game. Instead, it almost all came from Allen slicing and dicing in the vertical passing game, the exact thing Fangio schemes to avoid. Allen hit Stefon Diggs on a deep shot that Diggs housed for his second of three touchdowns on the day, hit Gabe Davis on both a 34-yarder and an 18-yard house call and even made an out-of-structure play to James Cook that went for 48 yards.
Josh Allen completed a career-high +14.2% of his passes over expected, recording a 69.0% success rate (2nd-highest of career).
Allen Targeting Vertical Routes
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 1, 2023
Week 4 served as a reminder that Allen is one of the premier players in this league. On top of that, it was further confirmation that the Bills’ efforts to add on the fringes around Allen have worked, even while the elite Allen-to-Diggs connection is as alive as ever.
The Bills remain one of the top contenders in the AFC and one of the best fantasy football ecosystems.
C.J. Stroud is stacking moments
Is there a bigger winner across the first month of the season than C.J. Stroud? The rookie quarterback has been white-hot to start the season and everything about his game screams, “the next big thing.” He was fourth among all Sunday quarterbacks in EPA per dropback.
Stroud has played under duress to start this season but showed what he could do from clean pockets on Sunday. When kept clean against T.J. Watt and the Steelers pass rushers, he posted mind-boggling results. Most importantly, he kept attacking downfield. He found receiver Nico Collins again and again, who just looks incredible right now. Collins is bringing back the old-school third-year wide receiver breakout. He’s going to go down as one of the best picks in fantasy football. Stroud continues to show he can make all the throws and attack all levels.
Stroud went No. 2 overall — one pick too late, if you ask me — so it’s not like he’s some out-of-nowhere story. But don’t forget all the nonsense that was thrown around about Stroud, who was just such a clean prospect, during the draft process.
The Texans might just be a little more than frisky. When you get a young quarterback playing at the level we’re witnessing with Stroud on a team with other ascending talents, it’s fair if the fans start to get hopeful.
The Chargers played with a roof overhead
The loss of Mike Williams for the rest of the season was such a huge blow to the Chargers offense. For as well as Keenan Allen has played to start 2023, Williams is the vertical threat here. Without him, no one is consistently stressing out defenses beyond 15 yards.
Justin Herbert still tried to push it downfield; he averaged 12 air yards per attempt but just 6.1 per completion.
Williams isn’t a speed threat but he wins as a long-strider, go-route runner and wins contested catches. The Chargers want and need Josh Palmer to be an 80% facsimile of that guy. We saw the rocky journey in his first 2023 game as a starter. He snagged one downfield pass for 51 yards but missed a few others.
Rookie Quentin Johnston got the playing time boost in Williams’ absence, running a route on 71% of the dropbacks, but didn’t convert on his big contested chance. He wasn’t ready to contribute to start the year and it doesn’t seem like the light is ready to kick on just because Williams is gone.
The Chargers escaped Week 4 with a win, despite their usual efforts to make it way too interesting at the end. These remain issues to watch for in the future. Los Angeles gets a bye next week but should get Austin Ekeler back in Week 6. Their offense has been good for most of the year but their best game may have come in Week 1. They ran the ball extremely well against Miami and had some schemed-up shot plays. Without Williams, that’s how they’ll have to bust the roof currently over their head.
Desmond Ridder’s volatility
All that was required of Ridder was to be somewhere between the 17th to 20th-best quarterback in the NFL, a keep-the-train-on-the-tracks type of starter for the Falcons. So far, he’s well below that threshold …especially in the Falcons’ Week 4 loss over in London.
Ridder’s 2.6 adjusted net yards per attempt is a ghastly figure. It reflects the fact that multiple things are going wrong.
Ridder is, admittedly, trying to push it downfield. He averaged 8.8 air yards per attempt but a mere 5.1 per completion. His No. 1 receiver is a hulking contested-catch threat in Drake London, but Ridder struggles with his ball placement on those vertical, tight-coverage throws, which makes already difficult targets nearly impossible for London to win.
The broadcast team did a great job of pointing out Ridder’s biggest flaw right now: he just does not look off receivers or manipulate defenders with his eyes on those in-breaking routes that are staples of Arthur Smith’s offense.
That’s akin to just leaving yards on the field.
This embedded content is not available in your region.
All of that would be one thing, but they’re nuanced flaws that could get better as the young quarterback gets more game reps. What’s tough to stomach is the sacks and mistakes. Ridder is just so late on everything that it leads to unnecessary invited pressure and misfires on throws — throws that he’s already staring down.
The Jaguars hadn’t rushed the passer well at all or been opportunistic at all on defense this season. They feasted on Ridder with four sacks and two interceptions, one of which they housed.
This Falcons roster is built to win. The offense has playmakers and a truly dynamic, gravitational talent in Bijan Robinson. Quarterback play has put a clear glass ceiling on this operation. The only move the Falcons made in the offseason was to sign Taylor Heinicke as the backup. Heinicke is far from perfect but he’s started games in the NFL and provided a spark to similarly stagnant attacks.
Five things I don’t care about
I’ll be honest, I am usually the first person to roll my eyes when we start talking about known subpar players “riding momentum” or “building off confidence” from one good performance to reach new heights. However, I’m modifying my stance to make an exception for Zach Wilson coming out of Sunday Night Football.
It looked like the game would get away from the Jets early on when the Chiefs quickly built a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. The offense was going nowhere fast … right up until it wasn’t. A switch seemed to flip mid-way through the second quarter when Wilson led a touchdown drive with several pinpoint throws.
It seemed like a fluke but then he doubled down.
Wilson’s touchdown drive coming out of halftime was a thing of beauty. He hurled several chunk gains and delivered every ball with precision. He showed off the arm talent that’s laid dormant in him for far too long. When the play broke down on the two-point conversion, the usually scattershot Wilson tucked the ball without hesitation and scampered into the end zone.
He did make a crucial mistake late on with a fumbled snap and, ultimately, the Chiefs won the game. But still, we got a rare glimpse of Wilson executing high-level quarterbacking. Those are rare and it was with such a good amount of authority, you have to take notice.
I think it does matter for this particular quarterback. Wilson has faced a ton of outside heat and even pressure from his own teammates flaring up amid their frustrations. It’s self-inflicted but it doesn’t make it any more difficult to endure. Even as the game slipped away and he was clearly beating himself up a bit Wilson’s teammates were at his side one week after Aaron Rodgers publicly admonished them for sideline blowups.
Do I think Wilson is all of a sudden a good quarterback and all that ails him is fixed? I’m obviously not there yet. But I think building a little confidence off this performance can be the start of turning over a new leaf on what’s been nothing short of a nightmarish start.
Fantasy gamers aren’t asking for much out of Wilson. They just want him to be a normal, NFL-caliber quarterback who can operate an offense where Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall can be viable. Wilson played like that on Sunday night; we’ll see if there’s any momentum to carry him into another week.
More hiccups in Jacksonville
There is likely to be some “yeah, but” type of analysis about the Jaguars coming out of their Week 4 win over the Falcons. I will entertain the notion that we haven’t seen the best version of this team just yet but I don’t think that has to be a negative.
Based on what we know about the ceiling of this offense, we can still feel comfortable that the best is yet to come. There are plenty of positives to take away from Week 4.
Calvin Ridley dealt with a difficult coverage assignment. The Falcons rarely have A.J. Terrell track the No. 1 receiver but they assigned him to shadow Ridley, a player they know well, and still doubled him with safety help over the top. He still got loose for a touchdown early in the game but more importantly, the Jags made it work with the other guys.
Christian Kirk and Evan Engram had a whopping 20 targets between them and helped move the ball throughout the course of the game. The space these guys had wasn’t always available last year because they didn’t have a No. 1 coverage dictator on the outside. I know it doesn’t turn into fantasy points but this was a huge reason the addition of Ridley was so consequential. Now, the Jaguars are giving teams more and more dimensions to think about heading into games.
This offense is still working Ridley in. The offensive line is still trying to gel after some personnel turnover. Lawrence isn’t playing at his ceiling but that time will come. Overall, my concern level about this offense or any of its main players is nearly zero.
Anthony Richardson’s slow start
Anthony Richardson did not look great to start this game. Whether it was rust from missing a week while he’s developing at the NFL level or just general holes in his game, he was off the mark early. The most egregious miss came on a Michael Pittman out route; he was wide open on third down and Richardson just sailed it. Richardson’s play was a part of why the Colts fell into a 20-0 hole to the Rams.
That happens. What’s more important is that Richardson battled back and it was his play that pushed them to overtime.
Richardson dialed in in the second half and was aggressive. He averaged 12.4 air yards per attempt, the most for any quarterback in Week 4. His average completion traveled 12.6 air yards. He was drilling low-percentage throws downfield to his non-main guys:
Richardson is still a developmental quarterback. He’s not going to be perfect; they also didn’t win this game However, he’s still shown so much good. He ran the offense smoothly and was a confident, collected underneath passer in his first two games. Week 4 gave us a look at what happens when he cuts it loose.
Alvin Kamara’s receiving role
If you told me prior to kickoff that Alvin Kamara was going to catch a team-high 13 passes, I figured I’d be coming out of the week feeling great about his workhorse role. Theoretically, I guess that’s true. He touched the ball 24 times and the other backs on the roster barely registered a blip.
But you can’t bury the lead; Kamara’s 13 catches went for 33 yards. A historically listless result.
I come away from this result not excited for Kamara’s future, but confused about why Derek Carr played in this game.
Carr came into Week 4 nursing a serious shoulder injury and was at least close to a game-time decision. Carr already hasn’t been flawless to start the season but the version the Saints got on Sunday was untenable. When he did push the ball, it sailed. He attempted just 5.4% of his passes into tight windows, per Next Gen Stats, the second-lowest mark among Week 4 passes. He was quicker to check down than he already was, hence the 13 Kamara receptions.
This makes even less sense when you consider the Saints have a capable backup in Jameis Winston who has started games for them before. Obviously, you have to respect a guy with Carr’s toughness, wanting to gut it out for his team. But sometimes teams have to save players from themselves when they aren’t at an acceptable level. Maybe I’m just working in hindsight but that’s how I felt watching Carr play.
The Saints dropped a crucial game to the Bucs, one that will surely matter in the NFC South race. Just about no one was fantasy-viable, either. It was a disaster day all around.
Dolphins in positive game script
I’m only saying I don’t care because we already know how good that is. When Miami can dictate the action, there’s no one better on offense. When you have to be concerned about their run game and the vertical, over-the-middle passing game … it’s almost too much for the defense to bear.
What we saw on Sunday was a team in Buffalo that was dictating the action back to the Dolphins. That put Miami on their heels and they had to abandon a run game that had been a driving force to start the season. De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert carried the ball just 15 times. Achane ripped off big plays and scored twice but you’d have liked to see them establish that ground game a bit more after such a dynamic showing just last week.
The passing game is far from the reason they lost this game. Tua Tagovailoa was still 12th in dropback success rate and had a 6.4 completion rate over expected. They just weren’t as impactful in straight, traditional dropback situations in negative game script as we typically see when Mike McDaniel and co. are deep in their bag.
Very few teams are going to be able to push the scoreboard more than the Dolphins and get them trailing early. The Bills are one of the few teams with the elite talent to do it. However, this Miami defense has become a problem. It’s undergoing a big transition from the previous staff to what Vic Fangio wants but it’s quickly become a unit fantasy players want to attack.
If this defense continues to give ground it’ll at least be interesting to see how the Dolphins have to change their approach if and when they find themselves in negative game scripts.