A quick rundown on items of interest as Week 6 rolls on in the NFL:
WHO’S HOT: Deshaun Watson. What’s a guy to do for an encore after firing five scoring passes and posting a perfect (158.3) passer rating? Try beating Patrick Mahomes on his own turf. Watson and Mahomes – pegged to be two of the faces of the NFL for years to come – meet for the first time on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Watson’s big day against the Falcons in Week 5 boosted him up the passing charts, as only Seattle’s Russell Wilson has a higher passer rating for the season and more touchdown passes (12). Mahomes leads the league with 1,831 passing yards and matches Watson and Lamar Jackson with 11 TD throws.
On the year, Watson leads the NFL in fourth-down passer rating (144.6), ranks second on third downs (123.2) and has thrown just one pick. But here’s another significant number from last weekend: Zero. Watson wasn’t sacked by Atlanta a week after getting dropped six times by Carolina. The quality of defense was a factor, but so was Watson’s ability to get rid of the ball quicker. After being sacked 62 times last season, he was sacked 18 times through the first four games. That’s the number the Texans (3-2) will need to keep in check against Frank Clark and Co. to have a chance of knocking off the Chiefs (4-1).
After his 5-TD performance in Week 5, the Texans’ Deshaun Watson is now the No. 3-rated fantasy quarterback on the season. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
PRESSURE IS ON: Dan Quinn. Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a vote of confidence this week for his besieged coach, maintaining that now is not the time for a staff change as the team has floundered to a 1-4 start. But that could be a temporary position if it doesn’t turn around. Quinn fired all three coordinators – offensive, defensive and special teams – and the result has been a mess. Plus, Quinn has taken over the play-calling for a defense that ranks 31st in points allowed and last in sacks. Nope, he won’t give up those duties. Blank has invested major dollars in the likes of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Grady Jarrett, but he’s clearly not getting his money’s worth. And if the victories don’t start piling up, the hot-seat chatter will only intensify, no matter what Blank declares to the contrary.
KEY MATCHUP: Dalvin Cook vs. Eagles’ run defense. No, Kirk Cousins is not to be trusted against a quality opponent. But the Vikings quarterback has formidable help in Cook, averaging 5.9 yards per carry with the 542 yards that have him ranked second in the NFL in rushing. But can Cook sizzle against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense? The Eagles, with a streak of eight consecutive regular-season games since allowing a 100-yard rusher, are giving up just 63 yards per game on the ground. And the run support comes from everywhere, evidenced by the 1-2 rank in total tackles by safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins. And for sentimental value, the Eagles are returning to U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since winning Super Bowl LII on that turf.
ROOKIE WATCH: Nick Bosa. It was striking to hear Richard Sherman – who made headlines this week for bashing Baker Mayfield – declare on Monday night that Bosa should be a shoo-in for Pro Bowl honors. Hey, Sherman’s been around and undoubtedly has an eye for talent. But after four games? Then again, Bosa’s big night against Mayfield (two sacks, one forced fumble, one recovery) was a Pro Bowl-type of bid and without question what the 49ers were looking for when they drafted the former Ohio State defensive end with the second pick overall as a cog on a supremely talented D-line. Sherman and other teammates vouch for Bosa’s consistency, which at least indicates the level of respect the rookie is earning as he breaks in on the next level.
NEXT MAN UP: Bill Callahan. Replacing Jay Gruden as Washington’s interim coach, Callahan becomes the team’s ninth coach (including 2002 interim Terry Robiskie) since Dan Snyder bought the once-revered franchise in 1999. And what timing. Callahan’s debut comes at Miami in a matchup of the winless. When Callahan, a well-respected O-line coach, cut off the music during practice and prescribed wind sprints afterward, it sent an old-school message – intended or not — about discipline and conditioning.
And you know Adrian Peterson, buried by Gruden, must be thrilled. Still, Callahan’s track record includes taking over for the other Gruden (Jon), when he took the Raiders to the Super Bowl in his first season, got blown out by Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Bucs, then was fired after a 4-12 campaign the next season that included Callahan blasting the Raiders as “the dumbest team in America.” Now he’s running Snyder’s team, which has surely drawn some choice descriptions over the years.
STOMACH FOR AN UPSET: Seahawks at Browns. There’s a narrative out there that suggests Mayfield and teammates perform better when they are dumped on and written off. Well, after the blowout at San Francisco on Monday night – and layers of insult heaped on from Sherman and Bosa – conditions might be ripe for the 1 1/2-point home underdogs. For a team that entered the season with so much hope and hype, the Browns (2-3) can’t be as bad as they were against the 49ers, when Mayfield had a career-worst 13.4 passer rating. Odell Beckham Jr. has just four catches for 47 yards and no TDs the past two games. Besides, typical of early NFL seasons, so many teams fluctuate from week to week. Then again, there’s another narrative that Cleveland must contend with: Seattle (4-1) quarterback Russell Wilson, with a triple-digit passer rating in every game, is having an MVP season.
IF PLAYOFFS WERE TODAY … The Rams (3-2) would be watching from home. It’s not so stunning, considering so many teams over the years have struggled in the season after losing a Super Bowl. It’s the so-called Super Bowl Loser’s Curse. After the previous 52 Super Bowls, only three of the losing teams came back to win it the next year, and just eight got back to the big game. Since 2000, eight of the 18 Super Bowl losers didn’t make the playoffs the next year. That’s part of the backdrop for the showdown against the undefeated 49ers — as if Todd Gurley’s sudden quad injury, Jared Goff’s seven picks and a defense that has allowed 85 points the past two weeks aren’t enough issues. It’s not time for coach Sean McVay to panic, but with NFC West rivals San Francisco and Seattle surging, the reasons for concern are piling up.
DID YOU NOTICE? Sure, it’s a passing league with throwing records galore broken to be broken again soon. Yet during Week 5, nine teams won by rushing for at least 166 yards – including four who topped 200 yards on the ground. Typically, the running games crank up later in the year as the weather turns and playoff football arrives. But this in October? The Panthers rolled over Jacksonville with 285 yards and a 176-yard game from NFL rushing leader Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers gashed the Browns with 275 yards and nearly had two 100-yard rushers. The Cardinals almost had a pair of 100-yard runners (Kyler Murray, 93; David Johnson, 91) in rocking Cincinnati for 266 yards. The Colts stung the Chiefs, as Marlon Mack ran for 132. Denver ran for 191 yards in upsetting the Chargers. We’ll see whether this was an aberration or something deeper.
STAT’S THE FACT: McCaffrey leads the league with 866 yards from scrimmage, which puts him in London with a chance to join some rare company. With 134 yards against the Bucs, the Panthers running back would join Jim Brown and Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history with 1,000 yards from scrimmage through six games. McCaffrey could also match a standard set by Edgerrin James if he tallies at least 175 yards from scrimmage.