A lot to process from the Dolphins-49ers game
- Mike McDaniel was fantastic, but Tua Tagovailoa was not
Tua Tagovailoa had a stinker of a game. When we look at the highlight reel, Nick Bosa’s (strip) sacks will inevitably appear. However, I wonder how much stock we should put in the 49ers' defense for the final result. Sure, they made some crucial big plays. But for the most part, it was on Tua himself. Receivers were running wide open down and across the field. Tua just badly missed them – several times – and killed drives. According to TruMedia, Tagovailoa was pressured on only 27 percent of his dropbacks, which was the 21st-highest rate among all teams. Mike McDaniel called an incredible game: he schemed guys wide open – even after Jaylen Waddle went down - whereas Tua was supposed to get rid of the ball quickly. His quarterback simply let him down. The score was 10-10 late in the second quarter, and Tagovailoa had plenty of opportunities to hit open guys from mostly clean platforms. The Waddle injury didn’t help, but with a classic game from Tua, it could have been 20 points at halftime without referencing the pass rush.
- Sturdy Purdy
Brock Purdy, a seventh-round rookie, entered the game after Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot, and we barely witnessed a significant difference in the game. Purdy averaged 0.06 EPA/play with a 47% success rate. Those aren’t MVP numbers, but the Niners moved the chains. Purdy had some answers to the blitz-heavy scheme the Dolphins defense employed early against him until they were forced to stop blitzing. It was also fascinating to see Kyle Shanahan calling more passes than runs with Brock Purdy under center and going for it on fourth down twice. We don’t know how good Brock Purdy can be going forward. In the end, he’s “Mr. Irrelevant” with a very low prior entering the NFL. The 49ers have a phenomenal supporting cast with a fantastic play-caller. But we cannot ignore how well Garoppolo executed the offense in recent years, ranking fifth in pass DVOA in 2021 and 2022. Those are big shoes to fill.
- The Dolphins defense is a problem
Entering the week, Miami ranked 25th in defensive pass DVOA. They ranked 12th in rush DVOA, which also showed up against the Niners. Christian McCaffrey had 66 yards on 17 carries, averaged -0.16 EPA/rush, and only a third of his rushes were deemed successful. But allowing 23 points to an offense where a seventh-round rookie makes his (unexpected) NFL debut is no bueno. The Dolphins invested three first-round picks (Bradley Chubb, Christian Wilkins, and Jaelan Phillips) in the defensive line and added Melvin Ingram in the offseason – their pass rush barely matters this season. They just don’t cover well.
Explain the Vikings like I’m five-years old
The 10-2 Minnesota Vikings needed a drop by Braxton Berrios on 4th-and-goal to survive against the New York Jets at home. Gang Green outgained the Vikings by 199 total yards and 1.6 yards per play but were 3-for-16 on third downs and 2-for-5 on fourth downs. The Jets had six red zone trips but only scored one touchdown. Red zone efficiency (which includes a bad drop for the game-winning touchdown) and a handful of third downs were the only difference in this game. Stuff that can go either way on any given day. The Jets only punted twice, which tells us everything we need to know.
There’s a team with an excellent record every season, and nobody understands why. Last season, the Titans were such a team. They had underwhelming efficiency metrics, but they kept winning and got the No. 1 seed in the AFC. This year, it’s the Vikings. Kevin O’Connell’s crew ranks below average on both sides of the ball, whether you look at DVOA, EPA/play, or success rate. In their last three wins (BUF, NE, NYJ), the Vikings’ opponents went 5-for-15 in the red zone.
Minnesota is a below-average team in terms of efficiency. Nine of their 10 wins came by one score. Based on historical patterns, the downfall of the Vikings feels almost inevitable. It’s just a matter of time.
Lions playoff rally?
Restore the Roar. The Detroit Lions are 4-1 in their last five matchups, only losing a close game to the Buffalo Bills. Since Week 8, their offense ranks seventh in EPA/play and third in success rate. And guess what? They just started to work first-round rookie Jameson Williams into the lineup.
In the NFC playoff race, Detroit is two games behind the Giants, Seahawks, and Commanders. The Lions hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New York and Washington, but not over Seattle. The tie between the Giants and the Commies was the best possible outcome for Detroit. The ESPN Football Power Index gives Detroit a 5.7% chance to make the playoffs, and FiveThirtyEight gives it an 8% chance. The betting markets at DraftKings provide the Lions with a 10.3 percent (no-vig) chance of making the playoffs.
The following two matchups will be crucial for Detroit. The Lions are a pick’em to win against Minnesota, and then they’ll travel to New York to face the Jets on the road. The Lions will likely be favored in their last three games against the Panthers, Bears, and Packers. There’s a decent chance that Aaron Rodgers won’t play in Week 18. If Detroit can split the next two games, it will be in a great position to start a rally for the last wild card spot. If they win both, oh boy…
What was that from the Browns offense?
Was it rust? Deshaun Watson hasn’t played an NFL snap in over 700 days. The Browns won 27-14, but their offense only scored six points – two field goals, one after a stellar drive of eight yards. That performance by Watson was awful against a bottom-five defense. It’s reasonable to downgrade Watson’s prior based on missed time and the current scoring environment, but I’m sure we’ll see better performances down the road. The truth likely lies somewhere between his career arc and what Jacoby Brissett showed this season.