|From: LindyBill||10/27/2019 5:37:25 PM|
nfl.com What we learned from Sunday's Week 8 games
By Around The NFL staff NFL.com
Happy returns! After five weeks away, Drew Brees was back in New Orleans' starting lineup as the Saints claimed their sixth straight win. Detroit returned to the winners' circle with a victory over Big Blue. Elsewhere in the NFC North, Chicago's kicking woes came back with a vengeance as Eddy Pineiro missed two field goals, including a last-second potential game-winner.
Here's what we've learned so far from Sunday's Week 8 games:
New Orleans Saints 31, Arizona Cardinals 9 1. Drew Brees dialed up a clean performance in his return from thumb surgery. Hitting nine separate targets for 373 yards and three scores at 8.7 yards per attempt, the veteran looked at home running an attack that ate up 20-plus minutes of the first half and 37:59 on the day. I still see a Saints offense (7-1) that remains more methodical than explosive with coach Sean Payton calling a slew of screen passes and leaning liberally on Latavius Murray (157 total yards and two touchdowns off 30 touches) in place of the banged-up Alvin Kamara. A missed field goal by Wil Lutz didn't help; neither did a second-quarter touchdown strike to tight end Dan Arnold that was erased by a holding penalty as time expired. Brees also threw a wayward deep strike pulled down by Cardinals cover man Patrick Peterson. If his physical limitations occasionally peak through, Brees also looked good unfurling a 36-yard rope to Taysom Hill and finding Michael Thomas for 11/112/1 on the day.
2. Coach Kliff Kingsbury will field plenty of questions after calling a doomed Chase Edmonds run on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line midway through the third with the Cardinals (3-4-1) trailing 10-6. The daring-do is appreciated, but questionable on a day when Arizona's ground game was erased by a New Orleans front that travels week to week as merciless bullies. Edmonds left one drive later with a tweaked hamstring, forcing rookie Kyler Murray into a flurry of empty-set lasers. The rookie made a handful of stellar throws, flinging the ball 47 yards downfield to a wide-open Charles Clay and later sticking veteran Larry Fitzgerald on a critical third-down snap. Murray also directed an attack that finished just 2-of-12 on third down and continues to struggle in the red zone.
3. Quarterbacks get all the attention, but pour one out for a Saints defense that has morphed into one of the league's finest. Cameron Jordan and friends made life tough on the Cardinals with pocket-pushing nastiness and a successful group effort that kept Murray to just 13 yards on the ground.
-- Marc Sessler
Philadelphia Eagles 31, Buffalo Bills 13 1. Brandon Graham changed the tenor of the tilt with a strip of Bills QB Josh Allen on a designed run and recovered the loose ball with under two minutes remaining in the first half. The Eagles turned Graham's massive play into a touchdown to take an 11-7 lead late in the second quarter that they wouldn't relinquish. Graham was a wrecking ball all game, destroying the Bills offensive line. In most states, Graham would be required to pay rent for how much he lived in Buffalo's backfield. The defensive lineman tallied six tackles, a sack, a QB hit and two tackles for loss. His game-changing forced fumble woke an Eagles squad who, to that point, looked limp. For a defense that had been burned all season, Philly (4-4) needed the gargantuan game Graham provided.
2. On a blustery day in Western New York, the Eagles came in intent on pounding the ball on the ground. In the first half, that plan struggled to get off the ground with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders combining to average 2.8 YPC on 11 attempts. The plan blasted off in the final two quarters. Sanders rocketed for a 65-yard TD run on the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter. A beautiful play design with Howard leading the way through the hole, Sanders didn't hesitate and dashed through the second level. When the rookie doesn't stutter to the hole, he shows his bright upside. Sanders, unfortunately, left with a shoulder injury and didn't return. Howard took over and smashed the Bills' interior in the final two quarters. The back blasted for 96 yards on 23 totes and a TD. With Howard gashing, the Eagles were able to churn the clock down the stretch to ice the tilt. Philly finished the game with 218 rushing yards on a whopping 41 attempts.
3. Outside of converting on several third-and-longs, Bills quarterback Josh Allen couldn't take advantage of an Eagles secondary that has been destroyed throughout the season. Once again, Allen couldn't connect deep at all against a banged-up Philly defensive backfield that came on allowing the second-most yards (214) and tied for most TDs (2) on deep attempts over the last two weeks, per Next Gen Stats. Allen threw a bevy of balls way off the mark once the Bills (5-2) got down big, rarely giving his receivers a chance to make a play. He completed just two of seven attempts of more than 15 air-yards. The wind didn't help, but few of Allen's throws were close late, as he finished 16-of-34 passing (47.1 percent) for 169 yards (5 YPA) with two TDs and an 81.6 rating. Allen moved the ball with his feet and looked comfortable on throws outside the pocket, but it was a disappointing day throwing the ball for the young QB who couldn't take advantage of a poor Eagles secondary.
-- Kevin Patra
Tennessee Titans 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 1. The result of this matchup perfectly encapsulated the personalities of each team, with the opportunistic Titans overcoming a distinct deficit in net yards (389-246) and first downs (23-16) by taking advantage of a mistake-prone opponent. No quarterback puts his defense in more compromising positions than Jameis Winston, who plays with a distinctive brazen, slapdash style that keeps both teams in the game. A frantic Winston made a habit of escaping pressure, attacking downfield and allowing Mike Evans to beat outclassed cornerbacks at the catch point for field-shifting chunk plays. The flip side of that up-for-grabs approach was four turnovers, a bevy of precarious passes that were nearly intercepted, short fields for his counterpart and a series of red-zone mistakes that came back to haunt Tampa Bay (2-5) in a nail-biter that ultimately fell in the Titans' favor when stalwart defensive lineman Jurrell Casey stuffed Peyton Barber on fourth down late in the fourth quarter.
2. En route to breaking James Wilder's franchise record for career receptions, Evans tied his personal best with 11 receptions for 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a dominant performance. Although Evans spent the early portion of the contest proving that fill-in starter LeShaun Sims was severely overmatched, this wasn't simply a case of exploiting an obvious mismatch. Evans also beat Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard on a 43-yard jumpball and veteran cornerback Logan Ryan for a fade-pass touchdown. It's the second time this season that Evans has reached 190 yards, lending credence to Winston's claim that his top target is a Randy Moss-like talent who takes a back seat to no other receiver in today's NFL. Coach Bruce Arians also testified to Evans' brilliance, telling the FOX broadcast team that the stretch-forward-in-cleats might just be the most talented receiver he's ever coached.
3. Thanks in large part to the generosity of Winston and a couple of mistakes by Tampa Bay's offensive line, Titans QB Ryan Tannehill became the first player to finish a first half with multiple passing touchdowns and fewer than 50 passing yards since Shaun King and Jon Kitna each accomplished the "feat" in November of 2000. Tennessee's offense entered hibernation for two full frames until Tannehill overcame a holding penalty on a 42-yard Derrick Henry scamper to lead an impressive 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that reclaimed the lead in the middle of the fourth quarter. Casey's fourth-down stand not only protected the lead, but also saved his head coach from tough questions about a fake field goal that was doomed by punter Brett Kern's insufficient athleticism in the open field. Still in the thick of a tight AFC South race, the Titans (4-4) face the Panthers and Chiefs leading into their Week 11 bye.
-- Chris Wesseling
Jacksonville Jaguars 29, New York Jets 15 1. Minshew Mania is running wild. Whether it's going anywhere will make for an interesting week as Nick Foles works his way back to playing status. For Sunday, though, the fist-pumping, headband-wearing, mustache-rocking rookie phenomenon propelled the Jaguars (4-4) past the struggling Jets (1-6), 29-15, with a trio of touchdown passes, 279 yards, no interceptions and a 119.6 rating. After Leonard Fournette busted loose for a 66-yard rumble, Minshew found Keelan Cole for a six-yard score to begin the big day, which was later highlighted by Minshew scrambling and finding Chris Conley running free into space for a 70-yard TD catch-and-run. The Foles conundrum will present itself, but Minshew has been all kinds of fun in Duval even in the face of the previous Jalen Ramsey drama. On this Sunday, he was impressive once more and did his best to make the Jaguars' decision on their quarterback of the future a difficult one.
2. While a rookie QB and a can't-miss kicker ( Josh Lambo booted three field goals a league-best 23 straight) certainly did their part, the Jaguars at their best have been defined by defense. And the Jacksonville D wreaked havoc with three interceptions (two from Tre Herndon) and a whopping eight sacks against a consistently Swiss-cheese Jets offensive line. Rookie dynamo Josh Allen now has seven sacks after two on Sunday as he's fit in phenomenally with Jacksonville's QB-terrorizing ways that also saw familiar sack masters Calais Campbell (1.5 sacks) and Yannick Ngakoue (2.0) do their usual damage. At least against the Jets, the Jags were once again their fearsome best.
3. In many ways, Sam Darnold's Sunday was about how he would respond from a disaster of a Monday night against the mighty Patriots. On the Jets' opening drive, Darnold was 7-for-7 for 88 yards -- two more yards than he had in full against the Pats -- and threw the first of two scores to tight end Ryan Griffin. Those were the highlights on another dim afternoon, though, as Darnold was hounded and threw the aforementioned three picks. Right or wrong, Darnold's abilities are likely to be scrutinized until the Jets as a whole become winners. There should be no doubting his resilience, however. In a season of struggles and ridiculous hurdles, he's shown his fortitude and toughness over and over. Darnold's dealt with the kissing sickness, a lost toenail, supernatural criticism and a bum left thumb in a nightmarish first eight weeks. He keeps getting up and facing the adversity head on, though, and at the very least, that should count for something.
-- Grant Gordon
Detroit Lions 31, New York Giants 26 1. Perhaps no one outside of Detroit was aware of how good Matthew Stafford has been this season, but his Week 8 performance deserves a glaring spotlight. The Lions' three-game losing streak marred just how impressive Stafford (7-1 TD-to-INT ratio, 629 passing yards, 62.3-completion rate) had been during that rough stretch; at home against the Giants (2-6), the veteran QB had a chance to show out in a win. His final numbers? 25-of-32 (78-percent completion rate) for 342 yards, three TDs and a pick (his fourth of the season). With Tra Carson starting in place of injured RB1 Kerryon Johnson (first DNP of 2019), Detroit didn't get much from the backfield, who combined for 62 yards on 23 attempts with four different guys getting touches. The lackluster run game paved the way for a stellar outing for the Lions' slew of receivers; Kenny Golladay recorded 123 yards and two TDs on six catches, Danny Amendola went 8-of-8 for 95 yards and Marvin Hall turned in his lone catch for a TD on a 49-yard Stafford bomb. After scoring 27-plus points in only four games last year, Detroit (3-3-1) now has five such games in the first eight weeks, and Stafford has absolutely been leading the way.
2. After a Cinderella-esque debut in Week 3, Daniel Jones' carriage has been looking a lot like a pumpkin in the weeks since. Having his offense reduced to second- and third-stringers due to injuries certainly didn't help Jones, who averaged 197.8 YPG and threw more interceptions (7) than TDs (4) in Weeks 4-7, but the rookie looked good in Detroit. With RB Saquon Barkley (19/64 on the ground, 8/79/1 through the air), TE Evan Engram (4/40/1) and WR Golden Tate (8/85) all back in the lineup for just the second time in 2019, Jones looked more comfortable in a near- Giants win. After going 2-of-4 for 16 yards in his first three drives, including a fumble that led to a Lions score, Jones finished the game 28-of-41 for 322 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. The marquee names all did well but the highlight plays were made by rookie WR Darius Slayton, who hauled in two fantastic TD catches for a combined 50 yards on back-to-back drives.
3. It was a highly competitive game but the Lions defense stepped up early to build momentum and late to seal the deal. On the third play of the Giants' second drive, LB Jarrad Davis strip-sacked Jones, allowing fellow LB Devon Kennard to score the defense's first TD of the season on a 16-yard run. The group also tallied three sacks (five QB hits), four tackles for a loss and seven pass deflections, the biggest coming from CB Mike Ford on a Slayton target on third-and-11 from the DET 14 with 3:39 remaining. That drive would end in a turnover on downs.
-- Jelani Scott
Los Angeles Chargers 17, Chicago Bears 16 1. The Chargers and Bears entered Sunday's matchup both desperate for a win and eager to prove they're not dead yet. But for two teams with longstanding kicking woes, it was only fitting for the game to end with a kicker miscue. Trailing by one with four seconds remaining in the game, Bears coach Matt Nagy opted to have Eddy Pineiro, who missed a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter, attempt the game-winning 41-yard field goal. Pineiro, who was a hero for his squad in Week 2, wasn't so lucky against the Bolts. Pineiro's kick sailed wide left in the Windy City. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Chargers (3-5) were on the right side of a kicker snafu. As for Nagy, it is puzzling that the Bears didn't attempt to get closer, especially since Pineiro already had one miss on the day. Two plays prior to the attempt, the Chargers gave up an 11-yard run by Mitchell Trubisky giving Chicago the first down. Then, the Bears (3-4) called for the QB to take a knee with 43 seconds remaining before taking one more timeout. Odd move by Nagy and surely one that will haunt the Bears coach.
2. The Bears offense hasn't delivered this season and Nagy has been under fire for its lack of efficiency. The head coach vowed to run the ball more and he did ... kind of. David Montgomery led all rushers, toting the ball 27 times for 135 yards with one touchdown. Montgomery's 55-yard run is the Bears' longest run of the season (previous was Cordarrelle Patterson with 46 yards). Montgomery's performance only points to the disappearing act of Tarik Cohen in the ground game. Cohen had four carries for nine yards against the Chargers, another footnote in his disappointing season. Trubisky continued to underwhelm throwing for 23-of-35 for 253 yards, one interception and a very costly fumble which set the Bolts up for a TD to reclaim the lead.
3. Like the Bears, the Chargers offense has not been firing on all cylinders since Melvin Gordon returned from his holdout. In fact, L.A. has been more efficient sans Gordon and using Austin Ekeler than with the star RB. Gordon got his first rushing TD of the season but had just eight carries for 31 yards against the Bears defense. Ekeler had the Chargers' second TD in the game via an 11-yard reception. The Chargers escaped incurring their fourth straight loss, but Bolts fans should in no way celebrate this win. The offense was saved by Bears gaffes and big stops by Joey Bosa.
-- Andie Hagemann
Los Angeles Rams 24, Cincinnati Bengals 10 1. Cooper Kupp had a career game in the Rams' 24-10 win over the Bengals in London. Instead of trying to run against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, the Rams (5-3) just kept throwing up to the middle to Kupp and the Bengals just couldn't figure out how to cover the wideout. Amazing play of the game: Kupp scored a 65-yard touchdown on a double-reverse flea flicker after Bengals cornerback B.W. Webb slipped in front of him before he even caught the ball. At the half, Kupp had caught five receptions on as many targets for 165 yards and a TD. All five of his catches went for at least 20 yards. The last player with at least five 20-yard receptions in a single half was Calvin Johnson in Week 17, 2011 vs. the Packers, per ESPN. Kupp finished with seven receptions for 220 yards and one TD.
2. Whatever the Bengals did to establish the run game, they need to continue. Going into the game the Bengals (0-8) were the league's worst rushing team. Watching the first half you would've thought it was the Rams with the worst record. Running back Joe Mixon had more yards in his first two carries (14) than he had in the last two weeks (12), per ESPN. At the half the Bengals had 84 yards averaging 6.5 a carry compared to the Rams' 35 yards averaging 3.5. Entering Sunday, neither Todd Gurley (10/44/1) nor Mixon (17/65/0) had 100-plus rushing yards in a game this season. That trend continues after this game.
3. Zac Taylor vs. his mentor Sean McVay. Taylor was a member of the Rams coaching staff from 2017-2018. At 0-8, Cincinnati matches its worst start to a season since 2008, per ESPN. McVay said after today's game that Taylor is the right man for the job and that he's rooting for him to turn the Bengals around. Despite the final score, the Bengals showed signs of promise on offense and defense. Plus they get their No. 1 receiver back soon. During the game, wideout A.J. Green told reporters that his ankle feels good and he hopes to return Week 10 after their bye.
-- Lakisha Wesseling
Indianapolis Colts 15, Denver Broncos 13 1. Who saw this one coming? The Broncos flirted with an upset. The Colts flirted with disaster. In the end, the Hall of Fame foot of Adam Vinatieri booted Indianapolis to a 15-13 come-from-behind win over the Broncos. With a rested, first-place Colts team (5-2) hosting a Broncos squad (2-6) that had just traded Emmanuel Sanders to the 49ers, this had the makeup of a layup, but it was far from that. It was a relatively ugly outing with big plays few and far between. The Broncos defense showed it is better than it's been playing and Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is better than he played on Sunday. As Brissett emerges as the next franchise QB in Indy, not every performance will be scintillating. Brissett threw no touchdowns on Sunday, but he led a game-winning drive and kept the Colts in first. When you win on the bad days, it's a very good sign.
2. When Adam Vinatieri missed three extra points in the first two games of the season, retirement talk was bandied about by some. But on this day, with the sun shining through an open roof in Indy, Vinatieri showed the knack for dramatics that has carried on through his storied career as he was good on field goals of 55 (his longest since 2002), 45 and 51 yards. The latter was the game-winner with 22 ticks to go in the game. It can't go without mention that the Colts were trailing, 13-12, at the time because Vinatieri missed on a game-tying PAT. Perhaps he was just laying the groundwork for a dramatic end. Obviously not. But the 46-years-young kicker showed he's still got a legendary leg that's equally strong and clutch.
3. This game was won for all intents and purposes by the leg of Vinatieri. Just as much of the final outcome came as a result of Brandon McManus booting a pair of field goals inside 30 yards to start the scoring, though. Denver had a chance, but its offense came away with one TD (a Royce Freeman four-yard run) and totaled 279 yards. The Broncos defense (318 yards allowed, four sacks, the game's only takeaway) did well enough to win, but its offense continued to sputter. The game's final play saw an unsure Joe Flacco blindsided for a sack. He fumbled the ball away and time ran out. It was very much a microcosm of the Broncos' season so far.
-- Grant Gordon
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|From: LindyBill||10/29/2019 3:15:51 PM|
wsj.com The Big Bet Spurring an NFL Trading Frenzy
Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade when they acquired superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars. The curious part about this move wasn’t the steep price the Rams paid—a pair of first round picks—or the timing, smack in the middle of this NFL season.
The unusual thing was that this didn’t seem unusual at all. NFL trade activity is at record levels heading into Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline, with teams increasingly willing to bet that one player can be the difference between a Super Bowl run and a disappointing season.
In the NBA and MLB, the trade deadlines are landmark occasions that are frequently filled with moves that can seismically change the course of a season—like the Houston Astros plucking Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks this year. But the NFL’s is more like national garlic day. You could be completely forgiven if it slips your mind: football trades are historically rare, and ones involving big-name players are even rarer.
This is changing rapidly. On the morning of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, there have already been 65 trades involving at least one player in 2019. That’s more than any year in recent memory and a dramatic uptick over 2011 to 2016, when there was an average of 30.6 player trades a year, according to Stats LLC.
This surge is destroying long-held norms. The Jets and Giants made their first ever trade this week, when the Jets shipped away Leonard Williams. Even the Jets and Patriots—teams that have had a famous Cold War ever since the napkin and deal that sent Bill Belichick to New England—knocked down the wall and made a swap this season.
And it’s not just the quantity, it’s the magnitude. Over the last two years, there have been nine deals where a player was traded for at least one first-round pick. That equals the total from 2011 to 2017 combined.
“It’s definitely a need-based approach,” said longtime NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum. “The trade market is evolving because people are evaluating what picks are actually worth.”
The 49ers traded third and fourth-round picks for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Photo: Peter Klein/Zuma Press
It wasn’t long ago that the market for veterans was stunningly tepid. The price the New England Patriots paid to acquire Randy Moss in 2007: a fourth-round pick. Moss proceeded to set the NFL record for most receiving touchdowns in a season.
Last week, the Patriots found out just how much the market has changed. They traded a second-round pick for a receiver far less accomplished than Moss: Mohamed Sanu, a 30-year-old who has never had 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
There isn’t just one factor that has catalyzed this shift. The salary cap has risen dramatically, giving general managers more flexibility to absorb contracts. Bad teams, like the Dolphins, have grown more willing to pinch their noses, absorb the stink of getting even worse and trade away their valuable assets as they build toward a more distant future.
Meanwhile, disgruntled players, like Ramsey, have ripped a page out of the NBA’s playbook and realized they can also pout enough to force their way out of town.
Underpinning these moves, there’s an unanswered question that teams are betting their futures on: how much can one player affect the fortunes of a football team?
The Rams are the clearest embodiment of this idea. Before last season, when they reached the Super Bowl, they traded a first-round pick to the Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Then, sitting at 3-3 this season, the Rams traded two more first rounders to the Jaguars for Ramsey, who had grown disgruntled in Jacksonville and demanded a trade. Los Angeles had a clear need: They had lost three in a row, including a brutal loss to Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers scored 55 points.
The Rams were struggling despite featuring the best defensive player in football, lineman Aaron Donald. Then they added Ramsey, giving them one of the game’s best cornerbacks and arguably the best defensive tandem in the entire sport. To justify the steep price they paid, they had to believe that this one player could transform a team that began the season with Super Bowl aspirations. (They’ve won two straight since acquiring Ramsey against two of the NFL’s worst teams, Atlanta and Cincinnati.)
In effect, they’re hoping Ramsey can do what Khalil Mack did for the Bears a year ago, when Chicago traded two first-round picks as part of a deal that helped build a vaunted defense in 2018. At the same time, the Bears have regressed this year and don’t have the same foundation to build from after giving up so much for one player.
Across the league, the big moves that have set the league abuzz have been pulled off by teams willing to pay steep prices for players they believe can make that type of critical difference.
That’s why Kansas City traded first and second rounders for defensive end Frank Clark from Seattle over the off-season. The Chiefs had a transcendent offense a year ago with Patrick Mahomes. They also had a shoddy defense that, at times, made opposing offenses look as good as theirs.
It’s also the calculus the Texans made right before the start of the season, when they traded two first-round picks to Miami for tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Dolphins had their eyes set on the future and were willing to unload one of their few valuable players for a potential windfall. Houston believed Tunsil could be the missing piece for a possible Super Bowl run after no quarterback was sacked more a year ago than Deshaun Watson.
The verdict is still out on these deals. Clark had a few sacks in Kansas City’s first seven games before suffering a neck injury, and the Chiefs’ defense has improved in some respects but remains problematic. It’s a similar story in Houston, where the Texans’ pass protection has gotten better but is below average.
The Houston Texans acquired tackle Laremy Tunsil to help protect quarterback Deshaun Watson. Photo: Zach Bolinger/Zuma Press
And the teams making these mid-season deals are also hoping that the player and coaching staff can overcome the steep learning curve that comes with learning a completely new playbook without much preparation. “It’s a cram job,” said San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “It’s always very tough to get a guy caught up.”
Last week, Shanahan’s 49ers traded third and fourth-round picks for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who’s a free agent after the season. Which means they gave up two future cheap and young players, who would be under team control for years, for 10 regular-season games from one player who missed last season with an Achilles injury.
But there’s another reason teams like the 49ers are willing to pay this type of price. San Francisco is undefeated and a near lock to make the playoffs. The 49ers are hoping to play a few more than 10 games with Sanders. And they won’t be fretting about those draft picks if he can be the difference in a Super Bowl run.
Share Your Thoughts Buy or sell: What do you want your favorite NFL team to do at the trade deadline?
Write to Andrew Beaton at email@example.com
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|From: LindyBill||10/31/2019 4:29:55 AM|
nfl.com What to watch for in 49ers-Cardinals on Thursday
By Grant Gordon NFL.com
Unblemished upon the season with a ferocious defensive front leading the way, the 49ers' latest task will be tackling No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.
Following a lost season last year, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and his winning ways are bringing about comparisons to Bay Area greats of yesteryear.
The top and last-place teams in what has suddenly become perhaps the best division in football, the NFC West foes collide on the latest edition of Thursday Night Football with the Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) hosting the San Francisco 49ers (7-0) on Halloween at 8:20 p.m. ET live on NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime Video.
A glaring similarity between the teams is vast improvement from a season ago.
Under rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals have already matched their win total for all of 2018 and Kyle Shanahan's Niners have left theirs in the dust with a four-win 2018 forgotten in the jubilance of a sterling start through seven games.
Under Shanahan, however, the 49ers have yet to defeat the Cardinals in four tries. Though all eyes are on the here and now, the Niners haven't defeated the Cardinals since the last week of the 2014 regular season with Arizona having won eight consecutive in the division showdown.
So, the 49ers, one of just two perfect teams left in the NFL, will look to stay undefeated against an upstart Cardinals squad that's had San Francisco's number for the last four seasons.
It's No. 1 pick Kyler Murray and the Arizona offense squaring off with No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa and the vaunted Niners defense, while Garoppolo and the 49ers' offense looks to avoid a dangerous Cardinals pass rush.
Here's four things to watch for on Thursday night:
How will Kyler Murray fare against the most formidable of defenses? Kyler Murray's fleet feet are likely to be on display Thursday with such a potent pass rush to run from.
Rookie or not, evading the rush has been an aspect Murray has excelled. He's been pressured on just 11.9 percent of his dropbacks, which is the lowest in the NFL. Aiding in that is that his quick-pass percentage of 55.1 is second in the league.
Murray and Arizona are coming off a 31-9 loss to the Saints, but had a three-game winning streak beforehand. The Cardinals began the season 0-3-1, but the 3-1 about-face came with a huge contrast in Murray's play.
Over the winless first four games, Murray had four turnovers, a 78.8 passer rating and was sacked five times. Since then, he's been sacked just 1.5 times, has a 95.5 rating and most impressive, especially for a rookie, has no turnovers.
Murray's seven touchdowns are hardly a high point, but his 186 completions are the second-most by a rookie QB in their first eight games since 1970. He's showing the maturity and mind of a signal-caller far senior than he is. He'll look to continue that in the face of one very formidable defense.
Is Jimmy G the winner San Francisco's been searching for? As the 49ers remain undefeated, Jimmy Garoppolo's record as a starter continues to impress as he's now 15-2 for an eye-popping .882 winning percentage, which is No. 1 since 1980 with a minimum of 16 starts. Next highest at .782 is Jimmy G's former teammate and Bay Area product Tom Brady.
He's navigated the first 7-0 start for the 49ers since all-time legend Joe Montana in 1990.
It's very much the talented crop of Niners running backs that has been the motor in Kyle Shanahan's offense, but Garoppolo has been excellent. He's posted a phenomenal 69.8 completion percentage, produced a 93.6 passer rating and seems to have the all-important knack to lead his team to wins.
Coming off an impressive 18-for-22 passing performance against the Panthers, Garoppolo has settled in as the San Francisco starter, having already eclipsed the amount of starts he had in either of his previous two seasons with the Niners.
Jimmy G is healthy and the 49ers are winning.
Will No. 2 pick Nick Bosa and the No. 1 Niners D stymie No. 1 pick? On the heels of a three-sack outing against the Panthers, rookie sensation Nick Bosa leads the rush of a simply stellar San Francisco defense.
Ranked No. 1 in total defense and against the pass, the Niners boast five players with three or more sacks.
Bosa is getting plenty of attention and rightfully so, as he leads all rookies with seven sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss. But a defense that's allowing a minuscule 11.0 points per game and just 224.4 yards is hardly a one-man show.
Cornerback Richard Sherman (three interceptions) has been in prime form. Arik Armstead already has a career-high 5.5 sacks. Fred Warner is quietly leading the team with 39 tackles and on and on it goes.
The Niners defense has been downright scary. Perhaps it's fitting for a Halloween showdown.
Chandler Jones is quietly making a lot of noise on Cards D As Thursday arrives, the Cardinals offer up the 29th-ranked defense, just 25th against the run and 29th against the pass.
They are tied for 11th in sacks, though, and much of that is due to Chandler Jones.
Jones, the younger brother of current UFC light heavyweight titlist Jon Jones, has been packing quite a punch through an elite eight games thus far. Through his first three years with the Cardinals, Jones has posted double-digit stats every season -- including an NFL-leading 17.0 in 2017 -- and is well on his way to continuing that standard with 8.5 (third in NFL) so far. Since moving from the Patriots to the Cardinals, Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 38.5 since 2017. He also leads the league with four forced fumbles this year and has 21 tackles, three fumble recoveries, nine quarterback hits and a host of signal-callers glad they won't see him again this season.
Unfortunately for Jimmy Garoppolo, he has to see Mr. Jones twice in the next three weeks. Nonetheless, nearly half of those Jones sacks came in Week 7 when he had four against the Giants.
Last week against an outstanding offensive line in New Orleans, Jones was held without a sack and tied for a season-low with one tackle. Was it the product of a stupendous Saints performance or is Jones slumping? Thursday night will deliver the answer, though it's likely safer for Garoppolo to have on his running shoes.
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