FOX Sports NFL Staff
What have we learned thus far in Week 7? FOX Sports’ staff of NFL writers joined forces to deliver insight and analysis from around the league.
In this weekly story, we’ll tell you what we noticed, what we heard and what to keep an eye on next.
1. Philadelphia’s once impermeable defense has been exposed
The front line of the Philadelphia Eagles defense might as well have been a brick wall through the first nine weeks of the season. There was no room for anyone to run through them. For the most part, no one even tried.
Over the past three weeks, though, that wall has looked more like a door.
This was never supposed to happen to a team that features Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox and super-rookie Jalen Carter in the middle of its defense, but this Eagles defense has looked alarmingly vulnerable against the run recently. After giving up an average of just 66.3 yards per game on the ground over the first three weeks of the season, that number has swelled to 162.3 over the last three games.
The Eagles could argue that their past three opponents — the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers — ran far more than their first nine opponents because all three played with a lead, and that’s true. But they’ve also had more success. The Eagles were giving up just 3.7 yards per carry in the first nine games, and 4.9 per carry over the last three.
Why? It’s hard to pinpoint a reason. Injuries surely haven’t helped. The Eagles’ thin linebacking corps was missing Zach Cunningham on Sunday and Cox was battling through a groin injury that kept him out of practice all week. The 49ers, like the Bills, also did a lot of their damage to the outside, where the Eagles DTs can be less of a factor.
And the fact that all of their past three opponents played with a lead is definitely significant. But keep in mind, this alarming trend started in the first half in Kansas City three weeks ago when Isaiah Pacheco barreled through the Philly defense for 66 yards on 12 carries in the first half — about half of the Chiefs’ 121 first-half rushing yards. The Chiefs are a middle-of-the-pack rushing team and they weren’t running out the clock in the first half of a game that was tied 7-7 for most of the second quarter.
Brock Purdy, 49ers shut down Jalen Hurts, Eagles — Dave Helman reacts
Tackling seems like the major issue for the Eagles — one that’s been a problem since last season. It was particularly evident two weeks ago when they couldn’t contain or wrap up Bills quarterback Josh Allen on his way to 81 yards on nine carries. It was a huge issue against the 49ers, too.
That’s obviously something the Eagles have to fix quickly, heading into an NFC East showdown in Dallas next Sunday night. Because the best teams in the NFL have clearly gotten the message: The way to beat the Eagles seems to be on the ground. —Ralph Vacchiano
2. He won’t win MVP, but Tyreek Hill is dominating his position
The NFL MVP is a quarterback award, but if it wasn’t, you could make a great case for Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill.
Hill leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions and remains on pace to shatter the NFL record for receiving yards — he’s on course for 2,098, and nobody has ever reached 2,000.
He now has 299 more receiving yards than any other player, and that puts him on pace to have the greatest margin of victory in that category in league history — the Secretariat of receiving yards. He’s on course to win by 423 yards, breaking the record of 375 yards set by Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison in 2002. Calvin Johnson won by 366 when he tallied a record 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.
Hill’s quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, has the fifth-best odds to win MVP, but all of the top six candidates by odds are quarterbacks, despite the fact the league likely won’t have a 40-touchdown passer for the first time since 2019.
The Associated Press MVP voting (50 writers select a winner) is dominated by quarterbacks. Over the past 10 years, quarterbacks have received 470 of 500 votes – 94%.
In 2021, Cooper Kupp — while winning the receiver triple crown by leading the league in catches, yards and touchdowns — got a single vote out of 50. In 2017, running back Todd Gurley got eight votes. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott got six, and in 2014, pass rusher J.J. Watt got 13 after piling up 20.5 sacks.
Hill might get a contrarian vote or two out of 50, but he’s having a historic year, and that deserves praise outside the realm of just his position. He’s 5 yards shy of having double the yardage of any Dolphins teammate, and Miami is 9-3 and challenging for the AFC’s top seed. He’ll get a ton of praise and attention if and when he gets to 2,000 receiving yards, but he deserves consideration beyond that. —Greg Auman
Can Tyreek Hill become the first receiver to 2,000 receiving yards for the Dolphins?
3. Chargers-Pats was a brutal watch. It’s time for both franchises to find new coaches
After an ugly game without a touchdown, it seems even more apparent that Bill Belichick and Brandon Staley are likely overseeing their last games with their respective teams.
Leaning on punter J.K. Scott and rookie return man Derius Davis to help control field position, the Los Angeles Chargers managed to defeat the New England Patriots 6-0 on the road at Gillette Stadium.
“It was just a tough game,” Staley told reporters. “It was a defensive game. Our guys were able to make one play at the end to seal it, and that’s what we needed to do on offense. We took care of the ball today. There were no turnovers, no sacks. And we made a big play at the end there to finish it.”
But the fact that Staley’s Chargers managed just six points with one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL in Justin Herbert against one of the worst teams in the league was an embarrassment, even though the game was played in a cold, steady rain.
Kicker Cameron Dicker accounted for all the scoring with a pair of 38-yard field goals in the second quarter.
The Chargers broke a three-game losing streak with the victory, and Staley’s defense has played better over the past two weeks. Khalil Mack leads the league in sacks with 15 and is having one of his best seasons as a pro. Still, the Bolts have a leadership void at the top. They will need to change course with new leadership to wash away the stench of yet another disappointing season for this franchise.
Belichick’s Patriots have lost six straight, eight of their last nine games and are setting records for offensive ineptitude. New England is the first team since the 1937 Pittsburgh Steelers (back then known as the Pirates) to lose three straight games while allowing 10 or fewer points in all three contests. Excluding the Patriots, NFL teams are 54-0 this season when allowing 10 or fewer points.
It was New England’s second home shutout this season, the first time in history that has happened. A change at quarterback from Mac Jones to Bailey Zappe couldn’t rescue the Patriots’ stagnant offense.
It’s a sad ending in New England for one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.
At 2-10, the schedule doesn’t get any kinder for the Patriots. They face the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, followed by home contests against the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. —Eric D. Williams
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4. Dak Prescott’s MVP path may run through the Eagles on Sunday night
Over the past six weeks, Dak Prescott has been the best quarterback in the NFL — and probably even the best overall player. He has put up unbelievable numbers, supercharged the Dallas Cowboys offense, and thrust himself right into the thick of the MVP race.
If he can beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night in Dallas, Prescott might just be the favorite to win it.
A win over the defending NFC champs would certainly go a long way toward convincing voters that he deserves the nod over Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and especially Jalen Hurts. The biggest knock on Prescott remains his supposed inability to win big games. Well, it would be hard to find a regular-season game much bigger than the one between the Cowboys (9-3) and Eagles (10-2) with the NFC East lead on the line.
If Prescott can get the Cowboys over that hump, voters everywhere will have to take a long look at what he’s done, and they’ll see his numbers will speak for themselves. He’s third in the NFL in passing yards (3,234), second in completion percentage (70.1), first in touchdown passes (26) and has thrown only six interceptions.
But what he has done recently is really eye-popping. In the past six games, he’s thrown for 1,901 yards — 316.8 per game — with 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Cowboys are 5-1 in that span, averaging 39 points per game, and they’ve topped 40 four times.
The one blemish in that stretch was a 28-23 loss in Philadelphia. Prescott was spectacular in that game — 29-of-44, 374 yards, three touchdowns, no interception. But in the fourth quarter he had a fourth-down pass to tight end Luke Schoonmaker that came just inches short of a touchdown, and he missed on a later two-point conversion when he stepped out of bounds just before reaching the ball over the pylon.
Time to take Dak Prescott, Cowboys seriously as Super Bowl contenders
It was close and it’s hard to blame Prescott for that loss, but those plays were the difference in the game and, at least for the moment, in the division race.
If he can reverse that on Sunday and beat Philadelphia, it’ll make a big difference again. It would bring the Cowboys closer to the division title and keep them in the running for the No. 1 seed in the conference. It would be the kind of big win that has largely eluded Dallas.
And it would mean Prescott’s MVP candidacy would be impossible to ignore. —Vacchiano
5. The Texans offense has received a lot of credit. But their defense has quietly improved, too
The Texans offense has received a great deal of attention amidst their vast improvement, and for good reason. No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud has quickly become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Houston’s receivers have shattered expectations. The offense has keyed the team’s resurgence.
But to keep their playoff hopes alive and potentially make a postseason run, the Texans will also need their defense to step up.
The unit is showing that it’s capable of doing just that.
In Sunday’s win over the Broncos, the Texans picked off Russell Wilson three times. They held Denver to 0-for-11 on third down and 1-for-3 in the red zone. Overall, Houston had seven pass breakups, eight quarterback hits and five tackles for loss.
One of the most exciting parts for the Texans is that their top defensive players in each of the past two drafts — edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. are both No. 3 overall picks — led the charge against Denver. Anderson had two of the Texans’ three sacks Sunday and four of the eight quarterback hits. Stingley, who has missed six games this season due to injury, had two of the three interceptions.
It’s not the first time the defense has risen to the occasion. In Week 11, in a game in which Stroud threw a season-high three interceptions, the defense registered three straight fourth-down stops to seal a 21-16 win over the Cardinals.
Houston boasts a defensive front that doesn’t get enough national attention — the Texans are currently sixth in pressure rate at 39.9% — and a secondary getting healthier as the season wears on. Starting safety Jimmie Ward returned against Denver after missing the previous three games with a hamstring injury.
The Texans defense hasn’t been elite by any means — just last week it gave up four plays of 40-plus yards in a loss to the Jaguars — but it’s a unit finding its groove under first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans.
We already know what this Texans offense is capable of. If the defense continues to grow, Houston could be the team no one wants to face if it gets into the postseason. —Ben Arthur
How much does Tank Dell’s injury hurt the Texans?
6. Commanders players are getting tired of their growing pains
The last month of the season is going to be a long one in Washington. Ron Rivera’s time with the Commanders is almost over. The players know it, and quite frankly, they sound done.
That was really clear after their latest beating — a 45-15 embarrassment at home against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The Commanders have now lost their past two games by a combined score of 90-25. They’ve lost their last three by a combined score of 121-44. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 after a promising 2-0 start.
In a season that Rivera said was supposed to be all about growth and development, none of that is evident. And the players sound fed up.
“It sounds like words now,” said running back Antonio Gibson. “We’re not going to keep saying that in the back end of the season. It’s too late for growth.”
“Yeah, I’ve been dealing with this for seven years,” added defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. “I’m tired of trying to build character. My character’s been built up enough. I’m trying to win. … There’s only so much growth and development you can do before you go out there to perform.”
That might not happen any time soon. The Commanders (4-9) have four games left, including matchups at home against the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys to end the season. When they come off their bye week, they’ll head to Los Angeles to face a resurgent Rams team that has won three in a row to get back in the NFC playoff race.
There’s nothing to save Washington for the rest of the season either. There is no indication that new owner Josh Harris plans to make any changes during the bye week. As multiple team sources have said, his plan has always been to give Rivera the entire season. Besides, if he did fire Rivera, the only plausible move would be to promote offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to head coach, which would only put him in a no-win situation the rest of the way.
This means all they can do now is endure what likely will be a few more embarrassments. There’s no doubt changes are coming in Washington, but for the players, it doesn’t feel like they can come soon enough. —Vacchiano
De’Von Achane’s two rushing touchdowns help carry Dolphins to dominant 45-15 victory against Commanders
7. At long last, Packers defense is stepping up
You’ve heard the term ‘bend, don’t break’ when it comes to NFL defenses before. That’s how Joe Barry’s system is built in Green Bay. But the second part of that saying wasn’t exactly getting through to Barry’s defense early in the year. Thirteen weeks into the season, it looks like they finally got the memo.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, the Packers allowed just 19 points to quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his team. Added to their average, Green Bay is now ranked in the top 10 when it comes to points allowed per game at 20.3. The Chiefs converted only 50% of their red-zone attempts on Sunday night too, scoring on two of four trips inside the 20. On the season, the Packers now rank eighth in red-zone percentage with teams scoring on just 48.78% of trips. Green Bay’s rushing defense still needs some work — they rank 29th, allowing an average of 136.3 rushing yards per game but the most important stat when it comes to winning (points) seems to have stabilized.
The defensive front has upped the pressure — they rank inside the top 10, getting pressure on 23.2% of opposing dropbacks. But then they are also tied for the third-fewest passing touchdowns allowed on the season with 13. Their pass defense ranks 10th in passing yards per game allowed with 203.8. Things seem to be clicking on all levels at last.
The Packers even came up with a turnover against the notoriously careful Chiefs when Keisean Nixon picked off a tipped pass. It led directly to Green Bay’s final field goal of the night but more importantly, stopped a potential go-ahead drive from Mahomes in the fourth quarter. The Packers still only have 13 takeaways on the season but thanks to their young quarterback taking care of the football, they sit at +1 in turnover margin. It isn’t perfect, and isn’t even the ceiling for this Packers’ defense with seven first-round picks on it, but this is sustainable.
And it’s enough.
Green Bay’s defense is coming up with stops at the right time, affording Jordan Love an additional possession here and there. That tandem is leading to wins. —Carmen Vitali
Jordan Love, Packers shock Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs — Dave Helman reacts
8. Saints‘ long-propped-open contention window is closing
If the glass is half full, the Saints are still only a game out of first place in the NFC South, and if they simply beat the one-win Panthers at home and the Bucs win at the Falcons, it’s a three-way tie atop the division at 6-7 with four weeks to play.
But in falling behind 21-0 to the Lions in the first seven minutes Sunday, the Saints lost a chance to pick up a signature win that could have helped them in the standings. New Orleans did well to rally back to within 24-21, but a fumbled snap cost them in the fourth quarter, and backup Jameis Winston threw three straight incompletions to end a final rally, down five but in Lions territory.
Derek Carr is back in concussion protocol and dealing with back and shoulder injuries, so it could very well be Winston playing against Carolina this week, if not beyond that. The larger problem is a Saints defense that held five of its first six opponents to 20 points or fewer, but has let five of the past six score at least 24.
If New Orleans can get two out of three against the Panthers, Giants and Rams, they close the year at the Bucs and at home against the Falcons, the two teams standing between them and an NFC South title. But momentum is working against them, and it could be that their salary-cap magic is shifting to a difficult financial reality.
Falling short could mean the end of the line for second-year head coach Dennis Allen, and the Saints are already hugely ($71 million) over the projected 2024 salary cap, with so many contracts upside-down with prorated bonuses and void years that it’s hard to move on from bad deals. They’re locked into Carr for another year, but the franchise has to find ways to get out of its cap debt with what could be a painful rebuild. —Auman
9. Cardinals remain tough out while trudging through rebuilding year
In Kyler Murray’s fourth outing back from major knee surgery, the Arizona Cardinals earned a 24-10 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that featured two weather delays.
At 3-10 overall, the Cardinals are about where many NFL observers expected at this point of the season. But Arizona doesn’t appear to be angling for draft position to select a quarterback in next year’s draft.
Murray finished 13-of-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another 20 yards. Those aren’t exactly jaw-dropping numbers, but Murray didn’t turn the ball over and is now 2-2 this season as a starter.
“We came in here in a hostile environment against a playoff football team — a good football team that’s extremely well-coached — and he made it happen today,” Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said about Murray.
Five of Arizona’s 10 losses have been by 10 points or fewer, so Gannon has done a decent job of getting his team ready to play on a weekly basis. And even though the Cardinals will be watching the playoffs from home, players are still playing hard and competing.
Former Steeler James Conner had a triumphant return to his hometown, earning a game ball with 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals have also received plenty of contributions from this year’s draft class, including first-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. at right tackle, defensive back Garrett Williams, receiver Michael Wilson, edge rusher B.J. Ojulari and defensive tackle Dante Stills.
Veteran Matt Prater has been one of the most consistent kickers in the league. And tight end Trey McBride is developing into a true weapon and security blanket for Murray.
If Murray can continue to grow and mature in offensive coordinator Drew Petzing’s system, the Cardinals could be on the upswing heading into the 2024 season, with two first-round picks and 11 selections overall in next year’s draft.
“Every time I touch the field, I expect to win,” Murray said. “Obviously, I’m still frustrated with the two losses. … I was talking to [quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork], and this is technically still preseason for me, four weeks into the season.
“I told him this is starting to slow down for me, and I’m getting more comfortable. I just feel better out there right now.” —Williams
This story was compiled by:
AFC South reporter Ben Arthur (@benyarthur)
NFC South reporter Greg Auman (@gregauman)
NFC West reporter Eric D. Williams (@eric_d_williams)
NFC East reporter Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano)
NFC North reporter Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV)
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