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NFL Week 6 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks

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Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season saw Tua Tagovailoa return as the starting quarterback for the Dolphins in London against a struggling Jaguars team looking for its first victory. Tagovailoa led Miami to a touchdown on his first drive and the Dolphins led early, but Jacksonville rallied and hit a last-second field goal to stop its losing streak at 20 games.

On Thursday night, Tom Brady threw two more touchdown passes for the Buccaneers, pushing his season total to 17, as Tampa Bay held off the Eagles on the road despite the loss of cornerback Richard Sherman to a hamstring injury.

The afternoon games will feature intriguing matchups, including the Chargers (4-1) at the Ravens (4-1), the Cardinals (5-0) at the Browns (3-2) and the Cowboys (4-1) visiting the Patriots (2-3).

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
MIA-JAX | TB-PHI

Jaguars

What to know: Coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence got their first NFL victory thanks to a field goal by a kicker who was a free agent when the season started. It stopped a 20-game losing streak that was the second longest in NFL history dating back to the 2020 season opener. It doesn’t matter that the Dolphins were missing their top two cornerbacks and top three receivers and that it was a struggle all the way. This takes a lot of pressure off Meyer and Lawrence. — Mike DiRocco

What does this mean for kicker Josh Lambo? The most accurate field goal kicker in Jaguars history is now likely out of a job after Matthew Wright‘s two field goals, including the winner. Lambo has been battling confidence issues since the season started and hasn’t played in the past three games. Wright’s performance should win him the job permanently. — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2.5. The Jaguars got sneaky at the end and it set up a field goal, overcoming all the questionable decisions Meyer had made all day.

Next game: at Seahawks (Oct. 31, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Dolphins

What to know: Brian Flores rightfully said righting the ship would be a team effort for the Dolphins and the onus wasn’t on Tua Tagovailoa to stop their four-game losing streak. However, Miami put the game in Tua’s hands, even in his first game back from injured reserve. Tagovailoa attempted 47 passes, completing 33 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His shining moment came during a seven-play, 91-yard go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter in which he completed all six of his attempts for 83 yards and a touchdown — a drive that came immediately following a possession in which he threw a bad interception. The Dolphins seem ready to live and die by Tua’s left arm, and he nearly delivered — but his performance wasn’t enough to overcome poor defensive play and even worse coaching decisions down the stretch. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Can Miami figure out how to play from ahead? The Dolphins haven’t led too often this season, but they have held multiple-score leads twice and failed to keep either of them. Miami led 13-3 against one of the worst teams in the NFL and didn’t finish the job. If putting consistent drives together is the first step toward fixing Miami’s problems on both sides of the ball, the second is learning how to finish when it has a lead — especially with another must-win game coming up in Week 7. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 4. Tagovailoa’s return was strong, but losing to the Jaguars is unacceptable for a team that considered itself a playoff team entering the season. The Dolphins’ record drops to 1-5; 111 teams have started their seasons with the same record and only three have made the playoffs. If the Dolphins can’t beat the Falcons and the Bills in their next two games, stick a fork in their playoff hopes.

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Buccaneers

What to know: With a ravaged defense already down four starters and cornerback Richard Sherman leaving the game in the first quarter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and running back Leonard Fournette carried the load on the road. — Jenna Laine

Can the Bucs survive yet another injury on defense? Sherman suffered a pulled hamstring on the opening drive and was ruled out for the remainder of the game for the Bucs, who were already without Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Lavonte David. Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Winfield is close to clearing the concussion protocol, but this pass defense was already banged up prior to Sherman’s injury. Now the Bucs must make do with Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell, Dee Delaney, Pierre Desir and Rashard Robinson. Over the past two weeks, the pass rush has helped these guys out tremendously. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, up from 7.5. The Bucs are 5-1 despite being totally decimated by injuries, but will the offense continue to carry them against tougher defenses? We will find out soon with the Bears and Saints up next.

Next game: vs. Bears (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


Eagles

What to know: Coach Nick Sirianni continues to ask too much of quarterback Jalen Hurts. Entering Week 6, Hurts had accounted for 87% of the Eagles’ offense by yardage, the highest of any team in the NFL. It was the same story against Tampa Bay. Eagles running backs received just one carry in the first half and nine for the game. Hurts has made just 10 NFL starts. He is not consistent enough of a passer at this point to be shouldering such a load. — Tim McManus

What is with the big swings in Hurts’ accuracy? In games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Cowboys, Hurts completed a combined 69% with seven touchdowns to two interceptions. Against the 49ers, Panthers and Bucs, he completed 53% with a touchdown and two interceptions. To establish himself as a quality quarterback in the NFL, Hurts needs to stabilize as a passer. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.9, down from 4.5. The Eagles have dropped four of five and have some clear identity issues on offense. They are through the most difficult portion of their schedule. Perhaps they will find some answers on the road the next two weeks against the Raiders and Lions.

Next game: at Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

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Who would be tougher for the Cowboys to replace, Dan Quinn or Kellen Moore? – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — Nobody knows if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn or offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will leave the Dallas Cowboys for a head-coaching vacancy in a few days or weeks.

Multiple teams have put in requests to speak to both coordinators after a regular season that was driven in part by what Quinn did for the defense and Moore did for the offense.

“At the end of the day it’s real hard to keep people from taking a head football coaching opportunity. I mean, they are hard to come by,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Monday. “There’s a big difference between being a coordinator and being a head coach. Certainly we understand.

“They deserve it. They had their full body of work with a very successful season. Dan has had success as a head coach. That just comes with the territory, and we’ll have to roll up our sleeves with them. We’ve had great relationships with both men, and we’ll just work with them as they navigate these waters. And as we do that, we’ll be thinking about what the future holds for the Cowboys as well. Obviously that will be first and foremost.”

So which coach can they more easily replaced?

Quinn led a defensive turnaround a year after the Cowboys allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020. He took over a unit that did not buy into what it was being taught and made it much better in 2021.

The Dallas defense ranked 19th in yards per game (351.0), tied for seventh in points per game (21.1) and led the NFL in takeaways (34) with cornerback Trevon Diggs leading the league with 11 interceptions. Quinn was inventive in how he used rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who was named a first-team All-Pro with Diggs. Perhaps the best thing he did was alter who he is as a coordinator, embracing different fronts and coverages.

Quinn’s impact in free agency and the draft are evident. The Cowboys’ first six picks were defensive players. In free agency, he wanted length, speed and some familiarity with the additions of two former Atlanta FalconsDamontae Kazee and Keanu Neal.

“Q just found a way to touch everybody in our defensive room’s heart,” Parsons said. “I think he found a way for us all to want to fight for him, play for him. Some things is just more than football and I think that’s what Q represents. It’s never just football with Q. … He’s a hands-on coach. He made sure you really understood everything that was going on. He didn’t let nothing go without being understood, so I think that’s what Q did to us.”

If the Cowboys lose Quinn, coach Mike McCarthy would have his third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. In-house, he could look to secondary coach and passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. or senior defensive assistant George Edwards as replacements. Whitt called the defense in a preseason game when Quinn was out with COVID-19. His long-time background with McCarthy in Green Bay makes him a natural pick.

Outside the building, could former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer be an option? He has a long history with the Joneses as a former Cowboys assistant and McCarthy has long respected his work.

On offense, there might be more in-house choices, starting with McCarthy, who made his bones with the Packers as a playcaller. But that would make sense only if they change to his scheme and terminology. The Cowboys have kept the same system with mostly the same terminology that Dak Prescott has had since 2016.

Over and over, McCarthy has said it was important for Prescott’s development to keep the same system, which is why he kept Moore as the playcaller.

That could make quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier more of an option over Ben McAdoo, the former New York Giants coach and McCarthy aide, who has worked as a consultant this season. Nussmeier has a close relationship with Prescott. He has directed offenses at the college level. McAdoo is interviewing for the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator job.

Moore interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles vacancy a year ago after walking away from an opportunity at his alma mater, Boise State. The Cowboys finished No. 1 in points and yards per game in 2021 but there were a lot of bumps on offense. However, NFL owners have shown their willingness to take a chance on young offensive minds.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has gone through this before with Sean Payton and Jason Garrett. In 2004, Payton agreed to take the Oakland Raiders job only to be talked out of it by Jones and then-coach Bill Parcells … and a decent raise. The next year, he took the New Orleans Saints job and has been there ever since.

After one year as a playcaller, Garrett had chances with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens in 2008, but backed away from both opportunities in part because of Jones … and a decent raise. It was clear Garrett was the eventual replacement for Wade Phillips and that came to fruition in 2010.

Could Moore follow a similar path as Payton or Garrett?

Quinn has been a head coach, spending parts of five seasons with the Falcons and coming within a half of winning a Super Bowl. As much as he might want to be a head coach again, he might not just take any job. He is also being paid a good amount of money still by the Falcons.

“For me coming here, I wasn’t coming here to look at what my next job would be,” Quinn said late in the season. “I wanted to come in here and have a blast and hopefully kick ass and make an impact. … If those moments come, I’ll be ready for them if the right scenario came about, but honestly I’m having a blast right here with this crew and going for it. That’s where my mind is, that’s where my heart is. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about down the road or what’s next.”

Another year with Parsons, Diggs and a young defense could make Quinn an even more attractive candidate in the future.

Moore has not had a head-coaching job yet, but he is just 33. The offense hit a lull but over a season-long view, it was a success. Late in the season, he would not delve into head-coaching opportunities when asked, but he has said his goal is to be a head coach one day.

Another year with Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, receiver CeeDee Lamb and two Pro Bowl offensive linemen could help Moore be an even more attractive candidate.

The Cowboys might not have to answer the question as to who they could afford to lose, Quinn or Moore, but they need to have a plan in place.

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Rams’ defense sets tone in wild-card win, readies for Tom Brady – Los Angeles Rams Blog

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — If one moment captured how soundly the Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals, it was Odell Beckham Jr.’s completion to Cam Akers down the right sideline.

Everything seemed to work for the Rams’ offense, even a receiver throwing deep to a running back on a trick play that had proved difficult to execute in windy conditions during the week of practice leading up to Monday night’s wild-card playoff game.

It was also an illustration of how dominant the Rams’ defense was. Because once Akers hauled in that 40-yard completion, Beckham had 12 more passing yards than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray had thrown for at that point of the game.

This was nearly three minutes into the third quarter, mind you.

By the time the final whistle blew on the Rams’ 34-11 win, Murray had only 134 passing yards, plus 6 rushing. The 183 total yards Los Angeles allowed were its fewest of the season, its fifth fewest in any game under coach Sean McVay and tied for third fewest by any team in a playoff game over the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

It was the type of performance that suggests the Rams will have much more than a fighting chance in the divisional round on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium against seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the No. 2 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 p.m. ET, Fox), as difficult as that matchup will be.

“I think so,” McVay answered when asked postgame if that was the Rams’ best defensive performance of the season. “Being able to hold a really explosive offense like that, to be able to get a defensive touchdown, a couple turnovers — just so pleased with those guys and got a great challenge going against Tom Brady next week.”

The Rams checked all the boxes on defense Monday night.

They intercepted Murray twice, returning one of those picks for a touchdown. That came on a play in which they nearly dropped Murray in the end zone for what would have been a safety. He avoided the sack and chucked the ball in desperation right to cornerback David Long Jr., who returned it for the shortest pick-six (3 yards) in NFL postseason history.

They made Murray’s game-breaking running ability a nonfactor, holding the Cardinals to only 61 rushing yards as a team (3.4-yard average) and kept them without a third-down conversion on nine tries.

And it wasn’t just the usual suspects who got it done.

Linebacker Troy Reeder, a 2019 undrafted free agent, applied the pressure that forced Murray’s errant pass to Long, who lost his starting cornerback job earlier in the season. (Long hurt his knee later in the game; McVay said Tuesday that the initial indications are positive.)

Defensive tackle Marquise Copeland, another 2019 UDFA, came down with the Rams’ other interception.

They got a sack and three tackles for loss from Von Miller and a half sack from Aaron Donald, one of their two first-team All-Pros along with cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“To be able to get that many guys involved in making those kind of plays,” McVay said, “that’s what you love.”

The Rams are hoping to get Taylor Rapp back this week from the concussion that sidelined him against Arizona. His absence and Jordan Fuller‘s season-ending ankle injury from Week 18 forced Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess into starting roles at safety.

Safety Eric Weddle, a 37-year-old who came out of a two-year retirement to help the Rams, played 19 of 56 defensive snaps. It was his first NFL game in 750 days.

“It was unbelievable what Eric Weddle was able to do, and then come in and contribute,” McVay said. “He’s one of those guys that just elevates. We talk about igniters all the time. You make everybody around you better. That’s what Eric Weddle is. I think he’s only going to build on this for next week.”

The Rams were one of only three teams to beat the Bucs in the regular season, handing them a 34-24 loss in Week 3 at SoFi Stadium. They held Tampa Bay to 35 rushing yards on 13 attempts.

Brady, however, threw for a season-high 432 yards.

“He’s the GOAT,” said Weddle, who was still living the retired life with zero thought of playing again when the two teams met in September. “I’ve had many battles with him over my career, and I can’t say I ever beat him. So let’s break that streak. How about that?

“But they’re rolling. They’re the defending champs for a reason. I could go on and on about him, just a guy I admire, his competitiveness, how professional he is, how great he is. A lot of weapons. Going to be a huge challenge for us but it doesn’t matter who the best team is, it’s who plays the best at that given time, so we’re up for the challenge.”

That challenge will include playing on a short week and traveling across the country against the defending Super Bowl champions. And the Rams will have to do what only one team did during the regular season: beat the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

And there’s also that Brady guy.

“He’s got so much experience,” McVay said. “He’s so smart. He’s so twitchy in his upper half. … He recognizes exactly what’s going on. So I think the best way is try to influence and affect, move him off his spot, be able to win with your rushes. Easier said than done. It’s why he’s the most successful quarterback of all time.”

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What return of Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, others would mean for Packers’ playoff chances – Green Bay Packers Blog

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The list of once injured but now healthy players who have returned to the Packers in the days before Saturday’s NFC divisional-round matchup with the San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox) looks like one of the biggest strokes of luck this Green Bay team has experienced all season.

But that’s not how one prominent member of the Packers looks at it.

“Fortune would’ve been if we had them all year,” safety Adrian Amos said recently. “Like that would’ve been fortunate.”

Yet even without the gaggle of players who have come back to practice recently, the Packers did enough to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, and they did so with a week left in the regular season.

Coach Matt LaFleur remained “hopeful” that Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander could play Saturday, and he said left tackle David Bakhtiari was held out of practice Tuesday because of load management.

The question now is: How much better can the Packers be?

There could be a two-fold impact: one on the X’s and O’s and another on the team’s mental state.

“It’s a boost to people around just to see guys back, because when great players go down, it’s a bummer to everybody just on the level when you actually know those guys as your boys,” Amos said. “But just having them out there, it’s great to see, and hopefully, they can help us make a run here.”

Here’s a look at how that could happen:

Offensive line

Returning players: Bakhtiari, C Josh Myers, RT Billy Turner

Bakhtiari played 27 snaps — his first 27 since his Dec. 31, 2020, torn ACL — in the regular-season finale at Detroit. He performed like an All-Pro should, but that was in less than a half of action. Myers went a little longer, going 32 snaps in his return from a Week 6 knee injury. Turner has not played since a Dec. 12 knee injury, but he returned to practice last week; he also was on the COVID-19 list during his time off.

If all three can play — and make it through an entire game — it gives the Packers all but one of their preferred starting offensive linemen. Only Elgton Jenkins, who tore his ACL on Nov. 21 against the Minnesota Vikings, would not be available. The Packers haven’t had that many preferred starters at their natural positions the entire season. It means Yosh Nijman, who began the season as the No. 3 left tackle, returns to a backup role. So would veteran right tackle Dennis Kelly if Turner is able to play. And then Lucas Patrick likely would go to right guard after filling in for Myers at center; Patrick is likely an upgrade over rookie right guard Royce Newman.

Rodgers joked that after getting the ball out of his hands quickly all season, he purposely held it longer against the Lions after Bakhtiari returned to test the lineman. Don’t expect a philosophical change, but at least Rodgers knows he has his security blanket.

“Leading up to it, he said, ‘Man, you’ve been doing so good, you’re getting the ball out quick, you’re not holding onto the ball. Then I come back and you’re running around and extending plays,’” Rodgers said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not trying to do that, Dave.’ I like the way this has gone. I enjoy getting the ball out. This is a different system. So, no, I’m not going to flip a switch and start hanging onto the football more. That’s not how I want to play. That’s not how we’ve played all year.”

No matter how long Bakhtiari has to block, he has typically excelled. He led all tackles from 2017 to 2020 with a 94.5% pass block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Myers had a 95.5% pass block win rate this season. His replacement, Patrick, had a 91% rate while playing center. Turner had a 92.1% win rate in his 13 games this season, which was fifth best among right tackles.

Wide receiver

Returning player: Randall Cobb

Cobb hasn’t played since he underwent core muscle surgery in late November, but his return means two things: The Packers have a natural slot receiver again, and Rodgers has one of his favorite third-down targets. Twelve of Cobb’s 28 catches during the regular season came on third down, and 10 of them went for first downs. Without tight end Robert Tonyan, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL on Oct. 28, Cobb’s presence in the middle of the field became even more important. Cobb has caught 71% of his targets from Rodgers in his career, the highest rate of any receiver Rodgers has played with (with at least 60 targets).

What’s more, Cobb could factor in the Packers’ struggling kick return game, as well.

“Randall, if he’s up and he’s available to the game-day roster, he is definitely an option,” Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton said.

Outside linebacker

Returning players: Smith, Whitney Mercilus

Smith, a second-team All-Pro in 2020, played 18 snaps in Week 1, but he hasn’t competed since undergoing back surgery shortly thereafter. He returned to practice last week, but given his injury, the lengthy absence and the lack of reps in first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s system, it might be a stretch for him to play a major role. However, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t play spot duty as a pass-rusher on third downs and in obvious passing situations. In his first two seasons with the Packers, he was third in the NFL in sacks (26) and third in pressures (103).

Don’t be surprised to see him rush from the inside, given the success that Rashan Gary (9.5 sacks) and Preston Smith (9.0) had on the outside in his absence.

Mercilus, a midseason pickup, was thought to be lost for the season to a torn biceps in his fourth game with the Packers, but he made a surprising return to practice last week. If he is in the rotation, the Packers have effectively replaced former undrafted free agents Jonathan Garvin and Tipa Galeai with a pair of proven veterans in Za’Darius Smith and Mercilus.

“Not having a Za’Darius all year, that put a lot of pressure on Rashan and Preston,” Barry said. “We had guys that filled in and did a great job. When we got Whitney, not only were we getting a guy to roll in there, we were getting a guy that’s played at a Pro Bowl level before in his career. Now, moving into the playoffs, having the ability to not only have Rashan and Preston but to have a Z in the rotation, to have potentially Whitney in the rotation, it just gives you fresh rushers, fresh, violent guys on the edge. You can’t have enough of those guys.”

Cornerback

Returning player: Alexander

The second-team All-Pro in 2020 hasn’t played since a shoulder injury in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A week earlier, he had his first interception of the season against Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the Packers will be facing Saturday. Rasul Douglas wasn’t even on the Packers’ roster at the time of Alexander’s injury. The question now is how to use Alexander? Douglas and rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes seem entrenched on the outside and not particularly adept at playing in the slot. There was talk of moving Alexander into the slot early in the season, but it rarely happened. He played just 20 of his more than 200 snaps from an inside position, but the Packers still believe that’s a spot where Alexander could thrive. It also could be more conducive for a player who hasn’t played in months and therefore wouldn’t have to play the entire game like a perimeter corner would, although the pounding he might take inside could be a problem for his shoulder.

Last season, Alexander allowed the third-lowest completion rate (49.3%) and third-lowest passer rating (60.9) among players targeted at least 50 times, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

“I don’t think when you’re a player like Z or a player like Ja, you don’t ever lose that awareness or instinct or feel,” Barry said. “But you definitely have to get into the proper playing shape and the proper playing feel for your body. And again, I think that’s where we have to come into play, and we have to decide, ‘OK, where is this guy at?’ And we’re still in that process of figuring that out, where that magic number is on how many plays that they can go. And like I said, we’re going to; that is our job to figure out what that number is. And when you’ve got two great players, we’re going to get them on the field as much as they can handle.”

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