We're in Week 6 of the NFL season, and there's a lot to like when it comes to offensive play. There's also a lot to, uh, not like.
Over the past two weeks, Bill Belichick suffered the two worst home losses by margin of his career. His New England Patriots were shut out by the New Orleans Saints in Week 5, while quarterback Mac Jones turned the ball over three times and the offense compiled just 156 yards.
The Patriots boast the league's worst scoring offense through five weeks after putting up three points in the last two games combined. In fact, the Patriots have not scored an offensive touchdown in 10 quarters (the second quarter vs. the Jets in Week 3).
For today's edition, I'm using this telling quote as a jumping off point to discuss three offenses -- one in need of a hard restart, another that could use a soft reset and a third that should stay the course despite underperforming thus far.
You probably could have guessed the Patriots would be my pick here. In past years, they have tended to start slow before hitting their stride late in the season and into February. However, that was when they had the greatest quarterback ever. I don’t see that trend holding up this season, not with New England lacking a competitive advantage on the offensive side of the ball. (The defense also seems to be losing star players to injury by the week.) There is no true WR1. There is no continuity along the offensive line. And the quarterback play has been poor.
No Patriots player has tallied more than 300 scrimmage yards this season; running back Rhamondre Stevenson leads the team with 188 rush yards and 275 scrimmage yards, while Kendrick Bourne is the leading receiver with 218 yards through five weeks. The offensive line does not seem to be doing a good job protecting Mac Jones. The third-year quarterback has been pressured on at least 40 percent of his dropbacks in each of the last three weeks, per Next Gen Stats. And Jones has struggled mightily, especially in the last two contests, when he completed 55.8 percent of his passes, averaged 130 pass yards per game and threw zero TDs to four INTs. He was replaced by backup Bailey Zappe in the second half of both games.
When nothing is going right, any miscue feels exponentially worse, and there’s no doubt New England is feeling pressure, sitting at 1-4 in mid-October. So where do the Patriots go from here?
The beauty of the Patriots during Bill Belichick's tenure is that they typically are able to reinvent themselves weekly. I have no doubt offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will show some new things schematically Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, and while that won’t solve all the problems, it should help. Jones isn’t comfortable in the pocket right now -- rightfully so -- so the key here is to simplify things and slow this operation way down.
The Patriots should be able to feature a solid two-headed monster in the backfield, between Stevenson and the veteran Ezekiel Elliott. While neither player is averaging above 4.0 yards per carry this season, this is an area where additional focus could drive more offensive success. The Raiders are inconsistent against the run. New England has utilized 12- (one RB, two TEs; 29.9%) and 13-personnel packages (one RB, three TEs; 11.1%) at a much lower rate than their 11-personnel package (three WRs; 50.9%), according to Next Gen Stats. At this point, it's worth trotting out those heavy personnel packages with multiple tight ends to help the RB duo build confidence and produce. Put the ball in the hands of two of the unit’s more talented players and allow them to punish defenses with their downhill style and physical play. It might not be a perfect option, but something must change.
The promise Baltimore’s offense showed early in the season was erased in Week 5. Between Lamar Jackson’s two late giveaways and seven (!) drops by his pass-catchers, it’s best if we just forget about that painful division loss to the Steelers. Outside of that outing, I’ve seen some good things from Jackson in new coordinator Todd Monken’s offense. The former MVP has been challenged to improve as a passer, and for the most part, he’s responded well. In Weeks 1-4, Jackson compiled a 74.3 completion percentage, threw four TD passes against just one INT and posted a 104.2 passer rating. In the season's first five weeks, Jackson ranked fifth in the NFL with a career-high 69.9 completion percentage. He has improved tremendously on his downfield passing, making an accurate throw on nine of his 16 attempts of 20-plus air yards for a career-best 56.3 accuracy percentage -- which ranks third in the league (min. 10 deep accuracy attempts), per Pro Football Focus. From 2020 to 2022, Jackson's deep-accuracy percentage was at 27.5, last in the NFL.
So, if Jackson is playing better than he ever has in the pass game, where does this “soft reset” apply? While Jackson has improved in his efficiency, the Ravens’ overall offensive numbers have declined:
|Ravens offense with Lamar Jackson as the starter
|Points per game
|Total yards per game
|Rush yards per game
|Points per drive
I believe this dip in production centers around Jackson's usage in the run game. He is one of the most terrifying running quarterbacks in the history of football, but the Ravens aren't using him accordingly. Sure, he still leads the team in rush yards this season, just as he's done in each of the last four seasons. However, Jackson has had just 18 designed run plays through five weeks this season, the fewest through five weeks in a season since he became the team's starter in 2019, per Next Gen Stats. He has scrambled 27 times, at least three more times than in any other season through five weeks, but his output on such runs (6.6 yards per carry) is as low as it's ever been in that span.
Altering the game plan to incorporate more designed QB runs would likely boost Baltimore's fourth-ranked rushing attack, because he's averaging more than a full yard more per carry than any running back on the team. It would also help sustain drives and take more pressure off the receivers, who continue to rotate in and out of the lineup due to injuries. Ultimately, the Ravens' offense is at its best when fully utilizing its explosive quarterback, and I believe Monken's unit would see significant improvement on the stat sheet by intentionally incorporating Jackson more in the run game.
Despite Jordan Love’s struggles in the last few weeks, I still have a lot of faith in this offense. The Packers have a strong rushing attack with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, promising young pass catchers (second-year WRs Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs and rookies Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave) and a solid quarterback who is experiencing some expected growing pains. Jones and Watson, both dealing with hamstring injuries early in the season, have only played in one game together. That's not ideal, considering Jones led Green Bay with 1,516 scrimmage yards, and Watson posted a team-high seven receiving touchdowns in 2022. With key players sidelined and this new group still adjusting, Love’s numbers have dipped drastically in recent weeks.
- Weeks 1-2: 7.6 pass yards per attempt, six TDs, zero INTs, 118.8 passer rating, two sacks.
- Weeks 3-5: 6.2 pass yards per attempt, two TDs, six INTs, 57.7 passer rating, eight sacks.
Struggles are expected in a youth-infused offense, and after Monday’s loss to the Raiders, head coach Matt LaFleur seemingly acknowledged as much.
“Trying to reflect on it from a coaching standpoint, it’s great we have this big ol’ call sheet with all these plays to attack certain looks or whatever it may be, and it really doesn’t matter if you can’t execute it," he said Tuesday.
“Just from a coaching standpoint, we may have to look at just how much are we putting in on these guys because, you’re right, we do have a lot of young guys. Although we didn’t have a ton of mental mistakes, it’s just that we did have a few in some critical situations that we can’t have.”
It’s important to remember -- and it seems like LaFleur does -- that the 24-year-old Love is still a young quarterback, and he’s got to be brought along as such. The Packers have shown flashes but still rank 28th in rushing and total yards and 21st in passing. The promising thing is that the first-year starter seems to be learning from his mistakes, not often making the same one week to week. He also continues to put his team in a position to win, even as key playmakers rotate in and out of the lineup to injury. The bye week should help get Green Bay’s playmakers back on the field, and then it's a matter of this team putting it all together.
Top 15 offensive player rankings
Each week in the 2023 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. The Week 6 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 4's rankings.
In Week 4, Christian McCaffrey was EVERYWHERE and then some, scoring four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in San Francisco’s divisional win over Arizona. I don’t think anyone expected him to duplicate that production against Dallas on Sunday, but he did score a rushing touchdown, his seventh of the season. He’s now scored a touchdown in 14 straight games.
Side note: McCaffrey is human. So he lost a fumble in Sunday’s win. It was just the third lost fumble of his career, and he went 995 consecutive carries without losing a fumble before it happened, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.
According to Next Gen Stats, Dolphins players have recorded seven of the top eight speeds by a ball-carrier in the league this season, with Tyreek Hill and rookie running back De’Von Achane each recording three. In Sunday’s win over the Giants, Hill clocked 22.01 miles per hour on a screen play that turned into a 64-yard pickup in the blink of an eye. He posted 181 yards, including a 69-yard TD, on the day and leads the NFL in receiving yards with 651.
The Dolphins are off to their best five-game start since 2003 (when they were also 4-1), and a lot of credit goes to Tua Tagovailoa. He’s been the perfect point guard in Mike McDaniel's offense, which ranks No. 1 overall and has racked up an NFL-record 2,568 total yards through Week 5. He's had some hiccups, including the two picks he threw in Sunday's win, with his TD-to-INT ratio sitting at 11:5. But Tua has played his way into the MVP conversation.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Chiefs' win over the Broncos on Thursday is not being factored into Mahomes' ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Mahomes' play heading into Week 6.
We’ve all come to realize this year’s Chiefs offense isn’t what it’s been the in the past, yet Patrick Mahomes has done a good job of spreading the ball around to his playmakers, and he's (mostly) played better with each passing week. Regardless of how bumpy the road gets for this offense, which, despite everything, still ranks seventh in yards and ninth in points, Kansas City always has a chance with No. 15 under center.
The Bills fell back into their old non-running ways in Sunday's loss to Jacksonville, as they rushed for a measly 29 yards. Josh Allen led the way with 14 of those rushing yards, including a 3-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, on four attempts. That certainly played a role in Buffalo’s slow start; “sleepyhead” Allen failed to put together consecutive scoring drives until the final quarter. This was a much different offense than the one that scored 48 on the Dolphins a week prior.
The last time we saw Herbert, he threw for one TD and ran for two more in a win over the Raiders. He also injured his non-throwing hand in that game, though. He now heads into a prime-time matchup against Dallas with an extra week of rest and preparation. We’ll see how the injury impacts his play -- if at all -- and whether he can take advantage of a defense that allowed 42 points in a humbling loss to the 49ers and is down another starter.
Unfortunately, this will be Justin Jefferson's last appearance on this list for the foreseeable future, since he's been placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury that sidelined him in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. Even before the exit, Jefferson was held in check by Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, tallying just three catches for 28 yards on six targets. The fact that he contributed both offensive TDs in the Vikings' only win of the season so far (at Carolina in Week 4) shows just how detrimental Jefferson's absence will be to Minnesota's efforts to get back into the playoff mix.
Ja’Marr Chase had been heating up in the games leading up to Week 6, when he exploded for 15 receptions, 192 yards and a trio of touchdowns in the Bengals’ must-win game against the Cardinals. Getting Chase involved is huge if the Bengals want to have success. In the team’s two wins this season, Chase has averaged 13.5 catches and 166.5 receiving yards per game. In Cincinnati’s three losses, he has averaged just 5.7 catches and 47.7 receiving yards per contest. If they keep feeding him, the Bengals will be sitting pretty come January.
It’s always fun when tight ends have big outings, and I especially feel that way about George Kittle, who’s known for doing so much in the run game. Kittle had three touchdown receptions in Sunday night’s victory over the Cowboys -- the first game with at least three scores in his career. So many players on this 49ers offense are capable of taking over a game. It was Kittle's turn last week. Who's next?
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Chiefs' win over the Broncos on Thursday is not being factored into Kelce's ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Kelce's play heading into Week 6.
Chiefs Kingdom had a scare Sunday when Travis Kelce was sidelined ahead of halftime with an ankle injury. Fortunately, Kelce was able to fight through the sprain and help lift the Chiefs to a close road win at U.S. Bank Stadium. He finished with 10 catches for 67 yards, including a four-yard TD pass from Patrick Mahomes.
Yes, Brock Purdy has a ton of offensive playmakers at his disposal in the 49ers’ passing attack, but he also deserves some credit for leading this team to a 5-0 start. Through five games, Purdy has completed 72.1 percent of his pass attempts for 1,271 yards, nine touchdowns (zero INTs) and a 123.1 passer rating. He also looked unfazed by Dallas' D in Sunday's win. Like Tua in Miami, Purdy is a masterful point guard at the quarterback position, operating Kyle Shanahan's offense with aplomb.
Diggs put together two impressive outings, following 120 yards and a TD hat trick on six catches against the Dolphins in Week 4 with 121 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions Sunday in London. Josh Allen and Diggs have some of the best chemistry on the field, and it’s a beautiful thing when they’re clicking.
The Eagles are undefeated -- and yet, they're playing far from their best as we head into mid-October. Jalen Hurts has played well enough as a passer; in Sunday’s road win over the Rams, he threw for 303 yards, one TD and one pick. He also rushed for 72 yards . Hurts executes Philly’s “Tush Push” or “Brotherly Shove” with perfection, using it to score on a first-and-goal late as time ran out in the first half. Entering Week 6, he led the NFL with 11 rushing first downs on third- or fourth-and-1 this season.
I am no longer accounting for the 2022 season in this ranking, so it makes perfect sense that Rams rookie Puka Nacua makes his debut here. The star wide receiver held down the fort during Cooper Kupp's absence through the first four weeks of the season, putting up 39 receptions for 501 receiving yards. Kupp was back in the mix in Sunday’s loss, but Nacua still managed seven catches for 71 yards, including an impressive 22-yard TD reception in tight coverage. He’s been as good as anyone this season, setting an NFL record for the most receptions (46) and receiving yards (572) through the first five games of a player’s career in the Super Bowl era.