What we learned from Week 8 in the NFL
By Derrik Klassen
With NFC teams playing disconcertingly average football, only the 6-1 Minnesota Vikings have established a cushion in their division, while the NFC East, led by the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles has looked like the toughest division in football.
Through Week 8, though, the sample size of performances has given way to some concrete takeaways about which teams can contend and which records look funny when held up to the light.
There’s no good way to counter the Eagles’ offense.
The Eagles do a lot schematically on offense. They rely on two-tight-end sets more than most offenses and often deploy quarterback Jalen Hurts in a creative run game; Philadelphia dials up effective run-pass options and can still burn opposing secondaries with passes deep down the sideline.
No specific personnel packages or play concepts define the Eagles offense, though. Coach Nick Sirianni’s philosophy is no more complicated than “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Every week, the overwhelming talent of the Eagles (7-0) allows for simple play-calling: Sirianni and staff find the one thing the defense cannot defend and spam it relentlessly.
When they played the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4, zone read was their play of choice, as they endlessly picked on Jacksonville’s young defensive front.
The next week against the Arizona Cardinals, Sirianni repeatedly called run-pass options with routes into the flat, forcing Arizona’s defenders to decide if they wanted to guard against the run or fly out to the sideline to prevent the quick throws that rack up yards after catch.
On Sunday, in the Eagles’ 35-13 win against the Steelers (2-6), the game plan followed a similar theme. Though featuring a solid defense overall, Pittsburgh is weak at cornerback, and the Eagles took advantage. Hurts’ first three touchdowns were all deep shots to A.J. Brown down the right side. The first score featured Brown lining up tighter to the formation before he expanded outside during his vertical route. The next two were nothing more than simple go balls thrown down the sideline.
As Hurts threw straight down the field to Brown, a speedster who can win balls through contact, Pittsburgh could not stop their connection without dedicating all of the defense’s schematic resources to it.
Going all in to stop one effective Eagles tactic is no answer, either. Philadelphia has the personnel to simply pivot to the quarterback run game, or the screen game, or RPOs, or whatever has opened up. The Eagles always have something, and they know how to find it every week, every drive, every play.
Around the NFL
Bills 27, Packers 17: It was a tale of two halves for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. In the first half, Allen torched the Green Bay Packers’ secondary, throwing touchdowns on two consecutive drives before leading the charge for an Isaiah McKenzie rushing touchdown on the next drive. But in a 3-point second half, Allen threw two picks, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers back into the game, although Green Bay’s second-half push proved too little, too late.
Commanders 17, Colts 16: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger almost got away with a win in his first NFL start. The Colts led for nearly all of the fourth quarter, but a miraculous deep ball from Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke to wideout Terry McLaurin with less than 30 seconds left gave Washington the ball on the 1-yard line, and Heinicke ran it in on the next play for the lead.
49ers 31, Rams 14: While the play of San Francisco’s front seven is usually the driving force in the team’s victories, especially over the Rams, this time it was Christian McCaffrey. After a full week of digesting the playbook and getting familiar with his team, McCaffrey looked unstoppable scoring three touchdowns.
Seahawks 27, Giants 13: It took a minute for the Seattle Seahawks’ offense to get moving, but it came alive in the second half thanks to a few explosive plays. Quarterback Geno Smith found Tyler Lockett on a 33-yard throw with 9:18 to go in the fourth quarter, giving the Seahawks the lead for good.
Titans 17, Texans 10: Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Malik Willis made his first start in place of an injured Ryan Tannehill, but coach Mike Vrabel did not put the offense on his shoulders right away. The Titans fully embraced Derrick Henry, giving him 32 carries; Henry’s 219 yards was the highest single-game mark in the league this year.
Patriots 22, Jets 17: Mac Jones got off to a horrific start, throwing an interception early as the Patriots fell behind, 10-3. Zach Wilson got off to a hot start, throwing for 132 yards and a touchdown through his first 13 attempts. But the game quickly turned with 2 minutes left in the first half. Wilson threw three interceptions from that point on, while the Patriots capitalized on the field position and churned out 16 second-half points.
Falcons 37, Panthers 34 (OT): Nobody wants to win the NFC South. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, the Falcons surrendered a 6-point lead to the Panthers on P.J. Walker’s 62-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore. The extra point should have given the Panthers the win, but Moore took his helmet off after the touchdown, resulting in a penalty enforced on the attempt. Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro then missed the kick, sending the game to overtime. Pineiro missed a 32-yard potential game-winning field goal in overtime, and Atlanta converted on a 41-yard field goal to put everyone out of their misery. The 4-4 Falcons now lead the NFC South.
Cowboys 49, Bears 29: This game got away from the Bears immediately. Dak Prescott layered passes all over the field, building a 14-0 first-quarter lead by rifling in deep seam throws to CeeDee Lamb just as easily as he found timely checkdowns to keep the sticks moving.
Dolphins 31, Lions 27: The Lions tend to play one good half of football each week. On Sunday, it came in the first half, when Detroit jumped out to a 27-17 lead. The Dolphins’ offense ebbed and flowed depending on how open Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were 20 yards down the field. Miami’s chaotic defense came alive in the second half, though, and goose-egged the Lions the rest of the way, giving Tua Tagovailoa the opportunity to throw the team to a second-half comeback.
Vikings 34, Cardinals 26: Kliff Kingsbury can’t help but put DeAndre Hopkins on the left side of the formation and pray for the best. Hopkins still earned his production (12 catches, 159 yards and a touchdown), but the lack of creativity and movement limited the rest of the offense despite A.J. Green’s return from injury. The Vikings escaped with another relatively close win, thanks to season highs in rushing (111) and receiving yards (30) from running back Dalvin Cook.
Saints 24, Raiders 0: The Raiders join the Colts and Lions as the only teams to be shut out this season. Derek Carr and the passing game were horrendous. Not only did Davante Adams earn just 3 yards on one reception, but Hunter Renfrow gained only 6 yards on one reception as well. Carr was perpetually rattled by the Saints’ pass rush, and there weren’t many receivers open down the field in the few instances he was able to hang in the pocket. Andy Dalton and the Saints slowly carved up the Las Vegas defense with the occasional explosive play from Alvin Kamara (two receiving touchdowns, one rushing).
Broncos 21, Jaguars 17: All it took was one miracle throw from Russell Wilson to earn the win. After an up-and-down performance for most of the game, Wilson nailed K.J. Hamler down the right sideline for a 47-yard gain with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter. The play immediately put the Broncos in scoring range, setting them up for the go-ahead touchdown six plays later.