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NFL overreactions, Week 5: Keep Tua on the bench!

NFL Media researcher Brandon Mendoza identifies several of the biggest overreactions from each week’s set of games. The storylines below are bound to play out because, after all, numbers never lie. Right?

This is, bar none, the best rookie WR class since the 1970 merger

There have been some great wide receiver draft classes throughout NFL history. Like the 2014 class (headlined by Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams), the 2001 class (Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson and Steve Smith Sr.), the 1996 class (Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison), the 1988 class (Michael Irvin, Tim Brown and Sterling Sharpe) and the 1985 class (Jerry Rice and Andre Reed). But the 2020 crop is outshining them all.

On Sunday, the Steelers’ Chase Claypool became the first rookie in NFL history with three-plus receiving TDs and one-plus rushing TD in a game. The Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb then became the first rookie in the Super Bowl era with five-plus receptions in each of his team’s first five games.

Want more proof? 2020’s rookie receivers — which also includes Henry Ruggs III of the Raiders, Jerry Jeudy of the Broncos and Justin Jefferson of the Vikings — have combined for 50.1 receiving yards per game, the most through Week 5 among any rookie group since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger (excluding strike seasons).

The Dolphins should keep Tua on the bench … until 2021!

I know I’m not gaining any new friends in the 808 by suggesting the Dolphins redshirt Tua Tagovailoa for the entirety of his rookie season. But think about this: How many Dolphins QBs have ever had a game with 350-plus passing yards and a completion percentage above 75?

One: Ryan Joseph Fitzpatrick.

In Week 5, Fitzy’s stat line looked like something you’d see in a Green Bay box score: 78.6 completion percentage, 350 passing yards, three TDs, zero interceptions, 154.5 passer rating.

The man standing between Tua and Miami’s starting QB job was tied for the most 300-yard passing games in 2020 (three) heading into Tuesday night’s matchup between the Bills and Titans, having notched two such games in Weeks 4-5. With another 300-yard performance in Week 6 vs. the Jets, he’ll join Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only Dolphins QBs ever to pass for 300-plus yards in three straight games.

In addition, the Dolphins just smacked the defending NFC champions in their own house, securing a 43-17 FitzVictory over the 49ers. Fitzpatrick pushed the Dolphins to top 40 points for just the fifth time since 2000, fewest among all teams in the NFL in that span.

Aaron Donald is a lock to break the single-season sack record

The NFL record for most sacks in a season is 22.5, set by Michael Strahan in 2001. But by the end of the year, it’ll belong to Rams star Aaron Donald.

Here’s why the record will fall to the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, even beyond the fact that his current pace has him on track for 24.0 sacks:

After recording just one sack in his first two games, Donald is heating up, logging 6.5 sacks since Week 3, which is the most in the NFL in that span. In Week 5, Donald tied his single-game career high with 4.0 sacks against the Washington Football Team. The last time Donald had four sacks in a game (in Week 7 of the 2018 season at San Francisco), he proceeded to record two-plus sacks in four of his next five games.

His upcoming menu of QBs also helps, as Donald will play five games against Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. Guess who ranks in the top eight in most sacks taken since 2019? All three of those QBs.

Then there are two games against the 49ers (who have allowed the fourth-most sacks in 2020) and one against the Jets (tied for the eight-most sacks allowed).

Sure, he also has one game against Tom Brady (Week 11), who has never been sacked by Donald. But that just means he’s due!

The Rams are a better running team without Todd Gurley

The Rams rode Todd Gurley to a Super Bowl appearance under Sean McVay, so that formula clearly works — as long as you have 2018 Todd Gurley.

But what do you get if you have 2020 Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers? How about the franchise’s best rushing yards-per-game mark (139.6) since 1987 (when they averaged 139.8)? That is a 45.9-yard improvement from what the 2019 team (93.7) managed in Gurley’s final year with Los Angeles, for those scoring at home.

In 2019, Gurley accounted for the majority (55.6%) of the Rams’ carries (223 of 401). This season, by contrast, the Rams have spread out the attempts, with Henderson logging 58 (34.3%), Brown recording 53 (31.4%) and Akers (who missed two games) putting in 26 (15.4%). The Rams are one of two teams to have three different running backs record 25-plus carries on the season. (The other team is the Colts.)

Why is this all so important? Since 2017, when the Rams rush for 110-plus yards in a game, they are 26-1, with the only loss coming in Week 3 of this season against the Bills, when they fell 3 points short of their greatest comeback in team history. When the Rams rush for less than 110 yards, that record drops to just 11-15.

Russell Wilson is the most clutch QB in NFL history

I tried to leave Russell Wilson out this week, but he just will not be denied.

First, Wilson erased a 13-point halftime deficit to the Vikings by leading the Seahawks to 21 points in 6 minutes, 58 seconds — that’s the second-fastest time to score three touchdowns in the third quarter since 2000. (The 2019 Titans did so in 4 minutes, 36 seconds vs. the Jaguars.)

After the Vikings retook the lead, Wilson found himself on his own 6-yard line, down by five points with 1:57 remaining. The MVP candidate drove the length of the field and found a diving DK Metcalf in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

It was the 30th game-winning drive by Wilson since he entered the NFL in 2012, the most among all QBs. Wilson’s career passer rating in the fourth quarter is 108.0, which is also the best since 1991 (minimum 100 attempts).

The final drive was the third-longest go-ahead TD drive in the last 40 seasons that began after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. Brian Griese drove the Bears 97 yards against the Eagles in 1997, and Jameis Winston went 95 yards against the Saints in the Buccaneers’ 2017 regular-season finale.

The Panthers are Teddy Bridgewater’s team now

Running back Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is eligible to come off injured reserve this week, but head coach Matt Rhule said no decision has been made about when the All-Pro will actually return from a high ankle sprain that was slated to cost him four to six weeks. Well, McCaffrey can take his time — because this is Teddy Bridgewater’s team now!

Consider the production that the rolling Panthers, who have won three straight games without McCaffrey, have accomplished:

  • First two games (with McCaffrey): 23.5 points per game, 4.0 big plays per game
  • Last three games (without McCaffrey): 25.0 points per game, 7.7 big plays per game

Entering 2020, Bridgewater had six career 300-yard passing games, and now he’s up to eight, thanks to a 313-yard performance in Week 5 in Atlanta.

Between Week 3 (McCaffrey’s first game out) and Week 5, Bridgewater compiled a passer rating of 109.3 (ranked 10th in the NFL in that span ahead of Tuesday’s game between the Titans and Bills), a TD-to-INT ratio of 5:1 (tied for seventh) and a completion percentage of 73.5 (fifth).

Rhule does have a history of turning programs around (Baylor went from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 in 2019) — maybe he’s planning on doing so by also flip-flopping the Panthers’ presumed formula for victory!

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