B/R Staff NFL Week 7 Report Card: Mike McCarthy Could Be One-and-Done in Big D
Two sides of the NFL currently exist.
One side features the AFC North, where the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns own a combined 16-3 record and have only lost one game to an opponent outside the division. The Cincinnati Bengals might have a 1-5-1 record, but Joe Burrow and Co. are giving opponents all they can handle.
On the other side, the NFC East is an embarrassment to the rest of the league as the Philadelphia Eagles lead the way with an underwhelming 2-4-1 record.
A large disparity exists between the haves and have-nots. Seven teams have yet to record their second victory of the season.
In those extremes, the league's most intriguing storylines are developing.
- Will Mike McCarthy remain the Dallas Cowboys head coach beyond this season?
- Can the 2-5 Washington Football Team claim a division crown?
- Are the Pittsburgh Steelers the NFL's best squad?
- How much fun was it to watch Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow topping each other during the latest battle of Ohio?
B/R's panel of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Kalyn Kahler and Matt Miller—discussed these topics and more while assigning grades to each scenario.
Battle of Ohio Showdown
The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns met in the second Battle of Ohio this season, and a Big 12-like shootout commenced.
Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow threw haymaker after haymaker trying to knock the other squad down for the count. The game featured an NFL first with five go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown passes, per Elias Sports (h/t ESPN's Jake Trotter).
Ultimately, Mayfield was the last man standing when he delivered a beautiful 24-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds remaining.
"He played unbelievable," Burrow told reporters of Mayfield's performance.
Mayfield completed 22 of 28 passes—including a franchise-record 21 straight completions, per ESPN Stats & Info—for 297 yards and five touchdowns. Burrow, meanwhile, set a new career high with 406 passing yards.
When both performances are placed under a microscope, how did each of these young quarterbacks handle what turned into arguably the most exciting game of the weekend?
Brad Gagnon: Burrow, B+; Mayfield, A
Burrow wasn't as strong altogether, his team lost, and he made more mistakes than Mayfield, who was excellent without his top receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. Still, we shouldn't be grading the two on the same scale. Mayfield still has more support and should be a lot further along than a rookie.
Brent Sobleski: Burrow, A-; Mayfield A-
While the game itself was so entertaining to watch, we can't gloss over a couple of things. First, Mayfield threw a terrible interception on his first attempt, and Burrow nearly threw the game away with an awful toss that Browns cornerback Terrance Mitchell inexplicably dropped. Second, both defenses are terrible. With those things out of the way, each organization should be quite happy with its quarterback's performance. The Browns, in particular, needed Mayfield to work his way out of his previous funk, and he certainly did.
Gary Davenport: Burrow, A-; Mayfield, A-
When Mayfield's only completion of the first quarter was an interception, it looked like it was going to be a rough day. Instead, it was maybe the best game of his career with five scoring passes in a wild comeback win. Burrow was no slouch either, topping 400 passing yards for the first time in his career. The only reason both quarterbacks don't earn an A from me is their turnovers, but they were both a ton of fun to watch.
Kalyn Kahler: Burrow, A; Mayfield, A
These guys went throw for throw in an exciting Ohio shootout. Mayfield's day started off terribly, but he quickly recovered, and Burrow threw his first 400-yard game while losing three starting offensive linemen.
Matt Miller: Burrow, A+; Mayfield, A
The future of the AFC North likely resides in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson, but there is a showdown in Ohio that figures to be a shootout going forward as long as Mayfield and Burrow are under center. Sunday's second matchup between the two didn't disappoint as the game came down to a Burrow Hail Mary attempt as time expired. It might not have been the most beautiful display of football, but it was an exciting game that points to future matchups that will be very exciting.
Mike McCarthy’s Job Security by End of Season
The Mike McCarthy era for the Dallas Cowboys could be over before it ever really begins.
Dallas is now 2-5 after Sunday's 25-3 loss to the rival Washington Football Team. The lackluster performance came days after public ridicule from certain people within the locker room.
Players told NFL Network's Jane Slater that the coaching staff is "totally unprepared. They don't teach. They don't have any sense of adjusting on the fly."
Another player added, "They just aren’t good at their jobs."
These rumblings, along with an underwhelming on-field product, might have Cowboys owner Jerry Jones rethinking last offseason's hiring process.
Could McCarthy be a one-and-done head coach? Where does his job security currently stand?
Brad Gagnon: A-
None of this is good, and you just never know with Jerry Jones. But he's become a lot more patient in recent years, and injuries will be used as an excuse to give McCarthy a shot in 2021.
Brent Sobleski: D
One-and-done coaches are becoming more common. No billionaire owner wants to admit to making such a huge blunder. But the thought of trudging through lost season after lost season is far less appealing. The Cowboys are talented, albeit injury-rattled at the moment. With the right staff in place, they could be set up to win at a high level for years to come.
Gary Davenport: D-
Had you asked me at the start of the season if there was any way McCarthy would be one-and-done in Dallas, I probably would have said no. Now it's looking more likely by the week. It's not just that the Cowboys are terrible; Slater's report earlier this week brings into question whether the coach has already lost the locker room.
Kalyn Kahler: C
Just when we thought the injury situation in Dallas couldn't get worse, Andy Dalton gets wiped out with a nasty hit. That's all out of McCarthy's control, but the anonymous player gripes last week suggest he has not won over his players, and the lack of response from any Dallas offensive lineman after their quarterback was laid out on the dirtiest hit of the season also spoke volumes about the state of the team. If Dallas doesn't show signs of life and improvement the rest of this season, and the player complaints keep coming, Jerry Jones may be forced to start over again. It's too early to say right now, but McCarthy has not looked like a fit there. Though Jones has been patient in the past with Jason Garrett, he doesn't have the same relationship with McCarthy and could decide to find a better coach for the job.
Matt Miller: F
It's not Mike McCarthy's fault Andy Dalton was lost for the game due to a cheap shot from Jon Bostic, but the other issues on this team do belong on the coach's shoulders. Team owner Jerry Jones has to know that the decision to replace Jason Garrett with the former Green Bay Packers head coach was a poor one. Look for Dallas to start talking to prospective head coaching candidates sooner than later.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Chances of Winning the AFC
Over the last two weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers handled the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans, who currently sport a combined 10-3 record.
Tennessee gave Pittsburgh everything it could handle and nearly made an improbable comeback after trailing 27-7 in the third quarter. A missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal became the difference between these two franchises as Pittsburgh escaped Nashville with a 27-24 victory.
"Thankfully, our guys didn't blink and were able to hold it together and make enough plays to secure a victory," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. "Not a perfect product. We understand that. We are perfect from a record standpoint and so we respect that."
At 6-0, Pittsburgh remains the AFC's only undefeated team. Considering the Steelers' record and recent run, what are the chances they become the team to beat in the conference and emerge as its Super Bowl representative?
Brad Gagnon: B+
They nearly blew that game, and they still have to travel to Baltimore, Buffalo and Cleveland. The Kanas City Chiefs are no lock with a target on their back, but the AFC West isn't as strong as the AFC North, so I'm still leaning in Kansas City's direction.
Brent Sobleski: A-
The Steelers have the formula to win not only a conference title but also another Super Bowl. They have an experienced quarterback with numerous weapons to exploit, while the defense is the league's best. It's a tried-and-true approach through decades of professional football. The Chiefs are still lurking, though. As the great philosopher Ric Flair stated, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man."
Gary Davenport: B
For about half of Sunday's game in Nashville, the Steelers looked like the best team not only in the AFC but also in all of the NFL. But the Titans came all the way back and nearly sent the game to overtime—a reminder that as good as the Steelers are, they aren't invincible. Pittsburgh is talented and balanced with maybe the league's best defense. But Kansas City, Baltimore and Tennessee aren't going down without a fight.
Kalyn Kahler: B
The Steelers certainly have the best defense in the AFC. The Patriots look lost, and the Bills have flaws. But the Ravens, Chiefs and Titans will provide some major competition for the Steelers' conference championship hopes.
Matt Miller: A+
Why can't this be Pittsburgh's year? Ben Roethlisberger is playing fantastic football, there are plenty of playmakers on offense, and the defense is absolutely stout. As long as the Steelers can stay relatively healthy, they look like the team to beat in the AFC right now.
Washington Football Team's Playoff Chances Behind That Defense
Amazingly, the 2-5 Washington Football Team is still very much in the mix of the dismal NFC East after Sunday's 25-3 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensively, Washington dismantled an undermanned Cowboys offense. It did exactly what a good defense should do against a bad opponent. The unit allowed only 142 total yards, sacked Dallas' quarterbacks six times and intercepted Andy Dalton once.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera admitted the team's roster is far from complete.
"I feel very comfortable with the pieces we have, but we need more," Rivera told reporters.
With that in mind, Washington features more talent on defense, particularly along its ferocious defensive line, than on the other side of the ball. Will it be enough to surpass the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles, who currently own a half-game advantage?
Brad Gagnon: B+
I think this will come down to Philadelphia and Washington, and the WFT is healthier and on a slightly more promising trajectory right now. That Philadelphia-Washington Week 17 matchup could decide who hosts a playoff game despite the winner likely possessing a losing record.
Brent Sobleski: C
Someone has to win this thing, right? I mean, we're not allowed to just ignore the NFC East and take away the automatic playoff berth from the division, are we? Since that's not possible, Washington has as good a shot in the division as anyone else, though I'd now give the edge to the Eagles because they've shown a propensity to overcome adversity throughout Doug Pederson's coaching tenure.
Gary Davenport: D
Washington's front seven is legit, and the WFT (please just name the damn team already) can't be totally dismissed in the awful NFC (L)East. But Washington's offense is, um, yeah—Sunday's effort against Dallas notwithstanding. My money is on the Eagles getting healthy enough to "win" the division at 7-8-1 before losing at home by 20 in the Wild Card Round.
Kalyn Kahler: B
Washington's defensive line is scary, and they say somebody has to win the NFC East. At 2-5, the Football Team is very much in the running.
Matt Miller: B
Not that the first-place team in this division can be called a winner, but the Washington Football Team has the defensive talent to win a bad NFC East. And with Kyle Allen playing well enough (against a terrible defense) to give the team leads and force the opposing offenses to throw the ball, the pass rush is able to tee off on quarterbacks and secure wins.
Cam Newton’s Start in New England
Cam Newton's brief tenure as the New England Patriots quarterback has already hit a rocky patch.
Sunday's 33-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was New England's worst home loss since Bill Belichick became head coach. The last time the Patriots posted a stretch of three straight games in which they scored 12 or fewer points came 27 years ago, per ESPN Stats & Info (h/t ESPN's Mike Reiss).
Newton threw three interceptions and managed only 98 passing yards before he was benched and Jarrett Stidham took over the offense.
Belichick told reporters after the game that Newton "absolutely" remains the Patriots' starting quarterback.
"Just wanted to give Stid a little experience here," the coach said.
The Patriots are now 2-4 and 2.5 games behind the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills. Considering the quarterback's latest performance, where does everyone stand on Newton's time in New England so far?
Brad Gagnon: D-
Even before that three-interception bomb that resulted in his benching in Week 7, Newton was the league's sixth-lowest-rated qualified passer. I'm afraid he might be done.
Brent Sobleski: C-
Things started well before they began falling apart for the Patriots, and the onus doesn't fall entirely on Newton. No one on the receiver corps is consistently creating separation and getting open. Newton had a stint on the COVID list. Injuries can be found throughout the offense, as well. The quarterback would have to play like his old MVP self to save New England's season, and that's simply not realistic.
Gary Davenport: D
Newton has admittedly been bad, especially in the last two games with barely 250 combined passing yards, five picks and no scores. But he's hardly the only reason the Patriots stink on offense. Julian Edelman has been on a milk carton, and the Patriots don't have anyone else who scares defenses even a little.
Kalyn Kahler: C
It's amazing how much can change in a few weeks. At the beginning of this month, the Bears were still taking heat for not signing Newton and instead trading for Foles. Now they don't look quite as bad for prioritizing Foles' familiarity with the system over Newton's potential. Josh McDaniels will have to rethink this offense to help his struggling quarterback. Backup Jarrett Stidham has looked helpless in limited action this season, so this coaching staff will need to find the answers with Newton. And things aren't much better on defense, where the 49ers completely took advantage of a weak linebacker group.
Matt Miller: D
Early in the season, it looked like Belichick fleeced the NFL in signing Newton to a veteran minimum deal, but since returning from a COVID-19 quarantine, he has not looked the same. I was willing to write off his struggles in previous weeks to the rust of missing games and practices and also the physical toll the virus can take, but the turnovers and inaccurate throws are concerning enough that the Patriots benched Newton in Week 7. I wanted this to work, but it doesn't look like it is.
Justin Herbert’s Odds of Winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Los Angeles Chargers rookie Justin Herbert has been spectacular since taking over as the team's starting quarterback in Week 2.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, he is the fifth quarterback in NFL history with three passing touchdowns and a rushing score within his first five career games since 1970.
As a passer, he left Sunday's late afternoon slate tied with leading MVP candidate Russell Wilson in throwing eight touchdown passes of 20 or more yards downfield, per Pro Football Focus.
In his first five games, he threw for 1,542 yards and 14 total touchdowns, and he is earning respect around the league quickly.
"This man Herbert throws some dimes...not even watching their game, but every highlight is a dime by the kid," San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted.
Multiple standout rookies can be found around the league, but what are the odds Herbert surpasses them all to win this season's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award?
Brad Gagnon: A
You can't rule out Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Joe Burrow and several shining wide receivers, but Herbert's numbers are Pro Bowl-caliber. It's incredible considering the circumstances related to COVID-19 and the depleted Chargers.
Brent Sobleski: B
Herbert looks like a No. 1 overall draft pick, even though the Chargers chose him with this year's sixth selection. He's been fantastic, but competition for Offensive Rookie of the Year will be stiff. Burrow continues to post big passing numbers. Edwards-Helaire is a dynamic option in the Chiefs' fantastic offense. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson has been great for the Minnesota Vikings. Herbert should have an early edge, and this will be an exciting race for the rest of the season.
Gary Davenport: B
Herbert has been great of late, and right now it looks like a two-horse race between him and Burrow (although Tua Tagovailoa may have something to say about that). At this point, with both playing at such a high level, it may come down to which team has more success and which signal-caller gets more national exposure.
Kalyn Kahler: A
Herbert finally gets his first win as Chargers starter after going winless in four impressive performances against Patrick Mahomes, Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Herbert has exceeded expectations and showed what many NFL scouts believed: that Oregon's offense last season didn't let him reach his full potential. He's shown his athleticism and touch on the ball and has quickly developed a rapport with his playmakers. Herbert has left no doubt that he is the Chargers' franchise quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how Tagovailoa, drafted just one spot ahead of Herbert, compares in his debut next week.
Matt Miller: A+
No disrespect to Burrow, who is playing very well, but this is Herbert's award right now. His arm strength, over-the-top accuracy and mobility are keeping the Chargers in games they shouldn't be in. Herbert is the long-term answer for L.A., and an exciting one at that.