Sam Darnold's Final Straw

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Sam Darnold has finally brought the Panthers’ entire offense down with him.

Darnold’s downturn began with Christian McCaffrey’s (hamstring) departure from the lineup in Week 3, but CMC’s return did not fix what ailed the lost fourth-year quarterback. Darnold was making rookie mistakes against Bill Belichick’s defense, including a trifecta of “bad decision” interceptions. There was the lazy lob on the run, the “never saw the linebacker over the middle of the field,” and the “let the DB run the route for the receiver.” Nathan Peterman would have been proud.

Darnold — who has two touchdowns over the past five weeks — has sunk not only his production, but that of everyone around him. Robby Anderson, who chewed Darnold out on the sideline, is lucky to catch a single pass most weeks, while D.J. Moore has cratered from WR1 to borderline WR2. No one else even merits a mention. Things will probably get much worse before they get better vs. the Cardinals in Week 10.

That is if Darnold even plays. Naturally, coach Matt Rhule is now claiming that Darnold’s shoulder remains an issue, and that an MRI is necessary. How convenient. If Darnold’s testing returns the result Rhule is no doubt praying for, it will then be P.J. Walker under center in the desert. Walker isn’t good, but Darnold has reached the “surely there has to be a better pitcher than this in Triple-A” stage of his season. Regardless of whether it is Darnold or Walker, the Panthers’ only real hope is that McCaffrey gets the entire offense going vs. a run-funnel defense.

Five Week 9 Storylines

Chase Edmonds injures ankle, James Conner goes off for 176 yards and three touchdowns. With Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) on the shelf, the Cardinals needed to lean on their run game. So it wasn’t exactly an ideal development when Edmonds departed after one touch. Enter Conner, who was a workhorse compiler whenever he wasn’t battling injury in Pittsburgh. To this point a vulture nuisance in 2021, Conner reverted to his original form, churning up 21/96/2 on the ground and checking in behind only Christian Kirk with 5/77/1 through the air. No one, very much including me, had much nice to say about it on Twitter, but we can’t claim Conner didn’t have it in him. With Edmonds probably on the wrong side of questionable for Week 10, Conner will push for RB1 valuation vs. a Panthers run defense that sprung major leaks against the Patriots.

Saints feature Taysom Hill surprisingly little vs. Falcons. Hill attempted only two passes, with the attempts coming on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. Hill generated a much-needed 33 yards on those throws, but coach Sean Payton promptly went back to Trevor Siemian, explaining afterwards Hill’s attempts were simply “a package of plays for the situation.” It was surprising to see a coach who has never hidden his love for his Swiss-Army quarterback dial up all of three touches in the team’s first game without Jameis Winston, but it might have had something to do with the fact that Hill had not played since Week 5 with a concussion. With the cavalry not coming in the league’s most undermanned receiver corps, Hill is going to be needed for more. It should start coming in Week 10 vs. the streaking Titans.

Titans’ backfield three-man quagmire in first game without Derrick Henry. Adrian Peterson led in carries but looked like an old man going side to side. Jeremy McNichols led in receptions and yards from scrimmage but looked much the same as he did before The Big Dog’s injury. D’Onta Foreman somehow led in rushing yards and YPC, but did not hint at a mid-career second wind. All in all, it was a low-impact performance this run-heavy offense was lucky to overcome in a stunning road upset. This is a backfield nowhere close to sorting itself out, and one probably not even yet in its final form. More free agent calls could need to be made. If you have to place a bet for Week 10 vs. the Saints’ stout run defense, make it McNichols in PPR. Leave everyone else in the touchdown-dependent RB4 bin.

Stefon Diggs fails to reach 100 yards for the seventh time in eight games. One of the theories for Diggs’ depressed 2021 output has been a lack of competitive game scripts. One of the realities has been a lower target ceiling beget by increased competition for looks. The former finally materialized on Sunday but the latter remained an issue. Diggs drew fewer passes than slot nuisance Cole Beasley and as many as Devin Singletary and Emmanuel Sanders. That simply did not happen last season. Diggs is just one game away from matching his sub-100 total from all of 2020. Diggs is essentially drawing even with last year’s yards per catch but is trailing by nearly a half yard in yards per route run. He is spending less time in the slot and averaging fewer yards after the catch. Like his entire offense, Diggs has been slightly less explosive while nevertheless remaining in striking distance of last year’s glory. He will have a tailor-made breakout opportunity in Week 10 vs. a Jets “defense” that allowed the Colts to run layup lines in Week 9.

Tyrod Taylor bombs in first appearance since Week 2. After showing surprising juice his first two starts, Taylor finally looked like a Texans quarterback vs. the Dolphins, tossing three atrocious picks, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt, taking five sacks and flashing little threat on the ground. Speaking afterward, coach David Culley wasn’t exactly glowing in his endorsement. With the Texans heading on bye for Week 10, they could decide the best course of action in this lost season is to continue developing Davis Mills, who has been part Peterman, part surprisingly decent third-round rookie. Taylor may have been better off traded to a quarterback-desperate team like the Saints. This has the feel of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

Five More Week 9 Storylines

Javonte Williams has first 100-yard game as Melvin Gordon remains involved for 21/80/1. We hoped the trade deadline would turn the leaf in the Broncos’ backfield, inspiring this spiraling squad to see what it has in its rookie even though its veteran seems to have plenty left in the tank. Sunday, we got both, with Gordon remaining stubbornly involved but Williams posting a new season high for carries by three. His previous biggest workload came all the way back in Week 1. Williams ripped runs of 11, 20, seven, 17, 30, seven and 10 yards against a Cowboys defense that entered the proceedings allowing the eighth fewest running back fantasy points. Gordon, of course, was the only back to be targeted in the passing game, while Teddy Bridgewater also vultured a score. There is a long way to go, but Williams at least went somewhere Sunday. An Eagles run D that boasts solid efficiency marks but gets pummeled for volume is on tap for Week 10.

Justin Jefferson receives only three targets following 50-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Ravens entered Week 9 surrendering the league’s most passing yards. Jefferson showed why when he got behind the entire defense on his score. The Vikings then showed why they stay losing despite their big plays and offensive superstars. Jefferson was held to three-or-fewer grabs on five-or-fewer looks for the second consecutive game as the Vikings opted for predictable runs and regrettable punts in yet another close game they frittered away for no reason, somehow once again in overtime. The conservative usage has Jefferson checking in as the WR25 by average half PPR points over the past five weeks. That is not good enough for fantasy managers, and definitely not good enough for a team that keeps losing agonizingly close contests. The Vikings understandably emphasize touches for offensive weapon Dalvin Cook. It is time they do the same for Jefferson, whose play-making ability frazzles defenses and changes games.

Trevor Lawrence somehow not a bright spot in Jaguars’ Bills upset. The Bills pulled off the most shocking victory of the season despite their quarterback completing 57.7 percent of his throws and averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. Held out of the end zone, Lawrence has now provided one or zero passing scores in seven consecutive starts. To add injury to insult, he picked up an ankle issue, albeit one he played through. Struggling to be elevated by a limited supporting cast, Lawrence has stopped doing any elevating himself on the ground, where he has rushed just eight times for 26 scoreless yards over his past three appearances. The dual-threat isn’t about to return with his ankle on ice. Lawrence is looking like a bottom-five QB2/superflex for the second half of the season.

What is dead may never die: Jordan Howard leads Eagles’ suddenly run-focused offense. It had gotten to the point where you could count Miles Sanders’ carries on two hands. Now the Eagles are sending caravans down the highway, piling up 412 yards rushing on 85 attempts (4.84 YPC) over their past two contests. Howard has seen the bulk of the work, taking the rock 29 times for 128 yards (4.41 YPC) and three touchdowns. Safely ahead of banished rookie pass catcher Kenneth Gainwell, Howard has also easily leaped Boston Scott. His heavy usage has come against a talent-less Lions defense and run-deficient Chargers unit. This is not case closed. He will nevertheless have another golden Week 10 opportunity against a Broncos team that won’t be putting anyone away early regardless of what the Cowboys might have you think. Howard is a hold-your-nose RB3/FLEX.

Jordan Love thickens the plot in Kansas City. Love at least knew to throw at Daniel Sorensen. The gift that keeps on giving to opposing quarterbacks granted Love a hilarious 20-yard touchdown to Allen Lazard. Beyond that, Loved looked every bit like a player who was picked off 17 times the last time he played in the Mountain West, displaying erratic ball placement, poor judgment, zero feel for the rush and little drive on his passes. Even after a year plus of “learning” behind one of the greatest to ever play the game, Love looked like a Day 3 rookie with little familiarity with how NFL offenses are run in 2021. That is a plainly disastrous development for a franchise that seems certain to lose its critically-thinking franchise player this offseason. If Aaron Rodgers departs in 2022, Davante Adams may not be far behind in forcing his way out.

Questions

1. If Cordarrelle Patterson can put an NFL franchise on his back, why aren’t you?

2. How does Nick Sirianni decide if he is going to only run or only pass that week?

3. Remember when Kyle Shanahan didn’t want to sign Tom Brady?

Early Waiver Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

QB: Teddy Bridgewater (vs. PHI), Taylor Heinicke (vs. TB), Tua Tagovailoa (vs. BAL), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. DET), Mike White (vs. BUF)
RB: Mark Ingram, Jordan Howard, Devonta Freeman, Ty Johnson, Jaret Patterson, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, D’Onta Foreman
WR: Michael Gallup, Darnell Mooney, Elijah Moore, Rashod Bateman, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Sterling Shepard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Russell Gage
TE: Tyler Conklin, Dan Arnold, Pat Freiermuth, Evan Engram, Cole Kmet, David Njoku, Adam Trautman
DEF: Broncos (vs. PHI), Chargers (vs. MIN), Titans (vs. NO), Panthers (@AZ), Eagles (@DEN)
On Bye: Bears, Bengals, Giants, Texans

Stats of the Week

As Jared Smola lays out, George Kittle was scarcely eased back in his long-overdue return, playing 73 percent of the 49ers’ snaps, running routes on 67 percent of his plays and drawing a 20 percent target share. Only seven players drew more Week 9 air yards.

100 percent. That’s how many of D’Ernest Johnson’s “opportunities” came in garbage time. The Browns might finally be going to a one-back approach with Nick Chubb as Kareem Hunt (calf) remains on the mend.

Via Scott Kacsmar: The Bills were the first 14-plus point favorite in NFL history to lose a game when holding their opponent to under 10 points. Actually stunning.

Also Via Scott: The Eagles have had five games where the opposing quarterback completed more than 80 percent of his passes. That is already a new NFL record by two.

420. How many days it had been since the Jags won a game in America.

56. How many yards D.J. Moore is averaging over his past five games. You can have Moore or you can have Sam Darnold, but you can’t have both.

Awards Section

Week 9 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Lamar Jackson, RB James Conner, RB Jonathan Taylor, WR Elijah Moore, WR DeVonta Smith, WR Keenan Allen, TE George Kittle

Tweet of the Week, from Pat Thorman: Adam Gase just needed to get away from Sam Darnold.

Tweet of the Week II, from Gregg Rosenthal listening to Troy Aikman discuss Jordan Love’s first start: I am concerned for Troy Aikman’s blood pressure.

Fact of the Week: Sunday was the first time the Jaguars had made a field goal in America this season. William Bradford’s Plymouth Colony is finally taking seed.

Carson Wentz Memorial Performance of the Week: Matthew Stafford tossing back-to-back horrific interceptions inside his own 20-yard line, the second of which was returned for a touchdown.

Pointless Power Move of the Week: The Chiefs sitting Jordan Love’s mom on Jupiter to watch her son’s first NFL start.

Andy Dalton Prime Time Memorial Award: Patrick Mahomes’ 166 yards on 37 attempts against the Packers.

Turn In Your Gun and Badge Award: Demario Davis getting juked not once, but twice by Matt Ryan.