As the 2019 NFL regular season rolls into Week 11, NFL Network analyst and former Super Bowl-winning executive Charley Casserly provides five storylines to watch on Sunday.
Quarterback Nick Foles returns this week from the broken collarbone he suffered in Week 1. He played all of two drives before he was injured vs. the Chiefs, but this is what I saw from him in that tiny sample size with the Jags: Foles showed poise, and the ability to find the second receiver in his progression. He also kept his eyes downfield when moving in the pocket. On the play in which he was injured, Foles showed accuracy and touch on a 35-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark. He went 5 of 8 for 75 yards, a TD and a 132.8 passer rating in his Jacksonville debut.
Gardner Minshew played well at times and showed promise when filling in for Foles, but the rookie, who was 4-4 as the starter, is still raw and inconsistent. That's why I'm confident the Jags will improve with the veteran back under center. With the passer's experience in reading coverages, calmness in the pocket and ability to execute accurate deep throws, the Jaguars should improve their production on third down (25th in the NFL) and in the red zone (30th). The Super Bowl LII MVP brings a level of confidence to the huddle that will rub off on his teammates, so I expect Foles' Jags to look different this weekend.
Several of Jimmy Garoppolo's weaknesses showed in last week's loss to Seattle. The Seahawks did a great job of keeping Garoppolo guessing and forcing him to make difficult throws by limiting the 49ers' second-ranked rushing attack while also playing tough defense against their receivers. After talking to several coaches, they feel that if defenses take away the underneath routes, Garoppolo will struggle to find the next open receiver. That held true against Seattle, as he looked confused at times. George Kittle didn't play in that game and Emmanuel Sanders exited early with a ribs injury, but that doesn't change the fact that Garoppolo threw the ball a career-high 46 times but wasn't all that effective. The Seahawks kept the passer in the pocket, pressured him and took away the bootleg and playaction games. This recipe isn't ideal for an offense that thrives behind the success of its running backs, so look for the 49ers to get back to being a run-first unit against the Cardinals on Sunday.
The Los Angeles Rams have been humbled this season as they sit third in the NFC West at 5-4 a year after the team played in Super Bowl LIII. The Rams' fall from grace is due in part to Sean McVay's offense looking out of sorts for a majority of the 2019 season, averaging 7.8 fewer points per game than it did a year ago. The two biggest factors in the Rams' offensive issues are the play of the offensive line and decline in use of Todd Gurley.
The offensive line has brought continuity to the Rams' offense over the previous two seasons, but it's not providing such reliability in 2019. Los Angeles parted ways with two O-linemen from last year's team with guard Rodger Saffold signing with Tennessee in free agency and the Rams declining to pick up an option on veteran center John Sullivan. After moving on from two former staples, the offensive line featured LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Joseph Noteboom, C Brian Allen, RG Austin Blythe and RT Rob Havenstein in Week 1. Entering Week 11's contest with the Bears, the starters up front are expected to be Whitworth, LG Austin Corbett, C Blythe, RG David Edwards and RT Bobby Evans -- Noteboom and Allen are on injured reserve while Havenstein (knee) will be sidelined for at least one game. According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams' offensive line has struggled in every capacity, earning the second-lowest overall, pass-blocking, and run-blocking grades this season one year after finishing in the top five in all three categories.
The poor play of the line has affected Jared Goff immensely, as the franchise QB has been pressured on 30.5 percent of dropbacks this season -- his highest rate under McVay (pressured on 27.5 and 23.7 percent of dropbacks in 2017 and '18, respectively). Further, Goff finished with 12 INTs in 2018 but has already thrown nine picks through nine games this season.
Now let's take a look at Gurley. He was an MVP candidate last season when teams catered their defensive game plans to stopping him. However, injuries limited him late last season and, unfortunately, it appears years of wear and tear have taken their toll on the All-Pro. He has career lows in touches (14.9) and carries (13), as well as scrimmage yards (63.6), rush yards (53.5) and receiving yards (10.1) per game in 2019. With Gurley playing a lesser role, it feels like the Rams are beating themselves by not fully utilizing his abilities. Will we see any offensive progress against the Bears this weekend? Time will tell.
Expect the Patriots to be well-rested and determined to get revenge on the team that beat them in Super Bowl LII. To do that, Tom Brady and the Patriots might run an up-tempo offense, which proved to be successful in Week 9, even though they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots should use the same up-tempo approach this week against the Eagles because it gives them an advantage in several areas. First and foremost, the Patriots have always been a well-conditioned team and playing at a fast pace wears out the defense, ultimately weakening its pass rush. It also helps mask some of their offensive line issues by keeping the defense off balance. The tempo plays into the strength of Brady's quick release and ability to read defenses. Using this approach against the Eagles should prove successful. Philly's secondary has struggled even when healthy, and covering Julian Edelman and James White out of the backfield will be even tougher in this scheme. If the Patriots want to get back on track, go right after the defense from the start.
You get what you emphasize, and the Eagles have found success in the run game by emphasizing it. It's weird how that works out. Unfortunately, the backfield has suffered some setbacks this week with Darren Sproles going on IR and Jordan Howard's status for Sunday's game vs. New England up in the air. Howard, who suffered a stinger in Week 9, has not been cleared for contact, but he had provided the Eagles with an effective runner between the tackles prior to the injury. With Howard's uncertain availability, the Eagles signed Jay Ajayi on Friday. Ajayi was part of that Super Bowl-winning team two years ago and has the ability to provide the Eagles' offense with a real spark this weekend.
That said, Philly's Miles Sanders must have a huge game if the Eagles want to have any success against the Patriots' stout defense. The rookie is a change-of-pace back who adds some speed to the offense and is dangerous out of the backfield as a receiver. I've seen Sanders beat linebackers deep and make big plays with his run-after-the-catch ability on screen passes and routes out of the backfield. He'll be the X-factor in this game because I'm not so sure the Patriots' linebackers can cover him well enough. Earlier in the season, I pointed out in my "Keys to the Game" segment on Up to the Minute that the way to run over the Patriots is to spread them out and run at their inside linebackers. The Eagles can do this successfully thanks to an offensive line that has the goods to win up front, and the addition of a downhill runner like Ajayi should only help.