SPORTS

NFL Week 6 Star Power Index: Josh Allen outduels Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts keeps the good times rolling

We are through six weeks of the NFL season, and the action has been historically competitive: 32 games have occurred in which a team came back to win or tie after trailing in the fourth quarter, tied with 1989 (32) for the most such games through Week 6 in NFL history. We witnessed some star performances from around the league and some big stars not shining as brightly as usual — both swinging the outcomes in what has started out as the NFL’s most competitive season yet. 

Welcome to NFL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NFL world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the National Football League season.

All week and all game long, Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes was billed as the next great NFL quarterback rivalry, the new Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady. Allen played up to expectations Sunday, throwing for 329 passing yards and three touchdowns. His final scoring strike, a 14-yard touchdown to tight end Dawson Knox, capped an epic 12-play, 76-yard march that left Mahomes and the Chiefs with only 1:04 left in regulation. 

While there’s no debate about who has the better trophy case through their first four seasons as starter between Mahomes and Allen, at this moment Allen is playing at a higher level. Sunday was Allen’s ninth career game with more than 300 passing yards, more than three passing touchdowns and no interceptions — all in the past three seasons. Nine is the most such games in that span, with Mahomes trailing by two games with seven. The former Wyoming Cowboy also equaled a Billsfranchise record as he totaled his 12th career game with over 300 yards and three passing touchdowns, tied for the most along with Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Allen also hurdled a Chiefs defender with ease, plowing ahead for additional yardage before being shoved out of bounds. That level of athleticism combined with his arm talent equals a nearly unstoppable offense.

Possessing the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and Allen leading the league in passing yards (1,980) and co-leading in passing touchdowns (17, with Mahomes), Buffalo has to be dreaming about its potential for its first appearance in The Big Game since Kelly led them to four straight Super Bowl appearances 30 years ago.

Josh Allen’s NFL-high nine games with more than 300 passing yards, more than three passing touchdowns and no interceptions since 2020 coincide with the Bills’ trade to acquire Stefon Diggs. In Allen and Diggs’ time together, no receiver has been targeted more, with 395 passes going Diggs’ way. 

Stefon Diggs with Bills (since 2020)

Targets

395

1st

Receptions

279

2nd

Receiving Yards

3,416

3rd

Receiving Touchdowns

24

T-6th

On Sunday, their connection shined to the tune of 13 targets, 10 receptions, 148 receiving yards and a touchdown. The standout performance marked Diggs’ NFL-best fourth game with 100 or more receiving yards and a receiving touchdown this season. 

Time and time again, Allen trusted Diggs to haul in contested catches, and even some passes that could have been intercepted had a different receiver bobbled Allen’s darts in between multiple defenders. Without Tyreek Hill roaming the Kansas City sideline, the Bills had a decided advantage at wide receiver, and that advantage made all the difference in a game that could decide the AFC’s top seed come January. 

The 33-year-old linebacker is proving Bills general manager Brandon Beane and his front office right so far this season, earning every penny of his six-year, $120 million contract. Miller recorded two of his six sacks (tied for second-most in the NFL) this season in Kansas City against Patrick Mahomes, marking his third game in a row with at least one sack and second game with multiple sacks this season. The 2010’s All-Decade Team member also tallied nine quarterback pressures, the second-most in Week 6, including a final one that forced Mahomes to rush his throw to receiver Skyy Moore, which then turned into the game-sealing interception.

A season ago, Mahomes had time to scan the field and drive the Chiefs into overtime and eventually a win against the Bills. Thanks to Miller, Mahomes’ time was cut short Sunday. 

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes

What the Bills defense did to Patrick Mahomes was what no other defense could do this entire season: force him into multiple interceptions. All windows into the end zone were closed on his first drive, so he couldn’t squeeze a pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and then Von Miller’s pressure caused the game-ending interception.

In between the first and last drives of the game, Mahomes’ magic was alive and well. He finished Sunday with 338 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. His first touchdown of the game illustrated his innate ability to wiggle away from defenders and hit his intended targets across the field. Outside of his counterpart on the other sideline, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, no one else in the NFL moves with that much fluidity in the pocket.

Mahomes’ final passing touchdown of the day (168th of his career) pushed him past Hall of Famer Peyton Manning for the third-most in a player’s first six seasons. Mahomes now trails only Dan Marino (196 from 1983-1988) and Andrew Luck (171 from 2012-2018). Already with 17 passing touchdowns this season, tied for the most in the NFL with Josh Allen, he could have this record all to himself at the end of the year.

The Philadelphia sports scene is on fire between the Eagles standing as the NFL’s final undefeated team (6-0) and the Phillies beginning their National League Championship series against the San Diego Padres with a trip to the World Series on the line.

However, no Philadelphia athlete is on a bigger hot streak than Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. He has tied the Eagles’ all-time record for most consecutive regular season wins by a starting quarterback with nine, a record he shares with Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin (1960), Donovan McNabb (2003) and Carson Wentz (2017). During Van Brocklin’s 1960 season and Wentz’s 2017 season, the Eagles won the Super Bowl.

The Eagles defense is certainly doing its part in those wins, but Hurts hasn’t just been along for the ride. Following his two passing touchdowns against the Cowboys in Week 6, Hurts became only the fourth player since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger with at least six passing touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns in his team’s first six games. The list he now resides on also includes Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (2020), former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (2011) and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart (1997).

Whether he’s on your fantasy football team (26.3 PPR points per game, fourth-most in the NFL this season), or on your favorite team, Hurts is bringing joy to everyone invested in his on-field success.

Things couldn’t have gone much worse at Lambeau Field for the two-time defending NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in their 27-10 loss to the Jets on Sunday. Rodgers was pressured on a third of his dropbacks (15 of 45) as he completed 26 of his 41 passes (63.4%, his second-lowest this season) for 246 passing yards and a touchdown while also fumbling once. 

The 17-point defeat is tied for the largest defeat the Packers have suffered when Rodgers has played the entire game, and the team has a 3-3 record thanks to its first occurrence of back-to-back losses under head coach Matt LaFleur. The team is one loss away from tying its most losses in any of LaFleur’s first three seasons. Green Bay’s 17.8 points per game this season is the fewest in any six-game span with Rodgers as its starting quarterback, and much of that can be attributed to the voids caused by the departures of wide receivers Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason. Simply put, Rodgers is struggling to find players to throw to when he has time to survey the field, as his 86.9 passer rating with over two-and-a-half seconds to throw without pressure (22nd in the NFL this season) would indicate. He led the NFL in passer rating in those situations in each of his previous MVP seasons. 

Aaron Rodgers with 2.5+ seconds to throw without pressure (last three seasons)

2022

86.9

22nd

2021

139.1

1st

2020

139.7

1st

In his post-game press conference, Rodgers seemed to be making a public plea to LaFleur to reduce the amount of motion used in their offense. The Packers have had a player in motion on 51.4% of their plays this season, the 11th-highest rate in the NFL. But that rate is nearly identical to their motion usage across the two prior seasons, 2020 and 2021, when they utilized motion on 51.3% of their offensive plays, the seventh-highest rate in the league across those two seasons. Therefore, the issue may not be the motion.

Prior to the season, Rodgers seemed to air out his dislikes with the Shanahan zone-running, motion-based, play-action-heavy offense that LaFleur has installed in his time in Green Bay.

“I tell Matt [LaFleur] all the time that this scheme has flaws,” Rodgers said on Barstool’s “Pardon My Take” podcast during the 2022 preseason. “I think this scheme is way different than … I grew up in the West Coast offense. I think the West Coast offense is the most beautiful offense ever created. It’s about timing and rhythm and balance, and everything makes sense protection-wise. You know where your hots are, you know where your eyes are going every single time, you know how the concepts fit together.

“This is a schematic offense. [The West Coast offense] was not a schematic offense. That was built on timing and precision and rhythm and guys being in the right spot at the right time. … In that offense, it’s not predicated on motion; it’s predicated on winning one-on-one matchups and then being accurate throwing the football, and so that’s what I grew up in.

“When you have so much motion, it’s hard to get tempo going because you always have to make sure you’re set. … I just like, sometimes, I tell him the same thing, I’m not telling you guys anything I wouldn’t tell [LaFleur]. I got after him today because every freaking play there’s goddamn motion. I’m like, ‘Can we run one play without a motion and pass so we can get some tempo going?'”

However, Rodgers clarified his Sunday comments about simplifying the offense on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday, saying it had more to do with the execution by himself and his teammates than what LaFleur and his staff are drawing up.

“The heart of it is execution and scoring points,” Rodgers said to McAfee on Tuesday. “The point was if we’re not executing those plans, they’re not the most complex things the majority of the time, then the slight reaction might be to simplify things even further. That doesn’t mean less motions or less checks at the line of scrimmage. … It was really an alert for our players that we need to lock in a little bit more and simplify things in our mind. … We’ve had multiple plays where 10 guys are doing something right and one guy isn’t. Or nine guys are doing something right and two guys aren’t on the same page with communication. That stuff can’t happen. … It’s not anything against the staff. … At some point, the accountability has to fall on the players to execute.”

Rodgers and LaFleur either need to come to a compromise schematically to a place that will allow for their less experienced players to catch on, or the team may need to get aggressive in adding pass-catching weapons prior to the NFL trade deadline on Nov. 1. Otherwise, things may only get worse for one of the winningest QB-head coach pairings in NFL history. 

Buccaneers QB Tom Brady

Tom Brady is having a midlife crisis, and for what appears to be the first time in his 23-year NFL career, it’s affecting his play on Sundays. He and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a 20-18 road loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers despite entering the game as 9.5-point favorites and facing rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. Their offense is averaging 20.2 points per game this season, the fewest points ever per game in Brady’s first six starts of a season.

The team is also averaging an NFL-worst 50.6 rushing yards per game this season, something Brady may have been reminding his offensive line Sunday afternoon when the Fox Sports broadcast picked up a tirade directed toward his blockers. He also completed under half of his passes in the first half, a contributing factor to Tampa Bay only scoring on field goals in its first three red-zone opportunities.  

“You’re so much better than the way you’re f—ing playing!” Brady clearly yelled on the Fox broadcast. “Get your f—ing act together!”

The rumors swirling around about his marriage to international supermodel Gisele Bündchen seem to have merit, as Brady complained about his work-life balance while having Brooklyn Nets superstar basketball player Kevin Durant on his “Let’s Go” podcast. 

“I almost look at a football season like you’re going away on deployment for the military,” Brady said. “And it’s like, ‘Man, here I go again. … The reality is you can really only be authentic to yourself. Right? Whatever you may say — ‘Ah, man, I want to, you know, make sure I spend a little more time doing this during the season” — the reality is, when it comes down to it, your competitiveness takes over, and as much as you want to have this playful balance with the work balance, you’re going to end up doing exactly what you’ve always done, which is why you are who you are.”

Brady may need to quickly figure out a different way to live his life for the sake of the Buccaneers’ fortunes this season and his own personal life down the road. 

Russell Wilson just hasn’t been able to catch a break this season. After signing a five-year, $245 million contract extension following his trade from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos this offseason, the 33-year-old is playing the worst football of his career through the first six games of a season. 

Russell Wilson career ranks through six games of 2021 season

Team W-L

2-4

T-worst

Team PPG

15.2

Worst

Comp Pct

58.6%

Worst

Passer Rating

83.4

Worst

The Broncos’ 19-16 overtime loss at the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday was another extension of Wilson’s struggles after what appeared to be a breakthrough in the first half. The embattled quarterback completed 12 of his 17 passes for 173 yards in the first half after completing his first 10 throws. However, he only completed three of his final 11 passes in the second half for 15 yards, averaging the fewest yards per pass (1.4) of any half in his career. It doesn’t help that some of the issues seem to stem from mind-numbing field vision from a veteran with his pedigree.

Wilson’s play directly correlates to the Broncos being the lowest-scoring offense (15.2 points per game) and the worst red zone offense (30.2% red zone touchdown percentage) in the NFL. Their three touchdowns on 15 red zone drives are the worst through six games since the 2008 Vikings. The Vikings became so disenchanted with their quarterback combo of Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson that they signed former archnemesis Brett Favre at 40 years old for the 2009 season. 

Broncos offense this season

PPG

15.2

Last*

3rd Down

30.2%

30th

Red Zone TD Pct

20%

Last

*No team in NFL history has made playoffs after ranking last in PPG through Week 6

The nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett need to figure things out ASAP. Otherwise, the latter may be looking for a new job this offseason.

All the Giants continue to do is win, out to a 5-1 start (their best through six games since 2009) and taking home their third consecutive victory, 24-20, against Lamar Jackson‘s Baltimore Ravens. While their top-10 scoring defense (18.6 points per game allowed, tied for eighth fewest in the NFL) deserves a lot of credit, one man is keeping their offense afloat: running back Saquon Barkley.

He leads the NFL in touches (140) and scrimmage yards (771) this season and has been responsible for game-winning plays in three of their five wins. Sunday was the latest example, with his one-yard rushing touchdown serving as the final score of the game with 1:43 left to play. Barkley’s other two clutch moments came in Week 1 at the Tennessee Titans (go-ahead two-point conversion run with 1:06 left) and in Week 5 in London against the Green Bay Packers (two-yard rushing touchdown with 6:08 left). Barkley continues to do what needs to be done to keep grinding out wins, paving the way for a superb second contract

Ja’Marr Chase entered his second NFL season in 2022 fresh off arguably the best rookie receiving performance ever with a Super Bowl era record of 1,455 receiving yards and a Super Bowl appearance. He picked up right where he left in Week 1 with 10 receptions, 129 receiving yards and a touchdown in an overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

However, he had been in a rut (by his standards) from Weeks 2-5 with a combined 22 catches, 214 receiving yards and one touchdown across those four games. Safe to say Chase’s slump is in the rearview mirror with his game-winning performance back in Louisiana against the New Orleans Saints. He had seven receptions, a season-high 132 receiving yards and a season-high two touchdown catches — the final one a 60-yard pitch-and-catch from quarterback Joe Burrow

Ja’Marr Chase since Week 2 this season

Targets/GM

9.3

10

Receptions/Game

5.5

7

Receiving Yards/Game

53.5

132

Receiving Touchdowns

1

2

Chase was certainly going to bounce back at some point, but his quarterback came into Sunday’s game with a laser-like focus to ensure his LSU running mate was going to get back on track.

“I’m never surprised with [Chase] anymore,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said after the win, via ESPN

“We’ve been waiting for those games from Ja’Marr and Joe,” Bengals cornerback Eli Apple said, via ESPN. “They came through clutch.”

Justin Jefferson is in the zone. He completed his third consecutive game with more than 100 receiving yards in the Vikings’ 24-16 win at the Miami Dolphins with six catches and 107 yards. The streak of three in a row is the longest of the third-year receiver’s young career, and he is the first Viking since Stefon Diggs in 2019 to have three such games in a row. Despite Minnesota’s 5-1 record and his recent tear, Jefferson believes the ceiling for him and his team is much higher.

“We still haven’t played our best ball yet honestly, there’s so much that we need to fix,” Jefferson said after the win Sunday. “The plays are there, we just have to execute. The game where we will play our best ball is still yet to come.”

Jefferson is also close to re-writing the history books, as he is now one game away from tying Hall of Famer Randy Moss and Odell Beckham Jr. for the most games with more than 100 receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons since at least 1950.




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