By Juan Lozano and Marc Harper | December 23, 2020
Chargers @ Raiders – Jalen Guyton (WR)
- Second-year wide receiver Jalen Guyton had the best game of his career on Thursday night in a victory against the Raiders.
- Although he didn’t find the end zone, Guyton hauled in four passes for a career-high 91 yards, a mark that led the Chargers in receiving yards.
- Guyton had a shaky start to the game with a dropped pass from Justin Herbert early in the second quarter on third-down and near midfield that would have likely resulted in a big gain, if not a touchdown.
- Luckily for the Chargers, Guyton recovered and made an impact on the game as Chargers starting wide receiver stalwarts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were largely ineffective due to injuries sustained in the Sunday victory over Atlanta. The normally dynamic duo combined for three catches and 39 yards.
- How big were Guyton’s catches? Three of Guyton’s four receptions resulted in first downs.
- Even when he wasn’t catching a pass, he drew key pass interference penalties on Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen, one in the third quarter and the other on the game’s final drive. Immediately after the pass interference in overtime, Guyton badly burned Raiders second-year cornerback Keisean Nixon for a 53-yard reception that put the Chargers in the red zone.
- Guyton, a high school teammate of Cardinals quarterback, began his career at Notre Dame, and transferred to the University of North Texas, went undrafted and signed with the Cowboys, and was cut in the team’s final roster cutdown. The Chargers signed Guyton to their practice squad in Week 8 and played in only three games in his rookie campaign but didn’t catch a pass. Guyton appears to be emerging as a big play threat for big-armed rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. The Herbert-Guyton combo looks to be the beginning of a lethal deep ball duo in coming years.
- He was also our Chargers WOW in Week 7.
Bills @ Broncos – Jake Kumerow (WR)
- This game ended up being a blowout, but the Broncos stayed in the game in the first half. They were in the game until Jake Kumerow’s first catch of the season, a 22-yard touchdown pass on 2nd & Goal, from Josh Allen that gave the Bills a 21-7 advantage over the Broncos.
- Kumerow has been primarily a special teams player during his career. He began the season on the Bills practice squad and became a member of the active roster beginning in Week 9. Prior to Saturday’s game, Kumerow has only had twelve offensive snaps. After all, the Bills have an excellent receiving corps and the rotation is a difficult one to crack.
- Saturday’s touchdown was not Kumerow’s first career touchdown. As a member of the Packers, he caught two touchdowns and 32 total passes.
- Kumerow has as interesting background and lineage. A native of Elgin, a Chicago exurb, he began his career at the University of Illinois, and later transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a perennial Division III power.
- Kumerow is with his fourth team and has been in the NFL since 2015. He started his career with the Bengals, before moving to the Patriots, and later the previously mentioned Packers from 2017-2019. He was signed by Green Bay as an exclusive rights free agent this off-season, but was cut at the end of training camp this season and the Bills immediately signed him to the practice squad.
- Kumerow is the son of former Miami Dolphins linebacker Eric Kumerow and the cousin of the Bosa brothers (Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa). He is also the great-grandson of Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo.
Panthers @ Packers – Krys Barnes (LB)
- On 1st & Goal from the 1-yard line and with 7:39 remaining in the first half, Packers linebacker Krys Barnes not only turned away a leaping Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the goal line, but forced him to fumble the ball. The ball was recovered by Packers cornerback Kevin King who returned the ball to the Panthers 47-yard line. Seven plays later, the Packers would go ahead 21-3.
- Barnes would finish with six tackles on the day.
- For many reasons 2020 has been a year unlike any other in the NFL. One development we see is that undrafted free agents have had a difficult time making teams. Barnes, an undrafted free agent out of UCLA was cut during the Packers final roster trim-down, but was signed to the practice roster. Barnes was activated prior to Week 1 and started against the Vikings and was playing well until he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after the Week 9. He was not activated until nearly a month later prior to the Week 13 game. He’s getting back into the swing of things and making plays for the Packers.
49ers @ Cowboys – Cowboys Defense / Special Teams
- The Cowboys offense is not very good. Running back Tony Pollard played well as the starter, and was a big part of what they did get done offensively. But the Cowboys offense could not win this game.
- Fortunately, football games involve three phases: offense, defense and special teams. On defense, forcing turnovers is a big part of the win equation. The Cowboys forced two interceptions and recovered two fumbles. The biggest was probably the early Richie James fumble that led to a 14-0 lead. All of these turnovers led to short fields and allowed the Cowboys to put up 41 points on the day.
- Somehow, the Cowboys find themselves right in the mix of a playoff race, and if they continue to force four turnovers a game, we like their chances.
Seahawks @ WFT – DJ Reed (CB)
- Sunday turned into a defensive battle, with the Seahawks having to hold off a late Washington run. A big part of that was DJ Reed.
- Reed had 6 tackles, 3 pass deflections, and an interception. He was around the ball almost every play. Reed got the start and matched up on (and shut down) Terry McLaurin for most of the day.
- Reed didn’t appear in a game until Week 8 this year, so it’s fair to assume he’s still getting back in game shape, but he didn’t miss a beat this week.
Bears @ Vikings – Robert Quinn (DE) and Roquan Smith (LB)
- The Bears have not had much success in free agency in 2020. The fanbase and media have criticized defensive end Robert Quinn as he signed a big free agent contract this off-season, and has not contributed much. It doesn’t help Quinn’s cause that the Bears defense has been exposed in recent weeks.
- On Sunday, Quinn joined forces with linebacker Roquan Smith, last week’s WOW to tackle sensational Vikings running back Dalvin Cook on 3rd & 1 from the Vikings 29-yard line for no gain right before the two-minute warning. On the next play, a fourth down from the same distance, quarterback Kirk Cousins’ pass to tight end Tyler Conklin fell incomplete and the Vikings turned the ball over on downs.
- The Bears took over and four plays later, increased their lead to 33-27 on a Cairo Santos 42-yard field goal with fifty-six seconds remaining. It would prove to be enough but it was close as there was a Hail Mary scare at the end of the game.
- Quinn finished the game with two tackles and one sack while Smith totaled six tackles.
- The Bears defense seems to have tired in recent weeks and for good reason as they played a lot of snaps early. Chicago has won two in a row after a six-game losing streak. They need more plays like this out of their defense to make a serious threat at a playoff spot.
Patriots @ Dolphins – Salvon Ahmed (RB)
- The Dolphins were playing without multiple starting wide receivers. They knew they were going to have trouble scoring points and moving the football. Their rookie quarterback is prone to turnovers (see interception in the end zone). While the Patriots are not exactly world beaters on offense, the Dolphins needed to figure out something offensively that worked against the Patriots.
- Enter Ahmed. He carried 23 times for 122 yards and a score. The Patriots had no answer for him (or reserve running back Matt Breida) all day.
- To beat the Patriots, you need a sustained sixty-minute effort and to wear out their defense. The Dolphins held the ball for 37 minutes. That’s a recipe for success (unless you are the Vikings). Running the ball consistently, with just enough in the pass game, can lead to many wins.
Jaguars @ Ravens – Gus Edwards (RB)
- Edwards is not Mark Ingram. He’s not J.K. Dobbins. Edwards is not a former first-round pick. He didn’t play at Alabama or Ohio State. He was undrafted out of Rutgers.
- But year after year, down the stretch, he seems to become the Ravens most important running back. That doesn’t stop them from trying to upgrade the position, but one might think they should stop throwing money and draft picks at the position when Edwards can get the job done.
- On Sunday, Edwards had nine carries for 42 yards and added two catches for 36 yards. He seems to provide a spark to the offense whenever he touches the ball. It’s no surprise that as the Ravens get him involved, their offense begins to run more smoothly.
- We’ll see if they continue with Edwards or look to Ingram. Our take? More Edwards.
Bucs @ Falcons – Devin White (LB)
- The Bucs were plagued by another slow start on both sides of the ball. While the offense eventually figured it out, it would not have mattered if the defense didn’t stop Matt Ryan.
- Ryan had completed 23 of 31 passes in the first half, and was not pressured at all. That changed in the second half when White notched 3 sacks. The first was on a key third down to end a promising Falcons drive. Two were on third downs that helped end drives.
- White also had 12 tackles, including 4 tackles for loss and had two pass deflections on the day. He was everywhere.
- The Bucs don’t have the best corners in the NFL. That was especially true after Carlton Davis left at the end of the 2nd quarter and didn’t return. Even with him in the game, they struggled to contain Calvin Ridley. Getting a timely pass rush from Devin White helped turn the tide, and resulted in a couple of key stops.
- White is going to continue being one of the most important players on this team. If he can keep getting consistent pressure on timely blitzes, this defense will be tough to score on come January.
Lions @ Titans – Darrynton Evans (RB)
- We can’t put Cory Davis and Derrick Henry on this list every week. They played great, but we need a new name.
- Evans allows the Titans to sit workhorse Derrick Henry and give him a breather when needed. He looked good on Sunday, with eight carries for 30 yards and a pair of catches for 27 yards and a score.
- The Titans don’t need him to be Henry, but if they can add him to the rotation to give Henry a rest down the stretch, the Titans will be better for it come January. He also added a nice change of pace, with the Lions struggling to keep up with his speed after dealing with the bruising from Henry.
- Evans is the former Sun Belt Offensive Player of the year, and was drafted in the third round this year by the Titans. It’s easy to see why they liked him.
Texans @ Colts – Zach Pascal (WR)
- The emergence of Michael Pittman Jr., and the re-emergence of veteran T.Y. Hilton had reduced Zach Pascal’s number of pass-catching opportunities in recent weeks. In the previous three games, Pascal had only a combined three catches for 61 yards over his past three games.
- On Sunday, Pascal was the team’s leading pass catcher with five grabs and their receiving yardage leader, with 79 yards. He also scored two touchdowns.
- Zach Pascal scored on a 11-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers with 0:52 remaining in the first quarter to give the Colts a 14-0 lead.
- The second touchdown came on a five-yard catch, run and plunge to cap off a 12-play, 75-yard drive that broke a 20-20 tie.
- Pascal, an undrafted wide receiver from Old Dominion University has been a member of the Colts since 2018. He was signed by Washington in 2017, was cut and later signed with division rival Tennessee in 2017, prior to joining the Colts.
Eagles @ Cardinals – DeAndre Hopkins (WR)
- Sometimes the recipe is simple. Throw the ball to the best receiver in the NFL. Week to week it’s not clear the Cardinals know that. But on Sunday, they finally followed the recipe and got DeAndre Hopkins going.
- Hopkins had nice catches for 169 yards and a score, an unbelievable game-winner. Teams just can’t guard him.
- The Cardinals have gone away from Hopkins in recent weeks and have lost while targeting Andy Isabella more. This is a bad formula. More of Hopkins, less of everyone else, and the Cardinals will be playing in January.
Jets @ Rams – Frank Gore (RB)
- This is a Frank Gore appreciation post. Did his stats jump off the page? No. But he ran hard and made timely plays, and continues to be one of the most consistent players to play the game.
- Needing a first down to seal the game, Gore positioned himself right at the first down marker in soft coverage, made the catch and ended the game. Every week we see players run just shy of the marker allowing opposing defenses to make the tackle short of the sticks. Gore wasn’t going to let that happen.
- He also knew that without a first down, the Jets would be setting up a repeat of the Raiders finale where they lost the game. The organization might be tanking for Trevor, but don’t tell the players.
Chiefs @ Saints – L’Jarius Sneed (CB)
- Kansas City cornerback L’Jarius Sneed returned to his home state and made a significant impact on the outcome of the game with a first-quarter interception of quarterback Drew Brees on the Saints second drive of the game. Brees was pressured and a pass down the sideline, intended for Lil’Jordan Humphrey, fell short of the intended target. Sneed snagged the errant wobbly pass and managed to get his feet in bounds to give the Chiefs the ball in a scoreless game.
- Seven plays later, the Chiefs scored the game’s first touchdown and the Saints would play catch-up the rest of the game
- Sneed added three tackles, a sack, and three passes defended in victory.
- The rookie corner is getting back into the rotation having returned in Week 11 after a broken collarbone during a Week 3 contest. Although he’s in first year, this was Snead’s third career interception, having picked off a pass in the season’s first two games.
- Sneed was a fourth round pick of the Chiefs in this year’s draft out of Louisiana Tech. He is from Minden, Louisiana, just east of Shreveport and approximately five hours from New Orleans. He made everyone back home proud with his performance. Sneed was also a WOW in Week 2.
Browns @ Giants – Austin Hooper (TE)
- Browns tight end Austin Hooper hauled in five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Giants. Hooper’s touchdown, a two-yard pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield early in the second quarter, was the Browns first touchdown of the game. This gave the Browns the lead for good against the struggling Giants.
- It was a good return to action for Hooper who was inactive in Week 14 due to a neck injury.
- A 2016 third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons out of Stanford, Hooper was a free agent signing in 2020. He enjoyed consecutive seasons of over 70 catches with the Falcons in 2018 and 2019.
- Hooper will not meet that mark this season. This will likely be his lowest mark since his rookie season. However, he’s on a playoff team and is making significant contributions. We are sure that is much more important to Hooper than the number of receptions.
Steelers @ Bengals – Mackensie Alexander (CB)
- Alexander had the highlight of the night as he high-stepped out of bounds following an interception late in the second quarter.
- The play was much more important than that.
- Alexander’s pick led to a touchdown that put the Bengals up 17-0 against their first-place division rivals. While neither team is capable of a shootout at the moment, the Steelers have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball. The Bengals needed to force turnovers to keep this one close. They not only kept it close, but won the game outright.
Opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Headcoachranking.com.