By: Lucius Harvin, Staff Writer
The first half of 2018-2019 NFL season brought many stellar performances, disappointments, surprises and noteworthy moments. The Browns finally won a game, the Patriots finished September at 2-2 and both the Rams and the Chiefs have steamrolled almost everyone they have played. In a season marred with question marks, the halfway point provided only a few answers but left many mysteries unsolved. Here are the major storylines:
Los Angeles Rams(8-1)
Led by MVP candidates Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, the Rams have sprinted out to the best record in football. Before the start of the season, the talk was all about the Rams defense with the additions of Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters. However, that stellar defense has been middle of the pack while the offense has been unstoppable. The Rams boast the number one offense in the league and have ripped opponents’ defenses to shred. Head coach Sean McVay coached Jared Goff tothird in the NFL in passing yards and has transformed Todd Gurley into the league’s leading rusher. The biggest addition to the offense has been the move to bring Brandin Cooks over from New Orleans and the decision to move on from Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin. Even though Cooks’ numbers might not be impressive, he has given them the ability to spread the field with top talent, which has allowed Goff to excel in connecting with his other recievers. The question has not been when the Rams will lose but if they will lose, and with the roll they are on it is hard to imagine them doing so anytime soon.
Kansas City Chiefs(8-1)
Another surprise team led by an MVP candidate, the Kansas City Chiefs, have been like fireworks on offense since opening kickoff. Patrick Mahomes, in his first full year as a starting QB, has looked extremely impressive while spreading the ball around to Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards and has carved up some of the best defenses in the league. He also did not have an interception until week 5 against the Jaguars(a game which the Chiefs still won by double digits). Even though the Chiefs do have one loss, it was on the road in Foxborough and the offense still looked in Super Bowl form. However, the issue with the Chiefs has been a dreadful defense. Besides Dee Ford, the defense has not been able to stop anyone (ranking 31st in the league in total defense). The chiefs have not been able to cover anyone in the back end and when they don’t get pressure, the secondary ranks last in total coverage. If the Chiefs want to play up to the level their offense can then it’s vital to their season that the defense picks up the slack.
New Orleans Saints(7-1)
Besides an opening week loss to the Fitzmagic led Buccaneers, the Saints have been pretty darn good. Drew Brees has been himself, lighting up primetime and opposing defenses, and with the addition of Mark Ingram back from suspension, the offense has been clicking on all cylinders. Alvin Kamara has been electric and the swiss army knife, Taysom Hill, has sparked an offense that has been at worst middle of the pack this year. The surprise for the Saints has been the emergence of a defense. Almost yearly, analysts have continued to criticize the Saints defense for failing to show up, but this year the Saints defense has consistently made plays. Add that to playing the second most difficult schedule in all of football and that makes the Saints a dangerous team to play against.
New England Patriots(7-2)
Brady and Belichick… do I need to say more?
The defending Super Bowl champions were supposed to have figured it out. Carson Wentz was coming back from a season ending injury and for a team that had talk about a repeat, this year has been a huge disappointment. The Eagles have struggled in a wide variety of departments, but the biggest flaw has been the lack of a running game. Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles have been injured for most of the year and the offensive line has failed to create holes for the running backs to get through. The Philadelphia receivers have failed to make plays, and corners Ronald Darby and Patty Mills continue to get beat over the top. The Eagles also have not been able to hold a lead and have lost games to both the Panthers and the Titans while holding fourth quarter leads. However, the good news for the Eagles is that their division has been dreadful. The Redskins, Cowboys, and Giants have all failed to capitalize on the opportunity and so it can be quite possible to recover from the dreadful start.
I almost wrote Blake Bortles for this line but decided in fairness to criticize the full team. This Jaguars team was just a few minutes away from playing in the Super Bowl and beat the Patriots early in the season. However, since then, Blake Bortles has been atrocious. His poor play has allowed the Jaguars to fall behind in almost every game they have played and he has turned the ball over in large quantities, especially against the Chiefs and Texans. It’s not like the Jaguars receivers are not open either; data has shown that on 56 percent of Bortles’ dropbacks he has a open receiver. However, the Jaguars receivers have led the league in drops, including rookie reciever DJ Chark dropping a TD pass late in a game against the Eagles. Leonard Fournette has been injured for most of the season and even though TJ yeldon has played well, the offensive line has struggled to run—block and pass—block. The Jaguars have also been the most injured team in football. Through the first half of the season, the Jaguars have lost their top three tight ends, two starting offensive linemen, two running backs, their leading wide receiver and three out of their top four corners. However, just like the Eagles, the Jaguars are in a weak division that makes it entirely possible to come back and rebound from a horrific start.
Best Story: James Connor
Without Le’veon Bell, many people thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers would take a step back in terms of their running game. However, James Connor has proved that the Steelers don’t really need Bell at all. Connor has rushed for 600 yards and scored 9 touchdowns to lead the Pittsburgh offense. This is all after he beat cancer. Connor has provided a role model for kids to prove that if you keep persevering anything could happen.
Worst Move: Trading Khalil Mack
This head—scratching trade from the Oakland Raiders has been by far the worst move the NFL has seen in years. Mack was not only a leader on an already porous defense, but he was also the team’s best player. Since Mack was traded to Chicago, the Raiders have performed poorly (going 1-7) and the defense has lacked a big time playmaker. This trade has left many to scratch their heads as Coach Jon Gruden continues to defend that his team is headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, the only direction they are going is towards the number one pick.
Move Everyone Saw Coming: Firing of Hugh Jackson
The Browns stink. Plain and simple. The only difference with this year and the years prior is that they have good talent on this team. Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Jarvis Landry, and Myles Garrett are all stellar players and yet the Browns sit at 2-5-1. Therefore it is only natural that Hugh Jackson after winning three games in three seasons is let go. Again no surprise.