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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Conor Orr

What We Learned From the NFL’s Thanksgiving Slate

Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to the end of your day. Hopefully you were as lucky as I was, and made it to that third slice of pie (this year I went pumpkin pie —> pumpkin roll —> apple pie in that order).

There was some football taking place during all that feasting, and we’re here to catch you up on what happened.

We’ll get started with the Cowboys, who downed a plucky divisional opponent in Dallas during the 4 p.m. (ET) window. The Giants scored with eight seconds to play, bringing the game within a touchdown and two-point conversion, so it was a little bit closer than the score indicated.

Here’s what we learned:

Daboll had his team off to a hot start, but things have cooled off in recent weeks for New York.


• This may be the beginning of the end for the Giants, and there’s no shame in saying that. There are two games each against Eagles and Commanders, a matchup with Vikings and tilt against the Colts remaining. The Giants currently stand at 7–4, and, according to FiveThirtyEight have dropped below a 50% playoff chance for the first time this season. Head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are among the best coaches in the NFL in creating larger, significant plays out of bigger formations and in tighter windows. We saw that again on Thursday, and, despite being heavily under-armed, they managed to hang with Dallas all afternoon.

• Why didn’t anyone make a big overture for Darius Slayton at the trade deadline? Since Halloween, he has been such a significant part of the team’s downfield passing game. After a breakout rookie season, we essentially forgot he could play.

• There are so many teams who tried to harness the power of an elite two-back backfield this season. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt with the Browns. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon in Green Bay. The Broncos’ Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne and James Robinson. But it’s going to be the Cowboys, with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, who end up seeing this roster construction pay dividends. There is so much more efficiency to their ground game with (basically) an even split between Elliott and Pollard. And, it may just be me (I don’t only watch the Cowboys, after all) but it feels like this rotation has brought the best out of Elliott. He is back to rookie-level, Mjolnir-wielding power on every run.

Here’s what else we saw on Thanksgiving day

• Von Miller suffered a knee sprain on Thursday, according to an NFL Network report. Considering the alternatives for a 33-year-old who makes his living off speed and finesse, this is something for the Bills to be thankful for. Lions center Frank Ragnow ended up laying on Miller’s leg as it was stretched in a vulnerable position. Given their weight disparity, this could have been catastrophic. I think we all assumed the Bills were going to continue to face adversity over the latter half of the season but regroup in time for the playoffs. Without Miller, I don’t think that’s possible. He is such an essential part of helping them close out games against elite quarterbacks.

• I liked the way the Lions sometimes played Josh Allen, trying to collapse the pocket and then, when he’s forced to scramble, spying with a faster defensive tackle; someone with some heft. One of the reasons Allen has been able to lay waste to most of the NFL this season was because he has a plus-Cam Newton effect. He scares defenses with his mass and speed (and scares them with his arm talent far more than Newton ever did). But, with Allen having some injury issues late in the season, teams could find ways to make him pay for leaving the pocket.

• I’m not ruling out 9–8 for the Lions this year. The remainder of their schedule, if they play the way they did on Thursday, is conducive to a save-Dan Campbell rally. If I were in an ownership position, I’d give Campbell a third year with a heavier say on the defensive coordinator pick. I think this Lions team is so close to turning the corner.

• Yes, Kirk Cousins spiked a football in frustration after the Vikings had to call a timeout, so we’re not saying displays of frustration are unique. However, Mac Jones spiking his helmet after time ran out felt like the surfacing of some real frustration. This was a very non-Belichickian game. Costly penalties, mental mistakes, coverage busts and an opposing team’s elite wide receiver going for nine catches and 139 yards. The Patriots’ offense down the stretch was, basically, Rhamondre Stevenson on checkdowns. It’s strange this offense still has a pedestrian feel on a night when Jones throws for 400 yards.

• Did anyone hear Jason Garrett disagree with Bill Belichick’s decision to not use his timeout right away on the Vikings’ final offensive possession, and then, after the strategy worked out brilliantly, say “well yes, of course, that’s why he did it.” Garrett properly genuflected to Belichick before lobbing the criticism, but there’s a reason one coach is in the booth and one is still on the sidelines.

• Watching Justin Jefferson draw, what is, essentially, triple coverage was quite a moment on that Adam Thielen touchdown. And I’m not sure that’s a “bust” either. With a little bit of depth from Jalen Mills on that play it’s swatted out of the back of the end zone. Regardless, it shows the respect players have for Jefferson when tenured veteran players decide to leave Adam Thielen singled up in order to prevent something worse from happening. 

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