By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst

With Week 5 almost in the books, we have found out a lot about the top teams in the league. The contenders find a way to win games when they do not play their best football. Moreover, the best coaches are able to crack the code within a game to make the critical call that results in a win. 

After digesting all of the action from the weekend, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout.

Three things I liked

1. Josh Allen is a big play machine.

If Josh Allen wins the NFL MVP award this season, it will be due to his ability to produce big plays with his unique skill set. 

Measuring 6-foot-5, 237 pounds with A-plus arm talent and running skills, the Bills’ franchise quarterback can single-handedly win the game with his arm or legs. Against the Steelers, Allen showcased every aspect of his game with a handful of deep throws over the top of the defense. The deep ball connections to Gabe Davis, in particular, were impressive rainbow tosses that exhibited his range and touch. Allen complemented those deep balls with a handful of pinpoint throws at the intermediate range that stretched the Steelers’ defense from sideline to sideline and end line to end line. 

With Davis and Stefon Diggs taking turns making plays in the passing game, the Bills were able to produce a number of explosive plays with Allen playing target practice on the perimeter. If Allen can continue to throw efficiently to a number of playmakers in space while scooting around the corner on designed quarterback runs, the Bills have an impressive big-play offense with the ultimate quarterback at the helm. 

2. The Saints have rediscovered their offensive identity.

Despite the attention Drew Brees & Co. would receive for their prowess as a prolific passing attack, the Saints were quietly a ground-and-pound squad during the Sean Payton era. The team would utilize a variety of backs to punish defenses on an assortment of power plays and perimeter runs that enabled the Saints to control the clock and set up big plays off of play-action throws. 

The return of Alvin Kamara and the reinsertion of Taysom Hill into the lineup as a “Wildcat” QB helped the Saints get back to business as a dominant rushing squad. The duo combined for 215 rush yards on 32 attempts while accounting for three touchdowns on the ground. The mix between a power-running quarterback and fleet-footed scat back kept the Seahawks on their heels as they were unable to deal with the old-school runs from the Saints. 

While no one wants the Saints to fully employ the Single-Wing with Hill at quarterback due to his passing struggles, the clever utilization of the package adds a dimension to the playbook that could make the offense a challenge to defend down the stretch.  

3. Saquon Barkley is back.

It has taken a full season for Barkley to bounce back from the knee injury that robbed him of his trademark explosiveness, but the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year is back to playing like an All-Pro at the position. 

Against the Packers in London, the Giants’ top offensive playmaker tallied 106 scrimmage yards on 16 touches while displaying the speed, quickness and burst that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Barkley flashed outstanding stop-start quickness on the perimeter, while also displaying the power and pop to run through contact in the hole. Most importantly, he showed a willingness to make hard cuts on his repaired leg, which reflects his confidence in his body and recovery process. 

Studying Barkley’s performance over the past few weeks, it is apparent that he has regained his five-star form as a dynamic playmaker in space. From his stop-start quickness within the hole to his ability to scoot around the corner, Barkley is a threat to score from anywhere on the field with the ball in his hands. 

How Brian Daboll has positively impacted Giants

In London, the Giants rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Packers 27-22. How much of New York’s 4-1 record is due to new head coach Brian Daboll? Colin Cowherd compares Daboll’s success to Matt LaFleur’s struggles.

The Giants are certainly giving him every opportunity to flourish as an RB1 by deploying him on inside and outside runs, while also featuring him in the passing game. With Brian Daboll also putting the ball in Barkley’s hands on a variety of “Wildcat” plays, the fifth-year pro has shown the football world that he is ready to reclaim his spot among the elite playmakers in the game. 

Three things I did not like

1. The Rams’ offense is broken.

Sean McVay is an offensive wizard, but he has seemingly lost his magic with the Rams. The once high-powered offense has been stuck in the mud in recent weeks due to faulty execution and poor offensive line play. 

The Rams have scored just 19 points and totaled 580 yards in the past two weeks while also surrendering 12 sacks. The lack of production from an offense loaded with star playmakers is a surprise based on McVay’s résumé in Los Angeles. 

The creative play designer has always been able to find a way to move the ball utilizing motions, shifts and misdirection to lull defenders to sleep, but the shell game is not working this season. Opponents have attacked the Rams with a variety of blitz calls and simulated pressures that have exposed a suspect offensive line. The constant movement from the defensive line has overwhelmed the Rams’ frontline and left QB Matthew Stafford battered and bruised in the pocket. 

Moreover, the constant harassment has turned the veteran into a turnover machine. 

Cowboys’ defense dominates in victory over Rams

The Cowboys forced two fumbles, blocked a punt and had an interception in their 22-10 victory over the Rams, who were held to just 38 rushing yards.

Considering how the turnover margin is the biggest determining factor in who wins or loses games, McVay has to quickly fix the offense to prevent his quarterback from giving away games with his miscues. Maybe he can resurrect the jet sweep-outside zone package that helped the Rams emerge as an offensive juggernaut, or he could opt to tweak the offense with more quick-rhythm throws that protect a struggling offensive line. 

Either way, the Rams’ offense needs some work, and McVay needs to quickly fix the problems before the defending champs fall out of the playoff picture. 

2. Coaches are mismanaging the game with unnecessary fourth-down gambles.

The analytical crowd loves the high-risk, high-reward approaches employed by Brandon Staley, Zac Taylor, Nathaniel Hackett, John Harbaugh and others, but the ultra-aggressive decisions to attempt fourth-down conversions are costing teams games and will eventually cost those coaches their jobs. 

While I am a big fan of utilizing data to gain a competitive edge on the field, I am worried that some of the new-school coaches are taking unnecessary risks without fully evaluating time, score and situation. The coaches who have won big in this league are exceptional game managers who understand when and where to take their shots. 

Although there is a time and place for taking an unconventional approach or a tactical gamble, I worry about some of the coaches who ignore conventional wisdom and rely on a spreadsheet to make decisions at critical moments. Staley, in particular, has decided that he wants to be the high roller at the craps table when managing the game. After sitting out the playoffs last year due to some questionable decisions that backfired, the second-year Chargers coach was up to his old tricks again on Sunday against the Browns with a risky fourth-down gamble in his own territory with a little over a minute to play. 

Despite walking away with a two-point win due to Cade York’s missed 54-yard field goal with 11 seconds left, the football world is looking at Staley side-eyed due to his decision to pass the ball on fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 46-yard line instead of punting. Justin Herbert’s incompletion not only handed the Browns the ball within field-goal range, but it prompted some of his players to question the head coach’s decision.

Considering how the Chargers missed out on a playoff berth due to a similar decision, the coach runs the risk of losing the entire locker room with these questionable calls. 

Taylor is also facing heat for failing to attempt a field goal while trailing 13-10 to the Ravens with the ball in the tight red zone. Instead of tying the game with a short field goal, the Bengals opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line with a poorly executed shovel pass. The wasted opportunity prevented the Bengals from evening the score and forced the Ravens’ offense to operate under pressure. 

Given how tight the playoff races are in the AFC, the questionable decisions from these new-school coaches could result in one of their teams sitting on the outside looking in. 

3. The Tom Brady rules gotta go.

Tom Brady is the unquestioned “G.O.A.T” in this league, but he should not receive special privileges as a QB1. Defenders should be able allowed to hit him within the pocket without having to worry about a flag if the tackle does not resemble a pillow fight. 

That’s why my heart goes out to the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Smith for an egregious roughing of the passer penalty on Grady Jarrett on a sack that involved minimal contact. The Pro Bowl defender lightly spun around TB12 on a sack that would have given the Falcons an opportunity to execute a two-minute drill to win the game.  

I am all for the NFL protecting the quarterback to ensure the league has enough star power at the position. The QB is the most important position on the field and the talent disparity between QB1 and QB2 makes it nearly impossible to win with the backup in the game. 

That said, knocking the quarterback around is a part of the game, and it is the only way to disrupt the timing and the rhythm of the passing game. 

My Top 10 teams: 

1. Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts is playing like the NFL MVP for the league’s only unbeaten squad. The third-year pro utilizes his unique skills as a dual-threat playmaker to spark fast starts that overwhelm Eagles opponents. 

Jalen Hurts leads Eagles on a game-winning drive

Jalen Hurts had 239 yards passing, 61 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 20-17 win over the Cardinals.

2. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen’s big play potential forces opponents to defend every blade of grass from sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. Few defenses feature enough speedy defenders to account for his skills as a dynamic offensive weapon. 

3. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes & Co. continue to dominate the division albeit with a different style in 2022. The “dink-and-dunk” approach is a drastic departure from the team’s “bombs away” days with Tyreek Hill, but the wins keep coming as Andy Reid and his star quarterback adjust to their personnel. 

4. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys continue to wear down opponents with a blue-collar approach that prioritizes the running game and defense. The formula is not sexy, but it has helped the Cowboys reel off four straight wins with their QB1 on the sidelines. 

5. Minnesota Vikings: Kevin O’Connell’s offensive wizardry has made the Vikings a tough out. With Justin Jefferson emerging as an unstoppable force on the perimeter, Kirk Cousins has the offense playing like a well-oiled machine. 

6. New York Giants: Bill Parcells must be beaming with pride while watching the Giants smash opponents with an old-school formula that has helped the franchise claim four Super Bowl titles. With a punishing running game and a stifling defense, the G-Men are playing a physical brand of mistake-free football that has made them tough to beat. 

7. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson’s ability to take over the game as a dynamic weapon enables the Ravens to win with finesse or power. The former MVP turned back the clock against the Bengals to make a handful of key plays on an assortment of designed quarterback runs and quick-rhythm passes to steal the game in the fourth quarter. 

8. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is grumpy after dropping a game to the Giants across the pond, but the four-time MVP will eventually help his young wideouts grow up in time for the team to make a title run. 

Related: Aaron Rodgers laments negative talk in Packers’ locker room

9. San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo has quietly pushed the 49ers back into the mix as a viable contender in the NFC. With a defense that chokes the life out of opponents, the veteran QB simply needs to make a handful of plays each week to guide his squad to the winner’s circle. 

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It has not been pretty, but the Buccaneers have found ways to win games without playing their best football. With the defense playing well while the offense works through an identity crisis, the Buccaneers remain a viable title contender. 

MVP of the Week: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Whenever a quarterback throws for 300-plus yards in a half, he is well on his way to claiming the MVP award for the week. Josh Allen not only torched the Steelers in a spectacular first-half performance that showcased his five-star arm talent and athleticism, but he also showed the football world the Bills’ big-play potential on offense. 

Allen’s 400-yard day (20-of-31 for 424 yards with four scores and an interception) will make future opponents reconsider their tactics against the Bills’ QB1. Instead of focusing on slowing down his improvisational skills and running ability, defensive play callers will tell their defensive backs to stay deep to keep the deep balls from flying over the top of the defense. Considering how those tactics could open up the underneath areas of coverage, we could see Allen’s name again in this column as he continues to carve up defenses with pinpoint throws to receivers running free at short and intermediate range. 

Offensive Player of the Week: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Maybe Jefferson knew that he was on the verge of a dominant season when he suggested that he would be considered “the best receiver in the NFL” after this season. The Vikings’ No. 1 wideout posted his third 100-yard game of the season with a 12-catch, 154-yard effort against the Bears. While those numbers are impressive, the fact that he posted a 92.3% catch rate (12 catches/13 targets) showcases his efficiency and effectiveness in the passing game. Despite opponents tilting their coverage to him, Jefferson continues to get open and make plays as the Vikings’ top option in the passing game. 

Justin Jefferson on career-best performance

Justin Jefferson spoke with FOX Sports’ Kristina Pink about the Vikings’ victory over the Bears and talked about the team’s mentality moving forward.

Defensive Player of the Week: David Long Jr., Tennessee Titans

The Titans’ defense came up with a timely stop against the Commanders due to David Long Jr.’s superb instincts and awareness. The fourth-year linebacker capped a game-clinching goal-line stand with an interception at the one-yard line to preserve the victory. With 11 tackles to go with the impressive interception, Long’s production and playmaking ability keyed a defensive effort that helped the Titans take over the top spot in the AFC South. 

Unsung Hero for the Week: Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans

The Texans’ standout running back is making a strong case to claim the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Pierce is carrying the Houston offense as a power back with a nasty disposition. Against the Jaguars, he rumbled for 99 yards on 26 carries to help the team earn its first win. Although Pierce’s production does not jump off of the page, the rookie earns this award with his hard-nosed runs and violent finishes against a Jaguars defense that could not match his intensity.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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