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Northwestern in the NFL, Week 16: Justin Jackson continues run of success behind blocking of Slater

Plus, a college reunion in the frozen tundra.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Another Northwestern reunion commenced this weekend in the NFL, with the Cleveland Browns squaring off against the Green Bay Packers. Combined, these two squads are home to six former ‘Cats. Yet, out West is where Northwestern alumni were making headlines once again.

Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

With Austin Ekeler out against the Texans, JJTBC emerged as the Bolts’ leading rusher for the second week in a row. On Sunday, the four-year pro rushed 11 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcat Connection™ between Jackson and left tackle Rashawn Slater was on full display, with Slater’s blocking creating a hole for the running back’s first score.

Jackson wasn’t just the team’s leading rusher, but also its leading receiver, catching eight balls for 98 total yards. Even in an upset loss to the Texans, JJ continued to prove he is a productive back in the NFL as he inches closer to becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

Next game: Vs. Denver Broncos (3:05 p.m.)

Rashawn Slater, OT, Los Angeles Chargers

What allowed for Jackson to have a big day was the blocking up front, headlined by Slater. The Pro Bowler returned from the COVID-19 reserve list and played 100% of the available offensive snaps. The offensive line only allowed one sack and tackle for loss each, and Slater did not play a role in Houston’s penetration on those plays. The rookie continues to shine for the Chargers and allow for star quarterback Justin Herbert to have time to throw, though Herbert’s two interceptions Sunday were costly in LA’s loss.

Next game: Vs. Denver Broncos (3:05 p.m.)

Dean Lowry, DE, Green Bay Packers

Another sack for Lowry as his emergence for Green Bay as a pass rusher continued against Cleveland. On a pivotal third down play in the fourth quarter for the Browns, the defensive end bull rushed his way into the backfield to put Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield on the ground to end the drive.

The Packers defense gave Mayfield a tough time all afternoon, as the unit finished with five sacks and four interceptions and moved closer to securing the NFC’s one seed.

Next game: Vs. Minnesota Vikings (7:20 p.m.)

Blake Hance, OT, Cleveland Browns

On the other side of this contest was Hance. The tackle once again played in place of the injured Jack Conklin and started his eighth game of the season. The protection for Mayfield in the pass game was not there, but the Browns dominated on the ground. Cleveland finished with 219 rushing yards, and star running back Nick Chubb carried the ball 17 times for 126 yards.

The Browns continue to excel in run blocking, but it was the inconsistencies in the passing game that proved to be their Achilles’ heel. Regardless, Hance registered 100% of offensive snaps and appears to be a trusted piece on one of the league’s best offensive lines.

Next game: At Pittsburgh Steelers (Jan. 3, 7:15 p.m.)

Tyler Lancaster, DL, Green Bay Packers

In 50% of defensive snaps, Lanny came up with two combined tackles in the Packers’ win. The big story, however, was that Lancaster had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with an unknown injury. The fourth year pro filled in for the injured Kingsley Keke, and has played significant snaps over the years in run protection for Green Bay.

Next game: Vs. Minnesota Vikings (7:20 p.m.)

Anthony Walker Jr., MLB, Cleveland Browns

Walker returned to the Cleveland starting lineup on Saturday and recorded nine combined tackles in the loss, three of which were solo tackles. The middle linebacker has been a consistent rock for the Browns, and has seen his snap count on the rise as he continues to make his way back from injury.

Next game: At Pittsburgh Steelers (Jan. 3, 7:15 p.m.)

Godwin Igwebuike, RB, Detroit Lions

With Jamaal Williams’ return and Craig Reynolds’ emergence at running back, Igwebuike saw his touches eliminated in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. He did still play on 10 offensive snaps, but he returned to his role as primarily a special teamer. The former Northwestern safety played 65% of special teams snaps and returned one kick.

Next game: At Seattle Seahawks (3:25 p.m.)

Ben Skowronek, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Coming off a career best game last week, Skowronek saw his offensive snap count plummet from 32% to just six percent, and he did not register a target in that time. The rookie’s role, however, continued in the special team’s unit, as Skowronek logged 58% of special teams snaps and recorded a tackle.

Next game: At Baltimore Ravens (12:00 p.m.)

Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Cleveland Browns

Odenigbo returned from injury to contribute one combined tackle and a quarterback hit, as he continues to make impact plays in limited snaps for the Browns.

Next game: At Pittsburgh Steelers (Jan. 3, 7:15 p.m.)

‘Cats that did not play or register stats: Greg Newsome II, CB, Cleveland Browns (injury); Trevor Siemian, QB, New Orleans Saints; Joe Gaziano, DL, Los Angeles Chargers; John Raine, TE, Atlanta Falcons; Joe Jones, LB, Tennessee Titans; Blake Gallagher, LB, Baltimore Ravens; Ibraheim Campbell, S, Indianapolis Colts; Earnest Brown IV, DE, Los Angeles Rams.