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Northwestern in the NFL: Wildcats and Wildcat formation

Not a ton of wins, but lots of contributions in different areas in Week Five.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

A win in Ireland to start the season and an even year: a seemingly perfect combination that produced false hope at it finally being Northwestern’s year once again. Well, hearts have been breaking in Evanston with five straight losses, but Northwestern fans can still find their football fix and bleed purple for alums in the NFL. They are proof that Northwestern football is actually home to real, professional talent.

Mike Kafka — New York Giants, Offensive Coordinator

Arguably, the best performance this week of any Northwestern football player —current or former— was intellectual and came from the sidelines. Mike Kafka’s offense has been under fire through the first few weeks of the season. Despite a 3-1 record going into Sunday, the Giants have had painfully slow starts and are averaging fewer than 20 points per game.

Who knew what to really expect from the Giants playing the Packers in London, but with Daniel Jones playing on a sprained ankle and two wide receivers injured, it probably was not the Giants putting up 17 points in the second half while the Packers only had a safety.

The Giants found their success on Kafka’s creative play calling, which ironically relied on a Wildcat formation play. NY was down 17-3 in the second quarter, when Saquon Barkley took a snap out of the NU-themed formation for a 40-yard run. The drive would eventually lead to a touchdown on Kafka’s double reverse play, from Jones to Barkley to Daniel Bellinger who scored.

In the fourth quarter, the Giants utilized the Wildcat formation play again. Barkley took the snap at first-and-goal and scored the winning touchdown, which was also NY’s first lead of the game. Take note: good things happen when you embrace Northwestern.

With this 27-22 win, maybe the Giants' offense will fire up, and maybe just maybe, the Giants are a good football team.

Week Six Matchup: vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Greg Newsome II — Cleveland Browns, CB

Despite a tough 30-28 loss to the Chargers, beloved Wildcat Greg Newsome II had a praise-worthy performance for the Browns. In his three-tackle game, the 2021 first-round draft pick stepped up for two significant plays to help keep the Browns in the game. In the first quarter, Newsome had a touchdown-saving tackle on Austin Ekeler’s 71-yard run. The drive resulted in only a field goal with the Browns then leading 14-3. Then in the third quarter, at third and goal, Newsome executed another stop, forcing the Chargers to settle for a field goal and a 27-21 lead. This timely tackle led to the Browns coming out on top by the end of the quarter with a touchdown on their subsequent drive.

With 13 tackles on the season, hopefully, the 2020 All-American can continue to shine as he adjusts to playing in the slot.

Week Six Matchup: vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Ben Skowronek — Los Angeles Rams, WR and FB (whatever works)

Ben Skowronek has become an integral contributor for the Rams this season. Without a fullback, Sean McVay approached Skowronek with an adventurous idea of using him as one during Week Two, and since, the 6-foot-3 and 224-pound wide receiver has been helping fill this position. His versatility is certainly an asset to the struggling Rams, but what is even more notable is that Skowronek has been outshining Allen Robinson. The 2021 seventh-round pick has meant more to the offense than the $46.5 million receiver.

Robinson has 17 targets, 12 receptions and 107 receiving yards on the season. The Northwestern and Notre Dame alum has 16 targets, 18 receptions and 181 receiving yards. In the Rams' 22-10 loss to the Cowboys this past week, Skowronek had six receptions, which was a season-high for him, and 41 receiving yards.

Skowronek has been proving himself this season. If you’re not convinced of his potential, just listen to Peyton Manning who said he would vote for him for the Pro Bowl.

Week Six Matchup: vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 3:05 p.m. CT)

Dean Lowry — Green Bay Packers, DE

The Packers supposedly had a formidable defense, but let the Giants' victory over Green Bay be proof that there is room for improvement. Against the injured Daniel Jones and weakened Giants, the Packers allowed 27 points in five possessions.

Perhaps Lowry is not necessarily a “key” player, but in his seventh season, he has the opportunity to contribute. The four-year Northwestern starter has 19 tackles on the season so far, including five against the Patriots last week, and three this week against the Giants.

The Packers’ defense has a lot to answer to in terms of showing up; hopefully, Lowry can be part of the answer.

Week Six Matchup: vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Justin Jackson — Detroit Lions, RB

With D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams on the roster, Justin Jackson has not gotten a lot of playing time and has mostly been limited to special teams. Swift, however, has been sidelined the past two weeks due to a shoulder injury, resulting in Jackson seeing his first nine offensive snaps of the season against the Seahawks in Week Four.

Against the Seahawks, where the Lions fell 48-45, Jackson rushed for three yards on two attempts. In the Patriots' soul-sucking 29-0 blowout in week five, the Northwestern all-time rushing leader rushed for 14 yards on three attempts.

Week Six Matchup: Bye Week

Ifeadi Odenigbo — Indianapolis Colts, DE

The only team with a Northwestern alum on its roster to be victorious this past week was the Colts. With eight seconds left in regulation, the Colts kicked a field goal to tie the game at nine and went on to win in overtime on another field goal.

Ifeadi Odenigbo has switched between seven teams since 2017. He hasn’t been able to acquire a consistent role, but with limited playing time, the seventh-round pick is contributing as a pass rusher when he can.

Week Six Matchup: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Injured Wildcats: OT Rashawn Slater (Chargers), LB Anthony Walker Jr. (Browns)

Other Wildcats in the NFL: DL Joe Gaziano (Chargers), DL Earnest Brown (Rams), OL Blake Hance (49ers), QB Trevor Siemian ( Bears), LB Joe Jones (Titans), WR Kyric McGowan (Commanders)