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Northwestern in the NFL: Cause for celebration over the bye week

If you’ve already given up hope on the ‘Cats, the Giants bandwagon has plenty of room.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams
Oct 16, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek (18) runs 17 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at SoFi Stadium.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

For Northwestern fans, Saturdays this season have been disappointing to say the least. But with the Wildcats on a bye week, the purple faithful were able to kick back and enjoy a loss-free weekend. Instead, sports lovers were treated to a plethora of fun college football and playoff baseball action. The following day, ‘Cats fans had the opportunity to focus in on a fun NFL Sunday that featured several upsets and a few notable achievements from NU alums.

Mike Kafka — New York Giants, Offensive Coordinator

The New York Football Giants are 5-1. Five and one! The G-Men have already tied or surpassed their win total from four of the past five seasons. In many ways, this is an indictment on years of Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge, but New York is also one of the best-coached teams in football. After a shocking upset against a formidable Ravens team, Brian Daboll seems like the clear frontrunner for Coach of the Year, in large part to Mike Kafka’s overperforming offense.

The Giants fell behind Lamar Jackson and the Ravens early on. Yet Kafka, working with depleted personnel, pulled out a few tricks to keep New York in the ballgame, including this fun one that may take a few rewatches to fully process:

There are zero wide receivers on the field on this play! Two tight ends are lined up out wide with three running backs surrounding Daniel Jones. Danny Dimes fakes to Gary Brightwell and then as three men all drift towards Saquon Barkley, Jones lifts the ball over the top to Matt Breida for a first down. The Giants’ heavy formation condenses the Baltimore defense, and Kafka smartly deploys his star player as a decoy to exploit an opportunistic Ravens secondary. Ignoring Barkley, look at some of those names! Brightwell? Breida? In only six weeks, Kafka has displayed excellent ability to maximize lesser-known players with clever play designs that leave defenses puzzled. This drive ended in a touchdown for New York.

In the fourth quarter, with the Giants behind 20-10, Kafka and Co. orchestrated a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that kept the game in reach with only six minutes remaining. After a rare Lamar Jackson error that handed the Big Blue the ball in Baltimore’s red zone, Barkley galloped into the end zone, flipping the game to a 24-20 Giants lead.

One more defensive stand was enough for New York to capture the upset victory and move to an impressive 5-1. After wins against Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson, it is time to take the pesky Giants seriously. In a weak NFC, they are positioned nicely to be competing for a playoff berth come December.

Week Seven Matchup: at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Greg Newsome II — Cleveland Browns, CB

This week was far from the high quality of play the Browns have come to expect out of Newsome. The entire Browns secondary has been a mess all season long. Poor tackling, coverage busts and miscommunications have plagued this defense for weeks, and Sunday against New England was no different. With Denzel Ward in concussion protocol, Newsome became the de-facto number one corner against the Patriots. Jakobi Meyers got the best of the former Wildcat on a handful of routes, but Newsome was not solely responsible for allowing rookie Bailey Zappe to record his first 300-yard game as a pro.

For a Browns secondary that has not exactly faced a murderer’s row of opposing quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, Joe Flacco, Mitch Trubisky, Marcus Mariota and now Bailey Zappe with Justin Herbert as the sole outlier), they must figure out the root of the issue before the upcoming stretch of games that pits them against Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen and Tom Brady. Without a fast fix, defensive coordinator Joe Woods could find himself on the hot seat. That being said, Newsome’s job is secure and a return to his usual high level of play should be expected.

Week Seven Matchup: at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Ifeadi Odenigbo, Indianapolis Colts, DE

For Ifeadi Odenigbo, a journeyman defensive lineman who has bounced around the league since being drafted in 2017, Sunday represented a high-point. Only a few weeks after an embarrassing 24-0 loss to the Jaguars, Indianapolis needed to remind its AFC South foe who is boss.

The Colts did just that, securing a crucial 34-27 win, propelling them to the top of the division. Odenigbo played a pivotal part in Indy’s win, recording two tackles and his first sack as a member of the Colts. Right after the two minute warning in the first half, the former Wildcat overpowered Cam Robinson and ripped through the line on his way to Trevor Lawrence. Jacksonville had to punt and the Colts captured an extra three points before the break due to Odenigbo’s effort play.

Week Seven Matchup: at Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Ben Skowronek, Los Angeles Rams, WR/FB

All loyal Wildcat fans remember Skowronek’s game-winning touchdown against Iowa that sent Northwestern to the 2018 Big Ten Championship. Sunday marked off another pivotal accomplishment in Skowronek’s young football career.

Skowronek has clearly gained Sean McVay’s trust, which in today’s NFL is about as valuable an asset any player can have. This weekend, that trust was on full display as Skowronek hauled in all five of his targets for 40 yards and scored his first career touchdown on a nifty end-around.

This impressive play certainly upset Cooper Kupp fantasy football managers as the two Rams weapons look nearly identical when on the field (to be fair, they are both lanky receivers whose jersey numbers feature a “1” followed by a second curvy digit). This should definitely be seen as a positive though, right? After all, Skowronek did look reminiscent of Cooper Kupp on this play! That’s a pretty glowing comparison! Skowronek’s day to remember sprung Los Angeles to a 24-10 victory over the lowly Panthers.

Week Seven Matchup: Bye Week

Dean Lowry — Green Bay Packers, DE

Another week, another disappointing performance from the Green Bay defense. After a London loss that could be qualified as anywhere from disheartening to humiliating, the Packers needed a get-right game. Somehow, this week was even worse as the other New York team came to Lambeau Field and knocked around the Packers Sunday afternoon in a 27-10 Jets victory.

Lowry finished with two tackles and a pass deflection. He posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 73.1, the third highest mark among Green Bay defenders.

Week Seven Matchup: at Washington Commanders (Sunday, 12:00 p.m. CT)

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

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