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Northwestern in the NFL: Checking in at the halfway point

Not a lot of W’s, but don’t root for the team, root for the Wildcat.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern football and success may not go hand-in-hand in terms of the win-loss column, but many alumni are making strides in the NFL. As fans turn to playoffs for field hockey and soccer, as well as the upcoming basketball season, they don’t need to totally forget about football. One Northwestern alum is leading the Giants to a playoff run from the sidelines, and Wildcats on the Browns and Rams are proving their potential.

Mike Kafka — New York Giants, Offensive Coordinator

The Giants may be 6-2, but a 27-13 loss to the Seahawks is disappointing and highlights the vulnerable offensive issues that raise questions about whether New York is legitimate.

For most of the game, it seemed like it could go either way with the score tied at ten going into the final 15 minutes. But then, Seattle found momentum and put up 17 points while New York only managed a field goal.

The Seahawks may be the NFC West leader and may have an extremely aggressive defense, but Big Blue’s limited offense has been a problem not unique to this past Sunday. All season, the Giants have been plagued by slow starts, averaging only about seven points in the first half. The Big Blue did not record a first down until the second quarter against Seattle, after three attempts to move the chains in the first.

For Mike Kafka, this loss is a reminder that the offense needs to find consistency and momentum. The rushing performance was weak with even Saquon Barkley, who accounts for 38% of the team’s total yards, managing only 53 yards on 20 rushing attempts. It also doesn’t help that Daniel Jones passed for only 176 yards.

The former Northwestern quarterback’s creative playcalling has played a pivotal role in some of the Giants’ wins, but it’s going to take more than the occasional quirky formations to propel this team forward to and through the playoffs.

Week Nine Matchup: Bye Week

Greg Newsome II — Cleveland Browns, CB

For the Wildcat, this game was personal, and the only thing that could have made the 32-13 victory better was if Ja’Marr Chase played. Chase, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, had said he didn’t consider Newsome to be elite on The Pivot podcast. Well, the former collegiate All-American has certainly turned that negativity into motivation, compiling a solid sophomore season so far. Newsome has 21 tackles on the season, including 17 solo ones. He has shown a lot of potential and has become a key presence on the defense, holding down the secondary.

In the Browns’ strong defensive performance against the Bengals, which prevented Joe Burrow and Co. from scoring until the fourth quarter, Newsome had three solo tackles.

In the battle for Ohio, Cleveland came out on top, but there will be a rematch in Week 14. Perhaps Chase will be back, giving Newsome the opportunity to further show his talent.

Week Nine Matchup: Bye Week

Ifeadi Odenigbo, Indianapolis Colts, DE

The Colts almost ran away with this one. The Commanders were up 7-6 going into the fourth quarter, but the Colts took the lead on a field goal and touchdown on subsequent drives. The defense that had been keeping the score close then fell apart on Washington’s final two drives, allowing a field goal and touchdown for a 17-16 loss.

Ifeadi Odenigbo has not found consistent playing time as a player that has bounced from team to team over seven seasons, but recently, he has managed to be part of meaningful plays, such as on Sunday. Pressure on Washington quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, was essential to keeping Indianapolis in the game, and in the third quarter, the Wildcat did just that. Odenigbo quickly got to Heinicke after the snap, followed by Yannick Ngakoue, to successfully sack Heinicke and force the Commanders into punting away the ball.

Being able to see Odenigbo contribute is significant as his role is likely going to soon increase. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis ruptured his patellar tendon in the loss and is out for the year, meaning that the Colts will have to use the veteran much more frequently. For players like Odenigbo, it is these opportunities that serve as reminders of his value.

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

Ben Skowronek, Los Angeles Rams, WR/FB

The Rams lost 31-14 to the 49ers in what was the Christian McCaffrey show. The former Stanford player contributed to three touchdowns: throwing one, rushing one and catching one. In the loss, Ben Skowronek was relatively quiet, only recording one catch for ten yards.

His offensive absence, however, is relatively negligible in terms of its effect on his role going forward. Skowronek has become a key player for the Rams this year. He has done what Sean McVay has asked of him as a fullback and has shined as a wide receiver in his sophomore season. The seventh-round pick has 24 receptions on 30 targets on the season, and just came off one of his best career performances against the Panthers, going five-for-five on targets for 40 yards and scoring his first-ever touchdown. Skowronek has shown he deserves to play and that he is in line for a bright future.

Week Nine Matchup: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, 3:25 p.m. CT)

Dean Lowry — Green Bay Packers, DE

With an offense and defense that have consistently struggled, it has been a disappointing season for the 3-5 Packers. Green Bay suffered its fourth consecutive loss against Buffalo, and it was never particularly close. The Bills scored first and never gave up the lead in their 27-17 victory.

Green Bay’s defense, which is ranked 16th in points allowed per game, was supposed to be one of the best this season but has been overwhelmingly underperforming. Dean Lowry has compiled 27 tackles on the season, including one solo and one assisted against the Bills, but like the rest of the defensive line, has not been performing up to par.

Week Nine Matchup: at Detroit Lions (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)