What We Learned From Week 14 in the N.F.L.

True contenders are seemingly bulldozing their way to the N.F.L. postseason, but no game in the final weeks of the regular season is a gimme. The Texans surprisingly pushed the Cowboys to the wire by picking on a sore spot, and the Lions’ slow climb to efficacy gained new momentum with a win over the Vikings. The Giants, however, may be stalling out after a promising start.

Jameson Williams gives the Lions a sneaky good offense.

Jared Goff is the quarterback equivalent of a Revolutionary War cannon. He can’t move or turn or do very much on his own, but set him up to simply point and shoot and he can do damage.

The Lions (6-7) have sneaked their way onto the playoff bubble behind a remarkably balanced offense that has gotten 14 touchdowns from running back Jamaal Williams and steady yardage pickups from receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Earlier in the season, though, the offensive coordinator Ben Johnson didn’t let Goff’s cannon loose often, lacking the receiving talent necessary to meet Goff’s passes where they were aimed. D.J. Chark missed effectively all of October and November with an ankle injury, while the rookie first-round pick Jameson Williams had been nursing an anterior cruciate ligament that was torn back in January while he was playing for Alabama.

Jameson Williams finally got onto the field for an N.F.L. game on Sunday, and he immediately had a positive effect, helping the Lions’ get a 34-23 win over the Vikings (10-3) in Detroit.

Detroit explored the bombs-away possibilities that come with Williams and Chark playing together early. On the Lions’ second drive of the game, Johnson called for a play-action shot play on a second-and-5 from near midfield.

Williams, lined up tight to the left, ran a deep post while Josh Reynolds ran a crossing route from the other side that he cut off halfway there. The Vikings’ defense mucked up the coverage and Williams slipped through for a 41-yard score, his first as a pro, to put the Lions up by 7-0.

Three drives later, with the score tied at 7-7, the Lions cooked up another vertical play, this time with Chark in mind. With 6 minutes 34 seconds left in the second quarter, the Lions started a drive on the left hash. The Lions spread two receivers out right, forcing the Vikings’ single-high safety to shade that side.

Meanwhile, Chark aligned tight to the left side of the formation, giving him extra space down the sideline. The combination of forcing the Vikings to cover the wider side of the field while also giving Chark room on the sideline made it easy for Chark to turn on the burners on a go route and give Goff an open throw for a touchdown to go up, 14-7.

Detroit has added a deep ball target that should make look good and continued playing well, winning its fifth game in its last six. Before Week 14, Goff’s average intended air yards was just 7.4, per Next Gen Stats. That number put Goff in the bottom half of the league, right around the same area as the Texans’ Davis Mills and the Jets’ Mike White.

With Williams and Chark, Goff may be able to push the ball more and make defenses respect the whole offense.

The Cowboys’ injuries at cornerback could pose a real problem.

Texans receiver Chris Moore caught 10 passes for 124 yards against the Cowboys.Credit…Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

It’s been hard to not be excited about the Cowboys (10-3) since Dak Prescott’s return in Week 7 from an injury. The team has won six of its seven games over that period, including a 27-23 nail-biter against Houston on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

Prescott, for the most part, has been playing like an upper-echelon quarterback, the running back duo of Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott has been humming, and the Cowboys’ defensive front has terrorized opposing offenses.

That being said, Sunday’s game was a reminder of how quickly injuries can become enough of a problem to nearly derail a season. In Dallas, the cornerback position has quickly become a pain point.

In Dallas’ scarier-than-necessary win over the Texans (1-11-1), Houston’s Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel combined to complete 20 of 27 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. That performance came from a team that entered the week with 6.3 yards per pass attempt, ranked 30th in the league. Houston’s quarterback tandem produced only one interception all day — on Mills’s Hail Mary attempt with 14 seconds remaining.

For the Cowboys, that’s a bad day, which can be explained by absences in the secondary. The starting slot corner Jourdan Lewis went on the injured reserve list back in Week 8 with a Lisfranc injury and is not expected to return this year. Then Anthony Brown, the team’s starting cornerback opposite Trevon Diggs, went down with a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in a win over the Colts last week. That has left the Cowboys with Kelvin Joseph (outside corner) and the fifth-round rookie DaRon Bland (slot) starting.

On Sunday, Diggs briefly went to the locker room with a thumb injury in the first half before returning. It was not serious enough to keep him sidelined, but even a minor knock to the team’s only remaining quality coverage cornerback is a cause for concern.

The Cowboys will only see better passing offenses the rest of the way, with games against the Jaguars, Eagles, Titans, and Commanders left to play in the regular season. Barring a miraculous turnaround from the young cornerbacks, the Cowboys are in danger of facing shootouts, and it might be hard to keep up in the playoffs.

Around the N.F.L.

Jaguars 36, Titans 22

Lions 34, Vikings 23

Bills 20, Jets 12

Bengals 23, Browns 10

Cowboys 27, Texans 23

Eagles 48, Giants 22

Ravens 16, Steelers 14

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