The age of the receiver is upon us. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
There was a time when running backs keyed a great NFL offense. Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes, to name a few, were the premiere offensive threats in the NFL at their respective times. Present day NFL offenses revolve around the passing game. Naturally, receivers have evolved as the offensive game-changers. Look around the league; only LeVeon Bell resembles Tomlinson and Faulk in both style and production. And Bell is not even the most dangerous weapon in his own offense. That title belongs to receiver Antonio Brown. In Atlanta, the Falcon offense goes as Julio Jones goes. Dez Bryant’s injury undercut Dallas’ offensive potential even before the Tony Romo injury. It’s no coincidence that Tom Brady’s resurgent numbers over the past two seasons have coincided with a healthy Rob Gronkowski. AJ Green, Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. also belong in this class.
Even draft strategy has shifted. In the 2014 and 2015 NFL drafts, a total of 11 receivers were selected in the 1st round. Four went in the top 10. From 2008 through 2013, five or more receivers were selected in the 1st round only once. NFL offenses live in the air now. Look at receiving production over the past 20 years. In each season starting in 2012 and continuing through 2014, 10 receivers had more than 1,300 receiving yards. From 1996 through 2011, only one season (2000) produced ten players with over 1,300 receiving yards. The next closest was 2002 when 8 players reached the 1,300 yard mark. The number of players reaching 1,300 receiving yards in the other seasons broke down as follows: 7 (2011), 6 (2007, ’05, ’01, ‘99) 5 (2008, ’03, ‘97), 4 (2009, ’06, ’04), 3 (2010, ‘98), 2 (1996).
Here’s simpler way too look at the drastic change in receiving production: From 1996 through 2011, an average of 5.25 players reached 1,300 receiving yards per season. Beginning with the 2012 season, that number doubled. Furthermore, based on current projections, 16 players will pass that 1,300 yard mark in 2015. The NFL has rapidly transformed into a league relying heavily on the talents of receivers. Given the group of young stars at the position today, the NFL is in good hands.
I understand the Cardinals, who are averaging 42 points per week look like gangbusters right now, but can we slow down on the “Cardinals are class of the NFC” talk, please? Look at that schedule. Arizona’s opponents are a combined 1-8. The Bears and 49ers look like two of the worst five teams in football right now. The Saints are not much better. Sure, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald turned back the clock to 2005 and look unstoppable right now. And they might be unstoppable. I would just prefer we wait to crown anyone at this point, especially teams that have yet to face a capable opponent.
I don’t feel like elaborating on these topics but they are worth noting, so let’s go bullet points again.
- The Dolphins problems are rampant right now but they start with an inability to run the ball on offense and an underachieving front seven on the defense.
- The Titans had the Colts 2015 season on the ropes and let them out. Perhaps Indianapolis’ 21 point 4th quarter will break Andre Luck and the offense out of their early season slump.
- ESPN’s decision to put NFL box scores and scoring summaries on separate pages was the 2nd worst decision of 2015. The 1st was letting Chris Berman call another NFL game.
- Andy Dalton has been one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks through three weeks. Dalton was supposed to break out two years ago. He struggled and most wrote him off as a franchise quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
- If the wind changes direction Sammy Watkins gets injured
- The Broncos are playing with fire right now. They need a running game if Manning is to survive the winter.
- Considering his receiving options, Cam Newton’s performance this season has been impressive.
I thought the Cowboys proved Sunday they’ll remain a looming threat in the NFC East. Dallas’ offense was great in the 1st half Sunday. Though they went AWOL in the 2nd half, there’s enough evidence there to see they’ll be competent moving forward. They should have a respectable running game against just about any opponent behind that stellar offensive line. Though he’s by no means a legit starter, Brandon Weeden looked capable of managing the offense. The defense was the real weakness Sunday and that unit should get a boost in two weeks when Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain return from suspension. Rookie Randy Gregory will be back shortly after that. The return of Hardy and then Gregory should relieve some pressure from a depleted secondary that was exposed by Julio Jones. (Though, in fairness to Dallas, who doesn’t Julio Jones expose?) Even the schedule isn’t as bad for Dallas as initially expected. Until Tony Romo returns, I only see two games Dallas has almost no chance of winning; New England and Seattle. With the Eagles still struggling, the Giants being as unpredictable as ever, and the Redskins lacking a quarterback, Dallas won’t fall too far behind in the NFC East, if they fall behind at all.
Despite a Week 1 loss in Denver, it appeared Baltimore was successful in upgrading a defensive secondary that finished the 2014 season ranked 23rd in the NFL. Turns, out, the Ravens success against Peyton Manning and Co. may have had more to do with Manning’s arm issues than Baltimore’s defensive talent. Since surrendering only 150 passing yards to Manning and the Broncos, the Ravens secondary has allowed over 350 passing yards in consecutive weeks. Maybe that’s an easier pill to swallow if Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the opponent, but the Ravens defense has faced off against Derrick Carr and Andy Dalton the past two weeks and been torched. The loss of pass rusher Terrell Suggs certainly plays a role in the Ravens struggles against the pass, but even a great player like Suggs doesn’t account for a 200 yard disparity. At 0-3 the division is likely out of reach for Baltimore, but the Ravens season may have received a stay of execution with the Ben Roethlisberger injury. Still, Baltimore has four days to find a solution, because if they don’t, Antonio Brown will put up another 200 yard day and the Ravens will find themselves at 0-4 and their season all but over.
Power Rankings start next week. In the interim, here are Week 3’s worst decisions:
1. Brandon Marshall lateraling the football to a ghost while trailing 17-0.
2. Coling Kaepernick throwing 3 seconds too late to Anquan Boldin. Result: Tyrann Mathieu Pick 6.
3. Colin Kaepernick throwing off his back foot to Vernon Davis. Result: Justin Bethel Pick 6.
4. Getting out of bed on Sunday – Baltimore’s secondary
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 27, 2015
Remember when I wisely predicted the Patriots would have a lackluster performance in Week 3 against the Jaguars? Yeh. That didn’t happen. Instead, they scored 51 points, set a team record for 1st downs and broke the NFL record for 1st downs through three games (88). Once again, congrats to the NFL for poking the bear. Next time, if the NFL wants to punish the Patriots, they should ignore them completely and heap endless praise on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Only when the whole world was certain the Patriots would finish 19-0 did New England fall on its face.
This is funny. The Patriots had 10 drives Sunday and punted zero times. The Bears had 10 drives Sunday and punted 10 times.
If you didn’t watch, Jimmy Clausen’s start for the Chicago Bears went exactly how you probably imagined it. The offense totaled 146 yards. Clausen went 9/17 for 63 yards. The Seahawks played like a team that knew a win would only require them to make it from the locker room to the field.
Anyone know what happened to the Rams offense that hung 34 points on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1? Over the last two weeks, St. Louis has mustered one touchdown and a total of 16 points. Points aren’t the only issue. The Rams can’t move the football. After accumulating 19 1st downs and 350 yards of offense in Week 1, the Rams have squeezed out only 471 yards and 23 1st downs in the two weeks since. St. Louis inserted rookie Todd Gurley into the lineup for Week 3 hoping he could boost the offense, but Gurley looked rusty and limited from a knee injury last year. He rushed for 9 yards on 6 carries. Nick Foles was supposed to improve the Rams offense but with every start Fole’s 2013 season looks more and more like a fluke.
Poor Steve Smith. I thought he saved the Ravens season Sunday. Twice in fact. His gritty 50 yard TD on 4th down (video below) looked to finally swing the game in Baltimore’s favor as they scored 17 unanswered points. After Baltimore lost the lead, Smith again fought through a tackle on a crucial 3rd and long with Baltimore trailing late in the 4th quarter. He would score the go-ahead TD five plays later. Baltimore wasted a vintage performance from Smith Sunday. Such a shame.
Steve Smith is something. pic.twitter.com/6tI6NrWGhr
— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) September 27, 2015
MVP: A.J. Green
Runner Up: Steve Smith Sr., Julio Jones
Left off Ballot: Kyle Brindza