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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, the 600th TD football and more in this week’s Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
Ja’Marr Chase plays catch me if you can
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

1 – High Speed Chase

The Bengals selected Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell with the #5 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. It settled an online argument that spilled industrial tanks of virtual ink in the lead up to the draft. I supported the argument for adding to the offensive line, but the Bengals chose Chase to reunite with quarterback Joe Burrow. The Bayou Tigers moved north, started putting chili on their spaghetti.

So far, the connection looks fierce. Currently on pace to set a rookie record, Chase already owns three 100-yard receiving performances, including the 201-yard supernova against the Ravens in an upset victory on the road. He is somehow both near the top of the leaderboards in average depth per target and yards after the catch.

The Bengals currently sit at 5-2 atop the leaderboard not just in the AFC North, but the entire conference. Have they arrived? I’m not sure, but I’m at least asking the question.

2 – The Pterodactyl Emerges

Kyle Pitts is likely going to break a 60-year-old record. Mike Ditka, in 1961, set the rookie record for yards by a tight end with 1,076 in only 14 games. Ditka never broke 1,000 again but set the bar for rookie TEs for the last six decades. Pitts, who the Falcons took with the 4th overall pick in this year’s draft, has emerged as the dynamic weapon the Falcons were dreaming about.

The athletic freak moves so incredibly well for a big target and it appears that Matt Ryan and Arthur Smith have figured out how they’re going to use him in this Falcons offense. After a modest start, Pitts has caught 16 of 18 targets for 282 yards and a score in his last two contests. With the Falcons playing plenty of catch-up football this year, I’d expect Pitts to exceed Ditka’s mark, but let’s see if he can do it in the first 14 games.

3 – Darnold a Dud

The wheels may have just come off the Sam Darnold wagon. The Panthers took a big swing by adding Darnold and picking up his 5th year option after he flamed out with the Jets. It looked like Joe Brady and the Panthers coaching staff put him back together during their 3-0 start. Not so good since.

In the last four games for the Panthers, all losses, Darnold has completed 80/142 for 796 yards, 4 TDs and 7 picks. He’s also taken 15 sacks in those starts. He’s reverted to some of the bad habits that made his time in New Jersey so difficult. The one saving grace for Darnold might be that the Panthers clearly run through Christian McCaffrey, who missed the last 4 games with an injury. We know McCaffrey will miss at least one more game given when he was placed on IR. Maybe the Panthers can return to relevance when he returns.

And maybe he can save my fantasy team while he’s at it.

4 – Goff v Stafford

That had to be a little weird. Matthew Stafford playing host to the team that drafted him. Jared Goff returning home to the team that didn’t want him with a team that, well, doesn’t seem to really want him either. The Lions gave the Rams a scare, emptying the bag of tricks before the Rams took control late. I’m sure an upset win against the mighty Rams would’ve meant the world to Goff and his new teammates but the talent gap was just too wide.

I do find it funny how many NFL fans and media act like they just discovered that Matthew Stafford is a really good quarterback. The dude has been slinging it for a long time in Detroit but because the Lions only make it on national television when you’re stuffing your face with turkey and pumpkin pie, many wrote him off as irrelevant. It will be interesting to see if he’s good enough to get the Rams back to the Super Bowl and get the wunderkind McVay a championship.

5 – Was Gruden Holding Back Derek Carr?

Derek Carr has played well this year, no doubt about that, but he’s taken his game up a notch since Gruden left. I think a lot of people assumed the Raiders would miss Gruden’s play calling abilities but Carr has responded to the void with two big games to get the Raiders back on track. The Raiders now own one of the best marks in the AFC and get a chance to catch their breath with a Week 8 bye before getting the Giants and Chiefs.

I still believe the Chargers are a more interesting threat to the AFC West, but Carr and the Gruden-less Raiders have my attention. Carr currently trails just 6 yards behind Tom Brady for the league lead in passing yards and sits in the top ten for adjusted net yards per attempt. I’ve doubted Carr plenty over his career, but this is the best version I’ve seen of him and excited to see what he can do in the second half of the year.

6 – Seattle Swan Song

The Seahawks appeared to be a team in transition to start the season, I’m just not sure anyone told Pete Carroll. Sitting at 2-5 at the bottom of the NFC West, Seattle may be nearing the end of the Russell Wilson era, and Carroll may be asked to take early, er, super late retirement.

The 70-year-old Carroll has been coaching since the early 70s. He had a great run at USC with two national championships followed by a great run in Seattle with two super bowl appearances and one victory. The Seahawks made the playoffs in nine of his eleven seasons entering 2021. It’s a plenty impressive resume. I think Seattle moves on after this season, one way or another, but hat tip to Carroll for a great run.

7 – 600th TD pass football

During the Bucs blowout of the Bears, Brady threw TD pass number 599, 600, 601, and 602. The broadcast made a huge deal about getting the ball for the 600th score back after Mike Evans gave it to a fan wearing his jersey in the stands. Why would the football of the 600th TD pass be any more or less valuable than the 599th or 601st? Tom Brady already owns the record, the 600th didn’t break that record but merely extended it. I can understand the significance of a record breaker or maybe the last TD he throws or some other ball associated with a record but 600 seems… arbitrary.

Everyone took the word of an auction-house rep (shared secondhand on Twitter) that the ball would be worth “$500,000 easy.” In this economy? I don’t know about that.

The guy who sat in the right seat with the right jersey made out with autographed memorabilia, season tickets, and a $1,000 credit to the Bucs pro shop. He’s getting dragged all over Twitter for a bad deal but honestly, I think it’s a decent return for doing no work.

8 – Reexamining the 49ers

The Bears next opponent, the 49ers, travel to Soldier Field with a 2-4 record and plenty of question marks. Jimmy G is still probably, maybe, I guess if the other guy isn’t healthy yet, but definitely, yeah the starter. Trey Lance is working his way back from an injury but he has looked the part of a rookie QB who hasn’t played much football in a while. The quarterback situation, in other words, is underwhelming. What really interests me about this team is Kyle Shanahan.

I like Shanahan as an offensive mind. He’s creative, builds efficient offenses, and seems to be a good play caller. I’m just not so sure I agree with Shanahan as the Head Coach. The number of reports about Shanahan sticking someone in the doghouse or standing up on the table to draft a player only to let them languish on the bench is building to an uncomfortable level.

Maybe he’s one of those guys who is best suited to be an OC but because he’s such a good OC, he’ll keep getting head coaching jobs. He was so close to winning a Super Bowl in each role that we know he has plenty of value. With the 49ers sitting at 2-4, a loss to the Bears this weekend might signal another lost year. How many more chances will he get with the 49ers?

9 – Matt Nagy’s Negligence

Jason Peters revealed to the press that backup offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons was pressed into duty at RT for Elijah Wilkinson despite taking no preparations during the week to fill that role if needed. Well, he was needed and he looked like he was completely lost. Lester Wiltfong and I discussed it on the recap pod, Bear & Balanced, that Simmons looked like he didn’t know what he was doing and now we know why.

Matt Nagy’s squad has now recorded three blowout losses on the year. There are many examples of undisciplined play throughout the Nagy tenure but one thing that continues to come up is the lack of a plan. Where was the plan to help out his young tackle, making his first start, against two veteran defensive linemen? Where was the plan to help out his young quarterback by leaning into what he does best?

At the end of the day, this coaching staff just doesn’t do enough for this team to sustain success against the actual good teams in the league. When you have that holding you back, your ceiling becomes mediocrity.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

Justin Fields owns a 99 quarterback rating on play action passes. He’s completed 21-32 for 244 yards and a TD. The Bears are only running play action on 25% of their passing plays.

Seems like that number needs to increase…

What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.