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10 thoughts on the NFL

A fun-filled second week of action with a whole new batch of NFL-related thoughts on tap.

Tennessee Titans v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

1 – King Henry Looking for another Crown

Another big day from rushing king Derrick Henry in a 33-30 overtime win in Seattle earned the Tennessee Titan another interesting milestone. The 182 rushing yards and 3 TDs gave him his 10th career game of at least 150 yards and two TDs, joining Hall of Famers Barry Sanders (10), LaDainian Tomlinson (12), and Jim Brown (13). Invoking three of the greatest RBs in a stat led me to look at Hall of Fame running backs and rushing titles.

Leading the league in rushing carried a little more press before the passing boom, but it’s still an important record to track for running back legacies. Henry is defending his rushing title again, having won it in 2019 and 2020. Here is the list of multi-year winners of the rushing crown:

(8) Jim Brown – 1957, ’58, ’59, ’60, ’61, ’63, ’64, ‘65

(4) OJ Simpson (’72, ’73, ’75, ’76), Eric Dickerson (’83, ’84, ’86, ’88), Barry Sanders (’90, ’94, ’96, ’97), Emmitt Smith (’91, ’92, ’93, ’95)

(3) Earl Campbell (’78, ’79, ’80)

(2) Joe Perry (’54, ’55), Jim Nance (’66, ’67 in the AFL), Gale Sayers (’66, ’69), LeRoy Kelly (’67, ’68), Edgerrin James (’99, ’00), LaDainian Tomlinson (’06-’07), Adrian Peterson (’12, ’15), Ezekiel Elliot (’16, ’18)

The only retired player on that list not in the Hall of Fame is Jim Nance (the running back, not the announcer). Peterson will absolutely get in once he’s retired. Elliot has plenty more to prove but serves as Henry’s contemporary as they came in the league at the same time. While Elliot hit the ground running, it took awhile for Henry to establish himself. If Henry can win his third rushing title in a row, he would join only Jim Brown and Earl Campbell to accomplish that feat. There are other things that go into it (All-Pro honors, total rushing yards, etc.), but a third rushing title would put him well on his way to Canton.

He leads the league through two weeks with 240 yards.

2 – Vegas, Baby. Vegas.

Color me surprised with the Raiders 2-0 start, knocking off Baltimore in a crazy home opener and backing it up by traveling to Pittsburgh to take down the Steelers. While I’m not particularly high on the Steelers, it was an impressive win and Derek Carr absolutely lit up both defenses for a league leading 817 yards through two games.

Rumors connected Carr to the Bears in trade rumors in the past, but they never came to fruition. Raiders fans are probably happy Carr remains as his marginal improvement each year in the Jon Gruden era has him off to a scorching start. The Raiders get the Dolphins and Chargers, two teams with defensive-minded HCs, before hosting the Bears in Week 5. Let’s see if either the Dolphins or Chargers defense can slow him down so the Bears can copy their homework.

Super Bowl LV Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

3 – Fifteen Yard Penalty for…Spinning the Football?

We’re two weeks into this emphasis on taunting and I couldn’t possibly hate it more. Just stop, NFL. Kill this emphasis now and kill it for good.

Since when did football turn into some black tie, cloth napkin dinner with 7 different forks and an ice carving of the Virgin Mary? Football lives on the gridiron, a rectangular patch of sod, mud, and chalk watered with sweat and fertilized with blood. It’s a tough sport for hardened athletes with high stakes fueled by adrenaline. Trash talk and violence are woven into the history of the game. From George Trafton, the first great Bears center, to Bill George, Dick Butkus, and on and on through the decades. Enforce the cheap shots and fisticuffs, ignore the rest.

If the problem is a concern exposing a genteel audience to the crass side of the game, I’d recommend a) telling that audience to go watch polo, and b) taking a long walk off a short pier.

4 – Duuuval Duh-val

Who possibly could’ve seen this coming in Jacksonville? I mean, besides everyone. Hiring a hardline college coach in Urban Meyer to the professional ranks always had way more risks than upside and his approach hasn’t exactly inspired much confidence. Outscored 60-34 through two games, the coach decided to make an appeal to the fans to just stick with them, give them time.

This reads like a weird panic move. Meyer might not understand he’s running a full marathon here and not a series of neighborhood 5Ks. The adjustment period between the two levels takes time – and it doesn’t help that Meyer sat out the last two seasons. Still, I’ve been literally betting money against the Jaguars until public perception catches up with them or Meyer finds his footing. Until then, I’ll be at the window with my betting slip.

5 – Mismanagement for the Win?

After a big defensive stop, the Vikings punted the ball to the Cardinals down 1 with only 2:52 on the clock. The Cardinals needed to burn the Vikings 3 timeouts and earn two first downs to salt this one away. On the first play, Kyler Murray rolls left and… steps out of bounds?! Murray then takes a 10-yard sack before completing a 7-yard pass on 3rd and 16.

Okay, then.

The Vikings drive the length of the field, down to the 20-yard line. The Vikings then elect to run the clock down and kick the short field goal to escape the desert with a win.

Except, ya know, Vikings kickers and all that.

The Cardinals get some luck from the Vikings misfortune but if they want to compete with the heavy hitters in their division moving forward, this “Kyler go do something” street ball offense might not be enough.

6 – The Other Brady

The Panthers improved to 2-0, as everyone predicted, I’m sure. Yes, a 19-14 win over the Jets raised zero eyebrows but how about a 26-7 shellacking of the division rival Saints a week removed from their pasting of the Packers?

Eyebrows raised indeed.

For me that story centers on offensive play caller Joe Brady. In only his second season as offensive coordinator, Brady will likely emerge as a hot head coaching candidate like last year if he can turn Sam Darnold into a serviceable option this year. Brady’s meteoric rise may seem familiar in the wake of Sean McVay and his growing coaching tree, but just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive.

Darnold was a former #3 overall pick and objectively one of the worst quarterbacks during his time in New Jersey. So far, Darnold has delivered the ball with confidence and precision. Given where league confidence was with Darnold heading into this year, a good year out of Darnold will get Brady a head coaching gig somewhere in 2022.

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

7 – What a Rush

If you watched the Sunday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Ravens and weren’t glued to the screen because of the QBs, I’m not sure what you’re looking for in entertainment. On the one side, Patrick Mahomes made plays that no one else in the league can make. On the other side, well, Lamar Jackson made plays that no one else in the league can make.

Jackson passed 3,000 career rushing yards and will move into the top ten all-time for rushing yards for a QB in the next couple weeks. In fact, he should rather comfortably pass Fran Tarkenton, currently in 6th place, by season’s end. Michael Vick’s record 6,109 seems inevitable at this point.

8 – Viral Marketing Gone Bad

If you watch a lot of football and aren’t quick with the mute button, you tend to watch the same commercial over and over. Maybe it’s the pleasant girl at AT&T or Super Bowl Champion Rob Gronkowski trying to get discount insurance and that’s generally tolerable. However, Applebee’s unleashed an earworm on the nation and people are none too pleased.

Marketing can be a double-edged sword, like when I switched my insurance away from State Farm because of Aaron Rodgers commercials. This Applebee’s song, while catchy, may be one of those cases.

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

9 – A Changing of the Guard?

Last year I published the final piece of a five part series called The Championship Belt Series. The project examined the 100-year history of the Bears and determined the best player on the team at any one time within the confines of some rules so that the belt didn’t hop back and forth based on one great campaign. The final belt determination at the time was easy – Khalil Mack.

Mack’s mere presence on the field changes what an offense does. Whether the offense runs quick game, rolls the pocket away from him, or assigns multiple players to block him, he’s an absolute force that can wreck a game if not properly accounted.

The problem is that teams have, indeed, found a way to limit Mack’s production even if he’s still impacting the game. Let me emphasize – his production is down a tick based on this emphasis of taking him out of the game, not that he’s not still a great player. That leads me to ask this simple question: is Mack in danger of losing the belt?

We all hope that Justin Fields will take the belt and own it for a decade but until that time, Roquan Smith is opening as the favorite to take it from Mack in 2021. A pick-6 and a sack in the Bengals game will start the “All-Pro ‘Quan” campaign again this year and if he takes that step forward to superstardom, I think he has a chance.

Oh, and Jaylon Johnson… I’ve got my eye on you too.

10 – Justin Freaking Fields

Okay, so it didn’t happen exactly how we wanted it to happen. Andy Dalton hurting his knee on a nifty run is unfortunate and I hope he comes back stronger. And sure, the final stat line wasn’t exactly anything to write home about, what with the big drops from his receivers and the bad interception. But this is what we wanted – Justin Fields out on the pitch, getting a chance to play.

Dalton ran an efficient version of Matt Nagy’s offense, taking only safe throws. He showed a little juice on a couple of scrambles against the Bengals but continued to focus on short passes. Fields, on the other hand, pushed the ball down the field. His receivers did not pay it off with a couple of huge drops, but that will get cleaned up in the future. Fields will give the Bears much higher highs and likely some lower lows than Dalton’s steady, uninspiring play. As long as Bears fans understand nothing will be perfect, it should be a lot of fun.

Fellow Bears fans, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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