Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had a whopping 300 receiving yards in yesterday’s win over the Panthers, but 300 is not the number I want to focus on this morning.
The number I want to focus on is 96.9. That’s the number of yards per game that Jones has averaged over the course of his six-year NFL career. And it’s an extraordinary number.
Jones’s average of 96.9 yards a game is the best in NFL history, but it’s not just the best ever — it’s the best ever by a huge margin. In fact, no other player in NFL history has even come within 10 yards of Jones’s average. The second-best receiver in NFL history in terms of average yards per game is Calvin Johnson, who averaged 86.1 yards a game.
Everyone who follows football knows that Jones is a good receiver, but I’m not sure that many people realize that Jones is the most productive receiver on a per-game basis in NFL history, and it’s not even close.
Part of this, of course, is the era Jones plays in: Jones has better numbers than Jerry Rice had at the same point in his career, and better numbers than Don Hutson had at the same point in his career, but that’s not to say Jones is as great a player as Rice and Hutson were. Thanks to rules changes and strategy changes, passing yardage has steadily gone up around the NFL, and it’s a lot easier for a receiver to have 100, 200 or even 300 yards in a game than it used to be.
But even in this era of inflated receiving numbers, none of Jones’s contemporaries are even close to that 96.9 yards per game. Jones, who through four games this season is on pace for an NFL record 1,952 receiving yards, is playing like no other receiver, ever.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:
Can we get some common sense on penalties? During the London game, Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson viciously drilled Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson with a helmet-to-helmet hit, the kind of hit that is a threat to the game of football’s continuing existence and that the NFL has insisted it is doing everything it can to eliminate from the game. Robinson got up and spun the football, a silly celebration that harms no one. So how do NFL rules handle that? Jackson and Robinson both get 15-yard penalties, which offset — except that Robinson’s penalty is more severe, and he’s warned that if he does it again he’ll be ejected from the game. Why on earth does the NFL handle penalties this way? A helmet-to-helmet hit should be a 25-yard penalty. A celebration shouldn’t be any penalty at all unless it delays the game, in which case it should be a five-yard delay of game penalty. It’s ridiculous that the NFL overreacts to celebrations and under-reacts to helmet-to-helmet hits.
I like Mike Tomlin’s approach to two-point conversions. After the Steelers scored their first touchdown on Sunday night against the Chiefs, Tomlin decided to go for two, the Steelers made it, and they led 8-0. That shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary, but it is: Tomlin is the only coach in the NFL who ever goes for two early in games like that. Other coaches only go for two when the “chart” tells them to go for two based on the score and the circumstances late in the game, but Tomlin goes for two any time he thinks his team will have a good matchup. It works, as the Steelers are 9-for-13 on two-point conversions over the last two years since the NFL changed its extra point rule, and I’m baffled at why no other coach is as aggressive about going for two as Tomlin.
Jeff Fisher doesn’t know what constitutes a catch. Fisher should know as much about the rules of the NFL as anyone, given his many years on the league’s Competition Committee. But he challenged two clearly correct calls on incomplete passes in the second half of Sunday’s game in Arizona. I can only assume that Fisher is as confused about the NFL’s convoluted catch rules as the rest of us — or he was hoping the referee would be confused enough that he would award the Rams catches they clearly hadn’t made. It doesn’t speak well for the NFL’s wacky enforcement of its catch rules that a coach like Fisher would think there was a chance he would win challenges like those.
A whole lot of coaches are on the hot seat. Is it just me or are there more coaches than usual who look cooked after four weeks? Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, Mike Mularkey in Tennessee, Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis, Mike McCoy in San Diego, John Fox in Chicago, Jim Caldwell in Detroit and Sean Payton in New Orleans all seem like they’re past their expiration dates in their respective stops. Some of those guys are good coaches — Payton has won a Super Bowl in New Orleans — but a coach can reach a point when his stuff stops working, and those coaches all seem like they’ve reached that point in their current stops.
Maybe Case Keenum’s not so bad after all. Since returning from that ugly concussion he suffered last year, Keenum has actually been decent as the Rams’ starting quarterback. In the eight games since his return (four this year in Los Angeles and four last year in St. Louis), Keenum has thrown seven touchdowns to only four interceptions, and the Rams are 6-2.
Brian Hoyer’s not so bad either. Hoyer has started two games with the Bears, and in both of them he has topped 300 yards while throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions. Jay Cutler has started 99 games with the Bears, and he only has two games with 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Hoyer is not a great quarterback, but he’s a serviceable starter and an above-average backup.
Coaches need to be more careful with their quarterbacks. I was shocked how late into Sunday night’s Steelers-Chiefs blowout that Mike Tomlin left Ben Roethlisberger in the game and Andy Reid left Alex Smith in the game. What, exactly, is the point of Smith throwing passes while losing 43-7 in the final minute? What if Smith had suffered a serious injury at such a meaningless point in the game? It’s crazy not to pull your quarterback once the game is out of reach.
Terrelle Pryor is one of the NFL’s best young receivers. It’s amazing what Pryor, the former Ohio State quarterback, is doing as the Browns’ top receiver. And it’s also amazing how long it took him to get a shot as a receiver in the NFL. After washing out as an NFL quarterback, Pryor couldn’t get a job in the NFL, spending the 2014 season out of football. It’s shocking that all 32 teams — knowing the kind of big, fast athlete Pryor is — passed on the chance to sign him when he was available. The Browns wisely brought him in, moved him from quarterback to receiver, and are now reaping the benefits.
The Bills played hard for Rex Ryan. Call Ryan a loudmouthed buffoon if you want, but don’t say his players don’t play hard for him. With their backs against the wall, the Bills have won two very impressive games in a row after yesterday’s 16-0 win in New England. I’m still skeptical this Bills team will make the playoffs, but Ryan has his team playing well after a shaky start to the year.