By: Chris Dagonas
This past weekend, for those of you unaware, was Canadian Thanksgiving. A time to meet with family and friends, eat a huge turkey, and walk on eggshells as your uncle starts discussing the upcoming federal election.
My wife and I hosted our families on Sunday evening, which meant I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon only sort of watching football, while helping with the cleaning and cooking. I kept close tabs on my fantasy team via my smartphone, and I can happily say that I had a pretty good week, even though I left Eli Manning and his 40 points on the bench. And of course, I’m now bankrupt again in DraftKings. Probably for the best.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to reflect and give thanks for all the good stuff in your life. And while I do have lots of other, non-football things to be thankful for, this is a football column. So, I’m going to run down some football (and other sports) things for which I am thankful this Thanksgiving.
I am thankful for a new generation of running backs
Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde, TJ Yeldon, and Todd Gurley, all seem poised to take over the mantle as the league’s most popular running backs, and with good reason. Freeman has been spectacular for the past three weeks in helping guide the Atlanta Falcons to a 5-0 record, and currently sits in a three-way tie for second place in rushing yards with 405 total. Yeldon has been Jacksonville’s most exciting offensive player, and though his numbers are underwhelming, he plays for a rebuilding team with a mediocre offensive line. The same can be said of San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde, who has put up very good rushing totals for an otherwise underwhelming team. Gurley, after missing the first two weeks of the season, and only getting 6 carries in week 3, exploded in weeks 4 and 5 with 305 rushing yards in the last two games. Those four have breathed new life into their respective franchises, and should become the new class of the league, soon. On the other hand…
I am thankful for veteran running backs keeping it going
The NFL’s current leading rusher is… MATT FORTE! In his seventh season in the league, all with the Chicago Bears, Forte continues to quietly stand out, both as a runner and a pass catcher. He has only missed five regular season games in his entire career, and is always good for 1,400 all-purpose yards. This year, with injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, Forte has carried the Bears offense on his back to a record of 2-3, which is not all that bad considering the circumstances. Also worth mentioning here is Arizona’s Chris Johnson, also in his seventh season, who has racked up 405 yards as the Cardinals’ primary running back. After a one-year speed bump with the New York Jets last season, Johnson is back to showing 1,000 yard potential behind a dominant offensive line and explosive offense.
I am thankful for the dead arms of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, and injuries to other veteran quarterbacks
It seems like Manning, Brees or Tom Brady have led the league in passing yards and touchdowns for as long as I’ve been watching football. They’re all legitimately awesome quarterbacks, so it makes sense. I ain’t even mad. But I like seeing some turnover in the league, and this year we are seeing that at the quarterback position. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton currently leads the league in passing yards, and sits tied for second in passing touchdowns. Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Carson Palmer are all also in the top-5 in yardage, supplanting usual suspects like Peyton, Brees, injured Ben Roethlisberger, and even Aaron Rodgers. Having a new crop of leading quarterbacks is a good thing, in a league where parity is king.
I am thankful for elite quarterback-wide receiver partnerships
Andy Dalton to AJ Green (495 yards, 3 touchdowns), Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald (490 yards, 6 touchdowns), Matt Ryan to Julio Jones (545 yards, 4 touchdowns). Quarterbacks need to find a connection with at least one of their receivers, and these duos have been the most exciting and connected the most often so far this season. It’s great to see partnerships that seem to read each other’s minds like these pairings. From timing their cuts, to adjusting on the fly to different coverages, to knowing just how much air to put under a throw for the receiver to get under it, football is at its most beautiful and graceful when quarterbacks and receivers have solid partnerships. These have been more than solid. They have been extraordinary.
I am thankful for field goal kickers having nightmares about 33-yard kicks
Missed extra points are making teams think carefully about trying a two-point conversion, even early in the game. This is exciting, as it brings a new element of chance and risk to scoring plays. Field goal conversion percentages are way down, but as the season goes on and each scoring play matters more and more, I am excited at the prospect of seeing teams playing for two points each time after a touchdown.
I am thankful for the Blue Jays winning two games this weekend
I know this is a football column, but I just can’t stay away from this topic. After Friday afternoon’s heartbreaking fourteenth-inning loss, the Jays were down 0-2 in the series and things were looking bleak as the series moved to Texas. After Blue Jays victories on Sunday and Monday, things are back looking the way they’re supposed to. Game 5 will feature a repeat of game 2’s starting pitching matchup, Marcus Stroman against Cole Hamels, except this time, the Jays are out of their funk. Having scored 13 runs on the road, and getting ace-quality starts from both Marco Estrada and RA Dickey (albeit Dickey exited after less than 5 innings), the momentum has swung back to the AL East champs, who come home on Wednesday with as much, if not more, confidence than when the series began.
Observations from week 5:
Jamaal Charles will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. This is horrible news for fans of football in general. Charles is consistently one of the league’s premier running backs, and going the rest of the season without his weekly highlights just makes me sad. The good news is he has suffered a similar injury in the past, and bounced back just fine. Here’s hoping he is ready for the 2016 season.
Do you know who Jarryd Hayne is? I didn’t, until I happened to breeze past a list of the top-selling NFL jerseys for September. It might not surprise you that Tom Brady was first on that list, followed by stud receivers Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, Jr, and Rob Gronkowski. Sitting fifth on that list, however, is Hayne. Jarryd Hayne, as it turns out, is an Australian-born running back who plays for the San Francisco 49ers. After a successful career in Australian rugby, Hayne switched sports and was signed by the 49ers. He serves as the team’s primary kick and punt returner. Australia is known for producing a fair amount of kickers and punters, as well as a few position players, but Hayne is the first Australian running back in NFL history. All signs point to Hayne carving out a decent career as a special teamer and occasional running back.
Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson turned 39 years old on October 7th. On October 11th, Woodson picked off Peyton Manning twice, to bring his season total to four. That amount is tied for the most in the league, with Carolina Panthers stand out corner Josh Norman. Woodson and Manning both entered the NFL in 1998, when I was a chubby 12-year-old wearing a Dan Marino jersey and listening to Limp Bizkit. In fact, Woodson beat out Manning for the Heisman trophy earlier that same year. While Manning’s throwing arm is looking more suspicious than a Roger Goodell press conference these days, Woodson still moves like a man ten years younger.
Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers. Go Jays Go!