Scoring is at an all-time high. The NFL’s officiating department is under new leadership, with new objectives. Referees are focusing on calling only “clear and obvious” penalties, which is to say they are calling fewer penalties.
This bucks a decade-long trend of penalties increasing, and the reversal is the most pronounced on offense, per NFL Research. There have been 181 offensive penalties called entering Monday night’s game, which is by far the fewest since 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams.
The evidence is showing up on the scoreboard: Teams are scoring an average of 50.1 points per game thus far. If that mark holds through tonight’s game, it would be the highest average through two weeks since the 1970 merger. More points might not precisely equate to better quality of play, but it’s close enough. No one is missing the endless offensive holding penalties, perhaps except pass rushers. Calling fewer penalties is absolutely a long-term strategy I can support.
Russell Wilson had another level to reach. Wilson only gets mentioned after Newton here because his greatness was expected; he wasn’t in a quarterback competition with Brian Hoyer a few weeks ago. I just didn’t expect Wilson to be this great.
His first three touchdown passes Sunday night were all outrageous throws, with Bill Belichick noting there’s not much more the defense could have done on his plays to DK Metcalf and David Moore. Wilson’s incompletions feel like an event; he’s thrown 11 of them in two weeks to go with his nine touchdowns. Four of Wilson’s scores came on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, according to PFF; no other quarterback has more than two such TD passes.
The maturation of Metcalf and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s aggressiveness raises the ceiling on Wilson’s season, even if MVP talk after two weeks feels premature. This is just what us dumb sports yakkers resort to after witnessing someone like Wilson play quarterback at the highest level it can be played.
The Jaguars’ young foundation. Forget Tanking for Trevor. If Gardner Minshew keeps playing like this, the Jaguars will win too many games, and Minshew will be pictured on Florida’s new $1 bill after it secedes from the union.
Minshew made so many terrific reads and throws while leading the Jaguars to 30 points and 480 yards of offense in a tight loss to Tennessee. He’s incredibly accurate. As for his two interceptions, one came off a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage and the other occurred when one of his receivers imprudently jumped for a throw directed to someone else.
Minshew isn’t doing it all by himself, either. Sixteen running backs were selected in this year’s NFL draft, and none of them are playing better than Jaguars undrafted starter James Robinson. The Jags’ second-round receiver, Laviska Shenault Jr., is so good with the ball in his hands that he earned five productive carries in addition to his three catches on Sunday. Adding Shenault to an underrated receiver group led by D.J. Chark provides Minshew with plenty of options to distribute the ball to; eight Jaguars had at least three catches against the Titans. While the Jaguars’ defense might be a year away, Minshew’s crew is no one’s pushover.
How alive football still feels on TV, even when no fans are in the stands. When the Patriots lined up for their decisive final play vs. the Seahawks or Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker lined up for his 58-yard field goal in overtime against the Chargers, were you anything but in the moment, blank, expectant, senses alive, waiting? No one wants this current setup mostly without fans to continue indefinitely, and perhaps this is a time we should only be so distracted. But as fans watching the end of thrilling, excruciating games like Jags-Titans or Falcons-Cowboys, I suspect no one was thinking about anything outside of that field, that moment. If that’s not the real thing, I don’t know what is.