We may have met an old acquaintance during the early games, and we discovered a new, really cool friend too. If you make a waiver claim on him this week, Brandon Bolden could be like the kid on the block who was the first to get a Nintendo complete with Duck Hunt.
Before we get to Bolden, let’s explore the revival of an old friendship. We used to laugh and break bread with Chris Johnson, but prior to today he mostly just made us want to break stuff that definitely isn’t edible.
Oh, hello there Chris Johnson
We rarely go a day around here without lamenting the demon running back that is Chris Johnson. And even if I’m not doing it openly here as a form of healthy, therapeutic cleansing, I was mumbling to myself in public, during showers, and during sleep. As a CJ1.4YPC owner, my existence is consumed by a first-round pick who either doesn’t see running lanes anymore, or just chooses to ignore them out of the hatred he has for us all.
So then today in his worst matchup of the season so far against a Houston defense that was allowing only 67.7 yards per game thus far prior to today, he rushed for 141 yards, adding 16 more with two catches. He did that after having only 45 rushing yards through three games, meaning with a quarter of the season now complete, 75 percent of Johnson’s rushing yards for the season came today, in one game. He also did this only two weeks after he had 17 yards on eight carries, and three weeks after four yards on 11 carries. No typo.
Worst of all, he did it after most of us (*points at self*) benched him due to both his brutal matchup, and our disgust and loss of patience. No, that decision wasn’t an over reaction, and you shouldn’t feel regret or shame. We play a game where hindsight is an annoyance akin to a friend who constantly asks questions and then answers them in conversation (the worst). Johnson’s fall is well documented, and it goes beyond just the first three weeks of this season after he averaged 65.4 yards per game last year, which was significantly down from the 125.4 he maintained during his record-breaking 2009 season.
So what do we make of Johnson’s performance today? Is it a worthy excuse to TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND DECLARE THAT JOHNSON IS BACK BABY?!!!!1 Well, let’s consider the circumstances, and a few other numbers. He received more carries after Jake Locker went down in the first quarter, and his workload remained high despite the lopsided score in a blowout (Houston won 38-14), and the Titans’ need to pass and claw back. He finished with 25 carries.
Looking back on that magical and seemingly mystical 2009 season again, there were nine games when Johnson averaged 5.6 or more yards per carry, as he did today. So he showed a glimpse of his old form, which is exciting and it gets blood to flow into many areas of the body. The 2012 Johnson doesn’t come without some discouragement, though, so bear in mind that his impressive per carry average today was still achieved with a bit of plodding and not much blazing speed, which still wasn’t very Chris Johnson of him.
His longest run today was 19 yards, whereas in 2009 his average long run per game was 38.5 yards. But still, be happy, and be jovial, because progress.
Matt Ryan: The bad, and the ridiculously good
Sacks are often the responsibility of an offensive line, but the quarterback plays a role too. He has to make better reads to shift the pass protection, or get the ball out faster, or side step blitzers, and while no one will confuse Ryan for Cam Newton — the quarterback he opposed today — he’s still athletic enough to avoid rushers and move in the pocket.
That’s why it’s alarming that Ryan took seven sacks today, 3.5 at the hands of Charles Johnson. Through the first three weeks he had only taken four, and last year he averaged only 1.6 per game. This is almost surely an outlier, but it’s still at least mildly concerning that a defense was able to bring Ryan down seven times. So hopefully both Ryan and the Falcons’ offensive line aren’t reverting to the form they showed last year when the QB was sacked 13 times over the first three games.
But that’s admittedly finding a tiny blemish on the Mona Lisa. Ryan’s heave to Roddy White will officially show up in the boxscore as a 59-yard pass that led to Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal in the dying seconds to keep the Falcons undefeated. But unofficially, it was about 65 yards since Ryan let loose from at least six yards deep in his own end zone.
It was Ryan’s third successful one-minute drill to win a game, and only Dan Marino and Mark Sanchez have more. What’s more remarkable than Ryan’s brilliance is that we have a legitimate reason to mention Sanchez’s name in the same sentence as Marino’s, which feels morally wrong.
Ryan finished with 369 passing yards and three touchdowns with an interception, continuing his ascent to elite fantasy status with plenty of tools at disposal. But the absence of one of his weapons today is still concerning.
We still haven’t located Julio Jones
At halftime of the Panthers-Falcons game I wrote about Julio Jones, and his AWOL status on live boxscores in any meaningful capacity. As I wrote, I knew the potential for a wasted effort was high with the likelihood that Jones would explode in the second half. But like world traveler Carmen San Diego and her band of henchmen who are responsible for the fact that I will always be able to identify Kathmandu’s flag, Jones seemed to be lost at the time, so some exploration was needed.
Surely he would re-appear and render my halftime words and worries useless, yes? Nope.
Jones finished with only one reception. The good news is that it was a 30-yard reception, but the bad news is that it was one reception, and didn’t come until midway through the fourth quarter. He was still targeted seven times, which is encouraging and gives you reason to remove your head from the toilet. Last week when Jones had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, he was also targeted seven times.
But a play he didn’t make was especially discouraging. What would have been a +40-yard bomb with less than three minutes left and the Falcons pushing for the win and down by one was an incompletion when Jones jumped to catch the ball and came down with one foot in bounds, with plenty of space to drag the second foot in too. To be fair, it wasn’t an easy catch, but to be fairer to your delusions, it was a catch a wide receiver of his caliber makes routinely.
Thankfully for Falcons fans, a potentially crushing misplay will be forgotten due to Ryan’s brilliance. But fantasy owners were robbed of what would have been about an 80-yard day because Jones couldn’t make a catch that was well within his abilities.
Who the hell is Brandon Bolden?
The simple answer is that he’s a running back, and he’s surely a nice man. But he plays for the New England Patriots, and with Bill Belichick and running backs, there are no simple answers.
The undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss had only 15 yards on seven carries through three weeks. Which means we should have expected Belichick to do something so very Belichickian on a day when he also had us worrying about Rob Gronkowski’s playing status. Even with Steven Ridley healthy, and even with his presumed backup Shane Vereen also with his limbs in tact, Bolden was given the ball 16 times.
The result? 137 rushing yards and a touchdown, for an absurd pace of 8.7 yards per carry. While Ridley was also rolling and still produced, he needed 22 carries to finish with 31 fewer yards (106) while scoring twice. That’s a much lesser pace of 4.8 per carry.
All that adds up to Vereen’s definite fade into oblivion, and the death of Ridley’s status as the unquestioned top option in the Pats’ backfield. A split or at least a time share of some kind will most likely develop going forward, so Ridley owners would be wise to invest in some insurance and guard against the unpredictability of a Belichick RB depth chart by making a waiver claim on Bolden this week.