Julian Edelman could unlock the Pats offense that the NFL knows and fears, the NFL's dizzying change of pace and why can't the Falcons stop anyone. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. Jules is back; sorry, Patriots haters
One reason this season Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hasn't been, well, Tom Brady is because Julian Edelman hasn't been around. Yes, it's that simple.
Edelman has long been one of the key cogs of the Patriots offense, but that sometimes gets lost in the glare of Brady and Rob Gronkowski's greatness. A precise and explosive route-runner, Edelman often is a threat to draw double-teams, leaving Gronkowski single-covered. And when Gronkowski gets doubled, Edelman is almost impossible to stop in single coverage, especially on short and medium routes.
"He gets open so quick," Brady told reporters Monday. "I think that's the thing about Julian—his explosiveness in the routes, in and out of breaks. It's very comforting for a quarterback to see a guy get open really early in a route. Julian—we ask a lot of him. He plays a lot of different spots. I think he's capable of moving in and out of different locations and it's kind of specialty-type plays."
Without Edelman's defense-altering abilities, Brady has been ordinary, at least according to the standard expected of him. He's 20th leaguewide in passing yards, behind the likes of Eli Manning, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum.
Brady is likely to make a surge up that leaderboard now that Edelman's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy is over. Even if Edelman doesn't play Thursday night against the Colts or only plays sparingly, he'll be fully operational soon.
If Edelman gets back to where he was prior to his suspension, Gronkowski isn't too beat up—he's currently day-to-day with an ankle injury—and newly arrived receiver Josh Gordon stays clean, the Pats offense will be almost impossible to stop.
None of those are sure things, but all are highly plausible.
One thing is certain. The Patriots can't wait to get Edelman back, and few players are as excited about it as Brady.
"He plays with a massive chip on his shoulder, and I think that is his play style," Brady said Monday on the Kirk & Callahan show, via Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com. "He's tough. He's been everything that you are looking for as a Patriot. Hopefully he brings that attitude and his competitiveness. Be really unselfish and do all the dirty work, which Jules loves to do.
"I think all the guys appreciate that with a player who is not the biggest guy, but he has a big heart and makes the biggest plays at the biggest times. Any time you can add someone like that, it can only help."
That's bad news for the rest of the NFL.
2. How to make friends and influence people
Concerns about Josh Gordon not fitting in with the Patriots culture don't seem to be worrying the man who built that culture—at least, not yet.
"Josh has worked hard, he's a smart kid and he's got quite a bit of experience," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters Monday. "He's, obviously, played in a lot of different systems with different coordinators and so forth. So, I think one way or the other, he's probably experienced things that we're doing in one of those systems that he's been involved in. So, he's been able to pick things up quickly and has experience doing different things, so it was good to get him out there. We'll just see how it goes, take it week-to-week here."
It says a great deal about Gordon that he can walk into the Patriots locker room, grasp their offense and impress Belichick in so little time.
3. The revolution is here
It's become obvious that the NFL is creating a new species of pro football, much like how a scientist creates a monster in a test tube.
But I don't think fans, or even some people covering the sport, understand just how transformational this is. Decades of football are changing in the blink of an eye.
This isn't an old-man-yelling-at-clouds type of deal; this is just stating facts. NBC's Peter King outlined how quickly the number of 400-yard passing games is rising:
2014: 11 400-yard passing performances in 256 games
2018: 12 through 63 games
"The game is becoming far less physical, and the intimidation factor is gone," former defensive tackle and current ESPN analyst Booger McFarland told King. "The quarterbacks know they can get hit, but not really hit like they used to."
Not surprisingly, defensive players aren't thrilled.
"My question is why won't they just put flags on the QBs?" 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted. "They would rarely hit the ground then. Guys would be able to grab the flags and that would be a sack. Guys are losing thousands of dollars just doing their job. Something has to change."
What's concerning from a 30,000-foot view is not so much that the game is being altered, but that it is being altered at a breakneck pace. We haven't seen the NFL change so quickly since the forward pass became a thing. While the forward pass was a great innovation, the shift toward rules that favor offenses will take time to allow for a harmonious balance in how the game is played. That has a lot of people across the NFL feeling a bit disjointed, as more than a few are poised to fall.
Just think, there were five 400-yard passing games this past Sunday. There were five 400-yard passing games throughout the entire 1970s, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
4. Something smells rotten in Atlanta
In their last two games against the Saints and Bengals, the Falcons have given up a total of 80 points.
It's one thing when the Saints drop 43 on you; it's another when the Bengals score 37.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan became the first player in league history to lose consecutive games despite throwing for 350 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The reason for the Falcons' poor defensive play is simple, people around the league say. It's not coaching or scheme; it's a lack of talent. Ravaged by injuries to Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones, the Falcons are rolling out perhaps the least talented collection of defensive players in the NFL, some around the league argue.
But as the saying goes, you can't fire all of the players. If teams continue to slice through the Falcons as they have so far, you can expect an assistant coach or two to be forced out as sacrificial lambs.
5. Kickin' it
That's one way to describe one of the best sports podcasts out there, hosted by former Colts punter Pat McAfee.
Funny, intelligent and informative, The Pat McAfee Show 2.0 offers a lot of insight and opinions formed from McAfee's eight seasons in the NFL. So, who better to ask about the state of a game seemingly in flux every year? What does McAfee think the league can do better?
"The game as a whole is in transition now," McAfee said.
While McAfee was mainly talking about rules changes, the sport is transitioning in numerous ways on and off the field: how the sport is watched (on mobile devices more than ever before), how it is viewed (left and right politics) and how it is covered by the media.
Still, McAfee misses the game, and all of us should note the reason why.
"The thing I miss most is the NFL is a melting pot of people," he said. "In the NFL, people come together with a common goal. The way the world is now, with everyone tearing each other apart, an NFL locker room bonds over football. That's a great thing."
6. An MVP dark horse
This season has been all about the spectacular play of Patrick Mahomes, the dominant Rams and the excitement of Baker Mayfield, but the league's most prolific running back is flying under the radar.
You all remember Ezekiel Elliott, don't you?
As odd as it is for a Cowboy to be undercovered, Elliott has been. He leads the NFL in rushing with 426 yards, significantly ahead of second-place running back Todd Gurley (338 yards).
Elliott has been playing through ankle and knee injuries, but he has still carried the Dallas offense, which finally showed some signs of life Sunday in a win over the Lions. If the Cowboys can string a few more victories together, it won't be long before Elliott starts receiving some well-deserved MVP talk.
7. A matter of trust
Former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Rich Gannon said something this week that almost everyone is thinking: Can the Buccaneers count on Jameis Winston?
"I think it's the decision you have to make at this point," Gannon said on CBS' NFL Monday QB, according to a transcript from the show. "You knew at some point the magic was going to run out for [Ryan] Fitzpatrick. The turnovers have been a problem for him. It's one of the reasons why he's been on eight different teams. But Jameis Winston...he, too, has issues with ball security. And to make matters worse, their defense is awful...
"The issue I have with Jameis Winston is, can you really trust this guy to make good decisions in critical situations?"
The answer is no. But the Buccaneers don't have a choice.
8. Elite chip on the shoulder
Gannon had something else to say about a QB who can be trusted: Joe Flacco. Despite a growing undercurrent of criticism, Flacco has the Ravens back in the conversation to win the AFC, and Gannon thinks he knows why:
"A couple of things happened with Joe Flacco," Gannon said. "You go out and draft Lamar Jackson in the first round; that not only lit a spark, it lit a fire under Flacco. He looks like a much different guy, even going back to training camp. ... The other thing that's really helped Flacco is what [the Ravens] did in the offseason. They went out and got John Brown. They went out and got Willie Snead. They went out and got Michael Crabtree. That's an area where they really struggled. They haven't had the depth and talent at that position in a long time."
They do now, and Flacco is prospering.
9. Robot arm
It's no secret that Mahomes has a cannon arm, but the above video suggests he may be part android.
What's remarkable isn't just the distance—which looks to be about 70 yards—it's the effortlessness of the throw. It's reminiscent of how smoothly a fighter throws a devastating punch. It's the type of punch that looks ordinary, but it isn't. That's how Mahomes throws the football.
You don't see many NFL quarterbacks this young grasp the technical skills of the position to this degree. And he's only getting better.
10. H3 2Y-Nod X-Go
That's the name of the play 49ers tight end George Kittle scored on in the Niners' 29-27 loss to the Chargers on Sunday. He went 82 yards.
The play showed not only Kittle's potential, but it also underscored the football geek-ness of head coach Kyle Shanahan.
"It was a zone play," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "So, all he tried to do was not show that he was running a seam, so he ran a nod instead. When you run a seam, the safety carries you. When you run a 10-yard out, he doesn't. So, you try to make it look like that. That's why he was wide-open. It was zone coverage."
For those of us who love for the technical details, it was music to our ears.
"Then, it's up to C.J. to look the middle-third player off to get him to defend a go-route, which was on the left side," Shanahan continued. "The O-line gave him enough time to move his eyes to the right, to the left and to come back to the right. So, he moved the coverage well, which got Kittle open. He was wide-open just by the coverage and the quarterback, then Kittle did a hell of a job making it into a touchdown."
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.