While everybody talked about the peaceful protests shown by teams around the NFL, the theme that kind of went under the radar on Sunday was how many prohibitive favorites went down to underdogs in the early games. I want to take a look at how those five teams overcame the odds and came up with the Ws. Here we go:
Jaguars win 44:7 against Ravens (London)
This NFL Sunday started early with the Jaguars – Ravens game in London. The Jags certainly had an advantage, hosting their fifth game in a row in England’s capital. They knew how to deal with the jetlag, they knew their hotel, Wembley stadium and the turf, but that’s no excuse. The Ravens just didn’t look like they were ready to play. The London, ehm Jacksonville Jaguars dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Defensively they pressed Baltimore’s wideouts with their premiere CB duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, who both caught two of Joe Flacco’s eight “completions”, if you want to call them that way. I don’t even want to go further into detail about what went wrong with Baltimore’s offense – 186 net yards and three turnovers just don’t get it done. The stats even looked better in the end than they should have and B-More didn’t even deserve that late TD toss by their back-up QB. Jacksonville on the other hand established the ground game early on and then came back with play-action to hit the Ravens over the top with Marcedes Lewis, who recorded three touchdowns. Blake Bortles’ completion percentage of 64.5 percent, the four touchdowns and zero picks sound crazy against a Raven defense, that had allowed just 10 points throughout the first two weeks. With the Jags going up 20 to nothing 20 minutes into the game, Baltimore’s D never got into a situation they would have liked, as in them playing with the lead, getting after the quarterback and coming up with some INTs. They had recorded four sacks and five takeaways in both week one and two, but couldn’t get off the field early on and didn’t receive any help from their offense, which couldn’t stay on it.
Bills win 26:16 against Broncos
The Bills absolutely dominated the edges defensively against Denver’s weakness at the tackle spots. They worked in a lot of slants and stunts up front in combination with bringing linebackers and safeties towards the line of scrimmage to not show who will come. That way they chased Trevor Siemian around and filled up all the holes in the ground game, which was non-existent outside of one big run for C.J. Anderson and a couple of Jamaal Charles scampers. Coverage-wise they took a page out of the Denver playbook early on by manning up against some really good receivers with their new cornerback-duo of rookie Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines, who they acquired in the Sammy Watkins-trade with the Rams. Those two guys were schooled a bit by their opponents, but also won the battle many times as the game went along, including both of them coming up with an INT. What really stood out to me about Buffalo defense was how well they tackled underneath when going to more of a zone-scheme. The Bills rushing attack wasn’t really what we’re used to, but it served a purpose, as Tyrod Taylor was incredibly effective off play-action throughout the game, booting to the outside with the option to take off. He showed off his big-time mobility on multiple occasions, spinning away from traffic and avoiding negative plays. There wasn’t really a way the Bills could have lit up the No Fly Zone, but they took what was given to them and kept drives moving. Shady’s stat line of 14 rushes for 21 yards is far from impressive, but he made some crucial plays in the passing game, where the defense had him squared up and he just danced, the way only he can do, to gain a new first down.
Saints win 34:13 against Panthers
On the first Panthers drive it looked like the combination of Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart would terrorize the Saints all day long and on the following series they got a big gainer out of a Curtis Samuel reverse, but from that point on the Carolina offense was pathetic outside of Run CMC – especially against a lackluster New Orleans D. Cam Newton was off target for the majority of the contest and tossed three picks. On the other side of the ball, Drew Brees and his receiving corp took advantage of the Panthers young cornerbacks. Most significantly, Michael Thomas found holes early on against the zone-coverage and bullied Darryl Worley for the game’s first touchdown with pure physicality. The Saints used route-patterns their opponents simply couldn’t keep up with – crossing their receivers or stacking them up, which forced the Carolina safeties and linebackers to make decisions and leave the second target open or in a one-on-one situation. Not only was Brees effective on all three levels, demonstrated by completing 22 of his 29 passes, the Saints stayed balanced with 27 running plays and even though none of those really popped until a fourth quarter TD by Alvin Kamara, that helped them stay on schedule and convert for first downs with their RB committee. On paper this was a really bad match-up for the New Orleans travelling to Charlotte, but the league’s worst defense finally stepped up and made Cam beat him from the pocket – which he couldn’t.
Bears win 23:17 against Steelers (OT)
The Bears absolutely ran the ball down the Steelers’ throat. They used zone- and stretch-schemes in combination with pullers to kick out the last man on the line of scrimmage. Jordan Howard ran like a man possessed and tired the Steeler defense out, which came in handy for Tarik Cohen as a change-of-pace runner. Pittsburgh started over-pursuing the front-side, which opened up cutbacks more and more as the game went along. Mike Glennon had a pretty horrible game to be honest, but the coaching staff limited the times he held the ball for longer than a simple hand-off. He threw a touch-down off a hard play-fake and checked the ball down to his backs continuously over the course of the contest, which was good enough. Big Ben’s struggles on the road are well documented, but Chicago’s defense seems to finally take on the shape John Fox envisioned. The D-line stacked up the blockers and the linebackers didn’t overcommit, which is exactly what you have to do against a back like Le’Veon Bell who makes a living off being patient and waiting for the defense to show him where to go. The Steelers definitely lost the field-position and special teams battle, as they muffed a punt and had a field-goal blocked at the end of the first half, which should have been returned for a touchdown the other way if Marcus Cooper wasn’t such a fool to start walking for the last ten yards. On the other hand, I have to give him and some of those Bears DBs a ton of credit for staying with the receivers down-field and making some tremendous plays on the ball.
Jets win 20:6 against Dolphins
The Jets didn’t allow Miami to open up any holes to run through for Jay Ajayi and continuously made him bounce to the outside, where they showed the pursuit to bring him to the ground. This also led to a lot of third-and-long situations for Jay Cutler & company and kept them from converting a single third down until the fourth quarter. Offensively, New York didn’t look necessarily high-powered, but they spread the opposing defense out with doubles- and trips-formations for the first half, which opened up room on the inside for Bilal Powell, before going to more power-sets towards the end of the game. Robby Anderson, Aradrius Stewart and Austin Seferian-Jenkins also came up with some great grabs to keep drives moving. Miami made some dumb mental mistake, most notably consecutive encroachment-penalties on a defense series, followed by another two false starts on offense. The Jets were penalized a lot as well, but quite a few of those came on personal fouls because they were just too hyped up, which might not have been a bad thing in this contest. The Dolphins hadn’t really earned any points, but got a TD to DeVante Parker on the final play of the game. In the end it felt like the Jets just wanted this one more and that was obvious on some individual efforts. The addition of first-round pick Jamaal Adams to their defense is exactly what they needed some more of – juice.