Football is back, baby! After an awesome first week of NFL action, which I watched every full game of, I wanted to kind of recap all 16 matchups and come up with three statements for each one. Some of them may be more hyperbolic or could be labelled as hot takes, while others state for obvious facts. You can also listen to my Youtube breakdown of week one, where I just give more of my general thoughts on all these games, while also bringing up some of the points I make in this article.
So here’s what I took away from week one:
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire makes this KC offense unfair
This physicality and ability to break tackles is scary, when you think about how dynamic the Chiefs are with Patrick Mahomes and all those guys streaking downfield. I like what I saw from the offensive line, with Kelechi Osemele adding some power on the inside, but 106 of 138 rushing yards for CEH came after contact. No other player in the league even cracked 100 rushing in general. And he didn’t even get any work in the passing game yet, where I believe he could be even more dangerous, as defenses have to back off and then try to bring this bowling ball to the ground. Thank god I have him in all my fantasy leagues and as my favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2. Will Fuller is the clear number one option in the passing game for Houston
With DeAndre Hopkins out of the picture, 150 targets were all of a sudden on the table and “The Flying V” (thanks Fantasy Footballers) should take on the lion’s share of that amount. In the season-opener, the fourth-year receiver caught eight of ten targets on the night for 112 yards. He was on the field for 86 percent of the offensive snaps, while newly acquired running back David Johnson was the only Texans player to catch more than two passes and Fuller was responsible for 44.3 percent of their total through the air. Fuller and Deshaun Watson have a clear connection and with me expecting Houston to be down in games quite a bit, this could lead to a lot of production.
3. The Chiefs are in a different league than the Texans
I went into this game thinking the Chiefs were the best team in the NFL and I had the Texans projected to go 7-9, so it wasn’t overly surprising to me that the games was never actually that close, but this was never even a contest beyond the first quarter. Don’t let the final score (34-20) fool you. The Chiefs scored 31 unanswered, while the Texans picked up eight first downs over that stretch. Even with their two starting corners missing half the game, the defense looked strong, with Frank Clark beating Tytus around the corner like a drum routinely, and if Demarcus Robinson just held on to a couple of passes in the end-zone, KC would have scored 11 more points.
1. This game was almost a mirror image of what happened in week one between these two in week one of last season
In that game to kick of 2019, Washington got out to a 17-0 lead in the first half before Carson Wentz came roaring back, hitting a couple of deep balls to DeSean Jackson to win the game. This time around, Philly dominated the first half, with Washington’s first points coming with less than a minute until halftime. Then two things happened over the final 30 minutes – the Eagles started going down like “birds” and that Washington D-line completely took over the game. I will get to those two points a little more in detail, but it is still crazy to me how everything flipped in half two and how reminiscent it was to what happened exactly a year ago.
2. Philadelphia’s two biggest issues seem to be back
First of all, the injuries are already a major concern for the Eagles. They had to bring in three different offensive linemen off the bench, after they had already lost Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard for the year, plus Boston Scott went to the locker room after they already made the trip without second-year back Miles Sanders. And then, I really didn’t like what Doug Pederson did with the Philly offense in the second half. They almost exclusively went to shotgun, spread sets and ran standard West Coast passing concepts, which Washington was all over, while their pass-rush came crashing down. I know they lost their top run-blocker before the season, but this is still a team that should stick with the ground game and play-action off it
3. Washington’s defensive line is nasty
The “Football Team” racked up eight sacks, as they were beating up everybody on Philly’s O-line and banging Carson Wentz around like a human piñata. Chase Young immediately showed what kind of freakish talent he is and you had multiple guys from that front become free quickly, to put the heat on Wentz. So much so that Washington’s linebacker started getting through untouched. And their DBs started jumping routes, because they knew the opposing QB had to listen to his internal clock, breaking once he first pointed his shoulders at the target. I never thought I’d say this, but “The Football Team” is alone in first place.
1. The Cam Newton-led Patriots offense could be scary
This New England offense is so unique now that they went from statuesque Tom Brady to dual-threat Cam Newton and while Cam loves to spread the field and attack matchups, what they do in the run game is what really creates problems for defenses. The Patriots ran the ball 42 times compared to only 19 passes, with 15 of those carries coming from the quarterback. With jet sweep fakes, inverted veer runs and different option plays, their opponents will have to be very disciplined and assignment-proof. Plus, then with Cam’s big arm, he can push the ball downfield off play-action, which wasn’t even a real factor in game one. If not for N’Keal Harry fumbling the ball into the end-zone, New England’s offense would have scored 28 points – something they only did once from week eight on last season.
2. No New England skill-position players will be on my fantasy team
This is something I haven’t really done in the past either, outside of maybe Gronk, but now – maybe more so than ever – I don’t want the headache of figuring out who will be fantasy-relevant every week. With his rushing upside, Cam might be an interesting option in your leagues, if he is still available on the waiver wire, but none of those skill guys are dependable options for me. Here are the players, who touched the ball at least five times against Miami – Sony Michel (10), James White(8), Rex Burkhead (7), Julian Edelman (6), J.J. Taylor (5) and N’Keal Harry (5). No thank you.
3. We won’t have to wait much longer for Tua
Everybody – including current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick – knows that it’s only a question of time until fifth overall pick Tua Tagovailoa is ready and takes over at quarterback for the Dolphins. Fitzy actually played really well in 2019, but was picked off three times in this year’s season-opener and if you just follow the CBS cameras, you’d think Tua was about to go onto the field. Miami will host the division-rival Bills on Sunday, then it’s the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, before the Seahawks come to town. After that there are two tough road-trips are on the horizon with San Francisco and Denver. So if the Dolphins don’t want to throw him out there on a short week, they might want to wait for that stretch to be over, since the two L.A. teams will come to South Beach after that. But I think we’ll see the rookie by mid-season if he’s fully healthy.
1. Aaron Rodgers is baaad man
I’m sorry for using a Stephen A. phrase here, but I just loved seeing Rodgers shut everybody up with a four-touchdown performance, after people started questioning how good he still is, with the Packers drafting his apparent successor Jordan Love in the first round. The way he threw the ball on the move, the zip that he put on his passes and the way he was straight up dealing reminded me of what I saw from Rodgers over the six plus years he was the best football player in the world. At one point he threw two TDs in the matter of half a minute. The first one to Davante Adams was absolutely filthy, when Rodgers escaped to the right and perfectly placed the ball to a spot where the corner had no chance to make a play on it. And then following a Jaire Alexander interception at the Minnesota 45, he connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a long TD on a go route. Green Bay as a team only punted once all day and did not turn it over. Rodgers is getting himself ready to cash all those offseason receipts.
2. That young secondary will break Minnesota’s back
As spectacular as Rodgers was, I’m also highly concerned with this Vikings back-end. I talked about this heading into the year, with that entire group of cornerbacks combining for less than 1500 career snaps on defense, and there is hope that they can still improve as the season goes along, but yesterday they had no answers for number 12 and those Green Bay receivers. Rodgers averaged 10.1 yards per attempt and if not for a couple of drops and guys tripping, that number could have been even higher. You saw the Packers QB pick on Holton Hill quite a bit, their rookies got taught a lesson and nobody could even try to slow down Davante Adams, who hauled in 14 of 17 targets for 156 yards and two TDs.
3. Davante Adams is a top five receiver
When I released my personal top 100 list a couple of months ago, I only had Julio Jones and Michael ahead of Adams. DeAndre Hopkins had a spectacular debut in Arizona and while they didn’t show much in week one, Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans are part of that conversation, but nobody was more impressive than that dude from Green Bay. Matt LaFleur did manufacture a few touches for his top target, with bubble screens and deep crossers, but Adams always made the most of those plays, he made some big catches downfield and for good measure, he also recovered the game-sealing onside kick. The way he schooled those young DBs for Minnesota off the line and how that connection between him and Rodgers was almost automatic was fun to watch. As much as there was made about the Packers not drafting a single receiver in a historically great class as a number two to Adams, I also thought MVS and Lazard stepped up in the season-opener. And I also want to say his counterpart on the opposite team in Adam Thielen had a great day himself.
1. Gardner Minshew is a real quarterback
Unlike what new Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette may think, Jacksonville does have a guy people want to go to battle with. You can’t be too mad at Fournette, since he did have to deal with Blake Bortles for most of his career, but after week one, you can definitely say that statement did not age well. Against the Colts, who were favored by eight points coming in, Minshew completed all but one of his 20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns, showing that gamer mentality and ability to make plays off script on several occasions. I talked about those Jacksonville receivers early on in the offseason, saying that they are a pretty underrated group, and they also found their new lead back in my big draft crush from Illinois State – James Robinson, who took 100 percent of the carries for Jacksonville. Indianapolis should not have lost that game, since they didn’t punt once and almost doubled Jacksonville in total yards, getting stopped inside the Jags’ five and missing a 30-yard field goal, but let’s give these guys some credit.
2. Time for the Jonathan Taylor show
First and foremost, it just sucks that Marlon Mack seems to have torn his Achilles. He was off to a strong start in this game and I feel really sick for him, especially being in a contract year. However, as bad as I feel for the veteran, I’m also so excited to see what this rookie running behind that Colts O-line. Taylor did not run the ball very well (nine carries for 22 yards), but surprisingly was a big factor in the pass game – which wasn’t his strong suite at Wisconsin – bringing in all of his six targets for 67 yards, where he showed that sprinter speed and the power he can build up on a couple of plays. While Nyheim Hines should clearly be a factor in that offense, with his ability to produce as a pass-catcher and gadget player, without Mack, Taylor now has all the chances to rival Clyde Edwards-Helaire for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
3. C.J. Henderson will be a stud at corner
I could have easily gone with something like “Same old Philip Rivers”, after throwing that bad pick down four in the fourth quarter on a deep crosser to Parris Campbell, when he telegraphed the throw way too much and allowed the safety in quarters coverage to break in front of his receiver. Instead I want to give their ninth overall pick in the draft some love. Henderson was outstanding in his first showing, breaking up three passes and won on kind a jump-ball for an interception, when Jacksonville was down 7-0 at that point in the second quarter, which set up his offense inside the Indy and led to that first touchdown to D.J. Chark. Henderson was all over T.Y. Hilton on a few snaps, including a throw into the end-zone on a third down in the second half (which I thought might be called for P.I. actually) and he knocked the ball out of the hands of Hilton on that fourth down that sealed the win.
1. Same old Lions
I’m starting to really feel bad for people from Detroit. It’s been about 30 years since that franchise last won a playoff game and they have been irrelevant for large stretches of that window. On Sunday it was yet another example of how this team can mess up games. Up 23-6 with the Bears having a fourth-and-one from the opposing 10-yard line heading into the fourth quarter, the Lions had no business losing that game. Mitch Trubisky all of a sudden turned into Joe Montana and scored three touchdowns in just 15 plays. Matt Stafford on the other hand took a bad sack, which led to a missed a 55-yard field goal and tried to force a ball over the middle that got knocked up in the air and intercepted, when Detroit was still up by three. Even with that, the Lions had a chance to still win the game, as Stafford drove them all the way down the Chicago 16 and after spiking the ball with eleven seconds left, the Lions QB hit running back D’Andre Swift for a perfect pass on a wheel route, but usually sure-handed rookie had it slip out his hands and the prayer Stafford threw up with zeros on the clock was knocked. Another heart-breaker for Motown.
2. The Bears offensive line is a lot better in the run game
After the main part of free agency and the draft were wrapped up, I thought Chicago had two major holes on the roster – Right guard and a safety to pair up with Eddie Jackson. As bad as their Trubisky was in 2019, my biggest issue with Matt Nagy’s offense was the rushing attack. They finished bottom-six in yards per carry and total yards on the ground. So when they basically replaced Kyle Long with a former first-round bust in Germaine Ifedi I was worried of course, even though I said right away that he would fit better inside. In their first showing of the 2020 season, the Bears started getting people moving and you actually saw linemen five to ten yards down the field, as they put hands on the Detroit linebackers. David Montgomery ran hard, Tarik Cohen sprung loose on a couple of power and draw plays and Cordarrelle Patterson had a couple of crucial carries as well. Overall, they the ball 28 times for 149 yards and I give a lot of credit to new O-line coach Juan Castillo, who replaced the legendary Harry Hiestand.
3. Mitch magic in the fourth quarter
Through the first three quarters of the game, Trubisky was 12 of 26 for 153 yards. He did not look like a capable quarterback and had recently missed a wide open Cole Kmet on a third-and-nine from the Detroit ten by several yards. However, over the final 15 minutes he looked like a former second overall pick all of a sudden. Helped by some Lions miscues, he threw three touchdowns on the final four drives (15 total plays) and delivered in the clutch. That final scoring play on a fade route from Anthony Miller out of the slot was a thing of beauty. Miller also made some other huge grabs in that fourth quarter. I still say this was more bad Lions than good Bears, but give the guy some credit. Oh, one more thing – Adrian Peterson still has it. I don’t know how he does it, but he was the best running back on that field on Sunday
1. All those vertical weapons on the Raiders could finally make Derek Carr cut it loose
While it was still more of your usual efficient showing by Carr, as he completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 239 passing yards and one touchdown, I thought he displayed the willingness to test defenses deep. That Jon Gruden offense leans on frustrating defenses with short passes, getting the run game going and then hitting them with a few shots over the top, That last element I thought was missing last season, which capped the Raiders’ potential, While DC is a conservative passer by nature – often times to a frustrating extent – that lack of deep balls had something to do with not having the appropriate weapons at the receiver position. With the additions Las Vegas made this offseason, that has changed. On just the second play of the game, Carr put the ball 50 yards in the air for rookie speedster Henry Ruggs III. Later on the first quarter he hit Ruggs on a deep crosser to set a one-yard touchdown by Josh Jacobs. Carr threw a 23-yard dime Nelson Agholor shortly before halftime to put his team back up by five and at least had his eyes downfield much more throughout the afternoon.
2. That Joe Brady offense and Teddy B will put up some numbers
While he did already coach under Sean Payton in a much smaller role, this is still a rookie offensive coordinator and to begin your career with 30 points against a pretty good Raiders team has to be nice. Teddy Bridgewater certainly deserves some credit here, but I was very impressed with Brady’s offense, that spread the defense out with five guys out on the route and how he forced the Las Vegas defense to defends every level of the field, leading to a lot of easy completions indicated by simple reads of second-level defenders and zone/man indicators. I don’t know who actually made that call fourth-and-inches just across midfield that would have given the Panthers a chance to still win that game, but obviously you’d rather have the ball in the hands of your best player in Christian McCaffrey or create some separation on some kind of mesh concept.
3. Josh Jacobs is about to become a superstar in this league
I came into this season with very high expectations for this second-year back and after watching him put on a show against Carolina, I probably should have put some money on him leading the league in rushing. We already knew how high Jon Gruden was on this kid coming out of Alabama last year and he had a great rookie season, with a team-record 1150 yards on the ground for a first-year player and that was despite missing three games. I already said in the offseason that I believe the Raiders have a top five O-line and the way he puts his head down and runs through people, led to an NFL-best 69 missed tackles forced. The difference this year should be his involvement in the passing game, which he was pretty good at in college, but he only caught 20 balls for 166 yards as a rookie. Against the Panthers he already caught four passes for 46 yards and showed what he can do after catching a simple dump-off, to go with 93 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
1. The Bills now have all the weapons to force opponents to defend the entire field
If there was one area the Bills needed to improve upon this offseason, it was the wide receiver position. John Brown probably had his best season as a pro in 2019 and Cole Beasley was a dependable target in the slot for them. However, neither one of those guys should be a true number one option. Now that they brought in Stefon Diggs via a trade from Minnesota, it puts everybody in their appropriate position. With Dawson Knox taking another step and even having a screen drawn up for him, as well as those backs getting involved, I like what offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can do in terms of making opponents defend the entire field. I know it was “only” the Jets, but Buffalo just seemed to play so much more freely in the pass game.
2. Josh Allen could be an MVP contender in 2020
I actually had Allen as an honorable mention among my MVP candidates and was made fun of a little, when I posted my list on Reddit, but with what I just wrote about the Bills pass-catchers, I just think this could be a big year for their team and the quarterback in particular. The O-line gave him plenty of time to scan the field, he stayed patient and found his checkdowns late and still fired some absolute lasers. Allen also made a lot of plays with his legs on designed runs and scrambles. Will you still get the occasional “What the hell?” moment from him, like fumbling the ball while flipping over a defender? Yes. But if they hone himself in a little and be a more consistent threat from within the pocket, to go with those off-script plays, he could put up some big numbers.
3. The Jets might be the prime contenders for the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft
When I released my pre-season power rankings, I had the Jets all the way at the bottom of the list and that’s exactly what they looked like when we first saw them this season. The final score might have been 27-17, but the Bills could have easily blown them out by 30. It took Gang Green 40 minutes to get into the end-zone and it took Jamison Crowder breaking three tackles and going 69 yards and a quick screen play to get there. Buffalo’s rookie kicker Tyler Bass missed two field goals from less than 40 yards – even though I still believe the first one was actually good – Josh Allen fumbled the ball twice and that last touchdown was meaningless, with under a minute remaining. As much as I liked Sam Darnold coming out of USC, as I had him as my top quarterback in the 2018 draft, and I still believe in the right situation he would already be an above-average starter, I don’t know how you could pass on Trevor Lawrence if you are in position to draft him.
1. The reigning MVP might be even better
Lamar Jackson was so sharp and in control of the offense, keeping his eyes downfield even as he was stepping into crowded spaces or backing out and rolling either way. We saw him hit a deep ball to Marquise Brown, which was where I wanted to see him improve, and he impressed with tremendous ball-placement all afternoon, taking advantage of the leverage of defenders and drilling the ball into some tight windows. The day after the game I saw a statistic that he was 9-of-10 for 180 yards on passes of 10+ yards against Cleveland, after he completed only 49.2 percent of those his MVP season. I would just like to see him avoid some of those hits, where he goes head-first to pick up a few extra yards. But in terms of his pure pocket passing, it is scary to think where he could go.
2. The Ravens secondary plastered those Browns pass-catchers
It’s not a secret that Baltimore has one the premiere group of cornerbacks in the entire league, but I would argue they are the very best there is. Jarvis Landry got open on some crossers and deeper developing routes, when Baker did have a clean pocket, but altogether outside of Cleveland’s one touchdown at the goal-line, where the Ravens D lost one of the tight-ends out of a jumbo package, it was tough sledding for OBJ & company. Marlon Humphrey is already top five at his position, Marcus Peters is unreal at anticipating and reading routes, Jimmy Smith would be a high quality #2 on any other team and Tavon Young coming back in the slot only helps. Oh, and for Austin Hooper to be the highest-paid tight-end early in the offseason and to only come up with two catches for 15 yards is pretty disappointing.
3. J.K. Dobbins is about to take over this Ravens backfield
I’m not saying the rookie will play 80 percent of the snaps or handle more than half the rushing load going forward, but there is a reason I grabbed Dobbins in all my fantasy leagues, He was my number two back in the draft and I said right away that he was a perfect fit for this Baltimore offense. In his debut, the rook had a couple of nice gains and converted twice near the goal-line, while veteran Mark Ingram was stuffed for minimal yardage on several occasions. Gus Edwards will get some work to close out games, when they Ravens are ahead by multiple scores, and Justice Hill is an explosive player, who I really like in the passing game in particular, but Dobbins should be the lead guy for this squad.
1. The Falcons secondary is still a mess
Over the first half of the 2019 season, the Falcons were the worst defense in the NFL, allowing 31.6 points per game, as they went 1-7 over that stretch. They started turning things around after that, but on Sunday afternoon they reverted back to that early 2019 form. We saw them play a lot more man-coverage, where they constantly allowed separation on crossing routes or just lost guys out of their breaks. When they were in zone, those corners gave way too much cushion in cover-three and when they did force some long-yardage situations, they just backed up and allowed easy 10-15 yard plays to set up easy third downs or basically surrender field goals. What really killed them was that 4th & 5 play Seattle had from the opposing 38-yard line when it was still 14-12, as Isaiah Oliver missed his punch in press-alignment, giving up the inside release to D.K. Metcalf, who could still make a perfect over-the-shoulder catch on a fade route. And by the way, Seattle didn’t look much better on the back-end.
2. Russell Wilson is finally allowed to cook
As bad as Atlanta was on the back-end defensively – What a performance for Russ. He went 31-of-35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns, while picking up two more first downs with his legs. Seahawks – and all football fans for that matter – have been screaming at the top of their lungs for the coaching staff to let Wilson to throw the ball earlier in games and on early downs. It wasn’t like the Falcons were all over Seattle’s receivers, but the touch Wilson throws with to perfectly put the ball in the hands of his guys in full stride is just a beautiful thing to watch. D.K. Metcalf looks to have taken a step forward with his route-running and Tyler Lockett is back fully healthy. So that means it’s bombs away for the Seahawks, which means trouble for the rest of the league, since they can still win with the power run game and then take play-action shots off that.
3. Calvin Ridley is an absolute stud receiver
I always believed in this kid. He was my number one receiver in the draft three years ago coming out of Alabama and he immediately started producing in the pros. While he was on track for a 1000-yard campaign last season, he is off to an even better start in 2020. Against the Seahawks, he hauled in nine passes for 130 yards and two TDs. Ridley constantly created separation by attacking leverage and excellent route-running. While he isn’t a straight-burner necessarily, he knows how to find space and is very shifty after the catch. The only thing that sucked was that one bad drop late in the game on fourth down, when he was too focused on getting his feet in bounds and had the ball go right through his hands because of it. But he and Julio Jones are right there in the race for top receiver duos, in a loaded division for pass-catchers.
1. Welcome to Cincinnati, Joe Burrow
It’s always tough for a top draft pick to come to a bad team, try to turn things around and learn early on that even if he does everything right, it might not lead to victories. Burrow did not play a perfect game by any means – He got picked off by Melvin Ingram in the fourth quarter, who made such an instinctive play, when he read the screen pass and spun around to have the ball land right in his hands as Burrow shoveled it ahead late, he missed a potential touchdown to A.J. Green on a deep ball earlier and 13 points just don’t get you any wins in the NFL. That being said, he had his team in position to beat the Chargers, as he drove them all the way down to the L.A. three, only to have A.J. Green get called for an offensive pass interference on what would have otherwise been a game-winning TD and then his kicker to miss a chip-shot 31-yard field goal attempt. He better be hurt and not just have faked something there, once he saw the kick was wide right.
2. Mike Williams is one of the great big-play receivers in the game
Coming out of Clemson four years ago, Williams was known for being a super-physical downfield receiver, that had connected for a multitude of big plays with his former quarterback Deshaun Watson. That’s exactly what he has been in the NFL so far. Williams is incredible on 50-50 balls, he routinely comes through with big catches downfield along the sidelines and comes through when his team needs him most. Of the three receivers that went in the top ten back in 2017 (him, Corey Davis and John Ross), it is safe to say the Chargers has by far been the most best one – even though Davis had a pretty good showing himself on Monday. Last season Williams cracked the 1000-yard mark on a league-leading 20.4 yards per grab. This past Sunday against the Bengals he might have only caught four passes, but all of them were key in the victory – a great toe-tap grab at the sideline, coming back to the ball on a deep curl route and two go-balls on the sideline, where the safety almost knocked his head off on both of them.
3. Bobby Hart should not ever trash-talk
I have said many times that Hart is one of the worst starting offensive tackles in all of football and I have no idea why the Bengals continue to pay him, even with their bad track record of drafting linemen. I’m sure he tries “hart” and it’s not like he doesn’t belong in the league, but he should not talk trash – especially not to Joey Bosa, who came back to beat him for a sack with his well-known double-hand swipe, before getting into the face of Hart. This Chargers D-line was beating the crap out of Cincy’s front-five and the only reason they were in the game was their rookie quarterback speeding up his internal clock and still finding ways to make plays.
1. DeAndre Hopkins is worth so much more than a second-round pick
While I do understand that the Texans would not have been able to pay D-Hop the kind of money he demanded, Bill O’Brien doesn’t deserve any sympathy for being the laughing stock for NFL fans. Hopkins is an elite receiver and Houston certainly didn’t get back the return he was worth, as they basically got back a second-round pick and took a bad David Johnson contract off the hands of Arizona, even if he actually looked better in week one than he did all of 2019. Nuk had more catches (14) than all the Texans receivers combined on Thursday (13). He went for 151 yards, including a couple of big grabs, including setting up a one-yard Kenyan Drake touchdown after being called down just short.
2. The Cardinals defense is starting to come together
I know the day didn’t start off great for this Arizona D, when they allowed Raheem Mostert to slice through for a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown on an angle route, but outside of that one play, they held the offense of the game’s most creative offensive play-caller in Kyle Shanahan to just 290 yards. Mostert averaged under four yards per carry on 15 attempts and they held the reigning NFC champs to just a field goal over 50 minutes of game time. I’d advise you to check out Brett Kollman’s breakdown of all the different elements to Vance Joseph’s defense, where it seems like they now have the pieces to actually be successful with it. Budda Baker is a flying missile, their run defense should take a huge step forward with what they added to the front and some of their other young guys made plays when they really needed to, including Byron Murphy breaking up that final fourth down attempt for San Francisco, even though the ball was certainly thrown behind the receiver.
3. Jimmy G has to be more accurate
I understand why 49ers fans are frustrated, because their team was in control of the game early on and even after the Cardinals took the lead, their quarterback had all the chances to still get them the W. San Francisco rushed for 123 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt and Garoppolo also relied heavily on his backs in the pass game. If you take away that 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Raheem Mostert, where the QB just had to lob it over the middle and watch #31 take off, Jimmy G threw for only 183 yards on the other 32 attempts he had (5.7 yards per attempts). His stat line did look pretty good, but it does not represent the performance he had. Because not only did he almost kill George Kittle on a simple bubble screen, by putting the ball way too high, but when his team needed him most, with the ball at the Arizona 21, he underthrew an easy touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on first down and then thew the ball behind Trent Taylor on fourth-and-five.
1. The Saints D-line has a clear advantage over the Bucs O-line
The formula for beating Tom Brady has been out there for a while – get home with four. He has been notorious for slicing up defenses when they have to send extra blitzers, which only a few teams have been able to do effectively. On Sunday, Cam Jordan & company made life very uncomfortable for the 43-year old quarterback, as they sacked him three times and made him move around constantly. You saw some frustration on the first pick he threw, expecting Mike Evans to continue going down the seams and he was off with ball-placement on a few occasions. This is the reason I had the Saints beating the Bucs in the NFC title game, when I put out my season predictions two weeks ago.
2. Scottie Miller will be a key piece to the Tampa Bay offense
The Bucs obviously have one of the premiere receiver duos in the league with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, their group of tight-end honestly goes three deep and they now have an interesting mixture of backs. However, the one guy who routinely came up with big plays for Tom Brady was little Scottie Miller. Last year’s sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green caught five passes for 73 yards and added another six-yard run against the Saints. Ronald Jones was the only one with more scrimmage yards for Tampa Bay on Sunday and that was by only three. The guy they call “Scooter” lined up inside and out, caught a couple of passes over the middle, came up with a big grab on a slot fade route and forced a P.I. call on an out-and-up. Miller could be Brady’s new version of Julian Edelman in his new home.
3. Alvin Kamara is a different breed
While I don’t advocate paying too many running backs beyond their rookie contract and I have to believe the Saints have turned off the salary cap on their Madden team, with how much they will be in the minus heading into next year’s offseason, we saw that elite running back they did pay for on Sunday. The Bucs are a tough for New Orleans, because with Drew Brees’ declining arm talent, they really want to rely more on their backs and that run game to control games, but Tampa Bay was the number one rush defense just last season and they should be near the top once again in 2020. Still, with Kamara not even being the team’s leading rusher (12 attempts for only 16 yards), he caught five passes for 51 yards and converted twice in the red-zone, once on a screen pass that seemed to be dead in the backfield and then on a six-yard run, where he bounced off a tackler, who in cinematic fashion lost his mouthpiece in the process. That explosiveness, the contact balance and the speed are all back, after he was banged up for most of last season.
1. Sean McVay is still an excellent offensive play-caller
While I only had the Rams winning six or seven games when I went through their schedule, I always said I believe in their young head coach and it was more about their roster and other factors around me that had me worried. McVay’s gameplan for Sunday Night was a beauty, finding a great mixture of zone runs, bootlegs and throwback screens off those, to keep the Cowboys defense guessing. Robert Woods was a major beneficiary of that (6 catches for 105 yards), but I just loved how he utilized his backs. McVay created so many layups for his quarterback Jared Goff and tied everything together like the young genius he was praised as just a couple of years ago.
2. The Rams O-line is better than expected and their run game is back
One of my big concerns with this L.A. squad was the offensive line, since their two tackles showed some regression last season and they didn’t add any pieces to it this offseason, As Chris Collinsworth pointed out on the broadcast, those big guys started creating some vertical push to go along with the horizontal nature of the zone rushing attack. Cam Akers looked good in his first action, with the ability to cut off one foot and go North, but Malcolm Brown to me was the star of the show – he stepped out of the grasp of defenders, spun off those tackles and constantly fell forward for extra yardage, This is the type of attack I want to see from the Rams and it sets up everything else they do.
3. Aldon Smith is back and hungry
When somebody hasn’t play a snap of football in five years and had to leave the NFL because of drug problems, it’s tough to believe they will resemble the type of player he was before, but I was so impressed with Smith. After he looked like a Hall of Famer early on in his days with San Francisco, Aldon came back for Sunday night and didn’t seem to have lost a step. While the Rams O-line did show improvement, they had no answers for the guy who now wears number 58. He got free on an up-and-under, you saw the ability to collapse the pocket and slice through to hit the ball-carrier in the backfield. He could be a serious contender for Comeback Player of the Year.
1. The Steelers have the best front-seven in the league
This is nothing new to me, but I want everybody else to understand this as well. On Monday night, Pittsburgh’s front got after Daniel Jones and knocked to the turf constantly, while holding the most talented running back in football (Saquon Barkley) to six(!) rushing yards. Bud Dupree in particular was a terror for Big Blue, as he chased down a couple of run plays from the backside, when he was unblocked and took advantage of the mismatches, when a tight-end was tasked with him in protection. Both T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward had a pick, Devin Bush was just flying around the field all game long and New York’s offensive linemen were constantly getting pushed backwards in the run game, forcing the ball-carrier to re-direct and leading to a total of eleven tackles for loss.
2. Juju Smith-Schuster is a young star receiver
I have talked about disappointing that entire Steelers offense was in 2019 on several occasions and maybe the most obvious decline in production came from their 23-year old receiver. Juju went from a team-leading 1426 receiving yards and seven TDs to only 552 yards and three scores, largely because of how bad their quarterback play was and Smith-Schuster fighting through some injuries. I still had him as a top 70 player on my yearly run-down. While he isn’t your prototypical outside receiver, who wins against the premiere man-corners in the league, he is awesome operating out of the slot and making plays after the catch. He caught six passes for 69 yards and two TDs against the Giants. In particular I loved it when they went from running that shallow crosser to changing things up with the pivot route and getting Juju wide open in the flats.
3. Daniel Jones has already shown improvement
Another guy I was very impressed – even if it didn’t look great on the stat sheet – is Daniel Jones, because of how much he has grown with his ability to feel pressure and operate the pocket, while also keeping his incredible toughness. He made some crucial throws on third and fourth downs off play-action, he burned the defense a couple of times with his legs and I liked what he did with finding his check-downs late, instead of holding onto the ball and allowing defenders to swipe at it, like he did in his rookie year. Danny Dimes led an awesome drive early in the second half all the way down to the Pittsburgh four-yard line, where he had methodically led the G-Men down the field, until he had the ball knocked out of his hands by Bud Dupree, which ended up counting as an interception against Jones. This is still a rebuilding team, but I think they found their franchise signal-caller.
1. Drew Lock should be very comfortable in that Pat Shurmur offense
While the Broncos only scored 14 points and the numbers didn’t look great, I thought what the second-year quarterback showed was pretty promising and he should continue to grow under his new offensive coordinator. I talked about Lock as one my breakout candidates in the midst of the offseason because of all the weapons Denver had added around him and the fact I liked the new OC as a fit for him. I liked how Shurmur put his young signal-caller on the move off bootlegs with easy dump-offs to guys like Noah Fant, who quickly burned the defense after the catch, Lock also did a nice job buying time in the pocket without taking a single sack and he showed a willingness to take some deep shots – even though he didn’t quite connect yet. Most impressive about this was that he didn’t have his top receiver Courtland Sutton and second-round pick K.J. Hamler to stretch the field. He did make a couple of ill-advised throws across his body – one for a TD to Fant and another one that should have intercepted in the second half, but overall I like where he is heading towards.
2. The Broncos defense will be a problem even without Von Miller
Man, the star of the show for Denver however was this defense. They received some devastating news just last week, when Von Miller suffered a potential season-ending ankle injury in practice, that could have really put a damper on them, but these guys came to play. Third-year linebacker Alexander Johnson was pretty much un-blockable, especially in the zone run game, where Tennessee’s linemen could not climb up to him before he shot the gap. He also shut down a QB sneak and got through untouched on a blitz to force an incompletion on the final drive of the game. Rookie corner Michael Ojemudia – who I highlighted as a sleeper – had a pretty nice debut, including what should have been his first career INT, but was wiped out by a teammate. And former Titan Jurrell Casey was a factor in his revenge game with a couple of passes batted down. While Tennessee did move the ball to some degree between the 20s, through three quarters they forced Derrick Henry to stop his feet or bounce out wide constantly, as they played downhill all game and Josey Jewell even put Henry flat on his back – an uncommon sight, holding the Titans to seven points through three quarters (combined with Gostkowski’s horrific kicking day).
3. Tennessee’s D-line could kick some ass
While I did think the Broncos defense was highly impressive and Drew Lock didn’t look bad in game one, this Titans front could be a problem down the road. Even though they didn’t sack Lock once, Harold Landry got after the young signal-caller all game long, directly forcing a couple of crucial incompletions – once with a tight-end wide open at the goal-line and another one on fourth-and-three close to midfield with about five minutes left in the game. Jadeveon Clowney was relatively quiet, but you saw that ability to crash off the edge and not allow the ground game to function coming his way. The guy I’m most pumped to follow however is Jeffery Simmons. He was another one of my breakout candidates for 2020, because of the type of dominant force he was in college, before he fell in the draft due to a torn ACL. He could be an absolute monster in the middle and already flashed some of that against Denver, knocking back his blocker in the run game on a few occasions and recovering a fumble.