Week one of the 2022 season is in the books and there’s a lot to talk about. Once again, I wanted to come up with three statements/discussion points for all 16 games. However, I didn’t just write about the stuff I picked up whilst seeing some plays pop up, but rather due my excitement for the NFL being back, I committed myself to really digging into the tape and statistics of every contests. That’s why this is only coming out on the day week two is already about to start again, even if I wanted it to be published earlier.
Now, week one can be a giant liar and we have to take everything with a grain of salt in the grand scheme of things, but I feel pretty strongly about some of these takeaways and believe they can paint a good picture on the league’s current landscape. I’ll talk about individual players, position groups and teams as a whole, trying to understand what we saw in this first slate of games and what it means going forward.
Let’s dive into these games:
Bills @ Rams
1. New OC Ken Dorsey gives Buffalo’s offense a different look and Josh Allen is in full control of it.
While the Bills were the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl all of offseason and coming into the year, thanks to how talented their roster is and the superhuman they have at quarterback – especially considering what he looked like when last seen – there were some questions about what the offense would look like. With former coordinator Brian Daboll taking on the head coaching job for the Giants, Ken Dorsey was bound to be elevated yet again. He’s now gone from quarterbacks coach in Buffalo since 2019, to then adding the title of passing game coordinator last season and now actually calling the plays this year – something he’s never done at any level. However, being a highly accomplished college quarterback and having played eight seasons in the NFL himself, gives him a unique perspective on the game, and early signs as the actual OC are excellent. I really liked seeing them go under center more and running heavy play-action out of 21 personnel, to give Josh Allen the protection he needs, to advantage of his big arm and let it fly to those receivers, along with a lay-up for the initial 26-yard touchdown to Gabriel Davis, where he was completely by himself thanks to the way they sold the run. Yet, they still were able to spread the Rams defense out in empty, use motions to indicate coverage and keep Allen a viable rushing threat against soft box looks. Allen looked so comfortable, knowing where to go with the ball pre-snap, making clean reads – with his 2.47 seconds to throw being the second-lowest of his career – plus the few plays where he needed to extend, as the cherry on top. They’re looking scary to prepare for.
2. Von Miller looks revitalized and he’s given this Bills D-line a new level of energy.
Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball for Buffalo, schematically it looked very much like the end of 2021 and into the playoffs, when they were near the bottom of the league in blitz-rate and played a lot of two-high coverages. In the season-opener, they blitzed on just two percent of plays and played a variation of cover-two, -four or two-man on 57.2 percent. Yet, they somehow were able to pressure Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on 30.6% of dropbacks and sack him a grand total of seven times. Holding their opponents to just under three yards per carry on 18 attempts certainly helped them get towards obvious passing situations – as they were in third-and-eight or longer on eight of 14 third downs – and I’ll get to that momentarily. However, my big takeaway was how unblockable Von Miller was in his return to Los Angeles, racking up three tackles for loss, two sacks and QB hits respectively. And his level of energy and confidence seemed to reflect on the rest of the group, as four other guys were able to register a sack and even after Ed Oliver had to leave the game, after creating disruption early on, the constant fire for Stafford didn’t stop. Jordan Phillips in particular, in his return to the Bills, after having a couple of highly disappointing seasons in Arizona, where he cashed in for a big contract, might have played as well as we’ve ever seen.
3. The Rams will not be able to make another championship push with this run game.
And I could have gone straight to coaching here, because I felt like Sean McVay, Raheem Morris and company didn’t make any real adjustments all game long. I want to focus on the ground game especially though, as they were only able to muster 52 yards on 18 total carries, with only one of those going for more than five yards and exactly half resulting in one yard or less. Constantly being in second-and-nine or even longer is a recipe for disaster when playing against a defensive front like Buffalo’s, combined with how the squeeze everything down in zone coverage and demand quarterbacks to make tight-window throws. Stafford did deliver a few of those, but you can’t put this much pressure on one guy. A large portion of the blame goes to the offensive line for creating barely any push and maybe their running backs could have done a little more individually, but my biggest issue was play-designs and personnel grouping. The Rams were in 11 personnel on 95(!) percent of their offensive snaps and they basically only ran inside or split zone, along with a couple of toss plays to Darrell Henderson – and he ripped off a team-best 18 yards. They simply need more variety and put themselves ahead of the chains, if they want to have any chance of repeating.
Saints @ Falcons
1. There’s something to this Arthur Smith-led Falcons offense.
Atlanta’s second-year head coach made himself unpopular with some of his statements about analytics and “home scouts”, which put him under the spotlight for a lot of people. And while they obviously blew another big lead (up 26-10 with just under 13 minutes left in the game), I really liked what I saw from their offense. There was great formation diversity, going from 21 personnel to five-wide basically from empty if you count Cordarelle Patterson as a wide receiver. They ran gap power from under center, zone-read plays from the gun, hit deep in-breakers off play-action, plus some change-ups to their staples like breaking back out to the corner after showing the classic deep over-post concept. It was very much like what we saw in Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill, but they have those two interchangeable inside-out pieces in a unicorn tight-end Kyle Pitts and a very talented rookie wide receiver Drake London. And Pitts was heavily utilized as a classic X receiver, but they were also able to dictate play-calling, when they put him at Y in 12 personnel and if the defense matched with nickel, they’d run the ball, but if they left a linebacker on him, that was obviously a mismatch in the pass game. The protection was solid throughout the day against a good Saints D-line and Marcus Mariota looked comfortable in this system, where it’s a lot of deeper-developing concepts meant for the primary read, before he can either check it down or take off himself. As opponents study this offense, they’ll need to continue to develop, but I like what they present from a personnel standpoint and in terms of creativity.
2. This might be the year, that the Saints fall off a little bit with their play in the trenches (on both sides of the ball).
And right off the bat, there is a brightspot offensively, because they obviously were able to turn things around in the second half, after gaining just 32 yards over the first 30 minutes, outside of their one touchdown drive powered by Taysom Hill, they were able to score 20 points unanswered and win the game. Their final three possessions of that first half ended in sacks on Jameis Winston or him being flushed on third down respectively. They fixed most of their protection issues after the break, which Dean Pees gave them problems with. Yet, while negative game-script demanded them throwing the ball to some degree, I didn’t see New Orleans take advantage of an unproven collection of pieces on the D-line in the run game – outside of one big Taysom Hill carry – while the guy of note in Grady Jarrett wrecked both guards at some point. Then flipping over to the opposite side of the ball, we saw Cordarelle Patterson dance around in the backfield and routinely be able to bend runs all the way to the backside, leading to a career-high 120 rushing yards for him, along with Mariota averaging six yards on his 12 attempts. And most notably, I thought the Saints could not make the quarterback uncomfortable inside the pocket, being able to allow longer-developing concepts to work themselves open regularly. Mariota wasn’t sacked once and pressured on just 10.8% of dropbacks. We’re so used to this team winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and first signs are it may not be as dominant.
3. Atlanta’s curse goes beyond any individual players or coaches.
Since the Falcons lost Super Bowl LI against the Patriots in 2017, them losing big leads and 28-3 have been running gags. However, while the front-office, coaching staff and player roster looks completely different – as only Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones remain – they still seem to get extremely tense in these high-leverage moments, where they should bring those games home, as if there was on curse on this franchise. Here’s one of the wildest statistics on this that I’ve seen yet – Over the last three years, all other teams in the league are 245-2-1 in games where they were leading by 15+ points in the 4th quarter – the Falcons are 5-3. So they have more losses in those settings than the rest of the league on just over three percent of such games. Even when the refs kind of gifted them a new first down on the final offensive possession with a ticky-tack defensive hold and they got to third-and-one, Mariota let the snap from under center hit his stomach, then they had to punt the ball and their long-snapper got called for a hold, to give the Saints better field position. Then on defense, a long-time veteran in Casey Hayward completely forgot his technique and lost track of Jarvis Landry on a high-point grab along the sideline, and on 2nd-and.20 with 38 seconds left, they allowed Juwan Johnson to get 16 yards untouched on a dig route, before Will Lutz hit from 51 yards out. Also, Mariota then after getting the ball back with 19 seconds & three timeouts, completely misfires twice, before following underneath completions to Cordarelle Patterson, they got gifted another dead-ball personal foul when the clocks already showed zeros on Marshon Lattimore, but get the 63-yard FG attempt blocked. hey need to do some kind of ritual to get rid of their bad juju.
Browns @ Panthers
1. The Browns run game is still elite.
I still have legit concerns about this Cleveland passing attack, as Jacoby Brissett went 18-of-34 for just 147 yards and a touchdown, with Kareem Hunt being the second-leading receiver (behind Donovan Peoples-Jones), with just 24 yards on the day. So I don’t yet know what to make of that area of the team, outside of a few lay-ups they can draw up off play-action. With that being said, there are no questions about the ground game, where the three guys not named Brissett accounted for 207 rushing yards on 35 carries. Kevin Stefanski has made them a diverse attack conceptually, from calling simple split zone to taking advantage of what their guards can bring on the move, wrapping around and creating big lanes on kick-out blocks basically as linebackers had to replace on the edge and they got leveled from the side. You combine that with their two-headed super backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who both bring speed and power to the table in different proportions, but also are different in the way they set up the blocking, as Chubb bleeds out runs more, while Hunt wants to the hole hard typically. With what I saw in week one, I believe they could have the number one rushing attack in the league, and are currently second with 217 yards on the ground to only the Giants, who were boosted by a 68-yarder from Saquon Barkley.
2. Carolina needs to do a better job of finding ways to put the ball in the hands of their offensive play-makers in space.
Head coach Matt Rhule will need to get on the winning side of things soon if he wants to keep his job. We’ll have to see them continue to grow as a coaching staff, since that’s the group that largely put this things together, and now offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is part of it. They did put up 24 points and were a 58-yard field goal away from ending up winning the game, but outside of that 50-yard completion to Ian Thomas, where he ran by himself on a streak on a coverage bust, had just 40 additional yards of offense through the first 43 minutes. And let’s look at the stat-lines of their “key” offensive contributors. Christian McCaffrey carried the ball just ten times for 33 yards with long of nine, along with four catches for 24 yards (21 of those on one screen pass). D.J. Moore hauled in three of his six targets for 43 yards, plus another seven yards on an end-around, They did have a 75-yard TD by Robbie Anderson on a post route where the Browns were in match-quarters and there was some miscommunication, where the safety to his side drove down on a deep out route, while Anderson basically split his corner and the opposite side. So if you take away those two long plays on busted coverages, Baker Mayfield had just 110 yards on his 25 other attempts on the day.
3. On a day, where kickers across the league struggled to close games, Cleveland’s fourth-round pick Cade York delivered.
I mean, what else is there to say? We’ll get to the Broncos going for a 64-yard field goal at the end of their Monday Night game at Seattle and the public outcry for that decision, but York’s game-winning kick would have been good from that distance for sure. Instead, he banged in a 58-yarder with just eight seconds left, after Carolina had just driven down to take their first lead of the game on a field goal, to give us our final score of 26-24. I – among many others – questioned drafting a kicker in the fourth round, when he was the only one selected altogether this year, but he’s already basically won them a game. So on a day where the NFL went 49-of-60 on field goal attempts, with three separate teams missing potential game-winning kicks in overtime. If you add in three more missed PATs, you get to 14 total missed kicks, which set a new league record for one week – and seven of those came from 35 yards or less. So seeing the rookie bang in all four of his, plus two PATs, was certainly refreshing – even though I lost money on it.
49ers @ Bears
1. A monsoon on the field certainly created sub-optimal conditions to evaluate these second-year QBs.
Since I really wanted to watch if the Lions could redeem themselves for getting hammered 44-6 by the Eagles last season and as a Ravens fan, had to put them on my secondary screen – along with red-zone on an extra device – I made the conscious decision to save this game in Chicago for when the All-22 would come out. Unfortunately, that kind of backfired, since having that new turf at Soldier Field led to water being up to the ankles of players and it was pretty hard to really judge anything we saw. It had nothing to do with the weather I’d say, but Fields was too aggressive on the Bears second drive trying to hit a deep hook, which was picked off by Talanoa Hufanga. Lance followed that up by missing Tyler Kroft for a touchdown on a concept I’ve seen him hit big chunks on in college, where they’d fake zone action and had the backside tight-end so to speak get into the drag route off that, before bending it up the sideline going into the boundary. However, Lance did follow that up by hitting a beautiful layered throw to Ray-Ray McCloud on an over route to set up their only touchdown, drove the ball Brandon Aiyuk on a deep out to the wide side of the field next time out and then set up a field coming out of halftime, when he dropped a ball into the bucket on a slot fade to Jauan Jennings. With him the issue was more so nose-diving the ball when having to get it out quickly on some screens and running himself into trouble once the first two reads weren’t open. Plus, of course he had that pick trying to hit a slant route to Jennings, where he kind of stared it down and Eddie Jackson made a great play driving on it. Fields was under pressure throughout the first half and made most of his plays, tucking the ball on bootlegs and just running around back there, going three-of-nine for just 19 yards and that pick. In the second half, he threw the ball right at the chest of a corner working an outside curl route without any separation, but came right back and found Dante Pettis all by himself across the field after escaping the pocket, allowing the receiver to stroll in for a 51-yard touchdown, and then he lobbed the ball to Equanimeous St. Brown for an 18-yard score running down the middle from a stack off play-action the next time out. However, Fields completed only eight passes on the day and Chicago regularly ran the ball or set up RB screens on third downs.
2. The Bears young defensive players act like they belong already.
And while I did like a lot of their guys from the last few drafts, such as Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker in the secondary, along with some free agency additions up front, I didn’t expect things to come together as quickly as it seemingly has – for one game at least. You saw them rally to the ball for 60 minutes, everybody funnel the ball back to their teammates and work off blocks to slow down the ball-carrier. They collapsed the pocket from all angles and forced the young quarterback on the other side to make some tight-window throws, which was a definite challenge in inclimate weather. Fifth-round rookie defensive end Dominique Robinson got his first 1.5 sacks of his career and flashed on multiple other occasions, their corners did a great job in run support to shut down plays to the edges while not missing any tackles, and second-round safety Jaquan Brisker plays with such a high level of energy that the ball seems to find him, which is how he jumped on a fumble forced by Johnson, to deny the Niners in the red-zone on their opening possession. The weather certainly helped, but I like the style of play I’ve seen from this unit under Matt Eberflus.
3. I’m still very worried about Chicago’s offensive tackle situation.
I don’t like having to end on a sour note here for a team that won as touchdown-underdogs, but my god, Justin Fields look like a human pinata for the majority of Sunday, when the Bears actually had to drop back. Here’s how the Bears six offensive possessions in the first half ended – Fields getting sacked on third-and-long, as three 49ers D-linemen literally eat him up simultaneously, the pick he threw to Talanoa Hufanga, Nick Bosa rag-dolling the left tackle right into Fields for another sack, a straight-up zone carry and a screen pass to David Montgomery each on third-and-long that got stopped short, before putting together their lone drive with more than one first down, where a personal foul pushed them out of field goal-range. Chicago’s pass protection was a mess all day long, as fields was either sacked, pressured or forced to scramble on 11 of his 22 dropbacks. Considering how he was able to overcome this and the lack of receiving talent, he deserves a ton of credit, but he can’t constantly have the pocket collapsed from both edges like we saw on Sunday.
Steelers @ Bengals
1. Zac Taylor still hasn’t learned how to self-scout his own offense.
Over and over again last season, I talked about how Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan needed to look themselves in the mirror and understand how they were holding back an offense, which Joe Burrow started to take over and made one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league. We can talk about their issues in protection last season, where way too often teams were able to manipulate their rules, but I thought in this game, their five guys up front just got their asses kicked. So my focus here is so on just the predictability and tendencies, which defenses are able to pick up upon. I talked about this on several occasions, how going under center and/or using 12 personnel were huge tells for them running the ball, along with just first-down calls. And right on cue Sunday, on their 18 plays from under center, twice they ran play-action and they handed it off on the 16 other snaps – and their success on those declined throughout the day. The one thing I do give the coaching staff credit for was putting Ja’Marr Chase at the three slot in trips and how it expanded the space he could work, along with him just roasting corners on the perimeter when left one-on-one. He was a inch or two away respectively from having four touchdowns on the day and he was the one guy the Steelers could seemingly do nothing against, as Burrow and him pretty much rallied the team back after the four interceptions.
2. T.J. Watt played like a man possessed and Pittsburgh needs him back, but Minkah Fitzpatrick won them this game.
I couldn’t fit in here, with three points I already wanted to make about this game, but let’s just say the protection issues that these investments into the offensive line for Cincinnati did not bring the results they wanted to see week one at least, was sacked seven times and pressured another 14. Watt in particular was an absolute monster in regulation, racking up six tackles, three of those for loses – with one those where he basically wrapped up Joe Mixon at the moment he secured the handoff – a sack, a pass batted down and intercepted each, where he had to got around the tight-end and recognized Joe was loading up, so he’d jump up for it. Unfortunately he tore his pec when he was wrapping up Burrow, but right now it looks like he’ll be back in six to eight weeks. With that being said, Alex Highsmith had a career game with three sacks and the guy who ultimately won Pittsburgh this game was the other star on defense – Minkah. Following a Cam Heyward sack on Burrow on Cincy’s first offensive snap, the safety immediately took control of this game for the Steelers with a pick-six, by jumping a corner route in cover-two off a smash concept and making it look easy, despite the slot receiver Tyler Boyd basically making a square break to take away the angle for the safety. We saw Minkah race up in run-support and lay the wood, help bracket receivers in certain situations, he led the team with 14 tackles – not missing any – and was responsible for a passer rating of just 42.7. Plus, then of course he blocked the PAT following the Chase touchdown with two seconds left on the clock, squeezing through the C-gap, when he really should have been blocked. That sent the game to overtime and allowed Chris Boswell to kick the game-winner on the other end.
3. If this is what Mitch Trubisky can give the Steelers, it won’t be long before we see Kenny Pickett.
I could go on about the offensive line and how they weren’t able to create any push in the run game – which if you take away Chris Claypool’s six(!) carries for 36 yards on jet sweeps and end-arounds, their actual running backs plus Trubisky gained just 39 yards on 13 attempts – but that was a known to me and something I pointed to on numerous occasions looking ahead to this season. However, their quarterback did not play particularly well and the offense yet again looked anemic with that guy under center. The Steelers managed only 231 yards of total offense and 13 first downs through 70 minutes of plays, with Trubisky amassing less than 200 yards on 38 pass attempts and nine yards on three carries. He had one very impressive throw on that reverse flea-flicker, where he had to release with both his feet in the air and still dropped it into the bucket for Pat Freiermuth on a delayed wheel route for 31 yards. But on a few throws, where he just needed to plant and rip the ball, those ended up off-target, and he badly missed rookie receiver George Pickens, who ran by his corner on what should have been an 85-yard touchdown, but the ball landed in the Cincy team-area instead, despite a clean platform to release from. Pittsburgh won the turnover battle five-to-zero and scored once themselves to get the game started, yet it took that blocked PAT and a field-goal in overtime to even get the W.
Eagles @ Lions
1. The Jalen Hurts-to-A.J. Brown connection is clicking right away and it changes how we look at Philadelphia’s offense.
It was a great weekend for these superstar receivers, who were traded this offseason, as the Raiders’ Davante Adams caught ten balls for 141 yards (and a touchdown) and the Dolphins’ Tyreek hauled in eight passes for 94 yards. However, somewhat quietly, the guy with the most impressive showing was A.J. Brown, who caught 10 catches for 155 yards on 13 targets in his first game with the Eagles. Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen drew up threw tunnel screens for himself, but they also worked the middle of the field with him on a bang-eight (post) and slant each, to set up Philly’s first touchdown of the day, and then Brown also put them in position for a field-goal just before halftime, to put them up by ten, when he hauled in a fade route to the field for 54 yards. Hurts clearly trusts this guy and his skill-set as a true alpha receiver, and it allows them to work through that primary read, before the QB takes off himself. That in combination with the way we’ve seen them be able to run the ball (216 yards on 39 carries versus Detroit), makes me think differently about this offense. Brown has the physicality to win in contested situations and break through tackles, he schooled those Lions corners off the line and snapping off routes a few times and he’s been one of the best receivers in the league at creative explosive plays.
2. D’Andre Swift has the chance to be one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.
This really isn’t anything new to me, since I had Swift as my clear number one running back and 17th overall prospect in the 2020 draft. I’ve been a huge fan of his skill-set ever since I first laid eyes on him at Georgia as that third guy behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and he’s had some very bright flashes through his first two years – with just under 2000 yards and 17 touchdowns across it – but some nicks and bruises, along with playing for a bad team have held him back. On Sunday, he put up a career-high 144 rushing yards (plus a touchdown), along with hauling in all three of his targets for another 31. He announced himself on just the second snap of the game, when he ripped off 50 yards, where they ran a wham play and the back gave the corner trying to fill a dead-leg. Swift really showcased his explosiveness, the ability to slip through tackles and work in different head- and foot-fakes. What really has me excited however is what I see from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson in terms of his run-game design, where he displayed a great way of using angles and formations to his advantage. They ran everything pretty much in terms of gap schemes – power, traps, whams, counters, toss plays with the linemen actually getting out on corners – it was such fun to watch. You combine that with Swift’s ability to lead defenders to the wrong side of blocks with his body-language, and his skills as a receiver, and you could have a true superweapon.
3. Neither of these defenses can consistently create stops if they don’t go off script.
Now having discussed two of the great skill-position players we saw put on shows in this contest, let’s talk about how helpless these defenses were for most of the day. Right off the bat, the 73 combined points in this contest were seven more than the next-closest, which was Chiefs-Cardinals, where one team contributed most of the scoring and a lot of Arizona’s points came in garbage time, while Eagles-Lions was more of a back-and-forth battle. More importantly, it’s pretty rare to have two teams with over 180 yards rushing and more than 200 yards passing. We did have a defensive score, which put Philly up 21-7 mid-way through the second quarter, when T.J. Hockenson ran a stick-nod, where either he read it wrong or Jared Goff forgot that secondary break was coming, and the ball went right into the hands of newcomer James Bradberry, who took it back to the house. However, these two teams combined to go 19-of-31 on third downs and scored touchdowns on eight of their nine combined red-zone possessions. Detroit couldn’t really get him with four and at least started to bring extra pressure, but Jalen Hurts killed them on some huge third-down scrambles. With Philadelphia, it was more of the same from last season, when I already criticized DC Jonathan Gannon for his soft-zone approach, which makes it way too easy for opposing QBs to throw towards open space.
Colts @ Texans
1. O.J. Howard got his moment of redemption.
This must have been a great moment for Howard and I wanted to give him his shine here. Back in the 2017 draft process, I had the former Alabama tight-end clearly at the top of his position and as my eighth overall prospect. Like many others, I questioned the lack of usage in the passing game, based on the athletic skill-set and flashes he showed when more prominently featured, with over 300 yards and three touchdowns across the Crimson Tide’s two national championship matchups with Clemson. Combining that with the work he put in as a blocker, this was a pretty complete player coming out for most people, and his best moments as a pass-catcher seemed to be ahead of him, going 19th overall to the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, that never quite manifested itself. Howard did average just under 500 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns through his first three years, but then was lost four games into 2020 with a ruptured Achilles and played a career-low 31% of snaps last season, behind Rob Gronkowski, as Tampa Bay moved to more 11 personnel sets. Buffalo signed him this offseason on a fully guaranteed one-year, 3.5-million dollar deal, but decided to cut him and take on sizable dead cap number. So just ten days before their opening game, Howard signed another one-year deal for just over a million backs with the Texans. Against the Colts, he caught two touchdowns of 16 and 20 yards respectively, both on seam routes. Now, those were his only catches on the day. So I wouldn’t target him in fantasy necessarily, but I loved seeing him make a couple of big plays, after what must have been two rough years personally.
2. The one thing Frank Reich still really needs to figure out as a coach is red-zone play-calling.
These are always tough topics, because we don’t have the background information on how involved Indianapolis’ de facto offensive coordinator Marcus Brady is in designing red-zone plays and what’s on the menu in the first place, but for as much as I like what and Reich are able to do, in terms of putting defenses into conflict between the 20’s, when they’ve gotten down in scoring range, it’s been frustrating to watch at times. Last season, the Colts finished 20th league-wide in red-zone percentage at 56.3% despite having the league’s touchdowns leader in Jonathan Taylor. On Sunday against the Texans, they went two-of-five in terms of TDs on those possessions, including a full house wildcat play with Nyheim Hines at QB on fourth-and-goal from the two, when they were up 3-0. Later, when they were down 20-6 with 11 minutes left in regulation, they had another three attempts from inside the five. They ran a slant-flat concept out of trips with a safety on number three and nearly, who nearly picked off a pass where the receiver was led right into him, Ashton Dulin then did drop like a seam route at the back-line, but on third down they called another concept out of that set, with the tight-end running a curl and a couple of in-breakers. That had no chance and Matt Ryan went to the back-side instead, where Alec Pierce ran a somewhat rounded speed out, before redirecting inside and having the ball knocked away at the end. When they got down to Houston’s 15-yard line next, Michael Pittman Jr. thankfully made his corner miss off an out route and was able to dive for the end-zone, to make the score 20-20. And then of course when got down to the opposing 16 in overtime, with a chance win it, they lost four yards respectively on consecutive plays, on a TFL from a shotgun handoff and then Matt Ryan taking a sack on a naked bootleg, which led to a 42-yard field goal miss – and as a result, their kicker Rodrigo Blankenship being waived.
3. The Texans defense may not have a lot of household names, but one rookie and veteran stood out.
Since I just mentioned that third-and-goal pass to Alec Pierce, guess who was able to flip around with him and rake through the fellow rookie receiver’s hands? That’s right – Derek Stingley Jr. is already playing like a legit boundary corner in a limited sample size and I think he’ll be that guy for several years. The third overall pick out of LSU played 43 preseason snaps and was targeted just twice, allowing one of those to be completed for 22 yards. He routinely stayed in phase throughout routes and while his official coverage numbers on Sunday appear to be sub-par, looking at how much deep responsibility he had and the fact he’s still learning how to squeeze down routes in front of him more, the moments we did see him in tight coverage were very encouraging to me. On the other end, the veteran I referenced here of course is Jerry Hughes, who actually started his career in Indianapolis, before becoming one of the more underrated edge rushers in the league for nearly a decade in Buffalo. In his return to Lucas Oil Stadium as a Texan, he recorded the team’s only two sacks on the day, along with a couple other hits on Matty Ice, a pass batted down at the line and of course the interception on a screen pass, where he batted the ball to himself, and set up Houston’s first touchdown of the game. I thought his juice off the ball really stood out and then he was able to take advantage of tackles getting too tall in their pass sets.
Patriots @ Dolphins
1. With Miami trading for Tyreek Hill, they’re going to HEAVILY utilize him.
It’s not like this was much of a mystery, since trading a first-, second-, two fourth- and a sixth-round pick for a receiver and then paying him a massive four-year extension, usually means that team has a clear plan of how they want to get returns for an asset like that. However, even I was surprised with the way Tyreek dominated the target share and all the different ways they put him into scene. His 12 targets on the day were one more than the number two, three and four in that regard had combined (38.7% target share). Unlike popular belief that Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel would use Cheetah’s pure speed as a deep threat, I looked at this as another YAC weapon, along with Jaylen Waddle, to recreate what he had in San Francisco. Hill was asked to sit down underneath on quick routes out of the slot, they dumped it off to him in the flats off bootlegs, flipped the ball to him on quick screens and end-arounds, but also drew up a deep comeback for him and he made an awesome grab on a 50-50 ball down the left sideline, where the receiver had already slowed down initially, since he motioned right into a wheel route, that led him into coverage, yet he was able to snatch the ball away from Patriots rookie CB Jack Jones, to bail out his quarterback. Altogether, on his eight catches plus the one carry, he reached exactly 100 yards and was a huge factor in even getting the offense to 20 points, since the revamped rushing attack ending up gaining just 65 yards on 23 attempts.
2. The Patriots offense doesn’t scare opponents with any element and we can say the Patricia-Judge experiment is off to a bad start.
We saw Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson have a couple of nice carries to start the day, but after 25 yards on their four opening drive attempts, that run game was bottled up for just 53 yards the rest of the game, with just one carry for more than seven yards until the final whistle blew. The quick game was exactly what they were able to throw for, because Miami was ready to rally up and stop them for minimal yardage. While Miami’s defensive coordinator Josh Boyer didn’t go with all-out blitzes a whole lot, he felt comfortable bringing pressure on certain downs, with their safeties coming off the edge routinely, and he trusted his DBs to stick to their guys. We saw Mac Jones test that to some degree with go routes, but the first one to DeVante Parker in the end-zone was batted into the arms Jevon Holland by Xavien Howard, and other than one great high-point grab by Jakobi Meyers down the right sideline, Mac wasn’t able to cash in on any of those. Other than their one touchdown drive of the afternoon, New England made it into legitimate field goal range (inside 60 yards) just once – their opening possession, which ended in that Jevon Holland pick. They basically used just two personnel groupings throughout the day, their run game didn’t create any issues conceptually I thought and they simply don’t have the dynamic weapons to really scare defenses. My favorite moment for this unit was on their second drive of the day however, when Mac was just sacked and they rushed back to the line, to just get a play off before the turn of quarter number one, only to straight-up hand the ball off on an inside zone, which led to another two-yard loss and set up third-and-19.
3. Tua Tagovailoa may hold this team back from being a legit contender.
Looking at Tua’s stat-line of 23-of-33 for 270 yards and a touchdown, without an interception, it just lies to your face. And I’m not saying he had a really bad day necessarily, but this was a chance for him to make a statement week one, against a clearly inferior team I thought and I came away very underwhelming. He obviously had that horrible miss to a wide open Tyreek Hill, where the ball nose-dived about ten yards short of the target, after Tua initially bobbled the snap. Then in the fourth quarter, he nearly fumbled the ball twice or could have been flagged for intentional grounding and two other times in that final period his running backs saved drives, by making a couple of tacklers miss on third-and-long after Tua literally flipped it out to them on check-down whilst falling away. When they weren’t operating on-script and Tua’s man was open with room to run, it felt problematic as he tried to find a path to escape. According to PFF, the Dolphins QB had two turnover-worthy plays in the fourth quarter and he was saved by Tyreek on that 50-50 ball that led him right into coverage. So much of the offensive production came after the catch and I didn’t feel like there were any game-changing throws. Miami controlled this game throughout the day and were +3 in the turnover department, yet it didn’t quite feel out of reach, because Tua wasn’t able to put the game away. I just don’t know what I can expect against teams, where the teams doesn’t hold opponents to less than 20 points.
Ravens @ Jets
1. Lamar Jackson has become one of the best deep-ball throwers from the pocket.
I’ve long talked about Lamar being one of the most underrated passers in the league and said last season, how much growth he had shown as a quarterback in structure. Sunday against the Jets, the Ravens offense certainly wasn’t in their most efficient form, but they still were able to put the game out of reach pretty much, going up against a Joe Flacco-led attack on the other side. New York’s defense actually started the game on a very high note, holding Baltimore to a miniscule 2.7 yards per play through the first 25 minutes of action, with very little success on the ground. Yet the Ravens were up 10-0 at the break, thanks to a four-play touchdown drive following that, where Lamar fired a deep ball in the direction of Demarcus Robinson, which prompted a flag for pass interference on Lamarcus Joyner and then dropped a ball right over the head of Bryce Hall on a 25-yard touchdown to Devin Duvernay on a fade route. On the second drive of half number two, they cashed in on a shanked punt by the Jets, as Jackson hit Duvernay once more for a 17-yard score, where they got him matched up with the safety in quarters, as the opposite one had to drive down on Mark Andrews curling up over the middle. And finally, the Ravens QB put a skinny post right through the safeties perfectly on the run for Rashod Bateman for a 55-yard TD, to put the game out of reach. He did throw that late interception, when they were at their own 11-yard line on a third-and-six, where he didn’t have space to really step into the throw and used sort of a three-quarters motion, but even that acted as more like a punt, and as we later learned, was an awesome moment for cornerback D.J. Reed, who had to still make an awesome high-point grab on it. The disrespect for Lamar – but also stupid – and some of the touch throws he delivers down the field are as good as anybody’s in the league.
2. This Ravens defense has a lot of similar elements, but a little bit of a different look under new DC Mike Macdonald.
I talked about this on multiple occasions this offseason, as the Ravens made the conscious decision to let defensive coordinator Wink Martindale walk and bring in a long-time assistant under him, who had a lot of success in his one year at the job for John Harbaugh’s brother Jim at Michigan. At it’s core, those two guys have some of the same belief systems, but unlike Wink, who showed hesitancy to some degree, to adapt more modern two-high safety structures, Macdonald embraces the idea of pairing their pressure looks with more match-zone principles on the back-end. Baltimore still finished just one spot outside the top-ten in terms of blitz percentage (30.6%), but unlike what we saw last season – and facing 37-yard Joe Flacco certainly contributed to that – this didn’t prompt the Jets to take their shots down the field, because we didn’t see them go straight man-coverage across the board a whole lot, unlike last season, when despite a bevvy of injuries in the secondary, Martindale largely stuck with the same formula, which led to a league-high in 20+ yard completions surrendered. In fact Baltimore defensive’s ADOT (average depth of target) of 5.0 yards was the third-lowest in week one and they still were able to get three sacks on Joe Flacco (plus another one negated by penalty), along with seven more QB hits, and they missed just five tackles on 79 total plays. One of my breakout candidates for 2022 in Justin Madubuike in particularly was a menace on the inside, recording four pressures, along with half a sack and a TFL on just 43 defensive snaps.
3. The Jets still can’t get out of their own way.
And all hope isn’t lost here for Gang Green, because once again, I thought their defense actually did a great job in the first half, where if Lamarcus Joyner doesn’t panic and draws the defensive P.I. and the ball lands inches further to the side, Bryce Hall’s arm is right there against Devin Duvernay on that first touchdown of the game, we may go into the break with a one-score affair. They held Baltimore to just three yards per rush on the day and other than the three of four deep balls I described by Lamar, held those guys in check for the most part. There were also a couple of bright spots on offense, like running back Michael Carter Jr. going for 100 scrimmage yards on 17 touches and some flashes by this young receiving corp. However, when it came down to actually make the plays to push for a win in a game that was somewhat up for grabs for most of the day, it simply never felt like they’d be able to deliver. Of course we had the Marcus Williams interception to set up the first points of the day, where the Jets TE3 Lawrence Cager slipped on an in-breaker for the easy pick. Elijah Moore bobbled a third-down pass at the sideline on the ensuing drive, followed up by a hooked field goal attempt by Greg Zuerlein. Starting the fourth quarter, rookie RB Breece Hall has the ball punched out by Chuck Clark at the Baltimore ten. And finally, as they get to fourth-and-goal with four minutes left, Michael Carter is about to walk into the end-zone after shaking the linebacker on an option route, but he ends up dropping his one pass on the day on a lay-up.
Jaguars @ Commanders
1. James Robinson and Christian Kirk will be the featured weapons for this Jags offense.
Fantasy owners, listen up! If you have the chance to acquire any pieces of this Jaguars offense – and I can’t blame you, if you don’t have the urge to do so, although I believe there are brighter days ahead for them – Robinson and Kirk are the two guys you should target. I was hesitant to use any draft capital on J-Rob, coming off a torn Achilles in late December, because it seems like unchartered territory for this injury, which even after hyping up the Rams’ Cam Akers miraculous recovery, his showing in the playoffs was very underwhelming. However, the Jags’ RB1 didn’t seem to have really lost a step, he didn’t shy away from initiating contact as a runner whatsoever and handled 11 of 18 carries on the day, resulting in 66 yards and a touchdown, along with another three-yard score on a little dump-off in the flats. Christian Kirk on the other hand was a topic of conversation this offseason for a different reason, as the name most closely associated with the rise in wide receiver salaries, as he cashed in on a contract paying him 18 million dollars annually. He’s somebody I really wanted to target in my drafts, because I saw how much quarterback Trevor Lawrence wanted to target him and the role I envisioned for him in this offense. Kirk ended up hauling in half of his 12 targets on the day for 115 yards (42.5% of the team’s total passing output). Second-year back Travis Etienne – who was easily selected the highest among all fantasy formats, but he only touched the ball six times all game long and had a really ugly drop on fourth-and-goal, basically on the exact same route we saw Robinson score on later. And while Zay Jones did catch six passes (for 65 yards), I’m currently only targeting two guys – along with maybe Trevor Lawrence as a DFS streamer in a great matchup.
2. Carson Wentz could have easily crumbled, but instead he delivered.
The stage was set. Wentz was playing his former head coach Doug Pederson from his days in Philadelphia, who ultimately decided to replace the quarterback with then-rookie Jalen Hurts. It was the fourth quarter after all the momentum had swung Jacksonville’s way, yet Wentz didn’t loath in self-pity. Washington’s newest option under center – after a multitude of underwhelming characters – played well in the first half, to put his team up 14-3. After the Jags came within two in the second half, Wentz threw an interception to start the fourth quarter, where cornerback Tyson Campbell did a great job of undercutting a deep out route by rookie Jahan Dotson to the wide side of the field, setting up the field goal that gave the visitors a 15-14 lead. Before on the very next pass for Wentz, Travon Walker made an alien-like play, as they were trying to set up a screen to the running back, but the number one overall pick peeled off the tackle and snatched it out of the air. Now down 22-14 following a Jags TD, the Commanders came back out and their QB hit Logan Thomas on a deep out to convert third-and-eight, before perfectly putting the ball in stride Terry McLaurin on a fade route versus two-deep coverage, before the safety could get over to him, for a 49-yard score. Then after his defense forced a stop, Wemtz executed another 90-yard TD drive, extended by a strike to Thomas on a dig route on third-and-then and then finished off with a dime to Dotson on an out-and-up for a 24-yard TD, when Jacksonville brought the house and OC Scott Turner used the corner Campbell’s aggressiveness on the pick earlier against him. Plus, they got the two-point conversion to put them up by six and give us our final result,
3. Being a young team, without late-game experience, cost Jacksonville this game.
This seems kind of ironic, since the guy Wentz ultimately got to jump on third-and-three, which allowed the Commanders to run down the clock, was free agent nose-tackle Folorunso Fatukasi, who’s not the youngest anymore, entering year five – but he’s part of this rebuilding program. And there were several instances, where the Jaguars youth/inexperience cost them. I already mentioned the gruesome drop by Etienne on fourth-and-goal, which should have been an easy touchdown. Plus, then their second-year kicker Riley Patterson hit a 37-yard field goal attempt off the upright, which made the score 14-3 instead of being a one-point or tied game potentially at the break. And as highly as I think of him as a talent, Trevor Lawrence made a couple of really bad decisions at the end of the game, when on third-and-four just inside Washington territory when they were up 22-20 and he didn’t get the ball to Evan Engram about to break wide open on a pivot route out of a bunch set. Plus, then as they got the ball back now down by six and they get to third-and-11, instead of acting like he has another down and two timeouts to work with and either just checking it down quickly or throwing the ball away as he’s flushed to his left, he just puts it up for grabs at the sideline and Darrick Forrest is able to pick it off. There’s still a lot to learn for this bunch and they may find themselves losing a lot of these tight contests.
Giants @ Titans
1. Saquon Barkley is back!
And this isn’t me saying he had one big game, like we see from some veterans at times who can light up in certain moments, but it may be a one-week thing. This is legit. The burst is the back, the wiggle is there, his cuts look dynamic and he’s running with a balance again, which allows him to pull through wraps for extra yardage. That 68-yard run on Saquon’s first touch after halftime really opened my eyes, when they were running GT power to the left, he hit that crease between his two pulling linemen and safety Amani Hooker working down from depth was totally caught off guard by that speed out to the corner, taking a wrong angle and missing a diving tackling attempt, before watching Barkley run down the sideline. Then when he came back onto the field, he really pressed the front-side A-gap before making a great cutback to the backside B-gap for a four-yard touchdown. I loved when he was one-on-one in the flats with Hooker early in the fourth, who had him perfectly squared up and Saquon gave him a little wiggle, before running right through him for a four-yard gain. He did get a bit lucky when he didn’t see the Kristian Fulton punching the ball out from behind at the end of another long run to put them in scoring position, this time cutting into of the guard who wrapped around on the power concept, as the ball went out of bounds. And finally, of course the game-winning two-point conversion was just awesome, as they drew up a shovel pass off the sprint right option look and the Titans have two defenders in the backfield to deny him that lane up the middle, so he dips to the outside and lowers his pads to power through a DB at the goal-line. Saquon finished with a week-high 164 rushing yards (on 18 attempts), along with another 30 yards through the air.
2. All my concerns for Tennessee came to fruition in the second half.
Not that the Giants dominated the Titans on an every-down basis after the break, since the visitors were able to tie the score at 13 thanks to those two explosive plays, on the long Saquon run and Kristian Fulton caught napping on the backside alert fade route by Sterling Shephard. Other than Jeffery Simmons, their interior D-line lost a lot of quality bodies, allowing Saquon average to average 9.1 yards per carry. And while Daniel Jones was sacked five times on the day, he also put up a passer rating of 115.9, where we saw a lot of backups in the secondary, which I warned about in terms of the overall lack of depth on the roster. Offensively, their two new starting linemen had challenging days and they were held to just 3.6 yards per carry as a team. I’m not sure if they know who they really want to feature in the passing game now that they traded away A.J. Brown. Fifth-round rookie receiver Kyle Phillips and their number two running back Dontrell Hilliard combined for 13 targets, while their five starters in 11 personnel combined just 12 targets. Also – I love the potential of Chig Okwonkwo as their new Jonnu Smith, but to hand him the ball on a sweep on third-and-one when they needed to bleed out the clock, I’m not sure. We can argue if the decision to trade away Brown due their cap situation down the road was the right one, but by making it, they basically admitted they are in a re-tooling phase at least and have to live with the results now. People who called me crazy for having the Titans 18th in my pre-season power rankings, have to see what I was trying to warn them about to some degree now.
3. This new Giants regime gives off a completely different vibe and level of competency.
And take this with a grain of salt if you will, because if Saquon doesn’t get the two-point conversion with that extra effort or Titans kicker Randy Bullock doesn’t miss the 47-yard field goal, with the final seconds winding down, there’s probably a different vibe about this group. With that being said, seeing the excitement for Saquon to finish off his first game of the redemption tour that will be his 2022 season, the balls to make that call and the confidence in his players to win the game right there, I believe Brian Daboll has already won over the locker room. You compare that to last season, when Joe Judge famously had them running a quarterback sneak on third-and-long, because he didn’t trust his guys, this is day and night. My only legit question is why they refuse to utilize Kadarius Toney, who played just seven snaps on Sunday and wasn’t targeted once. They did hand him the ball twice, first ripping off 19 yards on a jet sweep and then getting five yards by making several defenders miss in the backfield on what should have been an eight-yard loss, trying to set up a wide receiver pass, where he looked like by far the most dynamic WR on the Giants.
Chiefs @ Cardinals
1. The Chiefs offense looked fine to me without Tyreek Hill.
There’s really not much to say about Kansas City’s 2022 debut, other than referring you to the stat sheet. Patrick Mahomes played like man on a mission, throwing for 334 yards and five touchdowns through the first 41 minutes of play, to put his team up 37-7. The wildest number however – of their 66 total plays run, they gained 33(!) first downs. The Chiefs basically ran whatever they wanted. They were able to spread the defense out, with Mahomes averaging 13 air yards per attempt out of empty – four yards more than any other QB in the league last season – but then they also ran 13 or 22 personnel on over 40% of snaps on Sunday, four times of what averaged in 2021. They went under center and got going downhill in the run game, which is where Clyde Edwards-Helaire excels at, rather than making him work laterally out of the shotgun constantly – and he looked as dynamic as he has pretty much since coming into the league, bursting through the line of scrimmage with a great sense of urgency. Off that, they ran more traditional play-action, along with RPOs and some quick game. And while having Tyreek Hill probably wouldn’t have hurt, we saw Mahomes spread the ball around a lot more, with six players catching at least three (of 39) passes. I loved seeing more complexity in play-design and some of the little wrinkles they added into the run game especially.
2. Without any pass-rush and this kind of corner play, it’s going to be a long year for the Cardinals defense.
Looking back at the Cardinals success on defense over the last couple of years, while I did like some of the pressure looks by Vance Joseph and think he’s largely maximized the pieces he’s had, I always felt like the numbers may not be sustainable. They finished tenth and sixth respectively in defensive DVOA in 2020 and ’21, with the fourth-highest blitz rate league-wide in both of those years. Considering their “luck” in loose-ball situations and their pressure rates without sending a fifth defender, I expected regression. However, now also with Chandler Jones gone – and J.J. Watt out for this game – nobody could provide any legit pressure. The numbers may suggest otherwise, because they blitzed Mahomes on a mind-blowing 68.3% of dropbacks, but they didn’t get any sacks on him and hit him just six times. And as I guessed before the season started – their collection of inexperienced players in the secondary is really hurting them, particularly with their tendency of sending extra bodies on the rush. I know coverage numbers can be deceiving at times, but of the nine defenders in the back-seven that played at least 20% of snaps, all but two of them surrendered a passer rating between 95.8 and 158.3 (perfect) – and those other two weren’t much better.
3. This was a complete coaching mismatch.
Since we were just talking about them – let’s look at the Cardinals defense against Kansas City’s offense here first. In the middle of last season, Patrick Mahomes had by far the worst eight-game stretch of his career, as teams countered the Chiefs’ explosive aerial attack by sitting back in soft coverage shells and forcing the superstar QB to surgically pick them apart. Mahomes was blitzed on just 14.8% of dropbacks – the lowest mark since PFF started tracking this in 2010 – and he faced two-high coverages on over 40% in all but two games – their season series with the Raiders, then coached by the last remaining Seattle cover-three truther in Gus Bradley. On Sunday at Arizona however, the Cardinals as I mentioned, brought extra pressure on a stupendous 68.3% and the results speak for themselves, looking at how they got shredded. Flipping things over to Arizona’s offense, outside of their one touchdown drive, when they got the ball for the second time on the day, they didn’t run more than five plays on any other possession until the fourth quarter, when they embellished the final score in garbage time. The play-calling looked unimaginative, the two running backs who handled carries, gained just 54 rushing yards on 14 attempts, and they averaged a miniscule 4.4 yards per pass attempt as a team. The KC defense pressured Kyler on over 70% of dropbacks, despite finishing tied for 13th in blitz rate, and as long as DeAndre Hopkins isn’t there as the backside alert, they have to create more schematic wins offensively.
Raiders @ Chargers
1. Can either team expect any legitimate production in the run, to rely upon.
This should be fairly quick. The Raiders and Chargers this past Sunday finished with 64 and 76 rushing yards respectively. They did so on 13 compared to 31 attempts for Los Angeles. So based on that, there is some hope for the Silver and Black to turn things around, since they were expected to become one of the more effective rushing teams in the league, looking at the strength of this O-line lying on the ground game, Josh McDaniels’ track record in that regard and their ability to go into 12 and 21 personnel. Yet, while negative game script in the second half certainly contributed, I thought I’d see more of a commitment to it and more than 26 snaps from their full-back and rest of the tight-end group outside of Darren Waller. For the Chargers, it was just underwhelming what they did in neutral settings and especially when they needed to run the ball. After finishing at least close to average in rushing numbers last season under Mike Lombardi, against an unproven Raiders interior D-line, only six of 31 carries went for more than four yards, with one 12-yarder by Joshua Kelley being the lone one of more than eight. In the fourth quarter, they put up 19 yards on eight attempts.
2. The Derek Carr-to-Davante Adams connection looked sharp right away.
Carr definitely made sure he welcomed his best friend and new number one receiving, with 17 of his 35 targets going Adams’ way. He hauled in ten of those for 141 yards and a touchdown. The All-Pro receiver schooled the young L.A. corners on a nasty deep out route, after nodding to the post, and later on a V-release slant. However, Vegas also put him as the number three in trips and had him work those underneath areas for some easy pitch-and-catch plays, along with a third-and-16 conversion, where there was too much space between the corner and safety in cover-two was too large and the receiver settled in there for a grab at the sideline. Basically, everything that was in structure, Carr hit #17 out of his breaks and other than one goal-line fade, the ball was typically on the money. Now, the Chargers played way more man- or match-zone coverage that basically left Davante one-on-one than I would have anticipated, and Carr hasn’t quite built up that incredible chemistry Adams had in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, where the non-verbal communication was almost zen-like, but they can still get there – and Josh McDaniels will need to give them the freedom to do so.
3. Khalil Mack has washed the Bears stink off himself and is terrorizing offensive tackles again.
I will admit this right away – I was wrong to put Mack as the first player outside of my NFL Top 100 Players list for 2022. His decline since the end of the 2019 hasn’t been very inspiring. His pressure totals went from 45 to 31 two years ago on basically the same amount of snaps, and then down to only nine this past season across seven games. While I did talk about him and Joey Bosa about to form one of the most devastating duos coming off either edge, I looked at Mack as more of the Robin for that tandem. However, while Bosa did get his mostly against left tackle Kolton Miller on Sunday, Mack absolutely rag-dolled Jermaine Eluemunor and Thayer Munford on the other side, before they flipped sides and things pretty much stayed the same. Altogether, he racked up three tackles for loss, three sacks and four more hits on Derek Carr. He was ripping through the outside shoulders or going right into the chest of those tackles all day long, condensing the pocket and making the Raiders QB very uncomfortable, taking away his space to step into a throw to the left, which led to a pick, and ultimately getting the strip-sack that wrapped up the game.
Packers @ Vikings
1. Green Bay really needs these young receivers to grow up fast.
Of course we all saw that disgusting drop by second-round pick Christian Watson on the first snap for the Packers offense, where he just ran by Patrick Peterson in match-quarters on the outside, where he initially stemmed inside and then hit another gear to get around the veteran corner. However, that was by far not the only blunder on the day by this young receiving corp for Green Bay. On their very next drive, on third-and-seven when facing the same kind of coverage structure, I’m pretty sure their fourth-round rookie Romeo Doubs was supposed to snap off for a curl route, but instead broke flat inside and Rodgers threw it to the turf, where he expected his receivers to be. And at the end of the game, down by 16, they had just entered the red-zone and on third-and-one ran a basic flat-screen to Watson as they got him matched by Eric Kendricks off a motion, where those two rookies combined to almost lead Rodgers into a pick, as Doubs was way too timid trying to block the nickel and Watson kind of slowed down down and just wasn’t ready for the ball. You saw Rodgers’ frustration on multiple occasions in this game, simply looking at his face when the camera came in for a close-up on his face. Those young guys are very talented and I loved Watson pre-draft as a potential fit in Green Bay especially, but those kids need to start getting the little details right and the Packers need them to do so fast, because they’re all they have, particularly when Allen Lazard misses time.
2. Justin Jefferson was the right choice for OPOY and he’s the clear front-runner after one week.
Leading the NFL after week one with 184 receiving yards and being tied for a league-high two touchdowns (on nine catches) is obviously a great sign. Accounting for 68.4 percent of their passing output on just 11 targets (tied for 12th league-wide) is even better, when it leads to a 23-7 victory. And what I loved so much about this, is the fact Jefferson didn’t have to do it all by himself, but rather he was schemed on some of the biggest moments from this game. Obviously he can and did cook defenders on a few occasions in this game one-on-one, but being matched up on Preston Smith once, due to the way the Packers matched his motion certainly helped, and it became a no-contest on his quick-out route. They ran the little slide route into the flats off a jet motion, on fourth-and-goal for the first touchdown of the day, where Eric Stokes and Adrian both turned inside and Eric Stokes should have most likely driven down into the flats. And then of course Jefferson was all by himself on the screen for his second trip to the end-zone from 36 yards out, where they motioned Adam Thielen into a stack with K.J. Osborn and they ran off the coverage with a deep crosser and a post route respectively and that duo of DBs once again messed up in communication, as they didn’t pass off on Osborn or go for the switch call either. On the broadcast, the cameras actually caught the other corner Jaire Alexander just rolling his eyes. You add those kind of plays to watch Jefferson can do when he’s just in straight-up man-coverage, it’s scary what he could do this season.
3. The Vikings pass-rush has gone to a completely different level.
Before I get to Minnesota here, let me just say that Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers should have been more conscious about not having two All-Pro level offensive linemen available, because there wasn’t nearly as much quick game as we saw them transition to last season and Rodgers held onto the ball for way too long – which in part was due to the lack of trust later on, as a result of the mishaps by his rookie receivers to start the day. However, I still believe that not only will what the Vikings do from a coverage-perspective – transitioning to a lot more of the split-safety principles under Ed Donatell – be more effective for them, but I also thought their defensive front looked worlds different to what we were used to from them. They sacked Rodgers four times, including one strip by Jordan Hicks, where they basically swapped him and Za’Darius Smith, who blitzed through the A-gap, knocked away the hands of the center and ran over A.J. Dillon, who couldn’t get into his check-down, while Rodgers booted the other way and when he got his head back around to drop it down to his back, he didn’t see anybody there, before Hicks took that opportunity to race up on Rodgers. Za’Darius played with his hair on fire all day, going against the team that he said “made him feel like a nobody”, Danielle Hunter had a different pep to his step and their push up the interior of the pocket was so much better than last season.
Buccaneers @ Cowboys
1. Tampa Bay has the physicality to overwhelm most teams in the NFL.
As much as this offseason for the Bucs was centered around retirement and then un-retirement of Tom Brady, along with having added two more receivers of note in Russell Gage and Julio Jones, what really stood out from the Sunday Night opener for them were their run game and the defense. Brady had a so-so day and I’ll get to one of their pass-catchers in a minute here, but Leonard Fournette was the driving for this attack. He carried the ball 21 times for 127 yards on the night, with consistent success on all three downs. You see some of the influence from Todd Bowles, in situations where they would usually call up shot-plays on like second-and-one, but instead they smashed the ball up the middle once more. Over and over again, they would let the O-line block down and use Shaq Mason at what he does best – pulling on kick-outs and lead-blocks. Defensively, they were in nickel personnel basically the entire game, which is why you saw a five-yard runs from Ezekiel Elliott when they let him hitting vertical from under center, but despite Tony Pollard having a nine-yard run on a nice cutback, he finished the day with just eight yards on six attempts, because they couldn’t run from shotgun, having to catch up on the scoreboard. Pollard in general had a bad day, as Devin White ran through his ass on several occasions (two packs plus three other pressures). And that was also true for the re-shuffled offensive line, as Shaq Barrett provided constant heat off the edge, even if he didn’t actually register a sack, and Vita Vea was driving those interior guys on the left into the quarterback’s lap.
2. The Cowboys weren’t a championship contender this season before the Dak injury.
Speaking of Shaq Barrett being in the thorn of Dak Prescott’s eye, he was the one who sort of high-fived with the Cowboys QB twice, which led to him needing surgery on his broken thumb and knocking him out for six to eight weeks. However, while I don’t just want to overreact to week one, I predicted them to just miss out on the playoffs before the season started and I’m here to tell you – this is not a Super Bowl team. I thought they lost way too many key pieces on both sides of the ball, they don’t play a very disciplined brand of football and Mike McCarthy’s game-management has been problematic to say the least. I thought on SNF, the offense kind of just ran their stuff, without any cool wrinkles that stood out to me. The Tyron Smith injury of course is huge and as I said pre-draft, first-round pick Tyler Smith isn’t ready to start at tackle in the NFL. Dak and Cooper Rush combined for just under 200 passing yards, as nobody on the outside was able to win, allowing the bodies on the inside to flow towards Ceedee Lamb, and while Zeke did have a few good carries plowing on the inside, the only Cowboys rush of 10+ yards came from Dak. Altogether, they gained just 12 total first downs. The defense did show some positive signs, with Micah Parsons coming up with a pair of sacks to force a couple of field goals attempts in the red-zone (one missed), but Leonard Fournette ran rough-shot between the tackle against them, with those 21 carries for 127 yards, and those two sacks by Micah were the only ones on the day. Adding insult to injury, they were called for ten more penalties worth 73 yards. Since I saw this suggested on Twitter by a lot of people, I don’t believe trading for Jimmy Garoppolo will be the solution here.
3. Julio Jones still has something left in the tank – and that makes the Bucs scary.
When the Bucs signed Julio back in late July and I suggested on Twitter that they may have four of the top-25 receivers in the NFL this season, some random NFL stats page commented how Jones will never be a top-25 receiver again. Are you sure, my guy? As a huge fan of Quintorris Lopez Julio Jones since his early days at Alabama, I was still a believer, even though I know at this stage of his career, he’s very vulnerable to soft-tissue injuries. So not even I expected the guy to show out catching passes from Brady right away. On his first touch of the day, he caught a little slip screen and trucked the safety for an eight-yard gain. He had a beautiful curl route out of the slot, where he really took his head down and sold vertically, only to make the nickel run off the screen when he snapped it off. And then of course he gained a step on Anthony Brown for a diving grab on a fade route worth 48 yards. He nearly had another huge shoe-string grab at the sideline on a play-action shot, where he flatten across the free safety on a post route, plus you saw the speed to get around the edge on a couple of jet sweeps they handed to him, for another 17 yards. If he can be like 70% of what we’ve seen from Julio, along with that trio they already had, with Brady spreading the ball around – buckle up.
Broncos @ Seahawks
1. Nathaniel Hackett rightfully said that he made the wrong decision at the end of the game and now Denver has to work on some game management stuff/playing more cleanly.
In Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle, the script was right there for the new Broncos signal-caller to rip the hearts out of the chests of the 12’s, similar to what he’s done so many times to opposing fanbases. Starting from their own 22-yard line with four minutes left and down by just one point. After flipping it out to Javonte Williams in the flats, who makes a couple of people miss on third-and-14, that sets up a fourth-and-five from the Seattle 46. Russ and the offense is out there, ready to go for it, but Denver lets the clock run down to 20 despite having all three timeouts left and Hackett instead opts for a 64-yard field goal. Considering that’s three yards further than kicker Brandon McManus’ career-long and the farthest somebody has ever hit from in Seattle was 58 yards, the numbers tell you this was the wrong decision, not even considering the Broncos just handed Russ a five-year, 245-million dollar extension, to make these game-winning plays for them. With that being said, I appreciate coach Hackett reflecting on the situation and flat-out admitting he made the wrong decision. I’m guessing him transitioning from the booth to the sideline, where he’s in the middle of the storm and has to make big calls. They were late getting in plays at times in general and they really hurt themselves with undisciplined play – particularly on defense. That unit alone was flagged seven for 81 yards and six new first downs. The coaching staff’s decision to sit all their starters in week three of the preseason might have contributed to their sloppy play.
2. Geno Smith deservedly won the quarterback competition in Seattle.
Obviously, this is easy to say about the quarterback of the winning team. Smith took advantage of his opportunities to deliver big throws to his tight-ends for Seattle’s two touchdowns – once lobbing it to a wide-open Will Dissly to start the day after getting away from a blitzer in the backfield for a 38-yard walk-in and then hitting Colby Parkinson on a seam/fade route for another 25-yard score just ahead of the two-minute warning in the first half, where the linebacker seemed late to match the target. Those two plays made up for nearly a third of Smith’s passing total on the day. However, it’s not even that the guy made a ton of great plays necessarily, but he understood how to manage this sloppy game, where the visitors were kind of self-destructing with a couple of fumbles at the one-yard line, not to put the ball in harm’s way, like we’ve seen Drew Lock do on several occasions in Denver. His running backs were held to just 62 yards on the ground, but thanks to steady completions on early downs, they were in a lot of third-and-shorts in the first half, going 6-of-11 on the day, while Geno held onto the ball on the ten times he was hit.
3. Both the offense and defense for Denver looked a little different than I expected.
A lot was made about the marriage of Nathaniel Hackett’s offensive philosophies and what kind of play-style Russell Wilson has been successful with, where the consensus was that they’d cater mostly to the quarterback they gave up so much for. However, it wasn’t all shotgun and attacking vertically outside the numbers. Instead, we saw all four of their tight-ends play at least ten snaps, with one of them regularly deployed as a full-back, and saw Russ dump it off to them in the flats quite a bit, alomng with Javonte’s 12 targets being five more than the next-closest guy. Overall, his intended air yards per attempt of 6.5 and his air yards per completions of 3.8 would both easily be the lowest we’ve seen from him since pro-fooball-reference.com started tracking those, with some spot routes from Jerry Jeudy and was more classic West Coast pass concepts than I envisioned. Defensively for Denver, I thought we saw a lot a lot more bear fronts and three stand-up linebacker looks, with their newly signed nickelback K’Waun Williams logging less than half the snaps and basically nobody else getting any work in the secondary, whilst DC Ejiro Evero went away from all the cover-one we saw last season to more classic quarters. On Seattle’s side, I thought the defense took a lot of the Sean Desai’s input, who also comes from the Vic Fangio coaching tree. And I certainly didn’t think we’d see the offense spread it out and let Geno throw the ball as much on early downs as they did.