Well that was quite the eventful week one. As we bask in the glory of the return of the NFL, we were privy to a bevy of terrific matchups and great finishes, while also enduring some sloppy games on opening day. Here are a few thoughts from an exciting week one.
(Photo courtesy of Newsday.com)
Preaching patience with Cam Newton
Do not let Cam Newton’s pedestrian numbers fool you. He looked good in the pocket and made some solid throws. He endured a few drops from his receivers, most notably Greg Olsen. What I noticed mostly was less of a tendency to run the read-option and more willingness to allow Newton to be a pocket passer. He has as live an arm as you will see in the league and it was quite disheartening that the Panthers attempted very few plays downfield. Another issue for the Panthers will be finding more playmakers outside of Steve Smith and Olsen, as Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. combined for 1 catch and 10 yards. Look for the Panthers to run even less of the read-option and feature Newton in a downfield passing game next week against the Bills. Mike Shula has made it a purpose in turning Newton into a better pocket passer and less of a runner.
Wilson drops the ball again
It was virtually inconceivable to believe that David Wilson could have any worse of a start than he had last year during the season opener but alas, the former Virgina Tech Hokie put two balls on the ground and was subsequently benched. There is no coach more unforgiving towards bad football than Tom Coughlin, who has benched the likes of Tiki Barber and in 2010, threatened to bench any player who intentionally made helmet to helmet contact on an offensive player. With Andre Brown out with a broken leg until week 10, this is not the last we’ll see of Wilson. He is simply far too talented and the Giants now have a depleted backfield, which will mean Wilson will regain the field. Coughlin was non-committal during his press conference and rightfully so. He did preach patience with his young runner, knowing how talented and valuable he is to the Giants success. The issue is if Wilson is holding onto the ball with two hands, yet still fumbling the ball, it may be an issue of arm and hand strength, which is something that cannot be taught right away. Wilson should not start next game and should be eased in with simple plays with low risk of turnover to regain his confidence.
Wallace disappoints in his first game
The Dolphins won their first game against the Browns but did so in unconvincing fashion. Their offensive line and running game were mediocre and Mike Wallace only caught one pass. After the game, Wallace appeared to show frustration with the offensive gameplan, however he was more so upset with his play. The bottom line is if the line cannot allow time for the receivers to develop their routes and get downfield, Wallace will be kept in check. Joe Haden was draped all over him for the entire contest and when he wasn’t, Wallace was double teamed. Brian Hartline had a nice game and will definitely benefit from the coverage rolling Wallace’s way. Despite the misfortunes of his prized free agent wide receiver, Ryan Tannehill made good decisions and showed better accuracy than he did last season. His ascension as a second tier quarterback is the biggest key for the Dolphins this season. Lamar Miller did not have impressive numbers after much hype from analysts during the preseason. That can be attributed to a good Browns defense, but also a lack of physicality from the Dolphins offensive line.
Greatest show in… Motown?
Outside of the 49ers and the Eagles, the offense which impressed me the most was that of the Detroit Lions. Not only did they run block well but they did a relatively good job of protecting Matthew Stafford. The addition of Reggie Bush (nearly 200 all-purpose yards) paid immediate dividends as he was able to make plays out of the back field as a pass catcher via the screen game and he continued to show that he is an underrated runner between the tackles. Joique Bell played a terrific game as well as an outlet from the running back position. Having runners who are a threat to catch passes out of the backfield will free up room for the Lions wide receivers, as safeties will need to keep an eye out on Bell and Bush. All of this while Calvin Johnson was contained for the vast majority of the game . The return of Nate Burleson from injury is an added bonus, as the Lions desperately needed a complimentary receiver last season. I can see this offense resembling the Rams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s with some nice weapons on the outside and an ability for running backs to consistently beat safeties and linebackers.
Falcons-Saints never disappoints
I know we rave about the Steelers-Ravens and Seahawks-49ers rivalries, but can we please mention the Falcons and Saints in this same category as great rivalries as well? In a weekend that feature sloppy plays and a plethora of turnovers, these two aforementioned teams play one of the better games of the weekend. The Saints were very impressive on defense getting pressure at key moments of the game and were back to their opportunistic ways, similar to the 2009 defense. Matt Ryan never looked comfortable in the pocket and was flustered most of the game by the likes of Junior Gallette. The Falcons will be fine but their are still questions about their offensive line especially from a run blocking standpoint. Aside from a 50 yard run, Steven Jackson was bottled up for the majority of the game. I look forward to their next matchup, as these two teams always produce terrific back and forth battles that go down to the wire.
Porous safety play in week one
How bad was some of the safety play this weekend? Whether it was Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo in Baltimore getting beaten down the seams by Broncos receivers, or the Packers inability to stop Vernon Davis and Aquan Boldin between the numbers, safety play was incredibly porous in week one. It is not a coincidence that the Ravens, who lost Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard and the Packers who were without Morgan Burnett, struggled mightily in the back-end. Burnett’s replacement, Jerron McMillian, was lost all throughout the game. Even on Monday Night Football, Bacarri Rambo was absolutely exploited against the Eagles zone read plays and missed an abundance of tackles. As the last line of defense, he was not able to make the plays and one on one tackles that must be made when the opposing team runs this type of offense, which is geared to isolating defensive players.
Pace is the name of the game
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pace in which the Philadelphia Eagles were running plays on Monday night. The Redskins defense looked gassed and confused in the first half. Chip Kelly was dialing up plays with the speed of lightning. I do not remember a time when I was actually paying attention to the play clock and actually counting how long it took between snaps. The amount of stress you put on a defense when you are running plays 15 seconds apart cannot be understated. I thought Michael Vick looked sharp and while he did miss a few easy throws to Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, he displayed his superior arm strength on a frozen rope, 26-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Speaking of Jackson, he will absolutely thrive in this offense catching bubble screens and running after the catch. Finally, LeSean McCoy was a terror and showed that he can carry a full work load, to the tune of 31 carries, 184 yards and a touchdown.