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NFL Quick Hits: 10 Observations from Week 1

The Redskins win was a shock but how they won wasn’t.
Outside of the Eagles struggling in Cleveland, the Redskins’ 40-32 shocker over the Saints was easily the biggest surprise of Week 1. But it’s not as if Washington won using smoke and mirrors. Mike Shanahan built Robert Griffin III’s confidence by calling several zero or “bubble” screens to start the game, then mixed in the play-action pass in order to suck the Saints’ LBs up and give his rookie QB clear passing lanes to throw in. These aren’t the same Redskins of the past several years either. This team finally has offensive playmakers and it’s not just RGIII. Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson form a nice receiving duo and Alfed Morris complements RGIII as a downhill runner with quickness and vision. He only gained 3.4 YPC but for those that watched the game, Morris was a factor. Defensively Washington was equally as impressive. Ryan Kerrigan routinely beat left tackle Jermon Bushrod off the edge and Drew Brees had defenders in his face from the first snap of the game. When Jim Haslett called blitzes, they worked. DeAngelo Hall was successful blitzing from his cornerback position, the interior pressure provided by Barry Cofield also disrupted Brees’ timing and Brian Orakpo was effective as well. Whether it was Washington’s pressure or an off day for Brees, the Saints looked completely out of sync offensively. And they were sloppy, too. The offensive line had multiple false start penalties, Brees routinely threw balls at his receivers’ feet or over their heads, and when he was on target his wideouts dropped a few passes as well. It was just an ugly day for an offense that we’re used to seeing fire on all cylinders. Even when things went right and they were knocking on the door of an easy touchdown, Marques Colston had the ball punched out at the goal line, which resulted in a touchback. But credit Haslett and his defense, as the Redskins snuffed out several of Brees’ go-to plays and routinely blanketed receivers. Washington implemented a solid game plan and executed to perfection. The two teams may go in opposite directions from here on out but for 60 minutes on Sunday, the Redskins were flat out better.

It was vintage Vick – and not in a good way.
When he was in Atlanta, there were games the Falcons would play where they were expected to win and Michael Vick almost single-handedly kept the opponent in the game with his sloppy play. That same Vick showed up in Cleveland on Sunday, as the Browns could have, and should have, beaten the Eagles but fell, 17-16. Make no mistake: Vick was awful. He stared down receivers. He threw into double coverage. He telegraphed his throws. He would desperately chuck balls into traffic when he was under pressure. He looked like a rookie and if the Browns weren’t starting a rookie signal caller of their own in Brandon Weeden (who resembled hot garbage himself), the Browns would have pulled away long before the final whistle. People may talk about Vick engineering that final comeback drive but had L.J. Fort hung onto an interception in the end zone on the play before the Eagles game-winning touchdown, Cleveland would have won. Andy Reid blames Vick’s performance on rust after he received just 12 snaps this preseason and hey, maybe it was rust. But the bottom line is that Philly is expected to challenge for not only a playoff berth but also a Super Bowl and their quarterback nearly willed them to a loss against a team that will challenge for the No. 1 pick next April. Good thing for Vick and Philly it was only Week 1.

Typical Giants.
There’s a general rule I have when it comes to the New York Giants. If their backs are against the wall and they’re not expected to win, ride like them hell because they’re going to fight. But if the general perception is that they should win, expect them to scuffle. The Cowboys came out of the gates on Thursday night looking for a 10-round fight and they wound up delivering a four-round knockout instead. Eli Manning was ordinary, the pass protection was poor, and the vaunted pass rush was non-existent outside of what Jason Pierre-Paul did from his right end spot. Justin Tuck did next to nothing from a pass-rush standpoint, which has to frustrate the Giants considering he didn’t wake up until about Week 15 last year, and both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant abused Corey Webster in coverage. For a team that talked about being overlooked in the offseason, it was surprising that the Giants were as flat as they were…

…that said, let’s not understate what the Cowboys accomplished. Romo was surgical in the passing game and if DeMarco Murray can stay healthy the ‘Boys have an explosive backfield to complement their stable of receivers. Jason Garrett also deserves credit for going for the jugular on that third down play at the end of the game. How in the world the Giants didn’t account for Kevin Ogletree on that play is inexcusable (he had killed them all game), but Garrett deserves praise for keeping the ball out of Eli’s hands. He could have very easily ran the ball, punted, and took the chance that his defense would hold the Giants one more time. But in going for it and picking up the first down, he eliminated even the possibility of a comeback. Finally a Jason Garrett that Dallas fans can get behind.

A tale of two defenses in Green Bay.
One thing teams don’t do enough of when playing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ explosive passing attack is be physical with Green Bay’s receivers. Teams are so worried about giving up a big play (and rightfully so) that they play off the ball on every snap and allow Rodgers to have huge passing lanes to fit the ball into. But in their impressive 30-22 win on Sunday, the Niners aligned their corners and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. The defensive backs were physical not just at the line of scrimmage but through the entire route, and San Fran consistently generated an interior pass rush. On the other side, the Packers were able to bring pressure from the edge but Alex Smith was able to step up in the pocket and find open receivers the entire game. Green Bay played too soft in coverage, which was a problem last year as well. I understand what the Packers’ game plan was: Pressure Smith and force him to beat you throwing the ball. But the 49ers’ receivers were able to sit down in open areas and Smith was simply taking what the defense gave him. When the Packers were physical with the Niners’ receivers, Jarrett Bush was flagged for pass interference, or Clay Matthews for roughing the passer, or San Francisco’s wideouts just made plays. The other problem, of course, was that the Packers couldn’t slow down Frank Gore and the San Francisco running game. That opened up the middle of the field and the intermediate passing game. The 49ers had a better game plan, executed that game plan better than Green Bay, and made more plays. I don’t know if you can say it was a statement win for the 49ers but they certainly sent a message for those that thought they weren’t as good as their record indicated last year. (On a side note, if the regular officials wanted to make a case that the NFL needs them, they could use this game as Exhibit A. The replacement officials missed multiple false start penalties, often called infractions late, and made several questionable calls. Just a brutal day by that specific crew.)

Johnson already off to a horrendous start.
I went back and watched the Patriots’ 34-13 victory over the Titans to see if Tennessee’s offensive line failed Chris Johnson or if Johnson failed himself. While the run blocking didn’t to generate much push on interior runs, Johnson was slow to the hole, tried to bounce everything outside, and didn’t trust what he saw. When he wasn’t smashing into the backs of his linemen he was trying to make too many cuts and New England would bottle him up. Last year he wasn’t in shape and it showed. This year, at least after four quarters, he looks like he’s trying to hit a home run on every play. While Tennessee’s run blocking needs to improve, Johnson could do himself a favor by hitting the hole harder and trusting his instincts. He was a one-cut-and-go back just two seasons ago. Now he’s trying to break a 70-yard run on every play.

Luck is already ahead of the game.
The Colts’ shaky offensive line didn’t do Andrew Luck any favors on Sunday in Chicago but the rookie still completed 23-of-45 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown. He also threw three interceptions but all things considered, it was an impressive first performance. (Consider how poorly Matt Ryan performed last year Week 1 against the Bears in Chicago.) From a pocket presence standpoint Luck is already playing like a seasoned veteran and keep in mind he doesn’t have a ton of playmakers around him. Reggie Wayne is still a better option than most but his best days are behind him and Austin Collie wasn’t in the lineup. This won’t be the last time I say this in 2012 but as soon as the Colts give Luck a better supporting cast he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

The Falcons’ passing game was on point but “The Burner” looks finished.
It cannot be overstated that the Chiefs were banged up defensively on Sunday. They were without their best pass rusher in Tamba Hali (suspended one game) and their top corner in Brandon Flowers (heel). Derrick Johnson was also battling an ankle injury and while Justin Houston is developing nicely, he’s not a player that’s going to take over a game. That said, the Falcons’ passing game looked good. Really good. Matt Ryan routinely found open receivers and exploited one-on-one matchups in the secondary. Even though he’s a second-year player, Julio Jones already uses his body well to shed defenders and gives Ryan a clear target to throw to. Roddy White also made several excellent catches in the Falcons’ 40-24 win, including a snag along the sideline in which he had to drag his right foot in order to compete the play. But I point out the passing game and not the entire offense because Michael Turner did nothing on the ground. He looked like he had cement blocks for feet and constantly banged into the backs of his offensive linemen instead of cutting back and finding extra running room. Not only is he slowing down but he lacks vision as well. Everyone knew he was declining but there’s reason to believe he’s already done and if OC Dirk Koetter were smart, he’d get second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers more involved immediately.

The demise of the Jets may have been a tad exaggerated.
The Jets couldn’t score a touchdown in preseason against thin air so hey, why wouldn’t they hang 58 points on the Bills in Week 1? Fourteen of those 58 points were split between New York’s special teams and defense but still, it was quite a performance by the Jets’ seemingly lackluster offense. Despite adding the likes of Mario Williams, Stephon Gilmore and Mark Anderson in preseason, the Bills’ defense did not look sharp in preseason. So it’s not overly surprisingly that they struggled in Week 1 but this was a New York offense that was positively putrid in exhibition play. The key was that Mark Sanchez never got rattled, although it’s hard not to play with confidence with a 20-point halftime lead. Despite sharing reps with Tim Tebow, Sanchez remained unfazed and often burned Buffalo’s defense with pump fakes and double moves. Even the staunchest Sanchez critics, and I count myself as one of them, had to be impressed by his 2012 debut performance (and I was). There’s a lot of season left for both of these teams but it’s safe to say that the offseason projections for the Jets were grossly exaggerated.

Rams prevent Fisher’s first win in St. Louis era.
It’s rare when a team forces three turnovers and loses a game but that stat tells the tale for the Rams in Detroit on Sunday. They intercepted Matthew Stafford three times but still found a way to lose, 27-23. On one hand the St. Louis faithful has to be thrilled that their team had an opportunity to win a game in the end. That didn’t happen much last year. But there are no moral victories for Jeff Fisher and he can’t be happy that his young team allowed a win to slip through its grasp. St. Louis’ defense made Stafford look ordinary for three quarters but the offense never put the game out of reach. And when the defense had an opportunity to shut the door following Brandon Gibson’s spectacular 23-yard touchdown reception with just under 10 minutes to play in the fourth, it wilted. Fisher and his staff went to a prevent defense, and the results were predictable as the Lions snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. Thanks to the worst offensive line in football (a line that lost Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold to injuries on Sunday), the Rams won’t have many opportunities to win games this season. That’s why they can’t let victories like yesterdays slip through their fingertips.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 1 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton (1) laughs after running the ball during first half action, between the Miami Dolphins, and the Carolina Panthers at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida on August 19th 2011. The Miami Dolphins beat the Carolina Panthers 20-10.. UPI/Susan Knowles

- According to every NFL analyst in America, there was a better chance of Cam Newton putting his pants on backwards than resembling anything even close to a quarterback. But lo and behold the kid can play a little. He completed 24-of-37 passes for 422 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, setting a record for most passing yards in a NFL debut. He also rushed eight times for 18 yards and scored on the goal line in the Panthers’ 28-21 loss the Cardinals. Thanks to Newton, Steve Smith looked rejuvenated after spending a year in NFL hell last season. Obviously the former Auburn product isn’t going to throw for 400-plus yards every week but even his biggest critics have to be impressed with how he performed in his debut. And hey, the young man even put his pants on straight, too.

- The Steelers, the Falcons and the Chiefs: What are three teams who apparently forgot that the preseason was only four weeks long, Alex? Give credit where credit is due – the Ravens, Bears and Bills were dominate on Sunday. But it’s not like any of those teams used black magic to fool the Steelers, Falcons and Chiefs, who were absolutely shocked that they had to suit up today. Those three teams, who all won their divisions a year ago, mind you, managed to make flying to the moon look easier than playing football.

- Speaking of the Bills, this team isn’t a pushover any more. Forty-one points on the road? Good grief, man. Ryan Fitzpatrick is just good enough to be dangerous and they have some offensive weapons in Steve Johnson, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Given how bad the offensive line looked in preseason, Chan Gailey has to be thrilled with his team’s performance. And the best part about the Bills today? They acted as if they expected that outcome. I dare say they were fun to watch.

- Not many people had the Bengals beating the Browns in Cleveland today, which is why they wind up in the “DIDN”T SEE THAT COMING” section. But I’m telling you, if Andy Dalton can play mistake free and just mange games in his first year, Cincinnati won’t be as bad as everyone expects.

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Fade Material: NFL Week 1 Predictions

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter of their NFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Philadelphia, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Colts @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
I realize Peyton Manning isn’t playing today but everyone just expects the Colts to stay in the locker room and take a loss. Kerry Collins is nothing more than a short-term stop gap but he knows how to run an NFL offense. With Arian Foster out (which is huge for an Indy defense that has had trouble stopping the run the past 16 years), I like the Colts to keep it somewhat close. The Colts are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games as an underd and 5-1 ATS in their last six games as a road dog.
THE PICK: COLTS +9

Titans @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET
This games comes down to the quarterback position. Matt Hasselbeck’s better days are behind him but he’s a veteran that knows how to get the ball into the hands of his best weapons. Luke McCown, on the other hand, just found out he was starting earlier this week. The Titans are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games in Week 1 and 11-3 ATS in their lat 14 games in September.
THE PICK: TITANS +1

Eagles @ Rams, 1:00PM ET
Everyone is high on the Rams this season, and for good reason. But they’ve got a tough matchup against an Eagles team that will give Sam Bradford plenty of issues. The Rams’ secondary will also have its hands full with Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and the fast Eagle offense. The Rams are 1-9-1 against the spread in their last 11 games in Week 1 and 15-33-3 ATS in their last 51 games in September.
THE PICK: EAGLES -3.5

Bengals @ Browns, 1:00PM ET
The Browns are on the upswing while the Bengals are seemingly headed for disaster. But this is a division rivalry and if Andy Dalton can at least resemble a NFL quarterback, the Bengals are better than people think. The underdog is 7-1 against the spread in the last eight meetings between these two teams, while the Browns are 0-4 ATS in their last four division games.
THE PICK: BENGALS +6.5

Check out Bullz-Eye.com for a complete list of NFL Week 1 odds.

2011 NFL Week 1 Odds

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass under pressure against the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter of their NFL football game in Indianapolis August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Brent Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Oddsmakers have released the point spreads for Week 1 in the NFL. Along with a complete list of odds, here are a couple of games that jump out at me as we head into the opening week in the NFL.

Saints @ Packers, 8:30PM ET, Thursday
The action gets kicked off this season with a matchup between the 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers and the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints. I envision a rebound year for Drew Brees and the Saints, who added solid depth on both sides of the ball this offseason and drafted a running back in Mark Ingram that could help restore balance to Sean Payton’s offense. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off a Super Bowl win and will have tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant back from injury. Aaron Rodgers is an absolute stud and should be talked about among the league’s elite. In terms of the odds, the total is set high for a reason but I see this game falling under. In four of the last five season openers the total has fallen under and even though both of these teams can both light up the scoreboard, I don’t think we’ll see either of the Saints or Packers’ best offensive efforts this Thursday. Don’t forget it was a short offseason in terms of season preparation.
ODDS: PACKERS –4 (47)

Colts @ Texans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Personally, I think this is the Texans’ year. They went a long way to improve their horrendous defense by hiring Wade Phillips as coordinator and signing free agent corner Jonathan Joseph. Phillips has a knack for turning teams around quickly and I don’t think Houston will be an aberration. Peyton Manning will likely miss Week 1 and that means Kerry Collins will get the nod. If Manning is healthy the Colts are liable to go 12-4 but without him, they could just as easily fall to 4-12. The Texans usually start off the season on fire before fading in the second half. Maybe this year will be different. I see them getting off to a good start and without Manning, this one could be a blowout.
ODDS: TEXANS –9 (45.5)

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