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10 NFL observations from Week 1

AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

After watching all the NFL games on Sunday, these are ten of my observations about the week one games.

Did the Chiefs “out game plan” the Patriots? 

When Andy Reid has ample time to prepare for a game the results are usually terrific, and this contest was a perfect example. Let’s start with the defense. Because corner Marcus Peters is such an elite shutdown guy, there was a strong feeling that he would line up vs. Brandin Cooks all over the field, and I was one of those who drank the “Kool-Aid.”

Instead, Peters stayed on the left side of the defense all night and Tom Brady basically stayed away from him. That resulted in Peters taking away half the field, and that allowed the Chiefs to concentrate their coverages on the right side of the defense. With safety Eric Berry (Achilles) gone for the season, it will be interesting if they can continue to line Peters up on the left side and take their chances with vulnerable right corner Terrance Mitchell, or start moving Peters around to get the right matchup.

How about the offense? We saw wildcat formations, a variety of shovel passes, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce lined up in the backfield. Alex Smith was a master at the line of scrimmage of identifying the right matchup vs. New England coverages that were really out of sync. What we saw in this game was a total surprise by both teams in terms of their preparation and schemes, and for one night the Chiefs seemed to be more prepared than the usually reliable Pats.

The Jacksonville defense is for real? 

The Jaguars have rebuilt this side of the ball in the last two offseasons in free agency and the draft, and it looks like it is starting to pay off. Their defensive front seven dominated an overmatched Houston offensive line, and the Texans could not win simple 1-on-1 one battles or pick up the blitz when the Jags brought pressure.

They racked up 10 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, and they got to the Houston QBs with no pressure or all-out pressure. Calais Campbell was almost unlockable inside or outside in his rush (6 tackles,  4 sacks,  2 TFL,  5 QB hits) and their ability to play man schemes outside with corners A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey gives them great pressure flexibility.

While they probably prefer to play a rush four-drop seven Cover 3 Seattle style of defense, they can change things up quickly because of their outside cover excellence. This team will win with this defense and a ball control run offense.

Houston and Cincinnati may be in trouble 

It is only Week 1, but we saw some negatives from both of these teams that could be really troublesome. The biggest problems seem to be on the offensive side of the ball, without a lot of easy fixes. The poor offensive line play was startling. Neither offense ran the ball well, even though they have elite backs. But the bigger problem is pass protection.

Houston gave up 10 sacks to Jacksonville, and the Bengals allowed seven by Pittsburgh. The sacks came, at times, without pressure packages, and at other times with a variety of blitzes. The offenses looked stagnant, with no real flow or rhythm, and both teams have to be concerned about the surprisingly bad QB play. Is Deshaun Watson the guy who Bill O’Brien must hand his offense to? Can Andy Dalton recover from a four-interception day? These were ugly home losses in front of fan bases that expected so much more.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is shown during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Can Baltimore continue to win with their simplified philosophy?

When your kicker is your best offensive threat you know your weapons and explosiveness are limited. For a long time, we have heard how they want to win with a clock-eating run game, a dominating defense and a mistake-free passing game.

We finally saw it against Cincinnati. The Ravens had 42 rushes and only 17 passes, and when they built an early lead they stayed with the run to keep the Bengals’ offense on the sidelines, something we have not seen from past Ravens teams. We know what to expect from their defense, which is swarm and attack with their front seven and mix up their coverage schemes on the backend, and the results were positive.

They had seven sacks and forced four Andy Dalton interceptions, and the Bengals offense never seemed to be in sync. This will never be a dynamic Baltimore offense, but if the Ravens get close to the goal line they have the best kicker in the NFL.  They are likely to be forced to play in a lot of low scoring games, and that means that their margin for error is small.

At least the Browns and Bears are playing hard 

There are no “character” losses in the NFL, but the expectations for these two teams is so low that they have to be pleased at their effort in Week 1. Chicago was more than competitive in their 23-17 loss to Atlanta and the Bears could have pulled off the upset by converting one more play on their last drive. Cleveland stayed close to Pittsburgh before dropping a hard fought 21-18 decision.

The Bears gave the Falcons underneath routes all day in their bend-but-don’t-break zone (not a very creative Atlanta game plan), and they played the run well. They just “hung around” vs. a much more talented team. The Bears can be fairly competitive with a strong run game and feisty defense, but until they make a quarterback change with limited (but resilient) Mike Glennon, they will come up short a lot of weeks.

Putting rookie Mitchell Trubisky into the lineup could open up this offense and give Chicago a spark that we see from DeShone Kizer at Cleveland. The Browns’ offense was patient, Kizer handled a terrific Steelers pass rush well, he is showing chemistry with wide receiver Corey Coleman. If their defense could have slowed down Antonio Brown, they might have stolen this game. Both teams finally seem to be trending in a positive direction.

Who are these Rams?

The big question is, are the Indianapolis Colts as bad as they looked without Andrew Luck, or are the Los AngelesRams a much-improved team on both sides of the ball? The answer is probably somewhere in between, but there is no excuse for a lopsided 46-9 loss if you are a Colts fan. The Rams passing game actually had a nice Jared Goff flow that we have not seen, and their Wade Phillips-led defense smothered the hapless Colts offense.

Goff’s line kept the pocket clean, his receivers separated from tight coverage and Todd Gurley put together a solid run effort – again, things that we have been waiting to see from this young team. Right now the Colts are a mess, with little chance of winning until Andrew Luck comes back, but the Rams “looked” like an NFL team, and they played with poise and maturity that should serve them well as the season goes on.

A good Raiders offense will get better 

They beat a quality Tennessee Titans team on the road, and it was a very workmanlike win. Derek Carr was great at the line of scrimmage reading the defense, he made good decisions, his accuracy was solid, and he got the ball to all of his offensive passing weapons.

They added two significant upgrades to the offense – 1) Physical back Marshawn Lynch ran hard, and his 18 carries are a positive sign that he can handle a solid workload. They need him on first and second downs, and they need him in the fourth quarter to close out games that they are leading.  It looks like he can do both. 2.) They have lacked tight end production for years, and now they have it with Jared Cook.

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs the ball a Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (59) is blocked by Marshall Newhouse (73) in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. The Raiders won 26-16.(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

With such good outside weapons in Cooper, Crabtree and Roberts. Carr has a lot of room inside to get the ball to Cook. This is a good offense that continues to evolve, and the sky’s the limit.

Green Bay – Seattle may play again in January 

This was a heavyweight fight and very chippy between two teams who don’t like each other. It was not a “pretty” game. Both offenses were not at their best, but that was probably a result of two defenses who controlled the game. We expect strong defensive play from the Seahawks, but the Packers played better on that side of the ball than expected.

Both passing games will get better and both will show big play elements and explosiveness, but until they can run the football and give these offenses a semblance of balance (and potential play action), neither team will be as effective as they want to be. Both say they want to run the ball better, so maybe it’s time to commit to it.

Tanking? The Jets maybe – Buffalo no! 

When you watch these teams on film you start to get an idea of where they are headed. The New York Jets have traded several productive veterans, and their lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball on all three levels is startling.  It looks like they have already “thrown in the towel” on the 2017 season.

When you take a closer look, you see aging players making a lot of money who will likely be out of the league before the Jets finish their rebuilding plan. Maybe cleaning out the roster now makes actual sense, but it is a tough sell to a coaching staff and fan base who want to win desperately. The Buffalo Bills’ situation makes much more sense. They still have quality playmakers on both sides of the ball and they are reshaping this roster with players who fit the schemes that they want to run.

This coaching staff is dramatically different from the Rex Ryan era in the skills that they are looking for in players, and that means that it will take time to implement their plan. But you see that they do have a plan.

Dallas is Dallas and the Giants have work to do 

This SNF game was not very exciting and there were few surprises, as we finally saw a game that played out as expected. The Cowboys controlled the game with Ezekiel Elliott runs behind their elite line, and they dominated time of possession and never allowed Eli Manning to get into any kind of flow.

A usually good New York Giants pass rush provided little pressure and never made Dak Prescott uncomfortable. The real problem for the Giants was on offense. They had no run game, their offensive tackles made the Dallas pass rush look better than it is, and their predictable short passing game had no explosiveness without Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle). We saw no yards after catch, which is critical in this offense, and it looks like they have few big-play options beyond Beckham Jr.

The Cowboys will continue to be the team we expect to see, but the Giants have to be looking for answers for some real weaknesses that were exposed vs. Dallas.

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