HBT’s NFL Pulse Check: Week 1

HBT’s NFL Pulse Check: Week 1

NFL, Peter Curtin

 

 

 

Check back every Tuesday for the Pulse Check, our weekly NFL recap.

 

 

♪♪ “And we back. And we back. And we back. And we back” ♪♪

FOOTBALL IS BACK IN OUR LIVES and it gave us one of the better Week 1’s in recent memory. 32 teams, 16 games, let’s get into it.

 

Most Important Matchup: Patriots 23 – Cardinals 21

The Tom Brady-less Patriots notched the week’s most impressive win on the road in Arizona thanks to a collected performance from the inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo and a typically brilliant game plan from Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

The Cardinals limped out of the blocks on both sides of the ball and that lethargic start spelled their doom. By the time the Cardinals ran their 10th offensive play, New England had already scored their 10th point. Garoppolo didn’t waste any time getting acclimated to the game, capping New England’s first possession with a 37-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Chris Hogan.

That first touchdown pass was a microcosm of the entire evening. In a game that featured two of the League’s few truly special Head Coaches, Belichick’s early-game strategy was the deciding factor. In our preview series, we described Arizona as the NFL’s most-talented team, in possession of the closest thing to a complete roster the NFL has to offer. On Sunday, Belichick’s game plan made one of Arizona’s tiny inadequacies look like a fatal flaw. Forced into a starting role in an otherwise complete secondary, rookie cornerback Brandon Williams was targeted early and often and his blown coverage on Hogan allowed for an easy score. Arizona’s adjustments helped, but they were too little, too late. New England put them in a 10-point hole that they could never quite climb out of.

Arizona was eventually able to get back in the game behind excellent performances from ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald and electric running back David Johnson. Down by 2 with less than a minute remaining, Chandler Catanzaro missed a potential game-winning field goal after a low snap. Arizona’s comeback never quite came full, but it speaks well to the Cardinals that they were able to put themselves in a position to win in the game’s final minute despite such a poor first quarter.

But, ultimately, Jimmy Garropolo was the story of the game. Belichick and McDaniels, smartly, didn’t make things too hard on him. He rarely targeted the middle of the field, he was only asked to make clean, simple throws, and he has a long way to go in terms of dealing with a pass rush, but this was a steady performance from Garropolo on a night when nothing less would have ended in a New England win.

The Patriots haven’t paid for Deflategate with a loss yet.

 

What Everyone is Talking About: Giants 20 – Cowboys 19

It just wouldn’t be the Giants-Cowboys rivalry without a 4th quarter game clock bed-shitting.

Terrance Williams’ inexplicable decision to fight for more yards instead of getting out of bounds with 7 seconds remaining killed whatever hope Dallas had of rallying for a win in Dak Prescott’s NFL debut.

Prescott certainly didn’t lose the game for the Cowboys, but he was largely unimpressive in his first game. Despite his healthy volume of throws (45 attempts), he finished the game with just 227 yards for an abysmal 5 yards/passing attempt. Tony Romo’s health has left the NFC East wide open for the second year in a row. It doesn’t bode well for Dallas’ chances that Prescott was the NFC East’s second-most impressive rookie quarterback Sunday afternoon. More on that later.

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

As for the Giants, they lost the time of possession game badly (23 minutes of possession) but were able to be effective on offense when they had the ball. Eli Manning limited himself to one turnover, and there were contributions from three wide receivers in a refreshing change for New York. Victor Cruz’s touchdown catch, and subsequent salsa dance, was one of the feel-good moments of the week as he played his first NFL game in 700 days.

But, the most impressive unit of this game was the Giants’ front seven. New York had one of the worst defenses in the NFL a year ago. They tried to fix that in a hurry by throwing a whole lot of money at defensive players in free agency last Spring. Giants fans will hope that Sunday was a harbinger of what’s to come all season from the seemingly improved unit.

Much-hyped rookie Ezekiel Elliott, running behind the League’s best offensive line, only managed a paltry 51 yards on 20 carries. That 2.5 yards/attempt number is miles worse than the League-worst 3.4 among qualified runners in 2015.

There were plenty of promising signs for New York in this game. If there’s one thing Giants fans can still sweat over, it’s that despite outplaying their opponents pretty thoroughly, the Cowboys huge edge in time of possession was enough to keep them in the game until the very end.

Winning the Dak Prescott games could prove critical for New York, Washington, and Philadelphia this year. Job done for Big Blue in Week 1.

 

What Everyone Probably Should be Talking About: Steelers 38 – Redskins 16

The first game of Monday Night Football’s opening weekend doubleheader was just one of three games played between teams that made the playoffs in 2015. Washington never really looked like it belonged in this remarkably one-sided affair.

The Redskins had hoped that this game would serve as a launchpad into the contender conversation where they think they belong. Those hopes went up in a black and yellow cloud of smoke. The front seven allowed 4.9 yards/carry. The running game managed 55 yards on just 12 attempts. Kirk Cousins had two bad giveaways and left other throws on the table. This game exposed some hideous shortcomings in their roster and dragged them back to their mostly mediocre reality. There’s no great shame in losing to Pittsburgh this year, but Washington should be disheartened to start the season with a showing this poor.

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Ben Roethlisberger and DeAngelo Williams led a brutally impressive offensive performance from Pittsburgh, who finished the game with 434 total yards of offense. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley called a great game, regularly taking advantage of his favorable matchups, especially Antonio Brown in single coverage on the outside against cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

Washington made Josh Norman the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL so they would have a cornerback who can go toe-to-toe with wide receivers of Brown’s caliber. But, Washington is mimicking Seattle in the way they deploy their cornerbacks – Norman and Breeland both have one side of the field that they’re permanently assigned to regardless of which wide receiver lines up across from them. Norman did very well for himself in this game, but Haley had the obvious and simple solution: move Antonio Brown to the other side of the field.

Breeland was picked on all night and he will come in for a lot of grief for Brown’s phenomenal performance (8 receptions, 126 yards, 2 TDs). The truth is that Breeland didn’t give Brown a whole lot of breathing room in coverage. The problem is that Antonio Brown is the President of the NFL’s Always Open Club. Give Brown an inch and he will take a foot. You need to be inside his jersey to keep him from making plays and Breeland was not quite up to the task. When Le’Veon Bell returns from his suspension, the Steelers might just have the League’s best quarterback, running back, and wide receiver this year. If the defense can just be consistently above average, they’re going to be very tough to beat.

 

Your “Football is the Best” Moment of the Week: Lions 39 – Colts 35

Source: Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America

Source: Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America

In a massively surprising turn of events, watching Matt Stafford and Andrew Luck go blow-for-blow through the air was the most entertaining watch of a very entertaining week. Stafford and Luck both provided eye-popping numbers and winning performances. Stafford got a lot of help from the backfield with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick impressing in both the running and passing games. As good as Stafford was, Luck was the better quarterback on the day, making impossible throws look routine.

It’s hard not to feel for Andrew Luck. He is a generational talent at the sport’s most important position – by any standard, a special player. And he has nothing around him at all. His brilliance will forgive a lot of roster shortcomings, but it’s not enough to make up for a defense that looks this terrible. But, it sure will be great to watch him throw 40 passes/week all season.

 

Your “Football is the Worst” Moment of the Week: Panthers 20 – Broncos 21

There are so many fun angles you could take with this game.

  • Trevor Siemian is the least likely starting quarterback of a defending Super Bowl Champion ever. And he won.
  • Super Bowl 50 rematch.
  • Possible Super Bowl 51 preview.
  • Kelvin Benjamin was the best player on the field after missing an entire season

But it’s really hard to focus on any of that stuff amidst the Broncos’ efforts to turn Cam Newton’s brain into oatmeal. Newton was on the bad end of three helmet-to-helmet hits from Broncos defenders and stayed in the game until the bitter end, a bitter end that he acknowledged having no memory of in postgame interviews. Not a good look NFL.

 

Quick Hits

Packers 27 – Jaguars 23

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars’ loaded receiving corps had the first of what should be many good afternoons through the air, but good Lord, does this team suck at running the ball (26 carries, 48 yards). As for the team that won the game, Aaron Rodgers looks like himself again and the NFL should be scared shitless.

 

Bills 7 – Ravens 13

A total snoozer. Was basically a preseason game that ran horribly into the regular season. Dat Breshad Perriman catch, doe …

 

Bears 14 – Texans 23

If Brock Osweiler can play all season like he did in this game, than Houston has made the all-important upgrade from terrible to competent at quarterback. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller look like they could be a nasty 1-2 punch at receiver. The AFC South race could be a real laugher this year.

 

Browns 10 – Eagles 29
Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

It’s just the Browns, but Carson Wentz had Week 1’s most impressive QB debut. His numbers were terrific (7.5 yards/attempt, 2 TDs) and do not flatter the quality of his performance, which was littered with impressive throws.

 

Buccaneers 31 – Falcons 24

The Falcons’ defense is not good, but Jameis Winston went off in this game (8.5 yards/attempt, 4 TDs). Atlanta’s defense shouldn’t be their biggest worry. They’re going to win games this year by scoring points in bunches and their running game could not do anything in a hugely favorable matchup.

 

Vikings 25 – Titans 16

Minnesota’s defense is going to have to do all the heavy lifting this year if the Vikings are going to make it back to the postseason. Sunday’s two defensive touchdowns were a good start. Shaun Hill was not bad, but that’s largely because Tennessee loaded up the box beyond the limits of reason to neutralize Adrian Peterson. Sam Bradford needs to get up to speed quickly.

 

Bengals 23 – Jets 22

A real star performance from AJ Green (12 receptions, 180 yards, TD) who spent the afternoon roasting Darrelle Revis. The rest of the Jets defense was terrifying, taking Jeremy Hill out of the game and sacking Andy Dalton a whopping seven times.

 

Raiders 35 – Saints 34

One of two furious 4th-quarter comebacks we saw this week. In the face of huge performances from Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, the Saints 500+ yards of offense weren’t enough to win. Keep an eye on Brandin Cooks this year. He looks primed for big things.

 

Chargers 27 – Chiefs 33

The Chiefs looked terrible all afternoon, but sprang to life in the second half, overcoming a 24-3 deficit to force overtime and win on the extra period’s opening drive. Their dismemberment of San Diego’s defense in the second half shows how good this team can be when they’re in the mood, but such an abject first half is disconcerting for a team that fancies itself a Super Bowl contender.

 

Dolphins 10 – Seahawks 12

The Seahawks’ defense is going to make a lot of offenses look silly this year, but man, oh man, were the Dolphins awful on Sunday. Having said that, the Seahawks hardly looked better, though running back Christine Michael impressed thanks to Thomas Rawls’ carries limit. Russell Wilson will have the world’s most closely monitored ankle this week. Though he reportedly suffered a “significant” sprain, his status for next week’s clash with LA is “questionable.” If the Rams’ Week 1 performance is any indication, this might not be the worst week to exercise caution with your star quarterback.

 

Rams 0 – 49ers 28

I didn’t watch this game. You didn’t watch this game. Anyone at the water cooler who says that they stayed up to watch this game is a goddamned liar. Shame them.

Author

Peter Curtin

Peter Curtin is a working professional based in Washington, DC. A life-long sports fan, he has previously written as a contributor for Philadelphia-based sports site, thewoodercooler.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pete_Curtin.

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