Now that Week 1 is officially over it is an appropriate time to react to everything that happened this week. What happens in Week 1 may not define a team or player’s narrative on the season but it gives those who follow the NFL potential perspective on what the season could be. Basically there is a chance that some of the takeaways from Week 1 could stick and some are complete overreactions.
Last year one of the biggest headlines was that former first-round pick John Ross was finally going to show the league that the Bengals made a great call selecting him ninth overall in 2017. But Ross did not consistently produce for the Bengals last season. But Week 1 last season Lamar Jackson showed the league for the first time that he could be an elite quarterback talent and should be taken seriously as an MVP candidate and the Ravens should be in the Super Bowl conversation. Jackson finished the year leading the league in touchdown passes (36) and broke the record for most rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback (1,206). This performance led to Jackson winning the MVP and was part of the reason why the Ravens went 14-2 and were considered the Super Bowl favorites throughout the season.
Here are some narratives that could stick the entire season that we learned in Week 1.
Gardner Minshew isn’t going down without a fight
Before and especially after the Jacksonville Jaguars released Leonard Fournette people around the NFL believe that the Jacksonville Jaguars are following what fellow Florida football team the Miami Dolphins did and tanking to have the opportunity to draft college football’s best quarterback. This movement has been called #TankForTrevor. It isn’t a terrible idea considering the Jaguars assume to be one of the teams with the worst record in the league and Trevor Lawerence has been called the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck or even Peyton Manning by many analysts who have seen him play. However, Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew may prevent that from happening in Jacksonville.
In Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, Minshew led the Jaguars to an upset win over a favorite to win the AFC South the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars outscored the Colts in the fourth quarter 10-3 to give themselves a 27-20 win on Sunday. The MVP of the game was no other than Jaguars starting quarterback Gardner Minshew. Minshew threw for only 173 yards, but completed 19 of his 20 pass attempts and had three passing touchdowns.
During the offseason, the Jaguars felt comfortable enough with Minshew as their starter that they traded Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears. Then when speculation started about the Jaguars potentially drafting Tua Tagovailoa at ninth overall and about the team potentially signing Cam Newton, the Jaguars confirmed their confidence in Minshew as their starter this season. Being a former sixth-round pick Minshew has already outplayed expectations when he emerged as the Jaguars’ starter last season.
No matter how many critics he has had, Minshew keeps confirming the fact that he plans on staying in Jacksonville and views himself as the future of the franchise. If Minshew can keep up this kind of production and win a few games, that may be the case.
Cam Newton is still a starting-caliber quarterback
The same player who made a lot of headlines during the offseason was a part of one of the biggest headlines in Week 1, that player is Cam Newton. Newton signed with the New England Patriots late in the offseason after being released by the Carolina Panthers. Newton was ‘done dirty’ by the Panthers when the released him after seemingly all of the NFL’s starting quarterback jobs were accounted for.
The Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Football Team, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears wanted no part of Newton because they had questions on whether he was still capable of playing at a starting-caliber level after some sloppy play last season and whether he could stay healthy for all 16 games. Since it has only been one week the long term health is still a question mark, however, on Sunday Newton proved that he is still one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL and could be considered one of the better players at the position. On Sunday Newton completed 15 of his 19 pass attempts for 155 yards and had 15 rushes for 75 yards and two rushing touchdowns in a 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
What made Newton so impressive was his efficiency in an offense which on paper was not a good fit for Newton. He entered a situation in New England where he was replacing who many consider the greatest quarterback of all-time Tom Brady who has a completely different skillset than Newton. The Patriots are also a no nonsense organization that rarely features personalities as large as Newton’s so there were questions about his fit into their culture. It is extremely unlikely that Newton can replicate numbers close to his MVP season in 2014-15, but if he can stay healthy for a majority of the season and keep up this level of play throughout the season, he should be guaranteed a starting job in 2021.
This Vikings defense may not be their strong point anymore
Even though the Minnesota Vikings are the favorites to win the NFC North, they did not start the season the way they would have wanted to on Sunday. The Vikings lost a shootout versus division rival Green Bay Packers 43-34. The highlight of this game was the Packers’ passing attack. After what was considered a rough season which resulted in the Packers drafting a quarterback in the first round, Aaron Rodgers came out guns blazing completing 32 of his 44 pass attempts for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Star receiver Davante Adams tied a franchise record with 14 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Many other Packers skill players had great games. However, it might have more to say about the state of the Vikings’ defense than the Packers’ offense.
Overall the Minnesota Vikings gave up 524 yards of offense. The Packers had four skill players put up over 60 yards. Three were wide receivers. Two of those receivers had over 95 yards. This is because of the lack of experience in the Vikings secondary, especially at the cornerback positions. The Vikings lost starting cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency. The Vikings drafted cornerbacks Jeff Gladney in the first round, Cameron Dantzler in the second round and Harrison Hand in the fifth. However, 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes and Holton Hill got the start. All of the cornerbacks mentioned have great upside to together develop into the next great secondary, however, right now they are very unproven and it seems easy to take advantage of that.
It also doesn’t help that the Vikings were forced to cut former Pro Bowlers Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph because of salary cap issues. They replaced Griffen with Yannick Ngakoue and Joseph with Michael Pierce, but Pierce opted out of the season due to Covid-19 concerns and their other star pass rusher Danielle Hunter started the year on the IR because of an injury. Combine that with the issues in the secondary and it shows a Vikings’ defense that is not as dominant as years past.
Odell Beckham Jr. is not the number one receiver in Cleveland
One of the biggest surprises of the 2019-20 season was how disappointing the Cleveland Browns were. Especially the combination of Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr.. After an inspiring rookie season, Mayfield seemed primed to take a leap forward in his development and Beckham Jr. was expected to put up better numbers now that he was going to have a supposed upgrade at the quarterback position. Instead, Mayfield regressed throwing only 22 touchdowns and having the second-most interceptions in the league with 21. While Beckham had a rough season only having 1,035 yards and four touchdowns a season ago. Many blamed it on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens for being under-qualified for the job and not ready to command a locker room with that many personalities. However, after Week 1, it appears that Mayfield and Beckham Jr. may be in for similar roles in 2020.
To be fair to both of them, they had a rough Week 1 matchup against the Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens. Mayfield had a rough game completing 21 of his 39 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Beckham was locked down by the Ravens’ secondary catching three of his ten targets for 22 yards. What this shows is that Mayfield and Beckham Jr. still do not have the chemistry or relationship that many thought the two would have. Though Beckham Jr. arguably may be the most talented wide receiver in football because of the lack of chemistry between him and Mayfield and the presence of Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, OBJ may be the Browns number two receiver.
In Week 1 Landry caught five of his six targets for 61 yards. Though Beckham may have received more targets than Landry, that may have to do more with Mayfield trying to force the ball to Beckham more than anything. Though he was targeted less, Landry ended up having a better game than Beckham. That is just like last season where Beckham and Landry’s target shares were similar, but Landry put up better numbers than Beckham.
Tom Brady may not be able to fix all of Tampa Bays problems on offense
The team with the biggest magnifying glass on them Sunday was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Everyone who follows the NFL waited patiently to see Tom Brady‘s debut as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Brady’s debut came in a tough matchup against division rival New Orleans Saints. His Buccaneers debut was just that…tough. The Buccaneers lost in what felt like a blowout 34-23 to the Saints. The biggest take away many took from this game is that Brady and the Buccaneers’ weapons are not in sync. Brady’s stat line for that game was 23 for 36 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. One of those interceptions was a pick-six by Janoris Jenkins and Brady did have a rushing touchdown on top of that on the first drive.
Bruce Arians commented Monday that one of the interceptions was on Mike Evans and the other was on Brady. Evans didn’t finish running a route which resulted in Brady’s first interception by Marcus Williams and the second was a bad read by Brady that Jenkins took advantage of and returned for six points. This may have to do with the lack of chemistry between the Buc’s skill players and Brady. There was no preseason and training camp was limited. On top of that Evans has been limited in camp because of a hamstring injury and likely wasn’t practicing with Brady that much.
However, if this trend of sloppy play and turnovers continues throughout the season, there may be another reason for this. It may have something to do with Arians’ and Byron Leftwich’s offense. Their offense is made up of high risk deep passes to their talented wide receivers. Last year Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions in this high powered offense. Brady is going to air the ball out a lot more than he has in New England in recent years. That may be uncomfortable for Brady because he hasn’t had reliable outside receiver play like this in years. Instead, he has relied on pass-catching running backs, tight ends over the middle, and slot receivers like Julian Edleman to move the ball down the field. Typically Arians and Leftwich’s offense doesn’t feature those security blanket short passes.
It also doesn’t help that the Buccaneers do not have a stable running game. Ronald Jones had 17 rushes for 66 yards and Leonard Fournette had five rushes for five yards. If the Buccaneers can get a consistent running game and do more fo what Brady is comfortable with, it may make this transition a lot smoother and the Buccaneers will start to look like the dangerous team that everyone thought they were going to be in the offseason rather than the team that played on Sunday.
Last year may have been a fluke for the Rams
Last season after losing Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams experienced a major Super Bowl hangover on both sides of the ball. The Rams offense went from one of the most explosive to just bad overall. Jared Goff threw sixty more passes than the year before and ended the year with similar passing yardage numbers, ten fewer touchdowns, and four more interceptions. Goff went from one of the rising stars of the league to a quarterback who appeared to look scared to throw in the pocket. The Rams’ play calling was extremely inconsistent. All year it felt like a struggle to figure out how much should the Rams run Todd Gurley. They refrained from it early in the year but then after the Rams seemed close to potentially missing the playoffs seemed to run Gurley too much. The Rams ended up just missing the playoffs with a record of 9-7.
However, on Sunday Night Football, the Rams looked similar to how they played two seasons prior when they picked up a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams offense wasn’t eye-popping on paper, Goff threw for 274 yards had zero touchdowns and an interception, Malcolm Brown rushed the ball 18 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns, rookie second-round pick Cam Akers had 14 rushes for 39 yards, and Robert Woods led the Rams in receiving with six receptions for 105 yards (he also had one carry for 14 yards). The biggest difference from a year ago was how comfortable the offense looked. Jared Goff seemed confident throwing the ball downfield from the pocket, the Rams were able to integrate an effective run game with their passing game setting up bootlegs and play-action passes.
The Rams went back to what they did best. They got younger replacing veteran stars who had injury issues Gurley and Brandin Cooks with rookies Akers and 57th overall pick Van Jefferson. The Rams aren’t expected to be the league’s best offense like they were a few seasons ago, but if they keep up this play they could potentially make the playoffs and reassert themselves as the third Super Bowl contender in the NFC West with the San Fransisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
A Healthy Big Ben makes the Steelers a scary team in the AFC
The first game Monday night featured Ben Roethlisberger returning from an elbow injury that held him out for almost the entire season. Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants 26-16. The Steelers were led by Roethlisberger’s 229 passing yards and three touchdowns to go along with their elite defensive play. But the story of the game was how would Roethlisberger look after missing the entire year. Would he return to form from the season prior or would he be a shell of his former self recovering from a major injury at age 38?
At first, it was evident that Roethlisberger had some rust and seemed jittery. He commented before the game that he was nervous because it had been so long since he played and watching the game he seemed stiff at times. But as the game carried on the rust started to fade and Roethlisberger looked like the quarterback that he has been for a couple of seasons. He was able to make big plays to his talented receivers. When starting running back James Conner left the game with an ankle injury Roethlisberger took over and ensured the Steelers victory.
If the offense can play at a high level, to go along with their defense, which is considered one of the league’s best, there should be no doubt that the Steelers can make the playoffs in the AFC. An elite defense up to the Steelers caliber would be one of the biggest challenges Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes has had to go up against in their young playoff careers.
The Workhorse Running back is going extinct
After watching football this week and over the past couple of seasons it is fair to make the conclusion that the workhorse running back is gong extinct. A majority of backfields in the league are composed of a couple of running backs that each have their own roles and play a decent percentage of the snaps. Even the backfields that have a lead back that is much more talented than his running mates have a talented change of pace back that sees snaps. The reasoning for this is the same reason why teams are opposed to paying running backs big money after their rookie contracts are up, every year an abundance of talented running backs enter the league via the draft and are too talented to keep off the field or not to add to an offense.
Looking at the backfields and the number of snaps each running backs takes there are 14 teams who have full-blown running back by committees. Of the teams remaining, there are 14 other teams who have a very clear lead back, but have a complementary change of pace back that sees a lot of time. That leaves only 4 teams who a clear top running back who rarely brings in their backup to third down or carry a change of pace back that compliments their rusher. To put it into percentages 43.75% of teams use a committee, 43.75% of teams use a change of pace or third-down back, and only 12.5% of teams have a running back they trust on all three downs throughout the entire game and that could even change during the season.
In Week 1 only two running backs ran the ball 25+ times. There were also only two running backs who had over 100 yards rushing. Those players are Kansas City Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and last season’s rushing leader Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. The only reason why Edwards-Helaire received as much work as he did is because his running mate Damien Williams opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Edwards-Helaire also was amazing during his league debut. The Houston Texans couldn’t stop him because stacking the box would result in former MVP Patrick Mahomes using weapons like Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce in the passing game to beat them.
There are still running backs who can carry the load of a workhorse back in the league. There are actually too many running backs who are capable to do it. However modern-day offenses and the amount of talented running backs that enter the league every year is depleting the need for an old fashion workhorse running back that has over 300 carries a season.
Some teams needed the preseason more than others
One of the biggest stories of the offseason was how would limited training camps and no preseason would affect NFL teams. Overall teams were not as sloppy and disorganized people assumed coming into Week 1. Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports Radio predicted on his talk show that eight of nine teams with new head coaches and or quarterbacks would lose in Week 1. He was wrong, instead, seven of the nine teams with new head coaches and or quarterbacks lost this past week. Those teams were the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The two teams that did win Sunday, under those circumstances, were the New England Patriots and the Washington Football Team.
The two teams on that list that should be highlighted are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. Both teams had high expectations coming into the year and looked sloppy and disappointed in their Week 1 matchups. The only concerns with those teams should be whether they could get their act together and play at the pace many thought they should play at in time to get a top seed in the playoffs. Both teams play in tough divisions in the NFC that could easily see another divisional rival win the division leaving them with a road game in the playoffs. The season is still very young and there isn’t much to panic from, but there may be increased reason to panic if this keeps up throughout the season.
When people ask the question ‘Why does the NFL need to have a preseason?’ it is for teams like these who have made major changes to the forces that control their team to see what a game day environment looks like with the new pieces of the team. As the season goes on some teams will continue to show us why those preseason games and training camp is so important for a team’s success early in the season.