NFL Week One Review and Week Two Preview

NFL Week Two: Let's Get Offensive

9/16/11 in NFL   |   BenSullivan   |   96 respect

What an amazing opening weekend for the NFL. After an offseason full of lockout talks, a shortened player movement period, a frantic fantasy draft season (I successfully started an 8 team, 30 roster spots, contract system keeper league in about three weeks. Am I proud of this? You bet I am. Do I have a life? Debatable), and serious discussions about how this was all going to affect the product on the field we were treated to some of the most impressive and entertaining football we’ve ever seen.
Week one of the season is always one of the best, and most difficult, to digest. We saw a ton of things transpire on the field that we didn’t expect to see. We saw the Miami Dolphins run a modern, vertical passing game. We saw a rookie, Cam Newton, put up a performance for the ages (I’m serious, more on that later). And most notably, we saw a coming out party for the prolific passing games that have evolved in the modern NFL.
So with week one in the books lets take a look at what made it so great.
Because sometimes all the experts get it wrong: This section is a tough one this week, and most week one’s, because we’ve spent all summer just agreeing on a few basic principals that eventually get thrown on their heads once the games actually start being played.
The most obvious candidate for this section would be the kickoffs. Despite what we all thought going into this season, moving the kickoff up from the 30 yard line to the 35 yard line did not effectively remove the play from the game. While it was great to see the kickoffs remain a possible game changer, what was most evident was that the kick coverage teams have a tougher adjustment curve to the new rule than the return teams do. No, instead it was another universally held truth that was most clearly proved false.
This summer we heard over and over again how the rookies would be the players most affected by the lockout and the shortened preseason. We heard how they wouldn’t be able to pick up the pro schemes and wouldn’t have enough practice time to get used to the speed of the game at the next level.
That couldn’t have been more wrong. The rookies had some of the most impressive performances that we’ve ever seen. Cam Newton set the record for passing yards in a rookie’s first NFL game with 422 yards, a number that would be almost hard to believe if it wasn’t for the ridiculous passing totals that quarterbacks put up all over the league this week.
However, despite those other huge passing days, we shouldn’t overlook what Cam Newton accomplished this Sunday. Rookie quarterbacks aren’t supposed to do this well. The game is supposed to move to fast for them. But what we saw with Newton was a player who wasn’t asked to do anything that he wasn’t ready to do. New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski formulated his game plan around Cam’s strength’s and didn’t ask him to do anything outside of his comfort zone.
Most notably, he didn’t ask Newton to be able to read defenses like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would. Instead, he just put Newton back in the shotgun, gave him no more than three or four reads on every play, and told him if he got through all of his reads and hadn’t gotten rid of the ball, just to tuck it and run. This led to a talented quarterback playing comfortable and instinctual. Now, this strategy won’t win many games this year, you just can’t be successful against good defenses with such a basic game plan, but it will lead to a calm and confident Cam Newton, which should then lead to him getting better and better each week.
We also saw impressive performances from rookies like Ryan Kerrigan, Randall Cobb and Patrick Peterson. These players are coming into the professional ranks more prepared to play every year, and this shortened offseason just proved the point that professional players, even rookies, don’t need months and months of preparation to play at a high level.
Because Stats Don’t Lie: The number of passing yards that these quarterbacks are putting up is just insane. We saw 4 players throw for over 400 yards in week one, including Tom Brady breaking the 500 yard mark. To put that in a little perspective, the most 400 yard passing games in one season was 13 in both 1986 and 2004. The league is on pace to put up 68 four hundred yard games this season. I know that it’s only one week and I’m not saying we’re going to see 400 yard games put up 68 times this year, but it does clearly show that the league has officially become a passing league. When you have guys like Chad Henne putting up video game type numbers, it’s official.
Because College Was the Most Fun of My Life: There was lots to like this week in the college football ranks, but I want to talk about something I saw that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how bad the level of football was when the University of Michigan played against Notre Dame. I was super psyched for this game, more excited for this game than I was for the top five matchup the week before between Oregan and LSU, which was basically a playoff game in the opening weekend of the season.
It was the first time that the storied Michigan squad played under the lights at home, and it was fitting that their opponent was also a historically dominant program in Notre Dame. But instead of seeing two teams playing at the highest level of college football, we saw two schools that have fallen back to the rest of the pack.
When you see the teams that have the top level talent, the speedy, athletic teams from the SEC and the PAC 12, you are just watching football played at a higher level than we saw on Saturday night. And I just don’t like it, one of the best parts about college football is the tradition and the history, so to see two schools that are a couple of the most historically successful playing B level ball just breaks your heart.
The reasons why these two schools have fallen behind the curve are more to list here, but I do want to highlight the two I see as being the biggest hindrances to their ability to recruit top level talent. 

The most obvious is because they aren’t willing to cut corners academically, at least not as much as some of their competitors are. Both Notre Dame and Michigan are well respected schools outside the football universe, and rightfully so they haven’t been willing to risk their academic and community reputations just to remain at the top of the rankings.

The other reason, less obvious but I think just as much of a hurdle to them in recruiting, is their climate. If you’re a top high school football talent you can have your choice of pretty much any school in the country, so why would you choose to go to and spend your winters in Michigan? Doesn’t it make much more sense that the southern schools and the west coast schools have a huge edge here? It used to be that you had to go to a select few schools if you wanted sufficient exposure to get drafted into the pros. Now you can go anywhere you want and if you’re good enough someone will draft you.

 I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see the recruiting landscape getting any easier for either of these two schools in the future.

Okay, now that we’ve looked back at this past week, let’s take a look at the what we’ve got in store for us this weekend.

Kansas City (0-1) at Detroit (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A big play type of game. Both of these teams are young with talent, and that means that you’re likely to see some examples of great football and some of really bad football. Those types of combinations should add up to more than a few busted coverages and missed assignments that lead to big plays.

Key Matchup: The Kansas City offensive line against the Detroit defensive pass rush. The Chiefs only gave up two sacks in week one, but Matt Cassel was pressured a lot and their passing game only notched 105 yards against a Buffalo defense that doesn’t have the same type of disruptive pass rushing ability that Detroit will show up with. If Kansas City is going to put up a fight in this one they’re going to have to find a way to keep the Detroit front four away from Matt Cassel.

Risky Prediction: Jamaal Charles puts up huge numbers in the passing game. The best way to neutralize an aggressive defense is to run screens and quick throws, both things that Charles and the K.C. offense as a whole do well.

Who wins and why: Detroit will take this one. The Kansas City secondary was woeful against the Bills, so Stafford and company should have a field day at home in the dome.

Oakland (1-0) at Buffalo (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A battle between two different styles of play. The Raiders run the ball well and play good defense and will try to keep the game low scoring and close until the end. Based on what we saw last week, the Bills are going to come out throwing the ball and will try to speed up the tempo on the Raiders.

Key Matchup: The Bills defensive line against the Oakland running game. Buffalo runs a 3-4 defense, which means that if the three defensive lineman can’t hold their ground and eat up blocks in the running game then a good running team like the Raiders will have a field day on them like they did against Denver.

Risky Prediction: Ryan Fitzpatrick proves that week one wasn’t a fluke. The modern NFL game is so complex it actually makes sense that a guy with a below average arm and below average athleticism but the above average brains it takes to go to Harvard would be good.

Who wins and why: It’s tough to go against a team like Buffalo that looked so good in week one, but I just don’t see them being able to stop the Oakland ground game. The Raiders will do just enough on defense to keep the game close and will get a couple big runs to break the game open in the second half.

Tampa Bay (0-1) at Minnesota (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A close one between two teams that came into the season with sleeper buzz but failed to impress in week one.

Key Matchup: The Minnesota secondary against the Tampa Bay receivers. The Buccaneers’ offensive attack stalls if their receivers don’t get open for the medium yard type of gains that keep the chains moving. The Vikings run an old school cover two type of scheme, which leaves holes all over the field for a spread offense to take advantage of. If Minnesota doesn’t adjust and focus more on the intermediate zones Tampa Bay will take advantage and make a living on those 6-12 yard routes all day.

Risky Prediction: Josh Freeman plays a great game. Freeman has plenty of doubters out there, especially after failing to get his team a win last week. I still think the jury is out on whether he has what it takes to be a top 15 type quarterback in the NFL, but I do think he’s a mentally strong, gamer type of player who has spent all week looking forward to getting the chance to get back on the field and prove some critics wrong.

Who wins and why: Cue up the sky is falling talk in Tampa Bay because the Vikings are going to win this one behind a safe performance by McNabb and a big day from Adrian Peterson.

Chicago (1-0) at New Orleans (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: Aggressive. Both of these teams like to bring pressure on defense. While they do it in two very different ways, you’re going to see a game decided by which quarterback handles the pressure the best.

Key Matchup: The Chicago pass rush against the New Orleans offensive line. The best way to stop an offense like the one that the Saints run is to get pressure from your front four, something that Chicago does better than almost any team in the league.

Risky Prediction: Jay Cutler throws more than one interception. I know, saying Cutler will throw picks isn’t exactly very risky, but after his performance last week it will be a big step backwards for him to revert back to his old ways.

Who wins and why: New Orleans will come out with an aggressive game plan on both sides of the ball. While they will miss a few times, they always do, the offense will get some big plays and the defense will force a few turnovers to get them a win.

Baltimore (1-0) at Tennessee (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: An old fashioned style butt kicking. Tennessee isn’t very good at all, they lost to a Jacksonville team last week that is going to struggle against good teams, and we all saw what Baltimore did in week one.

Key Matchup: Ray Lewis against Chris Johnson. The only way that Tennessee even keeps this one close is if Johnson has a huge day, and it’s going to be up to Lewis to keep him from breaking into the second level of the defense where his speed and agility makes him so tough to handle.

Risky Prediction: Tennessee scores in the double digits. If Pittsburgh couldn’t do it then it will be amazing if the Titans can.

Who wins and why: Baltimore is going to run away with this, old school beat down style.

Cleveland (0-1) at Indianapolis (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: Sloppy. Cleveland didn’t inspire any confidence with their play and, well, we saw what happened to Indy without Peyton Manning.

Key Matchup: Colt McCoy against the Indianapolis passing defense. McCoy’s play left plenty to be desired last week and he will look to prove that he deserved the buzz he was getting this summer. The Colts defense was atrocious against Houston and unless they get their pass rush going McCoy should have some open receivers to throw to.

Risky Prediction: That aforementioned Colts pass rush will get going. The Indy defense has been built to play with a lead and tee off on opposing teams that were forced to throw the ball to keep up the scoring pace with Manning and the Indy offense. Houston negated that advantage by taking such a huge early lead, but Cleveland won’t be able to do that.

Who wins and why: Cleveland takes this one because in the end this Indianapolis team is going to struggle all year long. I’m in the camp that buys into the idea that Manning’s injury is a serious, long term type of thing. This Colts team is demoralized after losing their leader and being embarrassed by a division foe.

Jacksonville (1-0) at NY Jets (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A dominant defensive performance by the Jets.

Key Matchup: Shonn Green against the defensive line of the Jaguars. The only way for Jacksonville to stay in this one will be for them to shut down the New York running game on first and second down and force Mark Sanchez to make throws on third and long.

Risky Prediction: The Jets force four or more turnovers. Luke McCown against the Jets defense? Ouch.

Who wins and why: The Jets, because Jacksonville is going to be really bad. They got lucky to face another bad opponent in their first game, but now they’re going to get a taste of what a good football team, especially one with a good defense, can do to them. Start the Blaine Gabbert talk.

Seattle (0-1) at Pittsburgh (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A hard hitting contest, but only from the Pittsburgh side of the ball.

Key Matchup: Nothing really here, it’s not going to matter.

Risky Prediction: Tarvaris Jackson doesn’t leave the game on a stretcher.

Who wins and why: Pittsburgh because they are going to come out with a mountain’s size chip on their shoulder after being spanked by their arch rival Baltimore last week. Oh yeah, and because Seattle is really bad.

(1-0) at Washington (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: Dare I say exciting for a game between the Cardinals and the Redskins? Yes, I sure do. This is my sleeper pick for the “game between two bad teams that will be wicked fun to watch”.

Key Matchup: Rex Grossman against himself. We saw the good side of Rex Grossman this past Sunday, he stayed away from bad turnovers and didn’t lose the game for his team. It will be a great story for Washington if he can keep that up, but there’s always the threat of Bad Rex showing up.

Risky Prediction: Kevin Kolb struggles against the Washington pass defense. The Redskins have a sneaky good defense, and should be able to force Arizona into some obvious passing downs that will let them tee off against Kolb.

Who wins and why: Could it be two straight wins out of the gate for the Redskins? You bet it can! Tim Hightower will have a career game against his former team and the Redskins will emerge from week two as the “can these guys be for real?” team of 2011.

Green Bay (1-0) at Carolina (0-1) 

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: All the offense you could want.

Key Matchup: Charles Woodson against Cam Newton. Newton tore up an Arizona secondary in week one that gave him some really wide open targets. He’s going to come into this game with a huge confidence boost, enough of a boost to embolden him to try to get more aggressive in this one. Aggressiveness that a veteran defensive back like Woodson will take advantage of for at least one pick.

Risky Prediction: Aaron Rodgers one-ups Tom Brady with a 550 plus passing yard game.

Who wins and why: The Packers because without Jon Beason this Carolina defense is going to get scored on by even bad offenses, who knows what kind of silly totals Green Bay can put up.

Dallas (0-1) at San Francisco (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: San Fran will keep it close in the first half, but if the Dallas defense gets the kind of pressure they’re capable of the 49ers could find themselves out of the game quickly.

Key Matchup: Tony Romo against the fourth quarter. Oh wait, I almost forgot this isn’t a big game, he’ll be just fine.

Risky Prediction: The 49ers take the ball out of Alex Smith’s hands and feed it to Frank Gore, who runs for enough yards to keep the game close and give San Francisco a chance in this one.

Who wins and why: The Cowboys, because the 49ers aren’t good enough on defense to take advantage of the Dallas mistakes like the Jets were on Sunday night.

San Diego (1-0) at New England (1-0)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: A good new fashioned shootout.

Key Matchup: Devin McCourty against Vincent Jackson. If the Patriots top cover guy can neutralize Jackson the Chargers will become one dimensional (focusing on getting the ball to Antonio Gates) and Bill Belichick is always great at taking away what the other team does best.

Risky Prediction: The Patriots come out running the ball. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings had success on the ground before the Chargers took the lead and forced them to abandon the running game.

Who wins and why: The Pats own Phillip Rivers, who is only 1-4 against them. It won’t come easy but New England will win a game that will showcase plenty of scoring.

Houston (1-0) at Miami (0-1) 

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: Offense, offense and more offense. Both of these teams moved the ball well in week one.

Key Matchup: Jake Long against Mario Williams. Williams settled into his role as an outside pass rushing linebacker in the Texans’ 3-4 system with 2 sacks in week one. His blend of size and speed is a problem for most left tackles, but Long is one of the best in the business. This will be a great matchup to watch this weekend.

Risky Prediction: Daniel Thomas has his coming out party. After sitting out the season opener, the rookie running back will show the NFL what he has to offer this week.

Who wins and why: Houston, because I’m still not a Miami believer. As a Pats fan I’ve seen plenty of teams move the ball on them the way that Miami did on Monday night. Houston will have better success putting pressure on Chad Henne, and we’ll see more of the Chad Henne we thought we would see against New England.

Cincinnati (1-0) at Denver (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: The Bengals prove you can still beat bad teams with a good running game and a bad quarterback.

Key Matchup: Kyle Orton against his own fans. Remember when he said he didn’t care what the fans thought about him this preseason? Well they let him know how they felt on Monday night, and when the Broncos go down by double digits sometime in the second quarter of this one they’ll be even louder than they were in week one.

Risky Prediction: Cedric Benson gets over 150 yards rushing.

Who wins and why: Cincinnati wins to keep pace with Washington in the “are they for real” race.

Philadelphia (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1) 

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: It’s going to be emotionally charged with Vick returning to Atlanta for the first time as a starter. He can say all he wants that he doesn’t feel any extra pressure this week, but we all know he does.

Key Matchup: Michael Vick against the Philly game plan. His competitive nature will try to get him to abandon plays early and make plays with his feet to quite the Atlanta crowd, he needs to remember he’ll be more successful doing that with his arm.

Risky Prediction: Matt Ryan continues to struggle and throws multiple interceptions.

Who wins and why: Philly takes this one because their defense will blanket cover the Atlanta wideouts, leading ESPN to already break out the “panic meter” for the Falcons.

St. Louis (0-1) at NY Giants (0-1)

What Type Of Game to Expect to See: Disappointing. This game was put on the Monday night schedule because St. Louis was supposed to be one of the up and coming teams in the league, especially early on. But after the loss of Stephen Jackson and Danny Amendola, and a young quarterback with a bad finger that could lead to some really off target throws leaves viewers with a game that could get sloppy real quick. 

Key Matchup: Chris Long against Giants left tackle Will Beatty. Long had a strong start to his 2011 season with 2 tackles and a sack against the Eagles in week one. Beatty and the Giants will have a tough time keeping him away from Eli Manning.

Risky Prediction: The Giants do a good enough job protecting Manning for him to have a 300 yard passing game.

Who wins and why: The Rams because the Giants are bad, especially on defense. Despite the injuries to key St. Louis offensive playmakers, the Rams will still have their way against the even more depleted New York defense.

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9/18/11   |   BenSullivan   |   96 respect

SuperSerial wrote:
Nice report.  Thanks.

Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading! 

9/18/11   |   SuperSerial   |   161 respect

Nice report.  Thanks.