It’s that time of the season where we have one game of data and we overreact, so let’s see if we can find a nuanced view that sits somewhere between sixteen teams winning the Super Bowl and sixteen looking at the number one pick in next year’s draft.
What I Saw
The season opener that saw the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers was not exactly the explosive opener I’m sure the NFL would have wanted, but it does look as if the Packers are going to have a more balanced team this season. The Packers and their improved looking defence were able to hold the Bears to three points in a 10-3 win. The Packers needed this performance from their defence as the Bears defence looked as fearsome as year but I did also wonder if the lack of game time for their starters might be playing a factor in the Packers offensive output. This did make me wonder about the rest of the weekend’s games given the increased prevalence of teams resting their starters but it turns out there were plenty of teams whose offence hit the ground running. The Bears were not one of them though and there is still a worry about what the ceiling is for Mitch Trubisky. We should be wary of reading too much into one game but we’ll have an idea of just how representative this game was once we have some more to put things into context.
I only managed to watch a little of the last episode of Hard Knocks thanks to various things, so all I saw was the footage of Antonio Brown catching balls in practice before discovering that he was arguing with GM Mike Mayock having posted a fine letter on social media, and then getting cut having had his contract voided. He signed for the Patriots over the weekend and this morning’s headline is that Brown has been accused of rape by a former trainer. I really don’t know what to say other than that this is a deeply troubling accusation, that the courts need to carry out their due process, and at this point does Brown not have to go on the commissioner’s exempt list?
Moving awkwardly back to football I watched three further games this week.
The Cincinnati Bengals did much better than I feared as they ran out 20-21 losers in their trip to face the Seahawks in Seattle. However, the defence played well limiting the Seahawks to two-hundred and sixty-eight yards whilst containing Russell Wilson and sacking him four times. Meanwhile, for all the talk of establishing the run, Zac Taylor ran his offence according to what the Seahawks sent out, and Andy Dalton threw for a career high four-hundred and forty-one yards. The Seahawks showed their experience in winning ugly, but it was a promising start for the Bengals who now need to learn how to win games like this.
The Detroit Lions must still be kicking themselves over the road trip to Arizona as having established a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter they froze up as the Cardinals managed to stage a comeback and hold on for a tie in overtime. For most of this game the Lions were in control, but they got too conservative in the fourth quarter on offence and managed to call a time-out on a play that looked to have converted a third down, then ran an awful long shot play that didn’t work, before having the resulting punt blocked. The positive for the Lions is that rookie tight end TJ Hockenson set a rookie record of one hundred and thirty-one receiving yards as well as scoring a touchdown but they’ll need to clean up their game management and have a tough looking slate of games coming up. The Cardinals looked like they could have a long season but even though Kyler Murray looks like a small quarterback, his movement skills are impressive and he managed to avoid taking any big hits. Murray needs to learn to throw the ball away earlier in certain situations, but if he can find and maintain the kind of rhythm he found in the fourth quarter then he could justify the faith the Cardinals showed by taking him first overall.
The final game I saw this week as they New England Patriots sending out a warning to the rest of the league with a 33-3 demolition of the supposed fellow AFC challengers the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots coaching staff seem to absolutely have the number of the Steelers and worryingly for the league, looked sharp on both sides of the ball in their opening game. For a team that have often started slowly in recent years they played well and Tom Brady looked to have the deep ball in his armoury. As for the Steelers, they looked like they weren’t quite there on offence and the coaching staff need to find some way of stopping Brady shredding them, which to be fair is easier said than done. This was a tough way for any team to start the season so it’s not time to hit the panic button yet but the Steelers host the Seahawks in their first home game this week and they’ll want to get their season back on track quickly.
What I Heard
I head an interesting discussion with Warren Sharp on the Pro Football Doc podcast this week, where they discussed how teams seemed to be listening to the people who having looked at the numbers suggest throwing the ball on first down is a more efficient play call. Essentially the suggestion was that a team should call a throw on first down, but switch to a run play if the defence they faced or matchup favoured it, but otherwise passing on first down was more gave better results by trying to get a first down quicker than limiting the distance on third down. This increased uptake of passing first downs might be even more impressive if you remove the outliers like the Minnesota Vikings who only asked Kirk Cousins to throw ten times during the entire game this week.
I would need to see the maths on this to analyse this, but it feels logical to me. Particularly, when advocating that you still run if the situation is advantageous. For all the talk of balance and establishing the run, the Bengals threw a lot of passes against the Seahawks and it could well be that amongst the enlarged staff the Bengal’s new head coach asked for and got, are some more analytics people being listened to. I have thought for a while that it’s not so much that you have to establish the run, as maintain a credible threat so a defence can’t concentrate on stopping one thing. One to keep an eye on.
What I Think
It’s early in the season, so the crucial this is not to overreact. That said, I’m not sure that you can overreact as a Dolphins fan. I was chatting with Dan as the Ravens’ touchdowns kept coming up on Red Zone. The Cleveland Browns proved that an NBA style tank can work, and the coaches and players are absolutely trying to win but this is going to be a long difficult season for the Dolphins.
My suggestion was for Dan to adopt a fun NFC team to watch as he’s not going to stop supporting the Dolphins but for the sake of his sanity he needs something fun to watch on gameday. Here’s how bad it is, after five seasons of always picking the Dolphins to win in the pick’em competition he has announced he’s not doing it this year.
See what you’ve done Chris Grier!
What I Know
The top teams look pretty familiar and expected with the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints, and Rams all running out winners, although no one took that as literally as the Vikings did in week one.
There were plenty of surprises, although I wasn’t that shocked that the Browns struggled, but even I was not expecting them to give away that many penalties. The Titans were competitive last year and with Andrew Luck’s retirement they feel they should be in the mix for the AFC South. I may well have got the Falcons completely wrong, but I think I understand most of where I dropped points in the picks competition, although I clearly didn’t account for the Raiders maintaining their pre-season competitiveness into week one, but let I am not going to make any grand pronouncements until we have four games played.
I took a tenuous point lead in the pick’em competition despite my lack of preparation, but the regular season is marathon not a sprint. I am going to take a look at the Cowboys offence for my first coaching tape of the week as the discussion surrounding how it thrived despite Ezekiel Elliott’s rust interested me. I look forward to seeing how Dak Prescott played.
What I Hope
I am hoping to get through the coaching tape and picks despite being at a music festival this weekend (Hmmmh, I might need to find some extra hours from somewhere) and I hope all those teams who lost this week get a win on the board next week. However, it won’t happen as the season of hope is over – football is here and it is very much a results orientated business.
Still, good luck for the week two teams, I can see a number of teams (and fanbases) who will need it.