Basically, Week 1 of the NFL had its healthy share of topics for discussion. Here at Rewind, we will certainly recap those stories that resonate throughout national media, but we’ll also look at the actual football schemes that helped earn a victory, or cause a loss.
So onward and upwards, to the new edition of Sports Nickel’s NFL Rewind!
Adjusting to Victory
Season to season norms are established throughout the NFL. Teams, players, and coaches fall into their usual categories and certain expectations arise each season. Even 2010 had certain established trains of thought going into Week 1: no one can throw on the Jets, the Saints will win with the league’s best offense, Dallas has far too many weapons to deal with, to beat Peyton Manning’s Colts you have to match him or stop him through the air, and the Chiefs can’t stop the Chargers’ offense, let alone beat them as a whole.
Yet in the first regular season action this past Thursday, Sunday, and Monday, much of that was turned on its head.
These teams and opponents were able to buck the norm and come away victorious to begin the season. How did they do it, one might ask? The answer lies outside what one would expect coming into 2010.
Take the Houston Texans, for example. They haven’t beaten the Indianapolis Colts since 2006, when former #1 pick David Carr was their quarterback. For four seasons they have built a respectable offense around Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, but have never matched the presence of Peyton Manning across the field. Finally, a change in tactic produced a resounding win. Instead of trying to compete with Manning through the air, the Texans got new starting running back Arian Foster going, and kept him going.
Foster exploded for a franchise-record 231 yards (with 3 TDs) against the Colts, behind one of the best performances of Houston’s offensive line in years. Manning was still able to go for 433 yards himself, but with Houston controlling the clock on the ground, they could limit his overall impact. The result? A 34-24 victory.
As for the other teams around the league, changes in tactic had immense impacts. The preconceived notion that the Jets’ D is impenetrable was debunked by Anquan Boldin’s 110 yards; the Saints not only used their D to stay in a tough game, but won with it; Jim Haslett’s defensive schemes in Washington negated Dallas’s artillery of weapons; and the Chiefs relied on their young defensive studs (Johnson, Dorsey, Berry, and Jackson) to pull out their first W against San Diego since ’07.
These game plans simply go to prove that the NFL is as fluid and dynamic a league as there is.
Surveying the results from Week 1, here are the best and most impressive decisions across the league.
1st Down and Tennessee
The Titans haven’t exactly been atop most pundits’ lists when it comes to Super Bowl contenders, but they have been projected to be well above the league average. Their 38-13 shellacking of the Raiders on Sunday not only proves they belong in dark horse discussion, but that Jeff Fischer and his staff were right to stick with what works.
Last season, the Titans’ installed formerly troubled Vince Young at quarterback to replace the ineffective Kerry Collins, all while giving as many offensive attempts to RB Chris Johnson as possible. The team proceeded to win 8 of 11 games with that tandem working, and seem to have picked up right where they left off. Young stayed mistake-free as he completed 13 of 17 passes at a 142.8 rating. As for Johnson, he kept with his prolific rushing pace from ’09, going for 142 yards.
Tennessee only played the Raiders, but it already seems their decision to stick with what worked was a good one.
2nd Down and Detroit
The Lions didn’t have the best of seasons in 2009, going 2-14. However, their high draft pick netted them college defensive star Ndamukong Suh. Suh was projected to be an immediate factor in the NFL, but the Lions’ decision to pair him with free agent DE Kyle Vanden Bosch now seems more impressive. The Lions didn’t win their game in Chicago this past weekend due to a suspect rule (more on that in a bit), but there should still be some hope in Detroit.
The combination of Suh and Vanden Bosch created absolute havoc on the line. As much can’t be said for the Detroit secondary, but again, there is reason to be hopeful even in loss. If the two defensive linemen continue on their early pace, expect heads to turn across the league as both get award consideration.
3rd Down and Kansas City
With fast-paced offense and multi-talented players becoming increasing abundant in today’s NFL, it’s no surprise that rebuilding teams are taking chances on the game’s real athletes. Dexter McCluster was taken by the Chiefs in this year’s Draft, alike fellow college slasher C.J. Spiller, now a member of the Bills. Their roles have been defined as Darren Sproles-like. That is, such players will be counted on to provide explosiveness in the rushing, passing, and return games.
McCluster made his presence known just so on Monday night. While not seeing many touches via Matt Cassel through the air or ground, McCluster demonstrated his versatility with a 94-yard punt return for a TD. The point being, McCluster was a large reason the Chiefs defeated the Chargers, and if they want more of the same as the year progresses, they need to get the ball in Dexter’s hands.
4th Down and Seattle
Another team expected to be in the cellar of the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks and new head coach Pete Carroll made a real statement against the 49ers on Sunday. To be frank, the team didn’t really demonstrate any one strength in ’09, so expectations were low coming into 2010. However, Seattle obtained a win with smart coaching directives.
The Niners base their offense on the rush, namely through Frank Gore. So the Seahawks shrewdly decided to focus solely on Gore, leaving the game in the oft-questioned Alex Smith’s hands. The result was limiting Gore to 38 yards rushing, and forcing Smith to throw 45 times, something that should never happen if San Fran wants success. Kudos to Carroll and his staff for exploiting a weakness and taking advantage.
- Staying with Seattle, the team was smart to stick with Matt Hasselbeck at QB. After a couple injured seasons, most have forgotten how capable a leader he is at the position.
- Most would have thought the loss of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin would have killed the Arizona offense, but the Cards’ brass was right to trust Steve Breaston to step up.
- The Patriots seemed intent on working rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez into the offense in training camp. Looks like it was a great idea, and now Brady has that many more options.
- The Giants are looking smart after quelling Brandon Jacobs’ tantrums and giving Ahmad Bradshaw the lead rushing role. He’s a dynamic player that could sneak up on a lot of opponents.
Flag on the Field
The obvious controversy that came from the NFL’s first week was that surrounding Calvin Johnson’s near game-winning touchdown catch. An initial glance at the play would indicate that Johnson, in fact, caught the ball and got both feet down in the endzone. Touchdown, right? Not according to the officials on the field or the NFL.
After Johnson landed in the endzone, he either lost control of or flicked the ball away, in the belief that he had already secured the score. Because of that act, the pass was ruled incomplete. Game over. Bears win, Lions lose. To explain the situation, the refs and league pointed to the rulebook, where it does state that a player must maintain possession through contact with the ground, in order for the pass to be complete.
So while I among many others dislike the ruling, it is probably the correct one. But the rule is not what gets to me. It is the actions of the league following the play. Instead of taking accountability for the obvious flaw in the rules, the league simply pointed to the book, as if to say “that’s that.” As many of my colleagues here at the Nickel have said, the league should do more. The rule needs to be examined in order to get the calls right, just as review and replay do.
I implore you, Commissioner Goodell and co., to review the rule instead of hiding behind the law and avoiding the issue.
Next on the Schedule
Team vs. Team – New England Patriots at New York Jets
The Jets demonstrated that they have a lot of issues on offense, but their defense was still staunch against the Ravens. It will be interesting to see if a prolific offense can shake that foundation and, like Baltimore, get pressure on Mark Sanchez.
Player vs. Player – Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Vick appears to be lined up to start Week 2 and will be tested at the line by Suh. He may be a rookie and has just one tackle, but Suh’s presence is already felt and he could limit Vick’s effectiveness once out of the pocket.
Offense vs. Defense – Cincinnati O vs. Baltimore D
The Ravens’ defense is among the best in football, without a doubt, but it still has its own questions (specifically in the secondary). It looked great against the struggling Jets, but Cincinnati’s attack will be a truer test, with the added pressure of divisional implications hanging overhead.