Now that the NFL season has started in earnest and we’ve had a few shakeups, let’s get started with the first of our new weekly recaps of the weekend’s NFL action. Here at Sports Are from Venus we’ll distill all of the week’s games down to the ten most important points that you need to know. If I don’t mention your team this week, chances are I’ll get to them next week. Good, bad, or meh. I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week
1. The Packers are really good
Cheese-heads rejoice. No need to R-E-L-A-X this year. Aaron Rodgers isn’t slowing down. His favorite targets are back in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Martellus Bennett is a strong, difficult-to-defend addition at TE. Ty Montgomery had enough burst to provide balance and keep the Seahawks defense honest. The real story in Green Bay, however, isn’t on the offensive side of the ball. It’s the defense. The Green Bay teams of the last few years have been held back by a porous defense that allowed far too many explosive plays. This weekend, they kept Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense out of the end zone entirely. If this defense can rank anywhere in the top ten in points allowed, the NFC Championship game is very likely to be held on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in January.
2. The Chiefs are too
I picked the Chiefs to win the tough AFC West, but I didn’t see them dismantling the defending champs in Foxboro. The reasons are the same though. Alex Smith is motivated and surrounded by speed. The defense is disruptive and can get to the QB. Rookie sensation Kareem Hunt gashed a Patriots defense that looked ill-prepared for his burst, because they were. The Chiefs have the look of a team that can play with anyone, anywhere, because they can. Head coach Andy Reid’s team has upended Brady and the Patriots before. Last time it happened? 2014. We all know how that season ended after the Patriots went “on to Cincinnati”.
3. The Patriots aren’t going undefeated
They aren’t going to lose the division either. The bluster about a perfect season was a bit much wasn’t it? This team looked out of sorts on both sides of the ball. That’s because they were. New defensive pieces haven’t gelled together yet, and the retirement of Rob Ninkovich is a serious blow. The knee injury to Dont’a Hightower could have been a serious loss to the Patriots, but he’s day to day with a strain. It’s a good thing too, because the Pats lack a serious pass rush and looked slow and vulnerable on defense. I predict that Matt Patricia will continue to evolve the “bend-don’t-break” scheme with new pieces to better success in the coming weeks. They’d better hope so. Because Alex Smith ain’t Drew Brees. As for the offense? They put up 27 points on a very tough Chiefs team. They’ll be fine. Expect to see a little more Gronk and a little more Brandin Cooks next Sunday against the Saints.
4. The Ravens D makes them look like contenders again
When the Ravens contend, they do so with defense. Five sacks, four interceptions and a fumble recovered. Nice. Holding Andy Dalton to 167 yards, barely a 50% completion rate and 30% conversion rate on third down. Extremely nice. That’s the kind of defense that wins games and sways divisional titles. I still think that the Steelers will win the AFC North, but someone might be really unhappy to see the Ravens on Wild Card weekend if they can keep this up.
5. The Rams look legit. Against the Colts…Who don’t
Show me a team that starts Scott Tolzein and then benches him, I’ll show you a team that’s in freefall. Jacoby Brissett probably isn’t the answer…but maybe? The Colts are a mess. A contender for worst team in the league. If Andrew Luck doesn’t come back soon, it’s a virtual lock. Sure, the L.A. Rams (still sounds weird, doesn’t it?) looked good all-around in a 46-9 drubbing of the Colts, but the Colts are going to make fifteen other teams look better than they are this year. I’m not sold on the Rams yet.
6. Adrian Peterson doesn’t fit in New Orleans
I’ll give you three RB stat lines, you tell me which is Adrian Peterson. Seven carries for eighteen yards. Six carries for eighteen yards. Six carries for seventeen yards. Which one is Peterson? It’s the one in the middle, but it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, he’s a big name band aid, coming off of an injury that probably should have ended his career. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara looked just as effective in the Saints’ offensive game plan. Both are more versatile as pass catchers, and both fit better into a scheme that depends on Drew Brees first, second and always. I expect to see Peterson become increasingly frustrated with a limited role.
7. The Ezekiel Elliot Circus will continue
Yeah, this mess isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’ll have to see how the higher courts deal with it, but allowing Zeke to play in the opener was a mistake by the League office. In upholding the original six-game ban after arbitration, but waiting until game week to do so, letting Elliot play against division rival New York, the league effectively spotted the Cowboys a one game lead in their division. It’s embarrassing for the league that yet another of its marquee running backs is embroiled in a domestic violence scandal, but letting him play week one in a division altering primetime matchup is even more so.
8. Speaking of Which…
New York should have been able to hang with Dallas, but the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. was palpable in an offense that was neutered without its top receiver. Eli Manning has grown accustomed to Beckham creating both vertical space on the field and check down options underneath. Without him, both disappeared and the field was completely compressed. Dallas was able to overload to stop the run AND hold Brandon Marshall to a single catch. Defenses won’t be able to do that with OBJ in the game. His presence will completely alter how teams are forced to defend the Giants. It’s true that great quarterbacks can make receivers look better. The opposite is true as well. Credit to the Cowboys for recognizing the gift they were given and shutting the G-Men down.
9. The Jaguars can hurt your QB
Ten. Count them. Ten Sacks. I predicted that the Texans would be amongst the scariest defenses in the league with a healthy J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney. Those two monsters combined for two tackles in the Texans matchup with the Jaguars this weekend. Total. Thirty-one-year-old Jags’ DT Calais Campbell doubled that total. More importantly, all four of his tackles were QB sacks. Add on six others by the Jags’ suddenly substantial defense and you’ve got a recipe for a blowout. The damage was so significant that the Texans made the switch to rookie QB DeShaun Watson after two quarters. It might be permanent…if the Jags didn’t injure Watson in the process. We’ll see.
10. It’s Never Too Early to Rule Out the J-E-T-S
The Colts are really bad, but the return of Andrew Luck would probably catapult them into forgettable mediocrity almost immediately. The Niners are bad, but they have a new GM and a new head coach turning the screws. They could be at least interesting if a few pieces fall into place this year. The Browns looked solid on D and almost beat the Steelers. I’ll repeat that because it’s only happened four times since the 2000 season. The Browns might be measurably better this year. But the Jets? They started Josh McCown at QB. A guy who they picked up from the trash heap in Cleveland. This is a guy who has played for nine NFL teams since 2002, plus a 2010 stint with the Hartford Colonials of the UFL. Any guesses where he had his best season? Not joking, that year he led the UFL in passer rating. The Jets are already working on their number one selection for next year’s draft. It won’t help them much.
Question of the week:
“Who are the early candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year?” -Lester G
I think Christian McCaffrey in the Carolina scheme is a good bet. He’s versatile and will be an effective target for Cam Newton in lots of situations, especially third downs and goal line packages. He’s sneaky fast, can make people miss and is fearless catching the ball. “What about Kareem Hunt” you might ask? He had a MASSIVE outing for the Chiefs against New England, but I think that might say more about the gaps in the Pats defense then Hunt’s ability. I expect he’ll have a solid season, but there’s no way he keeps up that pace. Leonard Fournette is another strong possibility, but Jacksonville will need to stay in games for him to get enough touches. If the defense plays like it did against Houston, that might just happen.
Got a burning question? Disagree with me? Want more proof? Want to know my thoughts on your rookie that I didn’t mention? Hit me in the comments and I’ll answer the week’s best question (or questions) in next week’s edition.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.