Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NFL Week 1 Rundown: 49ers Break Out the Hit Stick

Dashon Goldson is a scary, scary man...
Lock it down; Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season is now closed. Here’s a rundown of what happened, starting with the Big Story:

Big Story – 49ers throttle Packers in Lambeau

The first downs were close, the total yards were somewhat close, even the final score ended up kinda close…but it never was all that close, was it? From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, it just seemed like the San Francisco 49ers physically overpowered the Packers, much like Alabama would a lesser SEC school. In fact, the game kinda had that type of feel. San Francisco was the big, bad powerhouse and the Packers were the plucky small conference school trying to hang in there despite being obviously mismatched. That would make sense if the 49ers were playing the Rams, but the Packers are most definitely NOT the Rams. Not even close, and especially not in Lambeau Field.

One week ago, I would have told you the Green Bay Packers were winning the Super Bowl. I wasn’t totally sure of it, not like I was last year, but I felt good about that pick. They have Rodgers, they have a stable of stud WR’s, they have a monstrous offensive line, and they did solid work improving their defense. You know what, they still have three of those four things today, and losing on opening day doesn’t make them a bad team. They’re a good team, a very good team, and it will in no way be surprising if Rodgers is hoisting his second Lombardi Trophy come February.

But this “Big Story” isn’t about how the Packers will bounce back; it’s about how the 49ers thoroughly dismantled a Super Bowl favorite. And boy did they ever?! Much has been written already about the ‘Niners powerful run game, their efficient passing game, the outstanding play of their offseason additions, their suffocating defense, and the always brilliant/always terrifying coaching of Jim Harbaugh. What really stood out to me, though, was how they carried themselves.

The San Francisco 49ers have swag, man! You can see it in how they walk, in how they line up, in how they lay “screw you” hits on receivers long after the ball has been batted incomplete. They know they can run for a first down no matter how many men you put in the box. They know one of their receivers is going to break WIIIIIIIIIDE open near the first down marker. They know –not think – they’re going to beat you. 

On Sunday, in the unfriendly confines of Lambeau, they knew Green Bay was outmatched. They knew the Packers couldn’t play with them. I didn’t believe them, Bill Barnwell didn’t believe them, and many other people didn’t believe them. Guess what, they were right. Very, very right. The Packers looked outmatched at nearly every position on the field, at times looking tepid and overwhelmed. It was shocking, to say the least. After all, this was the same team that won 15 games last year.

Let me once again reiterate that this is only Week 1, and none of us have a complete picture yet as to what we’re watching. Based on Sunday, though, I’m starting to wonder if we weren’t watching the best team in football.

Carson Palmer INT Update

Wait, Carson didn’t…he…huh? Since when does Carson Palmer make it through a game without throwing an INT? Answer: Week 14, last season. New question: When was the last time Carson Palmer went two games in a row without an INT? Answer: Weeks 14 and 15 of 2010.

The Sproles Effect?

As I said above, I definitely don’t think the Packers are “done” or anything. In fact, I think they have the potential to be even more prolific on offense, largely due to the emergence of Randall Cobb. I’ve been pimping Cobb since draft day last year, but to be fair, I had the benefit of watching a bunch of his games at Kentucky. It was clear, even then, that Cobb had video game speed and athleticism, and that in the right system, he would be a huge NFL threat. After catching 9 balls for 77 yards while mostly working out of the backfield, it’s clear that Mike McCarthy has found that system…and it looks pretty familiar to me.

The Saints have been tinkering around with this type of thing for years. Reggie Bush was the first to play the hybrid RB/WR role, but the scheme never really took off thanks to a series of injuries. It wasn’t until last year, when the Saints swapped out Darren Sproles for Bush, that the Saints got serious production from that position. Sproles was the perfect hybrid, rushing for 603 yards and catching passes for another 710 yards. Not surprisingly, it kicked off a craze in the copycat NFL. (Remember the Falcons telling everyone that Jacquizz Rodgers was going to be their Sproles?)

Clearly, the Packers have drawn inspiration from that. Cobb may not be a true “hybrid” since he isn’t likely to receive a bunch of carries, but his placement in the backfield is sure to have a similar impact in the passing game. The Packers will have the ability to move him around to wherever the mismatch is, forcing LB’s to cover him and placing him in perfect check down spots.

Green Bay wasn’t the only one to utilize this, however. Last night, we saw the Bengals do some similar things with Andrew Hawkins, another diminutive “Sproles-clone.” As with Cobb, his game changing quickness was just too much for LB’s to handle, and he had an outstanding game. It begs the question, why aren’t more teams finding these guys? They’re available via the draft every year, but are almost always ignored because they don’t fit the conventional “between the tackles” model. Teams like New Orleans, Green Bay, and San Francisco (LaMichael James AND Kendall Hunter!) have given themselves a nice advantage thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking. It won’t be long before the rest of the league follows suit.

The Rex Grossman Zone
Any QB with a QB Rating under 39.6

Ryan Tannehill (20-36, 219 YDS, 3 INT, 39.0 QB Rating) – This is just a shocking inclusion. I can’t imagine how Tannehill would struggle given how NFL ready he is and how much talent he has to work with.

Brandon Weeden (12-35, 118 YDS, 4 INT, 5.1 QB Rating) – I don’t know what to say about this. Even Rex Grossman thinks Weeden played bad.

Signs of Life!

Week 1 featured an interesting matchup between two 2011 first round QB’s already staring at their NFL mortality after disastrous rookie seasons. And by “interesting” I really mean “a giant vacuum of fun and talent strong enough to rip your eyeballs straight out of your head.” Yes, that’s exactly how I would describe BADGAB vs. Ponder.

A shocking thing happened while I was trying to blot their mere existence from my mind, though. They both played…dare I say, capably? (You thought I was gonna say good!!! HAHAHAHA!!!) BADGAB, whom I will upgrade to the misspelled ‘Gabbart’ for the rest of the week, looked much more confident, while Ponder looked much more comfortable making plays in the pocket. These two still have a long ways to go, and I remain skeptical it will ever happen, but you gotta start somewhere.

So much for the Hype Machine…

So, about that Russell Wilson thing…

Look, I’m not gonna pass the buck on this one. I’m just as culpable as anyone. I fell so hard for him that, at one point, I called him an “athletic Drew Brees.” Wow, do I feel stupid!

Wilson wasn’t necessarily “bad” against the Arizona Cardinals, but the accuracy and playmaking ability we all expected just wasn’t there. He looked like a short rookie QB playing in his first NFL game. Was it fair for us to expect anything more? Probably not. Then again, it’s also not fair to call off his career after just one game. The fact remains that Wilson put the game winning TD in Braylon Edwards’ hands, and the entire narrative on Wilson would have totally flipped had Edwards been able to bring it in. In the end, the loss sucks, but it’s probably good for Wilson that the hype has died down.

Madden Curse Update

Calvin Johnson – 6 REC 111 YDS, no injury

It’s early…

(Update: Apparently Megatron has some sort of foot injury. The extent is not currently known, but he did miss practice today. Madden Curse already hitting? Stay tuned.)

Non-QB Rookie Spotlight(s)

Stephen Hill – I feel like someone told me Stephen Hill wasn’t ready to contribute at this point. Oh, that’s right, that was ME who said that. Anyways, Hill was a stone cold killer Sunday, catching 5 passes (just 6 targets) for 89 yards and 2 touchdowns. I remain skeptical of his ability to consistently produce at this point – and even more skeptical of Mark Sanchez’s ability to keep hitting him – but as everyone has already pointed out, Hill is silly talented. He’s a video game player, really. And hey, it’s not like we haven’t been through this with Georgia Tech receivers before (Megatron, Demaryius Thomas).

Chandler Jones/Don’t’a Hightower – Well, what do you know; New England finally keeps a few first round picks and actually gets some good players! Amazing! The pair wasted no time in jointly announcing their arrivals as Jones strip sacked Jake Locker and Hightower returned the fumble for a TD. I didn’t actually watch this game, so I’ll just have to take it from my buddy Cutter, a Patriots fan who DID get to watch the game. “They’re good. They’re really good. I’m excited.” Well said, Cutter. (I may or may not have paraphrased him since our conversation lasted nearly 20 minutes and ended with my wife shooting a death stare at me…because we were supposed to be out on a date…and I was talking about football…again.)

Likely ESPN ‘First Take’ Topics

Tim Tebow blah blah blah blah blah

Are the Packers in danger of missing the playoffs?

Do the Colts regret passing on RGIII?

Is Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco/Tony Romo an elite QB?

Is Adrian Peterson a T-101 sent back in time to destroy the NFL? If so, what happens if they ever play the Jets? (Let’s be honest, that’s a Boris Diaw Time question.)

Five guys who didn't earn their paycheck

Mike Vick – For throwing 4 INT’s and nearly losing to the Browns. Bill Simmons always likes to talk about players being “secretly bad,” as if no one but him was paying attention. Well guess what? I was paying attention, and Vick was openly bad last year! All the progress he’d seemingly made from 2010 evaporated into a vapor of turnovers and injuries, directly leading to the Eagles’ disastrous season. This Week 1 showing is definitely not erasing those memories. Simply put, Vick has to be better.

Matthew Stafford – For throwing 3 INT’s and nearly losing to the Rams. Anytime you throw the same amount of TD’s to the other team that you do to your own team, that’s not good. Granted, Stafford redeemed himself a bit by leading a late, game winning TD drive, but they never should have been in that situation to begin with. Not against the Rams.

Ryan Fitzpatrick – For throwing 3 INT’s, getting crushed by the Jets, and being outplayed by Mark Sanchez. Fitzy sucks. He should ALWAYS give back his paycheck.

DeAngelo Williams – For losing one yard on 6 carries. Any time you can give a giant contract to an aging RB, especially when you already have one who is better, you gotta do it! Williams was just useless on Sunday, looking slow and indecisive. Even if he bounces back, the stink of this one is gonna be hard to wash off.

Greg Little – For catching 0 passes and tipping an easy pass into the arms of a defender – Does it seem like I’m piling on the Browns? Because I’m not trying to, there’s just so much to ridicule. Little was supposed to be their guy this year, Weeden’s main target. Umm…not so much.

Week 1 MVP

Romo, Wayne, Marshall, Ryan, Julio Jones, Peterson, RGIII, Sanchez, Spiller, Bowman, Manning, Flacco

Honerable Mention:  Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Adrian Peterson, Mark Sanchez, C.J. Spiller, Stevan Ridley, Kevin Ogletree

#5  Joe Flacco (21-29, 299 YDS, 2 TD, 128.4 QB Rating) – Old ‘Checkdown’ still completed less than 50% of his passes to WR’s, but effectively drove the ball downfield regardless. All the “elite” and “turning the corner” talk is ridiculous, but for one night, Flacco was the man.

#4   NaVorro Bowman (11 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT) – The tackles and the game ending INT were nice and all, but to understand how good Bowman is at this point, you only need to know one thing. When the Packers went to 4 WR sets, it was Patrick Willis who went to the bench and not Bowman. Patrick Willis, the four time All-Pro, could not play over NaVorro Bowman.

#3  Tony Romo (22-29, 307 YDS, 3 TD, INT, 129.5 QB Rating) – I’ve watched nearly every game of Tony Romo’s career, and I can tell you without any hesitation that last Wednesday night’s game against the Giants was one of the best of his career. His decision making, especially in the second half, was nearly perfect despite facing a withering pass rush. He called all the right audibles, made all the right hot reads…basically, he won the game for Dallas.

#2  Peyton Manning (19-26, 253 YDS, 2TD, 129.2 QB Rating) – Nobody knew what to expect from him, but what we got was vintage Peyton Manning. That first TD drive halfway through the second quarter left me totally speechless, like watching a brilliant musician write his masterpiece.

#1  Robert Griffin (19-26, 320 YDS, 2 TD, 139.9 QB Rating) – Wow. So much for growing pains, huh? Granted, it came against one of the league’s worst pass defenses, but upsetting the Saints IN NEW ORLEANS in your first career start is pretty darn impressive. What surprised me the most was his poise in the pocket and his accuracy on short to intermediate throws. We already knew about his speed and ability to throw the deep ball, but it’s clear Griffin is a much more complete player than just that. I’m sure there will be some clunkers this year – all a part of being a rookie – but perhaps expectations for him need to be adjusted after what we saw on Sunday.

Power Rankings

#10  Dallas Cowboys (1-0) – I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, but Dallas really does deserve to be in the top ten after Week 1. They didn’t just beat the Giants, they thoroughly outclassed them. Offensively, the power running of DeMarco Murray and the emergence of Kevin Ogletree make them extremely potent, while on defense, the upgrades in the secondary paid off in a big way. Questions on the offensive line linger, and a lack of depth could come back to haunt them, but for now, this is one of the league’s ten best teams.

#9  Atlanta Falcons (1-0) – New OC Dirk Koetter promised to open up the offense, and it appears as if he actually meant it. But while the fireworks of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were exciting, the loss of Brent Grimes is more than a bit deflating.

#8  New Orleans Saints (0-1) – It’d be foolish to bail on them after one game, but not foolish to keep a wary eye on them. Maybe Sean Payton is a bigger loss than we all thought?

#7  Chicago Bears (1-0) – Am I impressed after Week 1? Yes. Cutler and Marshall look like they never ceased being teammates and this offensive group could potentially be the best in Bears history. Am I impressed enough to declare them NFC North favorites? No way. Call me when you beat someone that is NOT the Colts.

#6  Denver Broncos (1-0) – Well, hey, if Peyton Manning is going to be Peyton Manning, then how can I not put them at least this high? Defensively, the Broncos aren’t up to snuff…but Peyton Manning.

#5  Houston Texans (1-0) – On the plus side, Andre Johnson looked like Andre Johnson again. On the negative side, their #2 WR managed just 16 yards. They’re gonna win games, but not The Game unless someone steps up.

#4  Green Bay Packers (0-1) – I don’t care how down the rest of the sports world is on them, they’re gonna be fine. Rodgers is still the best QB alive and they’ll soon be back to blowing out teams. The defense though, still not good. They better hope some of their young guys step up…or that Charles Woodson finds the Fountain of Youth.

#3  New England Patriots (1-0) – As if having Brady and those TE’s wasn’t enough, Brandon Lloyd had a solid debut and Stevan Ridley blew up. How many weapons can one team have? And if their young defenders are really that good…

#2  Baltimore Ravens (1-0) – Someday, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis will get old. Someday. Man is that defense scary.

#1  San Francisco 49ers (1-0) – Speaking of scary defenses! To me, this is the most complete team in football. Offensively, we know about their power running game, but at least in Week 1, the passing game looked noticeably more potent and the emergence of Kendall Hunter gives them a versatile, outside-the-tackles runner. Defensively, they do everything better than anybody. Everything. And man can that team lay a hit. Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are absolute murderers out there. Who knows, maybe I’m just overreacting to a great Week 1 outing.

1 comment:

  1. People are finally noticing, man. People are finally noticing. Long way to go still. But yeah, it's the swag - the first thing Harbaugh did when he showed up in SF was change the ATMOSPHERE. He brought the "Who's got it better than us?" He brought the stupid mechanic outfits for postgame interviews that everyone balked at (and still kinda feel cheesy). But he's gotten them to believe, and that's all that matters right now. Also, if I saw either one of our safeties walking on the street, I'd run.