This column is part of a series by The Professor that will detail two takeaways on each team in four NFL games from last weekend. At present, NFL.com’s GamePass does not have Coach’s Film available, but the hope is that Coach’s Film will be available for the Week 2 edition of this column.
In this edition of this column, The Professor will discuss takeaways for each team after studying the broadcast tape of Seattle at Indianapolis, the New York Jets at Carolina, Jacksonville at Houston, and Arizona at Tennessee.
Seattle at Indianapolis
Seahawks: Russell Wilson and Shane Waldron Open Strong
Quarterback Russell Wilson has experienced plenty of success in his career, but 2021 could be a career year, as this is the best offense Wilson has played in.
Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner picked up a pass rush win and sack against backup Ethan Pocic when he rotated in for starter Kyle Fuller, but the offensive line’s protection was generally sound and the group paved the way for running back Chris Carson to post 91 yards on 16 carries against a strong Colts’ defensive front.
Wilson took full advantage of that protection and lit up the Colts’ secondary. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron set up Wilson with opportunities on play-action and from the gun. It was a terrific combination of Shannahan-scheme foundations with “Let Russ Cook” moments sprinkled in, and with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf on the receiving end, the results were excellent. Rookie receiver Dee Eskridge also flashed notable speed and acceleration on his jet-sweep handoff and will be another explosive playmaker in an already potent offense.
Seahawks: Darrell Taylor Announces Presence with a Bang
Seattle has high hopes for defensive end/linebacker Darrell Taylor after the former second-round pick missed his rookie season with an ankle injury. Taylor provided a glimpse of the reason for that optimism when he bull-rushed Colts right tackle Braden Smith onto his back on his way to a 4th down sack of Carson Wentz.
It was a flash in an otherwise unremarkable performance by Taylor, but a key moment for a Seahawks team that will need a pass rush as the season goes on. Rasheem Green, Benson Mayowa, and Alton Robinson all did their part in producing consistent pressure against Colts left tackle Julie’n Davenport, but that’s more likely an indication that Davenport shouldn’t be starting in the NFL than a sign that any of these three journeymen pass rushers has ascended from a rotation player to a feared edge rusher.
The pressure over Davenport is one reason that the secondary did not face many tests downfield. Tennessee may try to take more downfield shots, but given the pass protection issues the Titans had in Week 1, Taylor and the rest of the edge rushers have an opportunity to post strong back-to-back outings and protect the back end again.
Colts: Carson Wentz is on Track, but the Colts need a Left Tackle
It would have been great for the Colts to kick off the Carson Wentz era with a win, but given the challenges this team faced getting their roster through training camp, this was an encouraging start for the quarterback.
Wentz did not post notable numbers, but he did look confident and decisive moving through his progressions. The body language in his play that indicated he wasn’t in sync with the Philadelphia plan last year was gone, and Wentz also showed he still has some of his trademark evasiveness on scrambles to evade defenders behind the line. The Colts’ offense wasn’t able to dial-up many downfield shots, but Wentz’s strike to receiver Parris Campbell that jump-started Indy’s first-half touchdown drive was an encouraging sign that Wentz is moving in the right direction.
For Wentz’s play to translate to the box score, the Colts will need to figure out a better plan to work around left tackle Julie’n Davenport until Eric Fisher returns from his Achilles rehab. Davenport was a turnstile against a trio of journeymen rushers from Seattle (Rasheem Green, Benson Mayowa, and Alton Robinson), and Wentz will have issues attacking downfield unless the Colts start providing help for his blindside blocker.
It wasn’t perfect, but as the Texans are currently the only 1-0 team in the AFC South, they have some time to sort this out, though their Week 2 matchup with the Rams defense could get ugly for Wentz and company.
Colts: The defensive line should be fine, but will the secondary match them?
Indianapolis addressed their defensive line with their first two picks in the NFL Draft, and while second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo opened the season on injured reserve, first-round pick Kwity Paye showed the NFL isn’t too big for him when he stacked Seahawks left tackle, Duane Brown, at the point of attack on a Seattle run. The Colts will need more from Paye in the future, but that was a positive sign that the rookie end will add to what DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart bring at defensive tackle.
The issues in the back end of the defense were more concerning. Seattle targeted safety Khari Willis with Tyler Lockett twice, once in a rotation disguise to become a man defender in cover 0 (Lockett’s first TD) and once as a half-field defender (Lockett’s second TD), and Willis was overmatched in both situations.
Other teams are likely to target Willis in games to come, and with outside corner Xavier Rhodes sidelined, the Colts also have concerns with Rock Ya-Sin and T.J. Carrie at the outside corner positions in the nickel package. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has consistently fielded a strong unit in Indianapolis, but some corrections need to be made coming out of Week One.
New York Jets at Carolina
New York Jets: Zach Wilson has a swagger to him
Zach Wilson’s debut stat line (20/37 for 258 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 6 sacks) isn’t impressive, but there were promising moments from the rookie throughout his first start.
The team around him isn’t good, which will be the next takeaway, but Wilson played with a certain swagger despite how poorly the game was going. He showed the ability to evade defenders in the pocket, to get outside the pocket and extend plays, and to throw the ball downfield with accuracy and an easy release. He had a quarterback keeper on a zone-read look on a two-point conversion after New York’s first touchdown and can be selectively used as a threat in that capacity.
New York’s final drive came in garbage time, but Wilson continued to battle. He made a spectacular throw to receiver Denzel Mims that showed off his arm talent and rebounded from a crushing sack at the hands of defensive tackle Derrick Brown by completing consecutive passes to Corey Davis, the second for a touchdown.
It looks like it will be a long year for New York, but Wilson’s talent is clear. Hopefully, he continues to build in the right direction.
New York Jets: The rest of this team isn’t good
The thought that the Jets had assembled a competent line when they added tackle Morgan Moses from Washington proved misguided. George Fant got the start ahead of Moses and struggled mightily with a Panthers edge rush group led by Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. Left tackle Mekhi Becton also had some issues with inside moves before he exited the game with a knee injury, a development that will leave Fant and Moses on the edges of this lackluster offensive line.
There are a few bright spots. Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Folrunso Fatukasi, Sheldon Rankins, and Shaq Lawson all had productive moments on the defensive line, and wide receiver Corey Davis and safety Marcus Maye played well, but it’s not close to enough. Head coach Robert Saleh has his work cut out for him, as his team will take on a New England team that is well ahead of the Jets in the roster-building process.
Carolina: Christian McCaffrey back in all respects
The hits finally piled up on Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey in 2020, and given the presence of receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, I wondered whether the Panthers might throttle back McCaffrey’s role in the passing game a bit. It quickly became evident that the coaching staff has no plans to do anything close to that.
McCaffrey led the team in receptions and receiving yards, converting all nine of his targets for 90 yards. He also ran for another 98 yards on 21 carries despite some mediocre offensive line play, which McCaffrey made up for when he blocked Sheldon Rankins after the Jets defensive tackle beat right guard Dennis Daley with an inside spin move. McCaffrey stepped up, made the block on Rankins, and gave quarterback Sam Darnold enough time to deliver a 57-yard strike to Robby Anderson for a touchdown on Anderson’s only reception of the game.
Whether it was as a pass-protector, a runner, or a receiver, McCaffrey was back at full speed. It’s hard to dispute that he has regained his spot as the top-skill player in fantasy football.
Carolina: The acquisitions of Sam Darnold and several defenders started on the right foot
Quarterback Sam Darnold posted a modest stat line, completing 24 of 35 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, but this was one of his better performances as an NFL quarterback. Darnold faced regular pressure behind an offensive line with some issues, but hung in the pocket and made some throws despite taking hits. He distributed the ball well in the short game, hit explosive gains to Robby Anderson for a touchdown and D.J. Moore on a deep vertical on the left sidelines, and most importantly, looked decisive and confident in his first game operating offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s offense.
The Jets are not a talented defense, and Darnold has room to improve, but this was a quality start to his time in Carolina. If he can continue to trend in the right direction, this team should end up on the high end of their range of expectations, because the defense appears vastly improved from 2020. Linebacker Shaq Thompson, edge rusher Brian Burns, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, and safety Jeremy Chinn turned in impressive performances, the corner situation appears vastly improved with a healthy Donte Jackson and solid first outing from rookie Jaycee Horn, and free-agent acquisitions Haason Reddick and DaQuan Jones made their presence felt up front. With edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos showing some promising signs to start his second season and Marquis Haynes getting in the mix as an edge rusher, the Panthers should be competitive on both sides of the ball this season. They are better than Atlanta in the NFC South, and this week’s home matchup with the New Orleans Saints will be a barometer of whether this team might push for a Wild Card spot.
Jacksonville at Houston
Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence has talent, but there’s a long way to go
Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence showed off big-time arm talent on his touchdown pass up the left sidelines to D.J. Chark, but the rest of his debut left much to be desired.
Lawrence did not look comfortable operating this offense although the Texans were fairly consistent in playing their zone coverages. Rookie quarterbacks such as New England’s Mac Jones and New York’s Zach Wilson faced a larger variety of defensive looks but appeared markedly more comfortable adjusting accordingly in their scheme. Lawrence was hesitant in these situations, which led to mistakes.
He also showed an alarming lack of control on two balls thrown while rolling out to his left, one of which was intercepted by Texans safety Justin Reid. Lawrence also stared down a route meant to attack the soft spot between the flat corner and the half-field safety and led the corner, Vernon Hargreaves, to an easy interception.
Lawrence has obvious physical talent but didn’t play the game with the nuance of the other rookie starters. He doesn’t have much help around him and needs to make a notable jump forward to avoid a rough day against a Denver defense that is far more talented than Houston. The Denver defense is a strong play in fantasy against the rookie Lawrence.
Jaguars: This offensive scheme is not dynamic
Outside of a few receiver screens thrown to Laviska Shenault, it’s hard to identify much in the Jacksonville offensive scheme that is vaguely tied to the “modern” NFL game, and even the receiver screen was a pre-2010 development.
Head coach Urban Meyer made a statement about being “on the edge” when he took over the Jaguars, but in terms of offensive thinking, the system coordinator Darrell Bevell has installed is the opposite of cutting edge. The system looked archaic, it was static in its use of motion, and the result was an offense that got shut down by a Houston defense that lacks players. The Jaguars’ skill position players were dependent on one long touchdown pass (D.J. Chark) and garbage time (Marvin Jones) and would ideally be on fantasy benches for the matchup with the Broncos.
Texans: Tyrod Taylor has his swagger back
One of many concerns facing the Houston Texans this season was that Tyrod Taylor had not played quarterback to the standard he set in Buffalo during his stints with the Browns and Chargers and that he might have lost his game.
The Jaguars are hardly a fierce opponent, but Taylor certainly had his swagger back in this one. Taylor’s confidence shone through in the loose way he played the game, creating second-chance opportunities with his legs and taking shots down the field. Taylor got some help from his receivers, notably Brandin Cooks, but his evasiveness was a key factor in keeping this offense moving despite an offensive line that looks like it will have issues throughout the season.
Taylor may not be a fantasy starter against superior opponents, but with the way he played, tight end Pharaoh Brown (who pulled down a highlight-reel one-hander) and receiver Danny Amendola are reasonable low-cost DFS gambles, while receiver Brandin Cooks showed he should be in starting fantasy lineups.
Texans: Brandin Cooks was on fire
Texans receiver Brandin Cooks has stood out in his various NFL stops for his elite speed, but his game was on a different level for Week One.
Cooks set the tone early when he went up between corner Tyson Campbell and safety Rayshawn Jenkins for a 40 yard gain on Houston’s first scoring drive. The catch brought to mind another undersized receiver, Steve Smith, who was known for his ability to high-point the ball despite his height disadvantage, and the momentum created by Cooks’ grab got the Texans rolling.
Cooks continued to make his mark throughout the game, racking up a total of 132 yards on five receptions. The Texans’ offense will have its struggles, but Cooks and Taylor showed a strong rapport in this contest. It may be a bad offense, but Cooks established himself as the primary target.
Arizona at Tennessee
Cardinals: Kyler Murray in the zone
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray got off to a fast start with a deep ball to receiver DeAndre Hopkins and never looked back.
Murray is in top form, moving around the field with his electric quickness and giving defenders fits as they try to close on him. His scramble drill on a play that ended with him finding rookie Rondale Moore looked like an NBA guard working the floor to post up for a jumper; Murray’s sequence of moves to create the room to find Moore was dazzling.
Murray continued to show a strong rapport with Hopkins, and receivers Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore both made their mark in a big way. Murray even found veteran A.J. Green in a hole up the right sidelines for a gain of 20, though Green’s running does not appear to have improved from last season and he may become an afterthought, particularly given the emergence of Moore and running back Chase Edmonds’ performance in the backfield.
Injuries slowed Murray last season, but if he stays healthy, the sky is the limit for Arizona’s attack. Expect another huge performance for Murray and this offense against a Minnesota defense with issues at cornerback.
Cardinals: Welcome back Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones announced his return to the NFL immediately, knifing inside Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan to tackle running back Derrick Henry for loss on his first carry. It only got better from there, as Jones proceeded to rack up five sacks, two forced fumbles, and additional quarterback hits and run disruptions on top of that.
As exciting as it was to see Kyler Murray back in form, the defensive performance might have been even more encouraging for Cardinals fans. Corner Byron Murphy had an outstanding performance with multiple pass breakups and appears to have raised his standard of play, free-agent signee J.J. Watt got into the backfield on multiple occasions, and rookie Marco Wilson had a solid debut starting across from Murphy.
With Budda Baker continuing to play at an elite level at safety, the Cardinals’ defense looks much improved from a year ago. They will need to keep it up against Minnesota, but that matchup with the Vikings could be another banner day for Jones and the pass rush, given that the Vikings’ offensive line was markedly worse than Tennessee’s in the opener.
Titans: Has Derrick Henry outlived his offense?
This falls under the heading of overreaction, but while it was reasonable to think Derrick Henry’s massive workload over the past years would cause him to fall off sooner than later, the offense around him may have regressed ahead of Henry.
Henry looked good moving around in this one, though Tennessee’s offensive line play prevented him from racking up his usual numbers. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played a decent game under the circumstances, and receiver A.J. Brown is still a stud, but the offense around them brought concerns.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan was in his first game back from a torn ACL and has rebounded from poor performances in the past, but he was overmatched against Arizona’s Chandler Jones. With journeyman David Quessenberry starting at right tackle, the Titans can’t afford to have anything less than stellar play from Lewan, or they will once again have to protect both offensive tackles, a problem that plagued them in 2020 after Lewan went down.
It also doesn’t appear the Titans adequately replaced departed skill players Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. The trade for Julio Jones made big news but left a lot to be desired in Week 1. This Titans offense has been terrific in the past and has a relatively favorable matchup with Seattle, so I wouldn’t sell on them yet, but the opener was not encouraging.
Titans: What does Julio Jones have left?
Since they entered the league together in the 2011 Draft, receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Green have been two of the NFL’s premier pass-catchers. Green’s play started to drop off first and he struggled last season, but Jones, despite battling numerous injuries, continued to play at a high level when he got on the field for the Falcons in 2020.
Sunday was a different matter. Jones does not have the same burst that once made him special, and that decline in athleticism seems to be preventing him from playing with the same physical competitiveness at the catch point. This showed up on numerous occasions throughout this game, particularly when Jones was competing for contested balls.
It reminded me of Green’s performances early in 2020 with Cincinnati. Once the league’s premier acrobatic at the catch point, Green no longer seemed to have the ability to attack the ball as he once did. Jones was always different; while he had the acrobatics, he had a more physically overwhelming style rather than the finesse Green brought at the catch point, but the two were equally effective.
That appears to have gone by the wayside. Jones could make me look bad in the weeks to come, but the first game was not encouraging for Tennessee’s return on investment for this offseason’s trade. It would be fun to see Jones recapture some of his forms, but for now, I’ll sell on him in all fantasy formats.
This article covered two takeaways from The Professor’s study of four games from last weekend. Look out for his analysis of the rest of this week’s action and read the column in future weeks on BeerLife Sports.