Takeaways from NFL Week 1: Four Games in Review

79

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.

New England at Miami

Patriots: Mac Jones Wise Beyond His Years

The Dolphins’ defense threw a variety of looks at rookie quarterback Mac Jones in his debut. None of it phased him. Miami sent a variety of players on blitzes from all over the defense, but when they did, Jones consistently found the hot receiver in the vacated space. The only point in the game where Jones looked out of sorts was after he evaded an early pressure, then took a shot from two defenders and fumbled the ball. Tight end Jonnu Smith jumped on the fumble to mitigate the damage from Jones’ “Welcome to the NFL” moment and the rookie took it from there.

In addition to his advanced processing, Jones showed off terrific ball placement throughout the game as he picked apart an aggressive Miami defense. There were multiple instances that showed his ability to make plays under duress, with his 4th quarter pass to Jakobi Meyers that Jones completed while backpedaling away from pressure standing out. 

Jones doesn’t have elite physical tools, but he is already playing at a high level from the neck up, and his understanding of what he needs to do on the field allows him to navigate space efficiently and make some second-reaction plays despite his athletic limitations. The Patriots’ offensive rating will shift up in the model after this performance, and the AFC East looks markedly more competitive after this performance by both Miami and New England.

Patriots: Revival of James White

Patriots running back James White filled a critical role as the pass-catching back when Tom Brady ran this offense, but his importance was diminished with Cam Newton at quarterback. Newton’s style did not rely heavily on timing, and at his core, James White is a timing back as a receiver out of the backfield.

Now that Mac Jones is at quarterback, those traits are once again valuable in this offense. Look for White’s receiving production to return to pre-2020 levels with Jones at quarterback; he is a low-cost fantasy consideration for DFS. White is one of several Patriots players who saw their fantasy stock rise with Jones’ performance, a group highlighted by wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

Miami: Jaylen Waddle is a Threat at All Levels

It was a banner weekend for the top three receivers selected in the draft, as Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase, Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, and Philadelphia’s DeVonta Smith all scored in their debuts.

Waddle fits beautifully into a Miami offensive scheme that takes advantage of motion, run-pass option concepts (RPOs), and the screen game. Waddle also showed the ability to make plays down the field, and his easy speed makes him a dangerous threat after the catch. Miami used that speed to their advantage on his touchdown when Waddle got moving on a pre-snap motion that allowed him to get a step on the defender running to the pylon in the left flat.

Fellow receiver Will Fuller returns from suspension for Miami next week, but while Fuller has been a dominant downfield player, he has not showcased the versatility Waddle brought to this game. If Waddle went undrafted in your Fantasy League, he is an option with upside if you need a wide receiver, and will be an interesting name to keep an eye on in DFS.

Miami: Tua in Rhythm

The 2021 version of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa matched his glowing college scouting reports. Tagovailoa is now in an offense that prominently features many of the run-pass options that are prevalent in the college game, and he made quick, sound decisions in the context of that offense.

Tagovailoa’s arm strength isn’t overwhelming, but he consistently got the ball out of his hands quickly on concepts that stretch the field vertically without demanding overwhelming arm strength, such as his timing post to DeVante Parker or quick-hitting verticals up the sidelines to Parker and Waddle. Most of Tagovailoa’s work came in rhythm in the short game, but he attacked the deep areas selectively and also showed that he has the mobility to be a threat in the run game, both on his first-quarter touchdown run and a late quarterback keeper on a rollout that came back on a penalty.

It’s one week, but Miami is likely out of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes (if they were in it) after this game. Dolphins fans should be excited to see how Tagovailoa evolves in the weeks to come. Another critical division matchup, this one at home against the Bills, awaits.

San Francisco at Detroit

San Francisco: Deebo up, Aiyuk Down

Offseason reports that a particular athlete has dedicated him or herself to training and diet are difficult to put much stock in, particularly when it comes to the NFL, but the reports that 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel was in outstanding shape proved accurate in Week One.

Samuel was back to the explosive form he showcased during his rookie season when the 49ers made a run to the Super Bowl. He was particularly deadly against Detroit on crossing routes at the intermediate level and also contributed on touches in the backfield. Samuel would be a difficult cover in any offense, but head coach Kyle Shannahan’s scheme is an outstanding fit for his skill set, and Shannahan did a great job of maximizing his production in this game. Samuel fumbled at the end of the game, but the 49ers got out with the win, and the miscue will likely become a footnote in what projects looks to be a prolific season. Samuel should be an excellent DFS option in the near future and will be a Draft Day steal if he stays healthy.

My model had Samuel slotted in as the second priority in the passing game behind George Kittle(based on my high opinion of Samuel’s performance level as a rookie), but the expectation was that Brandon Aiyuk would be part of a trio that dominated the targets for the 49ers. Instead, Aiyuk has gone the opposite way, and was an afterthought in the offense against Detroit, as both Trent Sherfield and Mohamed Sanu saw looks in the passing game ahead of him. Shannahan indicated after the game that the second-year receiver struggled in training camp this year after a productive rookie season and that his role in the offense was not a one-game aberration, a concern for any Aiyuk fantasy owners. As Aiyuk showed he has the talent level to be an impact player last season, fantasy owners should hold onto him while he works back into form if their roster permits it, as Aiyuk could make a second-half impact, but he should be avoided in the short-term.

San Francisco: Jason Verett Injury puts stress on Defensive Line

It was fantastic to see cornerback Jason Verett play at a high level and get through the 2020 season healthy after injuries appeared to have derailed his once-promising career, but the potential for another setback still loomed when the 49ers did not replace Richard Sherman and put Verett at the top of the corner depth chart.

The injury issue struck in the first game and now the 49ers move forward with questions at cornerback. On the positive front, defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford were both outstanding in their respective returns from injury, with Bosa providing rookie Lions left tackle Penei Sewell with multiple “Welcome to the NFL” moments and Dee Ford dominating right tackle Matt Nelson in the early going.

San Francisco will need that duo to stay healthy moving forward if this defense is going to be successful with their current talent level at cornerback. They have enough at linebacker and safety to be a formidable unit, and players could potentially emerge as the season progresses, but this week’s matchup with Philadelphia’s offensive line and the unique scheme around Jalen Hurts will provide an interesting test of whether deficiencies at cornerback will sink this unit. As Hurts and the Eagles would prefer to throw downfield as a complement to the rest of the plan, it would be telling if they went off script and attacked the 49ers outside early.

Detroit: Room for Two Running Backs

DeAndre Swift was not a particularly desirable target on my model’s draft board, in part due to the presence of fellow running back Jamaal Williams on the Detroit depth chart. Early in this game, that concern seemed valid, as Williams got the early work for the Lions.

Then Swift hit the field, and it was quickly evident why he had been so highly-touted coming out of college two years ago. Swift put together a productive rookie campaign, but I don’t recall him running with this sort of juice during 2020. He displayed rare acceleration and long speed and seemed to have an extra gear in his repertoire even as he ran past defenders. Despite the power he’s showcasing, Swift is exceptionally light on his feet, which allows him to throw evasive moves like the one he used on a screen pass to make 49ers safety Jimmie Ward miss on a long catch and run touchdown.

Williams also got plenty of work, including some carries near the goal line, and both Detroit running backs appear likely to be viable fantasy options in this wide receiver-depleted Lions offense. Given the atrocious run defense displayed by Green Bay against the Saints in Week 1, Swift and Williams are both options to consider if your DFS slate extends to Monday Night.

Detroit: T.J. Hockenson is the Number One Receiver

Tight end T.J. Hockenson appeared poised to join Las Vegas tight end, Darren Waller, as his team’s clear-cut number one target from the tight end position (Kansas City has a 1 and 1a with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill), and that came to fruition against San Francisco.

The Lions frequently isolated Hockenson as a detached receiver on the back of 3×1 sets and targeted him in those situations, where the 49ers typically left a corner over him. Hockenson also contributed in more routine tight end capacities in the short game and showcased his upper-tier athleticism with the ball in his hands. Quarterback Jared Goff was most comfortable looking for Hockenson as the Lions sorted through a variety of receiving options during the game and their rapport should continue to build as the season goes on.

The Detroit offense isn’t great, and the potential cheap wide receiver plays in DFS, such as Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St.Brown, are risky, but their running back tandem and Hockenson will have an impact on the fantasy season.

Los Angeles Rams at Chicago Bears

Los Angeles: Darrell Henderson is the lead back for a reason

The Rams acquired Sony Michel from the Patriots during camp to ensure they have depth at running back if another injury occurs, but given Darrell Henderson’s performance on Sunday night, it appears that Michel won’t compete for lead-back duties anytime soon.

Henderson has always shown excellent bursts as a straight-line runner, but there wasn’t a lot in the way of nuance or tempo in his running style. He appears to have made great strides in that regard, as his timing was notably improved and allowed him to showcase his standout speed while carving efficient paths as a runner and timing his runs with the blocking scheme.

Michel is a solid between-the-tackles back, but he doesn’t have the same juice as Henderson. Whether Henderson will have some games with split carries to rest him will remain an unknown until we are deeper into the season, but count on him playing the lead role in key moments for this explosive, Matthew Stafford-led offense. Stafford showcased his arm strength and football acumen throughout the Rams’ destruction of the Bears’ defense in Stafford’s first game with Sean McVay, and all the skill players in this offense should be in for productive seasons.

Los Angeles: The Stars showed up on defense

The first half belonged to Jalen Ramsey, who was weaponized within the defensive scheme by new coordinator Raheem Morris, and Aaron Donald took over down the stretch, dismantling the interior of the Chicago offensive line and making the game difficult for quarterback Andy Dalton.

Last year’s defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley, did an excellent job of deploying Ramsey effectively and tailoring his role on a game-to-game basis, but Morris moved his star defensive back around throughout the game in a style that was slightly different than how he’s been used in the past. Ramsey responded well, racking up TFLs as he created significant disruption in the Chicago backfield throughout the early part of the game. It helps that the Rams have developed another solid corner in David Long and that Darius Williams showcased expanded versatility from last season, which allowed Morris to move Ramsey in this way.

Aaron Donald stole the spotlight late and did a significant amount of his work on left guard Cody Whitehair, who is supposed to be Chicago’s best offensive lineman, down the stretch. The Bears’ interior was overwhelmed by Donald and his teammates, and future opponents aren’t likely to find the going much easier. The Rams defense remains among the league’s elite despite their coaching and personnel turnover, which makes their standout offense all the more dangerous.

Chicago: Aiming for Mediocrity

Between Andy Dalton, the personnel on the offensive line, and the large number of short-area targets allocated to tight end Cole Kmet, it’s hard to say the Chicago offense is aiming for anything but mediocrity.

Running back David Montgomery looks great, but outside of his handful of explosive runs, the most exciting part of this offense is what Justin Fields did in the quarterback run game on his touchdown run.

Those types of concepts could create hesitation in the defense that would benefit a talent-deficient offensive line that desperately needs the help. No other opponent features an Aaron Donald, but the problems extended beyond him, and the fact that Jason Peters, who came out of retirement to help replace the already-injured Tevin Jenkins, left with an injury only adds to the concerns.

Dalton competently operated the short-area offense but consistently failed to come up with plays in the significant moments throughout the game. It is confusing why the staff prefers to start him over Fields and the fantasy production of the Chicago skill players will suffer until things change.

Chicago: The Once-Dominant Defense is in the Past

There are still some great players on Chicago’s defense, headlined by Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Roquan Smith, but this performance takes them out of the ranks of the NFL’s better units. It was a lackluster performance by the group, with the lowlights coming when the secondary had communication issues that turned loose Rams receivers to catch deep touchdown passes behind the defense from quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The coverage on those plays was alarming, but what was more concerning was how the Rams offensive line played a more physical game than the Bears front and wore them down by the end of the game. Rams running back Darrell Henderson ran all over this unit and Chicago’s inability to respond may be more difficult to repair than the communication issues that turned Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp loose on separate occasions.

Chicago’s defense should be considered average-at-best going into Week 2 for Fantasy and Gambling considerations. Joe Burrow and the Bengals may be the next group to put up big numbers on Chicago; Khalil Mack and the rest of the Bears front will need to step up and have a dominant performance to protect their back end.

Green Bay at New Orleans

Green Bay: Relax. (At least on offense).

At the 1:07 mark of the second quarter, the Green Bay offense started their third possession.

There have been a large number of very good NFL offenses who failed to score on two straight possessions at some point. Unfortunately, the Packers were starting their third drive because Jameis Winston and the Saints had rattled off scoring drives of 4:00, 7:51, and 10:00 in the first half while building up a 17-0 lead.

Green Bay’s third drive did feature a vintage throw by quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a deep corner route to receiver Davante Adams over corner Marshon Lattimore, but they ran out of time and settled for a field goal. The Packers proceeded to drive to the New Orleans nine-yard line, where Rodgers took a hit and left a ball behind Adams that was intercepted by Saints rookie corner Paulson Adebo, and the game got off the rails after that.

It was a miserable day for the offense overall, but the throw Rodgers made to Adams over Lattimore showed he still has some talent, and while Saints rushers Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Tanoh Kpassagnon made their presence felt, Green Bay’s reshuffled offensive line played a reasonably solid game.

It’s one the Packers offense would like a mulligan on, but this group should rebound in a big way against a talent-deficient Detroit Lions defense.

Green Bay: The New Orleans Offense Looked Good, but This?

As noted above in the first takeaway, the Packers’ defense offered next to nothing in the way of resistance in the first half as the Saints put together three long scoring drives on three opportunities.

For a group that features an elite corner (Jaire Alexander), a highly-compensated defensive line, and a strong tandem of safeties, the overall level of performance is terrible. Green Bay’s inability to slow down the New Orleans running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones Jr. set up the Saints offense with myriad opportunities down the field, which were increased by Green Bay’s coverage gaffes. Between slot corner Chandon Sullivan running into corner Kevin King and Saints receiver Lil’Jordan Humphry on a play that left tight end Juwan Johnson wide open or Deonte Harris running by King (a familiar sight for Packers fans), it’s hard to say which Bad News Bears moment was the worst.

It’s one game, but the early returns aren’t promising. There are reasons to expect a return on offense based on that game, but the Green Bay defense could be in for a long season. Detroit’s offense, which features some legitimate weapons in tight end T.J. Hockenson and running backs DeAndre Swift and Jamaal Williams, could surprise on Monday Night. 

New Orleans: Wait. He’s Restrained Himself. Maybe this is a new Jameis Winston.

Much like the moment where the character portrayed by Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore elects not to throw his putter after missing a put, there was a moment on 1st and 10 early in the game where Saints quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball away from a clean pocket after nothing developed rather than trying to become Superman and win the game then and there.

In the big picture of the Saints season, it’s an insignificant play, but it was one of several indicators that Winston has bought into the idea of operating head coach Sean Payton’s offense. The returns should continue to be strong. 

The Saints leaned on running backs Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones Jr. behind their elite offensive line in a ground-dominated performance that allowed Winston to show off his best attributes by dialing up accurate, high-velocity strikes down the field without putting the ball at risk. He also executed well in the short passing game, allowing Kamara run-after-catch opportunities on his receptions. Winston did have one pick that was wiped off the board due to a roughing the passer call, but it was a calculated risk on a throw that he has the arm talent to make rather than the type of inexplicable decision that defined his tenure in Tampa Bay.

New Orleans is in flux at wide receiver, but with the way that Winston executed the offense, this group will be dangerous. There’s always the possibility of regression, but this performance caused me to shift my perspective of Winston moving forward. He’s an interesting option in DFS this week and is a roster option if you need a second quarterback in season-long leagues, and should also make the Saints a tough opponent week in and week out.

New Orleans: There’s plenty of talent left on defense

Green Bay’s offense did not play its best game, but nothing was going to come easy against this Saints unit. Their offseason salary purge affected their depth in some areas, but the stars are still in place, and new contributors emerged around them during this game.

With the addition of Payton Turner in the first round of the draft to go along with former first-round pick, there wasn’t much discussion of free-agent addition Tanoh Kpassagnon emerging as the complement to Cameron Jordan, but Kpassagnon made his case on Sunday. After a strong final campaign in Kansas City, Kpassagnon beat Green Bay center Josh Myers with a rip move early and also gave right tackle Billy Turner issues with his unique combination of size, length, and power. Davenport also played well, but he is once again injured, which opens the door for Kpassagnon to shine.

New Orleans also got a strong performance from rookie corner Paulson Adebo at a position that was a clear concern given the acquisitions of veterans Bradley Roby and Desmond Trufant on the eve of the regular season. Marshon Lattimore remains a force but is battling multiple nagging injuries, which makes Adebo’s contributions welcome. He will need to clean up some of his work with his hands to avoid flags, but Adebo is an aggressive corner who moves well and brings good length. He could make a significant impact this season on a Saints team that has a chance to be more competitive than many expected. 

Conclusion

This article covered three takeaways from The Professor’s study of four games. Look out for his analysis of the rest of this week’s action and read the column in future weeks on BeerLife Sports.

About the author:

Website | + posts

Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.

Leave a Reply