Football is officially back. It’s OK for someone to alerts the Giants’ offense of that now. While everyone was waiting all day for Sunday night, there was a lot that happened elsewhere around the league. So below are a few thoughts from some of the games in Week 1.
Don’t Overreact to Week 1
We’re going to talk about takeaways from the week here, but the most important thing is to remember not to take too much away from the season’s opening week. Last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-24 and Jameis Winston was getting talked about as a potential MVP candidate, after one week.
What we can do is look at some trends that might have be hinted at during the offseason, see if they appeared this week and if they can be sustained going forward.
Most importantly, pay very little attention to whatever happens during the late Monday night game. The San Francisco 49ers have won the past two by a combined score of 48-3.
Weapons in Washington
The Giants weren’t the only NFC East team to struggle on offense this week. Washington’s offense, against a good Philadelphia Eagles defense, looked like a shell of its former self in Week 1. After being one of the most efficient offenses in football over the past few seasons -- they were 5th in offensive DVOA last year -- the unit looked like it needed more time to click.
Part of that is due to the loss of offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Along with that, Washington had turnover at both outside receiver spots. Gone are Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson and replacing them are Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. Pryor had just 66 yards on six receptions and 11 targets while Doctson did not see a target on the 20 offensive snaps he played.
What stuck out most, though, was the loss of Jackson on the deep ball. In 2016, Kirk Cousins was one of the most productive quarterbacks on deep passes traveling 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Cousins was above league average by passer rating to all three sections -- deep right, deep middle, deep left -- of the field. But against the Eagles, Cousins was 0-for-5 on those throws. It’s likely Cousins gets more comfortable with his new receivers as the season progresses, but it will be interesting to see if the success on the deep ball returns without Jackson to take the top off the defense.
Falcons Still Finding Groove
Washington isn’t the only team that lost a talented offensive coordinator to a head coaching position. With Steve Sarkisian in place of Kyle Shanahan, much of the stories from the offseason focused on how not much was going to change schematically on offense for the Atlanta Falcons. That didn’t appear to be the case against the Chicago Bears.
While there was one staple of a Shanahan offense -- a tight end running wide open down the field -- not much else looked like 2016. Julio Jones was targeted just five times and had for catches for 66 yards. Meanwhile, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for just 20 carries and 53 yards on the ground.
Overall, the Falcons eventually put up good numbers. The team averaged 6.8 yards per play and Matt Ryan threw for 10.7 yards per attempt, but the fluidity from last year wasn’t there. There was likely to be offensive regression even if Shanahan had stayed -- it’s just so hard to keep up that level of offense from year-to-year -- but how much regression with a new coordinator could be key to Atlanta’s season.
Jacksonville’s Dominant Defense
Going into the 2017 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a plan. They wanted to impose their will with a potentially star-studded defense and pound the ball on the ground on offense. There are several flaws to this type of plan, but it worked to perfection against the Houston Texans.
From the jump, the Jacksonville defensive line destroyed the offensive line of Houston. Quarterback Tom Savage was under constant duress and the Jaguars sacked him six times in the first half. When Savage did throw the ball, there was little success throwing against Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye at corner.
Things didn’t go much better when rookie Deshaun Watson came in to replace Savage. Watson was sacked four times and his yards per attempt (4.4) was worse than Savage’s (4.8).
Because the defense was so dominant, the Jaguars were able to stick to the ground on offense. Leonard Fournette had 100 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. He was given the ball 26 times while Blake Bortles only threw 21 passes. Overall, Jacksonville had 39 rushes compared to 21 passes. Clearly that’s not sustainable -- the Cowboys last season were the most run-heavy team in the league and had one pass for every run. The question going forward is how this team will cope when the score isn’t slanted in their favor and they have to throw the ball more often.
Seattle Offensive Line Woes Continue
The structure of the Giants’ offensive line has come from the pages of the Seattle Seahawks handbook. There are many successful things that could be taken from that handbook, but offensive line construction is not one of them.
Seattle left Russell Wilson consistently under pressure and there was little production to be found in the passing game because of it. The NFL tracks average time to throw for quarterbacks and those with the most time are either those with great pass protection (Alex Smith on Thursday) or those running for their lives (Wilson, Tyrod Taylor against the Jets). Wilson averaged the fourth longest time to throw in Week 1, but rarely did that see him sitting in a clean pocket.
Green Bay Packers defenders were all over him, especially Mike Daniels and Nick Perry. The question that comes from this game is whether the Seattle offensive line is really this bad or if the Green Bay Packers defensive line is finally this good. It’s possible for both to be true and how true each is could shape the top of the NFC this season.