The End Zone: Week 1

The NFL made its long-awaited return in Week 1, bringing a sense of normalcy to the fall, even in the midst of a pandemic and without fans in the stands at most stadiums. It was an entertaining weekend of football, and on its surface, much was normal – the Chiefs and Ravens dazzled, the Browns and Lions found new ways to disappoint their long-suffering fans, and the Patriots vanquished an AFC East rival. However, as we’ve heard many times over the past few months, we are living in unprecedented times, and much of that showed in this weekend’s results as well, with Mitch Trubisky leading a wild fourth quarter comeback, the Washington Football Team scoring 27 unanswered points to beat the Eagles, the Jaguars stunning the Colts, and the Cardinals staking their claim in the NFC West.

Read below for The Common Room’s inaugural End Zone, a touchdown’s worth of reactions and analysis from this past weekend’s NFL games. In case you missed it, check out The Common Room’s NFL season preview as well.

  • The New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees hosting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was America’s Game of the Week and featured the oldest combined age of a quarterback matchup in NFL history (84 years). Anyone who thought Tom Brady’s signing made the Buccaneers instant Super Bowl favorites was wrong, as the Bucs fell 34-23 in New Orleans and looked unimpressive doing so. Though the Bucs are talented with multiple playmakers at wide receiver, it is going to take some time for Brady to gel with his new targets – look no further than his miscommunication with Mike Evans that led to the first interception Brady threw. Sunday’s loss to the Saints showed two things for the Bucs, and how they respond to them will make or break their season. First, the Bucs will go as far as the offensive line and running game takes them. Brady made some big throws at times throughout the game, but the were able to Saints bring a good deal of pressure, despite spending the vast majority of the game playing either nickel (5 defensive backs) or dime (6 defensive backs) coverage (and their starting nickelback, PJ Williams, was inactive). In fact, the Saints only played three snaps the entire game with three linebackers on the field (two goal line snaps and one 3rd and short). Despite this, the Bucs still could only run for 3.3 yards per carry, and for much of the second half, were one-dimensional, allowing Saints defensive ends like Cameron Jordan to pin their ears back and bring heavy pressure off the edge. Second, the Bucs just need Tom Brady to be a game manager – they don’t need 2008 Tom Brady. The FOX broadcast showed a very interesting graphic highlighting the fact that the Bucs were the top-ranked passing offense in the NFL last year. But, their season was derailed by turnovers, as Jameis Winston threw 30 (!) interceptions. Among Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Rob Gronkowski, OJ Howard, and others, the Bucs have plenty of weapons – what they need is a quarterback who can distribute the ball, rather than a QB who tries to force the ball into tight windows. Both of Brady’s picks were on balls that should not have been thrown, and he needs to protect the ball better for this team to play to their talent level.
Saints vs. Buccaneers score, key takeaways: New Orleans spoils Tom Brady's  Buccaneers debut - CBSSports.com
The grass is not always greener, as Tom Brady threw two picks in a 34-23 loss to the Saints
  • In contrast to Brady’s up-and-down performance, three quarterbacks lit up the stat sheet in Week 1 – Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Gardner Minshew. Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes (88.5%) for 322 yards and 4 TDs, while also adding 29 yards on the ground. Aaron Rodgers took his frustration with the Packers’ front office for their offseason strategy out on the Vikings, completing 32 of 44 passes (73%) for 364 yards and 4 TDs, and the most surprising of the trio, Gardner Minshew, completed 19 of 20 passes (95%) for 173 yards and 3 TDs. The heroics from Wilson and Rodgers are nothing new, and helped them stake an early claim to the MVP race (and their teams look the part of title contenders), while Minshew showed that there is hope in Jacksonville by leading the moribund Jags to a shocking win over the Colts. What is most impressive about the performance of these quarterbacks is how sharp they were in Week 1 despite such a unique and tumultuous offseason.
  • As stated above, Minshew’s heroics led Jacksonville to arguably the most surprising win of the weekend, as the Jags took down the Colts 27-20. Most observers saw few wins for Jacksonville this year, but if Minshew can continue to play such efficient and turnover-free football, the Jags won’t be looking at the top pick in the draft and will be facing a decision about whether to build around the sixth-round pick from Washington State. The team picked along with Jacksonville to be the worse in the NFL also scored a surprising victory on Sunday, as the Washington Football Team scored 27 straight points to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17. Leading 17-0 with 1:44 left in the first half, the Eagles win probability stood at 96.6%, but Washington leaned on its defensive line, which sacked Caron Wentz eight times, to give their young offense good field position, and Chase Young validated his second overall pick status with 1.5 sacks. Washington won despite gaining only 239 yards of offense on 3.4 yards per play because of the strength of that defense. Washington’s longest scoring drive was only 48 yards, and its five scoring drives combined only averaged 31.8 yards. Like Jacksonville, Washington will surprise people this year if they can combine that defensive line play with mistake-free football on offense, as Washington won the turnover battle 3-0.
  • While Jacksonville and Washington exceeded expectations, the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions did the opposite (or given their histories, maybe they met expectations?). The Browns were a dark horse pick to challenge for the AFC title this year, but went out and lost 38-6 to their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, who they would need to overtake to win the division. Baker Mayfield was awful in this game, completing only 53.8% of his passes for a paltry 4.8 yards per completion, and the Browns also lost two fumbles, missed an extra point, and the normally stout Browns defense had no answer for Lamar Jackson while getting blitzed for 38 points. The Browns can regroup the next two weeks against the Bengals and Washington before facing the Cowboys, Colts, and Steelers. While the Browns were out of it from early in the game, trailing 24-6 at the half, the Lions led almost the entire game before blowing a 23-6 fourth quarter lead to lose 27-23. The Lions had a win probability of 98.3% with 4:56 left, but choked the game away in a fashion only the Lions can, all while making Mitch Trubisky look like the second coming of Brett Favre. The last four drives of the Lions went like this – punt, missed field goal (which would have made it 26-13 and blunted the Bears’ momentum), interception (giving the Bears only 37 yards to drive for the game-winning TD), and heroic drive at the end of the game only to see rookie D’Andre Swift drop a wide open touchdown pass with six seconds left. Former coach Jim Caldwell was fired after winning nine games in 2017, and Matt Patricia has only won nine games in two-plus years. Something better change fast, or Patricia won’t make it to the midway mark of the season.
D'Andre Swift had the win for the LIons in his hands and …
If D’Andre Swift could have hauled in a touchdown with 6 seconds left, the narrative around the Lions this week would be vastly different
  • Another coach on the hot seat is Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans. O’Brien has been in Houston since 2014 and made the playoffs four times, but has incurred considerable heat for his decisions as general manager, a post he assumed in January 2020. Rarely does the head coach/GM combo work out, and Texans fans can’t be pleased with O’Brien’s trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. Against the Chiefs on Thursday night, the Texans lost 34-20 and other than Will Fuller, displayed limited offensive weapons. In fact, other than Fuller, Texans receivers only caught 5 passes for 51 yards to go along with two drops. Deshaun Watson struggled to find receivers all night, was sacked four times, and on multiple other instances was forced to scramble or throw the ball away. The AFC South is a winnable division, with both the Colts and Titans looking unimpressive this weekend, but until the Texans find some playmakers, their offense will struggle. Fuller is a talented receiver but has never played a full season while struggling with injuries his entire career, and at only 6’0′ 184 pounds, is not big enough to play through consistent double teams.
  • DeAndre Hopkins’ new team, the Arizona Cardinals, got off to a great start in Week 1, taking down the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on the road, 24-20. The Cardinals were led by Hopkins, who had 14 catches for 151 yards, and the dual-threat ability of Kyler Murray, who threw for 230 yards while running for 91. Murray’s running ability kept the powerful pash rush of the 49ers at bay and sparked the Cardinals to the win. Arizona will be a tough out in the NFC West, and their ascendance makes that division the toughest in football. For San Francisco, though a loss to the Cardinals is not a “bad” loss, there is cause for concern around the wide receiver corps, like in Houston. Jimmy Garoppolo may have thrown for 259 yards, but Niners receivers hauled in only 4 catches for 41 yards. Furthermore, 117 of San Francisco’s 259 passing yards came on a 76 yard pass to a running back and a 41 yard pass to a fullback. Dynamic wide receiver Deebo Samuel was placed on IR during Week 1, but due to the Covid regulations, can come off after Week 3. The Niners better hope he’s healthy, because for a supposed Super Bowl contender, they have a surprising lack of playmakers who can stretch the field.
Still early to judge Texans' trading of DeAndre Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins’ move to Arizona broke hearts in Houston but made the Cardinals a darkhorse contender in the NFC West

The Extra Point

While he was in New England, the common complaint around the league was “Tom Brady gets all the calls”. Well, apparently that luck followed him south to Tampa, as Brady’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints, were flagged for four defensive pass interference penalties, the highest number of any team in the league during Week 1, some of which were highly questionable. These flags resulted in the Saints surrendering 119 penalty yards in Week 1, the highest of any team, despite only being flagged 6 times. Therefore, the Saints had by far and away the highest average yards per penalty at 19.3 (the next closest was Indianapolis at 16). Even taking away the two-non pass interference penalties (unnecessary roughness calls), the 89 yards of pass interference flags cost the Saints 22.5 yards per flag. In contrast, Brady averaged only 6.6 yards per completion on 36 throws. Hey, it’s great to be the GOAT.

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