5 Takeaways From Week One of the NFL Season

After months of uncertainty and concern surrounding the 2020–21 NFL season, fans were relieved to see their teams take the field in Week 1. The heavy hearts of the players and coaches were seen across the league, from the Seahawks and Falcons kneeling during the inaugural kickoff to address police brutality, to the Chiefs and Texans locking arms on Thursday to signify unity against racism.

It was a weekend overloaded with strong messages, demands for change, and unity — a recent theme among athletes using their collective platforms to inspire real change.

Then came football, and boy was it an exciting weekend.

Tom Brady made his Tampa Bay debut, the Washington Football team surprised everyone and made a comeback to secure their first win, Joe Burrow’s first start was tainted with heartbreak, etc. Last weekend truly had it all so let’s dive into the biggest takeaways and determine which will have serious implications on the league going forward.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns are still the Browns

Cleveland was an utter disappointment last year. They had one of the most talented rosters in the league, a new coach, and high expectations. All that led to was a pitiful 6–10 record that underlined their dysfunction and lack of preparedness to be in the spotlight.

But things were supposed to be different this year. After all, they have an even more talented roster, another new coach, and high expectations… ok I’m getting Déjà vu.

Week 1 saw Cleveland take on defending MVP Lamar Jackson and his AFC juggernaut Ravens. Nobody expected the Browns to get this win really, but the addition new HC Kevin Stefanski would do wonders for this offense and they’d at least be competitive. Right?

Well, they scored a first-quarter touchdown and moved the ball methodically against a rigid Ravens defense, so it looked to be a solid game early on. That is until they couldn’t move the ball for the life of them, as drops, miscommunication, and sloppy turnovers held their offense scoreless after the first quarter. Lamar Jackson dominated their defense by air and broke their backs with his scrambling to make this game a complete blowout. The Browns seemed helpless in Baltimore leading to a 38–6 dismantling of their highly-touted roster.

Where did they go wrong though? Well, they made mistakes in just about every facet of their game. In their pass offense, Baker Mayfield just didn’t look sharp and neither did his receivers. Mayfield threw a costly pick on his very first drive and missed guys like Odell Beckham Jr. on deep throws that could’ve gotten something going for this woeful offense. Beckham had a bad drop as well and this passing attack just didn’t look like they were ready to compete.

On defense, this young secondary had no answers for Lamar Jackson. Jackson completed 80% of his passes and was surprisingly well protected, considering the talent in the Browns’ pass rush. He was only sacked twice and scrambled 7 times, down from his usual 12 scrambles/designed runs from a season ago. The fact that Lamar was able to destroy this team without having to make any wild plays or put up a crazy stat line is a testament to the strength of the Ravens, and the weakness surrounding the Browns.

The sole bright spot for Cleveland was their great ground game. Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb combined for 132 yards on 23 carries and showed why they are the most dangerous 1–2 punch of running backs in football. But, when a team is trailing 10–0 in the first quarter, it doesn’t exactly put them in a position to commit to running the ball. Had they been competitive and kept this game within reach throughout, I’m convinced the Browns would have eclipsed 200 yards on the ground and 40+ carries. The best way to beat a team who likes to run the clock out on you is to stay within 1 score and run the ball well, and when you go down 2 scores early on, your chances don’t look so good.

Instead, they forced themselves to continue to throw the ball in a desperate attempt to try and make up the ever-growing deficit they found themselves in.

The theme of this game was that the Ravens beat the Browns without really trying. Lamar Jackson had a great efficient game but didn’t have to do anything crazy to win it, and Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins combined for 51 rushing yards on a measly 3 YPA. The Ravens didn’t do anything the special, yet the Browns still managed to get blown out.

While they played a top 3 team in the league on Sunday, the Browns are built to be competitive no matter what. The fact that they continue to get blown out game after game and year after year is a signal to blow this roster up at some point. Unless Kevin Stefanski can turn this team around in historic fashion by the end of 2020, I can’t see this squad making the playoffs.

That being said, it’s only Week 1. There is plenty of time for Stefanski and co. to analyze their numerous issues and begin to address them. There are 7 playoff spots available with the new NFL CBA and if the Browns can’t get one of them, a rebuild is on the table.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Early issues for this explosive offense?

I’ve discussed the promise of this Tampa Bay offense plenty leading up to the 2020 season. With options like Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones in the run game to go along with Tom Brady throwing to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Rob Gronkowski, and Cameron Brate in the passing game, many believe this Bucs offense will show out this year. But based purely on their Week 1 showing, it may take more time than expected.

A game-time decision, WR1 Mike Evans suited up and played limited snaps for Tampa Bay. He was held catch-less until the final 3 minutes of the contest with his impact coming when he was able to draw multiple huge PI calls, but if Evans’ hamstring issues continue to linger, it could be bad news for this passing attack trying to find its identity.

Chris Godwin stepped up and led the team in catches and yards but suffered a possible concussion on a 4th down hit. Worse comes to worst, he will be out in next week’s contest with the Panthers and Tampa will need more contributions from its run game and Mike Evans.

Now that we’ve sorted out some of the injury issues the Bucs must deal with, let’s focus on what went wrong Sunday.

The run game was solid, but not where the Bucs need it to be to contend with a team like New Orleans. Presumably, because of his very recent arrival, star running back Leonard Fournette was limited to 5 carries on Sunday, with long-time Buccaneer Ronald Jones carrying the rock 17 times for 66 yards. The solid amount of carries signifies OC Byron Leftwich wants the run game to be utilized far more than it was last year. Tom Brady will likely appreciate that once Fournette is up to speed, as the big back should be able to get far more out of 17 carries than most RBs in the league. It’ll take the pressure off Brady as when the Patriots had good running attacks they seemed to only help TB12 get to the Super Bowl. Going forward, look for Fournette to become a focal point of this Bucs’ offense as they try to find their identity in this changing league.

Back to Brady, his debut was not very promising, to say the least. He had a rare 2 pick game where he simply didn’t look sharp. The first pick was a result of a major miscommunication between Brady and Mike Evans where he overthrew Evans by a solid 15 yards. The second came on an out route that Brady threw far too late, resulting in a back-breaking pick 6.

These were both surprising, as when Brady throws a pick it’s usually on the receiver or a great play by the defense, but he had 2 mental mistakes/miscommunications that cost Tampa 14 points in the end. It’s probably just growing pains, but it’s apparent that Byron Leftwich’s new offense relies on smart decisions to win games. When you sacrifice 2 possessions on bad timing and miscommunication, you are bound to lose.

In the end, this is Tom Brady we are talking about. He’s been beaten down before and gotten back up. All he needs to keep succeeding at his age is his wits, and while they looked shaky in Week 1, don’t count this Bucs’ offense out yet.

Seattle Seahawks

They let Russ cook

The overarching demand from disgruntled Seahawks fans came in the form of a hashtag this offseason: LET RUSS COOK. Following 2 years of disappointing playoff exits where fans felt Seattle was too committed to the run, they began to pressure the team to give QB Russell Wilson more opportunities to shine in the passing game, and boy did he ever.

Completing 31 of 35 attempts for 322 yards and 4 TDs, Russell Wilson positioned himself back in the MVP race early on in a 38–25 beatdown of the Falcons. Wilson completed his first 12 attempts and never seemed flustered in the pocket or on the run as usual. He got great contributions from the always underrated Tyler Lockett, sophomore phenom D.K. Metcalf, RB Chris Carson out of the backfield, and veteran tight end Greg Olsen. This supporting cast will be huge going forward and look for Lockett and Metcalf to become a feared duo as the season goes on.

The possible consequence of this pass-heavy attack is the lack of identity in the run game. If more savvy defenses are dealt with this strategy, they are sure to break it down by the 4th quarter, so it’d be healthy if the Hawks run it a bit more. Star running back Chris Carson only carried the ball 6 times but contributed heavily in the air game. I can appreciate this preference to let your MVP chuck it as much as he can, and believe me if he is as efficient as he was Sunday afternoon, you will win some games — but the Seahawks will always be a team that hinges on the run game. Even with a struggling offensive line, the Seahawks have proven they struggle without a ground attack against stout defenses.

Playing the Falcons’ broken pass defense is always an excuse to revert to a heavy air game, but when playing a stout defense like San Francisco or the upcoming Patriots, look for Seattle to pound the rock while mixing in a lot of Russell Wilson. Sunday was all passing, but a better balance will do Seattle some good in the long term, although it’s fun to watch Wilson dot up defenses for 3 hours.

Arizona Cardinals

A dynamic duo brewing in the desert?

What a win for reigning Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray. The Cardinals QB had a brutal beginning to his sophomore campaign, as he was forced to face the best passing defense in 2019 in the 49ers.

Luckily for Murray, he’d have some All-Pro backup to help him overcome these Niners. Former Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins was predicted to come into Arizona and make an instant impact — he did just that. Securing a career-high 14 catches to pair with 151 yards by air, Hopkins has proven already that he fits into this air-raid offense that had Murray chuck it over 33 times per game in 2019.

Often running short and deep curls, Hopkins’ proficiency as a route runner was extremely effective in his first game as a Cardinal. Having him on the field doesn’t just provide an athletic receiver who can go up and challenge defenses vertically, but one that fits into your game plan and can break down defenses with ease.

If you watched this game progress, you’d see head coach and play-caller Kliff Kingsbury attack this Niners’ D with rather short routes and it’s a skill of Hopkins’ that is extremely underrated.

As for Murray, he got it done with both his legs and arm. Pulling it down to run 13 times for 91 yards, Murray proved once again that he can impact a game using whatever the defense gives him. When you need to commit this many DBs and defensive personnel to guys like DeAndre Hopkins and Kenyan Drake out of the backfield, Murray will take off.

Although his stats weren’t amazing, Murray could be in store for a special season with DeAndre Hopkins already making his case for OPOY.

Philadelphia Eagles

A slow start for this Philly offense or reason for concern?

A 17–0 first-half lead had Eagles fans comfortable in their seats on Sunday’s kickoff game against the Washington Football Team. Following a 2 TD half for QB Carson Wentz, the Eagles looked poised to get a Week 1 win without their young star running back Miles Sanders and OT Lane Johnson. They had no run game to speak of thanks to these 2 key injuries (and the loss of star guard Brandon Brooks before the season), so it would be up to Wentz to continue his dominance going forward.

Unfortunately for Wentz, those losses on the offensive line opened up his right side in a big way, as not having his Pro Bowl RG and RT proved to be the deciding factor of this ball game.

He was sacked 8 times, 4 in each half, and was constantly under pressure from the extremely talented Washington front. But Wentz is known to escape pressure and find his receivers, and he genuinely tried to. The pressure led the usually turnover-less Wentz to throw 2 ill-advised picks Washington would capitalize on. This also exposed the Eagles’ main issue: Receiving depth. Led by veteran receiver DeSean Jackson, this receiving corps lacks so many elements.

Firstly, they are missing a vertical threat as Alshon Jeffery is supposed to be their x-factor on big passing downs, yet he has had trouble staying healthy. DeSean Jackson is always solid but it is clear he has lost a step from the various injuries he’s endured during his long career. Rookie Jalen Reagor is also nursing a shoulder injury but showed some promise with a huge 55-yard catch from Carson Wentz. Rookie WR John Hightower and Wentz also looked out of sync on a huge 2nd half interception where it seemed either Wentz released it too early, or Hightower ran 9 yards on a 10-yard curl. This lack of connection with his receivers had Wentz looking dazed, as he’d go through his progressions and often become indecisive and opt to take the sack. At the end of the day, when you have guys like Greg Ward, DeSean Jackson, and Jalen Reagor being your only wide receivers to catch a pass on the day, there are obvious issues.

There is no number 1 option in the receiving corps, no vertical threat, and no route runners who can will themselves open and break the game. When you play a team like Washington who has below-average pass defense and a stellar pass rush and challenge them with a receiving corps the front office hasn’t invested in, you will always be in a position to take an upset.

One bright spot was the tight end play from Philly though. Dallas Goedert had a monster game and seemed to be Wentz’s go-to target in the first half, but once Washington adjusted at halftime, Goedert was limited after the catch. It seemed they made it a priority to reduce his run after the catch opportunities as his chunk plays were the only thing keeping the sticks moving for Philly. Although he was a bright spot, when there is only one thing consistently working in an offense, that offense likely won’t work for long.

This lack of options on offense led to a 2nd half shutout of the Eagles and an embarrassing 27–17 defeat. Although this team has been ravaged by injuries, there is no excuse to not try and get Wentz more options in the passing game in the offseason and Philly is paying for it at 0–1.

There is real cause for concern here and if the Eagles don’t address these issues in a big way, even making the playoffs could be a question — a devastating thought for such a talented squad.

It’ll be interesting to see how these various questions and statements around these teams pan out as we head into Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season. I can’t wait to see these teams succeed, as all have the potential to do so, they just need to keep up the good work or address the issues outlined here.

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