I hate to put too much emphasis on opening week, and this was just one of 16 games for everyone in the league after all, but if I'm the Bills, Saints or Eagles I might be a little worried right now. Of all the action over the weekend, I found their displays most disconcerting, especially for clubs with elevated expectations.
Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for the Bills, did go wrong. The Meadowlands ravaged them. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick came out throwing picks all over the place and actually trying to challenge Darrelle Revis. Fred Jackson suffered another knee injury early, and David Nelson went down late. The "new-and-improved" pass rush went out with a whimper with Jets right tackle du jour Austin Howard handling Mario Williams, the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
It was beyond ugly, and the score doesn't do justice to just how thorough this beating was. Short of C.J. Spiller putting up form fantasy champ stats, largely in what amounted to garbage time (anything beyond the early part of the second quarter would qualify as GT in this instance), it was a total washout for Buffalo. The injuries could have lingering ramifications and, for a team that was planning on making a move up the AFC East standings, getting drubbed by the under-duress Jets is a double whammy; now Mark Sanchez and company have some swagger back, while the Bills have to be wondering if it's the same 'ol situation up in Western New York, bloated payroll or not.
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For all the preseason hype about the Bills, Fitzpatrick scared me, and Sunday was a prime reason why. He threw three picks, his ball looked sloppy, his accuracy was off. He simply has not been the same cat since signing his extension, and this goes beyond Fred Jackson being hurt or bad luck or whatever. Since Nov. 1, 2011, Fitzpatrick has a 1-9 record. He has thrown an NFL leading 19 interceptions in that span (John Skelton and Matt Stafford are tied for second most, with 15 since November). He's completing 58 percent of his passes in that 10-game sequence, with only 13 touchdowns and a woeful 66.5 rating -- 25th in the league).
I'm not sure that just gets quickly corrected. I also have a hard time believing that Dave Wannstedt is going to be the guy to galvanize Buffalo's defense and get them attacking the quarterback and turning teams over the way their roster indicates they could.
And I'm also not so sure all that ails the Saints can be righted immediately.
Some scouts in the NFC South believed the biggest area in which the loss of coach Sean Payton would be felt was in regard to Drew Brees' decision-making. The quarterback has a tendency to force things at times -- and when you are ridiculously as good as he is, you want some of that. But Payton is the guy to reel him back him, set him straight and correct things.
Without that influence, as games played out, and if things were not going the Saints' way, these scouts felt like that trait might end up undermining the team, and there certainly were times Sunday that Brees seemed to be trying to do too much, too soon. The offense never really got in sync until it was desperation time, and Brees nearly got Jimmy Graham killed by sailing some throws over the middle. Everything was a bit off.
On the other side of the ball, that defense is in trouble. Even getting Will Smith, their pass rusher, back on his suspension reprieve, they lacked any real bite. People who have worked with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo point out it generally takes a team half a season to catch on, and then the results can come quickly. There is a definite adjustment period going on here.
The Redskins came out essentially running the Baylor offense to get Robert Griffin III comfortable: screens, a few slants, very basic stuff. The Saints could mount no sort of pass rush (if Cam Jordan doesn't step up, that's going to remain an issue). They got gashed in the run game, Say what you want about Gregg Williams, but his scheme covered up a lot of warts there, and if this bunch isn't well versed yet in this new defense, that's going to be a problem.
I was bullish on the Saints coming into the season, and I'm not ready to kick them to the curb after one stinker of a home opener. But the more they seem less invincible at home, and if they can't score into the 40s every time they show up, that margin for error gets pretty tight.
As for the Eagles, pretty much anyone who has paid attention to football could determine that Mike Vick -- his health, his decision-making -- held the key to their season. Maybe that Kevlar he was wearing caused a bizarre reaction in his brain, but he was going arm for arm with Fitzpatrick on Sunday, matching him with each ill-conceived throw.
Vick ended up with four interceptions, pretty much single-handedly keeping the Browns in the game (Cleveland's offense actually found a way to make 2011's putrid game film look scintillating), and he could have easily thrown a half dozen picks. Opposing coordinators want to squeeze him in the red zone, because as the field gets smaller his mistakes and misreads get magnified, and he was dead-set on challenging Browns stud corner Joe Haden with the game on the line, throwing into bad matchups, forcing a ball into double-coverage in the end zone in the dying seconds still trailing by six inside the 10-yard line.
Full props to him for the check-down that resulted in the winning touchdown, but I can only imagine the angst and bloodletting going on in Philadelphia talk radio today coming off this opening debacle. How long before the calls for Trent Edwards begin?
Some general managers aren't sure that some of that will ever go away with Vick, and that this is simply who he is. Yes, Vick was masterful a few years back -- healthy, reading defenses well, playing to such a high level that he was rewarded with a new contract. But that was a long time ago. Not sure he's getting back there. And at some point the loss of star left tackle Jason Peters is going to manifest itself.
Still a lot of football to be played here, and the Eagles have abundant talent. Vick won't be this poor every week. But if the quarterback play doesn't elevate greatly I can't see Philadelphia going as far as some have suggested. Like the Saints, I still see playoff potential. But some major corrections are warranted.
Extra pointsCan't help but notice the speed with which the Pats are playing with now on defense. Wasn't that long ago that plodding guys like Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau were running around there linebacker, but the entire pace and tenor of that group has changed. Their selections of Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower paid immediate dividends against the Titans, as they were overwhelming at times. Bill Belichick has more weapons to tinker with there than he has in a long time, and I still can't help but think at some point Andre Carter is healthy enough to be re-signed (and Brian Waters still may end up back at guard for them on the other side of the ball, should the sides be able to find a reworked contract and work conditions that get him back on the field).
• The Titans and Panthers better spend some time on the run game this week. Heard rumblings in Tennessee that Mike Munchak worked them pretty hard late in camp, and maybe some legs on the offensive line and in the backfield were getting heavy. Of course, in this era of no two-a-days, I’m not sure how many sympathetic ears there would be in that regard. These two teams are still throwbacks in a way, and without a physical run attack, they are going to suffer.
• Kevin Kolb makes an easy target to criticize, but not enough is being made of what he pulled off Sunday when Skelton went down late in that game. Kolb was masterful coming in cold, leading a winning touchdown drive and got the Cardinals a big divisional victory that could turn things for the better there. After all of his struggles the past few years, and his lost preseason, he deserves some kudos here. As much as the locker room may lean more to Skelton, the coaches there want nothing more than for this Kolb experiment to work, and at some point I see him starting there again, possibly quite soon.
• Blaine Gabbert managed to take his improvements from the preseason into the regular season. He continues to look much more at ease in the pocket, no more happy feet, keeping his eyes up. He damn near led a winning drive with a late touchdown, but the Jags had me scratching my head in overtime, on fourth and 3, when rather than run some slants and several underneath options, Gabbert was forcing things to a double-covered receiver deep. And Maurice Jones-Drew will be starting by Week 2, after becoming a big factor for the Jags over the weekend as that game went on, despite his 38-day holdout.
• Gonna be a long, long season for Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. I mean a long season. They were totally overwhelmed, and Weeden looks very rote and raw. How he translates from his college offense to the NFL is a big question. Wouldn't be surprised if one of these teams is drafting a quarterback in the first round again next year.
• Watching more offensive linemen go down in games yesterday I can't help but wonder when someone signs veteran guard Montrae Holland. He is fully recovered from a triceps injury, had what sources told me was a great workout for the Cowboys recently, but the sides could not come to terms on an incentive package and thus the deal got scuttled. He could add a burly element to a team in need, and with the Rams losing a few linemen and New England being a little short at guard, at least until or unless Waters shows up, I would think Holland's phone would be ringing soon.