NFL Week 1 surprises, non-surprises: The quick hook for Houston? Zero surprise
Bill O'Brien backs himself into a corner at QB; Matt Stafford looks like an MVP in rallying Lions past Cards
Week 1 is always full of surprises in the NFL. The preseason also tells us quite little and often it's difficult to discern which teams are going to take a marked turn from the season before until several weeks into the season.
So, I'll attempt to avoid too many dreaded overreactions after such a small portal. But after digesting the opening weekend, several things reinforced what I already thought about certain teams and players, and some things just plain stupefied me. There were things I saw coming ... and plenty that I simply didn't anticipate.
Over more time what I think I know could be wrong, and what surprised me could be the new norm. But of all the noteworthy developments, nothing was less shocking than watching Texans coach Bill "Quick Hook" O'Brien yank his starting quarterback shortly after the first National Anthem was complete. He's like a baseball manager who always prefers who's in his bullpen to that day's starter. He managed to best his own land-speed record from two seasons ago when Brian Hoyer was yanked a few minutes into the third quarter of the opener. On Sunday, Tom Savage only made it to halftime before first-round pick DeShaun Watson replaced him.
I've been writing and talking, half-jokingly, about Savage getting the Hoyer treatment -- Hoyer was toggled in and out of the job throughout 2015 before ultimately taking the team to the playoffs -- but O'Brien's lack of patience with his passers can't be ignored. No one starts a quarterback controversy quicker, and no one seems to second-guess his choice as starter faster, either.
And Savage's first half was dismal -- with seven completions and six sacks and several turnovers. But Savage got little help. With star left tackle Duane Brown holding out and the Jaguars frothing at the mouth, the reserve linemen didn't get much extra help in protecting Savage, an immobile starter trapped in a pocket that sometimes collapsed before it formed. And to top it off, the Texans have a Thursday night game at Cincinnati looming. Not ideal.
Even if the Texans break down and give Brown a new deal, he ain't gonna be back by then, so I suspect O'Brien will go with the more mobile rookie because they are going to have to be able to make plays on the move and outside the pocket given the limitations of the offensive line. That's not Savage's game.
Watson flashed well and led a nice drive in his first series, but there are going to be bumps in the road. At this point the Texans would have been better served by giving the kid all the reps the past few weeks if he was going to take over 30 minutes into the season, anyway.
Here's a look at what else did and did not surprise me in Week 1:
Surprised: While Houston's quarterback revolving door was to be expected, the degree to which the Jaguars manhandled them at the line of scrimmage caught me off guard. The Texans' defense has to be elite for them to reach the postseason again, and they got pushed around far too often Sunday. Blake Bortles was allowed to ease into the game and never was exploited. Heck, they never even turned him over. They gave up 142 yards on the ground. J.J. Watt was working through some rust. They'll need to get much better on that side of the ball ASAP.
Not Surprised: This Falcons offense isn't going to be the same without Kyle Shanahan calling the shots; the early play sheets that led to so many early leads a year ago are gone. Matt Ryan had an unsustainable rating of 127 in the first quarter (100 of 131 for 1,235 yards -- 9.4 yards per attempt! -- with nine TDs and 0 INTs). Prior to that he had been a far slower starter. On Sunday things were tepid after Ryan completed his first five passes and the only passing touchdown they had against what's been a traditionally weak Bears defense. And that came on something of a gift on hopeless busted coverage against tight end Austin Hooper for 88 yards. Atlanta couldn't run the ball and this was not the super smooth operation of a year ago. The defense keeps getting better, but I wonder if the offense slips.
Surprised: I'd be the first to admit that Bears scatback Tarik Cohen wasn't on my breakout radar, but he was a handful for the Falcons. He accounted for more than 100 combined yards and proved a nice compliment to second-year back Jordan Howard. Cohen's explosive and change-of-pace caught the Falcons off guard at times. Was impressed by the Bears effort all around, and they could've easily won that game.
Not Surprised: Baltimore has the makings of a top-five defense and it showed Sunday. Cincinnati is usually a house of horrors for the Ravens, but their revamped secondary and pass rush bullied Andy Dalton and the Bengals all day, turning the quarterback over five times. I wasn't banking on a shutout but did expect this unit to send a message to the NFL about being ready for primetime again.
Surprised: Ravens coordinator Marty Morhinweg called 12 straight run plays. Sure, he was milking a 17-point lead in the second half on the road with a QB who missed the entire preseason because of a back injury, but still, he actually did it. Baltimore's offense has been pass-happy and utterly unbalanced the past few years, but the impact of assistant coach Greg Roman, a run-game devotee, could be seen Sunday. Two backs had at least 19 carries (Buck Allen and Terrance West), despite losing Danny Woodhead to an early injury. Last season, the had 19 or fewer total rushes in a game a staggering five times. They ran it 42 times; they never rushed more than 30 times as a team once last season. With that defense and Joe Flacco still working his way back, this has to be the equation in Baltimore.
Not Surprised: One unit that looked every bit as menacing as Baltimore's defense was Seattle's. They will lead the NFL in many categories and likely by a large margin, and they suffocated Aaron Rodgers and high-flying Green Bay on the road. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are all the way back ... but this offense will remain handcuffed until it has a full offensive line. The Seahawks gotta find a left tackle somewhere.
Surprised: Marshawn Lynch looked all the way back, too. I didn't expect it at all. He's old for a back, been away forever and I didn't think he'd be carrying the pile and trucking defenders all over the place like the old days. But he was. And his swagger is a perfect fit in Oakland's ambitious attack. We'll see how it plays over the long haul, but I didn't see 78 yards in his debut and his legs looked as powerful as ever.
Not Surprised: Matt Stafford and the Lions started to take a game over late in the third quarter and then dominated the fourth quarter on their way to another big NFC win. Blow me over with a feather. Stafford is going to be a legit MVP contender again this season. He's healthy again after playing through injury late last season, and he is the most underappreciated QB in the NFL to me. At least for now. But if he keeps this up. ...
Surprised: Why did Mike Mularkey open his season with an onside kick? Seriously? It caught me by surprise, but not the Raiders. Led to a quick Oakland score and an early momentum shift and the Titans never led.
Not Surprised: Carson Palmer isn't getting any younger and I don't see him beating Father Time. He bookended the game at Detroit with interceptions and his Pick Six basically ended the Cards chances of winning (made the score 35-17; Detroit won 35-23). To me the Cards are more a window-closing, or certainly window-changing team, than one that is ready to return to the league's elite. And in a tight NFC, this loss could end up being the kind of tiebreaker that keeps them out of the playoffs.
Surprised: Le'Veon Bell was ready to show everyone training camp didn't matter, and after talking to the Steelers about how great he looked in practice this week I bought it. Shame on me. Bell and the Pittsburgh offense sputtered pretty much all of the opener, and if not got a special teams touchdown they probably lose at Cleveland. Bell never looked sharp and had only four carries for 8 yards in the first half and caught one of three passes thrown his way for only 6 yards. He ended up with 13 touches for only 47 yards (yikes!) and is going to need some more practice time after all.
Not Surprised: Told anyone who would listen that the Browns defense was going to be much improved. The culture would change there under Gregg Williams. And even after giving corner Joe Haden away and losing top pick Myles Garrett to an injury right before the season, this unit played its guts out against the Steelers. If not for a few lucky breaks and fortuitous bounces for receiver Antonio Brown, the box score would look even better for the Browns, if not the scoreboard (Pittsburgh won 21-18). This team gave up 138 yards per game on the ground the past three years. Those days are over.
Surprised: Aaron Donald caved. There's no other way to put it; he and his agents buckled right before the opener. His holdout did not accomplish its goal, and the idea that he somehow won after the Rams have repeatedly over-bid and overspent for far lesser players (Courtland Finnegan, James Laurinaitis, Robert Quinn, O.J. Atogwe, Tavon Austin) makes no sense. Sure, he didn't get hurt in the preseason; but how many snaps you think he would have taken if he didn't hold out? He'll still get paid at some point, but is it going to be that $90M deal he was seeking? And what exactly was accomplished again?
Not Surprised: The Rams still pummeled the Colts, even without Donald. Because the Colts' offense, with Scott Tolzien under center, is going to pummeled on a weekly basis. The injuries to the offensive line have left them in dire straits. Even when Andrew Luck comes back this is going to look every bit like a rebuilding team. That's what rookie general manager Chris Ballard inherited and he's going to need time to turn it around there.
And one final Not Surprised: Knew Tony Romo will absolutely kill it in his debut in the booth, and knew my man Phil Simms would do the same on The NFL TODAY. Both are beyond prepared and Tony could not have taken his new career more seriously than he did. He's a natural and is going to be very good for a very long time.
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