Sorting the Sunday Pile: L.A. Rams legit, Sacksonville and more to know in Week 1
Plus the Redskins get robbed, and the Texans, Seahawks and Giants offensive lines might be an issue
The approximately 345 people sitting in the Los Angeles Coliseum got a real rarity on Sunday afternoon: a Rams team playing good football. Los Angeles' on-again-off-again franchise hung a forty burger on the woeful, Andrew Luck-less Colts. And Indy was a big story here: they are a trash football team capable of competing for the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But do not sleep on the possibility of the Rams -- and I swear I'm saying this with a straight face -- competing for the NFC West title.
Sweeping generalizations after one week of football are stupid, but not stupider than preseason predictions. And being nimble with respect to adjusting to what you saw in the first week of the season is critical when you move forward. And what we saw was the Rams, who won by a final of 46-9, looking good in a number of different phases.
For starters, Jared Goff looks like a different quarterback. It would be hard not to perform better than his ugly rookie season last year, but the leap from Jeff Fisher's offense to Sean McVay's paid immediate dividends. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, Goff went 4 of 17 on targets that were 20 yards or more down the field. No bueno.
It was a totally different story on Sunday, with Goff going vertical with great frequency.
Yes, that is four 20-plus yard passes on Sunday alone, including a dime to rookie receiver Cooper Kupp.
Kupp, who finished the day with four catches (on six targets) for 76 yards and a touchdown, is going to be a hot name on the Fantasy waiver wire this week, and with good reason. He could be a PPR monster, and he's going to become Goff's security blanket. He's a legit weapon.
Todd Gurley had a distinctly better air of happiness to his running on Sunday. He found the end zone, and although he only ran for 40 yards on 19 carries, he looked closer to his old self than he did that miserable 2016 version. It's pretty clear .
And Sammy Watkins also finished 5 for 5 in terms of targets and catches. Goff might have multiple viable weapons on this roster now, along with a half decent running game.
Even more important is the defense. Wade Phillips has Aaron Donald, who finally , the Rams swarmed the overwhelmed Colts and backup quarterback Scott Tolzien. L.A.'s defense returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns and could have had one more. They sacked Tolzien four times and embarrassed the Colts offense so badly that Chuck Pagano forgot who he got beat up by., and early returns for the 2017 Rams are very promising. Playing without
Chuck Pagano thought they played the 49ers 😂 pic.twitter.com/NfogG5SeKg— The Xtra Points (@TheXtraPoints1) September 11, 2017
The Colts are a major mitigating factor in analyzing the Rams here: do not underestimate how bad this franchise can be in 2017 if Andrew Luck plays less than eight games. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that before a potential return. (The Colts haven't said half a season is on the table and are being vague about his injury; I think he could miss a lot of time, especially if they get out to a bad record early. Dragging him back to try and go 6-10 would be stupid. So maybe the Colts will do it.)
We don't want to overreact to the Rams because they throttle-jobbed an overmatched football team. But research has shown good teams often blow out bad opponents, and the Rams flat blew the Colts out. This game was over before halftime even started thinking about creeping around.
The Rams have flaws, including a potential lack of ability to pass block or run block against higher quality defenses. But what's intriguing about them, at least after a single game, is that they can be competitive on offense, and defensively they could be a real problem once Donald is back in the fold. After seeing the Seahawks, Cardinals and 49ers all struggle in various offensive areas, it is not unreasonable to think of the Rams as a competitor for the division or a wild-card run as soon as this year.
The same could be said for the Jacksonville Jaguars, for a similar reason. They went up against an offense in the Texans with major question marks -- Tom Savage was pulled out of the game before it was 3 p.m. ET, which is not great for a guy that Bill O'Brien spent all training camp talking up.
Deshaun Watson immediately rolled to a touchdown but then sputtered out; the Texans offense was lethargic and unable to protect either quarterback. The Jaguars would finish the game with a whopping 10 sacks, setting a franchise record for most sacks in a game. New free agency addition Calais Campbell finished with 3.5 sacks, the most ever for a Jacksonville player in a single game.
Again, the quality of competition is a factor here. But the Jaguars were up against a divisional opponent and, as you may have noticed above, there is another terrible offensive team in this division. The Titans did not overpower the Raiders defense the way we expected they might have. The AFC South might be -- and stop me if you've heard this before -- freaking terrible.
The Jaguars heading into the season looked like a team that could be dead in the water because of Blake Bortles, but it's possible that they can limit the negative damage he does this season by virtue of running the ball and playing defense. Campbell was a monster on Sunday, but there were other great performances as well: Myles Jack finished with 14 total tackles, Dante Fowler picked up a sack and Yannick Ngakoue picked up a pair of sacks as well. Add in Leonard Fournette rushing for 100 yards on 26 carries and the Jaguars got big-time production from guys they invested heavily in the last two years.
Speaking of Fournette, he did that with the Jaguars' limited offensive line against a Texans front seven that features J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. The Titans didn't look like world beaters in terms of running the ball on Sunday afternoon, and the Colts defense looked worse than an FCS opponent Fournette might have drawn at LSU. He could have a field day against Indy.
Again, it is dumb to generalize about season-long outcomes after a single week of the season. But the Jaguars could have an elite defense and could have an above-average running game. If they can keep Bortles from steering the plane straight into the face of the metaphorical mountain, this could be a team that wins 7-9 games. The division is not on lockdown.
Enjoy the moment, Buffalo
The important thing here to remember is, and this may sound familiar, it's only one week. The Bills got to play the Jets, who are going to be terrible. The Patriots played the Chiefs, who are not going to be terrible. The Dolphins were displaced by Hurricane Irma (which was really smart because they were set to play the Buccaneers, and Tampa ended up getting the brunt of the storm even worse than Miami did) so they will not play until next week.
No chance am I going to sit here and tell you the Bills are going to be better than you think, or that they can win the division. But there were some interesting things coming out of this game. Zay Jones did not make a major impact. Jordan Matthews sort of did. LeSean McCoy fantasy owners are going to hate Mike Tolbert, who got 12 carries and vultured a touchdown.
Offensive line issues abound
It only takes one bad aspect of a team to really wreck a potential playoff run, and there were multiple theoretical contenders who flashed some big time concerns about their offensive line's ability to block this week.
The Texans were mentioned above: their upcoming schedule includes the Bengals (short week on TNF), Patriots (road, Bill Belichick potentially against a rookie quarterback), Titans and Chiefs (who looked great in Week 1). A trip to Seattle is a nightmare scenario for a team with a bad offensive line and a question mark at quarterback. If Houston can't protect Watson (or Tom Savage when Bill O'Brien eventually flips back to him in 45 minutes or whatever), this season could get long, quick. This is a critical stretch coming for Houston, particularly if the Titans and Jaguars can win games early.
The Seahawks spent all day Sunday acting like they were matadors and Mike Daniels was an oncoming bull. He and the Packers defensive line spent the afternoon hanging out in Russell Wilson's kitchen, sacking him three times and getting seven quarterback hits on the svelte, mobile quarterback. It is not easy to get that much pressure on such a mobile guy, but Wilson was on the run all day.
Seattle's run game was hardly impressive either. Wilson led them in rushing yards with two carries for 40 yards, while Chris Carson produced 39 yards on six carries. Eddie Lacy ran the ball five times for three yards. That's not ideal. Seattle has made a clear decision not to invest in the offensive line and suffered some injuries after that decision. This could be a chickens-come-home-to-roost situation.
The Giants might be the biggest concern of all these teams. For the second straight year, it looks like Eli Manning is going to be sprinting away from constant pressure; the Giants feel compelled to keep trotting out Ereck Flowers at left tackle despite his inability to pass protect. It showed up in a big way as the Cowboys, who are not a high-level defense in terms of talent on the pass rush front,
The offensive line's best job blocking actually came during introductions.
New York ultimately scored three points (the Yankees outscored the Giants and Jets combined on Sunday!), and Odell Beckham's absence showed up in a big way. Last year the Giants would routinely throw slant after slant after slant in Beckham's direction -- his athleticism and explosiveness would end up resulting in a few jailbreaks and the play design would help to limit the pressure teams could get Manning. Without Beckham on the field, the Giants looked like a trainwreck. Regression could rear its ugly head here.
Early question about replay work
The Redskins were outplayed by the Eagles for most of Sunday's game, so the final outcome was justified, but the Redskins were certainly dogged by the officials in the closing minutes against Philadelphia on a review of Fletcher Cox's defensive touchdown.
With just over a minute and a half remaining the game and trailing 22-17, the Redskins had a 2nd-and-3 approaching midfield, when Brandon Graham busted into the backfield and forced Cousins to fumble. Cox scooped the ball and rumbled to the end zone, icing the game for Philly.
One problem: that probably wasn't a fumble. It almost certainly appeared that Cousins arm was going forward on the play in question.
Washington should have gotten the ball back with an opportunity to convert a 3rd-and-3 with almost 1:30 left on the clock and trailing by five points. Both the Redskins and Eagles were under the impression that the Redskins would get the ball back -- Cox had to run off the field because the Eagles had to run a two-point conversion. Cousins was apoplectic about the replay decision.
It's disconcerting because with that much replay it should be clear that Cousins didn't fumble the ball. And this was one of the first replays we've seen with the centralized setup where the league made the call from the New York offices. It doesn't look like decision-making is going to be any more consistent.
The football lesson from this particular play, by the way, is that the Eagles can be nasty on defense this year. Ronald Darby , and that dings their secondary, which is not good. But the talent on the front seven with Cox, Graham, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett -- all of whom registered quarterback hits against Cousins -- is going to cause major problems for opposing offenses.
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