10 things you need to know from NFL Week 1
That’s a lot of information to sift through, we know; to simply your Week 2 prep, here are the 10 things you need to know.
1. Marcus Mariota wasn’t as good as the box score said he was—but he was still really good.
209 yards passing with four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating reads like a dream debut for a rookie quarterback—and in many ways, it was for Mariota, leading the Titans to a blowout win over the Bucs’ and the QB taken ahead of him, No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston.
The Titans’ quarterback didn’t fare as well in our grading system, earning a good-but-not-great +1.6 that ranked sixth among all NFL QBs for Week 1.
The point here—made far more eloquently by colleague Sam Monson—is not to dismiss Mariota’s game as something other than really impressive, but more to add a layer of caution before anointing him the next great NFL quarterback. The Bucs’ defense could end up making a lot of QBs look good this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mariota come back down to earth next week against the Browns (or the week after against the Colts).
There’s no direct predictive line between a player’s first game to how he’ll fare in his career—in Week 1 of 2012, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III earned grades of -2.8, -2.5 and +4.0, respectively—but it’s certainly the preference of Titans fans to see Mariota get off to such a strong start.
2. Peyton Manning isn’t his usual self, but that doesn’t rule the Broncos out of the Super Bowl hunt.
As far as the reasons behind Manning’s dip in performance, check out Sam Monson’s article on how it isn’t about a lack of arm strength and more about him taking more sacks than usual. Monson’s verdict is that this latter issue is likely one the Broncos can work out over the course of the season; in the meantime, it looks like they have an outstanding defense (most notably, an outstanding pass rush) to help the offense out whenever they’re struggling.
OLB DeMarcus Ware put up a ridiculous +9.4 grade against Baltimore, boosted by a +8.5 pass-rush grade, and OLB Von Miller was a force coming off the other edge, as well, with +6.5 overall and +5.1 pass-rush grades. With Shaquil Barrett (+3.6) and rookie Shane Ray (-0.1, but he was very impressive in the preseason) also in the mix, the Broncos can go four-deep at edge rusher and cause all kinds of problems for opposing defenses. Coupled with a strong secondary (all four starters earned positive grades against the Ravens, led by CB Aqib Talib with a +2.5), Denver’s defense looks like it should be one of the better units in the NFL this season. That should provide cover for any struggles from Manning (-3.1 grade versus Baltimore) and the offense this season.
3. The Seahawks’ offensive line is officially a problem.
Monson wrote Monday that Seattle’s weakness at the position could cost the team a Super Bowl shot, and our Neil Hornsby is working on a column for this week that examines the problem even further. But here’s the snapshot:
- LT Russell Okung: -4.1
- LG Justin Britt: -3.8
- C Drew Nowak: -0.8
- RG J.R. Sweezy: -4.8
- RT Garry Gilliam: -10.1
That’s negative grades for all five starters, and red grades for four of the five (meaning below -1.0). QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch have helped cover for offensive line issues the last few seasons, but this could be the year the unit is too much of a weakness to overcome.
4. Rams DT Aaron Donald is beginning to put up J.J. Watt-like grades.
Donald was one of several St. Louis D-linemen who exposed that Seattle offensive line, but he was the standout with a Watt-like +10.0 grade. He is gaining a reputation for his exceptional interior pass-rushing ability (+5.5 versus Seattle), but as Monson pointed out in our podcast this week, he has also been an excellent performer against the run since entering the league in 2014. Donald was our No. 1-ranked D-tackle in 2014, with a near-even distribution in his run-defense (+15.7) and pass-rushing (+16.8) grades.
Donald isn’t far off from establishing himself as the best player from a 2014 draft class that also features Raiders OLB Khalil Mack and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.
5. QB Tyrod Taylor might be just what the Bills need.
The new Buffalo starting QB’s debut went well Sunday, as Taylor led the Bills to a surprising and convincing win over Andrew Luck and the Colts. Taylor’s grade was a modest +0.4 (the same as Luck’s, in fact), and while he didn’t take many shots down the field (he attempted just five throws beyond 10 yards), his accuracy percentage of 83.3 stood out, as did his 1-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio.
For a team with upgraded skill-position talent and offensive line play (newcomer guard Richie Incognito was the team’s highest-graded player at +4.5), and a defense that ranked eighth in the NFL in our ratings last season, that type of solid but mistake-free QB play may be enough to keep them in the AFC playoff race.
6. The Colts don’t need to panic, but the defense does need another player or two to step up.
As mentioned above, Luck’s performance wasn’t great in the loss to the Bills, but it doesn’t appear to be anything to worry about. He recorded a +0.4 or worse in 10 of his 20 games last season, so the fact that his performance level can be up and down week to week is no surprise. If top WR T.Y. Hilton misses time, that could be a problem, particularly if newcomer Andre Johnson (-2.1 receiving grade) doesn’t perform better in subsequent weeks; but, overall there isn’t there shouldn’t be too much panic surrounding the Colts’ offense.
Indy’s defense is another story, however, with only three starters earning positive grades: DL Henry Anderson, CB Vontae Davis and S Dwight Lowery. Davis has consistently graded well for PFF, and the rookie Anderson impressed us last season at Stanford; however, this is a defense in need of more standout performers. Offseason pickup Trent Cole provided nothing as an edge rusher.
7. Rob Gronkowski is the most dominant NFL player not named J.J. Watt.
It was a good Week 1 for Gronk, scoring three touchdowns in the Patriots’ win over the Steelers. He earned a +3.9 overall grade, tops among tight ends for the week.
As Gordon McGuinness wrote on Friday, Gronkowski’s lead over the next-best tight end (Chiefs’ Travis Kelce is an early leader to take over the No. 2 spot this season) is greater than at any other position outside of Watt’s lead over 3-4 defensive ends. He reminded everyone of that with his play against the Steelers.
8. Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford era got off to a slow start against the Falcons.
As Nathan Jahnke wrote Tuesday, the first game of Bradford’s Eagles career looked a lot like his games during his Rams tenure: he was very accurate when he wasn’t pressured, struggled when he was under pressure, and he didn’t attempt much in the way of downfield throws. He finished with a disappointing -1.4 grade that ranked No. 24 in the league for Week 1.
There were two bits of good news, however: the Philly O-line did a good job of protecting him, and he wasn’t sacked all night. His yards per attempt average increased every quarter. It may take a few games for us to really see what this new-look Eagles offense can do.
9. Carlos Hyde was our No. 1-graded running back for Week 1.
The new starting running back in San Francisco looked really good in the 49ers’ Monday night win over the Vikings, recording a +4.4 grade that ranked first in the NFL among running backs for the week. A year removed from then-starter Frank Gore earning a negative season grade and ranking No. 26 in the league, this is a very promising sign for the San Francisco, who surprised many by coming up with a decisive Week 1 win.
10. A huge year could be in store for WR Julio Jones.
The star Falcons receiver was our No. 1-graded player at the position by a big margin, earning a +5.7 grade that dwarfed that of second-place Antonio Brown (+3.9). As Monson noted on the podcast Tuesday, Jones could have a huge season as the featured receiver in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense.