Welcome to Teddy Covers’ unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday; typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps simply don’t have. Today: NFC tidbits from Week1.
This offense came out of the gate looking completely in sync despite a myriad of issues on the offensive line. Rookie left tackle Gabe Carimi (first round out of Wisconsin) had some real growing pains. Right guard Lance Louis left with an ankle injury and didn’t return. Jay Cutler got sacked five times and threw a bad interception. Still, the offense was terrific! Cutler is now fully versed in his second year running the Mike Martz offense. There's a level of confidence and continuity here that we haven't seen in Chicago in quite some time, and there were absolutely no repercussions from last year’s playoff debacle against Green Bay. Seven different receivers caught at least two passes and we saw a handful of impressive catch-and-run big plays. There are continuing concerns in the red zone though, with only one touchdown in three opportunities. Red zone effectiveness was a consistent problem for this team last year and throughout the preseason, and it’s been a problem for Martz’s offenses everywhere he’s been since he left St Louis.
For all the big name free agents signed in the offseason, this linebacking corps is young, inexperienced and made a ton of mistakes. The offensive line couldn’t protect Michael Vick; beaten repeatedly by the St. Louis pass rush. Rookie center Jason Kelce got eaten alive in his debut. Philly ran some wildcat with Ronnie Brown, and that got blown up too. The Eagles didn’t even dress their top three draft choices, an indication that they probably did not draft well this year. None of those factors mattered because Philly has something that other teams covet – legitimate playmakers and lots of them! Vick was insane today, making plays that nobody else in the NFL can make. It's the same story with DeSean Jackson. LeSean McCoy was a beast. This is going to be a very difficult offense to shut down for four quarters.
The box score is going to show that Atlanta had a pretty good game, but turnovers were the difference. That’s simply not the case – the Falcons looked downright lousy on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Their offensive line got blown up, with two new first-time starters getting their first opportunity: Joe Hawley (4th rounder, UNLV) at center, and Justin Blalock (career backup since 2007) at right guard. We saw repeated breakdowns on defense – poor tackling, bad angles, cornerbacks and safeties blowing coverages. The defense might be a tad bit faster than last year, but it didn’t look any better than the stop unit that got absolutely torched in their last meaningful game – the 48-21 home blowout playoff loss to Green Bay. Matt Ryan had only one pass attempt longer than 20 yards until they were down 30-6 – so much for rookie Julio Jones stretching defenses in his first game. Mike Smith did not have his team ready, plain and simple, despite the relatively even stats.
Detroit’s special teams have not been good for the better part of the last decade. They weren't any better today, giving up a 78-yard return on their first kickoff of the season. Matthew Stafford, for all the hype, is still very green as an NFL starting QB – this was only his 14th career start. Until Detroit gets an offensive line, there will be growing pains. It’s a good thing Calvin Johnson can make plays that virtually no other receiver in the NFL can. This defensive line is going to save that suspect secondary – wow! What a dominant showing, blowing up play after play at the line of scrimmage. Is Ndomukong Suh the best nose tackle in the NFL already, one game into his second season in the league? I'm impressed with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's play calling; he really kept the Bucs defense off balance. Plus, the gutsy fourth down call in the first half was the huge momentum changer in this one. I respect coaches that take those kinds of risks in sensible situations.
Very disheartening performance from St Louis today! Their top three offensive weapons –Sam Bradford, Stephen Jackson and Danny Amendola – all left early with injuries. Steve Spagnuolo brought pressure all afternoon long, but the Rams cornerbacks got beaten downfield again and again. James Laurinaitis was all over the field, playing like a star, but his linebacking cohorts were not good. I was not impressed with this supposedly "improved" receiving corps. We saw dropped balls, mental errors (gotta get past the sticks on those third down throws), and an inability to get open. There was a noticeable class difference between St. Louis and Philly in this ballgame.
The Redskins came out taking shots down the field – Rex Grossman has a downfield arm; one of the myriad of reasons he won the starting job in training camp. But Grossman's accuracy has been a problem from Day 1 of his NFL career. For all the accolades he received today (9.0 yards per attempt!), he missed several wide open receivers and was lucky to be going against a bottom-tier defense because he threw a handful of balls that probably should have been intercepted. Wide receiver Anthony Armstrong has great speed, but he’s got the hands of a defensive lineman. Washington’s offensive line got eaten up – no room to run for Tim Hightower, while Grossman had pressure in his face repeatedly. The Skins still have no kicker – Graham Gano couldn’t hit a 39 yarder. But there were certainly bright spots, particularly on the defensive side of the football. Tackles Barry Cofield and Chris Neild blew up the line of scrimmage. Their last two No. 1 picks, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, both made huge plays – a blocked field goal and an interception returned for a touchdown – the type of plays that winning teams make. If nothing else, the losing culture and attitude in DC appear to be on the way out in Year 2 of the Mike Shanahan era.
This offensive line got eaten up on nearly every passing play! The combined 27 career starts from this OL is the fewest in the NFL. Two rookies started on the right side today: guard John Moffitt and tackle James Carpenter. That OL career starts number will go up when one of their big free agent signings, guard Robert Gallery gets healthy, but who knows when that will be, given Gallery’s history. With this line, you can understand why Tavaris Jackson, not Charlie Whitehurst, won the starting job – they need a QB with escapability. The Seahawks instructed Leon Washington to run all the kickoffs out of the end zone, desperate to find big plays from somewhere. Then they started the next two drives from their own 14 and own 16 before abandoning the strategy. That came two full quarters before their punt and kick return meltdown cost them any chance of winning, as well as their pointspread cover; a true special teams disaster.
The return game with Percy Harvin is still in play for the Vikes, even after the new kickoff rules – that's a positive sign. And their defensive line played well, even with three new starters to go along with Jared Allen. Defensive end Brian Robison made some big plays, replacing the departed Ray Edwards. His hit on Philip Rivers caused a key interception just before halftime. That being said, the DL imploded during crunch time with penalties and fatigue issues. Donovan McNabb’s first pass as a Viking was a tipped pass interception setting up a TD the other way. He didn’t get any better as the game progressed. Minnesota netted just 28 total yards on their 17 pass plays, and gained a grand total of 21 yards for the entire second half. That are truly woeful offensive numbers; very bad news for a team trying to erase the memories of their 2010 last place finish.