Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL action

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

The first Sunday of NFL regular season action is in the books. And a whole heck of a lot happened. It started with a surprisingly good game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and long downtrodden Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. While Cleveland would drop a close affair, it proved that the team is much more competitive than last season.

Speaking of proving something, the Jaguars went into Houston and absolutely laid it to the defending AFC South champion Texans in every way. Jacksonville’s defense recorded 10 sacks and its offense showed a new wrinkle with rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

Over in the NFC, most of the talk was about the Sunday Night Football Game between the Cowboys and Giants in Dallas. While that game might not have lived up to its billing, Chicago gave the defending conference champion Falcons a run for their money. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s defensive line absolutely dominated a weak Seattle offensive line in an impressive home win. These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL action.

Giants struggle mightily without Odell Beckham Jr. 

Eli Manning

We knew that missing Beckham would hurt the Giants’ offense on Sunday night. We just didn’t know exactly how bad it would be. Taking on what has been a weak Cowboys defense, Eli Manning and Co. put a grand total of two first downs and 50 yards of offense in the first half. In fact, New York didn’t even cross its own 35-yard line until midway through the third quarter. Even then, that near 10-minute drive resulted in just a field goal, the Giants only score of the game.

We can focus on Brandon Marshall not getting separation downfield. We can also focus on Manning’s struggles with accuracy. But more than anything, it was a lack of a running game and struggles along the offensive line that doomed the Giants in a 19-3 loss to Dallas. New York’s trio of running backs combined for 30 yards on 10 rushes. Meanwhile, right tackle Bobby Hart had a heck of a time fending off Demarcus Lawrence from a pass-rush standpoint.

Last season saw the Giants’ offense regress a great deal in Ben McAdoo’s first year as head coach. It also saw the team field one of the top defenses in the NFL. If this is going to be the case once again in 2017, the Giants’ hope at contention can be thrown out the window.

Lions overcome mistake-riddled start

The Detroit Lions wanted to get off to a strong start this season after earning a surprising playoff spot last year. Unfortunately for the team and NFL’s newest highest-paid player, it most definitely didn’t start out that way.

It started with Matthew Stafford throwing this horrible pick-six right into the hands of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel. Sure there was pressure in Stafford’s face here, but he can’t make that throw into a crowd. It looked like a rookie mistake from the MVP candidate.

Then, later in the first quarter, Lions punter Kasey Redfern bobbled a snap in the end zone, ultimately attempting to run the ball for a first down. It failed, settting the Cardinals up in the red zone. If that wasn’t enough, a Cardinals field goal was later nullified in that series after Lions defensive end Anthony Zettel was called for leaping. While Arizona would still have to settle for a field goal, these mistakes are just not acceptable for a playoff contender.

Despite this, the Lions roared back big time, outscoring Arizona 26-13 in the second half. That run included two touchdown catches by rookie receiver Kenny Golladay and a Miles Killebrew pick-six of Carson Palmer. Ultimately, Stafford led the Lions to yet another fourth quarter comeback after accomplishing that feat eight times last season. Whether this is sustainable remains to be seen.

Colts are hilariously bad

How do you go into a half-filled Los Angeles Coliseum and let the below-average Rams win by the score of 46-9? Well, the Indianapolis Colts answered that and more on Sunday. Playing without an injured Andrew Luck, stopgap quarterback Scott Tolzien wasn’t the best Scott Tolzien he could be in this one. Here’s a guy that threw two pick-sixes to a Rams defense that was playing without All Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who just reported to camp on Saturday.

This pick six was absolutely dreadful. But it has nothing on Tolzien’s second interception return for a touchdown in a 37-point loss to a Rams team that won four games last season. We get that Indy was going to struggle at quarterback without Luck. That’s why the team traded for Jacoby Brissett following the preseason. He ultimately took over for the ineffective Tolzien.

Even then, the rest of this team was abysmal in the Colts’ worst regular season loss since October of 2011 when Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky split time under center. The defense allowed Jared Goff (yes, that Jared Goff), to complete 21-of-29 passes for 306 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. The tackling was horrible. An injury ravaged secondary couldn’t hold up against what was the worst passing offense in the NFL last season. Meanwhile, Indy’s offensive line yielded four sacks in the loss. Maybe, the Colts should just decide to sit Luck for the season. He doesn’t deserve this. That’s the sad reality for one of the least-talented teams in the NFL.

Seahawks offensive line remains a mess

Russell Wilson sacked

At least in the first half, Seattle’s defense did its part against a high-flying Green Bay Packers offense. In fact, the Legion of Boom shut out Aaron Rodgers and Co. in the first half. Unfortunately, the team’s offense did absolutely nothing of substance.

Led by Russell Wilson, who completed just 14 passes for 135 nets yards, Seattle put up a grand total of three field goals in the 17-9 loss. For his part, Wilson was sacked a total of three times and hit eight times. The Seahawks’ offensive line simply couldn’t handle the likes of Nick Perry and Mike Daniels. Wilson also found himself pressured on more than half of his 30 drop backs. That’s not going to get it done.

We knew Seattle’s offensive line was going to be a weak link this season. We didn’t know that it would be absolutely dominated by what had been a weak Packers pass rush. Week 1 showed this unit to be an absolute mess. And it’s not going to get better against NFC West competition that boasts elite-level defensive lines. That could very well be Seattle’s downfall in 2017.

Le’Veon Bell predictably struggles after holdout

While Bell had indicated heading into Week 1 that he was expecting as much as 30 touches against the Cleveland Browns, most figured he would be slowed down a bit due to a holdout that lasted through the preseason. Despite taking on a Browns defense that ranked 31st in the NFL against the run last season an was without No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, that’s exactly what happened.

Bell, who put up north of 200 total yards in his only action against Cleveland last season, recorded just 32 yards on 10 rush attempts. He also added a pedestrian 15 yards on three receptions. And in reality, it had a dramatic impact on the Steelers’ performance in what was a narrow 21-18 victory over the Browns.

Remember, Bell put up 1,884 total yards in just 12 games for an average of 157 total yards per outing last season. Hopefully for the Steelers’ sake, Bell gets his sea legs here soon. Pittsburgh is set to take on two stout defenses in the Minnesota Vikings an Baltimore Ravens over the next three weeks.

Kirk Cousins starts contract year with mistake-filled performance

Cousins and his Washington Redskins had an opportunity to win against the division-rival Eagles despite what was a mistake-filled performance. But Cousins simply couldn’t get out of his own way. From this interception in the end zone to a lost fumble late in the fourth quarter of a five-point game, Cousins was a turnover machine.

It culminated in a lost fumble for an Eagles touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. All said, Cousins completed 19-of-35 passes for 209 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also lost two fumbles and saw four drives that ended in Philadelphia territory result in a combined three points.

This was most definitely not the performance Cousins was looking for coming off an offseason in which he found himself in a contract stalamate with the Redskins.

Time to overreact in Cincinnati 

Andy Dalton was brutal in Bengals shutout loss to Ravens.

It’s not a secret that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is on the hot seat. The team has an out on his contract following the 2017 season and refused to trade backup A.J. McCarron after being offered a tremendous deal during the offseason. Still yet to prove himself to be a franchise-caliber signal caller, Dalton struggled big time against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

He threw two first-half interceptions, including this ugly pick in the end zone in Cincinnati’s ugly 20-0 loss to the Ravens. Ultimately, Dalton would finish the day having completed 16-of-31 passes for 170 yards with four interceptions in the Bengals’ first shutout loss since October of 2014.

One really has to wonder whether the Bengals simply decide to ride McCarron for the remainder of the season. Sure Dalton will be given another opportunity next week and likely into the future. But this performance was so atrocious that we have to start asking whether he’s an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. That’s how bad it was.

Cardinals’ offensive struggles intensify

Detroit finished last season in the bottom half of the NFL in total defense and yielded an absurd 106.5 rating to opposing quarterbacks. It seemed to make sense heading into Week 1 that the Cardinals’ struggles of last season could come to a conclusion on Sunday.

That did not happen. Carson Palmer was erratic as all get out at quarterback, continually air-mailing passes to receivers and throwing three interceptions on the day. Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald caught just 6-of-13 targets for an average of 5.7 yards per target. If that weren’t bad enough, Arizona also lost star running back David Johnson to a sprained wrist and starting right tackle D.J. Humphries to a knee injury. Both are expected to miss multiple weeks of action.

The loss of Johnson could be a season killer for the Cardinals, who relied on him to the tune of 23-plus touches per game last season. Not only is Johnson one of the best running backs in the game, he’s a major force in the passing game. Without anyone of substance to step up behind Fitzgerald at receiver and a struggling Palmer under center, the Cardinals’ offense promises to be in trouble. That was magnified in the team’s 35-23 loss to Detroit on Sunday.

Tom Savage not making any friends in Houston 

Sunday opened up in Houston with fans of the Texans throwing their support behind community hero J.J. Watt. For all intents and purposes, the vibes were good for a city that has dealt with devastation on a widespread scale following Hurricane Harvey.

But it didn’t take long for fans to turn on their home-town team, specifically quarterback Tom Savage. Midway through the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston offense had put up 36 total yards. It was ugly. Really ugly. It led to his benching in favor of rookie first-round pick Deshaun Watson after halftime.

For his part, Savage has now failed to throw a touchdown in 105 career passes. He joins some less-than-elite company in that category. While Houston did end up falling 29-7 to the upstart Jaguars (more on them later), Watson at least provided some life on offense, leading a touchdown-scoring initial drive to start the third quarter. It will be interesting to see what comes of this moving forward.

DeShone Kizer’s uneven NFL debut 

Browns QB DeShone Kizer looked the part in his NFL debut.

It started out fine enough for Kizer in his first regular season start as a member of the Cleveland Browns. In his third series of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Notre Dame product led an eye-opening 12-play, 68-yard touchdown scoring drive that culminated in his first score, a one-yard run. That tied the game up at seven after Pittsburgh took an initial lead on a blocked punt (watch here).

Though, showing himself to be as raw as his college tape looked, Kizer would put up an uneven performance the rest of the way. Ultimately, he completed 20-of-30 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a narrow 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh. Outside of simple stats, the rookie looked more than poised in the pocket and controlled the offense in a veteran manner on Sunday.

Cleveland’s success this season won’t be defined by wins and losses. Instead, it will be all about the team being more competitive and seeing Kizer progress under center. If Sunday’s outing is any indication, the young quarterback is more than up for the task.

Deshaun Watson replaces Tom Savage, provides spark for Texans

After a first half in which the Texans put up 52 total yards and turned the ball over two times, the team decided to bench a struggling Tom Savage for rookie first-round pick Deshaun Watson. And so ends what was seemingly a stable quarterback situation in Houston.

If nothing else, this serves as a reminder that the Texans actually did have a quick hook on Savage after seemingly throwing support behind him as the unquestioned starter during the preseason.

In any event, Watson responded by leading the Texans on a touchdown-scoring drive to open up the second half. It’s a drive that culminated in this touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins and saw Watson complete 5-of-8 passes for 37 yards while adding nine yards on the ground. While Houston has to be sorely disappointed by the way it came out in front of its hometown fans, at least Watson provides some excitement under center. Whether that leads to him starting in Week 2 remains to be seen.

Maybe Jared Goff is good

Jared Goff looked great in his 2017 debut.

Okay, that is what we’d call an overreaction from Week 1. After all, Indianapolis boasts one of the worst defenses in the NFL and was without star corner Vontae Davis. Even then, Goff’s performance on Sunday should lead to optimism in Los Angeles. Not only did he put up his first 300-yard game while avoiding an interception, the former No. 1 overall pick looked so much more comfortable in Sean McVay’s offense.

Goff found rookie Cooper Kupp four times for 76 yards, including a touchdown. He also completed all five passes to new wide receiver Sammy Watkins, showing that the two have already built a solid relationship together. Sure there were misfires on Goff’s part here. He needs to be more accurate on intermediate routes, too. But all things equal, the second-year quarterback looked vastly improved on Sunday. It’s now all about whether he can be consistently good for what might be a surprising Rams team in 2017.

Devastating injury for the Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t simply trade Jordan Matthews earlier this summer because he fell out of favor. The team needed to add a reinforcement to a secondary that struggled big time during training camp. That came in the form of former Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby.

In what could potentially be a devastating injury for the Eagles’ playoff hopes, Darby suffered a dislocated ankle on a non-contact play in the first half against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. It didn’t come back to haunt the team in a less-than-perfect 30-17 win over the mistake-prone Redskins, but it’s most definitely something to pay attention to. Can Jalen Mills, who had an end zone interception in this one, step up? Who else do the Eagles have to perform at a starter-caliber level at corner moving forward? It might end up defining the team’s season, especially against what promises to be elite-level passing offenses in the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

Horrible debut for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco 

Kyle Shanahan's 49ers coaching debut was brutal.

It started out pretty well for San Francisco’s defense, holding the Panthers to one big play and seven points in the first 26-plus minutes of the game. Heck, this young stud of a safety recorded a highlight-reel interception of Cam Newton.

But the 49ers’ defense simply couldn’t hold off Cam and Co. with their offense struggling to do anything of substance. Whether it was the four sacks the team’s offensive line yielded or Brian Hoyer’s first interception in 220-plus pass attempts, it was clear that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a major work in progress. To make matters more interesting, San Francisco turned the ball over on downs three times in Carolina’s territory. Two of them led directly to field goals for the Panthers in what was ultimately a 20-point win for the road team.

We understand full well that this was Shanahan’s first game as an NFL head coach. It showed. But he needs to do a better job of putting his team in position to be more competitive. That was magnified in the the third quarter with the 49ers going for it on fourth-and-2. Shanahan failed to get the play call in to Hoyer in time, leading directly to a five-yard delay of game penalty and an overreaction from the head coach himself on the sideline. Ultimately, San Francisco settled for a field goal when it could have pulled to within two scores. These are the small things that a talent-stricken team needs to avoid in order to be competitive. It did not happen Sunday.

Ravens defense absolutely dominates

We know that Baltimore isn’t going to run out a top-end offense this season. The season-ending injury to Kenneth Dixon, coupled with the retirements of Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith, made this a reality. With that in mind, the team’s defense needs to dominate this season in order for Baltimore to make the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.

That’s exactly what happened against a suddenly hapless Bengals offense on Sunday. Baltimore’s defense pitched its first shutout since November of 2008, forcing five takeaways and sacking the struggling Andy Dalton five times. All-world pass rusher Terrell Suggs led the way with two sacks. Meanwhile, three members of the Ravens’ secondary recorded interceptions.

This might not be as dominant as the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed defenses of yesteryear, but it has a chance to be among the game’s best in 2017. If so, the Ravens could very well challenge Pittsburgh for the AFC North title this season.

Bears hang tough with defending NFC champs

In what was one of the biggest surprises from the first Sunday of regular season action, the Chicago Bears actually had a chance to defeat the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons at home. Down by six with less than a minute remaining, quarterback Mike Glennon and Co. four plays from Atlanta’s five-yard line, but could not convert for what would have been a game-winning touchdown.

Despite the loss, Chicago showed itself to be much more competitive than most of us thought it would be. Glennon completed a solid 26-of-40 passes without a single interception. Meanwhile, the combination of Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard at running back combined for 179 total yards. It was a much better offensive performance than what we saw from this team during the preseason. And if it weren’t for this one breakdown in coverage on defense, the Bears might have actually pulled off the shocker on Sunday.

As it relates to the Falcons, a win is a win. But this was about as ugly as it get. Matt Ryan shined under center, putting up over 300 yards and completing north of 67 percent of his passes. But the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman put up just 53 yards on 20 rushes. It might have been enough against Chicago, but this team definitely needs to play better if it hopes to repeat as conference champs.

Leonard Fournette dominates for new-look Jaguars

We can definitely talk about the Jaguars’ defense — by dominating performances from Myles Jack, Calais Campbell and Dante Fowler Jr. — that recorded a ridiculous 10 sacks of Texans quarterbacks Sunday. And in reality, that could be the biggest takeaway from the 29-7 win over Houston. Though, we already knew that the Jaguars have a talented young defense. Instead, it’s the way the offense performed in what looked to be a new scheme on Sunday that should be the biggest takeaway here.

The turnover-prone Blake Bortles attempted a total of 21 passes and didn’t throw a single interception. Meanwhile, rookie No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette touched the ball 29 times en route to putting up 124 total yards and his first NFL touchdown.

If the Jaguars can find a way to put up a balanced attack on offense moving forward this season, the team could very well contend for the division title in the AFC South. A 39-to-21 run/pass ratio against the best defense in the NFL is definitely a good initial sign. It’s now all about getting consistency in this aspect moving forward.

Derek Carr proves why he got paid

Derek Carr

Going into the eastern time zone for your first regular season game of the 2017 campaign isn’t an easy task. But it’s something the Raiders handled darn well last season, posting a 5-0 mark in said games. And the primary reason for that was young Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr, who got paid big time during the spring.

Showing the Raiders that they didn’t make a mistake in handing Carr a truck load of cash, the fourth-year signal caller went into Nashville and completely outplayed Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. He completed 22-of-32 passes for 262 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Carr also led the Raiders to points on six of their nine possessions before they took a knee to conclude what was an impressive all-around 26-16 victory over the upstart Titans.

That’s what good teams and good quarterbacks do. Go into hostile environments in less-than-stellar situations and come out on top. Clearly, Oakland has ascended the ranks its AFC competition and is now considered Super Bowl contenders. And in reality, Carr deserves a lot of the credit here.

Cam Newton isn’t quite back 

His Panthers might have defeated the hapless 49ers by 20 points on Sunday, but Newton surely showed some rust in his first live-game action since last December. Two plays in particular come to mind here. In the first half with Carolina up seven, Newton failed to see a wide open Greg Olsen down the left sidelined. And while he did dump it off to rookie Christian McCaffrey for a first down, Carolina had to settle for a field.

Then, on the very next possession, Newton missed a wide open Ed Dickson in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown. Dickson was open by over 10 yards, about the same distance as Newton missed him by.

When all was said and done, Newton would complete 14-of-25 passes for 171 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Not too bad. But he can’t leave points on the board moving forward like we saw numerous times on Sunday. It might work against San Francisco, but it definitely won’t work against some of the league’s better teams.

Cowboys once again prove to be class of NFC East 

The monkey is squarely off Dak Presott’s back after two of his three losses as a rookie came against the Giants. Leading his team into Week 1, that was the primary goal for the young quarterback. Get a win against the pesky division rivals.

Though, Sunday’s 19-3 win over New York wasn’t as much about Prescott as it was about the ground game on offense and an absolutely brilliant defensive performance. Ezekiel Elliott gained 104 yards on the ground, eating up clock in the fourth quarter.

On defense, the Cowboys held New York to three points, 224 yards and 12 first downs in an shockingly dominating performance. Sure the Giants being without Odell Beckham Jr. hurt here, but no one saw this performance coming. No one.

Based on what we saw in the Eagles-Redskins mistake-filled game, it’s readily apparent that that the Cowboys are once again the class of the NFC East. They proved that and a whole lot more on Sunday night.