It was a good week for the “Let Russ Cook” crowd.
Fans of the Seattle Seahawks have spent much of the past few years pleading for Coach Pete Carroll to lean less heavily on a run-first offense and instead let Russell Wilson do more with his arm — and not just in the fourth quarter when Seattle is trailing.
In Sunday’s 38-25 win over the Atlanta Falcons, Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer finally let Wilson cook. Wilson dropped back to pass 38 times while the team had just 20 rushes, including three by Wilson. He completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns, running the offense at a quick tempo.
“Obviously, it starts with him,” tight end Greg Olsen said of Wilson. “He’s just so efficient and so good with his decision-making and accuracy and all those things. And then around him, we have a lot of different guys that can contribute. … It was cool to kind of see the ball spread around to so many different guys. That puts a lot of pressure on defenses.”
There’s no guarantee Carroll and Schottenheimer will stick with the same approach in the next few weeks. The Falcons had two young cornerbacks who simply were not ready for Wilson in Isaiah Oliver and A.J. Terrell. Seattle’s Week 2 opponent is the New England Patriots, who have the best trio of man-to-man cornerbacks in football. But for one week, at least, fans got a glimpse of what Wilson can do in an up-tempo, pass-first attack, and the results were impressive.
New Orleans reaffirmed its status as the NFC South favorite.
Throughout the offseason, many people picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to overtake New Orleans as NFC South champs. Tom Brady had joined a Buccaneers team with the best group of skill-position players he had played with in years, with a wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin; a running back trio of Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy; and his old pal Rob Gronkowski joining a tight end room that already had talented pass-catchers in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
But during Sunday’s opener, Brady had just seven completions to Evans and Godwin and threw a pair of rough interceptions, including a pick-six.
The Saints cruised to a 34-23 victory despite the fact that Brees wasn’t his usual sharp self. He completed 18 of 30 passes for just 160 yards and two touchdowns.
“We get to be our harshest critics coming off this game,” Brees said. “Certainly, we are used to playing at a much higher level offensively — I think especially in the passing game.”
Coach Sean Payton put some of the problems on himself, saying he had one of his worst games as a play caller. “That was awful,” he said. And yet the Saints still scored 34 points, revealing that there is still a gap between New Orleans and Tampa Bay in the division. The Saints still control the NFC South.
Green Bay looked like a legitimate contender.
Things are changing in Green Bay, with Coach Matt LaFleur moving away from the West Coast offense Aaron Rodgers has played in throughout his career and going to a wide-zone running scheme that profiles as more of a power attack. And, of course, the Packers used a first-round pick in April’s draft to select potential Rodgers successor Jordan Love out of Utah State.
The results were positive in Sunday’s 43-34 win over the Minnesota Vikings, however, and the key was Rodgers. He completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns, including 14 for 156 yards and two scores to Davante Adams.
“A lot of it was the comfort in the offense,” Rodgers said. “I feel like I can deal the ball as quickly as I want to, and today was a good start for that. I feel like I was on time with my throws. There wasn’t the need for a lot of extended plays, and the couple that we had turned into pretty good plays. I’m feeling good about the tempo that we had.”
The Vikings’ defense, which lost several starters this offseason, couldn’t handle what LaFleur and Rodgers served. Green Bay has an early leg up in the NFC North.
San Francisco is in the midst of a Super Bowl hangover.
It so often happens that the team that loses the Super Bowl starts slowly the following season, and that certainly appeared to be the case for San Francisco in Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The most glaring issue is at wide receiver. The 49ers have had to put four on injured reserve, including last year’s breakout rookie, Deebo Samuel, and Jalen Hurd. First-round draft pick Brandon Aiyuk was inactive Sunday because of a hamstring injury, meaning Coach Kyle Shanahan was left with Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. It didn’t work. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggled, completing 19 of 33 passes for 259 yards, and Pettis and Bourne were targeted a combined six times.
Things could get worse if star tight end George Kittle misses any time with the knee injury he suffered during the loss.
The other area to watch is whether San Francisco made a mistake by not upgrading its secondary during the offseason. DeAndre Hopkins, in his first game with the Cardinals, caught 14 passes for 151 yards.
With the Cardinals, Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams all winning, the 49ers find themselves in last place in the NFC West, which has the look of the NFL’s toughest division. The 49ers could use some aspirin.
This Jacksonville team could be fun to watch.
The Jaguars did a good job of making my preseason predictions look foolish with their 27-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, whom I picked to win the AFC South. I thought the Jaguars would earn the league’s worst record and the first pick in next year’s draft and that Coach Doug Marrone could lose his job.
Forget that. Marrone did an incredible job getting his team ready for the opener. The Jaguars have 16 rookies and a league-high 27 new players on their active roster. Most people around the league thought the teams with the most new players would struggle the most this season, especially early on, given there was no in-person offseason program and no preseason games.
Marrone had no problems Sunday, when Jacksonville clearly outplayed the Colts. Just as impressive was quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who completed 19 of 20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. He became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to finish a game with at least 14 pass attempts and a completion percentage of at least 95 percent. The Jaguars will have a chance to beat another divisional foe in Week 2 when they visit Tennessee.
Around the NFL
Scoring is down: Even though there were some high-scoring games, the first 14 games of Week 1 saw teams average 21.4 points, down from 24.3 in Week 1 last season. That was expected, given offenses had less time to work this offseason than in years past.
So are penalties: Several people around the league were wondering how the officials would handle things, given there were no preseason games, and early on, it appears that they are letting the players play. Officials averaged only 5.1 penalties per game through Sunday’s games.
It’s a tough year to be an undrafted free agent: Only 36 made Opening Day rosters across the 32 teams. The Jaguars led the NFL with six. Carolina, Dallas, Kansas City and the Rams had three each.
There were only 533 new players on rosters, which is a relatively low number — and that’s including the increase in roster sizes that allows teams to have as many as 55 players on their game-day rosters. Most general managers didn’t want a lot of turnover during this unusual year.