NFL Week One Recap: Ravens Dominate, Saints Persevere

Steve Mitchell – USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL season ended with the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII after sixty long minutes of boring football. It was only fitting that the 2019 season would pick up where Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams offense left off. In the season opener last Thursday, the Green Bay Packers bested the Chicago Bears in a 10-3 snoozer. Mitchell Trubisky was atrocious, putting up just 228 yards on 45 attempts and wasting a brilliant performance by the Bears’ defense.

Fortunately, the Saints and Texans made up for some of that bad football by providing us with a Monday Night Football classic that will go down as one of the best games of the season.

In the first half, the Saints offense failed to convert their many opportunities. Brees completed five consecutive passes to kick off the game, but the Saints ended up punting after crossing midfield. On the second drive, the Saints made it into the red zone, but Brees forced a very uncharacteristic pass that was picked off by Whitney Mercilus. Then, the Saints marched from their own 21 to the Texans’ 15-yard line. They advanced a single yard after three plays, forcing them to kick a field goal. Finally, the referees mysteriously robbed the Saints of fifteen seconds on their final drive of the first half.

In the second half, the Saints offense looked like the prolific unit that has dominated the NFL for the past thirteen years. Outside of his one interception, Drew Brees looked as sharp as ever. In a six-minute third-quarter touchdown drive, Brees completed 6 of 7 passes to four different receivers with none of those passes going for more than 11 yards. Brees has adapted his game in order to make up for his diminishing arm strength and it couldn’t have worked out better.

It also helps that the Saints arguably possess the best offensive line in the entire league. Brees was sacked just once all day and the Saints averaged over 7 yards per carry. A look at the box score would make you think that JJ Watt (three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year) was inactive, but offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk simply held him to an empty statline for the first time in Watt’s legendary career. Be careful what you ask for.

Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson was brilliant. He entered a hostile environment with a mediocre offensive line and managed to keep up with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. I picked him as a sleeper MVP candidate going into the season, and while I don’t think the Texans will actually be good enough for him to have a chance, he certainly demonstrated his potential last night. Hopefully the Texans can provide him with better pass protection so his career doesn’t end in the same way as Andrew Luck’s.

Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown Light up the Dolphins

After the game, several Dolphins players reportedly reached out to their agents in an effort to engineer a trade out of Miami. Can you blame them? It was an utterly humiliating display. I guess tanking isn’t enjoyable for the players who are putting their bodies on the line

Lamar Jackson completed 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns, good for a perfect passer rating. While the Dolphins defense probably would’ve made anybody look good out there, Jackson was still extremely impressive. He had an expected completion percentage of 60.2% based on the passes he attempted, yet his actual completion percentage was 85%. Here were some of my favorite plays of his.

On the first play, Jackson had all day to throw so he gave Marquise Brown time to get open and nonchalantly flicked a perfect fifty-yard bomb to him in stride. Next, Jackson remained calm in the pocket and delivered another immaculate pass despite knowing that he was about to get lit up by the linebacker blitzing down the middle. A few plays later, Jackson was forced 17 yards behind the line of scrimmage and threw a beautiful touchdown pass off his back foot. It may have been a bad decision if Boykin wasn’t wide open, but he was. Jackson dropped a few other dimes in the video, but my favorite one was probably the last clip shown, which was actually an incompletion. Jackson was forced out of the pocket and he proceeded to throw on the run and deliver a nearly perfect pass to a smothered Marquise Brown on the sideline. Brown was one step away from reeling in a highlight reel dime.

Speaking of Marquise Brown, the rookie first-round draft pick reeled in four of five targets (and you just saw how close the fifth one was to being a catch) for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s one of the most impressive receiver debuts we’ve ever seen.

Sidenote: Anquan Boldin’s debut performance might never be topped. It ended up being the best game of his career statistically and he was a three-time Pro Bowler.

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs Offense Coast Past the Jaguars

The Chiefs made that look really easy.

Mahomes threw 3% of his pass attempts (aka one of thirty-three) into tight coverage against the Jaguars, the lowest of any quarterback last week. The league average last season was 15.8%. His expected completion percentage was 73.1%, the second-highest of any quarterback last week. In the past season, only once has a QB attempted “easier” passes according to both metrics: Tom Brady in Week 5 against the Colts threw just one of forty-four pass attempts into tight coverage and he had an expected completion percentage of 78.2% (which he actually failed to match). Last year, the Chiefs as a team also had the second-most yards after the catch in the NFL (they’re currently leading the league, but that doesn’t mean much after one game). So, what does this tell us?

For one, Andy Reid’s offensive scheme is pretty effective. High YAC totals have been a staple of the Chiefs’ offense even when Alex Smith was at the helm. Also, Mahomes is a young quarterback who is playing with the decision-making of a veteran. Not throwing passes into tight coverage isn’t a bad thing. Mahomes’ intelligence is allowing longer plays to develop. Take a look at one of his plays against the Jaguars on Sunday.

After the play-action fake, Mahomes first looks to the middle of the field. Then, he turns right and lobs a pass to a ridiculously wide-open Sammy Watkins for the touchdown. What did he see in the middle?

A wide-open first down to All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill. Even the receiver below Hill is open on the out route for a first down. Most quarterbacks would see this and promptly deliver the pass to either player. However, Mahomes sees that the defensive back in the yellow square is turning to focus on Hill. While Mahomes could still easily complete the pass, this defensive back is leaving his side of the field wide open for Sammy Watkins (circled in red). Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack jams Watkins as he runs his underlying route. He has no intention of chasing Watkins down the field, though — he knows that his teammate (yellow) will pick him up.

Except he didn’t, and Mahomes knew this. So, instead of throwing the immediate pass for the first down, he waited one second for the wide-open touchdown to open up.

At first glance, this might just look like bad defense. Well, it is, but Mahomes took full advantage of it by going for the jugular. By looking down the middle at a wide-open Tyreek Hill, he could mislead the defensive back who would have otherwise picked Watkins up around the 35-yard line.

Mahomes is playing at an incredible level with an insanely stacked offensive supporting cast and an offensive genius at head coach. The Chiefs are a very scary team and Mahomes should win MVP honors once again, barring injury.

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