This season I will be running out a MMQB style column where I look at eight things that happened in Sunday’s games. I will break it down into four surprises, and four things that were absolutely expected. Let’s get right to it.
Surprise thing one: The Tim Tebow Effect
For years people postulated that Tim Tebow should just be used as a team’s “goal line” quarterback. The idea was that Tim wasn’t really good between the 20s, but on the goal line, his rushing ability mixed with some semblance of short passing ability would make him a dangerous threat to punch it in. This never really caught on though, and he was pushed out of the league. Fast forward to yesterday, and suddenly, the short yardage backup QB has arrived. Justin Fields (a TD), Trey Lance (a TD), Jacoby Brissett (game sealing carry) and Taysom Hill were all used in this way in lieu of their team’s starter, and largely to great success. It’s a decade too late for Tim, but it’s a savvy use of a roster spot, that often goes largely unused. It’s not surprising at all that the four players I listed are on teams with resourceful head coaches.
Surprise thing two: The Texans
Guess who is in first place in the AFC South? The Texans completely shocked me by destroying the Jaguars in what was the most lopsided game of week 1. While I would not have been shocked by the Texans winning, since the Jaguars are bad, I was shocked by how easily they disposed of them. People like me disrespecting the Texans probably lit a fire under them, but even so, it was a surprise. The truth is, the Texans are not a bunch of rookies. They don’t even have a rookie starting. They spent most of their money on experienced players this offseason, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but it has allowed them to field a competent team of professionals if they don’t trade them all away (which they might). This still might be the only game they win this year, but my comment about 20 point spreads looks bad in hindsight.
Surprise thing three: The 49ers leaky defense
The 49ers offense came to play on Sunday, quickly piling up 40 points and putting the game out of reach from a Lions team that isn’t ready for the regular season. Then the second half happened. The Lions came storming back. The 49ers CB Jason Verrett suffered a catastrophic knee injury and the defense fell apart. The Lions came within 20 yards of potentially tying the game up and causing Kyle Shanahan to have those Super Bowl nightmares again where he is naked and Tom Brady keeps slapping his penis while saying “Bangkok” as Gronk giggles. The reality of this game is that the 49ers secondary is in big trouble. The loss of Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett have instantly left them with very little on the boundary, and with the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks WRs coming up twice each, this could be a very long season for the 49er secondary.
Surprise thing four: Jameis Winston eats a W
Jameis Winston has had a very up and down career, both in college and in the NFL, as well as on the field and off. Still, his upside as a passer in Sean Payton’s system is off the charts. Jameis struggled in Bruce Arians aggressive, open offense, because as a passer, his weakness is already taking too many chances. In Sean Payton’s much more calculated and precise system, the play-calling forces him to be better with the football, and it’s helping pull him back to the right mix of aggression and precision. While there is still a long ways to go, he looks like the perfect fit in New Orleans and… *quietly closes the door, turns down the lights, and whispers into the computer*… he is an upgrade over the last couple years of Drew Brees.
Thing I expected one: The Steelers defense is great
The Bills offense got strangled yesterday by a dynamic and overwhelming Steelers group that excels on all three levels, in pass rush, stopping the run and in the secondary. Most teams are going to have a very hard time putting up points on that unit, and the Bills did too. As the Steelers cratered in the second half last season, a lot of the focus was on the offense, but injuries to the defense may have had the biggest effect. Several key injuries stripped them of their identity, and losses were the result. Everyone is healthy now, TJ Watt got paid and they are gonna grind bad offenses (and some good) into the dust. They are every bit as good as Ben Roethlisberger is bad.
Thing I expected two: The Titans defense is awful
OK, that video isn’t necessarily a fair one. Kyler Murray is a nightmare running around. Still, the Cardinals offense looked superhuman after being very much not that last season. While I think they will be better this year, I don’t think they are “total domination” better. The Titans still have no elite pass rusher, no number one cornerback and mediocre at best linebackers. Why everyone was sharpieing them in as AFC South champions is beyond me. This is, at best, a pencil it in situation, and only by default. Their offense looks awesome on paper, but you have to be able to get stops for that unit to get on the field. Ryan Tannehill NEEDS play action passing in order to be effective. His pocket awareness and decision making still are not great, and when they move to having to throw on every down, they are in big trouble. Picking up Julio Jones this offseason was nice, but he solved a problem they didn’t have and left a huge problem they can’t fix.
Thing I expected three: The Dolphins won in New England
Winning in New England is really hard. Until last season, the 2010s had seen them go 81-13 at home. The offseason was spent (very literally spent) rebuilding the team again after a dismal campaign filled with opt outs, injuries and disappointing performances. The Patriots were supposed to be back, and quickly appeared in many analysts top picks to make the playoffs, or even top NFL teams. Except the Dolphins beat them in Foxboro. This is the third year now where NFL analysts have underestimated this Dolphins team that absolutely dominates the margins. Their special teams unit is exceptional, they constantly create turnovers (a game saving fumble was caused by turnover extraordinaire Xavien Howard) and the offense consistently does enough without making turnovers to win. The Dolphins regularly play above their “talent level” and this season, their talent is higher than it’s been in decades. Watch out for this team.
Josiah Johnson @KingJosiah54Urban Meyer going back to college https://t.co/8ndocFYQEG
Thing I expected four: Urban Meyer is not even remotely ready for the NFL
The Jaguars were a special king (I meant to write kind, but accidently wrote king, which is fine) of terrible on Sunday, getting destroyed by a team so bad I half expected them to trade away everyone before the game for draft picks. While the Texans are much more respectable than expected, the Jaguars looked every bit as terrible as they were last year, and maybe worse. It’s one game, so there is lots of time to turn it around and grow. Maybe they will. But after hearing about how everyone on the Jaguars was in the best shape of their lives, the team was more bought in than ever and they were a potential sleeper for the playoffs, this should be a surprise. Except it’s not. The NFL dumpster is littered with the bodies of ex-college coaches who’s ego lead them to think their system of always having the best players would translate to a salary capped NFL where the openings are always on the bad teams. Urban joins a long list of college studs that couldn’t cut it, including much better coaches like NICK SABAN. I’m not sure whether he will give up on the Jags first, or they will give up on him, but in the meantime…