There are always some surprises in Week 1. For starters, I did not expect to see the Dallas Cowboys limited to three points in the season opener.
Dallas had the NFL's No. 1 offense last year but struggled mightily on Sunday night, resulting in a 19-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The offensive performance was concerning even before Prescott fractured his thumb. The fact that he'll be sidelined for at least the next month is downright frightening for this team. The Cowboys have several replacement options at QB, including current backup Cooper Rush, but I'm not sure how Dallas stays competitive without its star quarterback. Maybe by leaning on Ezekiel Elliott? Maybe.
It's safe to say I'm worried about the Cowboys' offense. Let's take a look at four other highly ranked offensive units from a year ago that struggled in Week 1, two of which I'm worried about heading into Week 2 and two that I'm not.
Two offenses I'm worried about
I hate to go back to Kyler Murray's contract and the "independent study" clause that was eventually removed from it this summer, but I'm going to. It seemed that the team desired for Murray to be more efficient as a passer by getting the ball out quickly and anticipating what the defense gives him before the snap. All I saw Sunday in Arizona's 44-21 loss to Kansas City was Murray waiting to see what the Chiefs' presented defensively post-snap then reacting to it. It was incredibly frustrating to watch. The Cardinals' Week 1 struggles had very little to do with the offensive scheme or talent and a lot to do with Murray.
Murray too often leans on his athletic ability instead of getting the ball out quickly. His average time to throw against the Chiefs was 2.8 seconds, up slightly from 2.77 seconds in 2021, per Next Gen Stats. I think back on last season when Colt McCoy was under center for Arizona in place of the injured Murray. McCoy had the second-fastest time to throw (2.4) among quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts. Without the physical abilities of Murray and other QBs, McCoy had to get the ball out of his hands quickly and into those of his playmakers, and Arizona went 2-1 in games he started. Even some of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) are (or were) delegators, getting the ball out as fast as possible. I want to see Murray approach a game that way. The Cardinals' offense will struggle until Murray improves in this area.
The concern all offseason with the Packers was that they would have to rely on inexperienced wide receivers. That concern was validated Sunday afternoon inside a raucous U.S. Bank Stadium. Historically, it takes Aaron Rodgers time to build trust with his receivers, and that's exactly what we saw with a unit that's adjusting to life without Davante Adams. We saw in Sunday's loss just how important Adams was to Rodgers and the Packers' success, as the veteran wideout constantly dictates coverage, freeing up other pass-catchers and helping the run game. Green Bay no longer has a guy who will create one-on-one opportunities for other receivers, and though we saw running backs AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones flash, a top offense needs more than a pair of RBs and an excellent quarterback.
Second-round rookie Christian Watson dropped a would-be 75-yard touchdown on the Packers' first offensive play, then was targeted just three more times the rest of the game. Dillon was the most-targeted Packer with six and also led the team in receptions (five) and receiving yards (46). In fact, Adams (now with the Raiders) had more receiving yards in Week 1 (141 yards versus the Chargers) than the all of the Packers' receivers combined (120). Rookie Romeo Doubs led the group with just 37 yards. Maybe Allen Lazard, who missed Week 1 due to an ankle injury, will step into the WR1 role and take pressure off Watson, Doubs and others when he's able to play, but this group wasn't able to get it done when the Vikings dared them to beat the defense downfield. Trust isn't built overnight. This could take some time.
Two offenses I'm NOT worried about
The 49ers walked into a doomsday scenario: a Week 1 road game in a swimming pool. We saw glimpses of Kyle Shanahan's brilliance with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk in Sunday's loss, but not having George Kittle, losing Elijah Mitchell to a knee injury (he's expected to be out for at least eight weeks) and playing with an inexperienced QB in Trey Lance was tough to overcome against an opportunistic Bears team hungry to show it's not the worst in the league. The run game will get better when Kittle returns, and with as many times as Shanahan has plugged in no-name running backs into his offense, I'm not sweating the run game with Jeff Wilson and others in tow. The pass game wasn't pretty Sunday but it's extremely difficult to get the downfield passing game going in the rain. I'd challenge anyone to go to their local sporting goods store, buy a football, place it under a garden hose and then try to throw it ... anywhere. It's tough. Lance had some tough moments in Sunday's loss, but the next few weeks will give us a better picture of what this offense is going to look like. If Lance is inaccurate and missing his reads and the offense is stalling a few weeks from now, then we might start discussing the possibility of turning back the clock to Jimmy Garoppolo. But right now, there's no reason to panic.
Fresh off a championship and the celebratory months that followed, the Rams were quickly brought down to earth against a Super Bowl hopeful. The Buffalo Bills lived up to the expectations placed on them throughout the last six months and dominated the Rams in Week 1. I have faith that Sean McVay will figure out ways to spark the run game and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers (Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson and Tyler Higbee, among others). This offense is at its best when everyone is involved, but the Rams got into a situation in the second half where Matthew Stafford was pigeon-holed into dropping back and passing the ball. That's a challenging situation against a team like Buffalo, which relies on four pass rushers to get the job done and drops seven defenders into coverage.
I did see a few issues with Stafford, who was sacked a whopping seven times (an NFL Kickoff Game record). The veteran quarterback has always been free and loose with his release, and it looked to me like he's guiding the ball a bit more after working through an elbow injury in the offseason. His inaccuracy last Thursday was reflective of, again, stout defensive play by the Bills but also the lack of reps Stafford had in the preseason. Look at Stafford's fourth-quarter interception. It was the same play as the no-look pass to Kupp in the Super Bowl, but this time around, Stafford threw it high and the ball was tipped into Jordan Poyer's grasp. With Stafford getting more reps with an offense that's missing some key players from last year's championship squad, the Rams should begin to round into form sooner rather than later.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week of the 2022 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments from the 2021 season.
2) Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. Heading into Week 2, here is Carr's list:
It was great to see all of the offseason hype translate into a Week 1 beatdown of the defending champions. It was clear that Allen made strides during the offseason from a processing standpoint, as he knew where he was going with the ball pre-snap. He played like a man ready to make good on all the preseason MVP and Super Bowl chatter, as he threw for 297 yards and three TDs with two picks, one of which was not his fault. One thing to note: Allen is the Bills' leading rusher in attempts and yards. Not a big deal right now, but it's a long season.
Mahomes silenced any and all who questioned what the Chiefs' offense might look like without Tyreek Hill. I mean, the guy threw for 360 yards and five TDs, getting everyone and their dog involved. Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (two), Mecole Hardman and Jody Fortson all hauled in a TD. Check out this nugget from NFL Research after Sunday's convincing win over Arizona: Mahomes has the highest completion percentage (72.5), pass yards per game (308.4), pass yards per attempt (9.2), TD-INT ratio (18:0) and passer rating (136.9) in Week 1 games among quarterbacks with 150-plus Week 1 pass attempts in the Super Bowl era. Yep, the Chiefs are still good.
The Rams didn't have much offensively outside of Kupp, who finished with 13 receptions for 128 yards and the team's only touchdown. Outside of Kupp, it was often a combination of a tight Matthew Stafford and a Bills defense that dictated the entire game. Kupp is great, but the Rams need to get more guys involved.
Matt LaFleur couldn't have dialed up that first offensive play any better, with rookie Christian Watson burning cornerback Patrick Peterson down the sideline and Rodgers dropping a dime right into his hands. If Watson had made the catch, the Packers even the score and the entire game is different. I'm not out on Rodgers after one poor game.
Taylor has owned the Texans in his career, and it was no different Sunday as he racked up 161 yards and a TD on 31 carries. However, there were times when the Colts kept the ball in Matt Ryan's hands in situations where a handoff to the reigning rushing champion seemed like the obvious play. Maybe if the Colts would have stuck to the run instead of relying on Ryan to throw the ball 50 times(!), they would have gone home with a W.
I was impressed with what Herbert displayed on Sunday against the Raiders. With a run game that averaged 2.5 yards per carry on 31 attempts, Herbert took the game into his own hands and diced up the defense by spreading the ball around, especially after Keenan Allen exited in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Looking poised in the pocket and sharp in his decision-making and accuracy, Herbert got the Chargers started with a win by completing 76.5 percent of his passes for 279 yards and three TDs with no picks.
Adams is a problem for any defense, and AFC West teams can't be pleased that he's made his way to Las Vegas. In the Week 1 loss to the Chargers, the All-Pro receiver racked up 10 catches on 17 targets for 141 receiving yards and a touchdown that brought the Raiders to within one score late in the game. He's going to be a game-changer for this team.
The Packers have arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL with Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes, and Jefferson ran around them and the rest of the Packers' defense all game long. The third-year pro was the life of the Vikings' party with a career-high 184 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on nine receptions. Jefferson now has 15 career games with 100-plus receiving yards, which is tied for second-most with Kupp since 2020 (behind only Adams). Jefferson's coming in hot for that No. 1 wide receiver ranking.
Patrick Mahomes spread the love around in Sunday's victory with 10 players players getting targets, six of which had at least three targets. But Kelce remained the star quarterback's go-to guy. The Cardinals didn't have an answer for Kelce as he put up 121 receiving yards and the game's opening score on eight catches. The performance made him the third tight end in NFL history with 30 or more games of 100-plus receiving yards, joining Tony Gonzalez (31) and Rob Gronkowski (32). Expect Kelce to surpass those two legends by midseason.
With his record-setting 2021 campaign in the rearview, Chase once again proved to be the star of the show in Cincinnati. He led the Bengals with 10 catches on 16 targets for 129 yards, including a game-tying 6-yard TD reception with 2 seconds left in regulation. Everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going to Chase, and yet, the Steelers had no answer for the dynamic wideout, who picked up a first down or TD on every one of his 10 catches.
After an uninspiring start against the Jets, Jackson dialed in with his arm to lead the Ravens to a convincing 24-9 win. The run game wasn't there -- weird, I know -- as the Ravens recorded the fewest rush yards (63) in a game with Jackson as the starter. All three of Jackson's touchdown passes came on deep throws (20-plus air yards), including two to Devin Duvernay and the other to Rashod Bateman. It's a much-improved part of Jackson's game after he threw just four TDs on deep passes in all of 2021.
Brady didn't awe anyone with his performance Sunday night, but he always finds a way to get it done whether he's playing the role of Batman or Robin. The Bucs took a run-heavy approach but Brady continued to chip away at the Cowboys' defense, essentially putting the game out of reach for a flat Dallas team with a 5-yard TD pass to Mike Evans, who made a spectacular grab, late in the third quarter.
Derek had an up-and-down performance in his first game with a new play-caller in Josh McDaniels. The Chargers' defense was a menace up front, posting six sacks and 22 pressures. The three picks hurt, but it was good to see the Raiders string together a late comeback effort even though it fell short. This rivalry is going to be fun to watch for years to come.
What a dreadful start for Burrow, who had a career-high five turnovers (four INTs, one fumble). It was a far cry from the player we saw in February, and there were several factors leading to his poor performance. The O-line that was supposedly improved still gave up seven sacks and the fact that Burrow didn't take a single snap in the preseason showed in his play. The positive takeaway from Sunday's OT loss was that the Bengals had chances to win the game despite the miscues -- thanks in large part to Burrow's buddy, Ja'Marr Chase. Still, Burrow has to be better.
What an Eagles debut for Brown, who recorded 128 of his 155 receiving yards in the first half of Sunday's win over Detroit. The former Titan is a difference-maker. Philly has become a dangerous passing offense with the arrival of Brown, and it's only going to improve as Jalen Hurts gets more comfortable in the pocket.