Disappointments: Houston Texans and New York Giants
A pair of playoff teams that fell completely flat kick-off our list of disappointments this week. Houston and New York look lost on the offensive side of the football, scoring a combined 10 points in Week 1.
The Texans were expected to struggle, but their problems have been magnified after allowing Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson to get sacked a total of 10 times. Although Jacksonville’s defense has improved, Houston’s dilute offense made them out to look like the East Coast Legion of Boom.
The G-Men faltered mightily without Odell Beckham Jr. -- as he nursed an injury sustained in the preseason. New York runners gained just 35 yards on the ground, and Manning was at an all-time low -- posting a 21.1 QBR. Their vaunted defense couldn’t contain a 35-year Jason Witten, let alone a motivated Ezekiel Elliott.
Houston is in a winnable division, and the Giants typically turn it on as the season progresses. However, the early prognosis for both teams' playoff aspirations aren’t great.
Surprises - Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns
Two bottom dwellers from last year entered 2017 with low expectations. The Bears were panned all offseason for their decision to trade up one spot in the draft to take North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky. The Browns – well they’re the Browns -- they get criticized for everything they do. Chicago and Cleveland went into Week 1 as major underdogs facing two top teams: The NFC champion Atlanta Falcons and AFC runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers.
All things considered, the Bears and Browns played some good football.
Chicago had a chance to win the game on the final drive in a goal-to-go situation, but came up just short. Cleveland lost by a field goal in a game that saw Pittsburgh return a blocked punt for a touchdown. If a few things bounced these teams' way, each could have been 1-0. Either way, you have to be impressed with the fight both of these teams showed. Neither appears to be an easy win for opponents moving forward.
Disappointments: Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer
The current level of QB play in the NFL is less than exemplary. Journeymen Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer trotted out for their respective teams on Sunday and were expectedly mediocre. Tom Savage started a game for crying out loud. For a team that made the playoffs last year! While several teams slogged through Week 1 starting backup quarterbacks, a handful of legitimately good QBs struggled as well – namely Dalton and Palmer.
Dalton put up one of the worst stat lines you’ll ever see, throwing for 170 yards, zero touchdowns, four interceptions and a lost fumble. Dalton posted a 0.6 total QBR – which according to ESPN is the third-lowest recorded score since the stat was introduced.
Palmer wasn’t much better, lacking arm strength and zip on his way to three interceptions of his own. The Bengals and Cardinals are fringe-playoff teams that need their quarterbacks playing at an All-Pro level to succeed.
Surprises: Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys Defense
The 2016 Raiders and Cowboys stunned everybody when they finished the year with 12 and 13 wins respectively, while starting relatively young rosters with inexperienced quarterbacks. Although both teams made postseason appearances, there was plenty to build upon entering this season.
Oakland’s defense was ranked 26th in yards allowed last year, regularly giving up big plays in the passing game. Dallas owned an overachieving defense minus multiple starters in the secondary. Potential Achilles heels for both teams would be on that side of the football. With that said, both the Oakland and Dallas defensive units shined on Sunday.
After giving up an opening drive touchdown to the Titans, Oakland clamped down on Marcus Mariota and the rest of Tennessee’s playmakers. Most impressively, the Raiders shut down 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray to just 44 yards on 12 carries. Dallas sucked the life out of the Giants on Sunday night. Eli Manning looked like a deer in headlights against that front-seven, and the revamped Dallas secondary held New York’s receivers to just 7.2 yards-per-catch.
Oakland and Dallas won’t take anybody by surprise this year. Their defenses need to play at a high level to win games against top competition.
Disappointments: New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers Defense
Anytime you’re getting lit up by a Mike Zimmer offense or Trevor Siemian, something is seriously wrong. The Saints' and Chargers' defensive units were atrocious for most of the night, and were mainly responsible for why both road teams came up short on Monday.
New Orleans was flat-out bad all game long – missing tackles, blowing coverages and overall looking lackadaisical. It comes as a major letdown after the Saints spent a good portion of the offseason attempting to build a competent group.
The Chargers were a bit better – and tightened up in the latter part of the game when Denver went completely conservative. However, LA failed to live up to lofty expectations. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles ran with relative ease on the Chargers' front seven, combining for 121 total rushing yards. One of the biggest marks of a great defense is the ability to get off the field, but the Chargers lost the time of possession battle by over ten minutes. Siemian and the offensive group converted on 8-of-15 third-down attempts, ultimately sealing the Chargers' Week 1 fate.
It’s going to be a long season for New Orleans and Los Angeles if their defenses continue to play like this.
Surprises: Alex Smith and Sam Bradford
Generally viewed as game managers, Sam Bradford and Alex Smith proved that they can air the ball out when called upon.
Bradford has revitalized his career in Minnesota, breaking the single-season record for completion percentage in 2016 (71.6%) while stepping in for injured QB Teddy Bridgewater. Smith saw his team trade up in the draft for Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes. Both Bradford and Smith have been criticized for their cautious approach, but Week 1 was a totally different story.
The duo combined for 714 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and two victories. Remarkably, Bradford and Smith were able to maintain their efficiency while attempting more passes downfield. Both QBs completed over 80-percent of their passes with a 10+ yards per attempt average. The Vikings and Chiefs have two of the better defensive ball clubs in the league. If their two quarterbacks can continue playing like this, it’ll be terrifying for the rest of the league.
Sources: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports, David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports, David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports