With week 1 Sunday games in the book, some things are already starting to take shape in our 2020 version of the NFL. Here are several things that I saw, worth further explanation.
None clearer than in the first game of the season. Some things haven't changed a bit. First, the obvious, KC offense and their MVP QB are still scary and with first round pick RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire now in the mix, they might even be more explosive than last year. He has to be the early front runner for Offensive Rookie of the year, but having said that, it’s the defense that opened my eyes. This group has been constructed with a keen eye and a plan by Head Coach Andy Reid and General Manager Brett Veach.
I thought DE Frank Clark, who they were criticized for giving too much to get, showed why he is “a game changer.” Versus the Texans, he was sudden off the ball, showed great natural lean and power to turn the corner as a rusher. He forced Houston QB Deshawn Watson off his spot in the pocket to the point of, Watson was seeing pressure, even when it wasn’t there. He put Watson on the run, too soon and too often. Clark also closed down like a cat versus run plays away from him. I thought the Chiefs coverage in the back end of playing a mix of combo (zone and man) was executed flawlessly. Their m/m ability, in particular their corners, to stick with the Texans smaller and inconsistent group of wide receivers showed me that DC Steve Spagnuolo and his schemes are a great fit for the personnel that they have. They took away Watson’s options and again, forced him to scramble and try to create on his own, too much for the Texans' liking, in my opinion. Texas WR’s were not able to separate from tight coverage or show their deep speed by stretching the field vertically. Watson really missed traded WR DeAndre Hopkins as a “go to” guy- BIG TIME. Hopkins could catch even when covered so he was always open because of it.
Couple the Chiefs ferocious pass rush with what newly re-signed DT Chris Jones, former third round pick, Derrick Nnadi and college free agent Tershawn Wharton out of tiny, Missouri S & T, did to take away gaps and consistently hold the point of attack vs the inside run, and you have a defense that might be on its way to matching the production of an off the charts offense. These are big, strong guys who can get off blocks and it showed on this night. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the league, especially if you reside in the mediocre AFC west. Their defense has not performed at this level up until now so let’s see if it’s the new norm or a one-off.
I thought it was good-news bad-news for the Texans. RB David Johnson showed the vision, natural running style and juice through the hole that made him a Pro Bowler in 2016. I was impressed with his ability to make defenders miss and run out of arm tackles. He’s 224 pounds so he is not easy to get on the ground. His pad level and yards after contact were very good on this night. Would I have traded Hopkins? No, but if Johnson can stay healthy, he’s only in year six, he gives coach Bill O'Brien a legit bell cow-who can also catch, as an option and weapon to take some pressure off his QB. My guess is, BOB thinks he can scheme the passing game to replace Hopkins but what Johnson flashed on Thursday night is not something that can be schemed. So, let’s give O’Brien some credit for getting Johnson in return as part of the Hopkins deal.
Other things that made me think…
*Buffalo’s win over the Jets was not as close as the score indicated. I felt like they could and should have scored 50. The Jets are in for a long year.
*Why did the Cowboys hire Mike McCarthy as their head coach? I’ve never seen a head coach less involved. Mike has made his reputation on play calling and making offensive adjustments. I saw neither yesterday. His whole look and demeanor on the sideline just didn’t feel right. Plus, his decision to not kick the FG to tie the game late, probably cost his team any chance to win the game, and yes- I said it at the time.
*Rams head coach Sean McVay’s plan to take the air out of the ball and protect QB Jerrod Goff proved effective. He pounded a Cowboys defense with a power run game enough to slow down the rush and give Goff a clean pocket to operate from. Impressive plan and execution.
*I still have questions about SF QB Jimmy Garoppolo. I thought his release was slow, probably caused by indecision and his accuracy suffered late in the game. He got the ball out late and off target too often. His receivers, as a group, are not what they were last year either.
* The Packers drafting of QB Jordan Love (even though he was inactive yesterday) has already paid off- Aaron Rodgers is clearly refocused, sharp mentally and out to prove a point. He made throws yesterday that we hadn’t seen in a while. Sometimes we all need a wake-up call. He is still elite when dialed in.
*Next week's early GAME of the WEEK- Patriots at Seahawks, can’t wait to see Jamal Adams zeroing in on Cam Newton. Cold tubs be ready!
Mike Sando and I will be taping "The Football GM" podcast today so if you've got an #NFL question for us to address, let us know. We are already diving into good stuff from Week 1 + some signings that preceded season openers. See @TheAthletic #NFL https://theathletic.com/podcasts/nfl/