By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Veteran Signal-Caller (@colonelcomey)
1. If you can turn heads in early August, the Arizona Cardinals did it.
When you hold the other team to zero points in the NFL, it’s kind of a big deal, even if it is in the middle of the summer.
If it’s the Green Bay Packers, in Green Bay, even better.
The Cardinals, don’t forget, rode their defense to a 4-0 start last year before their utter lack of QB play (54.08 Real Quarterback Rating, dead last) torpedoed their hopes.
New QB Carson Palmer was deemed a failure in Oakland, but it’s hard to see why. After years of some of the most embarrassing passing offenses in modern times, Palmer turned in a solid 85.3 passer rating and threw only 16 INTs in 565 attempts. Put him on last year’s Cardinals, and you’d probably be looking at a .500 team.
Rookie cornerback/safety Tyrann Mathieu made a legendary debut, with a sack and some great play, and while the “Preseason Hall of Fame” is no prediction of future success, he’s looking like a top-10 pick out there.
And he joins a pass defense that was the best in football last year: No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 2 in Defensive Real QB Rating.
With coach Bruce Arians giving a boost to the system out there, don’t sleep on the Redbirds.
2. Saints fans might really like Rob Ryan.
Poor Steve Spagnuolo. He went from Super Bowl defensive coordinator glory to promising young head coach in St. Louis … then hit the wall.
Fired from St. Louis, he landed in New Orleans last year and had one of the worst defenses ever (28.4 PPG allowed and first defense in history to surrender more than 7,000 yards). Now he’s a senior defensive assistant with the Ravens, where he will be rebuilding himself as an asset in the eyes of the league.
In his place is Rob Ryan, bringing with him a big name and something they haven’t seen for awhile in New Orleans – a 3-4 front.
Jim Haslett ran the 3-4 during his reign, but it’s been all 4-3 under Sean Payton – which hasn’t generally been great. The Saints’ defense played with fire all the way down the depth chart against the Chiefs last week, and with Drew Brees you don’t need much more than average play to be a great team.
With Brees, when the Saints are in the top half of the league in scoring defense (3 years) they’re 34-14 with three playoff berths. When they’re in the bottom half (5 years), it’s 35-45 with one playoff berth (their Super Bowl year).
If Ryan can bring a changed culture to that defense – and a scheme switch gets you halfway there – he’s going to inspire gray mullets in tribute all up and down Bourbon Street.
3. The guy who had the biggest night in openers doesn’t even own his own jersey number exclusively.
Another inductee into the “Preseason Hall of Fame” is the Giants’ Damontre Moore. Wearing the same No. 79 as offensive lineman Stephen Goodin, the rookie DE blocked a punt and was all up in the collective grill of the Steelers for the Giants – he even has an awesome nickname, “DaMonster.”
So, why is this 6-foot-5 man-beast who was hugely productive at Texas A&M (12.5 sacks last year) fall to the third round? Bad 40 time, bad benchpress. Apparently playing football is more important.
Some teams just seem to be good at finding players at a certain position, and defensive line is the Giants’ special talent. In 2011, they whiffed with Marvin Austin in the second round, but Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have all outplayed their draft stock in Big Blue.
4. Tom Brady has no one to throw to, and he doesn’t give a s---.
Brady entered this year’s Patriots training camp with a comically bad buzz haircut and fire in his eyes.
And it was fun to see Brady out there dissecting the Eagles’ first-team defense with a bunch of guys that no one with a regular life had heard of last year at this time.
You can take away the man’s top four receivers, but you can’t take away what makes him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
How else to explain undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins emerging as a breakout fantasy sleeper with his four-catch performance and confident air? The Patriots have tried going the diva route the last few years — and that includes Wes Welker — and it hasn't ultimately delivered.
So instead, we have a slew of guys that Brady and Bill Belichick are going to run through their own reality show: "The Receiver." Will it be Thompkins or fellow rookies Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson getting the red-white-and-blue rose in their locker and the eight TDs on their stat line? Or will it be hungry vets like Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins?
It'd almost be fun to see Rob Gronkowski miss a few weeks, just to see if Brady can do it with the no-names.
Meanwhile, Tim Tebow still can’t find the range (4-of-12, 55 yards). If that dude could only throw the ball, the mainstream media might take notice of him after cruelly ignoring him all of these years.
5. The Ravens might want to start storing up all the disrespect to be played for motivation at a later date.
The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year, have made the playoffs five years running, and are generally considered to have the best front office in the NFL. They return the same coach and quarterback, which has proven itself to be the single most reliable way to predict success in this league.
And yet, somehow, if you look at the Week 1 spreads, the biggest underdog of the week is …
Yep. The Ravens, catching 8.5 points in Denver.
But Baltimore impressed in its preseason opener, winning 44-16 in Tampa, and its recent signings of Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark are examples of what Ozzie Newsome’s been up to – adding pieces to a team that’s going to look an awful lot like last year’s team despite the veteran exits.
Look at the depth chart – it’s amazing how seamlessly they’ve absorbed the losses and put together another contender.
In other week 1 news, it seems highly unlikely that a 2-14 team has ever been a road favorite to open the following season, but that’s the case for Kansas City (-3) at Jacksonville.
I think the Jags’ new two-tone helmets are costing them a half-point in Vegas right now. They look that dumb.
6. It’s OK to go to bed in the fourth quarter of the preseason opener if you’ve got work the next morning.
Sure, there are niblets of knowledge to be nibbled late in these games, but more likely you’re watching plays where 20 out of the 22 guys on the field will never see meaningful action in the NFL.
Some will watch to the final whistle, but even diehard fans don’t generally see the value of all four quarters in August. And a look at the stands by the two-minute warning seems to show two dozen empty seats for every dedicated fan.
The relative unwatchability of these late portions of games is a reminder why various pro football starter leagues have failed to gain traction – it’s not necessarily football as a game that we love beyond reasonable doubt, it’s the NFL (and major college) that we love.
The traditions, history and stakes are what make these sports rule the American landscape; without that, football is just another channel to click through on the way to something more entertaining.
7. Home field was a disadvantage for most teams.
Speaking to the last point, you wonder if the vibes of “this isn’t worth watching” actually has a negative effect on the home teams in the preseason.
Home teams were 5-11 last week, which was a bit of an outlier but is in keeping with general preseason reality – the games don’t matter, so the home field doesn’t really matter.
Last year, home teams went 9-7, 8-8 and 7-9 in Weeks 1-3 before a 14-2 Week 4 that restored some type of order to things.
8. Christian Ponder is not good enough to merit a two-snap preseason game.
Leslie Frazier saved his job last year with the Vikings’ surprise 10-6 season -- or, put another way, Adrian Peterson saved it for him.
But he reminded everyone why he was on the hot seat in the preseason opener, where he inexplicably gave Christian Ponder only one series … which ended after two plays on a turnover.
Yes, the same Christian Ponder who needs the reps after last year’s iffy sophomore season (31st out of 32 qualified starters in yards per attempt at 6.1) and is breaking in two new starting wideouts in Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson.
Giving your starter a planned amount of series to play is fine, but two-and-out isn’t a series. A good coach needs to adjust to new realities constantly, and sticking with “one series” didn’t seem like much of an adjustment there.
But as long as Frazier is smart enough to call “28 run left” about 700 times this year, job security doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.
9. The Seahawks are making the preseason their bitch.
Some of the preseason games did feel “right” – Seattle destroying San Diego, 31-10, was right about where you’d expect a Week 1 regular-season matchup to turn out right now.
Unlike in Minnesota, where the aforementioned Ponder played for like 12 seconds, Russell Wilson played three series and surely said a bunch of wise-beyond-his-years stuff to his teammates.
The big difference between the teams, though, was in backup QB talent. While the Seahawks were using former NFL starters Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson, the Chargers had ex-Seahawk failure Charlie Whitehurst and rookie Brad Sorensen.
Seattle was very sharp in last year’s preseason, as well – this is now five straight blowout wins in August for them after a 4-0 run behind Wilson in 2012.
10. There are zero compelling reasons to pay attention to the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans had an identity under Jeff Fisher – hard-nosed, good on special teams, consistently good, overachievers.
Now, they’re the team that just has no angles. In Mike Munchak’s first year, they actually won nine games while no one noticed, and last year they had the worst scoring defense in the league (29.4 PPG allowed!)
Watching their opener against Washington, there was still nothing to grab hold of. They have a young QB in Jake Locker that never gets mentioned for any reason, no real rivalries against anyone. There’s not a single game on their schedule that would be interesting enough to get past regional coverage.
In contrast to the inspiration of the movie “Remember the Titans,” this team’s slogan is the opposite: “Hey, Remember the Titans?”