By Steve Shackelford
Cold, Hard, Football Facts AFC South Beat Reporter
The arrival of Week 1 stamped a smile on the face of every NFL fan on the planet. Life in the AFC South is slightly different nowadays as the Houston Texans are expected to repeat as division champions. Every team in the AFC is out to stop the Texans from living up to great expectations.
Tennessee, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Houston all took the field on Sunday with some surprises, a couple let-downs, and a ton of hard-hitting, football action.
Here are 5 things we learned in Week 1:
1. Luck turns the ball over
The Indianapolis Colts crumbled in a brutal 41-21 defeat versus the Chicago Bears. The Bears out-played the Colts on both sides of the ball. Luck managed to get out of his first NFL game with three interceptions and a fumble. On top of the turnovers, his mediocre quarterback-play didn’t help the Colts much in Week 1. Luck completed only 51.2 percent of his passes, and averaged only 6.85 yards per pass attempt in his first game. In 2011, Cam Newton set the record for best average per pass attempt by a rookie in Week 1 (min 20 attempts) with an impressive 11.41 YPA; no such luck for Luck.
Unfortunately for the rookie quarterback, the Colts’ defense wasn’t much help either, appearing stale, slow and ineffective.
Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler put up 333 YDS and completed 2 touchdown passes against the Colts, and they allowed Brandon Marshall to run all over the field any time he touched the ball. Marshall caught nine passes for 119 YDS and a touchdown. Marshall exposed serious deficiencies in the Colts’ secondary in Week 1 that will likely be exploited by opposing teams all season long.
The Colts finished 32nd overall in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating in 2011, and things don’t look to be getting much better in 2012.
2. The Texans are firing on all cylinders
The Miami Dolphins were doomed before they even took the field this week. The Houston Texans looked unstoppable going into this game, and delivered big-time both on offense and defense in a 30-10 Texans victory. Texans’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips must be pleased with his squad’s performance against the Dolphins in Week 1. The Texans’ defense grabbed three interceptions and continues to build on their elite Defensive Real Quarterback Rating performance from 2011.
Facing off against the Dolphins, Arian Foster delivered 2 touchdowns and managed 79 yards on 26 rushes. Receiver Andre Johnson impressively caught eight passes for 119 yards and grabbed a touchdown. The Texans finished at the top of our 2011 Quality Stats Power Rankings for a reason: they are the real deal, and here to stay.
Sure, Tannehill is a rookie, and bound to throw picks. Maybe the Dolphins’ defense isn’t the best in the league, but the Texans’ Week 1 performance is no fluke.
As of now, the Texans are in 1st place in the AFC South. Houston, the only team in the division to obtain a Week 1 victory, likely won’t be falling from the top spot anytime soon.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew still top-dog in Jacksonville
Despite holding-out through all of training-camp, organized team activities, and mini-camps, Maurice Jones-Drew took the field in Week 1. The league-leading running back did not appear lethargic or out-of-shape. Although Jones-Drew failed to reach the end zone, he still managed 77 yards on 19 carries.
Carrying the ball 19 times is a clear indication that Jones-Drew will suffer no real consequences for missing all of camp, and will be utilized as much as possible for the Jaguars in 2012. Jones-Drew finished the 2011 season with 1,606 rushing yards on 343 attempts, and averaged 8.7 yards receiving.
Jones-Drew’s 19 attempts put him on pace for 303 rushing attempts in 2012.
4. The Titans’ defense is no match for Tom Brady
Taking on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Week 1 is no easy task: Especially for a team that finished 30th overall in our Defensive Hog Index. Brady cut the Titans’ defense to shreds early in the game against the Titans, and finished with 236 YDS passing and two touchdowns as the Patriots rolled to victory over the Titans 34-13.
The Titans’ defense appeared incapable of putting significant pressure on the quarterback. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both managed to find the end zone against the Titans seemingly with ease. Brady finished the game completing 74.1 percent of his passes, and although he suffered a nose injury, the defense did very little to make his job difficult in Week 1.
Jerry Gray, Titans’ defensive coordinator, needs to make serious adjustments before the Titans take on the San Diego Chargers in Week 2. Although Norv Turner’s teams traditionally start the season slow, losing to the Chargers would mean a 0-2 start and those two losses could mean the difference between a Wild Card spot and a long off-season. The Titans weren’t expected to upset New England, but the defense needs some serious practice before next week.
5. Jacksonville is capable of delivering late-game drama
Blaine Gabbert, on the road, hit Cecil Shorts for a monstrous 39-yd touchdown with only 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter against the Minnesota Vikings. Sadly, the Vikings completed a field goal with no time left in regulation to push the game to overtime, where they eventually won the game 26-23.
Gabbert is coming off a disappointing 2011 season in which Jacksonville finished last in the league in terms of Real Quarterback Rating. The Jaguars made off-season moves to bring in free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson and drafted receiver Justin Blackmon.
Although the off-season moves didn’t translate into a win for the Jaguars in Week 1, the passing game is likely to improve as the season progresses. Gabbert finished 23 of 39 for 260 yards in the loss to the Vikings.