By Hamilton Bolduc
Cold, Hard Football Facts Gridiron Education Czar
Week 1 of the NFL season always provides plenty of surprises. And this year's kickoff weekend was no exception.
Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III outgunned record-setting Drew Brees in the Saints QB's home turf, Matt Ryan showed signs of the elite QB he's long hoped to become, and the Patriots dominated the Titans on the ground on both sides of the ball.
Here are five things we learned about the early games of Week 1.
1. Robert the Third outguns Drew Brees and punctures the Saints dome-field advantage
Griffin started his pro career by completing his first eight passes, and just kept gunning it fom there, as his Redskins shocked the Saints in New Orleans, 40-32.
He hooked up with prize free agent Pierre Garcon on his first of many signature big passing plays, highlighted by an 88-yard TD connection in the first quarter.
We marveled at Griffin's 72.4 percent completion rate during his Heisman-winning season at Baylor. He was just as impressive in his NFL debut, completing 73.1 percent of his passes.
In a display of quality over quantity, Griffin needed only 26 attempts and 19 completions to get to 320 yards.
His average of 12.31 YPA was the best by a rookie QB in Week 1 since 1960, breaking the previous mark set by Cam Newton just last year (11.41).
Even if you removed the 88-yard touchdown pass to No. 88, Griffing still averaged 12.9 yards per completion and 8.9 yards per attempt.
Next in his cross hairs are the Rams, who were just gouged for 355 passing yards by the Detroit Lions.
Another dome and an inferior defense will have Washington fans salivating at what he’ll do next.
2. The New Orleans defense still has plenty of holes
With all due respect to RG3, where did the New Orleans defense go?
The story is the passing game, but the Saints got punched in the mouth by Washington’s commitment to the running game. The Saints were ground down by a Redskins offense that ran the ball 44 times for 153 yards (3.48 YPA) and that led to big-play opportunities.
The Saints finished No. 21 last year on the Defensive Hog Index, and were among the very worst in football (29th) against the run, allowing opponents 4.95 YPA. After Week 1, there's little reason to believe that unit has improved.
On the offensive side of the ball for New Orleans, Drew Brees struggled and his running game was non-existent. Instead of giving their gassed defense a break, the Saints aired it out 52 times and never bothered to establish their ground game (10 carries for 32 yards).
Concerns are justified and panic is not irrational.
3. Matty Looks “Elite” vs. Kansas City
It looks like the Falcons are properly positioned to pick up the NFC South crown if the Saints are not up to task. They smoked Kansas City, a team that fielded a solid defense last year, 40-24.
Matt Ryan got the Falcons off to a great start with two TD passes to Julio Jones (6 receptions, 108 yards) in the first half. He also connected with Roddy White on 6 passes for 87 yards.
While the passing rhythm was on point, the rushing attack looked weak. The Falcons generated 84 yards on 23 carries, but will not work if it means losing the time of possession battle, especially against New Orleans if they get their act together.
4. Chicago displays balance by pounding Colts
Jay Cutler was happy to see his old buddy Brandon Marshall return to his offensive arsenal and that paid immediate dividends, as the two helped power Chicago to an impressive 41-21 win over Andrew Luck and the Colts.
The very nice Cutler-Marshall stat line of 9 catches, 119 yards and 1 TD was the tip of the offensive onslaught.
Chicago now sports a great 1-2 RB punch in Matt Forte and Michael Bush. Forte sported a solid 5.0 YPA on the ground (16 attempts for 80 yards) on his way to 120 total yards (he added three catches for 40). Bush supplied the goal-line power with two 1-yard TDs.
The Bears leveraged this balance into nearly 36 minutes of possession and will be sitting pretty if they can play keep-away in Lambeau Field next Thursday.
Andrew Luck was not so Luck-y in his NFL debut. The Colts quarterback was picked off three times in his NFL debut. So, too, was predecessor Peyton Manning in his Colts debut back in 1998.
5. The Patriots dominate the run game
With the signing of Brandon Lloyd, 75 tight ends, and the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots threw a curveball in Week 1 by running the ball.
In fact, the Patriots ran more than they passed (35-31) in their 34-13 win at the Tennessee Titans.
And they found a lead tailback in Stevan Ridley as he ground out 125 rushing yards on 21 carries (and 152 total yards). His performance was only overshadowed by the quiet performance of Wes Welker, who caught just 3 passes for 14 yards.
With limited opportunity, it’s hard to envision Welker not being concerned with his numbers in a crucial contract year at this juncture in his career. He also dropped an early pass.
Stay tuned to see how that story unfolds.
The Patriots also dominated the ground game on the defensive side of the ball. The Titans ran the ball 16 times for 20 yards, the 1.2 YPA average one of the lowest in franchise history.
Tennessee's former explosive superstar Chris Johnson produced a dismal 4 yards on 11 attempts, the worst performance of his career.
Johnson, who set an NFL record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009, has been held to 35 yards or less on the ground seven times since the start of the 2011 season.
6. The 49ers aren’t going away anytime soon
Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers looked stronger than ever as they walked into Green Bay and handled their business with a 30-22 victory.
Not to anyone’s surprise, the San Francisco defense held the explosive Green Bay offense in check. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were kept out of the end zone and Aaron Rodgers was forced to dump the ball off to wide receiver Randall Cobb for 9 catches and 77 yards. The 49ers run defense held the Packers to a total of 45 rushing yards with a 3.2 YPC.
On offense, stories of Frank Gore’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The star back averaged 7.0 YPC on his way to 112 yards including a 23-yard score.
Another star that’s accustomed to making plays in Lambeau is Randy Moss. His 14-yard touchdown catch highlighted a four-reception, 47 yard performance following a preseason where many questioned his ability to play at a high level.
7. Alex Smith might actually be really good
Quarterback Alex Smith’s new weapons are a good fit and will help create a balance that’s sure to make opponent’s game-planning a bit more laborious. But in the end, he’ll need big seasons from Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis for the 49ers to win the NFC. If the first week is an indication, they’re ready.
Crabtree had a solid 7 catch, 76 yard game while Vernon Davis got into the endzone. New additions Randy Moss and Mario Manningham combined for 8 catches, 76 yards and a touchdown.
Smith has real weapons, a good coach and the opportunity to close the gap on fellow first round pick Aaron Rodgers.
8. Green Bay can’t run the ball, period
As stated above, the Packers ground out a measly 45 yards on just 14 carries. That stat is a bit misleading, but what’s not misleading is that Aaron Rodgers was the leading rusher.
Whether it’s the play-calling or lack of quality running backs, it will be a long season for Green Bay if they don’t commit to their rushing game and identify a consistent source of production. Cedric Benson might be the best option, but he’ll need more than nine carries to be effective.
9. Tampa Bay looks ready to surprise
College coaches don’t have much success in the professional ranks, but Head Coach Greg Schiano looks very promising. The new head coach came to the Buccaneers with a plan to simplify the game for his young and talented team.
Their 16-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers looks like a formula to utilize often. They’re going to run it with conviction.
At the head of this running attack is rookie running back Doug Martin who finished his debut with 118 total yards including 95 yards on 24 carries. This will undoubtedly be Martin’s role as LeGarrette Blount has been pushed aside for a more traditional three down back.
Quarterback Josh Freeman held up his end of the bargain and managed the game. Freeman’s 138 passing yards in the age of 300 yard games will earn him a game manager distinction while making many scratch their head about not properly utilizing new wide receiver Vincent Jackson (4 catches, 47 yards). The low output figures to turn around considering Freeman targeted Jackson 10 times in his 24 passing attempts.
10. The Arizona Cardinals got a rare win on their way to winning the Matt Barkley sweepstakes
There’s nothing pretty about the stat line from the Seahawks-Cardinals game.
So why discuss it? Because there’s two storylines coming from this game.
1. Russell Wilson has further to go and Seattle’s upcoming schedule now looks incredibly daunting.
a. The rookie quarterback began his career with a shaky start and a bad loss to a bottom-feeder.
b. The Seattle schedule includes the following: vs. Dallas, vs. Green Bay, vs. New England, at San Francisco, at Detroit, at Chicago, vs. San Francisco. That has them looking less like a playoff sleeper and more like a 6-10 team.
2. Can we just gift the Arizona Cardinals Matt Barkley? Skelton-Kolb is almost unwatchable and Whisenhunt looks lost.
It was good to see Marshawn Lynch get a normal amount of carries while it wasn’t shocking that Arizona couldn’t commit to a lead back.
Let’s call Whisenhunt the lead candidate to get fired during the season.