Seven long months without the joy of football are finally a thing of the past. Week 1 provided us fans with some much deserved good football. The NFL’s opening weekend had it all: underdogs pulling off big upsets, wild comebacks, and games that went down to the last play. It is unwise to jump to conclusions after only one week, but there are plenty of things to take away from the first week of football.
Buffalo’s defense will make them a competitor in the AFC East
The Indianapolis Colts were a hot pick in the offseason as the team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. However, the Rex Ryan-led Bills defense handed the Colts a reality check on Sunday. Buffalo’s defense was able to bottle up All-Pro quarterback Andrew Luck and limit him to only 243 yards, a QB rating of 63.6, and two interceptions. How were the Bills able to make Luck look like such an average quarterback? Rex is possibly the best defensive coach in the league, and he’s willing to blitz, blitz, and blitz some more. Although Andrew Luck was one of the best quarterbacks against the blitz in 2014 – he completed 60.9% of his passes with a QB rating of 110.7 and threw 18 TDs with only 3 interceptions – Buffalo’s blitz packages greatly disrupted Luck’s play last Sunday. The graphic below shows Luck’s numbers when the Bills blitzed him and his numbers when they didn’t.
Buffalo has a golden opportunity next week to show just how good their defense is as they take on Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the high-powered Patriots offense that at times looked unstoppable last Thursday against the Steelers.
The Jimmy Graham trade is being felt by both teams already
The Saints shocked the world when they traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick that the Saints eventually used to select inside linebacker Stephone Anthony. Although the trade was unexpected, it was clear what both teams were trying to gain from it. The Saints looked to bolster an offensive line that allowed the third-most total pressures in 2014, while the Seahawks looked to improve their middle-of-the-pack red zone scoring percentage. The Saints’ O-line looked much improved against a very solid Arizona defense. Brees was sacked twice last Sunday, but his average time to sack, the average time from the snap of the ball to when a quarterback is sacked, was 5.9 seconds, second only to Colin Kaepernick’s 9.5. Because of this, Pro Football Focus gave the Saints offensive line the highest pass blocking efficiency grade in the league for week 1. On the other side of the trade, although the Seahawks struggled in the red zone last Sunday by only scoring one touchdown on four trips, that one touchdown went to Jimmy Graham on a seven-yard strike. It’s important to point out the negative effects of the trade felt by both teams – the Saints also struggled in the red zone last week without Graham, as they also only scored one TD on four trips. And the Seahawks, who did face one of the best defensive lines in the league in St. Louis’, allowed six sacks and received the fourth-lowest pass blocking efficiency grade via Pro Football Focus.
49ers using blueprint established by 2014 Cowboys
After one of the most unprecedented offseasons in recent memory, the 2015 San Francisco 49ers seemed destined for a long, loss filled season. This premature write-off is reminiscent of the 2014 Dallas Cowboys’ campaign, when many believed before the start of last season they would find themselves toward the bottom of the league after having one of the worst defenses in NFL history the year before. The Cowboys were able to find success by establishing a top-notch rushing attack and controlling time of possession, two things that go hand in hand. The 49ers did just that on Monday night – not only did second-year back Carlos Hyde lead the league in rushing yards with 168, he also had the most rushing attempts with 26. San Fran’s commitment to the running game led them to the 10th-best time of possession last week, and allowed them to limit their reliance on Kaepernick in the air – only six quarterbacks had fewer pass attempts in week 1. If Hyde can continue to perform at such a high level and can shoulder a heavy workload similar to DeMarco Murray’s last season, the 49ers will surprise a lot of people this season.