The 2016 NFL season is officially in full swing. Let’s look at 10 observations from a fun (for some) first week of action.
People got hung up on the wrong thing when it came to Wentz…
Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, fans and some media focused on how Carson Wentz played at North Dakota State. The thought went that since Wentz played in an FCS program and thus, faced FCS competition, his transition to the NFL would be rocky. Never mind the fact that current signal-callers Joe Flacco (Delaware) and Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) have carved out solid pro careers despite not playing at Power 5 conferences, people were convinced Wentz wouldn’t have the same success as Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch.
What people should have focused on was the fact that Wentz was asked to do more in the Bisons’ offense than either Goff or Lynch were asked to do at Cal and Memphis, respectively. Specifically, Wentz played in an offense with pro-style and spread concepts, had the autonomy to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage, and made his own protection calls. On top of that, Wentz is 6’5″, athletic for his size, has a great arm and possess all the intangibles that teams look for in a quarterback, from intelligence to leadership.
His rookie season will have its ups and downs, but Sunday’s performance against Cleveland wasn’t an aberration. Wentz is the real deal.
Here’s what great coaching and bad coaching does for a team…
Bill Belichick didn’t have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Jonathan Cooper and still put together a successful game plan to lead a Patriots team that was a 9.5-point underdog to victory in Arizona against one of the top teams in the NFL. Jeff Fisher, meanwhile, had his team so prepared for Monday night that they didn’t score a point against a 49ers team that might win five games this season.
Fisher and Les Snead have spent five years putting together a team that still doesn’t have a quarterback, still doesn’t have even an average offensive line, still doesn’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver and still doesn’t play with anything resembling discipline. On the flip side, Belichick has spent 15-plus years winning. That’s the last time I put Belichick and Fisher in the same paragraph, I promise.
Del Rio’s logic makes sense on two-point conversion…
I want to believe that even if Michael Crabtree doesn’t come down with Derek Carr’s two-point pass attempt in the waning moments at the Superdome on Sunday that I would have still written this exact paragraph. Drew Brees had shredded Jack Del Rio’s defense all afternoon. He had connected on touchdown passes of 1, 15, 98 and 2 yards, and Del Rio didn’t want to give Brees the ball back in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, or overtime with a chance to win.
So he went for the win right then and there following Carr’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts with 47 seconds remaining. After watching several more extra points missed throughout Sunday’s action, it was nice to see Del Rio rewarded for having guts.
Welcome back to 2015…
…Bears, Browns, Rams, Falcons, Cowboys, Saints, Jets, Chargers and Colts. The Bears still can’t figure out how to protect Jay Cutler. The Browns and Rams still don’t have a quarterback. The Falcons and Cowboys still don’t have a pass-rush. The Saints still don’t have a defense, period. The Jets and Chargers are still finding ways to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. The Colts still don’t have enough in the trenches. After the way they played on Sunday, what did the front offices and coaching staffs for these respective teams do all offseason?
The Bucs might arrive a year earlier than expected…
Many assumed the Buccaneers were still a year away from competing. The talent was there, but the experience and depth wasn’t for the team to make a serious playoff run. But after watching Jameis Winston make one incredible throw after another at the Georgia Dome Sunday, maybe Dirk Koetter’s team is a year ahead of schedule.
Granted, Winston faced zero pressure from a Falcons team that has yet to discover a pass rush and got plenty of help from Charles Sims, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Mike Evans. But the touch and pinpoint accuracy he displayed in Atlanta was marvelous. We’ll find out how good Winston and the Bucs are over their next four games: at Arizona, home versus the Rams and Broncos, and at the Panthers.
The Texans are still the best team in the AFC South…
People are high on the Jaguars, who put together an admirable performance against the Packers on Sunday, and Andrew Luck will continue to elevate a very average Colts team. But the AFC South is still the Texans’ division to lose for one simple reason: They own the best defense.
Granted, the Bears have had offensive line issues for years and John Fox still has a ways to go when it comes to turning Chicago into a contender. But there’s no denying the Texans have collected outstanding talent on defense, specifically J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, who was a beast on Sunday. If Brock Osweiler is merely above average, the Texans will win the division again. (It’s not as if they don’t have talent on offense either, with Lamar Miller and Will Fuller joining DeAndre Hopkins this offseason.)
The Vikings will remain competitive, regardless of QB situation…
Rick Speilman knew he had to roll the dice on the Sam Bradford trade for two primary reasons: Adrian Peterson isn’t getting any younger and the defense he has built is ready to compete now. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Chad Greenway, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes were all drafted by Minnesota.
Mike Zimmer is also one of the finest defensive coaches in the league and regardless of how Bradford fares once he does take over the starting quarterback duties, the Vikings will at least compete for a wild card spot in the NFC. That’s how good the defense is in Minnesota.
Smith is more than just a game manager in Kansas City…
Alex Smith has been saddled with the “game manager” moniker for his entire career, yet he has come alive under Andy Reid the past few seasons. Smith still might be the 16th-best quarterback in the league but the Chiefs can clearly win with him under center. Furthermore, they’re not limited with Smith as a signal-caller. As I mentioned to co-host Brandon Kiley on “The No Huddle” last Sunday, Smith and Matt Ryan are similar quarterbacks.
Kyle Shanahan asks Ryan to do things in his Atlanta offense that Ryan isn’t comfortable doing (i.e. bootlegs and throwing on the move) and the results through 17 games have been uneven. Reid, on the other hand, knows exactly what Smith can and cannot do and plays to his quarterback’s strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. For those that doubt Ryan, I’d love to see what he could do under Reid in Kansas City. Coaching matters.
Seahawks clearly have issues but no need to panic..
The Seahawks’ inexperience along the offensive line is going to be a problem at times this season. It certainly was on Sunday, but that group won’t face Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell and Mario Williams every week either. Seattle has always gotten by offensively with a less-talented group up front.
The bigger concern for the Seahawks is Russell Wilson’s ankle. If that proves to be a serious problem, then Seattle has something to worry about. Until then, I’m willing to wager the Seahawks will be making another playoff push at the end of December again this season.
Prescott wasn’t the main problem in Dallas…
For all intents and purposes, Dak Prescott played pretty well on Sunday in the Cowboys’ 20-19 loss to the Giants. Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan didn’t ask Prescott to do much in the passing game, but then again they didn’t ask him to make but one or two reads in preseason when the fourth-rounder made headlines. Prescott tried to dink and dunk all afternoon, which would have been fine if the Cowboys could run the ball.
But a 3.4 yards-per-attempt day from the Dallas running game isn’t going to cut it. If Prescott is going to have success filling in for Tony Romo, he needs more help. Despite all his preseason accolades, that was always going to be the case.