Week 1 is a time for dramatic overreactions, as analysts and fans alike, so happy to finally have football back, can’t help but draw wild conclusions from every snap of every game. Such is life when new data is finally available to comb through.
As such, I wanted to identify three of the biggest overreactions to the slate of games this past weekend, talking through why some conclusions made are likely to look a little funky over the next month or two.
The Cleveland Browns are in Serious Trouble
The Browns got washed by one of the three best teams in football on Sunday, with a new and rather inexperienced head coach and a new and inexperienced defensive coordinator. It’s probably going to be okay.
If we calibrate to preseason expectations on the Browns, most people had them as a fringe playoff candidate, maybe but not certainly the second-best team in their own division. Last year, the Browns did catch a win against the Ravens in Week 4 after opening the year 1-2, which included an embarrassing opening week loss to the Titans, 43-13. The Browns ended that season 6-10, and certainly want to be better this year. It just serves the point that a team with a devastating loss in Week 1 can get a big-time win in Week 4. The book isn’t written yet.
When you look at how and why the Browns lost so badly to the Ravens in Week 1, it’s not hard to write a better script for them in upcoming games. Kevin Stefanski wants to bring a run-heavy approach with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb in the backfield, but after carrying an 18-point deficit into the locker room at the half, they had to step away from their running approach. Also significant about the Browns’ running game was the distribution: Kareem Hunt out-carried Chubb, and while Hunt is a good back, he doesn’t hold a candle to Chubb as a runner.
Of course, you don’t want your success as an offense to be favorable game scripts and a run-heavy, clock-eating approach: you want to have a healthy passing offense. Stefanski stuck to his outside zone approach but entirely eschewed the play-action game off of those running concepts, ignoring the advantage offered him by moving second-level defenders off of their spots and scripting easy completions behind them.
So there are easy fixes here. Don’t turn the ball over into a big deficit on offense (the Ravens had 10 points off of turnovers in the first half), funnel some more touches to Chubb, and just run play-action passes off of your running game. The Browns are a better team than a 32-point loss to the Ravens, and when they play them on Monday Night Football in Week 14, I expect the Browns to still be within the playoff hunt.
Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Have a Problem
They don’t, really. You can call Brady’s transition to the Buccaneers offense a problem if you want, but it was always going to take time and experimentation—it’s not so much a problem as it is an early-season inevitability that will almost certainly be gone by the back half of the season.
We don’t have to pretend like Brady’s performance against the Saints in Week 1 was classic Brady, as there were clear misses that led to picks and contributed to the loss. But the reason that Bruce Arians was so comfortable saying that those picks were on Brady is that he knows come Week 8, Brady won’t be making anywhere near the same mistakes. They were on Brady; Brady knows that; both Brady and Arians knew this was gonna happen. We’ll get there.
What we can talk about is the Bucs’ defense, which remains an impressive unit, as they finished last season. The Saints had six total scores in the game: one as a pick six, one off a muffed punt, and another off a pick in Bucs territory. On eight drives beginning in New Orleans territory, they only surrendered 17 points—against the Saints offense, that’s legit. Throw on the fact that Brady had about 100 passing yards not reflected in his output as a result of DPI calls, and this was more balanced an outing than it initially appears on the box score.
Brady and the Buccaneers don’t have a problem—my confidence in this team as a playoff team and potential 12-win squad remains unaffected. Fade them if you want.
2019’s QB Class Has Produced Multiple Starters
This is more so adjusting to an offseason overreaction than a Week 1 overreaction, but it still applies. Kyler Murray, fresh off an emphatic win over last year’s NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, remains a quality starter with a unique ability as a scrambler—new toy DeAndre Hopkins certainly helps.
But Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, and Daniel Jones all were about as expected in their season openers. Haskins was the only one to bring home a win, but was much more a facilitator of a victory than a cause of it, as Washington used a run-heavy, quick-game approach to take advantage of short fields and survive the Eagles’ pass-rush—Haskins’ 2.25 Time To Throw, per Next Gen Stats, was the fastest of any passer in Week 1. When working downfield, Haskins’ accuracy fell off a cliff, as his throwing mechanics continue to fail him on more traditional dropbacks.
Jones is still the best passer and most intriguing of the three, regularly hitting in the quick game but also showing the ability to push the ball downfield or on the move. None of the three had a better pass than Jones’ bomb to Darius Slayton in the second quarter.
But none had a play worse than Jones’ interception in the third quarter, in which he made an inexcusable decision under pressure and in scoring territory which would end up significantly swinging the game in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ favor.
Jones is really coming along as a passer, but no degree of passing success can erase the negative effect he has on his own team when he loses control of the ball, both in the pocket and as a passer.
And Lock, with Courtland Sutton on the bench, couldn’t get his passing game working downfield. Only Carson Wentz had a bigger difference between intended and completed air yards in Week 1, as Lock continued his 2019 trend of being a quick-game distributor who occasionally hangs on to the ball for ages, scrambles around, and tries to generate something deep. The Broncos’ passing game will likely get better even if Lock remains the same, as Sutton comes back and rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy stops dropping passes across the middle.
Only Haskins came away with the win, but all three are still growing as passers. While second-year quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Wentz, and Lamar Jackson have spoiled us in recent years, we should temper expectations for this group.