Week 1 of the NFL season is a week of overreactions. Many teams are still trying to get their feet under themselves, leading to some puzzling results. Nobody really knows how to gauge anything from Week 1. Some of the early declarations from this week will be dispelled over time, while others will ring true by season’s end. No matter my eventual fate, I’m here to make a few overreactions of my own.
Carson Palmer is Cooked
Carson Palmer wasn’t actually bad last season. Many believed him to have disintegrated following his 2015 near-MVP season, but that wasn’t the case. Palmer saw a slight drop-off in 2016, though it was mostly due to his 2015 numbers being so far above many of his career averages. His own regression coupled with a struggling receiving corps and a dismal offensive line resulted in a poorer Cardinals offense than what they had the year prior. This year, however, Palmer looks legitimately terrible.
Against a weak Detroit Lions defense, Palmer tossed three interceptions. The first interception was a clear route miscommunication. Another interception was caught after bouncing off of a Cardinals running back trying to reel in a poorly placed checkdown. Interception number three was the result of Palmer trying to force a late pass under pressure, in which the ball sailed over his receiver and into a defender’s vicinity. Believe it or not, the interceptions were not the most concerning part of Palmer’s performance.
Arizona’s money route over the past few years has been the 10-yard out. Versus off-coverage to the wide side of the field, they’ll call a 10-yard out. Versus tight-coverage to the short side of the field, they’ll call a 10-yard out. It’s a versatile route that head coach Bruce Arians has worked beautifully into the core of the offense, and it was a key component to Palmer’s success in 2015. Palmer botched the 10-yard out versus Detroit almost every time he attempted it. Palmer regularly threw the route short and/or wide of the target. The throw often missed, and when it did find its mark, the ball placement forced an extra effort on the receiver’s part.
Losing that route from the arsenal would nuk Arizona’s offense. It has been their easiest and most consistent passing play. No longer being able to go to their bread-and-butter will force Arians to overhaul the offense and find a new way to consistently grab yardage, regardless of the situation at hand.
Arizona will also be without running back David Johnson for 2-3 months. Palmer tossed him a “hospital ball” that resulted in a dislocated wrist. Now without their star running back and their most consistent passing concept, Arizona may quickly spiral into mediocrity.
Frank Tilghman: Well, it was a good night. Nobody died.
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals offense looked bad to start the season. From left to right, the Bengals offensive line is Cedric Ogbuehi, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins, and Jake Fisher. Combining all five of their talents would maybe create one legitimate starting talent—maybe. Dalton seldom had a clean pocket this week versus the Baltimore Ravens, who sport one of the best defenses in the league. When Dalton did get a fair chance, he often blew it.
Palmer’s three interceptions this week were one-up’d by Dalton’s four. Decision making was not a tool for Dalton this week. He regularly spaced linebackers floating into passing lanes. His first interception was initially tipped off of a linebacker’s outstretched hands, while the second interception was snatched by linebacker C.J. Mosley in the end zone. That was all in the first half. Dalton never recovered.
Perhaps the most egregious of Dalton’s errors, aside from the end zone interception to Mosley, was a strip sack in the red zone. Yes, Dalton botched another red zone opportunity.
Dalton was wrong twice here. As I detailed in my Dalton profile this summer, he is a matchup quarterback. He knows where his best players are and he wants to give them chances early and often. The drawback is that Dalton doesn’t adjust well when he doesn’t get what he wants. He freezes and holds the ball, often allowing a better opportunity to pass him by. Shortly after the ball was snapped on this play, Dalton should have seen the linebacker sprint to the flat. Dalton should have known the linebacker would be picked, leaving his running back open for a touchdown opportunity. Instead, Dalton stared down tight end Tyler Eifert, who was never open or would be open given the coverage. Dalton held the ball too long, pump faked, then tried to bail the pocket before being dragged down from behind. Slow processing will get Dalton killed behind this offensive line.
The Bengals won’t face defenses this good every single week, but that offensive line isn’t going to get much better, either. Major improvement from all five starters would still make this offensive line a bad one. Dalton is going to be under duress all year and poor performances will follow.
The Sean McVay Effect
This is as uncomfortable for me as it is for you. There is no easy way to say it… but Jared Goff looked like a competent quarterback this week. Goff posted a historically bad rookie season last year and his future looked bleak. The ceiling of Goff’s potential is still in question, but this week, he proved far more capable than a year ago and finally looked like he belonged in the NFL.
New Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is masterclass. Few offensive playcallers do as good of a job cooking up easy throws and working receivers open by design. He seems to have the right play at the right time, all the time. McVay, who coordinated the Washington Footballers’ offense before taking the Rams job, is already among Andy Reid, Kyle Shanahan, and other top offensive minds.
Goff took advantage of McVay’s genius. He nailed a few deep passes and looked confident throwing to the intermediate level. Even against bad defenses last year, Goff never displayed the accuracy and confidence that he played with this week versus the Indianapolis Colts.
Goff was far from perfect. He whiffed on a handful of easy throws he should have hit, most notably a 3rd-and-3 out-route to wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He was still considerably better than whatever we saw from him last year, though, and that’s all that matters. Goff simply rising to a level of competency is a major step up for him. McVay and the Rams should be able to build on Goff’s newfound confidence and competence, and continue to be a feisty team throughout the rest of the season.