Well NFL fans, Week 1 of the 2017 Season is in the books. Of course, the major story of the week surrounded Dallas Cowboys running back, Ezekiel Elliott. On September 6, just one day before the NFL kicked off its season, Elliott’s suspension (stemming from an accusation of domestic violence) was upheld by a league-appointed arbitrator. Two days later, on September 8, a federal judge granted a request for injunction by the NFL Players Association. This put the suspension on hold indefinitely, and Elliott was able to play both this week, and for the foreseeable future. More on that, in a moment…
Aside from that, there were some intriguing side notes. The Houston Texans returned to action, thus helping the city and its surrounding areas begin the healing process in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma disrupted several plans for football in the Florida area, and even managed to have the opening contest between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cancelled and rescheduled. Several players continued to make social statements during the playing of the National Anthem. Beth Mowins became first woman to call a nationally-televised NFL game, showing that talent, knowledge and pure ability should be the only pre-requisites for any job. (Congratulations Beth, on a job well done.). Lastly, a social media star was born in the form of ESPN Deportes sideline reporter, Sergio Dipp.
In terms of in-game action, NFL Week 1 didn’t give us a wealth of material. However, there are some surprising stories from the field of battle. Without further ado, here are the Top Ten Surprises from the NFL’s 2017 Season, Week 1.
10.) Zeke played and rushed for over 100 yards
Ezekiel Elliott is an elite running back. Therefore, it’s not a big surprise that he would have a game in which he rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries. The two biggest surprises were that he did so against a stout Giants defense, and that he was playing in the game at all. Elliott was presumed absent for the Cowboys first six games, after being suspended on suspicion of domestic violence. After winning a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of that suspension, Zeke looks like he can be presumed present for the foreseeable future. This is great news for Cowboys fans. The other great piece of news for Dallas is that Elliott looks to be unfazed by the negativity surrounding his legal battles. He looked sharp, in-shape, and was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to defeat the New York Giants. Most importantly, the Cowboys should take solace in the fact that Elliott not only looked good on Sunday, but he can be an explosive runner against one of the league’s best defenses.
9.) The Rams Looked Impressive
The Los Angeles Rams proved that they have a valid claim as THE team in the City of Angels…for now. The Rams offense displayed a great flow during their Week 1 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts. Even without Aaron Donald, the Rams have an impressive defense. However, not even the biggest optimists could have predicted the type of day that quarterback Jared Goff and the offense put together. It’s true that the Colts wee playing without Andrew Luck. However, the Rams should take pride in their performance. As cover32/Rams’ Managing Editor, Andrew Kelly has said, the ceiling for this team is very high. They will only grow under new head coach Sean McVay. Once teams start to respect Jared Goff, Todd Gurley should find it easier to establish his running game. While the Chargers may have the star power, the Rams have the upper hand in the ‘Fight for LA.’ At least…for now.
8.) Andy Dalton Looked Bad…Really Bad
The most unexpected takeaway from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 20-0 shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens was the poor play of quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals signal caller has always been a strong protector of the football. However, he was far from that on Sunday. Dalton was sacked 5 times, threw 4 interceptions, and committed one fumble. The result was a demoralizing loss, and a 28.4 QB rating. If Cincinnati hopes to once again compete for a playoff spot, Dalton must play better in every facet of his game.
7.) The Bills are in 1st place in the AFC East
Yes, you read that correctly. No, this article has not been hacked. Although few expected this to happen, the Bills deserved the victory and played better than any team in the AFC East during opening weekend. The biggest surprise of the Bills’ season-opening win over the Jets was the defense’s ability to hold the Jets to a mere 38 rushing yards. Gang Green’s passing game has been the butt of many jokes. (Please forgive the gratuitous ‘butt fumble’ reference) The biggest threat the Jets’ offense posed were running backs Bilal Powell and Matt Forte. Buffalo’s defense contained both of them, and seemed content to make quarterback Josh McCown beat them through the air. The result was a 21-12 victory for the Bills, who proved that they cannot be taken lightly in the AFC East.
6.) Stafford Throws 4 Touchdown Passes
When you sign a $135 million extension making you the highest paid player in NFL history, you need to prove your worth by coming out strong right out of the gate. Matthew Stafford, who signed that very extension with the Detroit Lions last month, did not. He threw an interception on his very first pass. However, Stafford rebounded quite nicely. In fact, if he turns in a few more performances like that this season, he may be a front runner for MVP. After the interception, Stafford went 29-of-41 passing for 292 yards with four touchdowns. He finished with a 113.1 passer rating. He also rushed once for a 15-yard gain and a first down on a 3rd and long play. The Lions came away with the victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and a content feeling that they signed the right man for the job.
5.) The Seattle O-line Needs Some Work
If the Packers defense was a pleasant surprise in week 1, the Seahawks offensive line was surely an unpleasant surprise. Seattle’s offensive line has had their struggles, but the team’s expectation was that it would be better in 2017. After all, its young players would have another year of experience under their belts. That didn’t seem to be the case in Sunday against Green Bay. Quarterback Russell Wilson was pressured on 44 percent of his dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Information. That pressure kept Seattle’s passing game from ever finding its rhythm. Seattle center Justin Britt, paraphrased the offensive line’s performance as “not our best.” He’s likely to be right, but adjustments must be made and improvements are necessary as the ‘Hawks head into Week 2.
4.) Green Bay Got a ‘D’
Aaron Rodgers is the face of the Green Bay Packers. Each year, his talent is able to carry the Packers to prominence, but Super Bowl appearances have been scarce, as of late. Most Packers fans will tell you that the team’s defense has not done enough to give Rodgers the support he needs to win a greater amount of conference titles. Based on what we saw on Sunday, that may not be the case any longer. The much maligned Green Bay defense limited the Seattle Seahawks to 225 total yards and nine points. The Packers got four sacks and forced a fumble that head coach Mike McCarthy called “definitely the momentum turning point.” Packers defensive end Mike Daniels was a beast on Sunday, and by far the Packers’ best defensive weapon on the field. He finished with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and the forced fumble of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The D-line, secondary and linebackers all put in stellar efforts, and the Packers looked like the most complete team in football this past week. To sum it up in a manner reminiscent of when Happy Gilmore finally learned how to putt…”uh-oh, the Packers have a defense.” Have they have conquered their Achillies heel? Only time will tell. The days of Rodgers having to completely carry his team might just be over. So might the days of Packers fans lamenting their quarterback not having a competent defense.
3.) OBJ Drives the Boat, Chief.
The New York Giants defense is among the best in the league. In fact, many consider them to be a Super Bowl favorite based on the dominant potential of the defense, coupled with an improved offense. For the most part, the defense lived up to its hype, on Sunday night against the Cowboys. However, as for the offense? Well, they looked like a crew that seemed more content to sing ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home‘ rather than ‘Damn the Torpedoes.” Needless to say, Eli Manning and company have seen better days. With Odell Beckham, Jr. sidelined with an injury, the Giants seemed confused about their offensive identity. New wide receiver Brandon Marshall disappointed in his debut. He had one catch for 10 yards, which came in the final moments. They only ran the ball 12 times for 35 yards. Manning finished the day with a respectable 29-for-38 mark passing, but that went for only 220 yards, leading to a 78.8 passer rating. However, it was clear that OBJ is the driving force in this offense. The Giants will need him back in the lineup soon, if they hope to continue to be a legitimate threat for the NFC championship.
2.) Jaguars Handily Beat Texans
You can make the argument that this could have been number one. Aside from the Jags being victorious, there were so many surprising factors in this one. Houston Quarterbacks Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson were sacked 10 times. The Jaguars committed no turnovers. However, what might be most impressive was the play of the offensive line. The Jags O-line created enough clearance for their backs (primarily Leonard Fournette) to rush for 155 yards. They also shut down the Texans’ pass rush. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney managed no sacks on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortels. Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said of his offense,
“I thought they did a nice job. I thought they were up for what was, obviously, a great challenge.”
You are correct, Coach. We agree.
1.) Down Go The Champs
The fact that a single loss can dominate headlines and cause a frenzy of media speculation, provides all the commentary necessary to show just how rare losing is for the New England Patriots. While the Pats were expected to win, the Kansas City Chiefs winning should not come as a shock. The Chiefs are a legitimate contender with a great amount of talent. What DID surprise everyone, was the ease with which Kansas City won. Tom Brady struggled, and did not look like himself for much of the night. While the Pats did put up 27 points, which was a total that the Chiefs allowed in less than half of their games a season ago, they were a very quiet 27 points. On the other hand, Alex Smith and the Chiefs were up to the task. Kansas City stunned the defending champions with scoring plays of 75 and 78 yards. The secondary was supposed to be a strength of the Patriots defense but communication breakdowns were costly. They also put hardly any pressure on Smith, who proved himself to be more than a capable signal caller for the Chiefs. After the game, Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia said:
“I’m going to start with myself. I need to coach better.”
It’s almost a certainty that the Patriots will bounce back from this loss. It would be shocking if they did not put up a better effort this weekend against New Orleans. As for the Chiefs, they put the league on notice…and the rest of NFL’s elite had better pay attention to this team.
–Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers. He is also a National Content Writer for cover32.com and covers the NFL.