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Row12.com - A Community of Sports Writers and Fans!                                               ***Attention Writers***
 
Week 1 Observations
By Matt Horkman

During Thursday’s opener, Denver wide receiver Eric Decker dropped a touchdown pass, committed offensive pass interference, fumbled a ball out of bounce, and dropped another pass. Meanwhile, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker combined for 19 catches, 338 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.

New Orleans wide receiver Kenny Stills received five targets against Atlanta, including three in the first half. All four targets were down field, indicating the Saints view the rookie receiver as an emerging deep threat.

The Saints employed all three running backs in their win over Atlanta. Darren Sproles had 14 touches for 110 yards and Pierre Thomas added 13 touches for 59 yards. Mark Ingram was the least effective of the trio, adding just 11 yards on nine carries.

Because cornerback Asante Samuel couldn’t play, the Falcons turned to rookie cornerback Robert Alford. He responded well, intercepting a Drew Brees pass by ripping the ball from wide receiver Marques Colston’s arms. This made up for his earlier dropped interception. 

The Browns hired Norv Turner as offensive coordinator because of his reputation as a play caller, but Turner’s play calling was bizarre on Sunday. On Cleveland’s first series, Turner gave running back Trent Richardson four carries, and the second-year pro responded with 26 tough yards. However, despite Cleveland never trailing by double-digit points until the fourth quarter, Richardson received just nine carries the rest of the game.

Second-year running back Robert Turbin worked ahead of rookie Christine Michael, who finished the preseason fourth in rushing. In fact, Michael didn’t receive a touch or even record an offensive snap. Many -- including myself -- expected Seattle to incorporate Michael more into their offense.

People expecting New England to roll like a locomotive received a wake-up call on Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Tom Brady was clearly out of synch with his receivers. He targeted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins 14 times, but connected on just four passes. To their credit, Buffalo did an excellent job of disrupting Brady’s timing by putting pressure on him. Nonetheless, including Sunday, Brady’s 55.8 completion percentage was his fourth worst in his last 33 games.

The first half was not kind to some of the NFL’s most scrutinize young quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden combined to throw seven interceptions in the first half of their respective games. Overall, the four combined for nine interceptions Sunday afternoon with Ponder and Weeden throwing three a piece. 

On quarterback Andrew Luck’s game-winning 19-yard touchdown run, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey may have gotten away with a hold of Oakland cornerback D.J. Hayden.

After being an integral member of Green Bay’s defense for four seasons, defensive lineman Johnny Jolly was out of football the last three years because of a drug suspension. Considered a long shot to make Green Bay’s 53-man roster, Jolly defied the odds and not only made the roster, but started Sunday afternoon against San Francisco. He was a vital part of Green Bay’s game plan, which held the 49ers to under three yards a carry.

In the first quarter, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari got away with a blatant hold of San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith on an Aaron Rodgers completion to Jordy Nelson. The completion help setup Green Bay’s first scoring drive, which tied the game at seven.
Colin Kaepernick
Green Bay’s defense did prevent San Francisco’s running game from gashing them, but they still couldn’t get off the field. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick went 8-11 for 123 yards and a touchdown on third downs. San Francisco’s third-down conversions were critical in their 17-plus minute time of possession advantage over the Packers.

The read-option dominated the mid-week headlines, but Kaepernick did not have a designed run against the Packers throughout the entire first half. This is a strong indication that San Francisco came into the game anticipating the Packers were ready to stop Kaepernick’s legs. The 49ers came in with a passing mentality, as a result.

The 49ers did an excellent job of exploiting holes in Green Bay’s zone coverage. From a trips formation, they would have one receiver run an underneath route, causing Green Bay’s corners -- usually Sam Shields -- to bite on the route, opening up wide receiver Anquan Boldin for several big gains. The strategy was reminiscent of Arizona’s plan against the Packers in the 2009 Wild Card playoff game. Because of injury, Boldin did not play in the 51-45 Arizona victory, but he was apart of the Cardinals’ roster.

You now know of linebacker Clay Matthews’ bush-league tackle of Kaepernick in the second quarter of Green Bay’s loss to San Francisco. However, it may never have happen had Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy declined a five-yard illegal formation penalty from the play before. The Packers had just stopped running back Frank Gore short of the first down, setting up a potential fourth-and-1 situation, but McCarthy opted for the penalty setting up the now infamous altercation. 

Part of Green Bay’s plan for running back Eddie Lacy is to use him to wear down defenses in the fourth quarter. Lacy had five carries for 26 yards and a touchdown on Green Bay’s fourth quarter scoring drive. Prior to that drive, the rookie running back had only 15 yards on nine carries.

Did New York Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins fake an injury? The Cowboys sure thought so. Jenkins went down with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, forcing referees to pause the game. The Cowboys finally had their hurry-up offense in rhythm when Jenkins hit the floor. For what it’s worth, Jenkins was back in the game on the next Dallas possession.

Dallas did a great job of moving around defensive end DeMarcus Ware. For example, on the first play of the game, Ware lined up across room left tackle William Beatty and intercepted quarterback Eli Manning‘s pass. On the Giants’ first play of the second half, he lined up across from rookie right tackle Justin Pugh. On that play, his pressure of Manning helped contribute to linebacker Bruce Carter’s sack.

The Giants didn’t have a sack until seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph (with help from defensive end Justin Tuck) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul recorded sacks on back-to-back plays, forcing Dallas to punt the ball to Manning with just a six-point lead. 

The Cowboys had a ton of success utilizing their short passing game. In the first half, 25 of Romo’s 23 completions were caught 10 or fewer yards in the air. The Giants were afraid of wide receiver Dez Bryant beating them deep, so they were willing to allow Romo to hit on several short throws. Some of it was part of Dallas’ game plan, though. The Cowboys wanted to neutralize the Giants’ pass rush and Romo getting the ball out quickly was the best way to accomplish that.

Much of Philadelphia’s first half success was the result of Washington not doing anything when they had the ball. In fact, Washington’s first six plays included two turnovers and a safety. Keep that in mind while you hear commentators rave about head coach Chip Kelly’s offense all week.

On Monday night, the final minute of the first half wasn’t kind to Houston. It started with San Diego wide receiver Vincent Brown somehow hitting the pylon for a touchdown. The ruling on the field was originally no touchdown, but instant reply showed Brown hitting the pylon simultaneously as his hand hit the ground. Houston’s bad luck didn’t end there. Wide receiver Andre Johnson appeared to give kicker Randy Bullock an opportunity at an unlikely 59-yard field goal. Instant replay overturned his reception, however, taking the Texans out of field goal range. These pair of plays represented a potential 10-point swing in favor of the Chargers.

San Diego safety Eric Weddle displayed excellent awareness late in the fourth quarter. On a third-down play, Weddle had tight end Garrett Graham wrapped up out of bounce, but instead of throwing him to the ground (and giving the Texans an automatic first down), he had the presence of mind to let go. It may seem trivial, but week one penalties from Matthews and Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David emphasizes the importance of on-field awareness.

San Diego’s offense can’t blame just the defense for their 31-28 loss Monday night. The Chargers’ offense failed to record a first down on their final five possessions. 

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