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Hurt Packers struggle, Mahomes dazzles, NFL power rankings and more


The Green Bay Packers were injury-ridden and looked lost on Sunday, getting handled by an explosive Minnesota Vikings team.

The new-look Green Bay Packers made their debut in Minnesota against the Vikings on Sunday afternoon. Well, most of them anyway.

Green Bay’s unveiling fell horribly flat, losing 23-7 with Jordan Love providing mop-up duty for the beat-up and beleaguered Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was sacked four times and hit five times behind a makeshift offensive line playing without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and star guard Elgton Jenkins. The result was predictable against a fearsome Minnesota pass rush bolstered by former Packers stud Za’Darius Smith, who notched a sack in the win.

But for the Packers, it wasn’t the loss that was unsettling.

It was the manner in which it occurred.

Green Bay was handled physically, a problem for a team no longer blessed with the ability to target receiver Davante Adams 10+ times each week. The Packers built a defense loaded with seven first-round picks, and yet the unit was shredded for 395 total yards on 6.2 yards per play, including 184 receiving yards for Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson.

And Jefferson brings us to another issue: defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s plan. Barry refused to have All-World corner Jaire Alexander travel with Jefferson. The result was multiple blown coverages, while Alexander was wasting his time on lesser players who were buried in the progression.

This is something Alexander was vocally displeased about in the postgame commentary.

Barry has to be better in his weekly preparation with something so obvious. If you have a terrific corner who can travel, he needs to do it against a foe with perhaps the best receiver in football. Period.

Some of these issues should self-correct in time. Bakhtiari and Jenkins have been practicing and could be back for Week 2. That, in theory, alleviates the pressure on Rodgers. It also creates more rushing lanes for Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, who combined ran for 94 yards on 15 carries and could be even better.

While many will critique the Packers’ lack of proven receivers, that issue should also improve. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs will gain experience, and hopefully Watson won’t see the pre-draft concerns of drops become the problem they were on Sunday. Tight end Robert Tonyan will continue to work his way back from a torn ACL.

In short, the offense will improve, but that’s not enough. The defense also needs to become a dominating group considering how much has been put into it. Packers fans know this.

Ultimately, the Packers need to accept an identity shift from high-flying to hard-nosed.

Otherwise, Green Bay will pretend its way through bad opponents but lose to the good ones.

A recipe for another fun season with a crash landing in January.

Power rankings

Top 10 individual Week 1 performances

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs – 360 passing yards, 9.2 YPA, 5 TDs
2. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings – 9 catches, 182 yards, 2 TDs
3. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills – 353 total yards, 296 passing yards, 9.6 YPA, 3 TDs
4. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers – 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, 3 TFL
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants – 164 rushing yards, 9.1 YPC, TD
6. Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers – 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, 2 TFL
7. Von Miller, EDGE, Buffalo Bills – 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, 3 TFL
8. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts – 161 rushing yards, 5.2 YPC, TD
9. D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions – 144 rushing yards, 31 rec. yards, 9.6 YPC, TD
10. A.J. Brown, WR, Philadelphia Eagles – 10 catches, 155 yards

Quotable

“Having TJ out there definitely benefits us. He’s a leader. He’s the Defensive Player of the Year. However long it takes, other guys gotta step up. Alex (Highsmith) stepped up pretty good today. Malik (Reed) and Jamir (Jones) are coming along. We had to do some different stuff out there, but we rally around him. And when he gets back, we’ll be ready.”

– Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward on T.J. Watt’s pec injury

Hayward says what he should here, but the Steelers are in deep trouble without Watt. The All-Pro left late in the fourth quarter with a pectoral injury, which Pittsburgh reportedly fears is torn. If that’s the case and Watt is out for the season, Pittsburgh will need its offense to be far better than its showing Sunday, which scored 13 points despite benefitting from five turnovers.

Podcast

Random stat

Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals gave up 55 sacks, the third-most in football. On Sunday, they allowed another seven sacks in a 23-20 overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a completely revamped unit up front.

It needs to get much, much better for the Bengals.

Info learned this week

1. Week 1 is always a crapshoot, and Sunday was no different

If you had the Chicago Bears, Giants and Steelers winning in your parlay, congrats. If you had the Colts and Texans playing to a 20-20 draw, you’re a magician. If you had the Atlanta Falcons mounting a huge lead and then blowing it against the New Orleans Saints, well, you’re familiar with the Falcons.

Of course, the kickers were also a mess. Cincinnati only needed an extra point or 29-yard field goal to win, but got neither. Tennessee’s Randy Bullock had the Titans’ game on his foot, but the kick sailed left.

Then there are the Steelers and Colts who also watched their kickers miss potential game-winning field goals, albeit with Chris Boswell atoning later on for Pittsburgh.

Then there was Kansas City, which saw Harrison Butler leave to an ankle injury, only to see safety Justin Reid come in and drill an extra point. Then there was Cleveland Browns rookie Cade York, who connected on a game-winner from 58 yards.

We also saw good quarterbacks go haywire, with Derek Carr helping sink the Las Vegas Raiders with three interceptions, while Joe Burrow turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and a. fumble) in Cincinnati’s defeat. We also witnessed Aaron Rodgers post a QBR of 16.1.

Week 1 is always a circus, and all three rings were in full effect on Sunday.

2. Dak Prescott’s hand injury could send NFC into chaos

The Dallas Cowboys lost a hell of a lot more than a Week 1 game. They might have lost their season.

In Sunday night’s 19-3 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Dak Prescott broke his thumb and will be out 6-8 weeks following surgery. Without Prescott, it’s Cooper Rush, at least as how the depth chart stands. And with respect to Rush, it’s curtains if he plays extended time.

All this leads to an obvious question: would the Cowboys trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, and if so, will the 49ers deal him there?

Garoppolo is now on a palatable cap hit of $13.9 million, with the veteran also holding a no-trade clause. The reality? Dallas could afford to acquire him both in terms of draft capital and financially, and Garoppolo would have an incentive to start on a competitive team and therefore waive his leverage.

And yet the ultimate question is whether San Francisco would move Garoppolo after losing to the Bears in a rain-soaked 19-10 affair at Soldier Field? If the Niners believe in Trey Lance, it’s a great opportunity to get an additional draft pick. If not, Garoppolo is likely too valuable to move in a season with Super Bowl dreams.

If the Cowboys can’t acquire Garoppolo, they seem doomed. If they do bring him in, maybe they can compete in the NFC East, a division that otherwise won all its games in Week 1.

What ends up happening with Dallas, and potentially Garoppolo, could impact the entire conference.

3. Mahomes, Chiefs explode without Tyreek Hill for 44 points

One of the dominant storylines this offseason was whether the Chiefs would remain an elite offense without Tyreek Hill.

One week in, signs are positive.

Against the Arizona Cardinals, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes went berserk, completing 30-of-39 throws for 360 yards and five touchdowns en route to a 44-21 victory. Mahomes found nine different receivers, with tight end Travis Kelce totaling a team-best 121 yards while newcomer JuJu Smith-Schuster added six catches for 79 yards.

While Kansas City only had two passing plays of 30 or more yards, it executed with ruthless efficiency. The Chiefs were 6-for-6 in the red zone, converted on 5-of-8 third downs. Kansas City also showed balance, averaging 9.2 yards per pass attempt and 4.7 yards per carry, racking up 488 total yards despite playing backups for a large chunk of the fourth quarter.

It’s only one game, and the Chiefs will surely miss Hill at points in the season. But against Arizona, Kansas City looked like its juggernaut self in the largest margin of victory this week.

4. Baker Mayfield’s revenge effort left plenty of questions

Of the 74,000 people at Bank of America Stadium, nobody had to be more annoyed than Baker Mayfield when the aforementioned York bent a 58-yard field goal attempt through the uprights, giving the Browns a 26-24 victory.

Mayfield was a wreck early, throwing for 15 yards on his first 11 attempts with an interception. In the fourth quarter, the former No. 1 overall pick led touch drive drives, erasing a 13-point deficit to provide Carolina with a 24-23 advantage. Ultimately, it came up short, but the questions surrounding Mayfield and the Panthers are only getting louder.

While the final 15 minutes were great for Mayfield, what happened for the previous 45? Granted, Mayfield was under pressure, taking four sacks including two from Myles Garrett, but Carolina had matchups to exploit out of the backfield and on the perimeter. It mattered little for far too long.

5. Russell Wilson looks for gratification on MNF

For Russell Wilson, it’s not about revenge. It’s about justifying his wants.

Wilson wanted out of Seattle and got his wish, with the Seahawks trading their eight-time Pro Bowler to the Denver Broncos for a haul of picks and players. Now, Wilson returns to Lumen Field in Week 1 under the lights, hoping to show he left for a better situation, and more opportunities.

For Denver, it hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015. The Broncos paid a premium for Wilson — both in the trade and his extension — knowing he’s potentially their ticket to postseason runs for the coming years. Meanwhile, the rebuild is on for Seattle, fueled by the multiple first- and second-round picks acquired for Wilson’s services.

Last week, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll all but implored the fans to boo Wilson. Some will, and some will cheer, but that’s missing the bigger point. Wilson left Seattle with a ring and another Super Bowl appearance, and now gives them a bevy of draft capital to utilize.

And for Wilson, he walks away and gets a second life, hoping to prove he can take more offensive responsibility and win another championship before too much sand goes into the wrong portion of his career’s hourglass.

Two cents

The Buffalo Bills clobbering the Los Angeles Rams to begin the season could have many takeaways. Sean McVay’s failings were among the biggest.

McVay, correctly lauded for his innovative scheming, has always been one of the league’s more conservative coaches since taking the Rams job in 2016. It was a tendency on full display in Super Bowl LVI with his insistence on running almost every first down through the first three quarters.

On Thursday, with his offensive line unable to block Buffalo, McVay did the same thing.

The Rams had 12 first-down plays before they trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter — not including a two-minute drill to end the first half. Of those plays, McVay called eight runs. The tact consistently put the Rams behind schedule, forcing an already overmatched front to block against a Buffalo pass rush not having to fear the run.

While Buffalo deserves ample credit for its showing in the season opener, the Rams deserve just as much blame for a gameplan doomed to fail.

Inside the league

Many around the NFL wondered what the Miami Dolphins would look like after an offseason of big moves and hyping up quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The first returns? Excellent.

In Miami’s 20-7 win, Tagovailoa threw for 270 yards and a score on 22-of-33 passing, with newcomer Tyreek Hill being good for 94 of those yards. Miami spread the ball around, Tagovailoa stayed on schedule, and the Dolphins’ defense allowed the offense to play a methodical style, capped off by a 37-yard touchdown on a slant to receiver Jaylen Waddle on a 4th and 1 in the second quarter.

There will be additional tests for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins as more tape is created on first-year head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense. There will also be better opponents.

But the Dolphins looked terrific in Week 1, and Tagovailoa must be feeling better than he has since coming to Miami.

BetSided’s best bet

Jags +4.5 vs. Colts

Indianapolis returns to the house of horrors that is Jacksonville; looking to redeem itself from a brutal Week 18 loss that knocked it out of the playoff race last season.

Only problem? The Colts can’t win in Jacksonville under Frank Reich. Similar to his continued frustrations in Week 1 (now 0-4-1 both straight up and against-the-spread), Reich is 0-4 in his career in Jacksonville, despite the Jaguars finishing with the worst record in the NFL the last two years.

Reich is also 8-12-1 in Weeks 1-5 as a head coach, and I like Jacksonville to cover a fairly large number as a home dog.

– Ben Heisler

History lesson

This was the first Week 1 without a rookie starting quarterback since 2007.

Parting shot

It’s one game, but the Eagles must love their trade for A.J. Brown.

During the 2022 Draft’s opening night, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman sent a first-round pick to the Tennessee Titans to acquire Brown. In his Philly debut, Brown torched the Detroit Lions in a 38-35 win, going for 10 receptions and 155 yards.

While Brown’s numbers are impressive, his presence is enormous for quarterback Jalen Hurts. In his third pro season, Hurts has been given a fantastic roster and the chance to prove he’s the long-term answer under center. His ’22 debut was quite encouraging, with 333 total yards and a score.

Again, one game, but the Eagles looked the part of a contender.





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