|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Travis LaBoy and the Cardinals defense set the tone for a 23-13 win by stopping the 49ers on the opening possession.|
As Week 1 comes to an end I want to look back at some of the storylines I thought would drive the first week of action and see if I can explain why some of these things happened and how they may affect the league next week and possibly for weeks to come.
1. A kickoff deferred
The NFL decided to use the college rule that enables the team that wins the coin toss to defer -- kickoff to start the game and receive the kickoff to start the second half. Coaches in favor of deferring may consider it advantageous to put their defense on the field first, or they may like the idea of getting a half of football to see what the opposing defense is doing and get the ball first after making halftime adjustments. The coaches who want the ball first when they win the toss may want the wind in the fourth quarter or want the opportunity to get an early lead.
Before I talk about the Week 1 teams that exercised the option to defer, I took a look at the 2007 stats for opening drives of the game as compared to opening drives of the second half. Based on these numbers, it appears there is little advantage either way:
Opening drive of game:
» 82 of 256 drives resulted in a score (32 percent)
» 50 of 256 drives resulted in a touchdown (19.5 percent)
» 32 of 256 drives resulted in a field goal (12.5 percent)
Opening drive of second half:
» 83 of 256 drives resulted in a score (32.4 percent)
» 55 of 256 drives resulted in a touchdown (21.4 percent)
» 28 of 256 drives resulted in a field goal (11 percent)
On Sunday, five teams that won the toss -- St. Louis, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Dallas, and Arizona -- deferred to the second half. The only team that it really worked out for was Arizona. The Cardinals forced a three-and-out by the 49ers to start the game and then opened the second half by orchestrating a 15-play drive that ended in a field goal. Tennessee and Dallas forced its opponents to punt on the opening possession but both teams also punted themselves at the end of the first series of the second half.
It's only one week and I will track it for a few more weeks, but I suspect some of the teams that deferred last week will not defer again. Two coaches whose teams opened at home and didn't defer already told me they will do it when they are on the road.
2. Pressure the quarterbacks
When the Giants developed a defense that sacked Tom Brady five times and hit him another nine times in the Super Bowl, it shaped up as a blueprint for getting after quarterbacks in 2008. In the first 14 games, there were more than 60 sacks and 90 more hits on the QB. Brady, Vince Young, and Brodie Croyle didn't finish the games they started, Ben Roethlisberger dodged a serious injury and we still have two Monday night games left to play. The pressure is on for NFL quarterbacks in 2008 and offensive coordinators are going to have to think about 6- and 7-man protection packages or the injuries are going to mount.
3. Favre vs. Pennington.
Brett Favre won his debut as Jets quarterback, and there is little doubt his performance inspired the organization and its fans. It may have a similar reverse effect on the Packers and Patriots. Favre found seven different receivers, threatened the field vertically, converted 6 of 14 third- and fourth-down situations (42 percent) and settled down a team that has been looking for an identity for close to two years. He doesn't need a big, complicated package of plays, which is good for him and the young players on the team. He will influence the coaches to repeat plays that work and, more importantly, his presence opens up running opportunities because the opposing defenses will be worried about the vertical passing attack. His arm strength was impressive and no one doubts his fastball is still impressive.
Meanwhile, the pressure on Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay was already present and the more Favre wins, the more heat Rodgers will feel. As for the Patriots, the Brady injury puts the Jets in contention right away because Favre is running the offense.
Chad Pennington did not lead the Dolphins to a win, but completing 26 of 43 passes for two touchdowns while hitting eight different receivers stabilizes the Miami offense. For a team that was 1-15 last year, that's the first step in the right direction. The coaches can turn their attention to an offensive line that gave up four sacks and only generated 2.9 yards per carry on the ground.
4. Rookie quarterbacks
Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning were the last two rookie quarterbacks to do that in their debut back in 1971. Of course, that's a double-edged sword -- Manning never went to the playoffs and Plunkett failed as the Patriots QB before finding success with the Raiders. The point is that everyone must avoid raising expectations to unrealistic levels because of the Week 1 wins. Both young signal callers benefited from very good run games and opponents that didn't play very well. The important thing after one week is that there is no turning back now for either QB, and the Falcons and Ravens might as well just keep starting their young passers. They will have bumps in the road, but the future looks bright for now.
5. Texans for real? Not yet
Heading into Week 1, I was curious to see if the Houston Texans were for real. The result was a 38-17 loss in Pittsburgh. They had a tough assignment going into Heinz Field, but giving up five sacks, another six hits on the QB, along with throwing two interceptions and only running the ball for 3.8 yards per carry doesn't indicate they are ready for the jump up to playoff contender. The Steelers only threw 14 passes but two went for touchdowns and they ran the ball at 4.7 yards per run. Houston has a lot of work to do before it is considered a playoff contender this year.
6. The Martz effect
The 49ers are in a difficult situation and they took the risk of installing the Mike Martz offense with a few of the components Martz had in his glory days with the Rams. The Niners gave up four sacks and had four more hits on the QB. They lost the time of possession battle by 15 minutes, and wide receivers only caught four passes all day. The system works, but it may become clear the team doesn't have the personnel to run it.
Week 1 Unsung Heroes
Note: For 10 years, I have been highlighting the NFL's Unsung Heroes -- bringing attention to the people behind the scenes that help make some of the extraordinary things happen in the NFL on any given weekend. At the end of the year, the Unsung Hero of the Year is presented a trophy made in the name of Chip Myers, a longtime NFL assistant coach and former player who passed away just days after he was elevated to his first coordinator position with the Minnesota Vikings. Chip was well respected by everyone in the coaching ranks and embodied all the virtues assistant coaches need to be successful. He was humble, a good teacher, a loyal friend and a tireless worker.
1. Bobby April
Special teams coach, Buffalo Bills
Coach April is considered one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL and this week the Bills special teams scored two touchdowns. Roscoe Parrish had a 63-yard punt return and punter Brian Moorman threw a 19-yard TD pass to Ryan Denney on a fake field-goal attempt that finished off the Seahawks. Moorman also dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line, all of which led to punts by the Seahawks.
2. Mike Mularkey
Offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Mularkey started a rookie QB, a rookie left tackle and a running back who was a backup for his previous team. The Falcons scored 34 points, the running back broke the Falcons' single-game rushing mark and the offense gained 474 yards.
3. Jim Johnson
Defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles defense held the Rams to three points but it's even more impressive when you look at some other numbers: The Rams were 0-for-11 on third down, QB Marc Bulger was sacked four times and RB Steven Jackson was held to 2.9 yards per carry.