The first week of the NFL regular season brings our first tangible look at what 32 teams around the league hope to accomplish on both sides of the ball.
It's a super-small sample size and is ripe ground for overreaction and rush to judgment. But there's still plenty to take away.
I used a quiet Tuesday to dig into Game Rewind and All-22 footage from a handful of the Week 1 matchups. With a second look at the action, here's what we learned:
1. Let's start at MetLife, where the Jets' defense came to play. What I saw from this unit in the preseason had me concerned, but New York's pass rush caused all sorts of problems for the Bucs. Check out defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson plowing past Tampa's left guard and tackle for one of Gang Green's three sacks on quarterback Josh Freeman:
2. When we wrote about running back Doug Martin last season for a "Film Room" segment, he was en route to an outstanding rookie season, but the runner never found his footing against the Jets. The Bucs desperately miss guard Carl Nicks. I also saw Tampa's tight ends visibly struggle in pass protection.
3. Geno Smith was sacked five times, but that's deceiving. He had plenty of time to throw. Geno displayed some rushed decision-making, but increasingly he drove the ball with confidence. Smith also makes plays with his feet.
4. New York's use of the Wildcat was a joke. On Smith's first series as a pro, they yanked him off the field on second down for a direct snap to running back Bilal Powell, who failed to convert. On third down, they snapped it to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who sailed an incomplete pass out of bounds. And on came the punting unit. The Jets are using this ancient subpackage to mask the lack of a consistent ground game. Chris Ivory was in a fog on Sunday.
2. This game felt shot out of 1973. While the rest of the league went haywire through the air, the Titans put together a 13-play, second-quarter touchdown drive that featured 12 runs and one pass. It was successful because Tennessee's rebuilt front five wanted it more than Pittsburgh.
3. I came away from this weird game convinced the Titans don't believe in Jake Locker's ability to win through the air. Despite a talented cast of receivers, I saw nothing explosive about Tennessee's passing attack. Still, signs of good coaching were evident. Locker made good decisions, and he stepped into his passes when asked to throw, but that didn't happen often. His 20 attempts were the least among all 32 starting quarterbacks. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, in contrast, tossed it 62 times.
4. Hard to believe, but Pittsburgh's current backfield situation is even darker than last season. I've never seen the Steelers' offense look this passive.
5. On the bright side, Troy Polamalu still does this:
1. The Around the League gang slept on quarterback EJ Manuel in our Offensive Rookie of the Year Predictions. He fell off the radar because of his August knee procedure, but Manuel showed no signs of discomfort against the Patriots. He didn't set the world on fire, but EJ was prepared, physically sharp and efficient in running the offense.
On this play, there are 4 receivers that end up on one side of the field. Manuel only has a half field read. pic.twitter.com/VXrcZ8y6BIâ NFL Philosophy (@NFLosophy) September 11, 2013
3. Coordinator Mike Pettine's defense is fun to watch, but didn't do enough to unseat quarterback Tom Brady. It's hard to envision the Bills evening this rivalry until they can get inside the quarterback's head. Brady rattled off a league-leading 89 plays. On 55 dropbacks, he was sacked just twice.
4. The Patriots ask much of their wide receivers, so patience is required with rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. There were evident route-running issues early in the game, and he caught just four of the 14 passes that sailed his way. Still, Thompkins played 87 snaps, and Brady kept returning to him despite obvious growing pains.
1. Defensive end Cameron Wake went next level as the Dolphins hit Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden 16 times and piled up six sacks, including 2½ by Wake. The right side of Cleveland's offensive line was an epic tire fire. Browns guard Oniel Cousins committed a string of crushing penalties and served as a barnyard door for Miami defenders. Tackle Mitchell Schwartz -- who quietly was one of the team's better rookies last season -- looked dazed as Wake caught fire.
3. Trent Richardson ran with brute force on the game's opening drive, but Cleveland then stumbled into a Weedenesque forest of errors and abandoned the ground game. Consider this stat: Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had nine missed tackles in 31 attempts against the Washington Redskins. T-Rich had eight missed tackles in just 13 totes. He's Cleveland's best player and -- with the game in reach -- he didn't have a carry in the fourth quarter.
3. Cornerback Charles Tillman played 49 of 58 defensive snaps and spent most of the day paired up against A.J. Green. The Bears corner gave up catches and yards to the Bengals Pro Bowl wideout. But the first of Tillman's two interceptions show why he's special:
4. Our first look at Cutler in coach Marc Trestman's offense was encouraging. He showed growth in doing the small things, and he can wing it as well anyone in the game:
5. On Andy Dalton: He showed plenty of arm on a pair of long strikes to Green. We'll see that again and again, but I still view an offense that will struggle if the Dalton-to-Green combo is taken away. Running back Giovani Bernard barely saw the ball, so we don't have a complete picture of Jay Gruden's attack.
6. Typing these words for the first time ever: Chicago's offensive line shows promise.
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