The 49ers boast the largest margin of victory in Week 1 after dismantling the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night, while the Steelers showcased their potent, exciting offense in a victory over the Redskins.
Here's what we learned from Monday's two games:
- The Rams fancy themselves a smashmouth, ball-control outfit featuring the NFL's dominant defensive front seven. While Jeff Fisher's squad failed to upgrade the roster during the offseason, the improved offensive and defensive lines in San Francisco turned the tables, bullying Los Angeles in the trenches. By halftime, 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert had scrambled for more yards (41) than Rams offensive focal point Todd Gurley (28) totaled on the ground. By the time the Rams' best player, Aaron Donald, was ejected late in the fourth quarter, they had managed just 56 rushing yards and 77 passing yards versus 102 penalty yards and 431 punting yards.
- Citing a four-game stretch of respectable game managing to close out the 2015 season, the Rams' brass spent the past six months wishcasting Case Keenum into a legitimate NFL starter capable of bridging the gap to their quarterback of the future. While purported franchise savior Jared Goff watched from the sidelines as a gameday inactive, Keenum's offense was the picture of ineptitude. Overseeing a horizontal offense with no intermediate or downfield threat, Keenum's 13 possessions resulted in 10 punts, two interceptions and a failed fourth-down attempt deep in garbage time.
Even more disheartening for the Rams' faithful is Keenum thoroughly outplayed an obviously overwhelmed Goff in August. Once Fisher and his staff review the game film, they will have to decide whether it's Keenum, Goff or Sean Mannion charged with the daunting prospect of solving Seattle's Legion of Boom defense next week while attempting to score the Los Angeles Rams' first point in 23 years.
- Carlos Hydeowns the late Monday night opener. The 49ers tailback has totaled 275 yards and four touchdowns on a whopping 53 touches during Monday Night Football the past two years. Hyde and Chip Kelly took turns raving about his fit in the 49ers' new offensive scheme this offseason. The early returns are promising, as Hyde showed the agility, power and vision to flourish as the bell cow in Kelly's run-heavy offense. Kelly's Eagles were 24-8 over three years when rushing for 100 yards or more in a game.
- While Hyde showed promise for San Francisco, Gurley had no chance behind an anemic offensive line tasked with opening holes against a 49ers defense stacking the box with no respect for the Rams' aerial "attack." After averaging 141.5 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry in his first four career starts, Gurley has stumbled to 64.2 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry over his last nine starts.
As Fisher cycles through play-callers, his offense remains stuck in a vicious circle with no semblance of rhythm or imagination. Absent a passable threat at quarterback, Gurley has little chance on first and second down. Backed into third-and-long situations against defenses bringing pressure, the quarterback has little chance to sustain drives. If Monday's game is any indication, the Rams will repeat last year's last-place finish on third-down conversion rate.
- Led by All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers' defense showed signs of rejuvenation in coordinator Jim O'Neil's debut. They will face a much stiffer test against reigning MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers next week.
- Similarly, Blaine Gabbert will have to fare better as a passer to give the 49ers a chance at Carolina. Although Gabbert's running ability gives Kelly's offense an element it sorely missed the past two years, he has struggled with basic throws going back to the preseason. His unacceptable yards-per-attempt figure of 4.9 Monday night included a blatant misfire to a wide-open Jeremy Kerley on a potential touchdown. With Colin Kaepernick waiting in the wings, Gabbert's shoddy ball location could be his undoing.
- Although he considered pulling Keenum for Mannion in the fourth quarter, Fisher stated at his post-game press conference that the performance "doesn't change anything" as far as the quarterback pecking order for Week 2.
In the season premier of HBO's Hard Knocks last month, Fisher famously ranted that he's "not going 7-9 this year." Until he manages to coax acceptable play out of one of his quarterbacks, seven wins will seem like a pipe dream.
-- Chris Wesseling
- DeAngelo Williams is the most underpaid, underrated running back in football. Williams ran through a porous Redskins rush defense with incredible patience, vision and ability to get skinny while squeezing through tired Washington defenders. Williams finished with 171 yards from scrimmage, including six catches and two touchdowns. The 33-year-old only got stronger as the night wore on, rushing for 73 yards in the fourth quarter. He can still make people miss and power through defenders at the goal line.
Williams signed to a two-year, $4 million contract last March and has proceeded to start more games than starter Le'Veon Bell since then. Bell will return from suspension in Week 4. In the meantime, the Steelers still have one of the best backs in the league.
- It doesn't hurt Williams that Antonio Brown and the big-play Steelers passing game attract so much attention. Coach Mike Tomlin said the team wanted to be "thoughtfully aggressive" and it paid off.
Pittsburgh's first touchdown came when Ben Roethlisberger (300 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT) dialed up a gorgeous 26-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one to Antonio Brown. The team's second touchdown came on a drive where coordinator Todd Haley again threw on fourth down. The Redskins, meanwhile, passed on a fourth-and-one at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line in the first quarter, setting the groundwork for a timid night from Washington.
- Kirk Cousins' push for a long-term contract is off to a rough start. His numbers (30 for 42, 329 yards, two interceptions) don't tell the story about his disappointing night. Cousins was not accurate early in the game, wasting promising drives with low throws. He made poor decisions on when to run and when not to run. The Steelers played zone defense much of the night, forcing Cousins to be patient. He refused to wait for a big play to develop despite a quiet Steelers pass rush. It got so bad that ESPN's Jon Gruden was audibly groaning after some decisions, feeling the pain of his brother on the Redskins sideline.
-- Gregg Rosenthal