NFL Take-a-palooza: Way-too-early thoughts and reactions from Week 1by Steven Ruiz
There’s nothing like the first Monday of the NFL season. No overreaction is too big. Not take is too hot.
Week 1 of the 2020 season not only provided us with some highly entertaining football but it also provided us with plenty of fuel for the hot take machine. Maybe it’s just me, but after spending 12 hours on the couch consuming as much football as humanly possible, I’ve got some takes to get off.
That’s what this space is for. Every Monday, I’ll take a trip around the NFL landscape and come up with my most interesting takes, no matter how irrational they might be. This week, we’ll start in Cleveland, where a certain quarterback isn’t too far off from earning the “bust” label.
The hottest take
It might be time to have an awkward conversation about Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield is running out of excuses. Cleveland has provided him with plenty of weapons. They addressed the offensive line in the offseason. They’ve fired the incompetent head coach and hired Kevin Stefanski to install a quarterback-friendly offense that would help to mask his weaknesses and highlight his strengths.
None of it made a difference in Cleveland’s 38-6 loss in Baltimore.
Mayfield’s stat line was unsightly. He completed 53.8% of his passes. He needed 39 attempts to throw for 189 yards. His average dropback cost the Browns -0.16 Expected Points. He threw only one interception but could have thrown at least two more.
I don’t know if those numbers even capture just how poorly he played, though. Here are some lowlights from his afternoon…
The Ravens defense will make a lot of quarterbacks look bad this season, but the issues we saw on Sunday were the same issues we saw in 2019 and all the way back to his college film. Mayfield stared down receivers, he threw into coverage, he panicked in clean pockets. His throws lacked touch and precision. And even when he managed to throw in rhythm, his accuracy was spotty. I think we’re starting to see why the guy was a two-time walk-on. He just isn’t that talented of a thrower and when you combine that with shoddy footwork, you get a bad quarterback.
All of those problems that were supposedly the result of Kitchens’ poorly-designed offense and weak pass protection persisted and it’s hard to ignore that the common denominator has been No. 6.
I’m not suggesting it’s time to give up on Mayfield, but the team has to be open to having that conversation if (when?) this continues.
A level-headed take
The Vikings defense will be fine
The 43 points the Vikings gave up on Sunday were the most since Mike Zimmer took over the team in 2014. It’s wasn’t the best start for a defense that underwent a soft reboot in the offseason, but there’s no need to panic.
Yes, it was ugly, but Danielle Hunter was hurt, the newly acquired Yannick Ngakoue didn’t get a full workload, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was hitting tight-window throws at an unsustainable rate and Zimmer has earned the benefit of the doubt, hasn’t he? It may take a month or so, but Zimmer will eventually pull the right strings and figure a way to get this defense playing at a high level. It’s what he’s done throughout his career as an NFL coach.
The awful performance was a little flukey, too. Rodgers had an expected completion percentage of 58.6%, per Next Gen Stats, which suggests Minnesota’s defense was forcing him into difficult throws … he just kept making them because great quarterbacks can sometimes make good coverage look like bad coverage. It happens. And the Vikings defense actually did a decent job forcing Green Bay into third downs. It just couldn’t get off the field. The Packers converted 6-of-11 third-down plays into first downs, including two via self-inflicted offsides penalties. There should be some regress toward the mean coming.
Zimmer will eventually tighten things up and Rodgers won’t be on the schedule every week. The Vikings defense will be fine, but it may not matter if the Packers keep getting performances like that from their quarterback.
A take that will upset the nerds
Top-end Aaron Rodgers is still elite but I’m not ready to say he’s back just yet
The best quarterback performance I’ve seen through 14 games? Rodgers against the Vikings and it’s not even close.
That was peak Rodgers we saw on Sunday. He hit on nearly every deep ball he threw. We got TWO vintage touchdown passes with Rodgers rolling to his right before firing a laser to a tightly covered receiver.
More importantly, the veteran quarterback seemed to trust Matt LaFleur’s offense. There wasn’t too much ad-libbing and Rodgers was hitting his check down on time, which was reflected in his average time-to-throw. The Packers quarterback released his passes after 2.59 seconds on average, per Next Gen Stats. In 2019, that number was at 2.88.
So why am I not ready to say elite Rodgers is back just yet? Well, we’ve known Rodgers has the kind of performance in him. The question is whether he can sustain that level of play for long stretches. We haven’t really seen him do it since 2016 when he last won MVP.
A hot take that I 100% believe
Mike McCarthy scammed the Cowboys
I mean, we already have McCarthy on record saying that he embellished the research he had done during his one-year hiatus from coaching, so this isn’t really a stretch. But the McCarthy we saw coaching the Cowboys on Sunday night was the same dude we saw wear out his welcome in Green Bay.
Sure, he went for it on fourth down in a spot where Jason Garrett would have surely settled for a field goal, and the Cowboys’ run-pass splits on early downs will appease the nerds, but McCarthy was already doing those things before he went on his pilgrimage to Pro Football Focus to learn analytics. And when McCarthy is basing decisions on “momentum” — a concept the nerds have rejected for years — it’s hard to believe he really learned anything.
I want to know what happened to all those new offense trends he studied this past year? The Cowboys offense was boring and stagnant and didn’t make anything easier for Dak Prescott. His quarterback seemed to play well and Ezekiel Elliott looked rejuvenated, yet Dallas could only muster 17 points, and there were almost no explosive gains to speak of.
That looked an awful lot like the 2018 Packers. That’s all I’m saying.
Adjusting my priors
The Rams offensive line is back … kind of
I’ve spent most of the offseason ripping the Rams front office and its decision to neglect the offensive line. The team made no major additions to a unit that was at the root of all of its offensive problems. It appeared as if they were just hoping things would magically improve.
The hope seems to have paid off. It was only one game, but against one of the league’s better defensive lines in Dallas, the Rams’ run-blocking looked a lot like it did in 2018. Los Angeles ran for 153 yards on 40 carries and that success really didn’t have much to do with the performance of the running backs. According to Next Gen Stats, Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers combined for a Rushing Yards Over Expectation of -17.
With the Rams offense staying ahead of the chains, Sean McVay didn’t have to put too much on Jared Goff’s plate and he responded with a solid outing — especially on the play-action passes the offenses that make the offense go.
The results weren’t close to what we saw out of this team in 2018 — the run game broke even in terms of Expected Points Added and the 38% success rate isn’t going to excite anyone — but the offensive line looks like it won’t sabotage the offense like it did in 2019.
Jimmy Garoppolo is who he is (not a very good quarterback)
Let’s stop overthinking the Jimmy G thing. We expended so much energy trying to figure out if he was actually good last season, and I’m blaming 49ers fans for that.
He’s still young, they said! He’s still getting comfortable after the torn ACL, they insisted! Wait until his second full season under Kyle Shanahan, they told us!
Well, the Jimmy G we saw in the 49ers’ 24-20 loss to Arizona on Sunday was the same Jimmy G we saw in the 49ers’ last loss — in the Super Bowl. That’s not true, actually. Instead of overthrowing an open receiver on a potential game-winning throw, this time Garoppolo mixed things up and underthrew his receiver on what should have been the go-ahead touchdown.
But the rest of his performance? Exactly the same. Every time he hit the back of his drop and the ball didn’t come out, hilarity ensued. The man was doing laps around the pocket.
He was late on the game-deciding throw.
But not before he threw the ball up for grabs with the game on the line.
The stats don’t tell the story, but the 49ers quarterback is the main reason why the defending NFC champs are 0-1.
Garoppolo is 28 and has already made more money than I’ll make in my lifetime. The excuses need to stop and we just need to accept that this is what he’s probably always going to be: A guy who throws a pretty ball but turns into a 10-year-old playing Madden when his first read isn’t open.
Shanahan doesn’t need much more out of his quarterback to conjure up a good offense, but will it be enough to win a championship? The answer last year was “no” and doesn’t appear much has changed over the offseason.
Jumping to a conclusion based on a small sample size
Home-field advantage might not be a thing this season
I already know this take will end up looking dumb in about a month, but there’s no better time to overreact to small sample sizes than Week 1. There have been 14 games played so far and only two have featured fans in the stands. In the 12 with empty seats, home teams are 6-6.
I don’t think it’s a lack of noise that has buoyed the road teams in those games, though. Studies have shown that a loud crowd doesn’t really affect the performance of either team. But fans do seem to influence the referees, and without 80,000 fans screaming at them, the refs don’t feel as much pressure to make calls in favor of the home team. That’s how things have played out so far, at least: Home teams have been flagged fewer times but the difference is negligible if you don’t include the Kansas City and Jacksonville games. In the other 12 games, the home teams have been penalized 71 times while road teams have been hit with 76 penalties.
And maybe we’ve overrated the effect of travel: In Week 1, the two West Coast teams playing at 1 p.m. on the East coast — Seattle and Oakland — not only won but also covered the spread.
A hill I’m willing to die on
The Chargers have the best uniforms in the NFL
I thought we all agreed the Chargers’ new uniforms were awesome, but apparently that’s not the case. I saw more than a few “these uniforms are actually bad” takes come across my timeline, and I’m not having it.
Look at these things…
USA TODAY Sports
These uniforms are perfect and if anyone tells you differently, you might want to consider cutting off communication with that person. You don’t need that negativity in your life.
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