There’s a new one-word mantra in Big D: Finish. Had the Cowboys finished either of their two respective halves of football, they’d be atop their division with a key win over an East rival. Instead, they’re in an early hole. The Cowboys outgained the Redskins, 380 yards to 250. Tony Romo was largely poised and efficient, completing nearly 66 percent of his passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. The Cowboy defense harassed Donovan McNabb into a 15-of-32 debut in burgundy and gold. But with four seconds left in the first half, Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was possessed by the spirit of Joe Pisarcik and decided to run a play, a shovel pass to Tashard Choice, whose struggle for stat-padding yardage led to a strip and a shocking touchdown by DeAngelo Hall. Then, with the ’Boys at the Redskins 13 on the game’s final play, Romo scrambled and found Roy Williams alone in the corner of the end zone — but right tackle Alex Barron had embraced Brian Orakpo like a long-lost love. Holding. Game over. “We made far too many mistakes,” Romo said in the night’s understatement, “and we weren’t able to overcome them.”
Chris Johnson: Still electrifying
It was vintage CJ out there against the still-hapless Raiders. The Oakland D was stout early, holding Johnson to a few timid, probing runs amid the tall timber. Then, like Keyser Soze, poof — he was gone. Johnson’s 76-yard sprint in the second quarter gave Tennessee an insurmountable 24–3 lead and propelled him to his 12th consecutive 100-yard game. It also provided more than half of his 142 yards, but that’s CJ’s MO. The home run, and the threat thereof, will be Tennessee’s primary offensive weapon this season. Johnson’s presence allowed receiver Nate Washington to run free for a tone-setting first-quarter 56-yard TD reception from Vince Young. “A lot of teams in this league are going to be fearful of what he can do,” Washington said of Johnson. “When (Young) faked it to Chris, I was able to see the safety and corner bite down. I was just able to run right by them.” Be afraid, AFC South. Very afraid.
Welcome back, Michael Vick
Michael Vick’s last start in the NFL came on the last day of 2006. In his first meaningful action since then, Vick almost salvaged a dogfight with the Packers, but in the end the Eagles were more bark than bite. (Sorry, I’ll stop now). After a concussion knocked starter Kevin Kolb out of the game, Vick keyed an explosive second half, completing 16-of-24 passes for 175 yards and a score and rushing for 103 yards, becoming only the third Eagle QB with 175 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game since 1960. It wasn’t quite enough, as the Packers held on to win 27–20, but it was an impressive flashback to his Superman days in Atlanta. Andy Reid says there’s no quarterback controversy in Philly — Kolb’s still his guy — the results would seem to argue otherwise, as does Vick. “I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters, maybe we would've had a chance to win the game,” he said. He just might be right.
Sunday’s breakout star: Arian Foster
The helpful folks at Elias strike again, informing us that Arian Foster’s 231-yard performance was the second-best opening day rushing performance in NFL history, surpassed only by O.J. Simpson’s 250 yards to open his 2,000-yard 1973 season. Not bad for a former undrafted practice squadder. Foster shredded the Colts run defense all day, helping the Texans compile a franchise-record 257 yards on the ground in a physically dominant 34–24 win. His three second-half touchdowns enabled the Texans to hold off a Peyton Manning comeback attempt and back up some of that offseason smack talk. So, after years of teasing and tantalizing their fans, are the Texans finally ready to contend? I’m not ready to go there just yet — Houston has shown flashes before, only to self-destruct — but I am ready to anoint Foster as the opening week’s most pleasant surprise. That’ll have to do for now.
Petey still rules the West Coast, for now
Pete Carroll may have cultivated a surfer boy image during his stunningly successful tenure at USC, but he stalked the sidelines in LA with a determined gait, and he’s apparently brought that determination north to Seattle. But his rah-rah reputation is still certainly intact. Carroll’s Seahawks shocked the 49ers 31–6, and Petey loved every minute of it, imploring the Qwest Field crowd to join him in his celebrating his triumphant return to pro football. “He was probably the most enthusiastic person in the place,” said linebacker Lofa Tatupu. “Pete wants to get out there and hit.”
Yeah, so I really wish somebody would have told me that the now infamous phrase "RBBC" - short for "running back by committee" could potentially extend to the signal caller position in Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season.
The biggest mistake many fantasy owners make after Week 1 is to put aside all the observations and expectations they carried into the season and overrate what happened in the first set of real games.
I love to comb to free-agent market after the league has run through its first set of adds and drops to see which players have already been orphaned. That’s the biggest thing to watch for this week. One good or bad week doesn’t paint a full-season picture.
Of course, football also presents the shortest season, so Week 1 performances can’t be ignored either. Here are some little-owned guys worth grabbing if you have a spot. (Just don’t go cutting C.J. Spiller to create that spot.)
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars
He was twice a subject of my sleeper columns in this space and a solid fantasy performer before this season. Yet, Garrard ended Sunday night owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Three touchdown passes in the first week will change that in a hurry, and it’s not as if Garrard loaded up against a terrible defense. Last year, at least, Denver allowed the third fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. This is obviously a new year, but the Broncos start the same secondary as they did in 2009. Garrard’s 76.2 percent completion rate made the performance look even better.
Mark Clayton, WR, Rams
One game certainly does not tell us the whole story on target distribution, but Clayton drew a team-high 16 looks in Sunday’s loss to Arizona less than a week after joining the team. Everyone’s numbers were inflated by the 55 pass attempts, which certainly won’t be the norm (or else we’ll be talking about Sam Bradford’s untimely death by Week 6), but Clayton led by any measure.
In just the first half, Clayton drew 10 targets, twice as many as any other Ram to that point. Add that to word that he and Bradford spent some off-season time practicing together, plus Laurent Robinson’s injury history (he left Sunday’s game at one point but returned), and Clayton should be picked up this week in any league of reasonable depth. That’s especially true in point-per-reception formats, which will downplay a likely lack of touchdowns. Clayton has been an inconsistent performer throughout his career, but his talent hasn’t been questioned.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars
Jacksonville’s No. 2 wideout was No. 1 on opening day, tallying twice as many receptions (six) as any teammate and drawing seven targets to Mike Sims-Walker’s two. Thomas didn’t snag any of Garrard’s three scoring passes, but the PPR value is obvious, and if he stays near this usage level, enough touchdowns (at least five or six) should come. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Thomas presented the league’s best catch rate last year among wide receivers with at least 30 receptions.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers
Consider this a prime argument for drafting a handcuff. Ryan Grant left Sunday’s victory at Philadelphia with a sprained ankle, which he says he doesn’t expect to keep him out in Week 2. Players say a lot of things, though, and we can’t always (ever?) trust them.
It’s impossible to know at this point whether Grant will be ready for next Sunday, and Jackson had already drawn praise from his coaches for a strong camp and preseason. He stepped in for 18 carries (63 yards) and a pair of receptions against the Eagles and would draw Buffalo in Week 2 if he fills in again. Even if Grant is able to go, can we trust the ankle to not be a problem again? Of course not. Give Jackson a shot where possible.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals
A second tight end isn’t for every league. If you don’t have a flex position (or at least one that includes tight ends) or have fairly shallow rosters, then you get one guy at the position and move on. Others, though, should take notice at the level of use for Gresham in his first game.
The rookie tight end was the third most targeted Bengal, getting 10 passes and catching six for 25 yards and a touchdown. Like with the Rams example above, the totals here are skewed by the 50 pass attempts for Carson Palmer in a game in which Cincinnati trailed big and quickly. Still, Gresham drew four targets through the first half compared with just two for Chad Ochocinco (eight for Terrell Owens) and caught the Bengals’ first touchdown pass of the year.
There’s no question about the talent or size on the guy who was drafted in the first round despite missing the 2009 season, so the only wonder is whether he can get the ball enough. Sunday provided encouragement on that front.
Wait and watch
Waiting back on potential breakout performers can leave one missing out, but that doesn’t mean you need to find a roster spot for everyone who had a good first week. Peyton Hillis, for example, scored Cleveland’s lone rushing touchdown against Tampa but also garnered just nine carries and fumbled twice. That workload matched Jerome Harrison’s, James Davis figures to factor in at some point and even Josh Cribbs’ three rushes should increase based on his 2009 carries and current role. Fumbling twice also doesn’t help a running back’s case, particularly for goal-line touches. Hillis shouldn’t be dropped by those who own him and may well have a strong season. Just don’t trip over your current backs trying to claim him.
Out in Denver, meanwhile, fantasy owners are looking for an answer at receiver. Eddie Royal is owned in most leagues, and those who took a late-round shot have to be pleased with his eight-catch opener. That was exactly the kind of game envisioned last year when he was going in Round 5 or 6. Keep in mind, though, that this one came against a Jacksonville defense that played horribly against the pass last year -- to the point that it’s probably not fair to say the Jags even played ”against” it. It’s too early to say that’ll be the case this year, too, but they’re guilty until proven innocent in this court. This is even more relevant when you find yourself getting excited about Brandon Lloyd’s 117 yards. We’ve seen this before from Lloyd, who went for 124 yards in a single week in 2008 and finished 2009 with a 95-yard effort. Through eight NFL seasons, though, he has never reached 50 catches. He has the talent but doesn’t deserve benefit of the doubt.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com.
New head coach Mike Shanahan and new starting quarterback Donovan McNabb make their Washington Redskins debuts on the grandest stage — Sunday night against the team’s biggest rival. The cornerstones of the Redskins’ rebuilding effort arrived in the offseason with impressive resumes but a lot to prove after being jettisoned by their respective previous employers. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and look to end the honeymoon.
The Seahawks should at least increase program sales at Qwest Field for fans looking to figure out who’s who, given 27 of the 53 players on the roster are new this season and only nine of 22 starters were in the lineup for last year’s opener.
1. Which new NFL head coach will have the best season? Steven: I think Mike Shanahan with Washington will have the best season out of the new coaches. Shanahan had a solid 138-86 record in Denver, and I’m still questioning the move to remove him as head coach. Shanahan also has the best roster out of the three new coaches, including the best quarterback in Donovan McNabb. With Shanahan calling the shots and a veteran passer like McNabb in place, the Redskins should contend for a wild card berth this season.
Nathan: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has a better chance to make the postseason than USC does, that’s for sure. The former Trojans head cheerleader has previous NFL head coaching experience, going 33–31 with the Jets (1994) and Patriots (1997-99) before his unreal 83–19 record and seven BCS bowl appearances in the college ranks. Carroll is in arguably the weakest division (NFC West) and has a veteran, albeit injury-prone, quarterback with Super Bowl experience (Matt Hasselbeck).
Braden: I will go with Mike Shanahan. It's an easy choice, actually. He is a Super Bowl champion with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback leading the way. The Redskins have a chance at a playoff berth and have the best pieces in place to succeed. Pete Carroll will have the Seahawks improved from last year with the return of Matt Hasselbeck, but they are not a playoff team. Chan Gailey has very little to work with in Buffalo, and it will be painfully obvious. If I could vote for Mike Holmgren, I might go that way, but he is technically ineligible.
2. Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, or Jimmy Clausen: Who do you want on your team for the next 10 years? Steven: All three have shown promising ability in the preseason, but I’ll go with Sam Bradford. The Oklahoma product is accurate, possesses a solid arm and should be a good leader for the Rams to build around. Bradford isn’t in the best situation right now, especially with a shaky offensive line and receiving corps. However, Bradford should be the piece that helps St. Louis contend for a playoff spot in the next couple of seasons.
Nathan: I’ll take Tim Tebow to battle for the next 10 years. For whatever reason, Jimmy Clausen continues to build upon his jerk reputation — arriving in a Hummer at Notre Dame, promising not to get Charlie Weis fired before, you know, and then falling into the second round due to character concerns. I’m worried about Sam Bradford staying alive on the field; his go-to move seems to be right-shoulder bodyslam blindside. Tebow has the aura, athleticism and desire to be a winner in the NFL.
Braden: I have serious concerns about Tebow's ability to be a true quarterback in this league, but I want that guy in my locker room for sure. Whatever the position might be. Clausen can really throw the football but has been knocked for his attitude — which is totally warranted. If we are talking strictly quarterbacks here, I would take Sam Bradford. I think he has the poise, the size, the arm, the talent and the leadership to be a good quarterback. Unfortunately, he doesn't play for my mythical franchise; he plays for the Rams.
3. What is the Steelers' record when Big Ben returns to the lineup after the bye in Week 6? Steven: The Steelers have a rough opening stretch, with games against Baltimore, Tennessee, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. I think a 2-2 record would be a victory for this team, but 1-3 seems more likely. There’s no question this defense is among the league’s best, but Dennis Dixon has only one start under his belt, and the offensive line is a major concern. Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers offense will be too one-dimensional, and Dixon isn’t ready to lead this team to an undefeated start.
Nathan: The Steelers’ Week 1 matchup with the Falcons will determine whether Big Ben inherits a 1-3 team or a 2–2 squad. I’m chalking up losses at Tennessee in Week 2 and to Baltimore in Week 4, with a win at Tampa Bay in Week 3. Push comes to shove, I’ll go with Pittsburgh being 1-3.
Braden: 1-3. Atlanta will outscore them. Tennessee will push the Pittsburgh offensive line around. And Baltimore will flex its collective muscles in Week 4. Tampa Bay is the only easy game on the slate, and the other two AFC contenders will realize how important it will be to beat this Steelers team sans Roethlisberger. If they work their way to 2-2, which is certainly possible, their playoff hopes are very much alive. If not, they might be at home for a second straight postseason.
4. Which non-QB rookie has the biggest impact in 2010?
Steven: I think you could see three rookie running backs make a significant impact this year. Jahvid Best (Detroit), Ryan Mathews (San Diego) and C.J. Spiller (Buffalo) should be near the top of the league for Rookie of the Year honors. Best is a good complement to quarterback Matthew Stafford; Spiller’s all-around ability will be valuable for a team lacking overall playmakers; and Mathews has a clear path to the starting job. If I have to choose the top statistical performer among these three backs, I’ll take Mathews over Best.
Nathan: Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain will play the most important role on his team — serving as a de facto coach on the field, calling plays and making plays before and after every snap. On the other end of the spectrum, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and Cowboys receiver-returner Dez Bryant have a chance to be explosive difference-makers for Super Bowl contenders. But my pick is Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who should establish himself as one of the league’s premier interior linemen as a rookie by slinging quarterbacks around like they’re Jake Delhomme.
Braden: Can I pick three names? Four? There will be loads of impact rookies on the offensive side of the ball. Dez Bryant, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best will all play big roles for their teams. On defense, I think the R.O.Y. competition comes down to Rolando McClain and Eric Berry. Both should start right away and be key parts of improving defenses. Off the radar names to watch? Jordan Shipley, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Dexter McCluster and Morgan Burnett will be key contributors. But at the end of the day, Mathews will be the lead ball-carrier for a Super Bowl-caliber team, so I have to go with the first-round pick out of Fresno State.
5. Who is you pick for the Super Bowl?
Steven: This was a tough decision for me, but I’ll take Green Bay out of the NFC and Baltimore from the AFC. I feel there is a nice collection of teams in both conferences that could win it all, but no one really stands out as a clear frontrunner on either side. I like the Packers offense, but their defense is a big concern. The Ravens have some concerns in the secondary, but Joe Flacco’s continued progression at quarterback should put enough points on the board to get to Super Bowl XLV.
Nathan: I’ll stick with our magazine picks, Baltimore Ravens over Minnesota Vikings. If that happens, arguably the best defensive and offensive players of the past 20 years — Ray Lewis and Brett Favre — could walk off the field for the last time.
Braden: The Saints will be tough to beat. And the "repeats are rare and incredibly difficult" theory is actually slightly incorrect. A repeat has happened four times in the last 22 seasons — SF, DAL, DEN, NE — with a number of other teams winning or playing in multiple Super Bowls over that span (PIT, IND, GB, BUF). I like the Falcons and 49ers to surprise this fall, but in the end, New Orleans beats Minnesota and returns to the big event. In the AFC, I like the New York Jets, and emerging star Mark Sanchez, to beat the Ravens in the AFC title game. I will take the Jets to topple the defending champs with stifling defense and a power ground game. J.E.T.S. Jets. Jets. Jets.