DeAndre Hopkins’ assertion Sunday afternoon after Arizona’s 24-20 win over the 49ers was right.
If the Cardinals could play how they did against San Francisco and beat the reigning NFC champions, then anything could be possible with this team, and the sky could truly be the limit.
Arizona didn’t play that well against San Francisco. The first half felt eerily similar to last year’s season opener against Detroit. The ball wasn’t moving downfield. Kliff Kingsbury’s glitzy offense was filled more with screens and dink-and-dunk sets, resulting in few chunk plays. The defense looked overwhelmed with the speed of San Francisco’s running back Raheem Mostert and tight end George Kittle, who’s the type of target that Arizona’s habitually struggled with over the years. It kind of felt like a carbon copy, except this season, it wasn’t the expectation. A little bit more of a fight should have been posed from a team with a revamped defense and second year quarterback that some projected as a sleeper contender.
But then, it flipped. Arizona’s pass catchers finally broke through screens, or started getting open downfield. Hopkins couldn’t be tackled, and looked like the best receiver in football. Kyler Murray countered the 49ers speed offensively with his own, which San Francisco’s defense couldn’t keep up with.
The step forward that Murray is expected to take this season could come in the form of him running the football more effectively. Last year, Murray did a good job extending plays, escaping pressure, and most importantly: not taking hits while doing it.
But Sunday, Murray showed us more of what he’s capable of with his legs. Arizona didn’t run any designed runs for him, but the second year QB’s ability to not just avoid sacks but gain chunk yards after escaping them has clearly improved. Murray’s making plays with his legs rather than saving them. He’s making defenders miss. He’s scoring touchdowns.
These type of runs – specifically from this field position – didn’t happen last year. Murray never allowed himself to really get into the open field. If he did, he went down immediately.
Now, Murray has learned how to use his gifted running ability while still being safe about it. This could add even more to the playbook for Kingsbury, who should probably start being a bit more aggressive early and throughout games with his play-calling. He’s got Hopkins now instead of Damiere Byrd.
Hopkins still had an incredible day, catching a career-high 14 passes for a ridiculous 151 yards. His presence was enough to limit all other Cardinals receivers to just 12 catches for 79 yards.
Arizona can’t have the slow starts, nor can they allow weapons like Kittle and Mostert to torch them. It was a rough showing for rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who had limited playing time after giving a long touchdown to Mostert on a slant route.
The 49ers offense was limited without wide receivers Deebo Samuel and rookie Brandon Aiyuk, but in the future, the Cardinals won’t be able to get away with some of the faults of their performance Sunday. That makes what they could do without them quite intriguing, and perhaps downright scary for the rest of the NFL.
Instead of quick hits this week, we’re going to run through some game notes from every other game Thursday through Sunday. Overreactions are even more plentiful this year, thanks to some of the outcomes Sunday brought us in addition to the shortened offseason clearly affecting certain teams. In game notes, we can run through and cover everything we need to.
- The Colts seemed to be one of the teams most affected by a lack of cohesion. New quarterback Phillip Rivers looked like the exact player he was last year in Los Angeles, throwing two costly interceptions at the worst occasion possible Sunday. Indianapolis’ first drive of the day was their best, as they slammed the ball down Jacksonville’s throat en route to a 7-0 lead. But the Colts finished the day with 88 yards on the ground and no running back of their’s surpassing 28 yards individually. Marlon Mack’s season-ending Achilles injury certainly didn’t help, but the Colts offense Sunday looked similar to the ones Rivers led with the Chargers the past few years. It’s possible that isn’t a coincidence.
- If this were a normal overreactions column, Jacksonville’s win still wouldn’t get a spot up top, because, well, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Jaguars likely won’t be players in the AFC South race, but they certainly showed off their frisky side against Indy. Gardner Minshew has made it clear from the very start of the season that it won’t be an easy decision to move on from him if Jacksonville decides to go that route, as he completed 19 for 20 passes (!!!) for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr., Minshew’s most intriguing targets. If that trio can play the way they did Sunday, Minshew is going to have serious talent to work with, and that could unlock something special.
- Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this dud of a game was a reinforcement of what Josh Allen likely is.
- While the third year quarterback was Buffalo’s leading rusher, he missed multiple throws in the red zone and fumbled the ball twice, though neither resulted in turnovers.
- It didn’t matter. The Jets put up an unsurprising stinker in their first game of the season, mostly thanks to Le’Veon Bell’s injury (which clearly hobbled him) and the lack of rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims.
- But, while it is just Week 1, Allen didn’t exactly come out of the gates firing, and against this Jets team, that may be a little concerning.
- Buffalo seems to be getting a bit creative with Allen though. There were multiple designed runs for the third year QB early, which is something you just don’t see called for someone of Allen’s size and stature. It’s clearly effective, but it can’t be the Bills best aspect of their offense.
- Here’s a team that might be able to get away with their quarterback’s running ability being their best offensive approach.
- While it was the Dolphins, New England looked reincarnated Sunday. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s three gifts to the Patriots defense were turned right into offense, and Cam Newton’s rushing and efficient passing added a new element to this group that we’ve never seen before.
- Fitzpatrick is a 50-50 bet to be competent, and Sunday he wasn’t. But this year doesn’t totally matter to Miami. The sooner we see Tua Tagovailoa, the better, but that doesn’t mean the Dolphins need to rush him.
- Newton’s odds for Comeback Player of the Year were +175 in Vegas prior to the weekend and the fact that they were ever positive just seemed silly. Newton didn’t exactly light it up, but if the Patriots want to shy away more from his running game (which they will need to), then Sunday was an exciting precursor.
- The Browns clearly can’t have nice things.
- Like the Colts, it’s important to understand that Week 1 this year is even harder than most, especially with a new head coach and scheme in the fold. Plus, the Browns had to deal with Lamar Jackson and Baltimore.
- Cleveland had one good drive – one that resulted in their grand total of six points on the day (Six because, well, they missed the extra point). It looked like a drive straight out of Minnesota’s playbook the past few years, where Nick Chubb ran hard, opening up the defense for Baker Mayfield. These are the type of easy yards the Browns have to – and should – get.
- But their defense gave them no chance. Against Jackson, it’s hard for defenses to do their job well. But there’s a difference between that and not putting up a fight, which Cleveland didn’t do Sunday. The Browns secondary was lit up by Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. Jackson was practically perfect, going 20/25 while averaging 11 yards per attempt.
- Cleveland’s defense has to better, but the offense failing to execute on third down (3-12) and some questionable coaching decisions – fake punting down seven just nine minutes into the game – from the newcomer Kevin Stefanski was the dagger. Baltimore wasn’t exactly the best trial run for the Browns, but plays like Mayfield’s interception on the first drive of the game are inexcusable for someone who’s been around long enough. Cleveland had chances to keep this close, and they let them all slipped by.
- There was a reason to be bearish on Philadelphia heading into this season and Sunday’s game was an exact reason why.
- The Eagles injuries – particularly on the offensive line – were the cause of their fall to Washington. Philly started two rookies, who gave up eight sacks to the Football Team’s menacing front. Rookie Chase Young ate, as expected, gaining 1.5 sacks in his debut.
- This is not what Philadelphia will be, barring health. The question is whether that health can actually come around. If not, get used to what we saw Sunday.
- After barely holding onto his job last season, Dan Quinn made a pretty compelling case to be fired after Week 1 of this new season.
- Matt Ryan completed 37 of 54 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns while having three different receivers catch nine passes for 100 yards plus and the Falcons still managed to lose by two possessions to Seahawks, thanks to a disgraceful defensive performance.
- Seattle finally turned away from their common run-heavy schemes, and let Russell Wilson attack a weak Falcons secondary. It’s a single game, and it’s Week 1, so it’s not wise to believe this is going to be customary from the Seahawks going forward, but it certainly shows their potential if they do let Wilson cook.
- The case could be made that Atlanta was just the first team to fall victim to Seattle’s new ways – perhaps they weren’t expecting such aggression. But at the same time, this is still a Brian Schottenheimer offense, and if this is truly Seattle’s new way of conducting business, then it shouldn’t have been this effective right off the bat given the reduced offseason.
- Quinn’s a defensive coach, too. Every coach in the league likely had a plan for whenever Seattle got their act together. It seems like he was the exception.
- Week 1 resulted in a lot of classic performances and stereotypes coming true: A crushing Cowboys loss. The Texans looking overwhelmed. The Raiders blowing a lead, and the Lions collapsing yet again.
- Worst of all, Detroit blew their late lead to Mitchell Trubisky of all people. Thanks to a missed field goal, some three outs and a brutal late interception by Matthew Stafford, the Bears rallied back from being down 23-6 in the second half, completing Detroit’s second Week 1 collapse in as many years.
- It’s asinine that we’re doing this, but props to the Bears for actually executing when it mattered offensively. Trubisky’s 6.7 yards per attempt in the game tells you all you need to know about Chicago’s first half performance (Honestly, it felt like Nick Foles was about to come out before the rally started). But the Bears took advantage of classic Lions miscues and did something with them. It’s been awhile since a Chicago offense did that.
- This, in addition to the outcome of the Minnesota-Green Bay game (more on that shortly), is why some picking the Lions to win this division was a little crazy. When have the Lions ever done anything that wasn’t average or not disappointing? Never. The answer is never.
- For most of Sunday’s game, the Raiders were arguably one of the NFL’s best looking teams.
- Las Vegas might have unlocked Derek Carr. Henry Ruggs III played a lot better than his line showed Sunday – the Raiders were aggressively trying to get him the ball downfield, which showed a promising progression from Carr. The two connected once downfield for 45 yards – a ball that was an absolute dot. In addition, the Raiders got Carr some easy throws to Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller, while sprinkling in mixes of rookie Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow.
- Las Vegas has some intriguing pieces, and while their defense almost blew what was a 12 point lead entering the fourth quarter, the offense looked quite good. Granted, this came against a revamped Carolina group in their first real action of the season, but the willingness of Carr to not dink and dunk the entire time was extremely promising. Jon Gruden emptied his war chest with play-calling, and it brought out some intriguing possibilities.
- Carolina seems to have their own quarterback problem already. Aside from Teddy Bridgewater’s deep shot to Robby Anderson, the Panthers just couldn’t muster much through the air. Bridgewater missed passes, and was caught just dinking and dunking it for most of the game. This is what the Panthers signed up for, but to not do anything else against a not very talented Raiders defense is more than disappointing.
- Everyone who thought Aaron Rodgers was washed certainly had themselves a fun Sunday.
- The loudest voices in that crowd were Vikings fans, who proudly proclaimed the demise of Rodgers loudly last year. Instead, he lit them up in Week 1.
- Minnesota’s defense was overhauled, which means they should probably be given some breaks. But Rodgers looked like he was in his prime Sunday, picking apart the defense play-by-play. That performance came with limited weapons around him too – which is a stark contrast from how last year went. Perhaps year two of Matt LeFleur’s system has meshed Rodgers with his receivers more, or maybe that little extra motivation from the guy behind him on the depth chart provided the spark.
- The Vikings offense looked like it missed Stefanski greatly. Minnesota couldn’t get anything going in the run game, which didn’t help Cousins out through the air. In a game where Dalvin Cook only rushed 12 times for 50 yards, Cousins 25 pass attempts show a lack of confidence in him from the coaching staff. If that’s the total production from the Vikings offense in future games, then it’s going to be a long year.
- This game was exactly how a matchup between the most average quarterback and a rookie quarterback should go.
- Neither team really played good defense. It was stunning lack of production offensively that defined this one – Joe Burrow’s 5.4 yards per attempt and Tyrod Taylor’s tally of 6.9 tells the whole story.
- That said, Burrow showed some real flash despite a non-flashy stat-line. His 23 yard rushing touchdown made him look like a poor man’s Kyler Murray. The ability to lead what should have been the game-winning drive is not something we typically see from a rookie in his first game. Burrow’s poise on the Bengals last drive – which ended in a bad offensive pass interference call (Not the only one of the day!) on AJ Green – was super impressive. Now it’s just about consistency.
- The Chargers getting lucky because of a call instead of getting screwed by one or themselves is nice to see for a change. They kind of actually deserve it.
- Despite the win, the Chargers are going to have real problems offensively this year. It probably doesn’t matter if they make a change at QB, because Justin Herbert is going to play like a typical rookie or even worse given his readiness level.
- The adjustments the Saints defense made after Tampa Bay’s almost effortless first drive of the game clearly worked.
- The Buccaneers looked unstoppable after going up 7-0. Tom Brady looked like prime Brady instead of what we saw last year. Tampa Bay’s pass catchers either caught deep passes from their new quarterback or drew PI penalties thanks to their imposing presence. Brady then capped it off with a classic QB sneak.
- But it was the highlight of their day, which isn’t something you want to occur just seven minutes into the game. While Tampa Bay looked unstoppable, so did the Saints, who didn’t even use Michael Thomas to secure the win.
- Bruce Arians’ comments after the game – while shocking – were true, and Brady acknowledged that. Brady’s two interceptions, including the brutal pick six, were the difference in the 11 point loss. New Orleans wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet or the scoreboard necessarily – they just wore the Bucs down, and capitalized in the red zone. That was answerable for the Bucs, and they weren’t able to.
- Brady didn’t exactly look washed – the first drive was evidence of that. But the decision-making was certainly questionable, and is probably creating flashbacks of years past for everyone on the Bucs sideline.
- Yet another disappointing Week 1 debut was the revamped Cowboys, who played like the lost offseason didn’t do them any favors.
- Encouraging was their use of Ezekiel Elliot in the passing game, but Dallas’ offense looked like Jason Garrett was still on the sidelines. Dak Prescott only averaged 6.8 yards for attempt – a sign that his talented receivers weren’t getting open enough for him thanks to Jalen Ramsey or Mike McCarthy’s schemes, which mimic Garrett’s a little too closely.
- Dallas’ defense didn’t help. The Rams looked much like their 2018-19 selves, with Jared Goff not playing like total garbage and the run game carrying the load.
- If the Cowboys defense was going to mimic ones of the past that continually finished near the bottom of the league this year, the offense figured to bail them out. It’s Week 1, and new schemes take time, but that didn’t happen Sunday night. Jerry Jones waited too long to fire Garrett, and it’s possible that if he’s not fulfilled with this year’s result, then he could get a little trigger happy if the Cowboys don’t flip it around.
- Kansas City still looks like the best team in football even after Sunday’s games and it’s for a completely different reason than it has been the past two years.
- The Chiefs didn’t dominate the Texans thanks to their generational quarterback. They did it by feeding their rookie running back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
- Edwards-Helaire takes pressure off Patrick Mahomes to deliver all the time, as if he needed it. The rookie represents a new spice to Kansas City’s offense, giving them even more versatility than before. Houston’s defense didn’t have a chance.
- Kansas City might be truly unstoppable the year. That undefeated prediction doesn’t seem so crazy after all.