The NFL is not one for sentiment. Older players do not typically have a steady decline. In football, the drop off happens so fast. If you can recall Peyton Manning’s final season, despite winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, it was tough to watch the football legend unable to throw the ball more than 15 yards down the field.
Those visions seemingly returned in the opening Sunday of the 2020 NFL season, watching all-time greats such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers clearly indicating they are no longer in the upper echelon of NFL passers, despite their gaudy reputations.
Brees and Rivers are in the 2015 Manning phase, no longer able to throw the ball beyond 20 yards with any consistent arm strength. Rivers’ debut with the Colts was good on paper — 36-of-46 for 363 yards — but most of his counting stats came on dinks and dunks and short passes to the flat. When Rivers was asked to put the ball to the intermediate part of the field, the veteran QB threw two back-breaking interceptions that cost his team the game against the lowly Jaguars.
Brees’ stat line against Tampa, 18-of-30 for 162 yards, is a better indication of where he’s at at this point. He is a game manager, and because of his struggles to get the ball downfield, the entire Saints offense has to be manipulated by Sean Payton. While most are surely looking for a strong opinion on Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay debut, frankly he looked similar to the player we saw last season, despite a far better group of playmakers around him.
Brady was out of sync with his new teammates and his ugly pick-six was an uncharacteristic desperate mistake. Brady will undoubtedly improve as the season goes on, but he’s simply not the player he was a few years back in New England. We’ll see how aging QB Ben Roethlisberger fares against the New York Giants on Monday, but Week 1 showed the old guard of quarterbacks is no longer a threat to an NFL championship.
Here are some other observations from the first week of NFL action:
Cowboys have unimpressive first showing
The Cowboys, who just about everyone pegged as NFC contenders, left a lot to be desired in their season-opening loss to the Rams. The switch to new head coach Mike McCarthy (and his supposed rejuvenated view on analytics) didn’t change much as the Cowboys offense looked far closer to the unimaginative and uninspiring Packers units that McCarthy ran in Green Bay. Dak Prescott was under pressure constantly against the Rams and the offense struggled to maintain consistency in the passing game, which was rather disappointing given the investment they made in the NFL’s best receiving group. The Cowboys lost two key players to injury in linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and tight end Blake Jarwin — potentially for the season — and looked closer to an 8-8 team than a Super Bowl contender.
Hopkins trade still looks one sided
It was blatantly obvious watching the Texans’ inability to match the Chiefs offense on Thursday how much they missed star WR DeAndre Hopkins in the season opener. The team had no fire power offensively, outside of Will Fuller. Trading him away for a veteran running back and second-round draft pick remains a major mistake by Bill O’Brien. It didn’t help matters that Hopkins was the most dominant player on the field in San Francisco on Sunday, tearing up the 49ers with 151 yards on 14 catches and coming up an inch short of a touchdown. The trade instantly elevated Arizona into a playoff contender while Houston, despite handing out big money to Deshaun Watson, look much closer to the black hole of 7-9. That mistake will linger all season long.
Eagles, Wentz not in position to succeed
The Eagles had an abysmal opener, blowing a 17-0 lead and getting mauled at the line of scrimmage by the Washington Football Team. Eagles QB Carson Wentz was missing three starting offensive linemen, and it badly showed as Wentz was sacked eight times and allowed 14 QB hits. Per Jon Clark of NBCS Philly, the Eagles have a 2-25-2 record when their quarterback takes at least eight sacks. Given Wentz’s track record of durability issues, playing without three offensive linemen and RB Miles Sanders (hamstring injury) is a recipe for disaster. It could get ugly next week against the Rams and Aaron Donald, the best defensive lineman in the league.
What do 49ers do with Jimmy G?
Statistical analysis has proven over time that defensive performance is likely to regress year over year, so the 49ers won’t be able to use the same defense-heavy formula as last season. They’ll need a lot more out of their QB to make it back to the Super Bowl, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s line against Arizona, 19-of-33 for 259 yards, showed he’s not nearly there yet. Garoppolo badly struggled to hit open receivers when his first read was taken away and when play-caller Kyle Shanahan was unable to scheme open players for him, Jimmy G looked lost. The 49ers were missing two starters at receiver so some of the inconsistent play was explainable, but time is of the essence as Garoppolo has a cap hit of over $26 million this season, with the ability to get out for cheap after 2020. If he continues to show a lack of progress, the 49ers would be smart to explore alternatives for the future.
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