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2021 NFL season, Week 1: What we learned from Sunday's games – NFL.com

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Around the NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday’s action in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game’s biggest takeaways using the links below:


Seattle Seahawks
2021
·
1-0-0

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts
2021
·
0-1-0

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Russ cookin’ in new offense: Russell Wilson already seems to enjoy playing in Shane Waldron’s offense. The Seahawks’ offense unleashed a balanced game plan that allowed Wilson to take deep shots and pick apart a Colts defense with a punchless pass rush. Chris Carson led a consistent ground game, and Wilson’s arm shined. The Seahawks showed they could move the ball regardless of what the D presents. In the first half, with Indy trying to generate presser by bringing extra rushers, Wilson delivered deep dimes to Tyler Lockett (4/100/2), including a 69-yard TD hookup. When the Colts’ D adjusted in the second half, going to more two-high to negate the shots, Wilson picked them apart with strikes to DK Metcalf.  
  2. Carson Wentz looks healthy. Wentz juked a defender early on a scramble, showing that his injured foot is fine. The QB showed moxie in the pocket amid consistent pressure and showed he could run Frank Reich’s offense. When he wasn’t swarmed off the snap, Wentz still hung on to the ball a lot — his M.O. in Philly. It’s clear that Wentz needs more work with his wideouts to build chemistry and trust. The veteran QB didn’t have a boneheaded play, avoiding forcing balls into pressure, but fumbled a snap on fourth-and-1 and didn’t raise the play of those around him. If Wentz is simply a caretaker of the offense instead of a playmaker, the Colts will struggle against the upper-echelon clubs.
  3. Seattle D line dominates. The deep Seahawks defensive line was constantly in Wentz’s grill. Rasheem Green (sack, two QB hits) lived in the backfield, Darrell Taylor (sack, TFL) bullied right tackle Braden Smith, linebacker Benson Mayowa (sack, two QB hits), Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder, Poona Ford all caused disruption all game. This iteration of Seattle’s defense starts up front with a pass rush that should give QBs headaches all season.

Next Gen stat of the game: Russell Wilson: 5 of 9, 68 yards, three TDs when under pressure; 13 of 14, 186 yards, TD without pressure.

NFL Research: Russell Wilson was sacked three times today vs IND. That’s the 18th time he has been sacked three-plus times in a game since 2019. The only other player with more such games in that span? The opposing QB Carson Wentz, who was sacked three times today for the 20th time since 2019.

San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers
2021
·
1-0-0

Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions
2021
·
0-1-0

Chase Goodbread’s takeaways:

  1. Garoppolo grabs reins. Two things stood out about how the 49ers QB situation played out. 1) Jimmy Garoppolo showed why coach Kyle Shanahan insisted he was always the starter in the preseason. After inexplicably fumbling away his first snap exchange, he was plenty sharp (17 of 25, 314 yards) in leading a win. 2) Shanahan’s willingness to alternate Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance mid-drive in the preseason wasn’t just for show. Lance got his first look on San Francisco’s second possession after Garoppolo had marched the team into the red zone, and responded with a TD toss on his first NFL pass attempt, and saw a bit of action later on. The questions about Lance’s role might persist, but Garoppolo did all he could do put any starter controversy to at least temporary rest.
  2. Sewell holds own. The battle between rookie tackle Penei Sewell and 49ers star DE Nick Bosa was two stories over two halves. Early on, Sewell was excellent. Bosa didn’t make his first tackle until near the end of the first half, and got little if any pressure on Jared Goff. In the second half, Bosa began showing more life against the No. 7 overall pick of the draft. He notched a sack and penetrated the Lions backfield more effectively. Still, on the whole, Sewell gets solid marks for an NFL debut in which he was playing for the injured Taylor Decker on the left side against one of the league’s top pass rushers.
  3. Sherfield arrives. After an impressive preseason, San Francisco WR Trent Sherfield has arrived as an offensive regular. The former undrafted Vanderbilt product was a special teams guy for three years in Arizona, but participated in 49% of the 49ers offensive snaps Sunday (27). He caught just two passes, but one went for a touchdown in his starting debut. Deebo Samuel was the receiving star of the day — his 189 yards were the second-most in an opener in 49ers franchise history — but suffice it to say that Sherfield’s found a home in San Francisco.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jimmy Garoppolo was 6 of 7 for 200 yards and a TD on passes of 10-plus air yards

NFL Research: Trey Lance became the first QB to throw a TD pass on his first career pass attempt since Tim Tebow in Week 10, 2010 against the Chiefs.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021
·
1-0-0

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills
2021
·
0-1-0

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Steel Curtain defense dominate. The demise of the Pittsburgh defense was greatly exaggerated. After stumbling down the stretch in 2020, the Steelers defense was back to dominant form in Buffalo. The defensive front dominated the Bills’ O-line, discombobulating Josh Allen at every turn. T.J. Watt was in full-from despite missing camp. The edge rusher is worth every penny of his big payday. Cameron Heyward continues to be one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL. Heyward controlled the line of scrimmage as a one-man wall and was constantly in Allen’s face. The Steelers D had playmakers at every level. Minkah Fitzpatrick made big hits, Joe Haden was stingy, Devin Bush cleaned up the middle. Cam Sutton made a game-changing fourth-down read to stuff a pitch play. The Steelers D was the best unit on the field, silencing a Bills offense that diced up the NFL last season.
  2. 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger gets it done. Big Ben looked his age early, shaking off rust behind a still growing offensive line. The Pittsburgh offense generated just 54 total yards in a sleepy first half, and Roethlisberger looked uncomfortable. It wasn’t pretty against a swarming Bills defense, and the run game with Najee Harris remains a work in progress. But when needed late, Big Ben still made plays, including a massive third-and-7 conversion to Chase Claypool late. It remains a dink-and-dunk offense in Pittsburgh with Big Ben not connecting on a pass over 20 air yards. The Steelers scored 23 points after trailing 10-0 at halftime. On their last four drives, they generated 231 yards and 13 first downs after opening the game with 22 yards and three first downs on their first 14 plays (six drives).
  3. Wobbly opener for Josh Allen. The potential MVP candidate looked uncomfortable in the face of consistent Steelers pressure. Completing 30 of 51 attempts, Allen couldn’t find the mark downfield, going 1 of 8 on passes of 20-plus yards. Allen also fumbled twice, losing one on a strip-sack by Watt. The Bills’ offense was squished in the second half and couldn’t punch in TDs in the red zone. Allen was off-target more last season, throwing behind targets several times, and made some questionable decisions. The QB went 1 of 8 passing for five yards under pressure in the second half. Allen’s last two games with a passer rating under 80.0 were both against the Steelers (77.5 passer rating in Week 14, 2020 and a 79.7 passer rating Week 1, 2021). With sky-high expectations entering the season, it was a sobering start for Allen and Buffalo against a stingy Steelers D.  

Next Gen stat of the game: The Steelers generated pressure without bringing extra defenders. Pittsburgh blitzed on just two of 54 dropbacks (3.7%), the second-lowest rate by a Pitt defense since at least 2016 — the Steelers blitzed on 39.6% of dropbacks in 2020 (third-highest in NFL) 

NFL Research: T.J. Watt now has seven games with 2-plus sacks since 2019 (most in NFL, entering late games).

Houston Texans

Houston Texans
2021
·
1-0-0

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars
2021
·
0-1-0

Chase Goodbread’s takeaways:

  1. Taylor shines. For a day, anyway, it wasn’t about Deshaun Watson’s absence from the lineup in Houston. Tyrod Taylor is, in more ways than one, the ideal quarterback to get the Houston Texans through a season that — notwithstanding Sunday’s big win — is supposed to be a rebuild. At 32, he’s still plenty elusive, he’s not prone to big mistakes, and he’s a true leader on a team that will very much need one. He showed all those traits in dispatching the Jaguars with ease. 
  2. Lawrence struggles. On paper, the Texans, with one of the NFL’s worst defenses in 2020, seemed like the ideal opener for Jaguars rookie QB Trevor Lawrence. On the field, it was anything but the case. Lawrence threw a trio of interceptions, and generally looked uncomfortable in between occasional flashes of brilliance, such as a third-and-17 conversion and a 41-yard TD strike, both to D.J. Chark. Grade him on a curve — the Texans defense showed little respect for the run given a runaway lead, and Jacksonville receivers struggled to gain separation.
  3. Jaguars offense way out of sync. If new Jaguars coach Urban Meyer stops his tape review for every offensive miscue, he’ll never put the remote down. The blocking actually wasn’t too bad at times, but the execution stank like a skunk. Add up a bevy of penalties, including four holding calls in the first half, plus a handful of drops, and it’s drawing board time for this offensive coaching staff.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Texans’ Ross Blacklock generated pressure on 21.1% of his pass rushes (four of 19), including a forced turnover.

NFL Research: Trevor Lawrence never threw three interceptions in a game in three seasons at Clemson, but did so in his NFL debut Sunday against the Texans.

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals
2021
·
1-0-0

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans
2021
·
0-1-0

Nick Shook’s Takeaways:

  1. The Cardinals’ defense has legitimate juice. J.J. Watt was the first to make his arrival apparent by recording an early tackle for loss on Derrick Henry, and Chandler Jones did the rest with his five sacks. Arizona wasn’t just good up front, though; Isaiah Simmons stonewalled Henry on the goal line, and defensive backs (most notably, Byron Murphy) were flying around all afternoon. Arizona came out aggressive and received plenty of fuel from its pair of edge rushers. If the Cardinals’ defense plays like this every week, opponents will have to worry about more than just Kyler Murray.
  2. If we awarded the league MVP in Week 1, Kyler Murray won it in a landslide. Murray pulled off a handful of the best sandlot-style plays you’ll see, lofting a pass across his body for a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins, then let a couple of back-foot passes rip to Christian Kirk for two scores. In between, his mobility caused plenty of headaches and a handful of highlight-reel fake-outs on his way to an explosive stat line: 21 of 32, 289 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. A.J. Green’s arrival certainly helps, but it’s Murray that makes this unit tough to stop.
  3. The Titans might want to burn this film. Tennessee was dominated in the one fashion that has proven to be its kryponite: bottle up Henry, jump out to a lead and force the Titans to try to throw their way back into the game. First-year coordinator Todd Downing did not have a good showing, calling to mind his forgettable year in Oakland that ended in disappointment for the Raiders and a departure for Amari Cooper. Tennessee didn’t look like a team that added a top-tier receiver (Julio Jones) in the offseason — it looked like one that lost weapons, and its ability to execute.

Next Gen stat of the game: Kyler Murray completed 8 of 10 pass attempts against the blitz for 142 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect passer rating (158.3).

NFL Research: Chandler Jones has logged his second career game with four-plus sacks and two-plus forced fumbles (also Week 16, 2019 at Seattle). Jones is the only player to accomplish that feat in multiple games in the last 20 years.

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles
2021
·
1-0-0

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons
2021
·
0-1-0

Michael Baca’s takeaways:

  1. Jalen Hurts is a good fit in Sirianni’s system. The player of the game by far, Hurts completed 27 of 35 pass attempts for 264 yards and three touchdowns while adding 62 yards on the ground. On the team’s opening drive of the season, Hurts floated a perfect TD pass to first-round wideout DeVonta Smith (six receptions, 71 yards) for the rookie’s first NFL reception and the Eagles QB went on to sustain an efficient offense to secure an easy victory. Hurts’ great day at the helm was aided by savvy play calls and designs in accordance with a reliable running attack that featured Miles Sanders (74 yards on 15 attempts) and rookie Kenneth Gainwell (37 yards, TD). While Hurts wasn’t asked to take many shots down field, the second-year QB proved to have already grasped the concept of Sirianni’s system with a mistake-free day. The 23-year-old should only improve as the season progresses.
  2. A debut to forget in Atlanta. The debut of Arthur Smith’s offense started off hot, compiling two long, up-tempo drives that ended with field goals, but the burden of a developing team reared its head by halftime. Untimely penalties, blatant stalls in the red zone, an inefficiency on third down and an energized Eagles defense prevented the Falcons from gaining any sort of rhythm from the second quarter on. Falcons QB Matt Ryan had a rough day at the office with just 164 yards passing (21 of 35) behind an offensive line that routinely collapsed in the second half (three sacks allowed). Wide receiver Calvin Ridley (five receptions, 51 yards) and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts (4/31) mirrored a quiet day for Smith’s offense through the air despite putting up solid rushing totals (124 rushing yards).
  3. Eagles defense sets a tone. A fast start from both teams set the table for a high-scoring affair, but the Eagles defense had no interest in a shootout. The Eagles allowed 146 yards on the first two Atlanta drives of the game, but dominated from the second quarter on, allowing just 260 total yards from the Falcons. Although the Falcons offense shot itself in the foot on several occasions, the Eagles D prevented any big plays from transpiring while virtually every completed pass had a defender ready to make the tackle. Philadelphia was able to pin its ears back and go after Ryan in the second half, compiling nine QB hits over the course of the day while Derek Barnett, Hassan Ridgeway and Brandon Graham found one sack apiece.

Next Gen stat of the game: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts was especially effective against the blitz, completing 9 of 11 passes for 108 yards and two TDs versus Atlanta. During his rookie season in 2020, Hurts had four TDs and one INT versus the blitz.

NFL Research: Last time Matt Ryan threw for this few yards was on Aug. 20, 2019 in a Week 7 loss to the Rams. Ryan threw for 159 passing yards (0 TDs, 1 INT) on a 59.3 completion percentage and was sacked five times.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals
2021
·
1-0-0

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings
2021
·
0-1-0

Adam Maya’s takeaways:

  1. Ja’Marr Chase is going to be fine. No top-10 pick from the 2021 draft drew more scrutiny in the preseason than the Bengals wideout. It really started on draft day, when Cincinnati opted to saddle young QB Joe Burrow with a future go-to target rather an offensive tackle with its first pick. The decision didn’t look so dicey in Week 1. Chase, who had trouble separating from defenders and catching passes throughout August, hauled in his first four targets and five overall for a team-high 101 yards against the Vikings. The high mark was a 50-yard bomb in which Burrow hit his former LSU teammate in stride for a touchdown. The duo’s past is the Bengals’ future.
  2. That’s why they call him Captain Checkdown. Kirk Cousins’ numbers are often nicer than you might think, which was the case Sunday. But his infamous nickname has its merit, and it embodied Minnesota’s offensive struggles in Week 1. Cincinnati continually loaded the box to slow down Dalvin Cook and deter the Vikings from putting the ball in its best weapon’s hands. The Bengals were confident that Cousins wouldn’t try to beat them downfield, and they were mostly right. The veteran QB completed 73.4% of his throws but for just 7.2 yards an attempt. With Cousins relying too much on his receivers to do the dirty work after the catch, the Bengals’ secondary effectively kept everything in front while helping force punts on six of Minnesota’s first seven possessions.
  3. Cincinnati has rediscovered its running game. The Bengals ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per carry and, accordingly, per game in 2020. Joe Mixon went from leading the AFC in rushing in 2018 to No. 32 among last year’s team rushing leaders. Of course, that was more about his health and his offensive line. Neither were issues against the Vikings, except for when Zac Taylor inexplicably elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 30 with his team leading by 14 in the second half, a decision that opened the door for the Vikings’ rally. Cincinnati, though, was able to lean heavily on its running game to earn the narrow win. Mixon was back to his spry self and had plenty of room to work with while amassing 127 yards on 29 carries. Such balance was critical for the second-year Burrow as he shed rust from his ACL rehab.

Next Gen Stat of the game: New Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson registered seven QB pressures on 42 pass rushes (16.7 pressure pct).

NFL Research: Ja’Marr Chase is the first Bengals player with a receiving TD in his NFL debut since A.J. Green in 2011 versus the Browns.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers
2021
·
1-0-0

New York Jets

New York Jets
2021
·
0-1-0

Jelani Scott’s takeaways:

  1. Darnold era begins with a W. Back-to-back four-play drives and a botched handoff that resulted in a lost fumble on their own 15 declawed the Panthers to begin the game. But once they got it going, shades of what could be a promising offense began to emerge. A field goal and consecutive touchdowns followed the rough start, with Sam Darnold (24/35, 279 yards, 0 TOs) logging scores on a 57-yard beauty to Robby Anderson and a five-yard scramble just before halftime. From there, the unit stalled as an uninspired second half produced more punts (four) than points (three) and opened the door for a Jets comeback. Figuring out how to get guys not named Christian McCaffrey, who looked as sharp as ever with a combined 30 touches and 187 yards, involved again figures to be their biggest ask but the foundation is there.
  2. Zach Wilson makes plays in between woes. Wilson’s debut went about as you’d expect, given the question marks that cloak this team. The subpar O-line, which could be without Mekhi Becton (MCL sprain) for a while, struggled to keep the young QB upright. Wilson’s receivers, led by Corey Davis (5/97/2), offered little excitement. But the young gun showed heart even as he took a beating (six sacks). He still needs to improve his timing and decision making, but the 70- and 98-yard late-game TD drives he led showed what he can do and made Carolina sweat a little. Although it wasn’t enough, Wilson’s 258-yard, two-TD, INT day isn’t anything to sneeze at.
  3. Is the Panthers D for real or just fortunate? Facing one of the NFL’s most questionable offenses provided Carolina with a prime opportunity to start the season strong. And, boy, did the Panthers look like world-beaters on Sunday. Aside from the aforementioned six sacks, Carolina logged 10 total QB hits, eight pass deflections, forced a Wilson fumble and snagged a pick courtesy of Shaq Thompson, who logged a game-high 10 tackles. Also, worth a mention: rookie Jaycee Horn who, despite getting beat for a score late, looked solid (three tackles) and should develop into a reliable starter.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Darnold went a career-high 2 of 6 for 62 yards and a TD on deep passes. How’s that for a parting shot against his former club?

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Chargers
2021
·
1-0-0

Washington Football Team

Washington Football Team
2021
·
0-1-0

Nick Shook’s takeaways

  1. If I needed to defuse a bomb, I’d call Justin Herbert. This was the type of game that the Chargers have lost countless times over the last decade, with terribly timed penalties giving Washington new life, and long down-and-distance situations arriving late. Yet, Herbert overcame it all, calmly dropping and ripping passes downfield on a crucial final possession that began deep in Los Angeles territory and ended with a series of kneel-downs. Herbert’s last drive capped a stellar day: 31-of-47 passing, 337 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He’s shown zero signs of a sophomore slump and is the main reason the Chargers are 1-0.
  2. I don’t know if I’d enlist Herbert’s receivers in the same scenario. Los Angeles had a bit of an issue with hauling in on-target passes, especially early, with at least three drops coming in important situations that ultimately stalled drives and nearly led to a turnover (when Keenan Allen fumbled on the run). Luckily for the Chargers, they figured it out, with Allen and Mike Williams rediscovering their hands down the stretch to make key receptions and extend the drive. If they play like this for four quarters, the Chargers should be competitive every week.
  3. Washington has already been forced to call an audible. The loss of Ryan Fitzpatrick prompted his replacement with Taylor Heinicke, who injected some life into the Football Team, finishing with a line of 11-of-15 passing for 122 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, an Antonio Gibson fumble doomed Washington’s late comeback effort, ruining a commendable day from Heinicke. The greater question now: How long might Fitzpatrick be out? And can Heinicke help Washington do what it couldn’t on Sunday?

Next Gen Stat of the game: Washington recorded just five QB pressures when rushing four (23 dropbacks) for a pressure rate of 21.7% while allowing Justin Herbert to throw one touchdown and finish with a passer rating of 110.4.

NFL Research: The Chargers have played in 24 one-possession games since 2019, the most in NFL. Brandon Staley’s Chargers were able to come through with a win in his head coaching debut after losing 16 such games from 2019-2020 — the most in the NFL in that span and tied for the third-most by any team in a two-season span in NFL history.

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