The first week of the NFL season always gives us our first inkling of which players could be on their way towards an impressive year and which players might be in deep trouble. Similarly, we get hints(some more obvious than others) as to the strengths and weaknesses of our favorite teams. Here are some notables of both.
On The Up and Up
Michael Vick – It’s wrong to wish misfortune on your fellow player, but Michael Vick had to be excited to hear his name called upon starter Kevin Kolb’s concussion.
After Kolb went out, Vick went 16 of 24 passing for 175 yards and one TD, all in the second half. The majority of his 103 rushing yards on 11 attempts were also in the second half. Vick’s speed and quickness look fully rejuvenated, and there is a noticeable coming-of-age intellect in his playing style.
With Kolb likely out next week, Vick should start against the Lions’ problematic secondary. If he duplicates a performance similar to last week, Vick may generate a quarterback discrepancy in Philly. Vick’s ability to move outside the pocket is another reason to ponder starting him, with struggles and injuries on the O-line.
Vince Young – Young’s strong and efficient finish to last season left many skeptics still shaking their heads. His performance in week #1 should only leave naysayers in denial.
Young was an effective 13 of 17 passing for 154 yards and 2 TD’s, he also ran for 30 on the ground. Young’s decision making abilities seem to improve more and more with age and is continuously distancing himself from his problematic past.
With the league’s #1 running back behind him, Young is able to work within himself and his running ability is a containment issue for defenses. It’s tough to see a ceiling for the Titans if Young can maintain the accuracy in his passing game.
Arian Foster – 231 yards and 3 TD’s in Foster’s second career start against the Colts this weekend was a good way to grab attention, but the 23 year-old that quietly accumulated 257 yards on 54 carries in the final six weeks last year probably knew it was just a matter of time before people would be saying his name.
Foster has all the intangibles of an elite running back. He is quick, versatile and has the kind of strength to put secondaries on their back. Foster makes the Texans a legitimate contender in the form of a balanced attack.
Kansas City Chiefs’ Youth – Although the Chiefs barely squeaked by the Chargers on Sunday and their offense still looked very suspect, there is one chief reason(sorry…I couldn’t resist) for why they won.
An influx of young stars is making for an exciting future in Kansas City.
A 56 yard TD run by third year RB Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard kick return by Rookie Dexter McCluster highlighted the victory. McCluster has it all. His returning, receiving, and rushing abilities might soon make him one of the games’ most well-rounded players. Both players are fast, strong, and have marquee direction-changing abilities.
The Chiefs also debuted Javier Arenas, who instantly gained fans by breaking tackles and ankles on five combined kick/punt returns that accumulated to 119.1 total yards. Oh, and he’s also a defensive back.
Along with their new offensive studs, they now have the looks of an extremely quick, young and cohesive defensive unit. First-round pick S Eric Berry immediately made his impact with the second most team tackles Monday night.
The Chiefs have suddenly gone from absolutely dull to fairly flashy. They are just one team that could potentially stir up the pot of routine NFL teams we see in the playoffs each year.
Mark Clayton – Clayton didn’t seem to get his fair shake of things with the Ravens and felt undervalued this off-season. It was expected that he would be released by the Ravens before week #1, but they were able to pick up some future late-round “considerations” from the Rams for Clayton anyway.
Now on a diminishing receiving core that is weak and injury-prone, Clayton was given a chance to emerge as a #1 receiver, and he made his case Sunday.
Clayton was the offensive standout against the Cardinals, catching 10 passes for 119 yards. The 10 catches are the most in any game of Clayton’s career, and Rookie QB Sam Bradford looked serviceable enough to potentially provide Clayton with a consistent stat-line. Honestly, Bradford simply doesn’t have that many other options.
With his relocation, Clayton’s career has suddenly become rejuvenated.
Chad Ochocinco – There were many believers when it came to the anticipated boost that Ochocinco would receive due to Terrell Owens’ arrival, but I don’t know how many thought it would be to the tune of 12 receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown. Owens made his impact too, logging seven catches for 53 yards.
After several offensive debacles in the first half, the reformed receiving core finally started clicking. The Bengals went for 267 total yards in the second half and almost made a push on the Patriots after trailing 24-3 at the half. 113 of those yards were to Ochocinco.
Ochocinco and Owens will both thrive off each other throughout the year, and the offensive chemistry should only increase. Sunday’s score demonstrates a tale of two halves for the Bengals, but they will no doubt find their consistency. Ochocinco could well be in line for a career year.
The Chicago Bears – Fairytale: Mike Martz is in at Offensive Coordinator and his acquisition will lead to a dynamic offense that eliminates previous mistakes, with Jay Cutler coming into his own as an elite QB.
Cutler may end up being one of the top QB’s in yardage at the end of the year, but his flaws are still more than apparent. He lost a fumble and threw an interception, while throwing for 372 yards and 2 TD’s. Cutlers statistics were respectable and the Bears put up 471 yards on offense, but the team still only managed 19 points against a Lions defensive squad that finished last in the league in defense last season. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.
Matt Forte and TE Greg Olsen also each contributed a lost fumble of their own and the Bears still cannot find a running game. Forte averaged 3.6 yards per carry and averaged 2.94 on Sunday.
An aging defensive core that is not nearly as good as it used to be will face much greater difficulties when they go up against more capable offenses.
Head Coach Lovie Smith’s seat may start heating up if the Bears can’t turn the ship around.
Alex Smith – The San Francisco 49ers have a capable receiving core, a potential top five running back, an elite tight end, a top five defense, and one massive problem. Their quarterback downright stinks.
Alex Smith is an absolute train wreck.
As I watched Smith sail a wide open TD pass early in the game against the Seahawks, I was already suspect of the 49ers playoff chances with Smith at the helm. By the end of the game, I had no doubt that the issue was beyond serious.
Smith threw for only 225 yards on 26 out of 45 completions while throwing two incompetent interceptions and never reaching the end zone.
There is no fixing this, there is no miraculous learning curve that is going to suddenly turn Smith into a consistent QB. He is not the answer, and although the 49ers defense has a chance for excellence, it is not the dominant Bears defense of a few years ago that could tolerate a Rex Grossman behind center.
The 49ers need to figure something out and fast(phone call to reunite with Jeff Garcia?) or they will end up on the outside looking in come January.
Jason Campbell – Why not go ahead and discuss the week’s most painful-to-watch quarterbacks consecutively. Yes, I am leaving out Trent Edwards(Honestly, did anybody think the Bills’ QB was going to perform any differently?).
Those poor Raiders. Finally a decent group of receivers, a respectable running game, an upper-tier tight end, and another QB failure in their midst.
Granted, the Raiders offensive line did not offer much help to Campbell against the Titans, but his decision making on Sunday was brutal. Campbell threw a pick, fumbled twice(losing one), and only threw for 180 yards on 22 of 37 passing. He overthrew/missed open receivers, displayed horrible execution, and held the ball too long(four sacks).
The Raiders tried to let Campbell loose and give him free reign to flex his skills instead of the more comfort zone play calling he had during his tenure with the Redskins. Unfortunately, that conservative mentality may be all Campbell is capable of operating, and he doesn’t even do that very well.
If Campbell starts week #2 where he left off last week, we will likely see backup Bruce Gradkowski making an appearance.
Mark Sanchez – The nickname “Sanchise” doesn’t exactly roll of your tongue if you’re a Jets fan after Monday night’s performance. Come Tuesday morning, analysts could not keep the criticism from flowing, and how could they? The Jets offensive performance was indeed a disaster.
Sanchez was 10 for 21 for 74 yards passing. The team generated 190 yards of total offense with no touchdowns. Sanchez was sacked twice and didn’t have a pass of over 13 yards. Ouch.
Sanchez demonstrated poor awareness, looked timid in the pocket, and threw some balls that can only be compared to wounded ducks. Sophomore seasons sometimes make QB’s look even more inexperienced, and that seems to be what is occurring with Sanchez. His football intelligence is simply not there(as if he had such a great season last year).
Santonio Holmes could provide an offensive boost once he returns from his suspension, but will it be enough? Rex Ryan touted his team all throughout the preseason but may have overlooked how truly stagnant his offense might be while taking pride in his defensive genius.
Shonn Greene – Greene is another Jet that is experience a falling out worth mentioning.
Greene was only dealt five carries, fumbled twice(losing one), and missed a key open catch that could have given the Jets an easy first down late in the 4th quarter. He was immediately subbed out once again for LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson was the Jets only offensive bright spot, averaging 5.63 yards on 11 carries for 62 yards. Rex Ryan has already announced his intent to split carries between LT and Greene, but the situation may only get worse. Tomlinson looks like he is back to his old explosive self and is a much greater threat in the passing game than Greene.
With Tomlinson reemerging it is difficult to say how much of a factor Greene could have. He looked nervous and indecisive on Monday and the last thing the Jets need is more inexperience clogging their game plan.
-Titans RB Chris Johnson is continuing to prove his record-breaking intentions(27 carries, 142 yards, 2 TD’s).
-Patriots WR Wes Welker posted eight receptions and two TD’s in his return after tearing his ACL and MCL, shaving more than three months of his injury projections.
-Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford had 3 INT’s but threw for 253 yards on 58.1% passing in his first games. Rams fans can seemingly rejoice at finally having an answer at the position.
Week #2 will certainly come with more standouts, flops, and surprises. It is without a doubt, the most wonderful time of the year.
About the Author
Written by Zachary Stanley
By the end of the fall I will have obtained a Bachelor's degree from Ithaca College. I have been blogging for quite some time and am greatly enjoying my various responsibilities in this field. I am currently a Feature Celtics Columnist and a Featured Sports Contributor for two different sites. I am also a couple weeks from opening up my new blog site, CelticsNotes.com.