After the longest offseason in decades, pro football is officially back. And that means it’s time for America’s favorite weekly football gimmick, my weekly “Things I Noticed” column.
There was no shortage of topics to comment on this week, especially since we didn’t see any preseason football due to the pandemic. But the moment the Indianapolis Colts lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, I knew that garish 27-20 loss — and Philip Rivers’ mistakes in it — was going to be my lead observation.
Whoo boy, what a disappointment. Yes, the Jaguars played inspired at home as Doug Marrone’s staff had great gameplans on both sides of the ball. But I predicted Indianapolis to win the AFC South before the season, and for them to lose to the openly tanking Jaguars was brutal.
I don’t say that to disrespect the Jaguars, a young team with some promising players who could be playoff ready as early as 2022 if they nail the next draft. I say that because for all the reasons to believe in Rivers in 2020, including his reunification with Frank Reich and the Colts’ strong offensive line, the two interceptions he threw Sunday were eerily similar to some of the ones he tossed last year when he tallied 20 picks, the third-most in football and his most since 2016.
I laid it all out in detail in the video above, which was finely stitched together by my guy Ron Schiltz and includes commentary from Rivers, Reich and Marrone about what happened on those plays. After hearing the explanation, it was hard not to ponder a world where the worst-case scenario plays out and Rivers is washed, thus dooming Indianapolis to hover around .500 again. This would be an incredibly disappointing waste of an opportunity to solidify his Hall of Fame candidacy, considering the strong roster that surrounds him. The Colts signed Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal this offseason, hoping he’d be an upgrade to Jacoby Brissett.
It’s only Week 1, and teams often take their biggest jump between the season opener and Week 2. It’s also worth noting that Rivers threw for 363 yards, and the Colts need to get more aggressive on defense as they can’t just play zone and let Gardner Minshew complete 19 of 20 passes. Still, no team in football with playoff aspirations outside of Cleveland needs a bigger bounce back in Week 2 than Indianapolis.
Indianapolis next hosts a Minnesota team that went 10-6 last year but is coming off a similarly frustrating home loss to the Green Bay Packers, in which Aaron Rodgers somehow threw it back to 2010 on the Vikings.
And hey, speaking of Cleveland ...
The Browns better figure it out — and quick
The Browns’ new uniforms — which look a whole hell of a lot like their old ones — were about the only good thing you can take away from their 38-6 drilling at the hands of Baltimore.
I’m not surprised the Browns lost. Baltimore boasts one of the league’s best running games while Cleveland’s run defense stunk last year and its beat-up linebacking corps remains wobbly. But they should’ve put up more of a fight. Baker Mayfield threw a pick on the Browns’ first series and finished 21-of-39 for 189 yards, which isn’t going to get the job done against a heavyweight Ravens squad.
On a few occasions, Mayfield struggled to pull the trigger. Men were open, he just wasn’t hitting them. The pressure also got to him. Per PFF, he finished 2-of-10 for 25 yards when the Ravens brought the heat with two sacks. And as the video below indicates, he can’t just run away from cats on this level.
His lack of production with Odell Beckham Jr., who caught three of 10 targets for a meager 22 yards, remains a concern.
It’s still too early to bury the Browns. Mayfield has been better as a pro out of two-tight end personnel groups, but when the Browns got down 24-6 at halftime, it allowed Baltimore to anticipate the pass. Not every defense Cleveland faces will be as strong as Baltimore’s, and it’s worth noting Cleveland rushed for 138 yards on Sunday. If the Browns can establish the run in future weeks, it will allow Mayfield to operate the play-action boot game new coach Kevin Stefanski is so adept at utilizing.
On Thursday night, they host a Cincinnati team that surrendered 155 yards to the Chargers last week. Given how negative things turn in Cleveland once that team starts losing, it’s not too early to call this one — against the league’s worst team last year, mind you — a must-win.
Don’t worry about Tom Brady and the Bucs just yet
Call me crazy but I’m still bullish on the Bucs, who lost their debut with Tom Brady 34-23 to New Orleans.
That’s because the Saints are one of the best teams in football — I’ve got them facing the Chiefs in the Super Bowl — and because Brady still made some nice throws, like the ones below:
Both of Brady’s picks can be attributed to a lack of offseason repetitions with his receivers. Learning the timing of receivers and getting everybody on the same page regarding sight adjustments takes time and experience.
Expect Brady to look a whole lot better in Week 2 against a young Carolina defense that generally looked overmatched against a solid-but-unspectacular Raiders offense. If Tampa struggles to beat a rebuilding Carolina squad handily at home, feel free to sound your alarm bells.
Don’t blame the call for Dallas’ fourth-down flop
I agree with ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, who pointed out that Dallas’ fourth-and-3 attempt in the fourth quarter of their 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was largely because of an unbelievable play by Rams rookie safety Jordan Fuller:
In the play, Fuller correctly diagnosed the mesh concept in front of him, drove on slot receiver CeeDee Lamb’s route with an unreal angle and delivered the blow, stopping him short of the marker. A better throw from Dak Prescott — one that would allow Lamb to catch it at full speed — would have helped.
Fuller has apparently beaten out 2019 second-round draft pick Taylor Rapp for snaps. (Rapp logged 100 tackles last year.) On the critical play, he just triggered and filled. It was a hell of a move. In this league, it happens.
Can we believe in Anthony Miller?
Lost in the Detroit Lions’ embarrassing 27-23 setback — in which they blew a 17-point second-half lead — was how well some of the Chicago Bears played.
One of them was wideout Anthony Miller, who caught four passes for 76 yards, all of which were of the badass variety, including the winning score:
A word of caution, folks: Miller played only 41 percent of the offensive snaps Sunday, and while his performance might earn him more of a workload, all of those catches were on backups, as the Lions were missing three of their top four corners by the end of the game. Add that to Mitchell Trubisky’s shakiness, and it’s OK to be concerned about Sunday’s performance leading to a breakout season.
I really, really wish Miller, a second-round pick in 2018 who saw his catches rise from 33 as a rookie to 52 last year, was in an offense with a more consistent quarterback. He’s talented enough to be one of the game’s best No. 2 receiving options.
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