nfl week 1: four things to keep an eye on

By Tayyib Abu

The quarter point of the NFL season is here. Week 4 got underway on Thursday night, resumes today in London for the first game of the International Series, continues with a packed Sunday slate before finishing in California. Stories and big matchups dominate the scene as fall football gets firmly underway.

An MVP Battle To Savour

The Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills is not the Sunday Night Football game, but it ought to be. The two MVP favorites will duel it out in a matchup that could have significant implications come December. In the purple corner, the electrifying Lamar Jackson. And in the blue corner, the bulldozing Josh Allen. Both players have started the season in red-hot form. 

Former MVP Jackson currently ranks 2nd in QBR, 3rd in EPA, and leads the NFL in touchdown passes and passer rating. Jackson is single-handedly carrying the Ravens offense. On the other hand, Allen ranks 3rd in QBR, 1st in EPA, and has played like a one-man wrecking crew. 

Jackson was majestic in last week’s win over the New England Patriots. Jackson threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns, while he rushed for 107 yards. The New England defense had no answer as Jackson picked them apart. Bill Belichick’s defense had no answer for Jackson, so they went blitz heavy. Per Next Gen Stats, the Patriots blitzed Jackson on 49% of his drawbacks. The former Heisman Trophy winner threw three of his touchdowns against the New England blitz. Jackson is a phenomenon. 

But so is Allen. The guts and grit of the quarterback were on full show as he came agonizingly close to dragging the Bills to victory over the Miami Dolphins. Allen is now a complete quarterback, adding game management skills alongside his game-breaking deep passing and running ability. 

This game should let Allen loose on the deep field; the Ravens’ pass defense is mediocre. Football Outsiders ranks Baltimore’s passing defense 15th. Last Sunday, they struggled to contain DaVante Parker on the deep ball; Stefon Diggs and Allen will have chances to go deep. But Jackson will fancy his chances to attack a banged-up defensive secondary. 

These two quarterbacks have accounted for over 80% of their respective teams’ total offense. And they are the only players in history to have had nine touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards through the opening three games of a season. Just grab the snacks, relax and buckle up for this one. You do not get to watch complete anomalies play quarterback every day.

A Philadelphia Reunion

Doug Pederson is a legend in Philadelphia. He masterminded the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning season of 2017-18. Those Eagles were the upstarts from nowhere, led by a 2nd-year quarterback. Ironically, Pederson returns to Philly with an upstart team led by a 2nd-year quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars made everyone take notice last Sunday as they smashed the LA Chargers. A 38-10 scoreboard over an AFC contender means the Jaguars are riding a tidal wave of confidence ahead of this game. The Jags are 4th in defensive DVOA and 5th in offensive DVOA. They are playing balanced, competent football in both phases. 

Offensively, it starts with quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence is playing like the quarterback the world saw at Clemson. Lawrence is 3rd overall in DYAR, 7th in QBR, and 7th in EPA. He no longer looks like a nervous wreck; he seems in control and trusts his teammates. His relationship with maligned free agent signing Christian Kirk is fantastic. Lawrence is mentally playing quarterback. Add that to his physical talent, and the 1st-overall pick is shining. 

Defensively, the Jags are getting contributions from several young players. Travon Walker has settled nicely, while the other Josh Allen is creating pressure. Rookie Devin Lloyd is covering every pellet of turf, and corner Tyson Campbell is gamely defending the backfield. This Jaguars’ defense is young and aggressive, and they fly around the field. 

One area Jacksonville could exploit is the Eagles’ run defense. Philly got gashed by the Detroit Lions tandem of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams in Week 1. The Jaguars have their talented duo of Travis Etienne and James Robinson. These dynamic backs may give Jacksonville a cutting edge and an opportunity to get creative on offense. If Lawrence remains Ice Cool and Pederson gets his team in the right situations, the Jags could spring one hell of a surprise.

Return Of The Zach

Zach Wilson is back! After suffering an injury in the preseason, the New York Jets’ latest savior will take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. After enduring a difficult rookie season, Wilson arrives into his sophomore year with plenty to prove. Draftniks fell in love with Wilson’s arm and off-script playmaking ability. However, the NFL is still a pocket-passing league. That comes first, and everything else is secondary. Wilson is good at the Sports Center plays, but can he become an accomplished passer?

Playing quarterback is much more than avoiding a sack, scrambling, and throwing a 40-yard line drive across the field. In fact, it is about 1% of quarterbacking. And this game against the Steelers is an early chance to show that he has learned. The Steelers are a terrible run defense. They were not very good last season, and they have been poor through three games this season. Rookie Breece Hall played more snaps than Michael Carter last week, and his athletic running style should trouble Pittsburgh.

This is the kind of game offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur should excel in. The San Francisco 49ers’ offense relished a game where their quarterback had to manage the game and play with discipline. Can Wilson prove that he is capable of managing a game and letting the talent around him do damage? Or will he play with reckless abandon and ad-lib as much as possible? We will find out.

A Monday Night California Derby

AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams do not like each other. Rivals since the 1950s, these California rivals round out Week 4 on Monday Night Football. The 49ers are 1-2, while the Rams are 2-1. Not that records matter when these two meet. The 49ers swept LA home and away in the 2021 regular season, but the Rams prevailed in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers are 7-4 in the Shanahan-McVay era, and they have often wrecked the Rams’ offense. This fixture last season finished 31-10 in the Niners’ favor, and the Rams’ offense was miserable in that defeat. And the good news for San Francisco? The Rams are looking miserable on offense this season as well…

LA’s offensive line is average, and their run game is middling. All of that forces more pressure on Matthew Stafford. The veteran gunslinger is 13th in QBR and seems not to trust anyone that is not called Cooper Kupp. The Rams’ offense ranks 18th in DVOA, and Stafford is the worst quarterback through three games on passes of 15-yards or more. The San Francisco defense is playing ferociously well, and they will eye up this Rams offense.

There are playmakers everywhere in Red and Gold. Nick Bosa is a wrecking ball, and Fred Warner is the best coverage linebacker in football. Warner’s all-world ability at patrolling the middle of the field allows defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans to get funky with his formations. The Niners use base personnel more than 50% of the time, and Warner has played every single defensive snap this season. Per Sports Info Solutions, Warner is 2nd amongst linebackers in yards allowed per coverage snap. His ability to shut down intermediate passing plays is critical to the 49ers’ defense. If Stafford hesitates on deep throws, the intermediate throws will not be there either.

Lastly, watch out for safety Talanoa Hufanga. He is a wild man on the field. Next Gen Stats ranked Hufanga 3rd overall for safeties in tackling, coverage and pass-rush. And that last element is something the 49ers excel in. Strip away blitzes, and the Niners lead the NFL in pressure rate. It could be another long game for LA. 

The Rams are playing in moments right now. Their star players are carrying too big of a burden. Stafford, Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey are the heartbeat of this team. LA’s lesser lights are not stepping up and playing well. It may explain the erratic inconsistencies the Rams have shown in all three games. But with Trent Williams out, the Rams’ defense may have an opening to exploit. Jimmy Garoppolo is still getting back into rhythm and looked rusty last Sunday. 

This game has all the makings of another tense, aggressive, unpredictable battle with plenty of turning points. The Battle of California could be another gritty thriller on a Monday night.



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1