Willo's stock report: Week 1
Well there goes Week 1, and what a week it was. We had drama. We had excitement. We had all the cliches you associate with the sport. More importantly, we had upsets, and god knows we here at The Touchdown love an upset. Whether it’s in favour of Jacksonville or Washington, teams expected to put up no more than 10ish wins between them got off to the best possible start.
Among the mess of the weekend, there’s been plenty of ups, and plenty of downs. That’s why I’m here. Let’s sift through the wreckage to pick out some storylines that are going to be worth following for the next few weeks. Here’s the stock report.
Can I kick us off with a prediction? If, and that’s a pretty big if in my book, the Los Angeles Rams make the playoffs, Aaron Donald will be the first defensive player to win MVP since Alan Page in 1971. He is just that good.
The Rams opened their shiny new stadium against the Cowboys, and managed to squeeze past in a 20-17 win. Their offense certainly looks capable of playing at a reasonable level. Their defense, however, kept a supremely talented receiving corps, the vastly underrated Dak Prescott, and a top tier running game largely in check. That’s in no small part down to the efforts of 99 himself. I mean, just look at this.
Whether it’s throwing Zeke Elliott into Prescott, or barrelling through two offensive tackles, Donald took over the game. Logging 4 tackles, 1 for loss, and a sack, Donald had to be accounted for on every play. If the Rams are going to do anything this season, he’s going to be the catalyst for it.
It’s not easy being an NFL Quarterback. If it were, there would be more than about 20 that are actually good. There’s a lot more to being successful than just talent, however. A good coaching set up can create high level performances out of even the most mediocre of signal callers. We don’t yet know whether Dwayne Haskins is going to make it in the NFL, but his conduct on Sunday has certainly made his case stronger.
For those who aren’t aware, new Washington Head Coach, Ron Rivera, was diagnosed with a form of cancer in August. While considered treatable, there are obvious challenges that come with that. On Sunday, one such challenge presented itself.
At home to the Eagles, Washington found themselves in a 17-7 hole. Carson Wentz was dealing, and his limited receiving group were finding gaps in the Washington defense. Things were rough for the Football Team. At half time, Ron Rivera was administered an IV (for precautionary purposes), thus unable to provide the half time team talk. Enter: Dwayne Haskins.
The full details of the talk can be found here, but the talk itself seemed to rally the troops. By the end of the game, Washington hadn’t just made up the deficit; they’d overturned it. A 27-17 victory on opening day.
Haskins himself wasn’t anything spectacular, ending the day with 178 yards and a touchdown. But the leadership qualities on show from the 2nd year former Buckeye should be encouraging to both Washington fans and coaches, as he looks to establish himself in the NFL.
Keep an eye on
While the NFL has been back for less than a week, proper football (still insist on calling it that) has been back for a good few months. Since mid-May (thank you, Germany), some form of football has been on. Aside from the logistics behind putting on a cross-country (or cross-continent, in regards to European club and international football) sport, there’s something you can’t account for: the atmosphere.
The fans bring a lot more to the spectacle than just cash. In-stadium support can turn the tide of a game, influence officiating decisions, and, ultimately, make for a far more enjoyable viewing experience. So when fans aren’t allowed in the grounds, broadcasters have to get tricky with it. One workaround has been fake crowd noise. That initiative has carried over to the NFL.
There are a few differences between how the NFL are implementing fake crowd noise vs everyone else, however. In the Premier League, for example, the crowd noise is added on top of the broadcast. This allowed the viewer to choose whether they want the synthetic crowd or not. In the NFL, the noise is pumped directly into the stadium, so the players can hear it as well.
Most interestingly, however, is the source of the crowd noise. The Premier League took advantage of their partnership with EA Sports to plant the noises you hear in FIFA into their broadcasts. The NFL have opted to repurpose noises from previous games. For example, after converting a 4th down, the virtual Buffalo crowd lost their minds. The commentators observed that the sound file came from after a 4th down conversion in a previous Bills game.
Contextual crowd noise like these feels far more natural than the one size fits all option used elsewhere. As we move through the season, and as the possibility of some fans returning to stadiums, it’ll be interesting to see how teams flip between recorded and in-stadium noises. Certainly something to keep tabs on. For now, however, a tentative thumbs up from me.
You really shouldn’t put too much stock into week one of the NFL. You ESPECIALLY shouldn’t put too much stock into week one of the NFL when no teams have played a single pre-season game. But some results are difficult to ignore, and seeing the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars was just one of those results.
In last week’s offseason report, I had Jacksonville as a side on the downswing. A summer of selling off the family china and replacing it with plastic crockery from the Disney store had my faith in the Jags in a ditch. The Colts couldn’t have hoped for a more favourable start to the Philip Rivers era. And yet.
That’s not to say Indy were bad, per se. If you’d told Frank Reich that his new offense would put together over 450 total yards, he’d be delighted. “A fine start”, I imagine he’d say, before asking you how much they won by. But there’s the thing; they didn’t win. While Philip Rivers managed 363 passing yards, he only managed to turn those into 1 passing touchdown. The turnover woes plaguing him in Los Angeles followed him cross country, and led to two interceptions on the night.
Let’s take nothing from Jacksonville. These players know they’re playing for their careers, at this point. While it’s widely believed the Jags are angling for top billing on the “Tank for Trevor” line up, Gardner Minshew can’t be discounted when he’s completing 90% of his passes. Whether they can overcome Tennessee is another matter, but they’re in with a shout. For Indianapolis? Figure it out sharpish, or risk being left behind.
Sell Sell Sell!
I follow a healthy range of fans on Twitter. While the majority would be in the Falcons camp, I certainly see how certain fan bases are reacting in real time, and am able to gauge the mood of a team’s following from that. Let it be said that there isn’t a single fan base angrier than that of the New York Jets. The subject of their ire? One Adam Gase.
Adam Gase is now in his second season overseeing Gang Green, yet they only seem to be taking very clear steps backwards. Trading Jamal Adams, far and away your best player, would never put you in good esteem with the locals, but to have no obvious plan to replace his production? Unforgivable. The Buffalo Bills, their week one opposition, may prove to be a pretty good side this season. But Gase’s Jets gave Allen and company the freedom of the city. A late rally, if you can even call it that, saved some face, but it was too little, too late to climb out of a 21-3 half time hole.
The hiring has always had an air of “Chip Kelly to the 49ers” about it. In that he was a once respected offensive mind in need of work, and the Jets would hire anyone who looked like they knew how to put a headset on properly. He’s wasting away the talent of a potentially really good young Quarterback, and a set of players who clearly hate him as much as the fans do. Unless something drastic happens, he won’t make it to Christmas.