Atlanta Falcons Week 1 Reactions

Hello Falcons fans, this dreary and depressing column is going to be going over our season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. For those who chose not to watch the game or couldn’t watch the game, you didn’t really miss much. The Falcons lost our home opener in the Benz, 32-6 against the Eagles. It was ugly, it was painful, and it felt like a straight up slap in the face. But there were some bright spots and some small glimmers of hope for our emotionally toxic team.

When the game kicked off there was plenty of excitement inside the Benz because we had yet to see the starters really play this preseason due to Arthur Smith wanting to make sure we came into the season without injuries, which we luckily did not have any significant injury impact a star player. But this tactic of resting the starters came with its own repercussion in the sense that this team was incredibly rusty and just came out flat against the Eagles.

The Offense

Seeing the offensive that we were all expecting to look so much better this season because of a new play caller in Arthur Smith absolutely drop the ball week 1 in front of our own fans was not pretty. The opening two drives by the Falcons looked pretty efficient until they got into the Red zone, and then the normal red zone woes really started. The Falcons had some brutal penalties move them back any time they hit the red zone. But even without those penalties, we struggled with the play calling and execution. There was one TE Leak to Hurst which looked like it would do something, then we had to settle with a field goal because we couldn’t do a thing once we got closer.

Another major issue was after the first two drives when we were no longer calling the scripted plays that we came into the game with. Smith looked like he had no way to even attempt to offset the Eagles defense. I might be slightly over reacting, but that is a concern for me. Smith needs to figure out a way to get the offense clicking if he even wants a shot beating Tampa next week.

I will say though, it is tough for any offense to get firing when your offensive line is getting beaten constantly. Jalen Mayfield at left guard was like one of those fancy revolving doors at a nice classic hotel. There were plenty of times that the play calling and coaching staff would leave Mayfield on an island against Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave which didn’t end well for Matt Ryan.

Atlanta Falcons Jalen Mayfield needs to be directed to the bench

Speaking of Ryan, he had a rough outing against the Eagles. He went 21/35 for 164 yds and 0 TD’s and 0 INT’s. Was it due to the offensive line struggling? I am sure that had something to do with it. But in general a quarterback getting the kind of money that Matt Ryan is getting paid should be elevating the team, but that is an article for another time… The Falcons needed Ryan to play better against the Eagles. At this point we have to hope that Smith and Ryan get on the same page and can figure out the offense’s woes.

But there were some bright spots in this game on the offense. The Falcons offense relied heavily on the play action game which is incredibly refreshing to see after the Dirk Koetter era. Another bright spot was seeing both Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson have an impact on the ground, over 100 yards combined which was nice to see.

The other big bright spot I saw on the offense, was the two tight end sets and plays that were called that got Hurst and Pitts open in space, I talked about the TE leak play to Hurst, but plays like that one, that get our big athletic TE’s moving in space looked good and look like they should be a staple of the offense going forward.

The Defense

Another painful piece of the loss was the defense. The pass rush was none existent and Dean Pees could not figure out a way to stop Jalen Hurts who had over 320 yards by himself. There were some frustrating moments from Deion Jones as he would get himself caught in traffic which in turn would move him out of the play.

But the pass rush being non existent was incredibly disappointing to see. Hopefully we can see them turn it around over the next few weeks but right now I was unimpressed. Fowler and Means didn’t look like they were able to get much going which leaves me very concerned, because if we have another season of Grady Jarrett being our only player who can generate a pass rush we are going to be in for a rough time as fans.

One of the good spots of the defense was our CB play between Oliver, Moreau, and Terrell. They were constantly doing a good job of staying with their mans and didn’t allow a big play. They’re going to have a tough test next week against Tampa Bay’s trio of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown, but I am excited to see how they do.

All in all, the Falcons set the bar incredibly low Week 1 against the Eagles. And if this game was an indicator for the season going forward, we as fans will have a rough year. Hopefully we see them turn it around and put on a better performance on the field, but if for some reason they don’t, at least we have draft season right?

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How the Steelers Beat the Bills

The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off arguably the most shocking upset in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season. They toppled the Buffalo Bills, one of the presumptive Super Bowl favorites from the AFC, by a score of 23-16. The Bills led the game at the half 10-0. The Steelers’ offense was anemic at best, as the running game couldn’t get going and Ben Roethlisberger missed some easy passes. The Steelers punted on every offensive series in the first half, except for the final one where they knelt the ball to go to the half. 

But the Pittsburgh defense kept the whole team in this game. Even when the Bills returned the opening kickoff 75 yards, the defense forced a field goal. They prevented the Bills offense from creating explosive plays and only allowed a touchdown when Josh Allen beat perfect coverage from Cam Sutton with an even better throw. Within the defense, Pittsburgh’s pass rush harangued Allen for the entire game. Even if they didn’t get home, they forced bad throws and incompletions or drew holding penalties. 

The Second Half Comeback

In the second half, the Steelers’ offense found a rhythm. They seemingly leaned into the concepts introduced by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. They used more motion and called some creative plays. Additionally, Ben Roethlisberger actually started throwing down the field. He wasn’t perfect but he found a matchup that he liked and repeatedly attacked Levi Wallace. Roethlisberger even beat All-Pro corner Tre’davious White a few times. This helped open up the run game a little bit and Najee Harris finally had some room to run. Pittsburgh’s offense scored on every drive in the second half (albeit mostly field goals), outsourcing Buffalo 23-3 in the second half. They were aided by a massive blocked punt return for a touchdown. 

At the end of the day, the Steelers defense dominated one of the NFL’s best offenses for 60 minutes on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, the offense did just enough when it was needed to come back and win the game. Let’s get into exactly how the Steelers won their game against the Bills, starting with the defense.

How the Steelers beat the Bills on Defense: Play Smart, Play Angry

Credit where credit is due: Keith Butler put together an excellent gameplan and the defense executed it nearly to perfection. Many Steelers fans, including yours truly, expected Keith Butler to come out with his base defense and try to have his linebackers cover the Bills’ wide receivers. Luckily, Butler did not do that. He played with five defensive backs for the majority of the game. He also put a ton of trust in seventh-round rookie Tre Norwood to play safety and slot corner. Norwood validated his trust when the Bills repeatedly went after him, as he made several key tackles and a few pass breakups. He got burned by Emmanuel Sanders on a deep route once but Allen overthrew him. 

For the remainder of the game, the Steelers played with five or six defensive backs on the field. They did an excellent job preventing explosive plays by staying deep and forcing Allen to dink and dunk. Furthermore, the defensive backs themselves made countless plays in coverage. Norwood, Cam Sutton, James Pierre, and Minkah Fitzpatrick all broke up several passes with perfectly-timed hits. This may have been the best performance from a Steelers’ secondary in a very long time, considering their opponent(s). 

The Bills did not make an adjustment until late in the fourth quarter when they finally started running the ball; Devin Singletary, surprisingly, sliced up the Pittsburgh defense, picking up 49 of his 75 yards on that drive alone. The Bills outrushed the Steelers easily, going for 117 yards on 25 carries. Josh Allen picked up some key first downs using his legs, rushing for 44 yards. But even with his third-down conversions, the Pittsburgh defense did a decent job preventing him from picking up massive gains with his feet. Allen’s longest gain went for only 11 yards; more importantly, the defensive line prevented him from consistently getting outside the pocket. 

Pass Rush

With that, it’s time to talk about the pass rush. TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, Melvin Ingram, and Alex Highsmith were the unquestioned MVPs of this game. All four repeatedly pressured and hit Josh Allen, preventing the Bills offense from getting into a rhythm. The conversation has to start with TJ Watt. Fresh off a brand new contract extension and only two full days of practice, Watt sacked Allen twice, stripping the ball once, hit Allen five more times, and drew at least one holding penalty. He played like a man possessed in all phases of the game. 

The other edge rushers, Ingram and Highsmith, also played extremely well. They didn’t get any sacks but they each drew holding penalties and forced errant throws. Finally, Cam Heyward played exactly like he always does. He generated a whopping 11 pressures, tacking on one QB hit and another sack, according to PFF. With Heyward generating pressure from the interior, Allen needed to get rid of the ball quicker and it opened up more opportunities for the edge rushers. 

Part of the reason why the entire defense was successful was Pittsburgh’s ability to generate pressure with only four rushers, thereby keeping seven defenders in coverage. According to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, Pittsburgh only blitzed Josh Allen twice on Sunday. One of football’s most accurate aphorisms is that if you can pressure the quarterback with four rushers, you can win games. For this reason, if I’m a Bills fan, I’m not going too concerned about if the events of Sunday’s game will repeat themselves. Very few teams can generate so much pressure consistently with only four rushers; even fewer also have some excellent players on the back end. If the Steelers’ front can play like this every game, maybe the offense doesn’t even need to be that good. 

How the Steelers beat the Bills on Offense: Lean into Canada, Eh?

Much was made about the Steelers’ promotion of Matt Canada to offensive coordinator. In his first outing, the results were mixed. The Steelers opened the game with Canada’s patented tackle-tight end exchange and had some cursory jet sweep looks. But for most of the first half, the Steelers’ offense looked exactly like it did towards the end of last season. It was mostly quick passes out of the shotgun with Ben frequently misfiring. The offensive line struggled immensely, allowing the Bills’ pass rush to get home a few times and not getting any push in the run game. Najee Harris tried as best he could but he couldn’t find any holes. 

However, in the second half, things started to change. Pittsburgh started using more pre-snap motion and play action. This, along with some creative play-calling, helped break the roadblock. Najee Harris started to find some more openings as the offensive line got more comfortable. Harris still made some mistakes but he ran extremely tough, never leaving the field despite taking punishment from the Bills’ defense. 

Attacking Vertically and a More Diverse Offense

Furthermore, Canada and Ben started taking more shots downfield. The Bills started loading the box and playing many more single-high defenses with man coverage on the outside. This allowed Ben to start testing the Bills’ cornerbacks vertically. He obviously wasn’t slinging passes 50 yards downfield. But he drew a couple of pass interference and holding penalties and got some big catches from Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron, and Juju Smith-Schuster. This gave Ben the confidence he needed for some of the later drives when he fired several darts to convert multiple third downs. 

It’s clear the Steelers need to run the ball better if they want to keep winning games. But Ben Roethlisberger also needs to play better for the whole game. In short, the Steelers need to have a complete, diverse offense, which was the main problem last year. The offensive line will be the primary determining factor for this offense. If they play as they did in the first half, it will be an ugly season. Conversely, if they can build on the improvements they made in the second half and turn into a league-average offensive line, the Steelers’ offense should be just fine. 

How the Steelers beat the Bills: Summary

At the end of the day, the Steelers beat the Bills because of their defense and specifically their pass rush. But the turning point of the game was the blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on special teams and how punts get blocked. So I’m not gonna try to explain why that play happened. Regardless, this play killed any momentum that the Bills had left in this game; it even sparked the exodus of Bills fans from Highmark Stadium. 

The biggest takeaway from this game was that Keith Butler finally displayed the ability to switch up his scheme/gameplan to put his defense in the best position to win. Typically, people expect Butler to send the house and leave his defensive backs on an island. But he did the exact opposite of that. I expect Butler to return to his old ways at various points in the season. But it’s great to see that he can come out throwing different pitches at an offense. 

On offense, the Steelers were able to do basically the bare minimum to come away with a win. It will take time but this offense will keep improving. Additionally, we saw enough on Sunday to feel that there is at least a greater formula on offense. As the season goes on, expect the offensive line to continue to improve, which will open up the offense as a whole. 

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Chicago Bears Week 1 Recap

The Chicago Bears were walloped by the Los Angeles Rams, in a horrid 34-14 loss on Sunday Night Football. In a week one of weird outcomes and surprises, the Bears’ offense looked brighter than their defense. The offense was not stellar by any means.

Although many Bears fans expected to lose Week 1, it would be tough to predict this kind of loss. However, there is some good to take away from this opening game. Justin Fields didn’t start the game, but in the five snaps he played, he looked like a possible brighter future. Then again, in his five snaps, most were limited to shovel passes and handoffs.

Andy Dalton’s performance was decent. He wasn’t making impressive plays but at the same time, he didn’t look lost. Sure the lack of downfield throws was annoying and disappointing to watch, but dealing with Matt Nagy’s play-calls isn’t exactly a cup of tea. But if the Bears keep losing, fans can only wonder when Fields will start.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Start of Fields:

Every Bears fan will say they wanted to see much more of Fields. His first NFL play was an 8-yard pass to Marquise Goodwin, setting the Bears up for a third-and-one inside the Rams’ 10-yard-line. After a confusing shovel pass, and some handoffs later, Fields made a highlight 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Dalton wasn’t atrocious out there but everyone knows he isn’t Fields, and that’s what Bears fans are going to want every week.

David Montgomery:

David Montgomery had no problem carrying the Bears offense through a vaunted rams defense. Montgomery recorded a 100-yard game to start the season off strong, having 108 yards on 16 carries. Not to mention a touchdown where even Aaron Donald couldn’t hold him back.

Fly Zone:

Sean Desai’s defense is an embarrassment. For a franchise whose heart and soul have been strong defense, this Bears team was an absolute letdown. Missed tackles and blown coverages made Matthew Stafford look like Peyton Manning. Whatever happened to the “elite” defense I can’t say, but it’s safe to say the Bears can’t rely on their defense anymore to win games. Roquan Smith and Akiem Hicks were bright spots on the defense, but the rest of the defense didn’t step up.

Conclusion:

It felt like Nagy almost had no intention of winning the first game. For a guy whose job is on the line, he sure acts like he has tenure. The long-awaited debut of Desai’s defense makes me long for Pagano to unretire. The Bears play the Bengals next week at home. Maybe Fields could stay in for an entire drive if Nagy decides he wants to win.

Steelers Bills Recap – Week 1: A Pleasant Surprise

Well, that was fun. The Pittsburgh Steelers walked into the home of a presumed AFC Super Bowl contender and outlasted them for 60 minutes. Of course, it was far from a perfect game for the Steelers against the Buffalo Bills. We’ll recap everything that happened in this Steelers-Bills matchup and talk about what the Steelers need to fix moving forward.

Steelers-Bills Recap: 1st Half

Through the first half, this team looked like the one fans saw at the end of the regular season last year. The offense could not get the run game going and Ben Roethlisberger struggled to complete easy passes. Many of the concerns about the new offensive line seemed to be realized. All five players struggled to get any push in the run game and they allowed the Bills’ defense to pressure Roethlisberger repeatedly. Rookie running back Najee Harris ran hard but the blocking did not give him much to work with. But Ben shares some of the blame. He looked like the late-2020 Ben again, missing simple passes, as the offense did not look much different than last season.

Luckily, Pittsburgh’s defense bailed them out repeatedly. They sacked Josh Allen three times, drew numerous holding penalties, and generally harassed Allen all afternoon. Buffalo elected not to run the ball very much. But the Steelers’ defensive backs responded by preventing big plays and tackling well. Regardless, the Steelers’ defense broke once right before the half, when Allen fired a perfect strike to Gabriel Davis in the back of the end zone. Pittsburgh went into halftime down 10-0, punting on all five of their drives (not counting the kneeldown). 

Steelers-Bills Recap: 2nd Half

But in the second half, slowly but surely, the Steelers came alive. Tre’davious White nearly picked off Ben early in the drive but it was called back due to holding. The Steelers ended up with a field goal after an errant pass to Najee Harris on third down. On the ensuring Buffalo drive, Pittsburgh forced the first of their turnovers on downs. They drove into the red zone again but could not convert for a touchdown and settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh then forced another turnover on downs via a massive tackle for loss from Cam Sutton. After a big defensive pass interference penalty, Diontae Johnson secured some semblance of revenge against the Bills after last year’s debacle, catching a bobbling highlight touchdown. The Steelers scored 13 unanswered points to tie the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. 

It didn’t stop there. After a massive sack on third down, the Steelers special teams unit redeemed themselves after allowing a huge return on the opening kickoff by blocking a punt and returning it for a quick touchdown. The Steelers held strong at the goal line again after that, forcing a field goal. Pittsburgh got the ball back with about five minutes remaining and bled about two-and-a-half minutes off with some clutch third-down conversions to get into field goal range. Chris Boswell nailed a long kick to extend the lead to 10. Buffalo got down the field to kick a field goal on the ensuing drive. But they used up too much time and could not recover the onside kick to get one last chance.

Key Takeaways 

Steelers fans may have seen shades of the game against the Colts last season when the Steelers’ offense could not get anything going in the first half but came alive in the second to squeak out a win. In this game, that was more understandable, as the offense was starting four rookies in a very new offense. The run game was not pretty for the majority of the contest. But Najee Harris displayed incredible toughness, consistently battling for extra yards when there weren’t any to be had. By the fourth quarter, Harris found more holes and started breaking some for solid gains. Ben Roethlisberger played far from perfect but in clutch situations in the second half, he delivered. 

On defense, there’s not much to complain about if anything. TJ Watt played incredibly, even for him, after signing his new contract. The rest of the outside linebackers were also amazing, generating pressure on Allen with relative ease and drawing several holding calls. The secondary also played extremely well, preventing big plays over the top, breaking up multiple passes, and rallying to the ball to make tackles. The stats will look somewhat deceiving but the Steelers’ defense executed their gameplan very well, forcing stops when necessary. The special teams units had some hiccups (opening kickoff, shanked punt) but creating a blocked punt touchdown might fully redeem them. 

Next Week

Obviously, the Steelers have a lot to clean up on offense. The debut Matt Canada offense was not perfect. However, as they leaned more into it, with motions and sweeps, the offense seemed to get going. The Steelers return home next week to face the Las Vegas Raiders, coming off a short week and a long road trip. Hopefully, they can clean up their mistakes during the week and come out firing against Las Vegas. 

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Cleveland Browns vs Kansas City Chiefs Preview

Cleveland Browns vs Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs -5.5, 4:25PM EST on CBS

What to Watch For

1. Baker Mayfield Retaining His Form

If Baker Mayfield can continue to do what he did at the end of the 2020 NFL Season, he is without a doubt a top ten quarterback in the NFL. And this offense with a top ten quarterback for an entire season can jump from a top ten offense to one of the elite offenses in football. His accuracy took a massive leap in the second half of the year as compared to the first half. With an elite running game behind him and having Odell Beckham Jr. return, adding a field-stretching element in Anthony Schwartz, and improvement from Donovan Peoples-Jones, just merely being an accurate quarterback is enough to get the Browns’ offense to elite levels.

A final Weighted On-Target % for Baker Mayfield. Total, First 8, Last 8.

Originally tweeted by Cory (@realcorykinnan) on July 11, 2021.

2. Jedrick Wills’ Year Two Leap

Jedrick Wills was the best-left tackle the Browns have had since the retirement of Joe Thomas last season as a rookie. Typically the biggest leap for players comes in year two, and this is especially true of linemen. Wills was a solid player who had room for improvement. If he can take a leap this year, this Browns offensive line can go from possibly the best offensive line in football, to an all-time great unit.

3. Chris Jones at Defensive End

Chris Jones has been dominant on the interior of the defensive line pretty much since he entered the league. He is now trying to do the same out on the edge. While he will still get plenty of reps on the inside, especially in passing situations, the majority of his reps will come on the edge. Jones lost around 20 pounds to play this year. Jones is still at 290 pounds. That is still quite high for a 4-3 defensive end. However, he has insane length that allows him to hold that weight much better than most. If he can show that he can be an elite athlete on the edge at a lower weight like he was on the interior, he will be a problem for offensive tackles who aren’t used to the strength of a player like Jones. The Chiefs’ lack of depth at end as well as their solid depth at defensive tackle somewhat forced their hand with this move. However, it could end up being beneficial in the long run by giving them a player in Jones with inside-out versatility.

Keys To The Game

1. Pressure Mahomes

The Kansas City Chiefs have a new-look offensive line with five new starters, so the Browns will have an opportunity to get pressure on them. If teams give Patrick Mahomes too much time, he will destroy any defense, no matter how sound it is. With a new offensive line, miscommunications happen. The Browns should take advantage of this by running games with their defensive line, which a player like Jadeveon Clowney can be great at. The Browns also need to look to get Myles Garrett some run against the Chiefs’ right tackle Lucas Niang, who looks to be their worst linemen. He is also playing next to 6th round pick Trey Smith, who will probably be their second-worst offensive lineman.

2. Create Explosive Plays

When you face a team like the Chiefs, they are going to score points. Methodical drives are necessary for any game. However, if you need to score a lot, you cannot rely on having 5 long touchdown drives a game. The Browns offense lacked explosion in the passing game last year. The return of OBJ, the improvements from Peoples-Jones, and the addition of Higgins should help solve that issue. Baker has shown at times he can be a good downfield passer. They need to be able to hit the ground running in that aspect. The running game is full of long, explosive runs by Nick Chubb, so that is not much of a concern. If they can be successful and explosive in both aspects, they give themselves a chance to win any game they play.When you face a team like the Chiefs, they are going to score points. Methodical drives are necessary for any game. However, if you need to score a lot, you cannot rely on having 5 long touchdown drives a game. The Browns’ offense lacked explosion in the passing game last year. The return of OBJ, the improvements from Peoples-Jones, and the addition of Higgins should help solve that issue. Baker has shown at times he can be a good downfield passer. They need to be able to hit the ground running in that aspect. The running game is full of long, explosive runs by Nick Chubb, so that is not much of a concern. If they can be successful and explosive in both aspects, they give themselves a chance to win any game they play.

3. Limit Tyreek Hill

Tyreek Hill is a fantastic receiver at all levels of the field. The one the Browns must concern themselves with the most is deep. Just like for the Browns, if you are trying to score in bunches, the Chiefs need explosive plays. Tyreek Hill is the biggest threat for those types of plays. If you can limit his catches of 20+ yards, you can consider it a success. Hill will get his production no matter what, but if you make it happen on a lot of shorter targets, it is a job well done.

Prediction

Cleveland Browns 31 – Kansas City Chiefs 34