Week 1 is in the books, which means it’s time to take somewhat of a deep dive into the first week of the season. There isn’t always a whole bunch to learn in the first week of the NFL season because it’s only one data point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to note for moving forward.
This week’s Four Verts starts off with a strong declaration of a team shouting to the heavens that it is exactly who we thought it was.
The 49ers are still That Team
What Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have built in San Francisco is amazing. They’ve cycled through starting quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks, but it still hasn’t affected their bottom line of being a great football team. Fresh off of their 30-7 beatdown of the Steelers, the Niners immediately look ready to go back to war to try and finish the job they’ve started for the past few seasons: actually winning the Super Bowl. The 49ers have made the NFC championship game in three of the past four postseasons and they look ready to do that again.
Even though the 49ers’ defense lost DeMeco Ryans as their defensive coordinator in the offseason, they just beat the absolute crap out of a Steelers offense that appeared to have made strides this offseason. Steve Wilks did a great job pulling the strings in his first game as 49ers defensive coordinator, and Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Javon Hargrave and the other studs on defense wrecked Pittsburgh.
The offense picked up right where it left off before Brock Purdy’s injury in the NFC title game against the Eagles. He was efficient, spread the ball around and even made an incredibly tight-window throw for a touchdown to Brandon Aiyuk. Christian McCaffrey ran for 152 yards and a touchdown while chipping in with three receptions.
The 49ers have a whole lot of talent, but they aren’t really led by any one player. This is a comprehensive team that didn’t show a whole lot of weaknesses in their opening week drubbing of the Steelers.
The NFC West, and potentially the entire NFC, runs through San Francisco and the juggernaut that the Niners have built. The 49ers unveiled a fairly different passing game than they usually do, but that didn’t affect their efficiency. Purdy ran play-action on only three of his 29 attempts according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. If this team can rely on play-action less than it normally does, it’s going to be even more dangerous on offense than it has been in previous iterations of the 49ers’ scheme.
Nothing has changed with the 49ers in terms of performance or expectations. As long as Purdy is healthy, this team will own one of the best offenses in the league. Obviously, the 49ers will lose a few games throughout the season, but there aren’t too many teams that appear to be as dominant from top to bottom. The Steelers might not be a Super Bowl contender yet, but that was a quality squad that San Francisco dismantled. This might be the season the 49ers get across the finish line.
What do you even say to your team when you lose 40-0?
Personally, I don’t think there is anything a head coach can say that’s satisfactory in a moment like the one the Giants threw at their fans on Sunday night. Bury the tape, burn it, pretend this game never happened. There isn’t really much to take away from a beatdown of this variety, especially in a torrential downpour, but here’s the thing — I don’t play for the Giants. So, let’s really examine what went wrong.
First, it’s important to remember that this game could have been much worse. The score was 26-0 at halftime and Dallas didn’t even get that much production from its passing game. Dak Prescott completed only 13 of his 24 passes for 143 yards and no touchdowns. He didn’t need to produce anything in the passing game and the Cowboys would have won by multiple scores with a mannequin at quarterback. It was just one of those nights where the game gets out of hand so quickly that the quarterback really doesn’t need to do much. Still, Prescott had a chance to convert on some throws that he probably would’ve liked to have back.
A quarterback’s life is made much easier when his team is able to score on defense and special teams. Not only did the Cowboys return an interception for a touchdown, they also blocked a kick that was returned for a touchdown as well. Offense, defense, special teams, the Giants just couldn’t get anything going in a spectacular manner. Yes, the rain hampered their abilities to play the competent brand of football that got them to the playoffs last season, but their opponent had to deal with the same conditions and, well … 40-0.
Perhaps the most striking part of the game was the Giants’ complete inability to protect Daniel Jones from Micah Parsons and the rest of the Cowboys’ pass rush. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, second-year right tackle Evan Neal gave up a whopping 14 pressures and three sacks on 46 pass blocking snaps — tied for the seventh most pressures in a game since 2018. Jones was sacked seven times and hit an additional 12 times on his 35 non-scramble dropbacks. By the end of the game, Jones was getting mauled by the Cowboys’ pass rush before mercifully coming out of the game with a few minutes to spare. Just an All-American ass whoppin’ from start to finish.
It’s rare to see a team lose in this manner and feel like it came out OK, but the Giants actually did here. The Cowboys could have put up more than 40 points with a more cohesive offensive showing and the Giants were fortunate to escape the game without Jones getting hurt, especially considering the way he was getting crushed and facing pressure. Jones was under pressure on 62.7% of his dropbacks, which is an unsustainably hazardous rate.
At the end of the day, 0-1 is 0-1 and there’s plenty of time to rebound for Sunday’s Week 2 game at the 0-1 Arizona Cardinals, but damn, 40-0 is crazy.
The Rams might be OK this year
Sean McVay, hold off that retirement thought for another week — your quarterback appears to be healthy, which changes the entire complexity of the Rams’ season.
Matthew Stafford looked like the version of the quarterback who led the Rams to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, torching the Seahawks to the tune of 334 yards and 8.8 yards per attempt in a 30-13 win over Seattle.
The Rams are in retooling mode as they figure out what their roster’s future will look like post-Super Bowl, but a positive overreaction for them to grapple with is that they might have a quality wide receivers group. Superstar WR Cooper Kupp will miss at least three more games with a hamstring injury, but rookie Puka Nacua and second-year pro Tutu Atwell filled in no problem in Week 1. The two combined for 16 catches and 238 yards, with Nacua securing a 100-yard game in his first NFL action.
If the Rams find some gems and develop them, they might not have to blow up the entire squad like it seemed they were destined to at the end of last season. Stafford’s play provided a ton of optimism for the rest of the season while Nacua and Atwell might give the Rams a well-rounded wide receivers room once Kupp returns.
Even being able to put the clamps on an explosive Seahawks offense should be considered a big win for where the perceived talent level of this Rams defense was prior to the season. Saying this Week 1 victory means they can topple San Francisco — the Rams are 8.5-point home underdogs on Sunday, per BetMGM oddsmakers, against those mighty Niners — is a stretch right now, but they have more positives going for them than it seemed like a few weeks ago. The Rams went from afterthought to a team that’s going to be worth paying attention to for the rest of the season. They certainly put the rest of the league on notice with their Week 1 performance.
Don’t need to hit the panic button yet on Bryce Young
Rookie quarterbacks gonna rookie quarterback. Bryce Young had a rough go of it in his first game against the Falcons, averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt to go along with two interceptions and a handful of inaccurate throws down the field. There wasn’t much to go on here as far as positive tape, but it’s just the first game of many for Young.
Young isn’t doomed even though he threw the same interception to Jessie Bates III twice, he’s just in a new environment facing the best team he’s ever faced up to this point. It’s great that Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud put together some positive moments in their first games, but the outlook on all three players should be the same as it was going into Sunday’s game. It was Week 1. These guys will all have good and bad outings, Young just happened to start his off with a really bad one.
Not every rookie quarterback gets to come in and set the world on fire. It’s a learning process. The good thing for Young is that the Panthers’ offensive line held up much better in Week 1 than it did in the preseason. There are lessons to learn for Young from that game before heading into Monday night against New Orleans, who had a solid defensive start to the season. One particular lesson: being aware of veteran safeties lurking in the middle of the field.
But the world isn’t ending if it feels like that to some Panthers. Maybe his start isn’t as explosive as Cam Newton’s was in 2011, but that’s fine. Gotta give the kid time.