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NFL Week 1 – What We Learned

Joshua Edwards takes a look at some of the more interesting storylines from week one of the 2018 season. If you’ve got an opinion, tweet us @TheInsideZone.

NFL groupthink is alive and well. Case in point: Adrian Peterson
Groupthink: a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the individuals produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made).

This off-season Adrian Peterson was not given a sniff of a chance to play for a new team. The assumption made, and oft repeated, was that AP wanted a starting job and starting money. Head coaches and front offices across the league decided he was worth neither. When Derrius Guice went down in pre-season with a heart-breaking ACL tear, Washington took a shot and were either derided or ignored for signing the future hall of fame back.

But on Sunday afternoon in Arizona, in the Redskins burgundy and gold, Peterson rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown, and caught 2 passes for 70 yards. An unfortunate fumble late in the 4th quarter, whilst fighting for more yardage, was the only blot on his stat sheet. Helped by the relief of dynamic partner in crime Chris Thompson (5 carries for 65 yards, 6 receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown), Peterson not only showed patience but a quick cutting ability and elusiveness many thought were years behind him. Most impressively, given his age and 2600 career rushes, Peterson ran hard, eschewing the chance to duck out of bounds on multiple occasions and running through arm tackles with joyous, youth-like abandon. And what better place than D.C. for an oldskool, bruising running back to be given a chance to excel in the twilight of their career, where all those years ago John Riggins carved out a hall of fame career behind a dominant, physical and mobile offensive line. One question has been answered: whether or not Peterson has retained his ability and has gas in the tank, and now two remain: durability and consistency. If Peterson can turn in these performances with regularity and without picking up injury, the Redskins have found a gem to give them sincere hope.

As a relevant aside, team owners and decision makers may want to consider raising a controversial issue or alternative solution and question whether their backup (or perhaps starting) quarterback is actually better than Colin Kaepernick. It is this author’s view that the aforementioned desire for harmony and conformity in the group has run it’s course.

The Bills are who we thought they were
Any excuse to quote Dennis Green’s infamous post-game interview in which he asserts that Chicago are indeed who they thought they were. This week, it’s Buffalo who fit that bill. Every off-season a consensus forms and one franchise is universally labelled as having the worst roster in the league and prejudged as the likeliest least winningest (sorry not sorry). Most years however, the prediction doesn’t come to fruition. Remember the Jets before week 1 of last season? The team was supposed to go 0-16 but instead won 3 of their first 5 and despite a collapse in the latter half of the year, they showed guts and promise enough for Sam Darnold’s arrival to spark genuine excitement in New Jersey that they could compete again.

But this year, it’s real. Did we dream that Buffalo made the playoffs last season? Should we pinch ourselves until we’re bruised all over? On Sunday they were utterly abject, falling 47-3 to Baltimore. But the game was over at half time, with the Ravens up 26 to nothing, and the Bills without a single first down. Pre-season darling Nathan Peterman was atrocious, posting an 8.2 passer rating in a half in which Buffalo only had 33 total yards of offense. Strangely, we ended up seeing both rookie quarterbacks in the game, for opposite reasons. Peterman was eventually mercifully benched in the third quarter in favour of Josh Allen, who registered, unsurprisingly, poor numbers himself in what was perhaps the least rookie friendly introduction one could imagine (6 of 15 for 74 yards). On the other side of the ball, Joe Flacco, mission ‘show them I’ve still got it’ complete, made way for Lamar Jackson, who only had time for 4 attempts through the air. Jackson got going on the ground instead, with 7 rushes for 39 yards. Buffalo were utterly incapable of defending either the run or the pass, but more concerning might be their inability to hold a pocket for whichever signal caller they choose to start moving forwards. Both Peterman and Allen were sacked 3 times each and there was extremely limited time for either QB to get anything going. It’s going to be a long, difficult season in Buffalo and there are legitimate concerns as to whether Josh Allen will be able to develop at all in that offense.

Aaron Rodgers is definitively the best QB in the NFL
I’m including this in the ‘what we learnt’ because I had an argument in the off-season in which a friend of mine argued against the titular assertion of this section. That got me thinking that perhaps there are more of you who are ignorant of the fact. Brady may be Peter Pan but no-one is as creative, rugged, skilled and ethereal than Aaron Rodgers. At the half on Sunday Night Football, Mitch Trubisky had impressively led Chicago to a 17 to nothing lead and, more pertinently, Aaron Rodgers had left the game with a knee injury, replaced by recently acquired ex-Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer. An eerily quiet, concerned and panicked Lambeau Field seemed ready to throw in the towel on their season as rumours about Rodgers affliction swirled around the Wisconsin air.

However, after an early third quarter field goal made it 20-0 to Chicago, Rodgers limped back into the fray to a rapturous and shocked reception. The 134 million dollar man proceeded to engineer his biggest comeback to date, hobbling around in the pocket evading pressure like a wounded wildebeest not ready to give himself up to the lions, Rodgers threw 17 times for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns in the second half, leading Green Bay to a 24-23 victory. It ranks among his best comebacks, and that of the Packers too, as Sunday was the first time in franchise history that Green Bay won after trailing by 17 or more points entering the fourth quarter. It’s worth mentioning that Chicago will be shell shocked, and may well scuttle away murmuring something about the best QB in the league, but they can blame themselves too, with a dreadfully executed, conservative and unimaginative second half game-plan. It remains to be seen whether or not Rodgers will be healthy to play against early league darlings the Minnesota Vikings in week 2.

Andrew Luck is back, but so are the Colts
Any concerns as to whether Andrew Luck was physically ready to play football again were quashed on Sunday. Having missed the entirety of the 2017 season with a strangely unknowable combination of mystery injuries, Luck threw 53 times on Sunday against Cincinnati, completing 39 of those attempts for 319 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. His 39 completions was, in fact, the highest number he’s thrown in his career to date. Luck was excellent against a stout, stern and at times recklessly aggressive Bengals defense (see Shawn Williams ejection).

However, it was the same old story for the Colts and Luck, consistently let down by the organisation which drafted him back in 2012, saw his team’s defense surrender a 13 point third quarter lead and give away 24 points to the Andy Dalton led Bengals to fall 34-23. Even with an inept defense, Luck almost weaved his magic and pulled off a late comeback, but tight end Jack Doyle fumbled late in the fourth quarter, and Bengal defender Clayton Fejedelem scooped up the ball and ran it back for the sore.

Though there is not as much of a rebuild year on year as in Cleveland in Indy, there are similarities, with 11 players making debuts for the Colts who are an organisation desperate to put a team around Luck worthy of his talents. Unfortunately, though they are probably improved enough to stay competitive in multiple games this year behind his arm, we’re unlikely to see Luck in the playoffs any time soon.

On MNF, the Rams showed us why they deserve to be considered a favourite in a loaded NFC
Sean McVay’s Rams started slow and showed little of the offensive dynamism we saw last year. Todd Gurley only had 5 touches at half time, Brandon Cooks was invisible, and Derek Carr’s up tempo offense had LA defenders panting towards the sideline desperate for substitutions when there was limited time to swap players around. The Rams new corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters may have done decent jobs on the outside, but Oakland targeted the weakest spot in LA’s defense, their middling to poor linebacking corps, with multiple successful passes to big man tight end Jared Cook and third down back Jalen Richard. At the half, an uninspiring Rams team found themselves 13-10 behind, with fans and pundits everywhere were hurriedly looking up humble pie recipes after their collective derision of Jon Gruden’s weird and wonderful offseason antics.

However, to borrow a cliche from the world of soccer, it’s a game of two halves, and in the second half, the Rams gradually took over. Gurley and Cooks woke up and finished with 23 rushes for 147 yards and 5 receptions for 87 yards respectively. Goff, who didn’t play at all in preseason, found a groove and looked more comfortable as the game progressed. It wasn’t altogether pretty, but the impressive thing was how the Rams adjusted at half time and controlled the clock in the second half in a game in which they didn’t, all things told, play particularly well across the board. Great teams win games in which they play way below their potential, and the Rams have a lot of scope for improvement. They’ll take solace from that and it’s my view that in an NFC West including a severely weakened Seahawks team, they remain hot favourites for an extended playoff run.

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