Football is hard.
The first wave of NFL and fantasy football games came and went Sunday afternoon, and a host of key performers left us wanting. It clearly raised a key question — are teams getting enough preparation in the summer? Is the (understandable) paranoia over injuries starting to overwhelm the need to actually get in physical reps against defensive competition?
Pittsburgh escaped with a 21-18 victory at Cleveland, but a host of big-name Steelers did little to aid the victory. Le’Veon Bell, he of the full-summer holdout, was held to 47 total yards (10-32 rushing; 3-15 receiving), his poorest scrimmage performance in four years. Martavis Bryant, he of the 2016 suspension, barely registered as well, catching 2-of-6 targets for a meager 14 yards.
It’s a good thing the Steelers scored on special teams, and held Cleveland to 237 yards of total offense. Oh, and a signature Antonio Brown game (11-182; not a single pass hit the turf) came in handy, too.
Bell was hardly alone in the running back disappointment bucket. David Johnson managed just 23 yards on 11 carries at Detroit; eventually a wrist injury knocked him from the game. Six catches for 68 yards soothed Johnson’s bottom line somewhat, but he didn’t get into the end zone and scored far below our expectations. (On the flip side, Arizona’s defense stuffed Ameer Abdullah, parceling out 30 yards on 15 rushes.)
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was one of several quarterbacks who couldn’t get it going in the early wave, suffering through a miserable three-interception game. Palmer averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and recorded a 53.2 rating. How much does he have left in his age-37 season?
At least Palmer was moderately better than Andy Dalton, who had a four-interception stink bomb in Cincinnati’s shutout disgrace against Baltimore. Dalton took five sacks, never got settled in the pocket. Can the Bengals fix their offensive problems in time for Thursday’s game against Houston?
A host of young players and unknown surprises were among the big scorers.
Jacksonville rookie RB Leonard Fournette was the beneficiary of a favorable game script, gobbling up 29 touches in the surprising 29-7 ambush of the Texans. Fournette hit 100 yards rushing on the nose, punched in a short touchdown, and caught three balls for 24 yards. The Jags clearly didn’t want Blake Bortles with the game in his hands; he only dropped back 21 times and didn’t take a sack or commit a turnover. Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s emerging young defense rolled up 10 sacks, four takeaways, and one runback touchdown.
Falcons sophomore tight end Austin Hooper only saw two targets at Chicago, but he made the most of them — an 88-yard touchdown grab and a 40-yard reception. The long score was more a defensive breakdown than anything else, but the Falcons, who eked out a 23-17 victory, will accept the charity.
On the other side, Bears rookie RB Tarik Cohen was a revelation, gobbling up 113 total yards on 13 touches (5-66 rushing, 8-47-1 receiving). Jordan Howard owners can’t be happy with the news; although Howard was acceptable on the ground (13-52-1), he had a critical goal-line drop in the game’s final drive, and made just 14 yards on his five overall targets. The Bears already knew Howard isn’t strong in the passing game — remember he dropped eight passes last year — and the opening-day developments should spark some interesting internal discussions.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was the passing star of the early afternoon, striking for four touchdown passes and 292 yards to take down Arizona. Rookie WR Kenny Golladay made good on his summer buzz, snagging two touchdown grabs on a 4-69 afternoon. Maybe Stafford finally has a big target to focus on in the red-area; Golladay checks in at 6-foot-4 and shows excellent instincts on 50-50 balls.