Blogs & Opinion

Neil Reynolds: NFL opening weekend was edge-of-your-seat stuff

Features Posted 9th September 2013 view comments

Suddenly, everything feels right in the world of sport. The NFL is back and that means it's time to reflect on opening weekend, in particular the action that unfolded during our seven hours of live coverage on Sky Sports Sunday evening.

While potential upsets eventually failed to materialise, we were treated to a typical NFL Sunday filled with outstanding athletic feats, the odd sprinkling of controversy and more than our fair share of frantic finishes. Of the 10 early games that kicked off at 6:00pm last night, seven were decided by a single score.

Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers tackles Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers

Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers tackles Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers

It was edge-of-your-seat stuff and it's safe to say there's plenty more where that came from this season. Here is what caught my eye in Week 1 of the NFL season.

Old faces shine in new places

The Miami Dolphins felt running back Reggie Bush was surplus to requirements in the off-season and allowed him to test the free agent market, where he signed with the Detroit Lions. And the Baltimore Ravens felt the $6 million wage bill for wide receiver Anquan Boldin was too steep this term, shipping the veteran receiver to the San Francisco 49ers for a lowly sixth round draft pick.

Kaepernick can operate just fine as a regular passer, albeit one with breath-taking mobility.

Neil Reynolds
Quotes of the week

Well, the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens might rue that bit of off-season business if Bush and Boldin maintain their Week 1 form throughout the 2013 campaign.

While he will never be the every-down back some thought he could be coming out of USC, Bush remains an electrifying talent. He gained 191 total yards (90 rushing, 101 receiving) and scored on a trademark 77-yard catch and run in Detroit's 34-24 win over Minnesota.

Boldin showed he has plenty of miles on the clock as he reeled in 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco's massive 34-28 win over Green Bay. It never looks pretty with Boldin and I would go so far as to say he looks downright slow at times, but this tough, savvy wideout simply gets the job done.

Meanwhile, Miami's leading rusher was Daniel Thomas (8 carries for 14 yards) and the Ravens got very little out of their middle-of-the-field duo of Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley during their loss to Denver on Thursday night. Time for those teams to wonder why they let such game-breaking talent out of the door?

Kaepernick passes Niners to victory

The talk of the NFL off-season has been surrounding the read option and whether that form of attack is here to stay. And one man at the centre of those discussions has been San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, in part because of what he did to the Green Bay Packers while running the ball downfield in last year's playoffs.

I have always maintained that when called upon to do so, Kaepernick can operate just fine as a regular passer, albeit one with breath-taking mobility. And he proved that again last night as he shredded Green Bay's improved defense to the tune of 412 passing yards and three touchdowns.

I was worried the 49ers would be short on receiving weapons in 2013 but Kaepernick - who has a very nice combination of arm strength and accuracy - appears perfectly content to split the load between Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis.

Bears protect Cutler!

That headline felt a little weird to write. We have spent so many years watching Jay Cutler run for his life behind an offensive line that, at times, bordered on the downright dangerous. But Chicago's offensive line failed to yield a single sack in Sunday's come-from-behind 24-21 win over Cincinnati.

The Bengals failed to generate any pressure on Cutler. Now, part of that is on them, but the Bears also played a part with new arrivals Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long clearly upgrading the offensive line.

It also helps that Cutler - who will be hoping for that kind of protection all season-long, given he is in the final year of his contract and is seeking a new deal - is playing for a quarterback-friendly head coach in Marc Trestman and is not going to be exposed to as many slow-developing plays that entice big hits from opposing defenders.Must do better

If head coaches actually sat down on a Monday morning and reflected on their weekend - school report-style, Jacksonville's Gus Bradley and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin would definitely be penning the words: 'Must do better.'

The Jags were crippled with offensive ineptitude that was, well... offensive! They journeyed past their own 36-yard line just once in their 28-2 home loss to Kansas City and failed to score a single offensive point. If you're new to the NFL, that's bad - really bad.

Blaine Gabbert 'won' the starting quarterback's job over the summer but was slow out of the blocks, throwing for just 121 yards and two interceptions. He even threw an interception straight to Kansas City's Tamba Hali when the defender was right in front of him. I know what you're thinking. How did he not see a man who stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 275 pounds? Well, he didn't and the result was a touchdown.

Pittsburgh struggled terribly on offense in their 16-9 home defeat against the Tennessee Titans, with their lone touchdown coming with just over a minute remaining. The Steelers racked up just 195 yards of total offense and a miserable evening was made worse with the news that center Maurkice Pouncey (torn ACL and MCL) and linebacker Larry Foote (torn bicep) are gone for the rest of the season.

Saints find their defense

The 2012 New Orleans Saints were statistically the worst defense in the history of the NFL, allowing opponents to gain 7,042 yards. Enter often-publicised defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was given this simple task: 'Make us at least a middle of the road defense.'

The feeling is that with something approaching a respectable defense, the Saints are a playoff team again because they can be potent on offense. They were more than just respectable during Sunday night's 23-17 win over Atlanta.

I thought they showed aggression and swarmed to the football. They also got some decent pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The final play of the game saw Ryan intercepted by Roman Harper in the end zone. The Falcons passer was forced to throw off his back foot due to considerable pressure up the middle. That was a positive sign for the Saints on a night when they defeated their hated rivals.

Manning looks supreme

I know this goes back to our season-opening game on Thursday night, but it's hard to ignore the record-setting performance of Denver's Peyton Manning, who threw seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 demolition of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Manning was in sublime form at the age of 37. He began the game attacking the Ravens over the middle and that produced two touchdowns apiece for tight end Julius Thomas and slot receiver Wes Welker. When the Ravens made their adjustments, Manning fired three touchdown strikes to the outside - two to Demaryious Thomas and one to Andre Caldwell.

Manning may not have the arm strength of his prime and his passes are no longer going to win any beauty contests, but he still has incredible accuracy and can unpick a defense due to the fact that he is like having a coach or an offensive coordinator in the huddle.

He and the Broncos are going to frustrate a lot of defenses this season.

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