One week of NFL action is in the books and, as always, there’s more questions than answers for fans of all 32 teams. It’s nearly impossible to draw season-long conclusions based on just 60 minutes of action, but that won’t stop fans and media personnel alike from speculating about the outlook for the rest of the season.
One performance that stunned many around the league was the Monday Night Football domination displayed by the New York Jets defense and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold against the Detroit Lions. After entering the season with lowered expectations, all eyes are now on the Big Apple to see whether or not Todd Bowles’ crew can replicate that performance when the division-rival Miami Dolphins come to town.
Another matchup that looms large in Week 2 is the rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game as the New England Patriots make the trip to Florida to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.To get an expert opinion on the keys for each game, we checked in with NFL on CBS analyst Rich Gannon. Rich will be on the call this week in New York as the Jets and Dolphins meet, but he also has his eyes trained on North Florida and the big lesson that he hopes the Jaguars learned from their loss to the Patriots in January.
CBS Local Sports: The Jets posted one of the most dominant victories in Week 1, how much of that do you think is sustainable as they enter this week’s match-up with the Dolphins?
Rich Gannon: It is sustainable. You should start with the defense. All the papers Tuesday morning in New York City were talking about Sam Darnold and certainly his performance was newsworthy. But, this is a defense that really has had their issues over the years taking the ball away. That changed on Monday night and I just thought that all three levels played well.
Their rush lanes were disciplined. They got around and affected Stafford’s timing and rhythm. Darron Lee played a phenomenal game. He was all over the place, always around the football. And, he baited Stafford into making some poor decisions. Then, in the secondary, the coverage was tight and the communication was good. That’s really where it starts for the Jets.
You talk about a quarterback and say, ‘We have a rookie quarterback, is he ready to play?’ The other question is, ‘Is the team ready for a young quarterback?’ I think this team is a lot further along and more mature than they were a year ago in terms of being able to handle Darnold on offense. It all starts with their defense, and their ability to run the football.
CBS Local Sports: For Miami, Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills looked particularly impressive against the Titans in Week 1. Against a Jets pass defense that picked off Matt Stafford five times, what does Tannehill need to do to replicate that success?
Rich Gannon: It all starts with protection. If you really study Stafford, when he’s been under pressure the numbers haven’t been very good. It’s been a point of emphasis this offseason for the Dolphins to protect Tannehill as he works his way back from this injury. He’s a smart player. He’s going to have to make good decisions and he’s going to have to see throws.
But, the Dolphins have some playmakers as well. Kenny Stills had a big game. They have Davante Parker and some guys that can get up on the secondary in a hurry. We talked about the keys for the Jets, the key for the Miami is balance. They have to be able to run the football. When they have been able to run the ball, the play action game has been very effective.
CBS Local Sports: In Kansas City, people are buzzing after Patrick Mahomes’ four touchdown opening performance. What did you think of his opening week performance as the Chiefs get ready to head to Pittsburgh?
Rich Gannon: It goes back to last year and how smart Andy Reid was in not forcing Mahomes to play before he was ready to play. He had the luxury of having a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith in front of him. Mahomes learned a lot from watching Alex not only play, but prepare for games as well.
No one has ever questioned this kid’s arm talent and play making ability. But, what really jumps out to you when you watch this team is their overall team speed. Tyreek Hill may be the fastest player in the league. You have Sammy Watkins. You have (Travis) Kelce who can fly when he’s detached from the line. Then, you add in Kareem Hunt, and that’s going to be a problem for the Steelers.
It’s not just the way the Chiefs attack you vertically, it’s the way they attack you horizontally with their team speed and quickness. That is going to be the key. The Chiefs do a great job of getting the ball on the perimeter to their skill people and letting them go to work in space.
CBS Local Sports: For Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times against the Browns. He’s been a different quarterback at home through the years, what’s the biggest key to a bounce back performance for Big Ben in Week 2?
Rich Gannon: You mentioned he’s been really good at home, but he’s also been good after an ugly performance and so has the team. I always say good teams don’t lose two in a row and I still think the Pittsburgh Steelers are a good football team. They didn’t play their best football in Week 1.
I anticipate better out of Ben. If you look at distractions, when you have a distraction and you don’t handle it, it can fester and become a problem. The Le’Veon Bell thing was a distraction for them last week. James Conner ran the ball really well in Bell’s absence. He can certainly provide them production in Bell’s absence. But, they’re a different offense with Bell. It’s not just what he means to them in the running game, it’s also what he does for them in the passing game and the screen game.
Aside from that, everyone just needs to play better, especially the big knockers. (Ben) Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, some of the defensive players and the stars on that side of the ball. Everybody is going to have to play better if you’re going to find a way to slow down this Chiefs offense.
CBS Local Sports: In Jacksonville, we get a rematch of the AFC Championship game when the Patriots face the Jaguars. What’s the key match-up you’re looking out for in this game?
Rich Gannon: Let’s first go back to the lesson learned if you’re the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t be conservative against a team like the Patriots. You have to be aggressive. You have to take chances. They didn’t do that last year. I go back to just before the half when they got very conservative. I think that was a huge mistake.
As for this year’s matchup, nothing’s changed with Jacksonville’s gameplan. They want to pound the football with Leonard Fournette. I don’t know where he is health-wise, but that’s who they are. They want to pound the ball with him and (T.J.) Yeldon in the running game because they want to protect the quarterback. That’s where it starts on that side of the ball for the Patriots. You have to crowd the line of scrimmage, play man-to-man coverage, and give no free access throws. Make Bortles throw the ball into tight windows.
On the other side, you always have to ask yourself when you play the Patriots, ‘How are you going to handle Gronk? Who is going to cover him?’ It’s usually not a one man job. More importantly, how are you going to get to Brady? Is it a four man rush? Do you have to bring five or six guys to get there? The question is how can you affect and disrupt the timing of Brady? The teams that have had the most success against Brady have been able to rush four and drop seven. Jacksonville did that in the championship game and if they can do that again, they have a chance to win this game.