The Los Angeles Rams may not hit their stride for some time, but their talent and coaching should carry them in the interim, as it did on Monday night.
In their first showing since their offseason makeover, the Rams started slow before eventually blowing the doors off the Oakland Raiders in a 33-13 win.
Los Angeles looked far from convincing on the first drive of the game as the new-look defence allowed Oakland to march down the field and punch the ball into the end zone. From there though, the Rams started to find their rhythm.
After the Raiders held the ball for 21 minutes, 31 seconds in the first half, Los Angeles limited them to just 10:00 after the intermission.
Oakland’s second-half drives resulted in three straight punts, an interception and a pick-six before they ran out the clock.
Derek Carr, who completed 20-of-24 passes for 199 yards in the first half, connected on 9-of-15 throws for 104 yards in the third and fourth quarters to finish with a passer rating of 62.8.
Only nine of his throws were directed at wide receivers as Rams cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib kept Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson in check, with the Oakland duo combining for four catches and 32 yards.
Peters also had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown to ice the game, while strong safety John Johnson, the least heralded member of the secondary, picked off Carr in the end zone.
Marcus Peters the ballhawk does it again. Takes it to the 🏠pic.twitter.com/JkRYFWkpNw— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 11, 2018
The Rams’ pass rush got to Carr for just one sack – by Michael Brockers – but the combination of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh often collapsed the pocket and forced Carr to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted.
As the defence was finding its footing in its first full game together, Los Angeles’ offence picked up where it left off last season.
Todd Gurley did his usual damage as both a runner and receiver, totaling 147 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, but Sean McVay’s unit also showed some creativity.
Receivers Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods each carried the ball at least once as the Rams used plenty of jet sweeps to catch the Raiders off-guard.
They also dialled up several deep shots, with Jared Goff coming close to connecting with Cooks and Woods.
As long as the Rams attacks stays fresh, they should put up points and in turn, afford the other side of the ball time to gel.
Los Angeles will also face stiffer tests going forward, as Oakland often shot themselves in the foot between Carr’s poor play and the 11 penalties they committed for 155 yards.
The Rams’ true ceiling is still a ways off from being discovered, but Monday was a promising first step to finding out.
Jets soar with Darnold
As much as the New York Jets’ defence stole the show in the 48-17 dismantling of the Detroit Lions on Monday, Sam Darnold’s resilient performance was incredibly encouraging.
The rookie quarterback couldn’t have had a worse start to his NFL career as his very first play was a pick-six, but he bounced back like a veteran and showed exactly why the franchise selected him third overall in the draft and handed him the keys to the offence.
After his first, wayward throw, Darnold went 16-of-20 for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
His poise was particularly on display on third downs, on which he was a perfect 4-for-4, including a 41-yard hook-up with Robby Anderson for a score at the end of the first half.
Thanks to the Jets’ defence and special teams, which forced five turnovers and produced three touchdowns, Darnold wasn’t required to do much in the second half.
But he showed more than enough up to that point for the Jets to not only feel excited about what he can become, but what he possibly could be this season.
Week 1 of the season is in the books, which means it’s the first time fantasy owners will flock to the waiver wire to snatch up those who stood out in the openers.
Fortunately, injuries have yet to decimate the landscape, but there were still some players who suffered various knocks, which could clear the road for others to flourish.
Here are five names to target this week if they’re on your league’s waiver wire.
Leonard Fournette exited Week 1 with a hamstring injury, and although head coach Doug Marrone is optimistic he’ll be okay going forward, Yeldon would be a three-down option if the starting running back misses any time. Yeldon had 17 touches for 69 yards and a touchdown in the opener, and with how determined Jacksonville are to lean on the ground game, he could shoulder a significant workload.
Once a star receiver, Marshall has faded into obscurity in recent years, but he again holds fantasy value now, especially with Doug Baldwin nursing injuries to both knees. The Seattle Seahawks parted ways with Jimmy Graham in the offseason, which left a void for a big target like Marshall to fill as a red zone threat. He’s not going to post WR1 numbers again, but you could do worse with your third WR or flex spot.
Fantasy football isn’t rocket science. Sometimes, it’s as simple as wanting players in really good situations, which certainly applies to Geronimo Allison as a receiver in Aaron Rodgers’ offence. Davante Adams is the top target and Randall Cobb is still a reliable option, but there’s enough fantasy goodness to go around for Allison to soak up. His 69 yards and a touchdown in the opener could be just the start.
Royce Freeman was touted as the top Denver Broncos running back to own all preseason, but fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay has come out of nowhere to earn touches. In Week 1, Freeman saw 29 snaps while Lindsay played 26, with Devontae Booker trailing both with 19. Booker was considered the preferred option on passing downs, so if Lindsay is taking over that role, he offers some upside, particularly in PPR leagues.
This is a bit of a deep cut, but if you don’t have a must-start tight end on your roster, Smith is worth taking a flyer on. Delanie Walker is done for the season after suffering a serious ankle injury in the opener, which opens the door for Smith to take on a significant role in the passing game. Marcus Mariota has leaned on Walker over the years, so the quick-footed Smith should have opportunities to work with. Buyers beware: Mariota also appears banged up.
Just in case that had been been forgotten, Rodgers served a reminder on Sunday with a magical performance in the 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears that will go down in Lambeau Field lore.
Forget winning the opener – at one point in the contest it seemed like Green Bay’s season might be over just as quickly as it had started.
Rodgers exited in the second quarter and was carted to the locker room with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, leaving Packers fans to grapple with the potential worst-case scenario.
But just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any more grim, Rodgers return to the field in the second half and led a heroic comeback on one leg to erase Chicago’s 20-0 lead.
Despite being robbed of his signature mobility, the hobbled quarterback made play after play to awaken both the Packers and the Lambeau faithful in attendance as he wielded his arm talent to carve up Chicago’s defence.
It’s unclear how injured Rodgers is and how his knee will affect him for the rest of the season, but if there’s one thing for certain after Sunday night, it’s that Green Bay’s leader can still single-handedly change outcomes, even at significantly less than 100 per cent.
Here are other takeaways from the first Sunday of the season.
The Kansas City Chiefs are going to be a whole lot of fun to watch this season thanks to the high-octane offence they’ve assembled.
In his first game as the full-time starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes looked every bit the part as he threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the San Diego Chargers.
Two of those scores were more of a technicality as he flipped the ball to receivers going in motion at the snap, but Kansas City’s schemes and play-calling will be essential in unlocking Mahomes vast potential.
And there may be no one more fitting to be on the end of Mahomes’ cannon throws than Tyreek Hill, who had 173 total yards from scrimmage, two receiving touchdowns and one punt return to the house in his monster day.
This is just the perfect marriage of talent, skills and system, and it’s going to result in a ton of points for the Chiefs this season.
SAINTS’ DISAPPEARING ACT
It’s never wise to read too much into the first week of the season, but with that said, the New Orleans Saints defence looks nowhere near good enough to be part of a Super Bowl contender at the moment.
The unit took a major step forward last season, but fears of regression were realised in the 48-40 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, when back-up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick picked them apart with ease.
Tampa Bay punted once all game as the Saints secondary was burned to a crisp with four scoring plays of at least 36 yards.through the air.
The Buccaneers have 2 plays of 50+ yards today (both touchdowns). They had 2 plays of 50+ yards all of last season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 9, 2018
The Saints also allowed just 1 play of 50+ yards all of last season.
They received little help from the pass rush, which generated zero sacks as rookie Marcus Davenport – who New Orleans surrendered a future first-round pick for to move up and select in this year’s draft – was a ghost.
The good news for New Orleans is that their offence was nearly as unstoppable as the Buccaneers’, but for a team that was touted as being well-rounded coming into the season, the Saints disappointed in their first showing.
NEW BROWNS, OLD TRICKS
The Cleveland Browns didn’t lose a regular season game for the first time since Week 16 of 2016, but they also didn’t win as squandered opportunities left them resigned to a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a vacuum, a tie with the reigning AFC North champions, who are also Super Bowl hopefuls, would be reason for encouragement for a Browns side that went 1-31 the past two seasons.
However, considering they won the turnover battle by a whopping 6-1 margin, Cleveland should have absolutely been celebrating a win.
The Browns are +5 in takeaways today. Since the Browns returned to the NFL, teams with a turnover margin of +5 or better in a game are 132-4-1. The Browns are responsible for two of those losses and the tie.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 9, 2018
Yet, somehow, they managed to mess it up with a comedy of errors to look like the same old Browns, even though this team has almost a completely new roster.
Maybe it’s a sign of progress though, as unexciting as it is.