The St. Louis Rams did a fine job of taking the wind out of most fans sails in week 1, looking woefully unprepared for real live NFL action against the Minnesota Vikings. We will get to a more in depth review and preview of our beloved Rams in a bit. The first week of the 2014 NFL season begins and ends with the NFC West, exactly the type of billing you expect from arguably the best division in football. With the Seattle Seahawks opening up the season in primetime on Thursday Night and the Arizona Cardinals finishing out week 1 in the second game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader, there was plenty of opportunity to get a look at our division rivals.
The Cardinals closed out week one of the NFL season at home on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers. This is a game Philip Rivers and the Chargers are going to be scratching their heads over for a while. It would be inaccurate to say the Chargers were far and away the better team in this game but, in spite of some first half miscues, they did hold an 11 point lead into the 4th quarter before letting it slip away. Just a hunch but I imagine Rivers will be practicing catching shotgun snaps after practice all week! As for the Cardinals, I for one expected a big drop off from the defense after losing so many key player in the offseason. While the pass defense was fairly suspect, and the team relied on bringing extra pass rushers far too often, the run defense was very stout holding the Chargers to 52 yards on 24 carries for a measly 2.2 ypc average. As hard as this may be to believe, that is a full 0.8 ypc less than the Rams averaged on Sunday, huzzah!!
The Cardinals offense certainly showed flashes of what it can do, with Carson Palmer really coming through in the clutch to rally the team to victory. On a side note, I hope I never watch another Cardinals game where Larry Fitzgerald is without a reception into the 4th quarter! With a banged up Andre Ellington the Cardinals running game could have been better, but it was effective enough to support the passing game. All 3 phases of the game for the Cardinals produced when needed, and all 3 phases showed there is still work to be done.
The Cardinals will be hitting the road to take on the New York Giants. I know there is only one Megatron, but you know Bruce Arians is going to be chomping at the bit for this game. It seems there is nothing Arians loves more than the downfield passing game (besides perhaps the 3rd down jailbreak blitz). Unless the Giants somehow flip the switch in the secondary it could be a very long night for the hometeam.
The 49ers went on the road in week 1 to take on the Dallas Cowboys. With all the offseason turmoil surrounding the team, it must have been a relief to finally hit the field in a meaningful game. In spite of the fact the team was missing several key contributors due to injury and/or suspension, the 49ers cruised to an easy victory over the Cowboys. There are several out there who expect the 49ers defense to take a step back in 2014, myself included, but thanks to 3 dreadful interceptions thrown by Tony Romo and a fumble recovery for a TD the defense played a big part in jumping out to a 28-3 halftime lead. Of course the Cowboys defense forgetting to cover Vernon Davis didn't hurt either. Colin Kaepernick played a solid and efficient game, and the 49ers running game managed 4.2 yards per carry to provide balance to the offense. On the other side of the ball the 49ers run defense was far from stellar, surrendering 118 yards on 22 carries from DeMarco Murray (Rams fans would take those numbers from Murray right?). The hole the Cowboys managed to dig for themselves early certainly helped ease the pressure from the 49ers defense, which did muster 4 tacles for loss and 3 sacks in the game.
The 49ers will return home to host the Chicago Bears in the first regular season game at Levi's Stadium. The Bears lost their home opener to the Buffalo Bills in overtime. Jay Cutler was his usual self, throwing for 349 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 49ers showed against the Cowboys they are more than capable of exploiting overly generous quarterbacks, Cutler will need to make better decisions if the Bears hope to spoil the grand opening of the 49ers new stadium.
The Seahawks played host to the Green Bay Packers in the first game of the 2014 NFL season. What started out as a fairly competitive and entertaining game ended up being a blowout. It was clear the Packers had no answer for Percy Harvin, and the Seahawks finally got a chance to unleash a healthy Harvin in the regular season. Harvin had 11 touches in the game, and served as a decoy on several other key plays along the way. The Seahawks defense also managed to exploit the Packers offensive line following the exit of Bryan Bulaga in the second quarter. The strip sack that led to the safety in the 3rd quarter saw Bulaga's replacement get out of his stance in time to recover the fumble but that was about it. Marshawn Lynch averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns, and Russell Wilson was effecient with 191 yards and 2 TDs. Yes the defending Super Bowl Champions came out and looked every bit like the defending champions against a team many are picking to win the NFC North.
The Seahawks will hit the road to take on the San Diego Chargers, a tough two game stretch for the Bolts. It has been pretty evident during Pete Carroll's tenure in Seattle that the Seahawks are a better home team than away team, however they have been closing the gap over the past two seasons and I expect a good game there.
St. Louis Rams
What is there to say about the Rams embarrassing season opening loss? I believe we have already covered most of it here on TST. I will say the game fully illuminated the pros and cons of having NFL Sunday Ticket and a DVR, on the bright side I will never miss a Rams game this season, on the other hand I will never miss a Rams game this year.
In all seriousness, anyone who watched that game knows there were very few bright spots, but the game wasn't a total waste for Rams faithful. The defense was doing an admirable job throughout the first half in spite of the fact the offenses longest drive of the half was a 8 play 41 yard drive culminating in a missed field goal (and subsequent excellent field position and a long FG). Johnny Hekker was also a bright spot in the game, with a net punting average of 45.5 yards he is already in mid season form.
The biggest, and most surprising, bright spot of the game to me was Brian Quick. I personally have been on the Quick bandwagon since he was drafted, I have been caught up in the tantalizing combination of size and speed, I have drooled over the highlight reel plays he made in his first two season (even if there was only a handful). Sure it was just one game but if he can produce like that with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis slinging the ball, and with no threat of a running game, than I expect many more passengers on that bandwagon I've been driving.
Unfortunately there isn't really anything else to point to as a bright spot, sure TJ McDonald looked pretty solid and EJ Gaines was also "good for a 6th round rookie". The biggest problem the Rams had in this game was the offensive line, they were unable to get any push in the running game as well as unable to keep their quarterbacks clean in the passing game. When a power running team is unable to open any running lanes they are in for a very, very long season. Also lining Tavon Austin up in the backfield and handing it off between the tackles is just plain stupid. As Austin showed last season he is very dynamic with the ball in his hands IN SPACE, since the offensive line wasn't generating any space for the running game the decision to hand him the ball 3 times while lined up as a traditional RB is very puzzling.
I could dwell on what the Rams didn't do well forever, but to me the bottom line is they need MUCH MORE from the offensive line than what they got in week 1. If the Rams can get the running game going again, they will be much more competitive going forward.
The Rams will travel to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs turned the ball over 3 times and struggled mightily against a Carolina Panthers team without Cam Newton. Josh McCown threw a couple of ill advised interceptions, and the offense never really managed to do much until midway through the fourth quarter with the Panthers holding a 17-0 lead. The Bucs defense only managed to force a pair of three and outs all day with one of them occurring in the last 2 minutes of the game. They did hold the Panthers to a 3.4 yard per carry average, but DeAngelo Williams did average 5.1 yards per carry, so take that with a grain of salt. The Bucs also saw recent addition Logan Mankins go down with a knee injury, which is a big blow to an already highly suspect offensive line. For the Rams, this looks to be a winnable road game. Then again, last week seemed winnable as well...
The rest of the NFC West showed the NFL why it is widely considered the best division in football with two blowout victories and one impressive come from behind win over a 2013 playoff team in week 1. The question is can Jeff Fisher and his staff get this team straightened out in time to be more than a footnote in the race for the NFC West?