1 Change Each NFL Team Has to Make After Week 1
We learned a lot about each NFL team during training camps and in the preseason. However, scrimmages and exhibition games do not accurately simulate the real thing. We got a much clearer picture of what teams are and aren't going to be during Week 1. Now, it's time for the in-season adjustments to begin.
Adjustments are a huge part of the NFL game, of course, and week-to-week tweaks can mean the difference between a promising campaign and a successful one. Massive roster or scheme changes are no longer realistic options.
No matter how teams fared in Week 1, each has an adjustment that needs to be made. It could be as simple as eliminating a repeated miscue or as drastic as replacing a high-profile player, but something needs to change. We'll examine these potential changes here, and all aspects of a franchise—roster makeup, coaching focus, strategy, etc.—are fair game.
Give Chase Edmonds an Even Bigger Role
There aren't many negatives to take away from the Arizona Cardinals' 38-13 beatdown of the Tennessee Titans. Arizona's defense was relentless, and quarterback Kyler Murray (289 passing yards, 20 rushing yards, five total TD) was superb.
However, the Cardinals should tweak their offensive game plan slightly heading into their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Arizona is leaning on a two-back system featuring Chase Edmonds and James Conner. While Conner out-rushed Edmonds 16-12 in Week 1, Edmonds was clearly the more explosive runner. He averaged a full two yards per carry more (5.3 versus 3.3) than Conner.
There was actually an even split in touches, as Edmonds caught four passes, but Arizona should lean more heavily on Edmonds until/unless Conner proves he can be just as effective on the ground.
Utilize the Tight Ends Even More in the Passing Game
The Atlanta Falcons got absolutely handled (32-6) by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. The defense, which ranked 29th overall in 2020, was a predictable problem. However, Atlanta's inability to produce points was a shock.
Yes, the Falcons traded Julio Jones in the offseason. They also don't have a proven workhorse running back. They do have weapons like Hayden Hurst, Calvin Ridley and rookie fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts, though. Atlanta's inability to find the end zone rests on the offensive game plan of new head coach Arthur Smith.
Smith tried to lean on the run, allowing it to open up big plays in the passing game—the same strategy he employed with the Tennessee Titans. However, Matt Ryan was regularly under pressure and struggled to push the ball to his wide receivers.
Wideouts Ridley and Russell Gage caught just five of 10 targets, while the Falcons didn't produce a play of more than 20 yards. Tight ends Pitts and Hurst were more reliable, catching eight of 12 targets for 59 of the team's 164 receiving yards.
If Ryan isn't going to have the time to deliver deep balls, the Falcons need to focus more on quick strikes to the perimeter and intermediate throws to their dynamic tight end duo.
Stop Forcing Lamar Jackson to Carry the Ground Game
Lamar Jackson is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback and the centerpiece of the Baltimore Ravens offense. However, he shouldn't be asked to carry both the passing and the rushing games—even in the wake of multiple running back injuries.
The Ravens lost running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill before the start of the regular season. They had to scramble to add replacements and signed Latavius Murray and Le'Veon Bell (practice squad) mere days before the season opener.
Still, letting Jackson lead the team with 12 carries against the Las Vegas Raiders was a mistake. In addition to taking additional hits, Jackson fumbled once on a scramble and three times overall. In an overtime loss, his turnovers were the difference.
"That ticked me off," Jackson told reporters. "I hate fumbles, I hate any type of turnover."
While the Ravens certainly don't want to take away the threat of Jackson running, there needs to be more balance offensively. Whether that means giving backs like Murray and Ty'Son Williams more carries, elevating Bell or adding a free agent like Todd Gurley, something must change. Otherwise, opposing defenses will key on Jackson in an effort to force him into game-altering mistakes.
Utilize Running Backs More
The Buffalo Bills were upset by the Pittsburgh Steelers despite holding Pittsburgh to only 23 points and 252 yards of offense. Given the explosive offense we saw from Josh Allen and Co. in 2020, this came as a bit of a surprise.
The simple fact is that while Buffalo's defense played well enough to win, Allen did not. He completed just 30 of 51 pass attempts, fumbled twice and failed to complete 70 percent of his throws to any wideout.
Allen was regularly pressured by a strong Steelers pass rush, and surprisingly, Buffalo failed to counter by using running backs on the ground or in the passing game. Devin Singletary caught three of five targets, but those were the only five throws Allen made to a running back. Singletary and Matt Breida combined for only 15 rushing attempts. Zack Moss was completely absent.
Singletary, for the record, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and ran for four first downs.
Buffalo put too much pressure on Allen against Pittsburgh, and it must alter its strategy before facing the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. If the Bills cannot find more balance on offense—or at least get running backs more involved via the short passing game—Allen will continue carrying a heavy burden.
Forge a Better Red-Zone Game Plan
The Carolina Panthers got enough out of new quarterback Sam Darnold (279 passing yards, 2 total TD) to notch a 19-14 victory over Darnold's old team, the New York Jets.
However, beating a bad team doesn't mean Carolina can consistently contend in 2021. On the contrary, narrowly beating a bad team suggests that the Panthers still have a long way to go.
One issue that popped up in Week 1 was an inability to find the end zone. The Panthers made three trips inside New York's 10-yard line and came away with only one touchdown. Coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady need to come up with a better game plan for the red zone, possibly one that doesn't rely so heavily on Darnold.
Darnold fumbled once inside the 10, had a delay-of-game penalty in the red zone and ended one drive with a pair of incomplete passes from the 3-yard line.
Something has to change here, because the Panthers cannot continually walk away from the red zone without touchdowns and still hope to win games.
Start the Justin Fields Era
The Chicago Bears dumped quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason but got similarly disappointing offensive results out of Andy Dalton in Week 1. Dalton completed 27 of 38 pass attempts but threw for only 206 yards with an interception.
The Bears got embarrassed by the Los Angeles Rams 34-14, and at no point did Dalton look like a clear upgrade over Trubisky.
"It's challenging, but you’ve just gotta work with what you’re getting," wideout Marquise Goodwin said, per Jeremy Layton of the New York Post.
If the Bears want to improve what they're getting on offense, they need to make the switch to rookie quarterback Justin Fields. The Ohio State product only saw limited action in Week 1, completing two of two attempts and running for a touchdown. However, he has far more physical upside than his veteran counterpart.
Chicago could start by giving Fields more plays against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. If that doesn't do enough to spark the offense, handing him the proverbial keys outright may be the best course of action.
The offense we saw with Dalton under center in Week 1 was inefficient and lifeless.
Address the Interior Offensive Line
The Bengals won their opener against the Minnesota Vikings—a welcome start after winning only four games in 2020. More importantly, quarterback Joe Burrow showed he is fully recovered from last year's season-ending knee injury and made it through all four quarters without any setbacks.
If the Bengals hope to keep Burrow healthy, however, they need to address the interior of their offensive line. Burrow was sacked five times in Week 1, with center Trey Hopkins surrendering two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati's line doesn't appear as suspect on the edges.
"Hopkins was beaten badly a couple of times from his center position," Sam Monson of PFF wrote. "While the interior is the biggest weakness, Jonah Williams looked strong protecting Burrow's blindside."
Having solid tackle play will only help to an extent if Burrow is consistently being hit up the middle. He was sacked 32 times in 10 games last season and is already on pace for 85 sacks this season.
Whether the Bengals give rookie second-round pick Jackson Carman an opportunity, sign a free agent like Rick Wagner or poach a practice-squader like the New York Giants' Matt Skura, they have to do a better job of protecting Burrow up front.
Focus More on the Little Things
There may not be a Week 1 loser that feels better about its playoff chances than the Cleveland Browns. They took it to the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs for three full quarters before miscues cost them a potential statement win.
The Browns led 22-10 at halftime and 29-20 early in the fourth quarter. However, a botched Jamie Gillan punt, a Nick Chubb fumble and a Baker Mayfield interception made all the difference in this game.
The good news is that Cleveland is no longer trying to figure out new offensive and defensive schemes—as was the case following a 38-6 loss to Baltimore in Week 1 last year. The focus now must be on the fundamentals.
Stupid mistakes and turnovers must be things of the past if the Browns want to be Super Bowl contenders. While they're talented enough to make mental errors and beat most teams, they'll need to play perfect football to beat the likes of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the postseason.
Find Stability at Kicker (or Stop Relying on One)
The Dallas Cowboys narrowly lost to the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday. If not for a miserable outing from kicker Greg Zuerlein, they probably would have won.
Zuerlein missed two field goals and an extra point during the 31-29 loss. That's a problem Dallas simply cannot ignore.
It's worth noting that Zuerlein missed a chunk of training camp with a back injury. Perhaps he's still rounding into form. However, the Cowboys need to either ensure that Zuerlein is healthy enough to be reliable or find an alternative—perhaps recently added practice-squad kicker Lirim Hajrullahu.
Of course, it would help the situation if Dallas didn't regularly rely on its kicker in scoring situations. Zuerlein attempted five field goals in Week 1, three of them from inside 40 yards.
Stop Being Patient with Patrick Surtain II
The Denver Broncos made cornerback Patrick Surtain II the second defender taken in the 2021 NFL draft. Unfortunately, Surtain was not an instant difference-maker in Week 1.
Surtain played 16 defensive snaps against the New York Giants, allowed a 37-yard touchdown reception and surrendered an opposing quarterback rating of 158.3 in coverage. The plan all along, though, was to only give Surtain a small taste of NFL action.
"We want to have him ready and we're grooming him—not grooming him, but he deserves to play some so we're going to play him some," head coach Vic Fangio said, per Chad Jensen of FanNation.
However, Denver cannot continue easing Surtain into a prominent role, as starting cornerback Ronald Darby was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Darby, for the record, played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 1.
Out of necessity, it needs to be a trial by fire for Surtain moving forward.
Find a Way to Start Faster
The Detroit Lions ultimately fell only a score short in their 41-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. However, they were doomed early by a disastrously slow start. Before Jared Goff and the offense inexplicably stormed back in the final period, the game was about as lopsided as it could get.
Detroit produced just 164 yards and 10 points in the first half. San Francisco led 31-10 at halftime, 38-17 in the third quarter and 41-17 early in the fourth.
If the Lions hope to turn late surges into wins, they need to avoid starting as slowly as they did in Week 1. Minimizing early mistakes should be part of the equation, as Detroit had first-half drives ended by a missed field goal, an interception and a turnover on downs.
Detroit faces another stiff test in Week 2, with the Green Bay Packers playing host. If the Lions don't get off to a faster start than they did Sunday, they could be staring down an 0-2 record before halftime.
Green Bay Packers
Find a Way to Alleviate Pressure
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had arguably the worst game of his career in Week 1. Against the New Orleans Saints, he threw for just 133 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 36.8.
Though Rodgers was sacked only once, he was frequently under pressure. He rarely had time to deliver an accurate ball downfield and finished with only 15 completions on 28 tries. He averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt.
The Packers aren't going to face a defense as good as New Orleans every week, but they must do a better job of giving Rodgers a clean pocket. With two rookie starters (center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman) in the lineup and left tackle David Bakhtiari on the physically unable to perform list (ACL), Rodgers' protection was not good enough.
Green Bay must consider other lineup options, including adding a player like free agent and former Packer Rick Wagner. Further shuffling is needed here, as the Packers' Week 1 offensive line isn't going to allow Rodgers to play near an MVP level.
Give Tyrod Taylor More Carries
The Houston Texans got enough out of their Tyrod Taylor-led offense to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-21. However, the Jaguars are a bad team that won a single game a year ago. Houston will need even more to best teams like its Week 2 opponent, Cleveland.
Taylor was plenty serviceable as a passer, finishing 21-of-33 for 291 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran four times for 40 yards. He was not supported, however, by a particularly efficient ground game.
Taylor was responsible for one-fourth of Houston's rushing yards. None of the Texans' three running backs—Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay or David Johnson—averaged more than 3.3 yards per carry. Jacksonville, it should be noted, finished last season ranked 27th in yards per rush allowed.
If the Texans want to continue having a potent and balanced offense, they're going to have to augment the ground game even more with designed quarterback runs. Taylor, who has 1,890 career rushing yards and a 5.5 yards-per-carry average, is fully capable of filling the dual-threat role. The Texans need to make better use of that.
Involve the Wide Receivers More
The Indianapolis Colts utilized a dink-and-dunk offensive approach that wasn't potent enough to match the Seattle Seahawks on the scoreboard. While quarterback Carson Wentz attempted 38 passes, Zach Pascal led all wideouts with only four receptions and 43 receiving yards. Wide receivers accounted for only 14 of 35 targets.
According to Next Gen Stats, Wentz threw, on average, 3.5 yards behind the first-down marker.
Leaning on the run and short passes was likely a calculated plan to ease Wentz into his new home and help mitigate the absence of All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. However, it also made life easier on the Seattle defense, which ranked 31st against the pass a season ago.
Indianapolis wants to protect Wentz and rebuild his confidence. However, it also needs to win games. Fielding an offense that does not threaten deep will be detrimental to that second goal. Without fearing the long ball, Seattle clamped down on Indianapolis' run game, which averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in Week 1.
This cannot be a constant for the Colts offense, and Indianapolis' wide receivers must be a bigger part of the passing attack.
Make Protecting Trevor Lawrence the Top Priority
The Jaguars won only a single game in 2020. While Jacksonville would love to get its first win since Week 1 of last season, protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence must take precedence over chasing W's.
The Jaguars are a bad team with a bad roster and an inexperienced (at the NFL level) head coach in Urban Meyer. Allowing a rookie quarterback to throw 51 times with this squad is not a recipe for success.
Lawrence was only sacked once, and he did throw three touchdown passes. He also threw three picks, was pressured eight times and absorbed an additional three hits in the backfield. If similar results continue throughout the season, Lawrence will be exposed to both injury and a potential loss of confidence.
And there is no reason for Jacksonville lean so heavily on Lawrence. Carlos Hyde and James Robinson averaged 4.9 and 5.0 yards per carry, respectively, yet they only combined for 14 rushing attempts.
Jacksonville has to take a different approach into Week 2, where the Broncos and pass-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are waiting.
Kansas City Chiefs
Get Other Skill Players More Involved
The Chiefs didn't really need a third receiver against the Browns in Week 1. Mahomes passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns, while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 273 receiving yards.
However, Hill and Kelce aren't going to run quite that wild on every defense they face. Kansas City will need a No. 3 receiver to take over at some point, and with Sammy Watkins gone, Mecole Hardman should be the one to do it.
Against Cleveland, though, Hardman was only targeted three times. He caught all three balls for 19 yards but never was a focal point of the passing game.
The Chiefs also didn't need much out of their backfield, which wasn't much of a factor, either. Clyde Edwards-Helaire averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and led the team with a mere 43 rushing yards. Mahomes was second on the team with 18 rushing yards.
Still, the Chiefs offense needs to be more than a three-man show featuring Mahomes, Hill and Kelce. The Browns (457 yards of offense) proved Kansas City's defense is suspect, and the Chiefs are going to have to win a lot of games via shootout this season.
Las Vegas Raiders
Get Bryan Edwards the Football
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr began targeting second-year wideout Bryan Edwards late in Monday night's overtime win, which yielded winning results. He should have targeted him earlier.
The 2020 third-round pick had only a single target in the first half. He caught four passes on four targets in the second half and overtime, finishing with 81 yards and nearly notching the game-winning touchdown—he was stopped just short of the goal line.
Edwards provided a passer rating of 118.7 when targeted against Baltimore.
While other wideouts like Henry Ruggs III (two receptions on five targets) struggled to make a significant impact, Edwards was a difference-maker. He finished behind only Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow and Kenyan Drake in receptions and behind only Waller in receiving yards.
Beginning in Week 2, Edwards needs to be a focal point of the passing game from the opening whistle to the final snap.
Los Angeles Chargers
Get Austin Ekeler Involved in the Passing Game
The Los Angeles Chargers won a close game on the road against a good Washington Football Team. While quarterback Justin Herbert did enough to win, he didn't always have help from his wide receivers.
Herbert completed 31 of 47 attempts, while his top four pass-catchers in terms of yardage caught fewer than 70 percent of the balls thrown their way. Finding a reliable outlet option will aid Herbert tremendously in clutch situations, and the Chargers have one in Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler racked up 212 receptions over the first four seasons of his career, and he's as reliable a dual-threat running back as L.A. could hope to have. Ekeler has provided a passer rating above 100.0 in each of the last three seasons when targeted.
Yet, the Chargers didn't send a single pass in Ekeler's direction in Week 1. That has to change because Ekeler is too talented of a pass-catcher to ignore.
Los Angeles Rams
Get More Out of the Ground Game
The Rams didn't need much balance on offense to beat the Bears on Sunday. Matthew Stafford threw for 321 yards and three scores, which was more than enough to put Chicago away. However, against a better opponent, the Rams will need offensive balance.
Los Angeles only produced 12 rushing yards in the first half. It finished with 74 rushing yards, while starting back Darrell Henderson finished with 70 of them. As a team, L.A. averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
To be fair, the Rams lost projected starter Cam Akers to a torn Achilles in the offseason and added Sony Michel just a couple of weeks ago. Michel only carried once for two yards, and getting him up to speed in the offense could help address the rushing issue. If it doesn't, the Rams will have to consider external options like former starter Todd Gurley.
The longer L.A. remains a one-dimensional offense, the harder it will be for Stafford and Co. to dominate through the air. Good defenses will dare the Rams to run, and L.A. must be able to take advantage.
More Targets for Jaylen Waddle
The Miami Dolphins outlasted rivals New England Patriots in Week 1, thanks in large part to a defense that allowed a mere 16 points and forced two turnovers. Offensively, Miami did just enough.
One thing was clear Sunday, though, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is developing something special with rookie wideout and former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle. The two connected for 61 yards and a touchdown on five targets.
According to Tagovailoa, Waddle has already become a more vocal leader than he was in college.
"In college, Jaylen would speak up here and there, but you really see him now," Tagovailoa said, per ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques.
Tagovailoa also demonstrated solid chemistry with wideout DeVante Parker, who caught four of seven targets for 81 yards. However, Waddle showed in Week 1 that he should have a larger target share moving forward. Six looks against any opponent isn't enough.
Stop Throwing So Short
The Vikings stumbled in their opener against Cincinnati, due in no small part to their inability to convert on third down. Minnesota converted only six times in 16 third-down attempts.
Part of that issue was Kirk Cousins habitually throwing short of the first-down marker. According to Next Gen Stats, Cousins threw, on average, 5.4 yards behind the line to gain. Cincinnati had little reason to respect the deep ball, which allowed it to clamp down on the ground game.
Despite having the running-back trio of Dalvin Cook, Ameer Abdullah and Alexander Mattison, Minnesota averaged just 3.0 yards per rush. With quality downfield targets in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings should have found more running room. They didn't. Repeatedly throwing short cost them.
The Vikings need to do a better job of putting passes beyond the line to gain. Otherwise, they're going to continue struggling to find room on underneath routes and on the ground. Defenders aren't going to worry about Jefferson and Thielen getting behind them if Cousins isn't willing to take shots deep.
New England Patriots
Give Rhamondre Stevenson More Opportunities
The Patriots can't be thrilled with how Damien Harris' Week 1 outing ended. He fumbled the ball late in a one-point game and likely cost his team the win. Before the fumble, though, Harris rushed for 100 yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and caught two passes for 17 yards.
Harris played like a lead back should, and New England should be content to allow him to lead the ground game. Still, it was curious to see rookie Rhamondre Stevenson get such a small workload after shining throughout the preseason.
According to Next Gen Stats, Stevenson led running backs during the preseason in rushing yards over expected (+111) with almost double the number of any other player.
Like Harris, Stevenson lost a fumble against the Dolphins—though as NESN's Matt Chatham pointed out, that might have been the result of a blown call—but the Patriots need to get a longer look at what the promising fourth-round rookie can do. New England has a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones and should supporting him with the best running game it can provide.
New Orleans Saints
Get Tony Jones Jr. More Involved in the Offense
After seeing them trounce the Packers 38-3 in Week 1, an argument could be made that the Saints shouldn't change anything about their roster or their game plan moving forward.
That's now how this works, however, and if we're going to suggest a change (and we are), it's to utilize running back Tony Jones Jr. more often. A 2020 undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Jones finished Week 1 with 50 rushing yards on 11 carries and one reception for three yards.
Using Jones even more will help save wear and tear on starting back Alvin Kamara. The four-time Pro Bowler had 20 carries and three receptions in Week 1.
The Saints know that Kamara is a game-changer, and they should look to keep him as fresh as possible late in the year. Giving a handful more carries each week to Jones would be one way to ensure that Kamara isn't worn down by the postseason. A more even split when it comes to carries would be advisable, which Kamara still having a heavy hand in the passing game.
New York Giants
Get the Ball out of Daniel Jones' Hands
The New York Giants still don't know if they have a viable franchise quarterback in Daniel Jones. They should know by now, though, that they don't have an elite signal-caller.
Statistically, Jones was OK in the opener. He finished 22-of-37 for 267 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown. However, Jones was too consistently inconsistent against the Broncos defense, and he also fumbled on a red-zone scramble when it was a 10-point game.
Ball-security issues are nothing new for Jones, who fumbled 29 times in his first two seasons. To eliminate the issue, New York intentionally needs to get the ball out of Jones' hands.
While running back Saquon Barkley (torn ACL in 2020) is not yet at 100 percent, the Giants cannot force Jones to buy time in the pocket—or to be their second-leading ball-carrier as he was on Sunday.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett must get running back Devontae Booker more involved and scheme up some quick, easy completions for Jones as Barkley continues to work his way back. Forcing Jones to carry the offense is a recipe for disaster.
New York Jets
Better Protect Zach Wilson
The Jets saw some flashes of promise from rookie quarterback Zach Wilson during his NFL debut. The BYU product finished with 258 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He played a resilient brand of football against an aggressive Panthers pass rush.
However, Wilson also took a beating. He was sacked six times and consistently found himself under pressure. If New York hopes to avoid seeing Wilson go down to a serious injury a la 2020 Joe Burrow, it needs to do a better job of protecting him.
Losing left tackle Mekhi Becton for 4-6 weeks to a dislocated knee cap certainly won't make things easier.
The Jets have to come up with a plan to protect Wilson. Whether that means bringing in a free agent like Russell Okung, scheming to get the ball out more quickly or leaning more heavily on the run—the Jets ran only 17 times in Week 1—something has to change.
Leaning on Wilson as the Bengals did Burrow in 2020 will likely end in similarly disastrous results.
Start Opening Up the Deep Ball
The Eagles put second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts in a position to succeed in Week 1. Philadelphia ran the ball 34 times and rarely asked Hurts to convert difficult down-and-distance situations. He finished with 261 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 57 rushing yards.
Hurts was not perfect, but it's hard to argue with the results. He was in full command of the offense, and the Eagles embarrassed Atlanta 32-6.
Now it's time for the Eagles to build on the positives with Hurts and allow him to push the ball downfield more often. According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts threw, on average, 6.2 yards behind the first-down marker. That's the shortest depth of target for any quarterback in Week 1.
As Hurts continues to become more comfortable in Nick Sirianni's offense, he must also stretch the field more consistently. The Falcons are an awful defensive team, but better squads are going to sit on the short stuff and force Hurts to beat them downfield. The time is now to get him comfortable with the vertical attack.
Find Creative Ways to Make Running Room
The Steelers did enough to win in Week 1, but their offense very much resembled last year's underwhelming unit. Ben Roethlisberger struggled to consistently push the ball downfield—he averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt—and the running game was a disappointment.
The first problem may be unavoidable, At 39 years old, Roethlisberger simply may not be able to regularly stretch the field anymore. However, the Steelers' first-round selection of running back Najee Harris was supposed to help fix the second issue.
Harris averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against Buffalo with a long of 18 yards. He struggled to find running room behind Pittsburgh's new-look offensive line, and no other backs were involved in the ground game.
Pittsburgh did, however, get a 25-yard run out of wideout Chase Claypool, and similar trickery should be part of the game plan moving forward. If the Steelers' line cannot consistently generate running room, the Steelers need to take a more creative approach.
Whether it's utilizing receivers like Claypool on reverses and sweeps, bringing other backs into the mix or using unorthodox formations, Pittsburgh must be less predictable on the ground. The Steelers looked no better running into the teeth of the defense in Week 1 than they did a year ago—when the team finished dead-last in both rushing yards and yards per carry.
San Francisco 49ers
Add Secondary Help
The 49ers should have beaten the Lions more comfortably than they did. Though they wouldn't fully squander a 41-17 fourth-quarter lead, the 49ers saw some significant issues during the game that are alarming.
Losing starting cornerback Jason Verrett to a season-ending ACL tear was an obvious one. Allowing Goff to throw for 246 yards in the second half was another.
Even if Verrett weren't injured, San Francisco would be smart to continue weighing options at cornerback. With him out for the year, it's a necessity.
The 49ers did sign Josh Norman before the start of the season and added Dre Kirkpatrick earlier this week. They must now get those two up to speed in the defense as soon as possible and/or consider other external options like free agent Richard Sherman or potential trade target Stephon Gilmore.
If it hopes to be a title contender, San Francisco must close the door on opponents more firmly than it did against Detroit. That will require a more reliable secondary than the one we saw in the second half Sunday.
Get D'Wayne Eskridge More Involved
The Seahawks have to be happy with what they got out of their offense in coordinator Shane Waldron's debut. Seattle won 28-16, quarterback Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes and the Seahawks played a turnover-free game of football.
If there's a critique to be made, it's that Waldron should have involved rookie second-round pick D'Wayne Eskridge even more. The Western Michigan product flashed his breakaway ability, rushing twice for 22 yards and catching one pass for six yards.
Eskridge left the game in the fourth quarter and was diagnosed with a concussion. Protecting his health must be top priority. Once it's safe for him to return to the field, though, Eskridge should be given a more prominent dual-threat role.
The Seahawks have plenty of weapons—including Chris Carson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett—but Eskridge is the sort of running/receiving wildcard that can help turn a dangerous offense into a deadly one. Seattle needs to get him healthy, get him on the field and give him more than three touches per game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Find a Way to Create Explosive Running Plays
The Buccaneers escape their season-opener against Dallas thanks to a strong performance from quarterback Tom Brady (379 passing yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions). With Brady under center, the Buccaneers are going to win a lot of games they otherwise may not.
However, the Buccaneers cannot expect Brady to bail them out every single week. They need to find more balance on offense, and they need to create more explosive plays on the ground.
Tampa rushed for only 52 yards as a team in Week 1—against a Dallas defense that ranked 31st against the run a year ago. Neither Leonard Fournette nor Ronald Jones II logged a run of more than seven yards.
The Buccaneers cannot rely on a 44-year-old Tom Brady to carry the offense over 18 weeks plus the postseason. If Tampa cannot find ways to open up lanes for Forunette and Jones, it may have to resort to more gadget plays or examining the free-agent and trade markets.
Getting Giovani Bernard and rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn involved might not hurt either. Vaughn was inactive for the opener, while Bernard didn't log a carry.
Stress Better Blocking (or Find Guys Who Can Do It)
If the Titans hope to return to the playoffs in 2021, they're going to have to get better production out of their offensive line. The unit was embarrassed by the Cardinals and pass-rusher Chandler Jones—who finished the game with a whopping five sacks.
"Thank you, [Chandler Jones] for exposing me. It will only force me to get better," left tackle Taylor Lewan tweeted after the game.
While Lewan may see a silver lining in his performance, the Titans shouldn't. Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times and was consistently under pressure. Reigning rushing leader Derrick Henry averaged a mere 3.4 yards per carry.
Tennessee must clean up its blocking or start seeking out offensive-line alternatives on the free-agent and trade markets. There's no guarantee that adding a player like Russell Okung or Rick Wagner will fix the issue, but the Titans must consider all options.
The offensive line we saw in Week 1 is going to be a liability against playoff-caliber defenses.
Washington Football Team
Start Dialing Up the Blitz
The Football Team may have to make some more additions to its quarterback room after losing starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to a right hip subluxation—they did add Kyle Shurmur to the practice squad.
Washington has Taylor Heinicke, who performed well during the 2020 postseason. For now, we'll focus on Washington's defense, which did little to slow Justin Herbert and the Chargers. The biggest issue is that Herbert too often appeared completely comfortable in the pocket.
With a defensive front that features Jonathan Allen, Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the Football Team should be able to pressure quarterbacks without blitzing. That wasn't the case in Week 1, however. According to Next Gen Stats, Washington generated only five quarterback pressures when rushing four, while Herbert had a passer rating of 110.4 in that situation.
Washington rushed four on 23 of Herbert's 47 pass attempts. Overall, Herbert finished with a rating of 85.2. Bringing an extra rusher more often against quality quarterbacks like him will better allow Washington to win close games like this one.
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.