2022 NFL season, Week 1: What We Learned from Sunday’s games
The Bucs defence wins Sunday night. Tom Brady wasn’t sensational, but he looked good enough to do away with the doubts produced by a chaotic offseason. But it was the Buccaneers defence that truly won the night for Tampa Bay. Facing last year’s No. 1 offence, the Bucs swarmed and overwhelmed the Cowboys. While Micah Parsons (two sacks) commanded notice for the Dallas D, Tampa Bay had a host of contributors, from Devin White (eight tackles, two sacks) to Antoine Winfield Jr. (six tackles, one interception) to Shaquil Barrett (six QB pressures). Todd Bowles’ defence dictated this game, limiting the Cowboys to their lowest point total since Week 7 of 2020.Tampa permitted only 244 yards of offense, held Dallas to 3 of 15 on third down and didn’t give up a solitary point after Dallas’ initial belonging. The game ball goes to the TB D in this one.
- Dak, offence as a whole cause for concern after debut. A dearth of talent in the wide receiver corps and injuries to the offensive line were the Cowboys offence’s biggest concerns heading into the season. The unit as a whole is a concern after Sunday night. Of greatest worry is Dak Prescott’s status, as the quarterback will need surgery and miss multiple weeks after hitting his hand on Barrett’s helmet. Prior to that, though, Prescott struggled terribly. He finished the night with a 47.2 rating after missing on 15 of his 29 attempts.v
- Week 1 Lenny shines. For much of Sunday, the Cowboys had an answer for Brady and the passing game, but they rarely had an answer for Leonard Fournette. In a low-scoring affair, Fournette’s ability to control the clock and work the Buccaneers into field-goal range proved pivotal. After his 18th carry, Fournette had 109 yards — which equaled all of the Cowboys’ offensive output to that point. His night concluded with 21 carries for 127 yards — a personal best as a Buccaneer. There was some concern surrounding Lenny after reports of an offseason weight gain, but he turned in a heavyweight performance to kick off 2022.
Next Gen stat of the game: Leonard Fournette averaged 3.0 yards per rush before contact, which was his most in a game in the past five seasons.
NFL Exploration: The Ranchers, who scored their least focuses at home since Week 16 of 2002, tied the 2021 Packers for the least places in a season opener by the ruling No. 1 scoring offense in the Super Bowl time.
New weapons, same ol’ Patrick Mahomes. No Tyreek Hill, no problem. The Chiefs quarterback diced up the Cardinals defence every which way. Mahomes tossed short darts, dropped passes in the bucket downfield, and made patented plays on the move. Arizona tried to pressure Mahomes, bringing blitzes on 53.8% of his dropbacks. It did not work. The QB was unstoppable, completing 76.9% of his passes for 360 yards and five TDs for a 144.2 passer rating. Mahomes spread the ball around with aplomb, hitting nine different targets. Per usual, Travis Kelce was the go-to pass-catcher, netting nine receptions for 121 yards. The new duo of JuJu Smith-Schuster (six receptions for 79 yards) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (4/44) won over the middle repeatedly. K.C scored on seven of its first nine possessions while putting up 488 total yards and a whopping 7.4 yards per play.
- Kyler Murray, Cards offence stuck in the mud. Arizona’s offence looked similar to last year’s late-season collapse. Murray was under siege early — pressured on 43.8% of dropbacks in the first half, per Next Gen Stats — and rarely was able to get out and use his legs. The QB didn’t make progress on moderate courses and associated on only two ignores 15 air yards. Sans DeAndre Hopkins and a nonexistent run game, Kliff Kingsbury’s offense neglects to get the chains and keep the guard off the field continually. The Cards neglected to create a first down on four of their initial eight belongings.
- Steve Spagnolo’s defence in midseason form. Breaking in a bevy of young players, the K.C. D looked fast and locked in. The front pestered Murray and hemmed in the QB. Rookie George Karlaftis generated four pressures and two QB hits, per Next Gen Stats, and added a batted pass. And while Chris Jones might not have stuffed the stat sheet, he lived in the backfield, wrecking the Cards’ O-line. The secondary was sticky, netting five passes defended while holding Murray to under 200 yards passing. It was a resounding win by the Chiefs in every facet of the season opener.
Next Gen stat of the game: Patrick Mahomes generated a 110.6 passer rating versus 2-high safety shells (career-low 85.8 passer rating on such snaps in 2021).
NFL Research: Patrick Mahomes is one of six players in NFL history with at least six career games with 5-plus pass TDs. He has played in 64 career games. The others played in at least 240-plus career games: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino.
- Justin Herbert is dialled in. The third-year quarterback picked up right where he left off in 2021, letting it rip early and often to the tune of 279 yards and three touchdowns. He found his targets all over the field and stuffed the highlight reel with jaw-dropping throws, firing a bullet between two defenders to DeAndre Carter for a touchdown, then rolling to his left and delivering a back-shoulder dart to Gerald Everett, who managed to stumble his way into the end zone for another score. Herbert was sharp all afternoon and showed little preference when choosing his intended receiver, connecting with nine different pass-catchers along the way. The points-producers came as a surprise, too: Carter, fullback Zander Horvath and Everett all reached the end zone through the air.Los Angeles’ offense was murmuring all along, scoring in both speedy and calculated forms, and doing what’s necessary to seal the triumph toward the end. The outcome: a success and a positive beginning to the 2022 season.
- The Carr-Adams connection is strong … but not enough. The old Fresno State duo demonstrated their rapport throughout the afternoon, but a crutch emerged: Derek Carr targeted Davante Adams nearly three times as often as the next closest pass-catcher on his team (17 to six). Adams produced accordingly, catching 10 passes for 141 yards and a fingertip grab for a touchdown. But the rest of the offence lagged behind enough to put the Raiders in a tough spot when they absolutely needed a conversion. Darrell Waller caught four passes for 79 yards, including a 31-yard reception that set up a score, but the distribution was too lopsided. In the end, the Chargers knew where to focus — on Adams — to force Carr to hesitate, and two strip-sacks ended the Raiders’ chances.
- The reformulated Chargers defence shines. Los Angeles was aggressive in the offseason, landing big names like Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson to add to what was already a promising unit. Jackson (ankle) didn’t play Sunday, but Make sure did. His three sacks all came in key moments, and his last pushed the Raiders’ backs up against a wall they could not escape. Another new pickup, cornerback Bryce Callahan, snagged a key interception early in the fourth to end a Las Vegas possession. A total team effort was needed to limit the Raiders and hang on, and the Chargers did just that, intercepting Carr three times and finishing with six sacks. That’s how you win an AFC West showdown in 2022.
Next Gen stat of the game: Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa combined for 16 pressures, 4.5 sacks and two turnovers caused by pressure in Sunday’s win.
NFL Exploration: Khalil Mack had three sacks, four QB hits and one constrained mishandle in his Chargers debut, his initial three or more sack game since Week 14 of the 2015 season. He’s just the fifth non-youngster to have three or more sacks in a presentation with another group (since individual sacks were first kept in 1982
- Early woes plague the Packers offence. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t pleased early on — for good reason. The Packers looked sluggish and disjointed early on offensively, taking a conservative approach out of the gate, and Rodgers didn’t hide his anger on the sideline. He opened the game 1-of-5 passing for 6 yards with a sack on first two drives; that included rookie Christian Watson dropping what would have been an easy 75-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Green Bay lead. Instead, the Packers trailed 17-zip at half, mustering only six first downs and 100 yards of offence. They left seven more points on the field after a goal-line stop that could have changed the complexion of the game. The shorthanded offensive line certainly deserves some blame, as the unit lacking arguably its two best linemen, tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, struggled consistently. But that’s now two straight years in which the Packers’ offence came out flat in Week 1.Maybe Matt LaFleur will reevaluate not giving his hostile starters any genuine preseason reps the most recent two years, however that is presently a 2023 concern. The Packers opened things up some in the last part, yet a second from last quarter bobble and a late turnover on downs shut the entryway. They need to refocus with the 1-0 adversary Bears coming to town one week from now.
- A little payback for Za’Darius. Vikings edge Za’Darius Smith indicated that at least part of the reason he signed with Minnesota was to face the Packers twice per season. And it didn’t take long for the ex-Packer to inflict some pain on his former squad. Smith sacked Rodgers late in the first quarter to end a promising Green Bay drive, then tackled A.J. Dillon before the goal-line on a huge fourth-down stop in the second quarter and even managed to get in a post-throw shot on Rodgers on his second-quarter interception. Smith most definitely took his exit from Green Bay personally and clearly was licking his chops to exact a little revenge. Rodgers had a little light-hearted exchange with Rodgers when the QB blocked (er, ran interference on) Smith. But Smith was all business early and was a huge reason why the Vikings’ defence set the tone in the first half.
- The Packers have no answer for Jefferson. The Packers had no first-half answers for Justin Jefferson. He diced them up for six receptions for 158 yards and two TDs … in the first half. Four of those catches went for 20-plus yards. On nearly every catch, it felt like Jefferson had two or three body lengths’ worth of separation between him and the closest DB. The Packers played a lot of zone coverage over putting top cornerback Jaire Alexander on him. The pre-game thinking might have been to make Kirk Cousins and the Vikings inch their way down the field, which makes sense in theory. But that plan should have gone out the U.S. Bank Stadium windows sooner after Jefferson wrecked them repeatedly.We saw Alexander matched up on Jefferson some in the last part, yet by that point the game was scholastic. They’d be silly to attempt the previous methodology when the groups meet again in Week 17 on New Year’s Day in Green Cove.
Next Gen stat of the game: The Packers are now 2-3 in games Aaron Rodgers started vs. the Vikings since 2020 (26-4 in all other games). Minnesota is the only team Rodgers has lost multiple games against since 2020.
NFL Research: Justin Jefferson accounted for 90.9% of the Vikings’ air yards in the first half. He led the NFL in Air Yards share in 2021 (45.2%)
- Titans’ pass rush shows up without Landry, rest of team doesn’t. The biggest question mark going into Sunday’s game was how Tennessee would handle rushing the passer after the team’s 2021 sack leader, Harold Landry, suffered a torn ACL during the preseason. The Titans defensive line answered the call, pressuring Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on 69.2% of dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats. 2021 fourth-round defensive end Rashad Weaver had only two total tackles last year. On Sunday, he had two sacks. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons also had two, including a strip sack, and linebacker Bud Dupree contributed another. The rest of the Titans will be scratching their heads after allowing the Giants to come back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to tie the game in the third quarter, and then again letting a seven-point lead slip in the game’s waning moments. Of the Titans’ six second-half possessions, one went for 95 yards and a touchdown. The other five produced a combined 80 yards, four punts, and a missed 47-yard field goal by Randy Bullock as time expired. This wasn’t the return Tennessee needed to wipe 2021 from their memories.
- Daboll Effect delayed but worth it. The Giants offence came out of the gates sluggish, totaling just 131 yards and no points in six drives during the first half. The goose egg did not persist into the second half for long.Started by a 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley, Large Blue went 90 yards on four plays for their most memorable score of the time. The Monsters went after through the air on their next belonging, scoring again to even the game 13-13 on a 65-yard score pass to a completely open Real Shepard. Of course, it wasn’t always pretty. Jones threw an ugly fourth-quarter pick in the end zone to Titans safety Amani Hooker on a throw that could’ve tied things up following a muffed punt, but the Giants subsequently rebounded for their best and final drive of the day. It took 11 plays, which were heavily paced by Barkley (six touches), to go 72 yards and reach Tennessee’s 1-yard line. Knowing what Tennessee was expecting, Daboll put his trust in Jones to finish things off with a pass to fullback Chris Myarick. Down one, the Giants went back to the well for a two-point conversion. Barkley initially looked destined to come up short on a shuffle pass, but he instead sliced around the Titans’ edge and slipped in for what proved to be the winning score. It was an impressive drive and a gutsy call at the perfect moment. The Giants haven’t won more than six games since 2016, but the foundation for optimism has officially been laid.
- The backs are back. Titans running back Derrick Henry missed nine games last year with a broken foot after never playing in fewer than 15 games in his previous five seasons, and Barkley has missed 21 games since 2019. Both had something to prove, and both did so today. For Henry, it was the ability to hold up under a large workload. He did just that, going for 82 yards on 21 carries with a long of 18. Henry did not have any of his typical eye-popping plays with defenders being shed in his wake, but the Titans will again be able to lean on him in 2022. Barkley, meanwhile, was a revelation. He delivered the 68-yard wake-up call the Giants needed on their first play of the second half by bouncing far outside and jetting down the sideline. He added another exclamation point to kickstart Big Blue’s winning drive on a 33-yard line straight through the teeth of the Tennessee defence. He finished the day with 18 carries for 164 and one TD, plus another 30 yards on six receptions. The fifth-year back is in his contract year, and he showed what’s possibly to come by providing a glimpse of the Barkley of years past.
Next Gen stat of the game: Jeffery Simmons and Bud Dupree combined for 12 quarterback pressures, three sacks and a turnover on 21 pass rushes each.
NFL Research: This was Saquon Barkley’s second career game with 150-plus rushing yards on fewer than 20 carries. The only other player with multiple such games in the last five seasons is Derrick Henry (also with two).