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This Week in Football – Lamar Jackson, DeSean Jackson and defending defense

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Overreaction Monday has become something of a meme during Week 1 of the NFL season, when we make bold, spicy claims about teams that have the backing of nothing more than a tiny sample size. It’s easy to completely write a team off or proclaim a championship contender after the first 60 minutes of action. But one quarterback’s Week 1 performance in particular is a perfect illustration of why creating instant narratives doesn’t do anyone any good.

In the highly anticipated 2018 quarterback draft class, Lamar Jackson was the only prospect who played in a pro style system in college. He showed at Louisville that he’s a capable thrower, while also making it clear that he’s a threat with his legs. When the draft rolled around, some football personnel decided that they didn’t think Jackson could play quarterback because apparently college tape doesn’t matter.

That attitude persisted into his rookie year, when he didn’t exactly wow audiences with his passing ability, rather helping push the Baltimore Ravens and their run-heavy attack into the playoffs because of his prowess on the ground. Naturally, the ensuing questions all offseason about Jackson and the Ravens dealt with whether or not he could pass at the NFL level.

Then Miami happened.

Now, the Dolphins are one case in which we can probably determine what they are right from the jump. They’re a mess, they’re tanking and they’re going to be lucky to win a game. Jackson shredded them in the season opener, going 17-of-20 for 354 yards and five touchdowns. He had just six touchdown passes all of last season.

It’s OK to give players time to come into their own. Jumping to a conclusion based on a tiny sample size is problematic. Jackson isn’t the first case of this, of course. Think back just a couple seasons to Jared Goff’s rookie year when the Cal product looked utterly lost when he got on the field. He was written off as a bust almost instantly. It was a common thought at the time. Now, Goff has an NFC title under his belt and just inked a contract with the biggest guarantee in league history.

Remember, his coach as a rookie was Jeff Fisher. Everything changed when Sean McVay took over the Los Angeles Rams. It’s within the realm of possibility that Jackson will make a leap in 2019 after the Ravens had a whole offseason to reconstruct their offensive system around him.

Maybe one day we’ll let our takes marinate before confidently assigning a young player a new label. Then again, where’s the fun in that?

In fairness, the pendulum can swing too far the other way, too. Suddenly appointing Jackson as one of the best quarterbacks in the league is premature, and one quick social media search will turn that kind of fan up. There’s a balance here. He still doesn’t have even double digits in starts in his career. It isn’t as fun, it isn’t as sexy and it surely doesn’t make for a great “gotcha” headline, but it takes time to form an accurate opinion or assessment of a player.

There are a handful of things you can say with certainty after Week 1. The Dolphins are horrendous. The New England Patriots are going to be a machine again. The Kansas City Chiefs will score a lot of points. Wait just a couple more weeks to make a proclamation about the kids, though.

Apologies to your clickbait.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*No story in the NFL has been as exhausting as the Antonio Brown saga since Deflategate. He was finally cut loose by the Oakland Raiders, only to join up almost instantaneously with the Patriots. Nobody is surprised by this, right? Brown has handled this entire situation in as childish a manner as possible, and naturally the NFL’s evil empire benefits from it. Considering how they manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers on the first Sunday night game of the year, adding Brown to the offense should terrify the whole league. The whole debacle isn’t quite as bad as Mike Greenberg made it out to be on Monday morning, but it’s still a bad look for one of the game’s finest players. New England has as good of a chance as anyone to massage the bad attitude out of him, though, at least for one season.

*One week ago, we dedicated a lot of brain power to tearing down the Houston Texans for their front office ineptitude. It came to the forefront again on Monday night as they played the best game of the opening weekend against the New Orleans Saints. Deshaun Watson led the Texans on a quick, fantastic drive to take the lead with less than a minute to go, only to have Drew Brees and the Saints steal the win back as time expired. Watson played heroically all game and was punished for it, being sacked six times. That’s the most sacks allowed this week. The Texans gave up two first-round picks and a second to get Laremy Tunsil (and others). That’s one offensive line piece in a group that is an abject disaster. In a shock to no one, that huge price paid for Tunsil looks like it may not have served its purpose instantly like Houston had hoped. Continuing to put Watson behind that line is criminal negligence.

*People love points. High scoring games are a lot of fun and are some of the most memorable ones. Everyone looks back on the 2018 edition of Chiefs versus Rams fondly, for example (save for the fans on the losing end). However, shootouts aren’t the only entertaining brand of football and it’s time to give some respect to defensive struggles. Take the season-opening game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, for example. Were the offenses bad? Yes. The Packers are still getting acclimated to a brand new offensive system, while the Bears are led by Mitchell Trubisky. But those two teams’ defenses were incredible. Green Bay’s defense was humming in the first game of Year 2 for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, while Chicago’s group was as good as advertised. Sacks and good coverage and takeaways are fun football, and those kind of games deserve celebration. That shouldn’t be such a hot take.

 

Quality defense will get the respect it deserves someday.

*The Arizona Cardinals have a chance to be one of the most exciting terrible teams in NFL history this season. They were a disaster for the first three quarters in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, with the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury connection looking out of sync, to be kind. Then the Heisman Trophy winner turned it on late and led Arizona back from a 24-6 deficit to a 27-27 tie. That team has a boatload of problems, and tying the Lions at home isn’t exactly a decade-defining performance, but there’s good reason to believe their offense will be a blast, for better or for worse.

Whether it’s a rousing success or a colossal failure, this era of Cardinals football will be remarkable somehow. That alone makes it one of the most significant periods in franchise history.

DeSEAN JACKSON DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

Something about DeSean Jackson in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform just looks right.

Jackson’s return to the Eagles was one of the best games of his career, with eight receptions for 154 yards with two long scores. The narrative around the veteran speedster this offseason was that while he may not be what he once was, he’s still a viable secondary or tertiary option for a receiving corps. He showed on Sunday that he still has the juice to be a No. 1 option.

Philadelphia may have the deepest roster from top to bottom in the entire NFL. As long as Carson Wentz is healthy enough to keep feeding the ball to all of his potent targets, the Eagles are the deserving favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC.

STAT OF THE WEEK

This one was mentioned in the latest Mahomes Report, and it’s awe-inspiring. After slicing and dicing the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense on Sunday, including 313 yards passing in the first half, Patrick Mahomes now holds the record for the most yards and most touchdowns by any quarterback in their first 20 career games.

Mahomes owns those records despite only having 18 regular-season starts to his name.

The cycle of trying to reduce a player’s accomplishments by attributing their success to other entities has already begun with Mahomes (“Any quarterback would put up numbers with Andy Reid,” “He has the best supporting cast in the game,” etc.), but none of that actually cancels out the fact that his skills are already among the best in the business. Throwing for 5,759 yards and 53 touchdowns in just 18 games is downright silly, and he’s only going to get more dangerous as he gains experience.

WEEKLY RANKING: TOP 5 SPIN ZONES FOR TEAMS THAT STUMBLED OUT OF THE GATE

  1. Cleveland Browns – After the most disappointing season opener in relation to expectations, you’re hurtling toward “everyone doubts you” status already, which is where Baker Mayfield thrives.
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – You likely won’t be worse than the Dolphins, meaning you probably won’t be able to draft Tua Tagovailoa, but draft analysts are high on both Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm.
  3. Chicago Bears – Your franchise’s entire history is filled with elite defenses dragging mediocre quarterbacks through the season, and you’ve reached the playoffs with that model plenty of times.
  4. Carolina Panthers – It’s an odd-numbered year, which is when your team has historically had most of its success.
  5. Detroit Lions – Your coach is a rocket scientist, so there’s a chance he’s smart enough not to use timeouts at the dumbest possible times going forward like he did this week.

 

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