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NFC News and Notes from Week 1

NFC News and Notes from Week 1

NFC News and Notes from Week 1
By Teddy Covers

Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have. This week: NFC Tidbits from Week 1.

Chicago Bears – Sure, the Bears didn't make the playoffs last year, but they won ten games and were one of the league's better teams. This defense can still make plenty of big plays, as evidenced by Charles Tillman's huge game and their complete domination against the run here. Jay Cutler did a great job finding open receivers on third and long. He connected on a pair of third and longs into very tight windows on Chicago's first touchdown drive. The revamped offensive line didn't do much for run blocking, but they gave Cutler all the time he needed all afternoon.

Cutler can still scramble out of pressure and his mobility created several opportunities that wouldn't have been there otherwise. But Cutler's propensity for making mistakes at crucial times was on display here, a horrible pass on first down as the Bears were driving in the fourth quarter. However, he made the most of his next chance, finding the unstoppable Brandon Marshall repeatedly on Chicago’s game winning drive.

Arizona Cardinals – This team looks a lot better with a real quarterback! Larry Fitzgerald is a dangerous weapon again, and both Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd were hit in stride repeatedly by Carson Palmer. Everyone should be talking about the Honey Badger’s strip /fumble on Rams TE Jared Cook, saving a sure touchdown; an immediate impact defender.

Love Bruce Arians aggressive nature. Arizona got the ball back on his own 20 with less than 30 seconds to play before halftime. Does Arians sit on the ball? Nope, Carson Palmer was firing away downfield, which led to a FG attempt. Smart coach won't let those seconds tick off the clock. But a smart coach wasn’t enough to prevent ‘Zona from choking away their double digit lead in the fourth quarter; unable to sustain drives when it mattered most.

San Francisco 49ers – For a team that supposedly has big concerns at WR, this passing game had little trouble moving the chains, and Kaepernick wasn't shy about finding different receivers to throw to. Anquan Boldin is certainly no second tier weapon, an absolute monster in his 49ers debut; making several eye-popping grabs in traffic.

This was not an elite level defense down the stretch last year. It wasn't an elite level defense in the playoffs. And it wasn't an elite level defense today either – they stuffed the run, but got picked apart by the Packers passing game; unable to pressure Aaron Rodgers. This isn’t going to be the last shootout Jim Harbaugh’s squad will play this year.

Detroit Lions – Detroit won this game by ten, but they still made a boatload of mistakes, and failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities. New punter, new holder and new kicker for Detroit this year led to a botched snap on their first field goal try. A holding penalty negated a successful fourth down conversion; forcing the Lions to settle for three. That was just one of eleven penalties for Detroit, including a pair that took touchdowns off the board; not exactly the most disciplined team.

This defensive line is absolutely dominant; as good as any in the NFL. After Adrian Peterson scampered for a 78-yard TD on the Lions very first defensive play of the game, Detroit’s defensive front controlled the game thereafter. AP had only 15 yards on his final 17 carries, and was held to less than ten yards on all four of his receptions. Yes, Peterson had three TDs, but Reggie Bush was the most valuable running back on the field in this ballgame. The Lions have a running game this year, and a valuable dump-off weapon for Stafford to throw to.

Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton was this team's leading rusher last year, so they brought in the thoroughly discredited Mike Shula to coordinate the offense this year. Based on Week 1's performance from DeAngelo Williams, Newton could be the leading rusher again this year, even though Shula’s stated goal is to limit his carries. Williams didn’t find much room to run and fumbled twice, including a crucial miscue in the red zone in the fourth quarter. And Newton was held to a career low in total offense, although Greg Olson’s case of the dropsies didn’t help matters.

This was a top 10 defense last year (very quietly) and could be in that range again this year. Luke Kuechly is as good as any linebacker in the NFL right now, the pass rush was there with Charles Johnson and the coverage in the secondary was rock solid all afternoon. This front seven owned the line of scrimmage, a truly impressive defensive showing. After the loss, the Panthers are now 2-13 in games decided by a TD or less in the Newton/Rivera era. I blame coach more than quarterback for that dismal record.

New Orleans Saints – The Saints won the toss and elected to kick off first, putting their defense on the field. That’s something Sean Payton hasn’t done in the past; a telling indicator that he expects significant improvement in the first year of the Rob Ryan era on D. This defense was record-setting awful last year and they were vulnerable to the big play here, allowing a pair of 50+ yard gainers. But the pass rush was there throughout, with three sacks and ten QB hurries. And the Saints two minute defense saved the game for them; forcing a punt before halftime and notching the game saving interception on fourth and goal in the final minute of regulation.

It’s really hard to get this team off the field on third down, regardless of the distance. But there’s not much of a running game – it's all on Drew Brees once again this year. I'm just not impressed with this group of running backs. Lots of tentative runs and not many downhill rushes leads to a one dimensional pass only offense.

Seattle Seahawks – My biggest concern for the Seahawks in Week 1 was their play in the trenches. This is supposed to be an elite level offensive line, but it sure didn't look that way here. Russell Wilson got hit as much in this game as he did in any game last year, really pounded. And Seattle’s defensive line has limited depth due to injuries; a subpar performance.

Wilson had five fourth quarter comebacks last year and led the Seahawks back from a 4th quarter deficit here; exactly the type of QB you want your money on in a tight game in the fourth quarter. He threw one strike after the next; and was smart enough to know to be patient and wait for the next play when things weren't flowing. Lots of 'too aggressive' penalties, personal fouls and late hits, typical of Pete Carroll coached teams.

Minnesota Vikings – All five offensive linemen started every game together last year and return intact for 2013; a clear area of strength for Minnesota. But the defense got gutted with major losses in the offseason. That D got picked apart here, a massive decline from 2012.

This was the 27th career start for Christian Ponder. He's won close games, led fourth quarter comebacks, taken the team to the playoffs, yet he gets absolutely zero respect. Why not? Because he's not that good, throwing a pick six here (overturned by penalty), struggling with consistency throughout. Ponder continues to stare down receivers, making it easier for opposing cornerbacks. He threw another pick six, but it was dropped by the Lions defender. Even with Blair Walsh making every long field goal (now 11-11 from 50+ in his career), given these defensive question marks, the Vikings are likely to need touchdowns, not field goals, to win games in 2013.

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