In The First Read, Jeffri Chadiha provides a snapshot of the hottest stories and trends heading into Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season, including:
But to kick things off, his first impressions from the start of the new campaign ...
Week 1 of the NFL season is always a crazy time. This year, though, it felt even wilder, largely because of all the anticipation that came with it. There were so many questions that needed to be answered throughout the league, from how certain quarterbacks would play to the impact of new coaches to the possibilities that awaited those teams hoping to take the next step in their development. This wasn't just the start of a season. It was a chance to put a whole bunch of people under a serious microscope.
That's what this year's first installment of The First Read is focusing on: initial impressions from Week 1. It's always easy to put too much stock in what happens at this time of year, to overreact to what everyone is putting on tape. That doesn't mean it's wise to minimize the action, either. Every team plays just 17 regular-season games, after all, so the first one is a significant data point.
The first impression this writer has is that there is a lot to talk about. However, for the sake of time and space, the takeaways from this opening weekend will be distilled down to the most noteworthy listed below.
1) Tua's time: The most important question surrounding the Miami Dolphins last season revolved around whether their starting quarterback could stay healthy. That's still an issue that bears watching, but God knows what this team could be if Tua Tagovailoa is on the field for 17 games. This is the player we've been waiting to see for the last four years. Tagovailoa played with conviction and decisiveness, leaving no doubt about what he can do with his arm in his team's 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. He still doesn't have a cannon like a Patrick Mahomes or a Josh Allen, but guess what? He doesn't need it. His ball placement against the Chargers was spectacular, whether he was dealing from a clean pocket, throwing under duress or delivering passes on the move. Tagovailoa finished with the fourth-most passing yards in a season opener in league history (466, with three touchdown tosses against one interception). More importantly, he put everyone on notice. If he's on the field, Miami's going to be trouble for opposing defenses.
2) Believe in Big D: There's been so much debate about what kind of season the Cowboys needed from quarterback Dak Prescott that one essential fact was lost: Dallas is pretty good all over. Their 40-0 win over the Giants proved exactly that. The 'Boys obviously need Prescott to play well and limit his turnovers. They also don't need him to carry them on a weekly basis, as he only threw for 143 yards on Sunday. This team is built to dominate in a variety of ways, as was the case on Sunday night against New York. The Cowboys scored on the return of a blocked field goal, the return of an interception and held a 26-0 lead at halftime. Dallas had games like this last season -- when the team overwhelmed opponents some weeks and imploded in others -- so it's probably worth taking a few weeks to see if there's more consistency this year. But know this much: It feels different. The Cowboys looked as impressive as any team in Week 1, and there's a good chance they keep that momentum going.
3) Pump the brakes on Pittsburgh: The hype machine was too big to ignore when it came to the Steelers this offseason. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was growing up in a hurry, wide receiver George Pickens was a fantasy football darling and head coach Mike Tomlin was all set to prove why he's a future Hall of Famer once again. And then the 49ers came to town and all that happy talk evaporated. There's still a lot to like about the Steelers' potential -- it's just going to be much easier to see that when they're not playing teams like San Francisco. The visiting 49ers thoroughly dismantled the Steelers from the opening kickoff of Sunday's 30-7 result at Acrisure Stadium. They hit Pittsburgh with big plays in the passing game (Brandon Aiyuk had 129 yards and two touchdowns) and the running game (Christian McCaffrey rushed 152 yards and a score), and squelched most of what the Steelers wanted to do offensively. This beatdown said plenty about how good the Niners can be. It also told us how much work Pittsburgh must do to get where it wants to be.
4) The Love train is rolling: Jordan Love started slowly in Green Bay's 38-20 win over Chicago, but he eventually delivered on the expectations that hovered around him all offseason. He finished with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns. He operated the offense with confidence and became more efficient as the game wore on. The best thing about Love was that he played within himself, displaying the type of comfort that comes from sitting on the bench for three years, learning and waiting for his opportunity. This didn't look like a player trying to prove he can make up for what the Packers lost by trading Aaron Rodgers. He looked like a player content in the notion that he's writing his own chapter in Packers history and he gets to decide how it ends.
5) Ravens' offense needs some fine-tuning: For all the talk about the revamped look of Baltimore's offense under new coordinator Todd Monken, that unit severely underwhelmed in its debut. The Ravens got the 25-9 win over Houston. They also lacked anything resembling explosiveness on offense, as quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for just 169 yards and committed two turnovers (an interception and a lost fumble). To make matters worse, the Ravens have lost their best running back, J.K. Dobbins, to a torn Achilles. The good news is that this is Baltimore, a team that usually finds a way to adapt to whatever is thrown at it. It's going to take time for Jackson to find a comfort level with an offense that will be asking him to do more with his wide receivers. The loss of Dobbins also will impact some of the creativity Monken wants to instill in this unit. There's plenty of time for it to come together. It's just likely to take longer than initially expected.
6) Game on, Gang Green: The New York Jets spent an entire offseason preparing for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to put them on a path to a Super Bowl. Then they went out and used their first game to prove there is more to this team than one superstar. The big story coming out of the Jets' 22-16 overtime win over Buffalo remains the diagnosis of the injury (the team fears a torn Achilles) Rodgers sustained on Monday night. That still shouldn't overshadow the performance his teammates produced after he left the game in the first quarter. We knew the Jets had an elite defense. We knew they had playmakers at the skill position. Now -- after they forced four Josh Allen turnovers and won the game on a punt return by rookie Xavier Gipson -- we know they have heart.
(EDITOR'S UPDATE: An MRI revealed Rodgers sustained a torn left Achilles in Monday night's game, and he will miss the remainder of the 2023 season, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday.)
Hill was electric against the Chargers, racking up 11 receptions, 215 yards and two touchdowns. Tyreek has always been elite, but he played this contest as if it was personal. Hill scorched the Los Angeles defenders on deep balls and crossing routes and made two critical catches on the final drive, including the game-deciding score. Hill talked about wanting to be the first player to surpass 2,000 receiving yards. He might be underestimating himself.
Cleveland brought in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to improve a disappointing unit and there should be no complaints right now. The Browns dominated the Bengals from the opening snap in Sunday’s 24-3 win. Cincinnati managed just 142 total yards as Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw for a career-low 82 yards. Cleveland routinely has given Cincinnati fits, but this was next-level stuff. Schwartz has disruptive pass rushers and savvy cover corners, and he’s prepared to unleash them each week.
The Falcons spent a lot of money this offseason to sign Bates in free agency. He made good on that investment on Day 1. Bates finished Atlanta’s 24-10 win over Carolina with 10 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Sure, it helped that he was facing a rookie quarterback in Bryce Young, but that’s a great day against anybody.
The Rams so manhandled the Seahawks on Sunday that all the blame starts with the Seattle head coach. It’s one thing to give up 426 yards, gain only 180 and possess the football for just over 20 minutes. It’s even worse when that happens against a Los Angeles team that might be lucky to win six games this year. The 'Hawks were supposed to be building on all the feel-good vibes generated in 2022. Instead, Carroll got out-coached by Sean McVay and Co. in every way imaginable.
The Bears are hoping their young quarterback can blossom into a dual-threat performer this season. If that’s going to happen, then he’s going to need to avoid games like he had against Green Bay. Fields attempted 37 passes -- more throws than in any game last season -- but the completions didn’t go very far. His top three wide receivers combined for six receptions and 78 yards. On top of all that, he lost a fumble and threw a pick-six. This is going to take some time.
Thursday night feels like a long time ago, but it's impossible to forget how bad Toney played in the Chiefs’ season-opening loss to Detroit. The third-year wide receiver had four passes thrown in his direction and he treated them as if Patrick Mahomes was lobbing live hand grenades at him. Toney dropped three of those balls, including one that led to a pick-six and another that could’ve put Kansas City in position to win the game. Chiefs brass talked a lot about Toney’s potential as a No. 1 receiver this offseason. You probably won’t be hearing such comments uttered anytime soon.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST SURPRISE
Anthony Richardson was the best of the rookie quarterbacks. Richardson played well enough to give the Colts a chance to win in what ultimately became a 31-21 loss to Jacksonville. He completed 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards and was responsible for two scores (a run and a pass) and one turnover (a fourth-quarter pick). That's not bad for a player who made just 13 starts in college and was far less seasoned as a prospect than Carolina's Bryce Young and Houston's C.J. Stroud, the two players selected ahead of him in the draft. Richardson also doesn't have the luxury of a strong running game, as the Colts are still trying to figure out what to do with disgruntled back Jonathan Taylor. For now, it's likely first-time head coach Shane Steichen will stick with the conservative game-planning that allowed Richardson to find a comfort level and produce. It's not always exciting, but proved effective on Sunday.
MOST INTRIGUING GAME OF WEEK 2
The Bengals started last season 0-2 and still reached the AFC Championship Game. They don't want to make a habit of that trick, especially with all the talented teams crowding the AFC. The Ravens, now without Dobbins, are still trying to find the requisite rhythm and chemistry to run a revamped offense that wants to rely more on the passing game. This contest would be a great time to achieve that.
One question answered by an unnamed front office source.
Do you trust the Chiefs' defense while defensive tackle Chris Jones continues to hold out?
PERSONNEL DIRECTOR FOR AFC TEAM: "No. When you lose a player of that caliber at a critical, impact position, it's going to impact your plan of attack, especially against a good offensive line. They managed fine against Detroit (Kansas City's defense only allowed 14 points in a 21-20 loss), but you could see the Lions' offensive line imposing their will as that game went on in the second half. It felt like Detroit controlled the ball in that game, and that's because they're really solid along the offensive line, with a good run scheme and some playmakers. (Chiefs defensive coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo is always in his bag of tricks, but it will be harder the longer Jones holds out. They're missing him and (defensive end Charles) Omenihu, and that puts a burden on everyone. But I'm also sure they'll recover fine once all those guys are back. They lost that game to Detroit mainly because (All-Pro tight end) Travis Kelce was out. You lose two of your three best players and that's going to cause a drop-off for anyone."
(UPDATE: Jones and the Chiefs have agreed to terms on a new one-year contract, ending Jones' holdout.)
A simple ranking of the top five candidates, which will be updated weekly, depending on performance. Here is how it stands heading into Week 2:
My slowly evolving Super Bowl pick, which also will be updated each week, depending on performances: 49ers over Dolphins.