NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 1: Monday Night Football Key Takeaways

Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien went full send on the win now philosophy by trading away their next two first-round picks and a second-round pick for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Match them up against a team in the New Orleans Saints, who have had back-to-back crushing defeats in the postseason and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback on his last leg, and you have yourself an intriguing matchup. With the game ending on a Will Lutz 58-yard bomb (for the brand) as time expired, this was clearly the game of the week.

Do you want to be a Raider or not? After last night’s showing by Jon Gruden’s offense, I think we all wouldn’t mind being a Raider. Against what was supposed to be one of the league’s most menacing defenses that’s being coached by long-time defensive mastermind Vic Fangio, Derek Carr stole the show and exposed every single part of the Broncos defense, securing a surprising W.

However, there is more to these stories that the box score can’t tell. Using PFF’s unique grades and advanced database, here are eight takeaways from last night’s Monday Night Football double-header:

Laremy Tunsil isn't even worth one first-round pick, let alone two firsts and a second

Based off the king’s ransom the Dolphins got from the Texans for Tunsil, you’d think he’d make this offensive line better at every single position. Obviously, he can’t, but Tunsil can provide a marginal improvement by remaining stout on the left end. In his Houston debut, he was far from that. Tunsil finished the game with a 62.0 pass-block grade and surrendered two sacks along with two hurries. His four total pressures allowed last night were the second most Tunsil has ever allowed in a game in his career. Not to mention, it was also just the second time in Tunsil’s career he allowed two sacks in a game. 

The highest pressure rate allowed on Houston’s offensive line last night belonged to Tunsil at 10.5%, which ranked 25th among 29 left tackles to play at least 20 pass-block snaps in Week 1. The rest of the Texans' offensive line showed to be same old, same old with only center Nick Martin ranking in the top half of his position in pass-blocking grade (13th). As said, the addition of Tunsil provides an insignificant improvement when the rest of your offensive line is as bad as it is. Moreover, Tunsil also can’t change the fact that his quarterback, Deshaun Watson, allows more pressure to himself than any other quarterback (had three sacks attributed to him last night).

The Clowney-less pass-rush was eerily quiet, even with J.J. Watt

In their first game without Jadeveon Clowney, Houston’s pass-rush was ineffective. Houston generated pressure just 22.7% of the time, ranking 187th among the 209 regular season games they have played in since 2006.

Houston has one of the top edge defenders in the game in J.J Watt, but even he couldn't find an ounce of success against the Saints. Watt’s 55.1 pass-rush grade was one of the worst games of his career, 95th of his 99 games with significant snaps played to be exact.  And his play in the second half wasnn't any better, as he earned just a 5.3% win rate and zero percent pressure rate in the final 30 minutes of the game.

On the other end, Clowney’s replacement Whitney Mercilus wasn’t much better with a 60.2 pass-rush grade. He also generated pressure at a lowly 8.8% rate. Clowney wasn’t the heart and soul of this defense and they went up against the best tackle duo in the league in Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, but Watt and Mercilus have a lot on their shoulders in the coming weeks with having to prove that they don’t need Clowney to be a successful pass-rush.

Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas had their way with the Texans defense

The loss of Mark Ingram once again proves the “running backs are the most replaceable position” debate to be true with Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara handling the backfield with ease. Kamara’s dual-threat rushing/receiving ability stole the show. Along with recording an 82.0 overall grade, Kamara finished with an 83.1 rushing grade and 76.3 receiving grade. When taking a hand-off from quarterback Drew Brees, Kamara broke off for 0.54 missed tackles forced per attempt and a first down/touchdown on 23% of attempts. Furthermore, Kamara ran all over Houston when his point of attack was at or outside the tackles. On those carries, Kamara had 1.20 missed tackles forced per attempt, 11.8 yards per carry, 7.4 yards after contact per attempt and a 40% first down/touchdown rate. As for the receiving end, Kamara carved up the Texans defense with 2.25 yards per route run, two broken tackles after the catch and one explosive play. With Kamara being able to line up all over the field (38 snaps in the backfield and 12 snaps in the slot or out wide), his versatility makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to game plan against and we saw this firsthand in week one. 

Michael Thomas unsurprisingly played like the most reliable receiver in the game, coming home with a 78.3 overall grade. Per usual, Thomas was Brees’ go-to guy, targeting him on over 31% of his routes. Thomas also caught all four of his contested targets and generated four explosive plays (15-plus yard receiving plays).

Drew Brees is a Saint. Literally.

Year after year, we all ask ourselves and those around: Is this the year we finally see the eldest generation of quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Tom Brady finally fall off and regress to retirement? Well, based off last night, Drew Brees isn’t going away anytime soon. When kept clean, Brees was pristine with a 92.0 passing grade, 123.1 passer rating, 91.2% adjusted completion percentage, 341 passing yards and two touchdowns. He may have faltered a bit under pressure with a 49.1 passing grade on his seven pressured attempts (15.5 rating, 4.1 yards per attempt and one interception), however, clean pocket play is what we here at PFF found to be the most telling of a quarterback’s future success. And with the elite offensive line protecting him, Brees has a high ceiling in 2019. With Armstead (78.2 pass-block grade) and Ramczyk (77.6 pass-block grade) anchoring the line, just 18.2% of Brees’ dropbacks were pressured last night.

It took a couple of quarters for Brees to come to life (66.7 passing grade in the first half, 93.5 passing grade in the second half), but by the end of it, we were all witnesses of Drew Brees’ clutch gene coming to life. On third/fourth down, Brees finished with a 92.6 passing grade while completing eight of his nine passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and a 155.8 passer rating. 

In addition, there were a few questionable coverages called by the Texans last night, and when it came to zone coverage, Brees torched them with a 91.2 passing grade and a 100% adjusted completion percentage on 19 attempts.

Joe Flacco update: still average

In his Broncos debut, Flacco failed to impress and shockingly looked like the same quarterback we saw in Baltimore with a 62.0 overall grade. Flacco was average at best when he was kept clean with a 77.4 passing grade and faltered massively when hit with pressure with a 36.5 passing grade (and even a blitz for that matter with a 44.6 passing grade). 

However, the real story behind Flacco’s Monday night play was the difference in attack in the first and second halves. In the first half, Flacco had a very poor 40.7 passing grade, but in the second half he rebounded with an 80.4 passing grade. Flacco played it very safe in the first half with an average depth of target of 7.4 and only 38.5% of his passes traveling past the sticks. In the second half, his average depth of target jumped over 2.5 yards to 9.9 and only 27.8% of his throws were short of the sticks. If the Broncos really want to rally behind Flacco and play to win, they better start thinking about letting the questionably elite Flacco air out deep balls to compensate for the lackluster safe offense.

The Denver Broncospass-rush was historically bad

Heading into the game, the matchup to watch was the edge duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb against the suboptimal Raiders offensive line. The expectation was that the Broncos defensive front would eat and force Derek Carr to make bad decisions under pressure, but the result was the exact opposite. Von Miller had one of the worst games we have ever seen from him with a 64.8 pass-rush grade, 9.1% pass-rush win rate and 9.1% pressure rate. As for Bradley Chubb, he too had one of the worst games of his young career with a 66.2 pass-rush grade, 10.0% pass-rush win rate and 5.0% pressure rate.

Collectively, this Broncos' pass-rush was responsible for just five pressures (only five Bronco games since 2006 had fewer). Along with that, their 18.5% pressure rate was among the bottom 15 worst pass-rushing games since 2006. Fangio has never been a blitz fan (blitzed 10% below average in week one at 23%), but if their defensive front can’t even get past an offensive line that finished 30th in pass-blocking grade a season ago, he may have no choice but to mix somethings up in his playbook.

Derek Carr back to 2016 form!?

Believe it or not, but Derek Carr was once a top-5 quarterback in 2016. Then he got hurt and dropped down to the average, tier three quarterback. Knowing that he is capable of that level of play, we have been jumping at any signs that he may return to that near elite form. Carr’s performance last night sparked the chatter once again.

Carr had a career night with a 92.6 overall grade, four big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. When he was clean, Carr had a 91.4 passing grade, 120.0 passer rating, 90% adjusted completion percentage and 9.0 yards per attempt. When under pressure, Carr had a 82.7 passing grade on his five pass attempts while averaging 14.0 yards per attempt and putting up a 118.8 passer rating. Whether he was in a clean pocket or under pressure, Carr excelled and hardly had a flat-out bad throw.

After the drama filled soap opera of Antonio Brown and the Raiders that should’ve been aired during daytime television, many thought Carr would have no success throwing to anyone downfield. Carr proved the haters wrong against Denver with his 93.8 passing grade targeting his receiver in the slot or out wide. On those targets as well, Carr completed 16 of his 19 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown, a 126.1 passer rating and 10.1 yards per attempt (aDOT was 10.2).

Denver had no answer for his quick throws either, as he had a 91.0 grade on those throws of 2.5 seconds or less, along with a 123.4 passer rating, 94.1% adjusted completion percentage and 9.2 yards per attempt.

Carr dropped dimes all night on his deeper throws. If Gruden sprinkles in a few more bombs downfield within his west coast offense, Derek Carr can be a top-12 QB this year.

Everyone’s reaction to Oakland’s receivers torching Denver’s secondary: “What the heck is going on, man?”

The Raiders' receiving unit was left for dead when Antonio Brown threatened to punch Mike Mayock in the face and was subsequently released. As a result, things weren’t looking pretty within their receiving corps. Led by wide receiver Tyrell Williams, the Raiders' receivers made some noise and proved themselves capable of impact plays.

Williams finished the nightcap with an 86.2 receiving grade and multiple big-time plays. Three of his six total catches end in an explosive play (15-plus yards), aiding in his generated passer rating of 158.3 and 3.89 yards per route run. Williams looks to be Carr’s go-to deep threat and seems to be an undervalued option in the eyes in the media in this aspect. Williams had an average depth of target 18.0 in this game and caught two of his three deep targets. 

Tight end Darren Waller looks to have a massive role in this Oakland offense after AB’s departure, with 14 routes ran when lined up at outside receiver (three in slot and seven inline). Waller was highly effective out wide with an 82.4 receiving grade and 3.57 yards per route run. As a whole, Waller finished the night with a 78.7 overall grade, 2.92 yards per route run and one deep catch. Prior to last night, Waller never had more than three targets in a game. He had eight last night.

Josh Jacobs was for sure an effective rusher, but the potential he has on the receiving end has to make Jon Gruden giddy. He may have only been targeted once on his ten routes ran, but that one catch resulted in an explosive play and three broken tackles.

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