Week 1 has already come and gone, and there's one trend that's resurfaced from a year ago.
In Week 1 of 2022, six teams scored 10 offensive points or less. Fast-forward one year, and it happened again. Here are the teams that fell below the 10-point benchmark last week:
- New York Giants (0 points)
- Cincinnati Bengals (3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
- Arizona Cardinals (9)
- Houston Texans (9)
- Carolina Panthers (10)
Interestingly, half of the teams that failed to score more than 10 points in Week 1 last season -- the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers -- ended up averaging more than 20 points per game over the entire season. Furthermore, the Cowboys, who scored the fewest points of any team (3) on opening weekend last season, finished 2022 ranked fourth overall in average points scored.
Today, I'm examining each of the slow-starting offenses above, revealing which we should expect to course-correct as the season progresses, and which are likely in for a long campaign.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Giants in Week 1 did -- from the blocked field goal that turned into a Cowboys TD to the monsoon that overtook New Jersey on Sunday night. The offense committed three turnovers and compiled 171 total yards, including a measly 2.6 yards per play. This is a game where you just burn the film. The Giants will go back to work this week, find ways to get Saquon Barkley going and create mismatches in the pass game. The biggest concern for me is the health of Darren Waller's hamstring. He's the type of playmaker who will elevate the entire unit. The Giants are too talented and too well-coached to not course-correct. In fact, we should see it in Week 2 against the Cardinals.
It sure seems like I have this discussion about the Bengals each year, doesn't it? When you look at the numbers, Joe Burrow has played his worst football in Weeks 1-2 during his career. (I mean, you’d rather have the poor play in September than in January.) Last week against Cleveland, Burrow looked out of sorts, completing fewer than 50 percent of his pass attempts for 82 yards. This kind of slow start has become routine for Cincinnati in the Zac Taylor-Joe Burrow era, a trend that, at least recently, can be attributed in part to the quarterback missing two straight preseasons, this time with a calf strain. Taylor’s offense relies on dropback pass scenarios with three-wide receiver sets to stretch the field, and timing is everything. Burrow hasn’t put in the time, nor has he gotten the reps with his top three wideouts (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd). By mixing in more QB-friendly tactics and leaning on Joe Mixon and the run game, this offense should soon be the high-flying unit we’re used to seeing.
The Steelers had the unfortunate task of playing the best team in the NFL right out of the gate, with the 49ers limiting everything the Steelers tried to do offensively throughout the contest. Pittsburgh didn’t earn a first down until there was 1:16 remaining in the second quarter, and the 49ers’ defense shook second-year Kenny Pickett from the start. Falling behind early took Pittsburgh out of rhythm and forced it to become one-dimensional. Leaning on the run game and getting Najee Harris going early in Week 2 could help the Steelers rediscover the explosive, downfield passing attack they showed in the preseason. I’m a Pickett believer, and he has a lot of talent around him in the pass game in George Pickens, Diontae Johnson (though he will miss some time with a hamstring injury), Allen Robinson and Pat Freiermuth. (I even picked up Pickens off the waiver wire this week in my fantasy league.) Week 1 was a hiccup, and though the defense of this week’s opponent (Cleveland) will present another big challenge, look for Pittsburgh to have more of an offensive identity.
The Cardinals just aren’t a good football team, and they are likely to struggle all season. I’m afraid it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. Schematically, it’s a vanilla offensive system that is relatively easy for defenses to diagnose and game plan for. I know what you’re thinking: “But what if Kyler Murray returns?” Again, I don't have much confidence that even he can help. To be honest, if Murray couldn’t play well in a system tailored to him -- one that he’s run since junior high -- under Kliff Kingsbury, I don’t see Murray raising the level of this year's Cardinals all that much.
It’s going to take time for the Texans’ young offensive coordinator and young quarterback to jell and find the answers to the test. In Houston’s Week 1 loss, the Ravens applied pressure and sacked C.J. Stroud five times. The offensive game plan looked bland, and coordinator Bobby Slowik looked in over his head. Having a rookie quarterback attempt 44 passes won't get the job done in the NFL; it certainly didn't work Sunday. I think this unit can marginally improve in 2023 with a strong run game, which they could have with Dameon Pierce in the backfield, but it’s going to be tough for this offense to make a drastic jump with all of the new pieces.
The Panthers are going to be figuring out who they are offensively for some time, but I do think they’ll get progressively better as the season goes on. Bryce Young’s debut was far from perfect, as he threw a pair of picks and was pressured often down the stretch. Young is great in the pocket and can get through his progressions, but he will struggle against teams with a good pass rush that collapse the pocket and force him to throw with anticipation on the run. The Panthers’ rushing attack showed some major promise Sunday, finishing with the fifth-most yards league-wide in Week 1, a good sign for Young in his development. Another thing playing in Young’s favor is the experienced coaching staff, which will find ways to help him succeed. We won’t likely see huge improvements in Week 2 -- especially against an aggressive Saints defense that stalled a good Tennessee rushing attack and made veteran Ryan Tannehill look pretty bad in the opener -- but Carolina could get better over time.
BONUS: What's next for New York Jets?
Aaron Rodgers' first season with the New York Jets lasted an unfortunate four snaps. With the four-time MVP exiting the season-opener with a torn Achilles, backup Zach Wilson was forced back into the New York spotlight in prime time. If I'm being honest, he was just OK in the overtime win, getting some major assistance from his offensive playmakers and an opportunistic defense. Wilson made some good plays, none bigger than the third-down throw (while falling down in the pocket) to Allen Lazard that extended a would-be touchdown drive for the Jets. He also made some bad plays, including a pick thrown right to Bills safety Matt Milano.
The question now is, what do the Jets, who still have legitimate championship aspirations, do moving forward? To me, it's simple. The Jets should stick with Wilson as the starter and veteran Tim Boyle as the new QB2. Signing a veteran free agent like Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan could be disastrous, potentially disrupting the chemistry in the QB room. Wilson is an incredibly talented player who's now had the luxury of being mentored by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and I'm hopeful that he used his time as the backup to mature. The Jets showed they have faith in him by keeping him around after a roller coaster 2022 season.
What Wilson must do now is just be 30 percent smarter with the football, making good decisions and getting the ball into the hands of the elite talent around him -- notably running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who made a special TD grab against the Bills. There's no more being overly aggressive and making poor decisions. Zach Wilson has the tools to play great football and is good enough to get this team through if he doesn't try to be the hero.
Top 15 offensive player rankings
Entering the 2023 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr takes a look at all offensive players and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
- Player accomplishments from the 2022 season.
- Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. Heading into Week 2, here is Carr's list:
Even having to play without Travis Kelce the season-opening loss to the Lions, Mahomes looked every bit the quarterback who won the regular season and Super Bowl MVP last season, making big-time throws with his arm, evading pressure from a relentless Lions front and scrambling for timely first downs. What didn’t help were the five drops from his receivers, including three from Kadarius Toney. I mean, THIS unfortunately counts against Mahomes as a pick-six. There’s a lot of football left to be played this season, and like Mahomes, I trust the Chiefs’ offense will bounce back.
Jefferson continues to be the star of the Vikings’ show -- something we all expected. Posting nine catches for 150 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Bucs, Jefferson became the first player with 150-plus receiving yards in consecutive Week 1 games since Pittsburgh’s Louis Lipps in 1984-85. The 2022 Offensive Player of the Year had 184 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions in Week 1 last season. And since we’re looking in the rearview, Jefferson followed that monster Week 1 outing with a six-catch, 48-yard performance in Week 2 last year, a prime-time road loss against the Eagles. Let’s hope that trend doesn’t continue in 2023 when the Vikings play in Philly on Thursday Night Football.
Hill and Co. sliced through the Chargers’ defense to the tune of 466 yards in the pass game. The Cheetah (or lion) led the way, of course, with a league-high 215 receiving yards in Week 1. Even at 29 years old, Hill seems to be gaining more separation between defenders with each passing season, reaching a top speed of 21.66 mph on his 47-yard reception in the fourth quarter and 21.52 mph on his 35-yard TD reception in the third quarter -- those were the two fastest speeds by a ball-carrier in Week 1.
The 49ers’ offense picked up right where they left off with a healthy Brock Purdy last season, moving the ball at will in a blowout win over the Steelers. McCaffrey logged 22 carries for 152 rush yards and a 65-yard third-quarter touchdown. His performance was right in line with what he’s done out of the gate in the past, as he has recorded 133.9 scrimmage yards per game over seven career season-openers -- second in such games in NFL history to Hall of Famer Jim Brown (min. five season-openers), per NFL Research.
After a solid first quarter that saw Philly compile a 16-0 lead, Hurts and Co. struggled to find any rhythm on a wet afternoon in Foxborough, as the Eagles were outscored 20-9 over the final three quarters. Hurts completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts for 170 yards, including a 5-yard TD toss to DeVonta Smith, and rushed for 37 yards on nine carries in the win, while coughing up a costly fumble to give the Patriots a chance to go ahead late in the fourth quarter. I expect to see a more explosive offensive performance against Minnesota at home on Thursday Night Football.
Tua looked great in Miami’s 36-34 win as he regularly dissected Brandon Staley’s defense for 446 pass yards. It’s always a plus when you start the season with a road victory, and it adds more confidence when it came via a fourth-quarter comeback (the fifth of his career). Tua is healthy and vibing with his playmakers in all the right ways; let’s hope it stays that way.
The Chargers enter Week 2 as the top rushing offense in the league. (Yes, you read that right.) Led by Ekeler and Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles rushed for 233 yards on 40 carries (5.8 yards per attempt) in the loss to Miami. Ekeler looked as dynamic as ever as a runner and pass catcher, compiling 164 scrimmage yards, including a 1-yard TD run. Let's hope the ankle injury he's dealing with doesn't cause him to miss any time.
(EDITOR'S UPDATE: Ekeler is listed as doubtful to play in Sunday's game due to an ankle injury, the Chargers announced Friday.)
The Broncos knew they had to limit Jacobs if they wanted a chance to beat the Raiders. They held him to 48 yards on 19 carries for 2.5 yards a pop Sunday, the fewest yards per carry in a game in Jacobs’ career (min. 11 carries), but Denver still wasn’t able to get it done. The 2022 rushing leader’s slow start could be attributed to him re-joining the team just two weeks before the opener.
The chemistry built in the offseason between my brother, Derek Carr, and Olave was apparent in the Saints’ season-opening victory over the Titans. The team leader in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,042) from 2022 again led the group in Week 1, with 10 targets, eight catches and 112 yards. This duo is just getting started.
Kittle’s numbers (three catches for 19 yards) were definitely not off the charts in Week 1, but I can’t overstate his impact in the run and pass games as a blocker. I feel like a broken record at this point. That said, he’ll need to produce going forward to keep his place in my rankings.
It’s not great that Burrow’s career worsts in completion percentage (45.2), pass yards (82) and passer rating (52.2) came in his first start since becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL. The Browns have Burrow's number, as he’s 1-5 vs. Cleveland in his career. Zac Taylor must figure out a way to help his quarterback rebound quickly, or the Bengals could find themselves on the losing end of another division contest this weekend against Baltimore.
“Trying to force the ball. Same (expletive), same place, different day.” That was Allen’s assessment of his performance in Monday night’s loss to the Jets. He turned the ball over four times, including three in the second half. This poor outing isn’t going to drop Allen completely out of my top-15 rankings, but he must be better moving forward. The competition in the division and conference will demand it.
There were questions about how much Cleveland would lean on Chubb this season with Deshaun Watson feeling more comfortable. We got our answer on a rainy Sunday as Chubb remained the focal point of Kevin Stefanski’s unit, racking up 106 yards on the ground and 21 yards through the air in the Browns’ big win over Cincinnati.
Brown backed up his 1,400-yard inaugural season in Philly with a solid Week 1 performance, hauling in seven receptions for 79 yards on 10 targets in the win over New England. Brown should reprise his role as Jalen Hurts’ favorite target this season, given his success on tight-window targets since arriving in Philadelphia. The fifth-year pro has a league-high 441 receiving yards on such targets since he was traded to Philly in 2022, per Next Gen Stats.
Stafford may have had a tough time connecting to his younger teammates this offseason, but that certainly wasn’t the case Sunday in Los Angeles’ road win over Seattle. The veteran quarterback connected with Tutu Atwell and fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua for 119 yards apiece, and he finished with 334 passing yards on 24 completions. This is a great start to a bounce-back campaign for Stafford and the Rams.