Helmet Stickers: Top 10 NFL Performances of Week 1

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 10, 2012

RGIIIThe Cold, Hard Football Facts highlight the 10 best performances, statistical and otherwise, from an action-packed Week 1 of NFL football.

1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

The rookie quarterback put up unbelievable numbers last year during his Heisman Trophy-winning season at Baylor. Then he walked into the Superdome and treated the Saints like a Big 12 patsie in his NFL debut.

The Redskins won, 40-32.

Most impressively, RGIII outgunned the record-setting Drew Brees, in his own building, by every imaginable measure. Most notably: Griffin averaged an incredible 12.31 YPA, the best mark by a rookie QB in Week 1 since 1960, breaking the previous standard set by Cam Newton just last year (11.41).

2. Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers essentially quit on previous head coach Raheem Morris down the stretch last year, surrendering 40.6 PPG over their last five, and closing the season with 10 straight losses.

Schiano came in with a kick-ass attitude, and it was evident immediately in Tampa Bay’s 16-10 win over Carolina.

The Panthers entered the season with second-year phenom Cam Newton at quarterback, a powerful running game (5.43 YPA in 2011) and the expectations by everyone, including the Cold, Hard Football Facts, that they would run wild on the Bucs.

Instead, Tampa stifled that attack and won a defensive battle in Week 1.

The laughingstock Bucs defense of 2011 came out swinging in 2012: it recorded two INT and three sacks in 36 drop backs,  a Negative Pass Play rate of 13.9 percent. Tampa Bay last year ranked dead last on the Defensive Hog Index and forced a Negative Pass Play on just 7.34 percent of dropbacks.

3. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

Many doubted Manning before his return performance, including the Cold, Hard Football Facts. He was an aging quarterback coming off a catastrophic injury in the later years of his career and playing outdoors in a new uniform.

And his opponent, Pittsburgh, only fielded the toughest pass defense in football last year, surrendering a paltry 4.87 YPA.

But Manning, after a slow start, was brilliant. His Broncos were virtually unstoppable in the second half, he mind-f*cked the Pittsburgh defense almost at will, and ended the day with a 31-19 Week 1 win and the feeling that Denver is a true contender this year.

Oh, hey, one other thing: Manning now owns the career record for fourth-quarter comebacks. More on that milestone shortly from Captain Comeback Scott Kacsmar.

4. Run defense, New England Patriots

The Patriots haven’t fielded a legit Super Bowl-caliber defense since 2006, and even that one crumbled in the end at the hands of the aforementioned Peyton Manning. The result has been no Super Bowl soup for you New England! since 2004.

But the Patriots invested heavily in the draft in young defenders and that speedier, more athletic unit overwhelmed the Tennessee ground game in New England’s 34-13 victory.

The Titans ran the ball 16 times for 20 yards. That 1.2 YPA performance was the fourth worst rushing effort in the entire history of the Titans-Oilers organization, which dates back to 1960.

Here are those performances, with a little help from the search engine at profootballreference.com:

  • At Chicago (2008): 29 for 20, 1 TD, 0.69 YPA
  • At Buffalo (1966): 21 for 24, 0 TD, 1.14 YPA
  • At Dallas Texans (1960): 23 for 27, 0 TD, 1.17 YPA
  • Vs. New England (2012): 16 for 20, 0 TD, 1.20 YPA

Once-explosive Titans running back Chris Johnson was held to 4 yards on 11 attempt (0.36 YPA), while QB Jake Locker led the team with 11 of its 20 yards on two rush attempts.

Rookie first-round draft pick defenders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower also combined for a strip-sack and fumble recovery TD – the type of play the Patriots defense has not made in years.

5. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

No quarterback was more roundly scrutinized in the off-season than The Sanchize.

The Jets brought in superstar second-string QB Tim Tebow to add pressure to the already boiling-over job of New York City quarterback; Sanchez had been widely criticized for under-achieving performances in recent years; and, oh, Sanchez and the Jets offense embarrassed themselves in the preseason.

So what did he do in Week 1? He went 19 of 27 for 266 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT, while New York whitewashed Buffalo, 48-28. It was the highest scoring output by any team in Week 1.

After failing to reach the end zone in the preseason, Sanchez struck for two touchdown passes by the second quarter as the Jets became the first team Sunday to score 14 points.

Tebow, who?

6. The San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh’s crew was the best-coached team in football in 2011 and our pick to win the NFC crown in 2012.

So far, so good: the 49ers walked into Lambeau Field and largely dominated the mighty Packers in every phase of the game, winning 30-22.

Alex Smith passed the ball better than Aaron Rodgers, as measured by both passer rating (125.6-93.3) and YPA (8.12-6.89); Frank Gore (16 for 112 and 1 TD) ran the ball better than Cedric Benson (9 for 18 and 0); the 49ers won the turnover battle (1-0); they gained more yards (377 to 324); and played more efficiently, winning the Scoreability-Bendability battle (12.57 YPPS to 14.73 YPPS), the statistical hallmark of their near-perfect situational football in 2011.

And, oh, David Akers tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal at the end of the first half that ka-boomed off the cross bar and bounced over for 3 points.

7. The Philadelphia Eagles pass defense

The Eagles possessed the best pass rush in football last year, according to our almighty Defensive Hog Index.

So facing rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in Cleveland was almost unfair. And on a day when Michael Vick and the Philly offense just couldn’t get it going until the very end, the defense – and the pass defense in particular – lived up to the hype against the rook, in a 17-16 victory.

Kurt Coleman and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each picked off two passes, while 2011 sack leader Jason Babin and Fletcher Cox each recorded a sack. Coleman’s final pick with just over 1 minute remaining secured the win for the Eagles.

It won’t be as easy next week, as Philly hosts Joe Flacco and AFC power Baltimore.

8. The Arizona Cardinals defense

The replacement officials did almost everything in their power to give Seattle a victory in the final moments of Arizona’s 20-16 victory.

Rookie QB Russell Wilson led Seattle on an unbelievable last-minute drive that included 20 snaps of the football and that was twice extended by the officials with marginal pass interference calls.

The Seahawks ran seven plays inside the 20 and four more inside the 10, but still failed to punch the ball in the end zone in the final seconds.

9. Matt Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

The prolific young Lions passer overcame a bad game (three INT, including a pick-six) against a bad team (St. Louis) to post a Week 1-high 355 yards and lead two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

The winning points in Detroit’s tougher-than-expected 27-23 win came on a 5-yard pass from Stafford to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left to play, capping an 80-yard drive in under 2 minutes.

Stafford is now 7-6 in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, according to Captain Comeback Scott Kacsmar, joining the very short list of quarterbacks with a winning record in those situations.

10. Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins

No. 1 star RGIII did not do it all alone in Washington’s 40-32 win at New Orleans.

Off-season acquisition Garcon, who honed his skills playing with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, caught four passes for 109 yards – a Week 1 best 27.3 YPC.

The highlight was an 88-yard TD reception in the first quarter that set the tone for the game and – for the time being at least – has helped set the tone on an all new season in the NFL and all-new attitude in D.C.

Hail to the Redskins. Hail victory!  

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