By: Shasky Clarke
On Sunday, not a whole lot was expected of the two rookie starting quarterbacks E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith. But both played admirably, showing their arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. Both will have the spotlight over the course of the season as they prove that they are capable of being part of the future of the AFC East.
QB E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills – 18/27 150 yards, 2 TD, 23 rush yards
Manuel’s accuracy was on display in his first game versus New England. He flashed the ability to manipulate safeties with his eyes on his first touchdown pass. Manuel held a Patriot safety in the middle of the field, allowing receiver Robert Woods to have space along the right sideline in the end zone. His reads and progressions aren’t polished yet. He was late at times finding open guys and he got in some trouble, nearly throwing two interceptions by forcing balls. Manuel has all the physical tools and accuracy. The question will be if he can make good decisions and protect the ball consistently.
QB Geno Smith, New York Jets – 24/38 256 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 47 rush yards, 5 sacks
A lot was made of Geno Smith’s surprising poise in the Jets’ week one win against Tampa Bay. But Geno Smith has always been a cool, confident, almost aloof character. What he showed critics on Sunday was his arm talent, patience and underrated speed and quickness. Smith will need to watch his footwork on passes from an unclean pocket. But he did a good job not forcing passes, even while his subpar weapons and running game put him in bad situations.
Match-up of the week
Wide Receiver Tavon Austin vs. Nickel Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu
Rams diminutive receiver Tavon Austin and Cardinals nickel cornerback Tyrann Mathieu battled it out in the slot for much of the afternoon in the Rams home victory. In what should be a riveting long term match-up for years to come, Austin was a heavily targeted weapon, catching six balls and showcasing his excellent hands and short area route running.
And while he isn’t a pure vertical threat given his size and style, he drew a pass interference call on a deep route in man-to-man coverage against Mathieu in the first half.
Nonetheless, Mathieu showed tight coverage all day, not yielding enough separation for Austin to average more than six yards per catch. Mathieu was as advertised, making his presence known all over the field. He is a scrappy, quick playmaker and has already notched a signature play with his come-from-behind strip of Rams tight end Jared Cook on what was a sure big play Arizona touchdown.
Major Contributors at Wide Receiver Early
Kenbrell Thompkins, New England Patriots – 4 rec., 42 yards – Polished and quick, he had a team-leading 14 targets in his first career game and should be a significant part of a new Patriots passing game.
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints – 2 rec., 86 yards as a polished and fast vertical threat.
Marlon Brown, Baltimore Ravens – 4-65-16.3-1 – The big and talented Brown will get the starting nod opposite Torrey Smith with Jacoby Jones out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL.
Safety T.J. McDonald, St. Louis Rams – His five tackles and one pass defensed notwithstanding, McDonald was an absolute enforcer in his game against the Cardinals. McDonald laid several of the NFL’s biggest week one hits on ball carriers. We thought we’d see this type of presence in former Southern Cal safety Taylor Mays. But McDonald has immediately made an impact as a rookie starter in the Rams’ secondary. Now, all he has to prove is an ability to not be a liability in space.
Early Impact Defenders
Safety Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
“Safety” Kenny Vaccaro was a virtual starter for the Saints defense. Utilizing his versatile skill set, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lined him up at 3-4 outside linebacker, inside linebacker, nickel cornerback and safety. Outside of a big Steven Jackson run where he was sealed as a contain defender, he was effective, making the game-winning pass deflection at the end of the game.
Cornerback Robert Alford, Atlanta Falcons
Alford was called on to start once Asante Samuel was declared inactive. But he ended up the Falcons’ best cornerback, covering receivers tightly and producing an interception. Alford is a threat as both a return man and playmaker in coverage with his speed and ball skills.
Defensive Tackle’s Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers and Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
Both talented interior players displayed their relentless and disruptive playmaking ability, making plays behind the line.
WR Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
Through his two catches, Williams dropped multiple balls in open space and was a primary cause of a Tony Romo early interception. What’s frustrating his his potential to be a dangerous and capable third receiver in the Cowboy passing game.