NFL football is back, and we have one week under our belt! As the great philosopher Sean “Jay-Z” Carter famously said on “The Blueprint 3,” “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”
When it comes to prognosticating and evaluating the NFL, a few key numbers tell a greater story. Last week, the key numbers were four plays for Aaron Rodgers and two Achilles injuries with J.K. Dobbins also being lost for the season with an Achilles tear, the same way Rodgers was.
What will the key stats be this week? Whether it’s your wagers, survivor pool, fantasy choices or bragging rights at your NFL watch party and group chats, I’ll provide those numbers on a weekly basis in this space. Here are 10 stats that will tell the story of the upcoming week in the NFL.
1. Chris Jones is back
Chris Jones ended his holdout on Monday and was a full participant in practice Thursday, meaning he’s good to play on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs gave up only 14 points with Jones in a loss to the Detroit Lions, although he was missed on critical downs when they were trying to close out the game. Which begs the question, what was the point of the holdout if you’re Chris Jones and his representatives? His base salary is the same, at $19.5 million. He can now add $5.6 million in incentives, but he has to play 50 per cent of defensive snaps, have 15 sacks, be defensive player of the year and the Chiefs have to win this Super Bowl in order to get them. Those incentives and others get him to $25.2 million, but no matter what happens, he has to pay back $3 million in fines. Was it worth it to jeopardize the Chiefs’ ability to get back to a Super Bowl for a couple million in incentives?
2. Mahomes gets his man back versus man
Jones isn’t the only all-pro Chiefs player back in the lineup. Travis Kelce has been the Chiefs’ leading receiver in three of the last four seasons and will likely be again after missing just one week with a hyperextended knee. His absence was certainly felt in the second half of their Week 1 game versus the Lions. The Chiefs had arguably their worst offensive performance since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starter in 2018. In the second half, they were 0-7 on third down and had four drops, three of which were by Kadarius Toney. Both marks were the worst numbers in those respective categories they’ve put up in 97 games, including playoffs, since 2018. Add to that in the second half, Mahomes managed just a 41 per cent completion percentage, which is second-worst since 2018. The offence was out of sync all night as the receivers dropped 10 per cent of passes and Mahomes was off-target on 19 per cent of passes. The reigning MVP is a different player with Mahomes on the field. In the 2,956 dropbacks when Kelce is on the field, Mahomes averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, 79 total QBR and eight air yards per attempt. Which is why Week 1 wasn’t an aberration. Coming into this season, Mahomes, in his 343 dropbacks without Kelce, had just 7.2 yards per attempt, 65 total QBR and 6.1 air yards per attempt. The real differentiator is versus man coverage. Kelce has been targeted on 30 per cent of routes versus man by Mahomes and has 20 more catches from Mahomes versus man than any other Chiefs receiver. Expect a return to MVP numbers now that the Hall of Fame tight end has returned.
3. Jets D zoning in on an upset in Big D
Much has been made of the fact that Dak Prescott has thrown 15 interceptions since the start of 2022. Well, it’s important to note 11 of those interceptions were against zone coverage, which is the most in the NFL. Bad news for Prescott is his opponent this week, the New York Jets defence, has been at its best when in zone coverage. When using zone coverage since the start of 2022, the Jets have given up a QBR of 28 (1st), 5.3 yards per dropback (2nd) and 64 per cent completion rate (4th). The good news is Prescott got the ball out of his hands in an average of 2.3 seconds in Week 1, the fastest in the NFL and the fastest he has been since 2018. He’ll have to be that fast or even faster before the Jets defenders get to their zone landmarks.
4. Burrow blitzed
Joe Burrow’s issue wasn’t the zone in Week 1, it was the blitz. Burrow is coming off his worst game against the blitz, getting blitzed 39 per cent of the time, the fourth-highest in his career. His 25 per cent completions and 1.9 yards per attempt against the blitz were the worst marks in his career. The numbers get even uglier if you examine a bit deeper, as Burrow was just 3-of-12 for 23 yards versus the blitz. Against man coverage, he had a passer rating of 39.6. Nothing was working. Whether it is the lingering impact of the calf injury suffered in training camp or the rust because he didn’t practice throughout most of the pre-season, Burrow will continue to get blitz pressure until he proves he can beat it.
5. Josh Allen is being Josh Allen
Many have said Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen needs to change after his Week 1 performance, but this is who he is. Allen led the league in turnovers last year and got out to a fast start in pole position, as his four turnovers in Week 1 were the most in the league. This should be no surprise. Since entering the NFL in 2018, Allen has 84 turnovers, the most in the NFL, 54 fumbles (also the most) and 63 interceptions, which is good enough for second. It’s not just that he turns it over, it’s that he takes points off the board. Last year, Allen led the league with six red-zone interceptions. The next highest was three. The scary thing is, the issue might be getting worse. Allen has 20 interceptions since opening night in 2022. In Week 1, he was pressured on only 26 per cent of dropbacks, so it’s not the rush pressure creating the turnovers, it’s Allen putting pressure on himself to always make the big play, even when it’s not there.
6. Desmond needs a deep ball
What is clear is Arthur Smith doesn’t not trust his quarterback. And it’s not that the Atlanta Falcons QB can’t make plays, it’s just that we have no idea if he can because they don’t ask him to: Desmond Ridder had just 18 attempts in Week 1. Only Aaron Rodgers had less, and he was in for just four plays. The output in limited usage certainly wasn’t good passing for just 115 yards (28th) with a total QBR of 39 (21st). But Ridder has to take shots if he passes so infrequently. Ridder had just one pass over 12 air yards and registered just 3.3 air yards per attempt, the worst in Week 1. You can’t compete in the NFL playing the game in a phone booth.
7. One-quarter Mac
Unlike Ridder, New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones did have success when he pushed the ball down the field, as he was just 8-19 but for 113 yards and three TDs on passes of at least eight air yards.
Jones had decent numbers in Week 1, but he what he really had was a good quarter that masqueraded a bad game. In the second quarter, Jones had a 97 QBR, two TDs and 14 points. A big reason for that is he was pressured only 11 per cent of the time. The rest of the game, he was pressured 33 per cent of the time, which led to just a 17 QBR, one TD, one interception and six points. With Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, up next on the schedule, expected a bunch of zone pressures in every quarter against Jones in Week 2.
8. Love the start in Green Bay
It’s too early to tell if the Green Bay Packers found their heir apparent to Aaron Rodgers, but they’re off to a good start. An even better start to the Rodgers era, as a matter of fact. In Rodgers’ first start in 2008, he passed for 178 yards and two TDs in a win. In Week 1, Jordan Love passed for 245 yards and three TDs in a win. Love is just the third Week 1 starting QB Green Bay has had since 1993. He’ll keep the lofty comparison going if he stays clutch. The Packers converted a whopping 100 per cent of the time on fourth down and in the red zone in Week 1. If you didn’t consider him as a fantasy football option to start the year, it’s not too late.
9. Two on Micah is not enough
Simply put, linebacker Micah Parson is a game-wrecker. In Week 1, Parsons was double-teamed on five of the Dallas Cowboys’ seven sacks. Overall, Parsons was double-teamed on 14 plays and Dallas was pressured 10 times. He’s impossible to deal with. You can’t leave home one-on-one but if you double him, someone else on that defence benefits from it. Against the New York Giants, Dallas got pressure on 62.2 per cent of snaps, fourth-most in the last five years.
Parson’s competition for most dominant player who isn’t a quarterback is Justin Jefferson, who eclipsed 5,000 career receiving yards on Thursday. He reached the mark in just 52 games, tying Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for the fewest games needed. The only players in NFL history with 5,000-plus career receiving yards before turning 25 are Jefferson and another great Minnesota Viking, Randy Moss, which is painful for NFC North-rival Chicago Bears fans to hear. At 24, Jefferson now has more career receiving yards than anyone in the Bears’ 100-plus-year history. He’s also the first NFL player since Steve Smith Jr., in 2011, to have 150-plus receiving yards in each of his first two games. If he keeps this up, he has a shot to challenge Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 receiving yards in a season.