NFL Panic Index 2018: Uh oh, the Saints defense is bad again


It’s easy to hit the panic button after one week of football. You wait months and months, suffering through whatever fresh hell greets us in the news cycle each day, to watch your team take the football field once again, and how does it reward your patience? By reliving its non-greatest hits, letting Aaron Rodgers rip your heart out again, or not beating to the Browns.

After Week 1, 15 teams will try to brush off the disappointment from an 0-1 start, including the seven that welcomed a new coach this year. Postseason dreams are still alive and well for all of them, though last year only three of the 12 eventual playoff teams lost in the first week.

Meanwhile, some quarterbacks around the league stunk it up — especially quarterbacks named Matt. Matts Stafford, Ryan, and Cassel combined to throw six picks and just one touchdown.

It’s understandable to be concerned if your team started in an 0-1 (or 0-0-1) hole or your quarterback had a rough 2018 debut. But just HOW much should you be worried? Let’s figure it out with this week’s edition of the panic index.

What the hell happened to the Saints’ defense?

After a slow start to the 2017 season, the Saints’ defense caught its stride and finished the year 10th in points allowed. They have the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year in Marshon Lattimore and one of the NFL’s most destructive defensive linemen in Cameron Jordan.

So what in the world led to the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Buccaneers beating the brakes off the Saints Sunday?

The 48 points Tampa Bay scored is the most the Saints have allowed since their bananas 52-49 shootout win against the Giants in the middle of 2015. Sometimes teams start slow, but this was a little extreme.

“We needed this, we needed to get to slapped in our face one good time to see that we’re not on the level we think we’re on,” Lattimore said after the game. “But we’re gonna get better.”

They better. The Saints spent three straight years stuck at 7-9 because their prolific offense couldn’t carry an awful defense to a winning record. Reverting to that 2014-16 form would be unfortunate.

Panic index: It’s not quite time for hysteria, but a little alarm is warranted. Facing the Browns at home in Week 2 could be the perfect solution or it could dial the panic up to full blast.

Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ $137.5 million quarterback, really did it. He lost a game. After starting off his career with a perfect 7-0 record — including five straight wins at the end of the 49ers’ season last year — Garoppolo finally suffered his first loss as an NFL starting quarterback, proving he’s human after all.

That isn’t to say that the 24-16 loss to the Vikings was all on him, but he certainly had a bad stat line by the end of it: 15 of 33 passes for 261 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

He was also sacked three times. One of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown, and the final one was a very errant pass and poor decision that effectively sealed a one-score game for the Vikings. He also missed his receivers with high throws multiple times.

Though Sunday’s performance left A LOT of room for improvement on Garoppolo’s part, it is worth noting he had two beautifully thrown touchdowns that weren’t caught by his receivers. His first interception came on a play in which Kendrick Bourne admitted he ran the wrong route. Tight end George Kittle had a touchdown hit him right in the hands, but he dropped it. He was also without wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (and of course, starting running back Jerick McKinnon, who is out for the season).

But that’s not to excuse Garoppolo’s performance in the worst start of his career.

Panic index: So did the 49ers screw up big time when they extended him with a mega-contract?

Nah.

He had a bad game against a great defense, so the time for panic isn’t yet at hand. It will be much more interesting to see how he does with an upcoming slate that includes winnable games against the Lions, Chiefs, Chargers, and Cardinals.

The Chargers will never change

This was supposed to be the year when it finally came together for the Chargers. Last season, they showed hints of what they could be when they won six of their last seven games to finish with a winning record. Unfortunately, they were doomed because of their 0-4 start. Stuck in a 9-7 logjam in the AFC, they just missed out on the playoffs.

The talent was there, though — and almost of all it returned, along with key additions like veteran center Mike Pouncey and first-round safety Derwin James.

Then the injuries started happening, as they always do. Tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL in May. Corner Jason Verrett tore his Achilles in July. Wide receiver Artavis Scott injured his ankle in August. All of them are out for the season, which is terrible for them and for a team that is seemingly cursed when it comes to injury.

But none of them are Joey Bosa type of players, either, and he’s currently walking around in a boot. The Chargers’ dynamic young pass rusher missed all preseason and Week 1 with a foot injury that could cause him to miss a few more weeks.

And then there was the season-opening loss to the Chiefs, who underwent some big changes this offseason, including sending Alex Smith to Washington and turning the reins over to Patrick Mahomes.

The result was still the same:

And the attendance in LA was the same:

And the team that could’ve made the playoffs last year if it had competent kicking missed a field goal. And there was a muffed punt that led to a Chiefs’ touchdown. And drops, so many drops.

And the “oh no, what are you dooooooing” calls.

Same, same, same, same.

As Bolts from the Blue put it:

Whether it be a botched field goal, muffed kick, or dropped a touchdown, the Los Angeles Chargers always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. This is an overarching, organizational issue the team has and must fix if they wish to every genuinely find success.

Panic index: This is a very frustrating, familiar start to the season. It’d be so easy to dismiss the Chargers already, but they proved last year that when they put it all together — and don’t make so many self-inflicted mistakes — they’re tough to beat.

They just can’t start 0-4 this year. Or even 0-2, because if the Chargers lose to the much more disastrous Bills in Week 2, then it would be time to panic.

Is Ben Roethlisberger showing his age?

Roethlisberger may not be the league’s oldest or most experienced quarterback, but few players have racked up the mileage and abuse he’s absorbed in his career. The Steeler mainstay has been sacked 532 times in his career to date — more than either Tom Brady or Drew Brees. He’s spent the past 15 years taking hits in the pocket, extending plays like a crew-cut Weeble, and making a Pittsburgh offense that revolves around him one of the league’s most dangerous.

But the epoch of brutal hits and nagging injuries may finally have caught up to the 36-year-old. Roethlisberger struggled against an emerging Browns defense, most notably getting hassled by the one player who wanted to sack him most — second-year defensive end Myles Garrett. Garrett sacked Big Ben twice and earned a dubious penalty for flattening him a third time while keeping him unstable in the pocket.

That pressure paid off. Roethlisberger committed five turnovers in 70 minutes of field time. With Cleveland rallying late in the game, the veteran passer looked straight-up old. He completed just 9 of 18 passes in the fourth quarter and overtime for 94 yards — an inefficient 5.2 yards per pass. More importantly, he fumbled twice, squashing potential game-winning drives in the process.

If the Steelers are going to follow up on their Super Bowl potential in 2018, they need Roethlisberger to look like the “Ben of old” and not just “old Ben.”

Panic index: Roethlisberger has sounded this alarm before — remember last year’s five-interception game in a 30-9 loss to the Jaguars? He rebounded to push the Steelers to a 13-win record in 2017.

One bad game, even against the Browns, isn’t enough to lock in a verdict either way. He’s had 21 starts that were statistically worse than 2018’s season opener — he’s earned some time before we rush to judgment.

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