NFL Week 1 Provides Unique Challenge for All Players, Coaches

Philadelphia Eagle home opener

There is nothing quite like the first game of the season. It really and truly is a unique entity for a bunch of different reasons, but the following are the three biggest.

Three Unique First-Game Aspects

The Anticipation

It has been seven months since any of these teams have taken the field. As players and coaches, you are trained never to look ahead. You’d be surprised how many NFL players right now could not tell you who their teams play in Week 3.

The first game, though, is different. Ever since the schedule came out, this has been the game the coaching staff has talked about and pointed to. After all, it’s the first one. In all those meetings, the coach would have talked about where the team needed to be for “Miami” or “Atlanta” or wherever.

Game 1 has been the primary focal point all offseason, all training camp and especially in the last couple of weeks since the final preseason game ended.

Just the build-up in and of itself makes the first game feel even bigger than it really is.

Jalen Hurts, Nick Sirianni

The Unknown

Adding to the intrigue of the opener is that you don’t have any recent video to go off, and that creates a high level of discomfort and concern for all involved. As a player, you are a creature of habit. At a minimum, you like to watch the last game the team played to see what kind of schemes it runs, what its personnel looks like, what its tendencies are, etc. For the first game, you are flying blind.

That’s even more the case now in the modern NFL, where a lot of teams don’t play their starters at all in the preseason, and even when they do, the schemes are so vanilla they reveal almost nothing.

A couple of years ago, in Nick Sirianni’s first year as the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team didn’t show any of the looks on either side of the ball that it was going to use during the season because the Eagles felt like that was a competitive advantage for them.

Heck, they did the same thing this preseason, given they had two new coordinators as a result of Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon getting head coaching jobs elsewhere. If you think about it, pretty much all new personnel for each team and how they will be deployed are a bit of an unknown, whether that is free agents or rookies.

Not only that, even the teams with returning coaches will have new wrinkles they came up with this offseason and have been saving for Week 1.

Unique Preparation

The uncertainty heading into Week 1 causes coaches, in particular, to sometimes go to crazy lengths to prepare. Let’s just take the Eagles vs. New England Patriots game as an example because we referenced how vanilla the Eagles, like most teams, were in the preseason.

With two new coordinators in Philadelphia, the Patriots likely went deep into the video archives to look at new Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson’s track record as a play caller going all the way back to his days calling the offense in Utah a decade ago.

New England also likely reviewed all its notes on the tendencies and preferences of new defensive coordinator Sean Desai when he was calling the defense in Chicago. For this exact reason, all teams keep a book on different coordinators and what they like to call in certain situations.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what Johnson and Desai will do now with different players and a different head coach with his own input on what his team looks like on both sides of the ball. The better job the Patriots do of guessing what that marriage will look like, the more prepared their team will be and the better chance they will have to win.

While there’s some unknown every week in the NFL as it relates to what your opponent’s game plan will be, there is nothing quite like Week 1, which is why surprising outcomes can — and often do — happen.

 Ross Tucker is a former NFL offensive lineman who played seven seasons for the Cowboys, Bills, Patriots and Washington after graduating from Princeton University in 2001. He works as a color commentator for both CBS Sports and Westwood One in addition to hosting a number of podcasts, including the popular Ross Tucker Football Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @RossTuckerNFL.

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