The NFL is a game of not only inches, but also numbers. Though you’ve likely already looked at the box score stats, the numbers – more specifically, the advanced numbers – often provide more insight into every performance. We’re taking a run through the NFL Week 1 highlights from a data perspective position by position, starting at quarterback and a historic performance in Los Angeles.
Tua Time came early in 2023.
While many of the league’s quarterbacks played more like it was preseason Week 4 instead of the NFL season opener, Tua Tagovailoa proved ready from the opening kickoff. He finished just 3 yards shy of his career high with 466 passing yards to go along with three touchdowns – including a 4-yard strike to Tyreek Hill in the end zone with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter – in the Miami Dolphins’ thrilling 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Tagovailoa’s 466 yards are also the fourth most in a season opener in NFL history, behind only Norm Van Brocklin (554 in 1951), Tom Brady (517 yards in 2011) and Dan Marino (473 yards in 1994). He also tied for the second-most big plays (25 yards or more) in Week 1 since 1960 with six. Five of those went to Tyreek Hill, who tied another Dolphin, Irving Fryar (Sept. 4, 1994, vs. New England Patriots), for the most in an opener.
But there is one area where Tua stands alone. Per @OptaSTATS, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 450 yards in a season opener without taking a single sack.
Still, perhaps what was most impressive about the southpaw’s performance is what some of the underlying advanced data reveals. He owns the third-best well-thrown percentage (WT%) in Week 1 so far at 93.0%. Usually accuracy is built through quick, short passes. The farther a quarterback throws the ball downfield, the more difficult it is to put it on the money.
For example, the only two quarterbacks to put up better well-thrown percentages than Tua in Week 1 were Jimmy Garoppolo of the Las Vegas Raiders (96.2%) and Desmond Ridder of the Atlanta Falcons (94.4%). Jimmy G, however, only averaged 7.54 air yards per attempt, while Ridder had just 3.33 per attempt.
Tua only threw one pickable pass in his 43 attempts (we don’t include throwaways or spikes) – an interception by cornerback J.C. Jackson – despite having the second-highest average air yards in the league at 11.79. Only Derek Carr of the New Orleans Saints had a higher mark at 12.70, and he managed a much lower WT% (81.8) in a 16-15 win over the Tennessee Titans.
This concept also speaks volumes about some of the poor performances had by Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears (88.9 WT%/3.25 air yards per attempt), Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens (76.2/4.76), Anthony Richardson in his Indianapolis Colts debut (73.0/5.35), Arizona Cardinals fill-in Joshua Dobbs (63.3/5.87), Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks (83.3/6.04) and Daniel Jones of the New York Giants (77.8/6.52).
Ryan Tannehill struggled with a 66.7 WT% (8.61 air yards per attempt), but he also threw a league-high five pickable passes over his 33 attempts for a brutal Week 1-worst 15.15 pickable pass percentage (PKP%). Dobbs had three pickable passes in his 30 attempts (10.00 PKP%) in Arizona’s loss to the Washington Commanders and Kenny Pickett had three in 45 passes (6.67%) in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 30-7 loss to Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers.
Talk about needing to shake off the rust… The average WT% during the 2022 regular season was 80.7, while the league averaged 6.19 air yards per attempt.
But in an opening week when 14 of the league’s 30 teams failed to reach 300 yards from scrimmage (the Houston Texas ranked last in the NFL in 2022 with 301.1 scrimmage yards per game), the Dolphins marched up and down the field for 536.
Only five teams have put up more in an opener since 2000.
MOST SCRIMMAGE YARDS IN WEEK 1 (SINCE 2000)
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Miami Dolphins, Sept. 8, 2019 (644)
- New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins, Sept. 12, 2011 (623)
- Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints, Sept. 7, 2014 (571)
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Sept. 7, 2017 (553)
- Los Angeles Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Sept. 9, 2018 (547)
- Miami Dolphins vs. Los Angeles Chargers, Sept. 10, 2023 (536)
The Wide Receivers
The previously mentioned Hill was the primary beneficiary of Tua’s heater, moving into a tie for the league lead with Puka Nacua of the Los Angeles Rams with 15 targets and 12 burns.
A burn occurs when the targeted receiver does his part to achieve a successful play (that is, a significant gain towards a first down or touchdown), regardless of the quality of the throw by the quarterback.
The Cheetah leads all receivers with three TD burns (he caught two touchdown passes) and 8.0 burn yards per route. Nacua ranks second with 5.7 burn yards per route, followed by Chris Olave of the Saints (4.7), Brandon Aiyuk of the Niners (4.4) and Nico Collins of the Texans (4.2) among those who ran at least 25 routes in Week 1.
MOST BURNS IN WEEK 1 (2023)
- T-1. Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins vs. Los Angeles Chargers (12)
- T-1. Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks (12)
- T-3. Calvin Ridley, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (8)
- T-3. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (8)
- T-5. Nico Collins, Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens (7)
- T-5. Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks (7)
- T-5. Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans (7)
The Rams, who are the only team with two players on this list, look like they might be back as a Super Bowl contender in the NFC after trouncing the Seahawks 30-13 on Sunday.
OK, it’s a Week 1 overreaction, but only the Dolphins had a higher team burn percentage (76.7) and pass-play success rate (52.1) than the Rams’ 73.0 and 51.3 marks.
Of course, it’s impossible to throw the ball downfield unless you have the time. The Rams had the fourth-best pressure-allowed rate (20.5), while the Dolphins rank seventh (29.2).
The Cowboys led the NFL in Week 1, allowing a sparkling 16.0 pressure rate in their 40-0 road win over the Giants in an early NFC East matchup. The Packers front nearly did just as good of a job protecting Jordan Love in a big win over the rival Bears.
BEST PRESSURE-ALLOWED RATE IN WEEK 1 (2023)
- Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants (16.0%)
- Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears (16.7%)
- Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (19.4%)
- Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks (20.5%)
- Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers (21.7%)
The Running Backs
Christian McCaffrey looked in midseason form on Sunday, rushing for 152 yards on 22 carries (6.9 per attempt) to go along with his first touchdown of the season.
In his first opener with the 49ers, the star playmaker also picked up a league-best 4.73 yards after contact. McCaffrey finished the 2022 season averaging 2.00 yards after contact and the league average so far in Week 1 is just 1.82.
Jahmyr Gibbs made a solid first impression for the Detroit Lions in their upset road win over the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday. The rookie running back has the second-most yards after contact behind McCaffrey (4.43) and leads the NFL among those with at least seven carries with 0.667 missed or broken tackles per touch.
There are three young, exciting first-year players in the top five:
MISSED/BROKEN TACKLES PER TOUCH IN WEEK 1 (2023)
- 1. Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs (0.667)
- 2. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons (0.500)
- 3. Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers (0.313)
- T-4. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders vs. Denver Broncos (0.286)
- T-4. Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (0.286)
The Tight Ends
With Travis Kelce out of the lineup to open the season, Hunter Henry of the Pats takes a bow as the tight end who shined in the advanced data circles. He leads the position so far with the six burns he totaled against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Logan Thomas of the Commanders, Durham Smythe of the Dolphins and Kylen Granson of the Colts had five apiece, but only Henry had a touchdown burn – a 9-yard scoring strike on one of Mac Jones’ league-high 54 pass attempts. Henry is also first in depth of target (11.7), and second in burn yards per target (12.26) and big-play percentage (42.6).
Though Zach Ertz of the Cardinals racked up an NFL-leading 10 targets (among tight ends), Henry leads the position with 56 yards receiving on his five receptions.