The long-awaited first NFL Sunday saw both unexpectedly impressive performances and disappointing showings. Here are the Trojans who stood out this week, for better or for worse:
Sam Darnold (QB, New York Jets)
After an upsetting 4-12 season in which he threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns, Darnold had a lot of eyes trained on him as he entered Sunday’s game against the Bills. Although his completion percentage was a relatively high 68.3%, Darnold threw for an underwhelming 175 yards and was sacked four times. His offensive production was especially lacking in the first half, as the Jets went three-and-out on their first four drives. And while the Jets’ 16 points already seems mediocre at best, their first 8 points were scored by their defense. The Jets’ offense will need to capitalize on third-down opportunities if Darnold is to have a better 2019 season.
Clay Matthews (LB, Los Angeles Rams)
After spending 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Matthews has returned to Los Angeles as a Ram, where he will play at the Coliseum as he did for the Trojans. He had 3 total tackles and a sack Sunday as the Rams narrowly defeated the Carolina Panthers. Matthews joins a talented Rams defense including defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Aqib Talib. Although the defense gave up 27 points to Cam Newton and Co. Sunday, look for the Rams to be solid at stopping the run with Matthews at linebacker.
Devon Kennard (LB, Detroit Lions)
Kennard came up big for the Lions against the Arizona Cardinals, sacking the No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray three times. Perhaps more important, though, was Kennard’s pressure on Murray in overtime which forced him to throw the ball away and settle for a field goal. Kennard’s play saved the Lions from a Game 1 loss and showed his ability to be a defensive difference-maker for his team. He already looks capable of outpacing his seven sacks from last season in the first few games, and his improvement bodes well for a Lions’ team that faces a tough NFC North.
Juju Smith-Schuster (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Smith-Schuster finished No. 8 in the league for receiving yards last season, which is especially impressive given that the highly productive Antonio Brown was also on the Steelers’ wide-receiving corps. Following Brown’s departure, Smith-Schuster has taken over as the Steelers’ top receiver. Although he faced one of the best corners in the league in the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore, Smith-Schuster managed 78 receiving yards, averaging 13 yards per catch. While Sunday’s game was lopsided in favor of the Patriots and the ball was hardly in the Steelers’ hands, Smith-Schuster should be Ben Roethlisberger’s main target in games to come.
Rasheem Green (DE, Seattle Seahawks)
After a rough 2018 season with just nine tackles and one sack through 12 games, Green had one of the best defensive showings of any Trojan this past Sunday. Green capitalized on the opportunity to step in for defensive end Jarran Reed, a talented pass rusher who is suspended for the Seahawks’ first six games this season. Green sacked Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton late in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble and sealing a 1-point victory for the Seahawks. If Green can continue to make these big plays, he should earn more snaps even when Reed returns.
Ronald Jones II (RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Jones struggled last season, averaging just 1.9 yards per carry in nine appearances for the Buccaneers. This season will give Jones a chance to prove whether or not he can turn the corner and be the Buccaneers’ long-term running back. He will compete with Peyton Barber — who put up just 33 rushing yards Sunday — for the starting job. Jones rushed for 75 yards against the 49ers. hardly remarkable, but a major improvement given last year’s performance. He broke free of the 49ers’ defensive line for a 16-yard rush, much longer than what fans are used to seeing from him. If Jones can continue to improve, he should earn the most snaps in the Buccaneers’ backfield this season.