JOEL BLANK

The quality of play in Week 1 in the NFL was rough. Here is how we fix it

The referees got in as much work as the coaches in Week 1. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As excited as we all were to see the start of the NFL season this week, there has been one overriding theme in my mind. Starting with Thursday night’s Falcons-Eagles opener and continuing throughout Sunday's games, the quality of play has been less than stellar and in some cases, downright awful. Add to that the surplus of penalties and you have a product that the league cannot be proud of and the fans find hard to take.  A lot of that can be blamed on the current state of training camp and the preseason. The time has come to reduce the amount of preseason games, increase the amount of full contact practices, and get the players up to speed so that they are ready to perform at a high level in week one of the regular season.

I realize the owners have a cash cow by charging season ticket holders regular season prices and making the games mandatory purchases for anyone who wants to attend all eight regular season home games.  Season ticket holders hate having to pay for these games as they are a waste of time and very bad football overall. Viewers at home cannot stand watching this below average product and can only stomach one or two quarters of a game before having to change the channel to something more compelling and interesting. The Real Housewives of any city you chose to indulge in has more action than any game in the month of August. Even advertisers would much rather pay full price to have their ads run during games that mean something and are being played by the best players, as opposed to half price for half-assed attempts to emulate NFL football. Everyone knows that there will be more eyeballs with more focus on the games between September and the first week in February than any nonsense prior to that.

I hearby suggest that the league eliminate two of the four preseason games and add to the amount of full contact practices every team in the league can have. Training camp is all about the battle for roster spots and depth at every position and not about forcing the fans to watch sub-par football in game conditions. If teams only had two games against other league foes and more full contact workouts, you would get more time with starters on the field in games to get reps and establish timing and chemistry. You would also get more practice time to evaluate talent, create competition and make decisions. Coaches and team personnel can use practice time to set up extended situational periods to further break down position battles and roster depth, as well as getting more film on more players on the bubble. Maybe this subtle change would allow teams to use games to knock the rust off and fine tune the A-team, while letting practice decide the B's, C's and practice squad?

For the record, I am not suggesting adding any games to the regular season. Sorry Jerry Jones, you owners already make enough money. I'm trying to up the level of play, not bring it down with more and more injuries, wear and tear. This isn't about revenue streams, marketing or anything business related. This is all about making games more competitive and the brand of football and quality of play better in the first few weeks of the regular season than we have seen over the past few years. Most teams don't play their starters more than one half of football total in the pre-season, if that. That's not nearly enough time to get timing down and everyone in a rhythm on either side of the ball for the games that mean the most. Practice time is never at full game speed and playing against your own jersey colors doesnt exactly get the juices flowing or the starters ready for a 16-game war. This is all about the quality of the sport and integrity of the game for the long haul. If the games are good and the best players in the world are at peak performance levels, the business of football will be booming and everyone involved will be ecstatic.

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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