The Playbook: Previewing Seahawks-Niners, Packers-Redskins, other Week 2 games
Washington (0-1) at Green Bay (0-1) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Robert Griffin III in the first half of the Redskins’ season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles: Five completions in 11 attempts for 53 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a sack. RGIII in the second half: 25-of-38 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. He was 15-of-21 for 169 and threw both of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter. So, maybe we need to table the “Why didn’t Mike Shanahan start Kirk Cousins in Week 1?” furor and chalk up Griffin’s first-half jitters to just that and nothing more.
The Packers just got through reading a running quarterback the wrong way, and now they get a shot at correcting their mistake. You can almost certainly expect more man coverage, and even if Clay Matthews spies Griffin as he did Colin Kaepernick, he’ll also bring pressure from different gaps.
Griffin ran five times for 24 yards against the Eagles, and while that low total was, to a degree, a result of the Redskins playing catch-up, there’s also the fact that Shanahan clearly wants Griffin to protect himself by using pocket mobility to evade pressure, not gain yards. There will be designed runs, but Griffin is a passer first, just like most of the new wave of “quarterbacks who run a lot.”
The Redskins have two concerns on offense, and Green Bay has the ability to exploit both weaknesses. Griffin continued his vexing inefficiency on third down, completing just 2-of-8 passes and throwing both of his picks in those crucial situations, and Washington’s run game was inconsistent at best against the Eagles.
As for the Redskins’ defense, a unit trying to recover from the burn marks Chip Kelly’s furious first-half offense put on them, there’s this Thursday money quote from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to the media: “You’re not going to second-guess us. I’ll tell you, we played the same defense in the second half that we played in the first half. But we played it much better, OK?”
Haslett’s main problem against Aaron Rodgers is that his safeties are a liability, and Rodgers knows how to exploit any mismatch you give him. Two explosive offenses against two defenses looking to recover from relative embarrassments? Sounds like an ideal matchup to me. – Doug Farrar
Denver (1-0) at N.Y. Giants (0-1) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Peyton, Eli. Eli, Peyton. I think you two know each other …
The brothers Manning will reunite at the Meadowlands (site of this season’s Super Bowl, in case you hadn’t heard) for what feels like a fairly vital early-season contest for Eli’s Giants. They’re coming off a 36-31 loss to Dallas that featured six New York turnovers, including an interception from Manning on the game’s first play and a game-clinching pick-six later.
Three days earlier, Peyton helped kick off the 2013 season by gutting the Baltimore defense to the tune of seven touchdowns and 445 yards passing. Despite the 36 points scored by Dallas, the Giants’ D did not play all that poorly in the opener — 14 of those points came on defensive scores, and the Cowboys added a field goal after that first Manning miscue.
Still, the Giants will have to turn in a sensational effort to slow Peyton and his cavalcade of receivers. The Broncos barely needed (or attempted) to get their revamped run game rolling in Week 1. Knowshon Moreno led the way there with a paltry 28 yards, while rookie Montee Ball chipped in 24. A better run-pass balance may be required this week for the Broncos to keep clicking the way they did against Baltimore.
The Giants are one of the few teams that might be able to match Denver’s big three at receiver (Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker … assuming Decker still counts after his stone-handed debut). Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle all finished with five catches for more than 100 yards in Dallas, with Cruz finding the end zone three times. That trio should test a Denver secondary that allowed 362 passing yards from Joe Flacco.
The Manning-centric showdown will be a spotlight game in Sunday’s late-afternoon slot, but it’s actually a little surprising that neither ESPN nor NBC could find a way to claim it for prime time. Eli is 0-2 against his big brother, with losses to Peyton in 2006 (26-21) and ’10 (38-14), both when Peyton was still with Indianapolis. – Chris Burke
San Francisco (1-0) at Seattle (1-0) – 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC: These teams split their NFC West games last year with each contestant winning their home game. Early in the season, the 49ers beat the Seahawks 12-7, with both teams featuring a cautious passing offense. Later in the season, when Seattle evened the score with a 42-13 final, both teams were far more expansive in their passing games. Pete Carroll had taken the training wheels off for Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick had replaced Alex Smith.
Both Carroll and Jim Harbaugh see football very much the same way — start with great defense, use the running game as your foundation, and move into aerial concepts from the run game. Kaepernick and Wilson are both mobile, but neither quarterback is a run-first guy at this point — Wilson rolls to create throwing lanes, and Kaepernick thrashed the Green Bay Packers for 412 passing yards last Sunday by staying in the pocket more often and opening things up against zone coverage.
The Seahawks, who play a ton of aggressive coverage at the line of scrimmage, will not make the same mistake the Packers did in Week 1. They will not adjust their defenses for Kaepernick’s running ability by moving away from man coverage. Instead, expect a lot of late-breaking movement from the cornerbacks when Kaepernick runs. Seattle sees Kaepernick as a passer first and foremost, and they will adjust accordingly.
The Seahawks have a problem that the 49ers don’t — a weaker offensive line that forced Wilson to play outside of structure too often. The 49ers pressured Aaron Rodgers on 15-of-41 dropbacks last Sunday, per Pro Football Focus, and Rodgers completed just 4-of-12 passes with no touchdowns and one interception in those pressured situations. Wilson completed 8-of-12 passes on 14 pressures against the Panthers, but he needs better throwing lanes, and Seattle’s run game — which was slowed in the season-opener — must be effective to set up the pass. The Seahawks have the defense to deal with whatever the 49ers throw (or run) at them, but without a consistent performance from the offensive line, it won’t matter. – DF
Pittsburgh (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1) — Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: These AFC North rivals split their season series in 2012. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, the Steelers’ Week 7 win in Cincinnati hardly compared with the Bengals’ revenge in Week 16. An egregious Ben Roethlisberger interception in the latter game’s closing minute set up a 43-yard Josh Brown field goal, which both clinched a playoff berth for the Bengals and eliminated the Steelers from postseason contention.
Pittsburgh spent all summer ruminating on a lost 2012 season — no doubt eyeing this game as a chance for a little payback. But do the Steelers have the horses necessary to pull this one off on Monday night?
An ugly, injury-filled Week 1 cost them center Maurkice Pouncey, linebacker Larry Foote and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, all lost to season-ending injuries. Tight end Heath Miller also remains out after blowing out his knee in that late 2012 loss to the Bengals. Overall, the Steelers were out of sorts Sunday as the Titans handed them a 16-9 defeat.
Of course, the Bengals are not exactly riding high at the moment. They let a 21-10 lead slip away last Sunday in Chicago, en route to a tough 24-21 setback. Three turnovers (two Andy Dalton interceptions) and eight penalties shackled Cincinnati all afternoon. The worst offense of all came in the final two minutes, when linebacker Rey Maualuga took a ridiculous personal foul penalty, keeping the Bengals from attempting a game-winning drive.
Neither Pittsburgh nor Cincinnati figured out how to effectively run the football in Week 1. The Bengals scratched and clawed their way to 65 yards, while Pittsburgh was limited to 32 with rookie Le’Veon Bell still on the list of the walking wounded. Replacement starter Isaac Redman finished with nine yards on eight carries — and he fumbled twice.
The loser here will fall to 0-2 on the season and be in a world of trouble. — CB
St. Louis (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1) 1 p.m. ET, FOX: As my Audibles compadre Chris Burke has pointed out, the Saints messed with Matt Ryan in Week 1, using variable pressure schemes.The Rams may not mix it up as much, but their estimable front four feasted on Carson Palmer last Sunday, and Atlanta’s line is a weakness. St. Louis will test Atlanta’s linebackers with tight end Jared Cook, and rookie receiver Tavon Austin will continue to grow as a movable chess piece. – DF
Miami (1-0) at Indianapolis (1-0) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: If the Dolphins manage to steal this one, after opening the year by claiming victory in Cleveland, the AFC absolutely will take notice. And the Colts looked plenty beatable in their Week 1 win over Oakland, in which Indianapolis required a late Andrew Luck TD drive and a subsequent defensive stand. Chalk this one up as a barometer for Ryan Tannehill, too. Knocking off Andrew Luck on the road would do wonders for his confidence. – CB
Minnesota (0-1) at Chicago (1-0) – 1 p.m. ET, FOX: We saw something unusual from the Bears in their Week 1 win over the Bengals — an offensive line with a great understanding of protection. Jay Cutler was therefore able to use his arm talent without fear of constant pressure, which will be a problem for enemy defenses. Christian Ponder, Minnesota’s quarterback, is still struggling with basic passing concepts, and he’ll be tested by Chicago’s dynamic front seven and a cornerback (Charles Tillman) who can bait him into mistakes. – DF
San Diego (0-1) at Philadelphia (1-0) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Chargers coughed up 449 yards in Week 1. The Eagles racked up 443. Those numbers don’t appear to bode well for a San Diego team that’s already reeling from blowing a 21-point lead at home to Houston on Monday night. The Philadelphia crowd should be jacked up for its first full glimpse of Chip-ball, which opened plenty of eyes in an impressive victory — and, specifically, an impressive first half — at Washington. – CB
Dallas (1-0) at Kansas City (1-0) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: It was a nice return to the NFL for Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin as the Cowboys got six turnovers from the Giants in a key win. But the Chiefs will be more careful with the ball. Alex Smith avoided deep threats in his first game under Andy Reid, and the major matchup might be KC running back Jamaal Charles versus Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. On offense, the Cowboys are trying to establish a balanced rushing attack and enough protection to keep Tony Romo out of harm’s way. – DF
Tennessee (1-0) at Houston (1-0) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Texans engineered a furious comeback against the Chargers on Monday night. Their reward? A meeting with an improved Titans defense. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams features his usual array of schemes, and Matt Schaub will be under pressure more often than he would like. Texans left tackle Duane Brown needs to move past a rough opener. Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will test Jake Locker’s ability to read coverage. – DF
Detroit (1-0) at Arizona (0-1) — 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: In mid-December 2012, the Cardinals snapped an eight-game skid by embarrassing the Lions. That was a throwaway game for two teams whose playoff hopes had long perished. This rematch carries a little more weight. The matchup of Detroit’s explosive passing attack against Arizona’s underrated secondary (now with more Honey Badger!) is among the best of this weekend. – CB
New Orleans (1-0) at Tampa Bay (0-1) — 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Buccaneers’ season might be on the verge of spiraling out of control already, with games against the Saints and Patriots following a Week 1 loss to the Jets. There are rumors of unrest within the Tampa locker room, too, adding more pressure on QB Josh Freeman to deliver a big performance. The Saints will not make that easy to do, especially if the revived defense they put on display Sunday against Atlanta is legit. — CB
Only For The Faithful
Cleveland (0-1) at Baltimore (0-1) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The main attraction here is that the defending champs get to make their home debut, one week late. Brandon Weeden is no Peyton Manning, as he proved again in an ugly 23-10 loss to Miami, so the Ravens’ D has a shot to get back on track after Manning shredded it in Week 1. — CB
Carolina (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Cam Newton said this week that nobody should throw him a “bar mitzvah“ because he was at the forefront of the NFL’s new wave of black quarterbacks. On the other side of the ball, EJ Manuel starts his second NFL game, and he’ll be facing a more stern challenge than he did in the opener against New England. Advice for the young man: Keep an eye on linebacker Luke Kuechly at all times, because Kuechly looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate against Russell Wilson on Sunday. – DF
Jacksonville (0-1) at Oakland (0-1) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Resistible force, meet moveable object. It’s Oakland’s iffy lines against Jacksonville’s ongoing quarterback quandary, and there’s no clear winner. At least those watching this game will be able to enjoy Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor running around like a guy who just stepped out of the 1930s. Sadly, Oakland’s passing game appears to be from the same era. – DF
(All stats are from our friends at Pro Football Focus, unless otherwise indicated.)
• If the Browns want to get their passing game going, a few more sure-handed moments from their receivers would help. Greg Little leads the league in Drop Rate through one week (two drops in eight targets), and Travis Benjamin is second with one drop in eight targets. San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin had 16 targets against the Packers — as many as Little and Benjamin combined — and he didn’t drop a single ball.
• Some more protection on the right side would be nice, too. Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz allowed three sacks and 10 total pressures against Cameron Wake and his merry band of Miami pass-rushers.
• How elusive was Philly’s LeSean McCoy in the season opener against Washington? He caused nine missed tackles on his 31 carries. So what you saw on the tape was exactly correct: There isn’t a more frustrating back in the league when it comes to functional speed in space. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson finished second with four missed tackles in 25 attempts.
• Philadelphia cornerback Cary Williams had a questionable offseason, mouthing off on various subjects and missing OTAs for all sorts of weird reasons, but the Eagles got their money’s worth when he lined up against Washington. Williams allowed one catch for nine yards in five targets on 46 coverage snaps.
• Remember last week, when we told you to keep an eye on Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who picked up three sacks in the preseason? Well, he grabbed two more sacks — and six total pressures — against the Steelers’ struggling offensive line. We’ll see how Casey does against the Texans’ line before we put him on a higher floor, but things look pretty good so far.
• The Chiefs’ Brandon Flowers has been one of the league’s best cornerbacks over the last few seasons, and it’s time more people knew it. Against the Jaguars, who targeted him 11 times for whatever reason, Flowers allowed five catches for 49 yards (35 yards were after the catch), and he picked off a pass. He’ll face a bigger challenge against Dez Bryant this Sunday, but he’s up for it. – DF
• Matchup To Watch: Dallas’ receivers vs. Kansas City’s secondary.
Brandon Flowers said in the offseason that the Chiefs could have the best secondary in football. Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne hardly put that theory to the test in Week 1, but Tony Romo and Co. figure to do so Sunday.
Dez Bryant may be extra motivated to break loose following a disappointing four-catch, 22-yard showing against the Giants. Miles Austin helped pick up the slack in that game, reeling in 10 passes from Romo, while RB DeMarco Murray and TE Jason Witten each caught eight balls. This is a dangerous passing attack that could give the Chiefs trouble, if Dallas’ front can limit the home team’s impressive pass rush.
• This Week’s Sleeper: Harry Douglas, Atlanta.
Roddy White is hobbled by a high-ankle sprain, and Julio Jones is on the Falcons’ injury report with a knee ailment. Enter Douglas, who has held the title of “Atlanta’s other receiver” for several seasons now. Douglas had four grabs for 93 yards in Week 1, and Week 2 brings a matchup with a St. Louis defense that had issues corralling Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd.
• Pressure’s On …: Dom Capers, Green Bay.
Every matchup with a mobile quarterback — and especially every matchup with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick — renews Cheesehead fears that the Packers’ defense is ill-equipped to win those battles. In a conference that features Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, that’s problematic for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Capers, the Packers’ defensive coordinator, gets another crack at an elusive QB Sunday when RGIII leads his Redskins into Lambeau Field. One factor possibly working in Capers’ favor: Griffin seemed a little hesitant in Week 1, at least early in his team’s loss to Philadelphia. Only on limited occasions did he break the pocket to scramble or adjust his passing lanes. Some of that may be attributable to rust (he didn’t play in the preseason), so defenses probably would prefer to see Griffin now as opposed to later.
• Rookie Spotlight: Matt Elam, Baltimore.
The Ravens’ secondary was ripped to shreds by Peyton Manning last week. Safety Michael Huff was the victim on at least a couple big plays, including one of Julius Thomas’ TDs. Could a meatier role for Elam, the team’s first-round pick, be in the near future? – CB
Green Bay: At least offensively, the Packers still have the look of a contender in the NFC. Lose to Washington on Sunday, though, and they could be staring 0-3 in the face next week with a trip to Cincinnati. – CB
N.Y. Giants: After that messy loss in Dallas, it’s the Manning Bowl versus the red-hot Broncos. If the G-Men can’t pull that one off, they must find their first win in a gauntlet of Carolina, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minnesota, and Philly again before their early November bye. – DF