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