Cover-Two: What to make of 0-2 teams
Audibles’ Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take a look at where things stand for the winless teams entering Week 3:
• Which winless team should be most concerned?
Doug Farrar: Washington. It’s not just Robert Griffin III’s slow start that has the Redskins reeling. In truth, I think Griffin will set things right as he gets past the physical challenges of coming back from a major knee injury. The real problem here is a Washington defense that has allowed 1,023 yards through its first two games, the most in the first two games of a season since the 1967 Atlanta Falcons. Last Sunday, the Packers gained 283 yards after the catch against Washington’s defense, which is the most allowed since 2008, and Washington let James Starks become the Packers’ first 100-yard rusher since 2010.
In 2012, when Washington’s offense was humming and scoring early in games, Jim Haslett’s defense was more defined by pass rush and opportunism. Now, the defense must play to keep the team in games, and that’s not something it’s equipped to do. The pass rush is dynamic with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but the secondary is a mess. Veterans DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Reed Doughty are trying to hold things together, and rookies David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo are just holding on for dear life. Blown coverages and missed tackles are the order of the day, and that’s no way to move forward when your offense is sputtering.
Chris Burke: Minnesota. Nothing has gone all that horribly wrong for the Vikings thus far. They’ve essentially failed to break serve, losing hard-fought games at Detroit and Chicago; and have a chance to get back on track with a three-game homestand (surrounding a bye) against Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Carolina. The problem for Minnesota is that its defense, which allowed 24 points or less in nine of 10 wins last season, has been shaky thus far. Some porous special teams play and a pick-six from Christian Ponder didn’t help in Chicago, but even an improved Vikings offense does not have the firepower to win games in the 30s on a regular basis.
Which brings us back to Ponder, who has just two TD passes compared to four interceptions this season. Even though he was at QB as Minnesota claimed a playoff berth last season, would anyone take him over Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford? And which of those teams in the tough NFC North is Minnesota clearly better than right now? Minnesota started strong (4-1) and finished strong (4-0) to get to 10 wins last season. A repeat of the former already has sailed out the window.
• Can any of the winless teams rebound and make the playoffs? If so, which one(s)?
Burke: Giants. This boils down to which division the Giants play in more than anything else. The NFC East, thus far, has the look of a group where 8-8 or 9-7 prevails — the Giants’ 2011 division title and subsequent Super Bowl run came in a nine-win year.
There are massive problems for New York right now: running back, offensive line, the entire defense. That said, you can bet that a huge chunk of teams in this league would be 0-2 after the start the Giants faced (at Dallas, vs. Denver). New York faces just one 2012 playoff team over its next seven games , so there is a chance to right the ship, even if games against Philadelphia, Kansas City, Chicago and others will be tough outs. The Giants have shot themselves in the foot more than any team in the league thus far, with Eli Manning firing an NFL-worst seven picks and David Wilson’s fumbling issues proving costly at Dallas. Correct those issues and improve on a 32nd-ranked defense, and the Giants can bounce back.
Farrar: None. Not to be a contrarian here, but I don’t see any of the current winless teams as serious threats in the postseason chase. Everyone assumes that the Giants will turn things around because they have a knack for playing fundamentally sound football when it’s desperately needed, but the running game and pass rush are not what they used to be. The Vikings are far too dependent on Adrian Peterson returning to his 2,000-yard form in 2012, and every opposing defense knows it. The Buccaneers have the talent to make the postseason, but they play in the same division as the Saints and Falcons, and it appears that things are falling apart under Greg Schiano’s structure. Carolina has the front seven to get it done, but there are transitional issues with the offense, and the secondary is a big issue.
The Browns are a year or two away from the playoffs, though I like their defense. The Steelers may be further away — one of the most consistent franchises in recent memory looks on the verge of a Monster House-level rebuild.
• On the flipside, which unbeaten team is due for a correction?
Farrar: New England. It’s the obvious answer, but the Patriots are by far the most nerve-wracking undefeated team in the NFL right now. They’ve scored five more points than their opponents, and they looked all too mortal against the New York Jets last Thursday. Were it not for Geno Smith’s three fourth-quarter interceptions, Rex Ryan may have gotten the better of Bill Belichick. The Pats have benefited from facing two rookie quarterbacks in Smith and Buffalo’s EJ Manuel, and they’ll tee off on the inconsistent Josh Freeman when they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, which means that they have a good chance to become the NFL’s most perplexing 3-0 team, as well. After that, however, they’ve got the Falcons, Bengals and Saints in short order.
The good news for Belichick’s team is that Tom Brady will eventually get on the same page with his new receivers, and the defense is playing decently enough. But it’s hard to look at this Patriots team and see anything resembling a Super Bowl challenger. Then again, the Pats could tell you all about iffy teams that hit the jackpot with late-season surges, having lost two Super Bowls to Giants teams that followed that strange paradigm.
Burke: Chicago. Did the Bears deserve to win in Week 1 against Cincinnati? How about Sunday against Minnesota? How they got to the finish line, of course, is not nearly as important as the result once there, so 2-0 is 2-0. Still, the Bears have some kinks to work out on both sides of the ball, especially after turning it over four times and coughing up 30 points (six on a fumble return) in that win over the Vikings.
The road ahead could be more treacherous, doubly so if teams like Pittsburgh and Washington can find some footing. Chicago continues to be an opportunistic defense, having forced three turnovers in each of its first two games. Any opponent capable of taking care of the football will toss the onus back on Jay Cutler and the Bears offense … and it’s hard to say that group is ready for the challenge just yet. Yes, Chicago currently sits sixth in the league in points scored, but the 31 it put up Sunday came with the aid of a defensive touchdown and more than 250 return yards from Devin Hester.
The Bears are talented enough to make the playoffs — and the 2-0 start certainly helps there. Expecting this team to roll to 11 or 12 wins, though, might be setting the bar too high.