Week 2 game notes: Jurrell Casey becoming a lethal weapon on Titans D
Week 2 is off and running with eight games in the early window and plenty of intriguing matchups later on this afternoon. Some observations on the fly on notable performers and storylines from Sunday's slate of games:
Titans DL Jurrell Casey: Since he became Tennessee's defensive coordinator ahead of the 2014 season, Ray Horton has been using Jurrell Casey, the former defensive tackle, in some interesting roles. Horton stood Casey up on the defensive right side for a few snaps against the Chiefs, and at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds with unusual speed for his size, Casey proved to be a real problem for Kansas City's offensive line. Casey ended the Cowboys' first drive on Sunday by lining up on the defensive left side -- the Titans had just one down lineman in the middle of their formation -- and bulling through for a sack of Tony Romo. The Horton-Casey combination could prove to be lethal this season and beyond. Casey is a rare talent, and Horton is going to line him up all over the place.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton: It's great that Hue Jackson is getting Andy Dalton on the move more often in Cincinnati's post-Jay Gruden offense. It fits Dalton's skillset, plays to his strengths and steers away from his weaknesses -- any time Dalton can cut the field in half by rolling out, the Cincinnati offense is better off. But as he's shown through his career and demonstrated against the Falcons, Dalton has issues throwing touch passes consistently. He repeatedly fails to mark his receivers -- to throw them open, effectively -- on fade patterns in the end zone. Dalton is more a see-it-and-throw-it player who needs defined openings to succeed. The Bengals have worked around this liability effectively since Dalton came into the league in 2011, but if Dalton is to take the proverbial next step, he must get a far better sense of touch, timing and arc on aerial throws requiring him to sync up in close quarters.
Redskins DL Jason Hatcher: The Redskins' afternoon got off to a rocky start with the injuries to Robert Griffin III and DeSean Jackson, but in addition to backup quarterback Kirk Cousins' early strong showing, one encouraging story for Washington fans is the play of Jason Hatcher, the longtime Cowboys defensive lineman signed by Washington in the offseason. Dallas made a major mistake in letting Hatcher go, as he's been a constant when it comes to quarterback pressure for a number of years -- even when he's double-teamed.
He's maintained his high level of play for Washington: Hatcher collected a sack, a quarterback hit and a batted pass in the season-opener against Houston, and today against the Jaguars, he's proving equally difficult to deal with. Not only does Hatcher blast though blocking from the inside; he's also enough of a pain for opposing offensive linemen to attract multiple blockers, thus opening things up for his defensive teammates. Hatcher hasn't lost a step at age 32, and his four-year, $27.5 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed was a wise deal for Washington.
Browns LB Karlos Dansby: Speaking of defensive veterans teams gave up on too soon, Dansby, the former Cardinals star, has been a real asset to a Browns defense set to surprise a lot of people this season. The Saints found tough sledding against Cleveland early, and while the swarming efforts of Mike Pettine's pass rush is one reason, don't underestimate Dansby's ability to drop and cover from the sidelines, to the curl/flat range, to right up the seams. When Drew Brees throws quick outlet passes, Dansby can often be seen in range, to try and clamp things down. When Brees threw a pick-six to Browns safety Tashaun Gipson late in the second quarter, it was Dansby who followed Jimmy Graham through the middle of the field with perfect coverage, and Brees tried to be too fine with his throw.
Bill CB Corey Graham: Given Baltimore's tenuous cornerback situation these days, they might be looking at the job Graham is doing in Buffalo with a measure of regret. Graham picked off a career-high four passes for Baltimore last season, though he was also inconsistent, allowing seven touchdowns and an 87.4 opponent passer rating. In any case, since the Bills picked him up on a four-year, $16 million deal, Graham has been among the best pass defenders in the NFL. Last week against the Bears, Graham was targeted 10 times and allowed just three receptions for just 18 yards, and he intercepted a pass. Against the Dolphins, Graham has been similarly excellent, moving with great speed and precision in man coverage, trailing and jumping routes with great consistency. He's one to watch as the breakout star cornerback of 2014.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers: In Seattle's season-opening win over Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers didn't target cornerback Richard Sherman once -- Rodgers didn't even mess with Sherman's side of the field. On his conference call with Seattle media this week, Philip Rivers assured everyone that Sherman would get more work when the Seahawks came down to San Diego.
"I just don’t believe you can completely eliminate a side of the field," Rivers said. "From my standpoint, from a passer's point of view, I’m not saying that teams that have decided to that do that shouldn’t have, I think it’s hard to do that – to just play on one side and be real successful. I say that too out of respect because I think [Bryon] Maxwell is a hell of a corner. He just gets the ball because of the action. You’re bound to get a few completions over there but it’s not like you’re going to start one side and the guy isn’t going to be good on the other."
That was the case early on -- Rivers threw three times with Sherman as the primary defender, and he completed all three passes. You can bet that Rivers, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and head coach Mike McCoy schemed all week (and a short week, at that) to find ways to do this. As they did to Arizona's Patrick Peterson on Monday, the Chargers are using Sherman's downfield aggressiveness against him by throwing quick inside patterns to the receivers he's covering.