The Playbook: A complete guide to Week 2 action around the NFL
Week 2 opened with a wild finish on Thursday night in Kansas City, but once your head stops spinning from the turn of events that left the Chiefs reeling and the Broncos atop the league at 2–0, there are plenty of storylines left to digest this weekend: A rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game, the latest meeting of Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick, the next acts for the two top rookie quarterbacks and much, much more. Who's on the verge of shifting to panic mode, and which surprise teams will take another step towards positioning themselves as legit contenders?
Chris Burke and Doug Farrar preview every game of Week 2 and offer their viewing recommendations for your Sunday and Monday, along with numbers to know, matchups to watch around the league and, most importantly, a Tecmo Bowl prediction. (Last week's ended up working out pretty well.)
A 9–7 record last season, a rather dominant defense and the arrival of Rex Ryan had Bills fans more fired up about their team than they had been in years. And that was before Buffalo took it to Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 1.
Sunday's meeting with New England will not decide anything in the AFC East one way or another, but that will do little to reduce the fanfare.
“We all feel like we've been challenged,” Ryan said at his press conference earlier this week. “We have the defending Super Bowl champs in our backyard. That's a challenge in itself. ... I'll say this. I have a funny feeling it's going to be as loud as any game in my life.”
Tom Brady certainly is not one to be rattled by crowd noise. The Patriots' quarterback buried an off-season's worth of distractions with a four-touchdown showing against Pittsburgh in the NFL's regular-season opener. He leaned on two familiar faces: tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman, who combined for 16 catches, 191 yards and three TDs, all three scores from Gronkowski.
Buffalo's defense will test that backfield duo, while its own run game tries to stagger the New England defense. DeAngelo Williams accomplished that task, to a degree, in Week 1, when Vince Wilfork's off-season departure loomed large for the Patriots' front. Making matters more difficult for the Patriots will be the mobility of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. In his first career start after four seasons spent backing up Joe Flacco, Taylor completed 73.7% of his passes (14 of 19), rushed for 41 yards and did not commit a turnover.
The next two weeks will give everyone a much better idea how legit a threat the Bills are in the AFC East—they visit Miami in Week 3. First thing's first, though: It has been awhile since a Buffalo home game was as wildly anticipated as this one. — CB
One thing's for sure: Andy Dalton won't have it as easy against the Chargers as he did against the Raiders. Dalton completed 25 of 34 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against an Oakland defense that pressured him a league-low 17.1% of the time in Week 1, while San Diego's defense put Matthew Stafford under pressure 38.7% of the time—and that pressure forced both of Stafford's interceptions. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano throws good coverage and multiple front schemes against opposing quarterbacks, and Dalton has historically had issues against more complex defenses.
The Bengals' defense will face a far stiffer challenge than Oakland presented. Philip Rivers was the quarterback of the league in Week 1, completing his last 20 passes as the Chargers roared back from an 18-point deficit to win, 33–28. Rivers is working with a makeshift offensive line and a rookie running back who's still figuring things out in Melvin Gordon, but his offense is more multi-faceted these days, and Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen have proven to be stars. Allen caught 15 passes on 17 targets for 166 yards and a touchdown against the Lions, and Woodhead scored two rushing touchdowns as the team's primary (actually at this point, only) red zone target.
The Bengals are trying to revive a pass rush that produced just 20 sacks last year, and end Carlos Dunlap is the main man there. Dunlap worked Oakland's line over for several pressures, and defensive tackle Geno Atkins looks like a man back in championship form. That could spell trouble for San Diego's offensive line, which will be without right guard D.J. Fluker. Cincinnati also has a potential advantage with running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, who ran up and down Oakland's defensive line. No matter how much Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson insists that he's going to open up the passing game for Dalton, the Bengals' winning formula over the last few years has been a strong running game and a solid defense. If they want to move to 2–0 on the season, that's not going to change. — DF
Our weekly Must-Win Watch can be found deeper into the Playbook, but the Eagles are at least a candidate for consideration, as far as Week 2 desperation goes.
They came up just short in Atlanta on Monday, with a failed third-down conversion and a missed field goal conspiring to end their comeback chances. The good news for the Eagles is that they're catching the 1–0 Dallas Cowboys shorthanded: star wide receiver Dez Bryant and rookie edge rusher Randy Gregory both will sit with injuries, while DE Greg Hardy's return from suspension remains several weeks off.
Bryant's absence means this could be as much a showcase for the Philadelphia defense as it is for quarterback Sam Bradford, who will be making his regular-season debut in front of the home fans. Both sides of the ball were, at best, uneven in the Eagles' opener.
Dallas was far from lights out itself, even before Bryant exited with a broken bone in his foot. The Cowboys did outplay the Giants for much of their Week 1 clash but repeatedly committed costly errors, two of which (a Cole Beasley fumble and a Tony Romo interception) came in the final minute before halftime and helped New York turn a 6–3 deficit into a 13–6 lead.
Without Bryant, Romo will have to hope Terrance Williams can play a No. 1 receiver role. The better bet is that Romo fires even more passes toward ultra-reliable tight end Jason Witten and a stable of backs.
Boosting the run game would be beneficial, too. Joseph Randle was fine in his first start, finishing with 16 carries for 65 yards, but Dallas never took control at the line of scrimmage like most assumed would happen. Of note: Philadelphia was one of just two teams (Arizona being the other) to hold the Cowboys under 100 yards rushing in a game last season.
These two teams did not meet for the first time in 2014 until Thanksgiving. They'll play both of their scheduled 2015 matchups prior to the annual November holiday, with the rematch coming Nov. 8 in Dallas. If the Cowboys win on Sunday, Philadelphia will spend the next two months trying to claw back into the NFC East race. — CB
Last time the Packers saw the Seahawks, it was the NFC Championship Game, and the Packers are still trying to figure out how they lost a game in which they had a 16–0 lead and intercepted Russell Wilson four times. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy gave up his play-calling responsibilities after that game to get a more global feel for his team, and the Pack rebounded nicely against the Bears and their porous defense in Week 1 with a 31–23 win in which Green Bay went off in the second half. Veteran James Jones took the lion's share of the scoring opportunities, racking up two receiving touchdowns in place of primary target Jordy Nelson, who's out for the season. Seattle presents a tougher test, but there are issues along the defense that has been the league's best over the last few seasons.
In Week 1's 34–31 overtime loss to the Rams, the Seahawks didn't always look like the stout defense they had been. The front four was dominant, but gap control was an issue with linebackers Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, and the secondary was a mixed bag without holdout safety Kam Chancellor. Seattle allowed eight passing plays of 20 yards or more against Nick Foles—very atypical for this group—and new defensive coordinator Kris Richard put cornerback Richard Sherman in the slot for 13 plays while Cary Williams and DeShawn Shead played outside on those snaps. It's entirely possible that move was designed to help Sherman this week against Green Bay's Randall Cobb, the NFL's most gifted and prolific slot man. Even without Nelson in the lineup, Cobb was in the slot against the Bears on 25 of his 28 total targets.
“He’s quick, he’s decisive, he’s strong,” Sherman said Wednesday when I asked him what makes Cobb so special. “Obviously, he’s versatile in what he does. He can be placed at the running back spot, inside, outside. I think they understand that and now they have other guys that are similar to him, so I think they’re going to try to exploit that to the best of their abilities, especially with Jordy out.”
Of course, none of that will matter if the Seahawks can't get some protection going along an offensive line that's still trying to put it all together. Seattle allowed a league-high five sacks and 22 total pressures against St. Louis' dominant front four, and Green Bay's pass rush can test lines in different ways.
To a man, the Packers have said that they don't have revenge on their minds, but it's hard to believe the late-January loss won't be on their minds. The Lambeau faithful will certainly be willing to remind their team how that loss felt if the home opener goes off the rails.
It doesn't get any easier for rookie guard Brandon Scherff and the Redskins' offensive line. Last week, they had to deal with a Miami defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh, and now they're thrown into this fire: The Rams' pass-rushing trio of ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald is as formidable as any in the league. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was kept fairly clean in that 17-10 loss to the Dolphins, but now, there's a new challenge. In addition, there's a new Rams passing game led by Nick Foles to deal with. The Rams are starting to look like a real NFC West contender, and this could be a statement game. — DF
In the first half of their win over the Eagles on Monday night, the Falcons displayed a bravado and effectiveness on both sides of ball that we haven't seen in a while. New head coach Dan Quinn had his defense looking aggressive and disciplined, and the offense designed by Kyle Shanahan created easy receiver openings for quarterback Matt Ryan. Philly's offense was eventually able to tire that defense out with its furious pace and drive-extending plays, but Atlanta appears to have all it takes to win a weak NFC South, and the Giants don't have the same level of talent on either side of the ball. New York's offensive line struggled against Dallas on Sunday night, and there should be more of the same against Atlanta pass-rushing rookies Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. — DF
One week after a showdown with Jameis Winston, Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota draws Johnny Manziel, whom Cleveland tabbed as its starter on Friday. Mariota will be looking to build on his brilliant debut in which he went 13 of 16 for 209 yards and four touchdowns in a Tennessee rout.
But the real determining factor in this one could be how the Titans' ground game fares against the Cleveland front seven. Mike Pettine's defense finished dead last against the run last season and, despite adding Danny Shelton in the first round of the the draft, surrendered 153 combined yards to Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell last weekend. Former Browns running back Terrance West is behind Bishop Sankey on Tennessee's depth chart, but he no doubt would love a crack at the team that traded him away earlier this month. — CB
Off a cathartic Week 1 victory, the 49ers now can establish themselves as a surprise playoff contender by winning in the Steel City. Their attacking defense unraveled Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings last Monday night. Ben Roethlisberger may not be quite as easy to crack, even without suspended running back Le'Veon Bell in the backfield.
DeAngelo Williams didn't miss a beat in Bell's place last week, rushing for 127 yards on 21 carries, just 41 fewer yards than Carlos Hyde's output in his first career start. — CB
Cardinals at Bears (1 p.m., FOX)
The Bears did not win a home game until November last season en route to a 2–6 mark at Soldier Field and 5–11 finish overall. Sunday's matchup with Arizona provides their second and final chance to get off the schneid in September.
They'll need another huge game from Matt Forte (who had 141 yards rushing in Week 1) to make that happen. The Cardinals allowed all of 54 yards on the ground to New Orleans last week and hung 31 points on the board with Carson Palmer at the helm of the offense. With starter Andre Ellington nursing a knee injury, the offense's focal point Sunday could be veteran RB Chris Johnson. — CB
Andrew Luck was completely befuddled by the Bills' combination of complex pass rush schemes and intelligent coverage in Week 1, and here comes more trouble in the form of Todd Bowles's Jets defense. Bowles will throw all kinds of A-gap blitzes at Luck and the Colts' weak offensive line, and primary receiver T.Y. Hilton is a game-time decision with a bruised knee. The Jets' offense, led by new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, looked pretty good overall against Cleveland's estimable defense. The Jets will throw out of tight formations and run out of three- and four-wide sets, and they could be a problem for enemy defenses this year. The Colts got all the way to the AFC Championship Game despite an 0-2 start in 2014, and they may face that same uphill battle in 2015. — DF
Only for the faithful
Amid all the talk about the Jameis Winston–Marcus Mariota showdown in Week 1, Tampa Bay's defense that never showed up in the Bucs' 42–14 loss to the Titans. It's the kind of bland, predictable defense that Drew Brees should be able to pick apart despite a regressing offensive line and fewer elite targets, and Winston won't have enough at his disposal to counterpunch against a Saints defense that has issues of its own. — DF
The New England-Buffalo game is getting all the buzz, but the Dolphins could join the winner of that game with an early leg up in the AFC East race if they get past the Jags and the Jets fall to the Colts on Monday night. The Jaguars simply don't have the horses to stop Ryan Tannehill and Miami's offense. — DF
• Through one game in 2015, two quarterbacks have completely reversed their play-action predilections. Last season, Philip Rivers used play-action on a league-low 7.8% of his passes, which made no sense at all, because he was so good when he did, completing 40 of 48 passes with four touchdowns and no picks. The Chargers switched that up against the Lions in the 2015 season opener, as Rivers used play-action on 27.3% of his snaps. Rivers kept up the play-action efficiency, completing all 12 of his play-action passes for over 130 yards and a touchdown.
At the other end of the spectrum, Russell Wilson used play-action on 30.8% of his dropbacks in 2014, throwing for six touchdowns and just two picks, and completing 91 of his 143 play-action passes. Against the Rams, he went with play-action on just 9.4% of his passes, which tends to happen when your offensive line is getting killed and you don't have time for play-fakes. Wilson completed two of his four play-action passes, cancelling out a major component of the Seattle offense. The Seahawks need to get that facet of their attack back against the Packers.
• It's early yet, but Denver's Aqib Talib sure looks like the NFL's best cornerback right now. He has two interceptions already this year, and he's allowed a hilarious 5.1 opponent passer rating on 63 snaps and nine targets. Against the Ravens and Chiefs, Talib has allowed three catches for 32 yards. It helps that Denver's pass rush looks so strong under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but Talib is playing at a rare level.
• From this week's matchup podcast with Greg Cosell: Against the Vikings, the 49ers went with a three-tight end formation on 28 of their offensive snaps, a number unheard of in today's NFL. On those 28 snaps, they ran the ball 19 times for 111 yards. Look for more multiple-TE sets going forward as San Francisco continues to establish its offensive identity as a power-based team with the occasional shot play in the passing game. The Steelers' disorganized defense is the next in line for that particular beating. — DF
Player with most to prove
Frank Gore. His Colts debut was a dud—eight carries for 31 yards, two catches for zero yards and a loss. San Francisco lost the last nine times it gave Gore fewer than 13 carries in a game, so maybe the Colts didn't get the memo. An early deficit and leg cramps for Gore made it tough to work him in last Sunday. The Colts need more Monday against a Jets defense that can be stout up front. — CB
Underrated player to watch
Tyrone Crawford, DL, Cowboys. With rookie pass rusher Randy Gregory out at least a month with a high-ankle sprain and defensive end Greg Hardy suspended until Week 5, it's going to be on Crawford, the fourth-year man from Boise State, to double his efforts and give the Cowboys a credible pass rush. Crawford is up to the task: he had four sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries in 2014, and he's a perfect fit as a three-technique tackle in Rod Marinelli's system. Crawford can also play end in a sub-package role, and that's what his team will need him to do. Many scoffed at Dallas's recent investment in Crawford in the form of a five-year, $45 million contract extension with $25.7 million guaranteed in early September, but Crawford now has the opportunity to show that he was worth every penny of that new deal.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's second home. Barring a sudden change in the Jets' plans, Fitzpatrick will be the starter for Monday night's game at Indianapolis. It would mark the fourth straight season that Fitzpatrick has started on the road against the Colts ... for four different teams. He lost with the Bills in 2012, the Titans in 2013 and the Texans last year. Fitzpatrick also served as the Bengals' starting QB during a 2008 trip to Indianapolis. He fell short in that game, too. — CB
Burke: Saints. A Week 1 road loss in Arizona? No problem. A Week 2 home loss to Tampa Bay? Let's just say that would not sit well in the Big Easy. The Saints have an ideal opportunity to get back on track and notch their first win ahead of a key trip to Carolina. There would be no excuse for losing—not against a Buccaneers team that Tennessee humiliated last week.
Farrar: Eagles. After their late loss to the Falcons on Monday night, the Eagles turn around and welcome the Cowboys to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, and that poses some interesting matchups, especially Dallas's short passing game against Philly's talented linebackers. Chip Kelly's team won't be very happy with an 0–2 start, but they're staring that straight in the face right now.
Tecmo Super Bowl Upset Special
We're simulating the entire 2015 season using updated rosters on the classic Tecmo Super Bowl video game. (Download the game at TecmoBowl.org.) Each week, The Playbook will spotlight the most surprising result:
A couple of near-misses in Week 2—Jacksonville lost to Miami by three and Oakland took Baltimore to overtime—but the favorites mostly held up. Not so here, as Ryan Mallett stepped into his new starting role and guided the Texans to a road victory. Some questionable play calling from the Panthers, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry but ran the ball just six times.
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