Cover-Two: Players in need of a rebound game and surprise 2-0 starts
The NFL's opening week certainly didn't ease anyone into the regular-season frenzy. Five playoff teams from a year ago lost their season-openers, several highly-touted rookies traded highlights and the off-field actions of multiple prominent players made the league the target of growing national criticism.
In this week's Cover-Two, SI's Chris Burke and Doug Farrar bring the focus temporarily back to the action on the field, discussing players who need to improve on their Week 1 efforts and the one surprise team best positioned for an unlikely 2-0 start to its season.
Which player is most in need of a bounce-back performance?
Burke: Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, OTs, New England Patriots. Cheated with two picks here, but the Patriots' veteran offensive tackles were taken to school by Miami's pass-rushers last weekend -- Solder and Vollmer were responsible for three sacks and four quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus. The good news: They don't have to deal with the borderline-unstoppable Cameron Wake again in Week 2. The bad news for Solder and Vollmer is that they will line up against Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, with the latter coming off a pair of sacks last week.
"You’ve got a big, physical front," Solder said of the Vikings, according to the Patriots' team website. "Several veteran guys that really know what they’re doing and can make a lot of disturbances. [Griffen] had a pretty good game last week. He’s got some good power moves, some good inside moves."
New England better be ready for the full repertoire, because the line left Tom Brady hanging in Week 1. A repeat performance on the edge by Solder and Vollmer, who are supposed to be the rocks on that line, and the Patriots will be staring at an 0-2 start.
Farrar: Josh McCown, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs put McCown in charge of an offense they hoped would help redefine the team in Lovie Smith's first season -- but in Tampa Bay's 20-14 opening-week loss to the Panthers, the longtime NFL backup looked just like that. McCown completed 22 of 35 passes for just 183 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, ranking dead last among all qualifying quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' metrics. Some are already calling for the return of Mike Glennon, and it isn't as if McCown has a long history of excellence to bank on -- his juice is his work as Jay Cutler's backup in Chicago last season. The performance against Carolina wasn't all his fault -- McCown most certainly could have used better protection -- but much is expected of this team, and his leash might get a bit shorter if things don't turn around quickly.
Which surprising Week 1 winner will move to 2-0 this week?
Burke: Tennessee Titans. If the Titans have any visions of turning last week's upset of Kansas City into a run at the AFC South title, then tumbling back to earth vs. Dallas would be ill-advised. Next up on the schedule are trips to Cincinnati and Indianapolis, so a loss Sunday would put 1-3 squarely on the table. (On the flip side, the Titans' four games after that mini-stretch are against Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington and Houston, so a legitimate run could be possible.)
Beyond scheduling issues, though, the Titans' defense turned in a beastly effort against the Chiefs, sacking Alex Smith four times and forcing him into three interceptions. To say that Tony Romo can be mistake-prone at times is like saying that pie can be delicious, so if Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug and company can live in Dallas' backfield -- as it overwhelmed Kansas City -- then the Tennessee defense should pave the way to another triumph.
Farrar: Tennessee. The Texans also have a shot at this, playing Oakland as they are, but I'm really liking what I'm seeing from Ken Whisenhunt's Titans so far this season. In their win over the Chiefs, Whisenhunt had Jake Locker looking a bit more composed, and one wonders if he can perform the same kind of work on the youngster that he did with a formerly gun-shy Philip Rivers as San Diego's offensive coordinator last year. But the real reason for excitement about the Titans this season is Ray Horton's defense. Casey is an absolute freak, whom Horton will line up all around the formation (the 6-1, 300-pound Casey was a stand-up end on a couple plays against Kansas City), and the Titans' secondary is playing like it wants everyone to stop worrying that Alterraun Verner isn't there anymore.
Which player could break out in Week 2?
Burke: DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins. Most of this circles back to Robert Griffin feeling comfortable enough (and having time) to stretch the field a bit, something he did not do in a checkdown-filled Week 1. But Jackson came to Washington with a career yards-per-catch average of 17.2, meaning that it's hard to look at his 7.8 mark against Houston as anything but an aberration. Pierre Garcon, by the way, finished at just 7.7 yards-per-catch, well down from his career mark (12.9) as well.
Jacksonville will put some heat on RGIII. It also will leave him openings downfield. Nick Foles threw for 322 yards against the Jaguars last week, and that number easily could have topped 400 if Foles had not ignored open receivers downfield numerous times.
Griffin and new head coach/play-caller Jay Gruden have to be more conscious of getting Jackson the ball in space. Count on them to do just that in the home opener.
Farrar: Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers. The Seattle Seahawks don't have a lot of defensive weaknesses, but San Diego's no-huddle offense could target one potential point of vulnerability. Green, who the Chargers believe is their next great tight end, can get upfield on seam routes and posts against Seattle's base defense. Bobby Wagner is at times assigned to deep middle coverage, and as good as Wagner is moving forward, that's a matchup that would favor San Diego. If the Seahawks can't substitute against the Chargers' no-huddle, that might leave Malcolm Smith (the Seahawks' best coverage linebacker) on the bench at the wrong time for Pete Carroll. Green provides at least one matchup nightmare that Chargers head coach Mike McCoy may rely upon to pull off the home upset against the Super Bowl champs -- or at least keep the game competitive.