Roundtable: Which player will improve on lackluster Week 1 performance?
Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season brought us plenty of spectacular performances from players both expected and unexpected. Rob Gronkowski blasted through the Steelers, racking up 94 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Marcus Mariota threw for 209 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters, which resulted in a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
But there were plenty of players on the opposite end of the spectrum, bringing us to this week's roundtable question. Which player who had a lackluster Week 1 do you expect to make a noticeable improvement in Week 2? SI.com's NFL writers discuss.
Don Banks: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings
So many choices in the aftermath of Week 1, and yes, Eli Manning, Andrew Luck and DeMarco Murray, you did get strong consideration for this selection. But I went with Bridgewater because I think his production has the most likelihood to increase this week, given how ineffective he was in that 20–3 loss to San Francisco, and given that defensively-challenged Detroit is the Vikings’ opponent in their home opener.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, blunt as ever, called Bridgewater’s showing “a clunker,” and I couldn’t agree more. I thought I was watching Joey Harrington out there at times against the 49ers, with Bridgewater showing none of the poise or pocket presence we have come to expect from the former Louisville star. He was hesitant at times, didn’t seem to trust his reads, and struggled to display the accuracy or awareness we’ve seen from him in the past. Bridgewater was a decent 23 of 32 for 231 yards, but he took five sacks, got picked off once, and led Minnesota to just one successful field goal drive, leaving the Vikings the only team in the NFL to go without a touchdown in Week 1.
Bridgewater said he was too pumped up for the Vikings’ Monday-night debut in a nationally televised game, and couldn’t calm down enough to find his groove and settle into a rhythm. That shouldn’t be a problem this week as he and his teammates return home to TCF Bank Stadium to face the 0–1 Lions, a team that has its own Week 1 embarrassment to live down, after blowing an 18-point lead at San Diego. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gashed Detroit for 404 yards passing, and did so without being pressured much by the Lions re-tooled defensive line.
Bridgewater needs to get his feet under him early in the game, getting comfortable and seeing the field with clarity. Once he’s there, the combination of his precision passing and Adrian Peterson loosening up the Lions run defense should lead to a much more in-control performance and the first win in what many believe will be a playoff-bound season in Minnesota.
Michael Beller: Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
Lamar Miller didn’t get much going against Washington last week, running for 53 yards on 13 carries and catching one pass for 22 yards. The Dolphins, as a whole, came out flat, and were lucky they were playing a team that will likely be among the league’s worst this season. Having said that, Washington was actually rather stout against the run in 2014, and Miller won’t be the last back to perform below his average in D.C.
I expect the entire Miami offense to bounce back in a big way in Jacksonville this week, and Miller should be at the center of that effort. The Jaguars pretty much held Jonathan Stewart in check, but this is largely the same defense that surrendered 127.1 rushing yards per game and 15 touchdowns on the ground last year. Joe Philbin did have an annoying tendency to limit Miller’s touches in last season, and the fact that he handled the ball just 14 times a week ago is a bit concerning, but this matchup is too good to keep Miller under wraps. Expect a big performance from Miami’s back.
Chris Burke: Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
He is too good for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to ignore him, and the entire attack functions far more effectively when Miller's game is established early.
The Miami offensive line is somewhere between a significant issue and a work in progress, so there will be a shoddy outing here and there. Week 2, against a very beatable Jacksonville run defense, is as obvious a time as any for the Dolphins to make a physical statement.
Miller rushed for 1,099 yards last season on just 216 carries—13.5 attempts per game, right in line with what he saw in Week 1. Miami's coaching staff promised all off-season to get him more involved this year. Bank on this Sunday starting that forward momentum.
Doug Farrar: Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens
In the season opener at Denver, Flacco was harried by the constant pressure and hoodwinked by the Broncos' aggressive and intelligent cornerbacks. But this week, he'll likely have a far easier time against the Raiders, who signed Taylor Mays off the street to replace injured safety Charles Woodson in a secondary that didn't have any margin for personnel losses. Flacco completed just 18 of 37 passes for 117 yards and two interceptions against Denver, but Oakland's defense allowed Cincinnati's passing game to go off last week.
Flacco and new Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will have things dialed up against a Raiders front that presented very little pressure against Dalton last week. Per Pro Football Focus, Flacco was pressured on an amazing 64.7% of his drops, and he completed 10 of 20 passes when that was the case. Dalton, on the other hand, was pressured on a league-low 17.1% of his dropbacks. You give Flacco enough time, and he's got the ability to take a defense apart. Especially this one.
Austin Murphy: Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
In the 2015 NFL kickoff game, the Steelers pass defense helped Tom Brady prove just how well he's able compartmentalize all that Deflategate drama. Brady’s favorite target in the Patriots’ Week 1 28–21 win over Pittsburgh: tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose three touchdown catches were a testament to the Steelers' slapstick struggles to cover him.
This week brings Vernon Davis, another fast, mobile tight end to challenge the Pittsburgh defense, which—let’s face it—simply can’t be as confused in Week 2 as it often looked Week 1. Still, the Niners like to move and motion Davis all over the field, in search of mismatches. If the Steelers haven’t figured out how account for that between this week and last, Davis will be in for a big day.
He’s due, frankly. Sure, he caught three balls for 47 yards against the Vikings on Monday night. But for so long, we saw so much better from Davis. After averaging 59 receptions over the previous five seasons, he caught just 26 passes in 2014. Angling for a new contract, he skipped the 49ers' voluntary offseason sessions, then blew off mandatory minicamp. After injuring his back in Week 4, he was a mere shadow of his Pro Bowl self for the rest of the season. It’s not clear if he was playing hurt all that time, or if he never regained the confidence of Colin Kaepernick or the coaches, or both.
But the offseason turnover on the Niners staff should do Davis, now 31, some good. Bumped up from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing departed OC Greg Roman, is Geep Chryst, well regarded around the league and well-liked in the 49ers room. Based on how closely he's worked with Kap, and on the excellent game he called last Monday night, it appears that Chryst is poised to pull his quarterback out of his long slump. A key ingredient of that rescue and recovery: lots of Davis targets. Chryst is a Davis fan—he designed and called a red-zone pattern for Davis that beat the Saints in the playoffs following the 2011 season, the so-called “Vernon Post”—and believes his disappointing '14 season was an outlier, soon to be remedied. Chryst has been predicting this offseason that Davis “is going to have a big year.” Look for it start Sunday, against the Steelers.
Amy Parlapiano: DeMarco Murray, RB, Eagles
Murray accounted for two of the Eagles’ touchdowns in their opening game loss to the Falcons, one rushing and one receiving, but his overall impact throughout the game was limited. He gained nine yards on eight carries, averaging 1.1 yard per rush, plus 11 yards on four receptions. But the Falcons defense was stifling for most of the game, and the Eagles had real trouble setting the tone offensively in the first half. Philly also didn’t hold a lead until the last 8 minutes, so it relied on the pass game while playing catch up. As a result, Murray ended up with far fewer touches than expected, and, despite the two trips to the endzone, a pretty ugly stat line.
Something tells me that won’t be the case this week. On Sunday, Murray will make his home debut in Philly against a despised division rival that also happens to be the team that let him walk this offseason…after he ran for 1,845 yards in 2014. It’s hard to call a game a must-win in Week 2, but the Cowboys are coming off a come-from-behind win against the Giants, and the Eagles can’t afford to find themselves in an 0-2 hole. Sam Bradford is still working out some kinks, on display quite clearly during the first half against the Falcons, and he’ll rely on Murray to kick Chip Kelly’s fast-moving, run-heavy offense into high gear against a Cowboys defense that’s dealing with some injuries. Murray’s touches should increase dramatically this week, and I expect him to make a big impact not only on the ground, but particularly in short, quick screen situations.
Kelly has to make sure his offense gets into a better rhythm more quickly against Dallas. Making sure Murray gets more carries consistently throughout—not to mention the chance to make sure his old team rues the day they let him go—will be part of that plan.