Week 2 Preview: Russ’s New Look vs. Belichick, Did Packers Even Need WR Help?

Also, Andy Reid’s ridiculous dominance over AFC West foes, the Bucs D rises, Daniel Jones impresses, if the Colts have a Philip Rivers problem they also have an answer, and tips for sound engineers around the NFL. Plus, musical guest: Chicago!
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1a. America got its wish last week, as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense called for twice as many passes as runs in a game they led throughout. Yes, at long last, they let Russ take out his Foreman Grill and make some stuff. It’s chicken… there was no flavor in those juices, that’s all fat and grease that slid off the Foreman Grill right into that tray... yeah, it’s supposed to taste kinda rubbery, that’s how you know it’s healthy.

Anyway, there are going to be plenty of weeks when the Seahawks defense, despite some much-needed juice coming from Jamal Adams on the blitz, can’t get the job done due to the lack of a pass rush. If Seattle is going to compete for a championship this is the kind of offense they’ll need to do it with. Last week in Atlanta was about Russ, but it was also about the fact that the Falcons couldn’t cover Tyler Lockett or DK Metcalf and Chris Carson suddenly looked like a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield.

As for the offensive designs themselves, Brian Schottenheimer, despite what you might think of his run-heavy approach in past years (you don’t think very highly of it) has drawn up some pretty neat pass designs during his time in Seattle. Last week there was still plenty of Wilson navigating through overwhelming pressure (he took one of the biggest shots I’ve even seen him take, when Dante Fowler teed off on him early in the second quarter), and they run the risk of all the usual inconsistencies with timing and launch points. That's what led to unevenness at the tail end of the Darrell Bevell years.

But the pure talent at receiver now combined with Wilson’s otherworldly ability late in the down deserve a chance to overcome it over the course of a full season. It was awfully refreshing to see them cruise to a multi-score victory against a quality opponent in Atlanta rather than having to scratch and claw for one.

1b. The matchup with New England will be fascinating since the Patriots’ secondary has been near-invincible over the past season-plus, and the fact that Bill Belichick knows how to prepare a gameplan. But Russell Wilson has always stuck in his craw because he’s the most difficult quarterback in the league to gameplan for, on account of the pure quantity of ridiculous things he does out of structure. And now, the Patriots have to prepare for an offense that took a completely different approach in Week 1 than they have in the past two seasons. In a way, both these teams are running out new offenses in 2020.

1c. I had a dream the other night that Russell Wilson, expressly for the purpose of taunting me for not picking the Seahawks to make the playoffs, broke into my home in the middle of the night repeatedly. Which was weird, because he’s only done that once.

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NFL Week 2 Preview

2. We all own things that we’re proud of. For instance, some of us own limited-edition Matlock pogs that are extremely valuable but that we’re also willing to part with for a surprisingly reasonable price if someone were to make an offer. Ben, Charlene, Tyler, always so loyal, willing to do the dirty work; Judge Cooksey—we can all agree he was tough but fair. They’re all there, and someone is going to get a great deal.

But none of us own anything quite like Andy Reid owns the AFC West. Remember how we all laughed and laughed and laughed at the Belichick/Brady Patriots dominance of the AFC East? Their best five-year run against division opponents came from 2003-07, when they went 26-5 against division opponents (including postseason).

Over the last five years, the Chiefs are 27-3 (twenty-seven and three) against their three division opponents. The three losses all came on Thursday nights (so slap them all with the TNF stupidity asterisk) and in the final minute of regulation. There was the Mike Williams game-winning Octopus with four seconds left, the do-over loss in Oakland when K.C. was flagged for defensive holding twice with no time left, allowing the Raiders to score the game-winner on the third try, and there was a 2015 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos when, in a tie game with less than 30 seconds left in regulation, Jamaal Charles fumbled and Bradley Roby got the scoop-and-score.

That brings us to Sunday’s trip to L.A. to face the Chargers, the Chiefs’ first division game of the season. Since the start of last year, the Chiefs have played 11 games—including postseason—with their full offensive lineup intact going in. They’re 11-0 in those games, with an average margin of victory of 15.2 points.

You would be correct to point out that the Chargers pass rush looked like game-wreckers in Cincinnati last week, and that the closest of those 11 Chiefs games was last November, against the Chargers on the loose gravel spray-painted green that serves as the turf of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. But also keep in mind that Tyreek Hill left that game during the Chiefs’ second series, and that as far as the Chargers’ pass rush goes, the Chiefs’ O-line is not the Bengals’. For one, all the players spell and pronounce their names differently. For two, each one of the Chiefs is significantly better at football than his counterpart in Cincinnati.

The Chiefs’ defense has also been discreetly excellent since the second half of last year; they’re allowing 16.4 points per game over their last 10. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ offense that was a crime against football last week. They seemed to actively refuse to move the ball against a Bengals defense that couldn’t stop a city bus even though all you have to do is pull on the cord that’s right there, right above the window next to your head, guy, how is this so confusing.

On the Chargers’ side, it raises the question: Why spend all that money on talented but aging veterans in free agency, pass on signing Cam Newton even though it makes all the sense in the world, and then trot out an offense that isn’t trying to score points? Maybe Sunday, when they’ll likely be trying to keep up with the best offense in football, will provide a better answer.

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3. Last Sunday was exactly what the Packers offense was supposed to look like. Aaron Rodgers ran things on-schedule and then sprinkled in improvisations, rather than vice versa. They wore yellow pants. It was surely what the organization had in mind when they hired Matt LaFleur.

Aside from Rodgers’s performance, the most encouraging thing about Week 1 was the emergence of Marquez Valdes-Scantling who, after a disappointing second season, played his best game as a pro (and that’s despite a drop after coming wide-open on a deep over route in the third-quarter, which would have pushed his production up around 150 yards).

It was something of a reminder that, while I would have drafted an offensive weapon rather than Jordan Love had they asked me (but for some reason they never do), it has always taken young receivers a while to acclimate to Rodgers. A lot of that is because, at least up until last week, Rodgers has always been an improvisational maestro, and it can be difficult for young receivers to keep up. There’s a reason Rodgers’s best years were when guys like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were in their primes, and why James Jones stuck around on that roster for approximately 1,000 years.

The transition to the new crop of receivers over the past couple seasons has been difficult because of that. Davante Adams has emerged as a bona fide star, but don’t forget: There was a time when he was one of the worst receivers in football. In 2015, Adams’s second season, he put up 483 yards and 1 TD on 94 targets. (I feel like a 5.1 yards-per-target clip is the kind of number I could put up, assuming a pass occasionally gets lodged in my facemask after which I immediately fall down.)

It took Adams until Year 3 to take off, and that’s where Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard are now. We’ll find out more as the season goes on, seeing as they’re gonna play at least 15 more games, but we might learn that the Packers didn’t need to add new receivers, they just needed the maturation process to play out with the ones they already had.

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4. For whatever reason, Daniel Jones—or, as he’s more widely known, “Abracadaniel”—continues to take plenty of heat for generally impressive play. Last Monday night, making his 13th career start, he went 19-for-28 for 161 yards, a TD and 3 INT with 70 rushing yards against the Steelers… wait, my mistake, that was Lamar Jackson’s stat line against the Steelers last October, in his 13th career start and in the midst of an NFL MVP campaign. Jones, also facing the Steelers in his 13th career start but behind one of football’s worst offensive lines instead of one of the best, went 26-for-41 for 279, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, with some highly impressive throws.

The takeaway probably isn’t that Jones will be this season’s MVP, but perhaps it’s time to move past the Gettleman trolling/draft pundit cackling that have so far defined Jones’s career.

He has an interesting matchup Sunday against a Bears defense that still feels like a pale imitation of the 2018 version, having just allowed 426 yards and 23 points (would’ve been 30 if not for D’Andre Swift’s welcome to Detroit moment) to a Kenny Golladay-less Lions offense, which metaphorically speaking is Matthew Stafford dragging a lifeless corpse for the duration of a half-marathon.

The Giants' offensive line can’t play any more poorly than it did on Monday, Golden Tate could be back in the lineup, and Jones has a chance to build on a promising start to his second season.

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5. Lost in all the hand-wringing over Tom Brady soiling himself in his Bucs debut followed by his coach pointing out that Tom Brady had soiled himself in his Bucs debut is the fact that the Bucs defense might be really good.

Tampa’s front seven is going to be stout against the run, and there was plenty of optimism that Shaq Barrett and the pass rush’s 2019 performance was for real. The question mark was a secondary full of recent Day 2 picks that had flashed last season but had yet to really pull it together.

In New Orleans last week, until a Taysom Hill gadget play for 38 yards sealed the game the Bucs had allowed 3.7 yards per play. Carlton Davis locked down Michael Thomas: 5 targets, 3 catches (tied for lowest career output), 17 yards (second-lowest career output).

If the quarterback stops being a liability, the Bucs might have a championship-caliber defense on their hands.

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6. A little more than 11 months ago, Jacoby Brissett had just engineered an electrifying game-winning drive to beat the Broncos in Indy, moving the Colts to 5-2. That was despite the fact that Brissett had been elevated to the starting spot just before the season started after Andrew Luck decided he would rather have full use of his body and mind while he raises his child and reads books (nerd!).

One week after that victory over the Broncos, Brissett went down in Pittsburgh, Brian Hoyer replaced him and did all he could to burn the season to the ground, and by the time Brissett was back in the lineup injuries had reduced the receiving corps to an XFL dream team.

Brissett deserved another shot to lead this team, though there was logic behind the Philip Rivers signing. Most of Rivers’s issues last year were born out of playing behind an atrocious offensive line—the O-line is a strength for the Colts—and Rivers has a history with Frank Reich. Rivers is 38, a statue in the pocket with diminishing arm strength, but there’s no reason, with his passable physical tools and football acumen, he can’t run a more expansive offense and make it go more effectively and efficiently than Brissett, who is still in a developmental stage.

And then last week in Jacksonville happened, when Rivers forced two rookie-style interceptions—just completely missing bodies in the defensive backfield—resulting in the Colts dropping a game to an undermanned division rival despite not punting a single time during the game (on account of the Jaguars being so crappy).

The opportunity for a redemption tour starts this week, when the Colts host a Vikings team whose inexperienced cornerbacking group got obliterated by Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. The Colts are good enough and deep enough that Rivers doesn’t have to carry them on his back, but he can’t be the reason they lose games. If that’s the case in the first month of the season, Indy has to turn back to Brissett.

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7. We’re all trying with our fake crowd noise, but please, sound engineers, there’s no deafening roar from the crowd when a third- or fourth-and-1 is converted by the home team. There’s a collective sigh of relief followed by maybe an elevated murmur. When you press the “berserker” button after a short-yardage run, it makes it sound like there was some kind of development—an unexpected development—like a fumble.

The crowd should only hit its loudest decibel level at the following moments:

• Touchdown longer than eight yards
• Completed pass over the top of the defense
• Fumble in the open field
• Reveal of a home-team fumble recovery in a crowd
• Interception (non-Hail Mary variety)
• Fourth-and-short stop, but only when it’s clear there has been a stop
• Third-down sack in second half of close game
• Long punt or kickoff return, but: make sure it goes loud-soft-loud during the play to represent the crowd getting excited, then worrisomely scanning the field for a flag, then getting excited again
• The greatest pump-up song of all time, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” plays over the PA

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9. Ladies and gentlemen . . . the great Chicago!

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