Week 2 is over. The tape has been grinded, the takes have been locked and loaded. Another week of NFL action is in the books and fan bases throughout the NFL are either rejoicing, trying to cope, or looking forward to another crack at a win next Sunday.
To keep up with last week's column, I have reviewed each Week 2 game to give you m thoughts on the last week in the NFL, who is standing out, and who is, well, playing bad football.
Without further ado, here is Shipler's Dozen: 12 thoughts on Week 2.
The rookie quarterbacks are getting their teeth kicked in so far
Even with the success of Justin Herbert last season, the expectation should never be for rookie quarterbacks to come out of the gate hot. Things are moving at faster speeds than they have ever experienced, they are seeing defensive looks that are completely foreign to them compared to what they saw in college, and the worst NFL defense is miles better than practically any college defense any faced. As such, it isn't surprising to see the 2021 quarterback class have a slow start to the first two weeks. And it hasn't been an up and down experience, either. Simply put, the rookies have been picked on and gotten their teeth kicked in by opposing defenses. Welcome to the NFL.
Mac Jones has been the best rookie quarterback so far, ranking 16th among starters in EPA per play and 18th in adjusted net yards per attempt. But even he has been just O.K. at best, with few of his throws testing defenses downfield. The Patriots have been a safe offense that hasn't asked Jones to do a lot, which is fine, but the fact that he has been far and away the best rookie quarterback through two weeks despite doing not that much shows how much the class has struggled.
Then there are the top two picks in April's draft. Trevor Lawrence (33rd out of 33 in EPA, 31st out of 33 in adjusted net yards per attempt) and Zach Wilson (32nd in EPA and adjusted net yards per attempt) have each thrown five interceptions and look like rookies placed on the two worst teams in football from just a year ago. While many hoped each would set the NFL on fire immediately, it has become clear that where you are drafted is more important than anything else. The kids will be just fine, but it has been a bumpy start to say the least.
Maxx Crosby, Defensive Player of the Year candidate
It is much, much too early to start calling any awards races, or even declaring any of them as starting, but man, Maxx Crosby deserves to be in the driver's seat when they do start as long as he keeps up this pace. The Las Vegas Raiders defensive end has been a revelation in 2021, dominating back-to-back games to help the Raiders start the year 2-0 and have a tie at the top of the AFC West through two weeks. Crosby hasn't just looked good. He has looked elite. He has whipped every blocker that has went toe to toe with him, establishing himself as one of the top rising defensive stars in the NFL.
Through two weeks, no player has more quarterback hits in the NFL than Crosby, who has added on two sacks and 16 pressures (per Pro Football Focus) on top of that figure. Crosby has been unblockable for both the Ravens' and Steelers' offenses and is arguably the biggest reason the Raiders' defense has improved through two weeks. If he can keep up even part of this pace, he will be in the running for some awards.
Carolina may have one of the best coordinator duos in the NFL
The Carolina Panthers are cooking and the vibes are as good as they have been since Cam Newton's MVP season and their Super Bowl appearance. The Panthers have punched two offenses right in the mouth and the offense is actually putting up points and creating big plays at a consistent clip. For the first time since the end of the Newton era, the Panthers are genuinely fun. And a big reason why is because Carolina just may have the best coordinator duo in the NFL.
Joe Brady had a so-so first year in the NFL as Teddy Bridgewater proved to be a poor scheme fit, but Brady so far has Sam Darnold actually operating with some efficiency. Sam Darnold! West Coast Bortles! And not only is Darnold playing well, but the Panthers have done an excellent job of spreading the ball around and letting their deep group of skill players take turns at punishing defenses.
Then there is Phil Snow. The former Baylor defensive coordinator has got the Panthers' defense operating at an elite level, with Carolina's front seven flying around and causing havoc on opposing passing games. The Panthers have made big additions to all three levels of the defense and Snow is doing everything right from a coaching standpoint to generate pressure and force offenses into mistakes. The Panthers have a long way to go, but Brady and Snow have been home run hires for Matt Rhule.
The Bears have taken the Andy Dalton/Justin Fields question to a weird place
Justin Fields surely had his struggles in his semi-NFL debut following Andy Dalton's knee injury, but that is without Fields having a week with starters reps to prepare. Fields will now get the chance to do that ahead of Week 3, where he will make his first NFL start. But even with Fields bringing some positive momentum as well as a dynamic element of athleticism to the offense, it seems the Bears (specifically Matt Nagy) seem unwilling to accept the possibility, and perhaps even probability, that Fields will win the Bears' job this week and never look back.
The Bears' offense has been putrid with Dalton at the helm, which has more or less restricted their passing game to the first-down marker and no further. And while Fields very well may struggle moving forward (he is a rookie quarterback, so he will struggle at some point), he still gives the Bears a better chance to operate a functional and even explosive offense. But even with this in mind, Nagy and the Bears continue to publically shoot down the notion that maybe, just maybe, Justin Fields is better than Andy Dalton and should start over him whether he is healthy or not. It has gotten weird in Chicago.
Micah Parsons, Patrick Surtain, Greg Newsome look like special defenders already
We are only two weeks into the careers of the 2021 NFL Draft class, but there are quite a few rookies who have already made a wildly positive impression. And if you just looked at how the draft actually played out in April, one would presume those players would be on the offensive side of the ball. After all, the first seven picks were all offensive players. We know all about the receivers, offensive tackles, quarterbacks, and Kyle Pitts. But through two weeks, there are three defenders who look like bonafide real deals.
- Dallas Cowboys wrecking ball Micah Parsons could genuinely be developed into a Pro Bowl player at either linebacker or defensive end, with the first-round rookie playing the latter role last Sunday and recording four quarterback hits and one tackle for loss in the process. Parsons looks like a front seven defender who can do anything and everything.
- Patrick Surtain II had the Jacksonville Jaguars' receivers in clamps in his first-career start. The No. 9 overall pick forced a number of incompletions with his physicality, was sticky in coverage at all levels of the field outside of one win by DJ Chark, and completely bullied Tyron Johnson on his way to his first NFL interception.
- Greg Newsome II was one of my favorite prospects in the entire draft because of the way he attacked offenses. He wasn't a finnese cover man who let the ball and routes come to him -- he dictated the action in all facets. In two starts, he has been targeted six times and has given up three receptions for 24 yards, while also having some genuinely elite flashes against the run.
Kansas City has a CEH problem
One year after the Kansas City Chiefs invested a first-round pick into running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs officially have a problem in the backfield -- and this would have been the case even if Edwards-Helaire didn't have the game-ending fumble against the Ravens on Sunday Night Football. In an offense where running backs have thrived in the past, Edwards-Helaire is struggling to even get minimal production, which is a massive indictment of his ability considering Kansas City's offense.
Through two games, few running backs have produced as little on their own as Edwards-Helaire. The former LSU running back has recorded zero broken tackles according to Sports Info Solutions (58 other players have recorded at least one broken tackle on a rush), while not a single one of his carries have gone for a first down. According to Pro Football Reference, Edwards-Helaire is second-to-last in yards after contact per carry among all NFL runnng backs with at least 10 carries. In a perfect situation of a running back -- and in a scheme where running backs have found massive success in the past -- Edwards-Helaire is struggling to make any impact. That is telling considering how easily running backs can be found throughout the draft.
The Colts are the best 0-2 team in football
While this may sound like a backhanded compliment (it would be terrific usage as one), it isn't meant to be. The state of the Indianapolis Colts is a bit up in the air due to Carson Wentz spraining both ankles as only Wentz can, but the Colts have still shown arguably more good than bad through two losses, which is more than the Jets, Giants, Jaguars, Falcons, and the twin NFC North squads can say.
So far, the Colts' two losses have been a 12-point loss to the 1-1 Seattle Seahawks and a 3-point loss to the Los Angeles Rams, both taking place at home. That isn't exactly inspiring, but they have at least been competitive in each game and have more or less defeated themselves, especially in Week 2 when the offense completely sputtered on back-to-back possessions. This is better than we can say about the Jets, who have yet to field an NFL offense, the Giants, who lost on Thursday Night Football in a hilariously ironic fashion, the Jaguars, who have been in the red-zone once all season, the Falcons, who continue to allow scoring bonanzas, or the Vikings, who have pushed Mike Zimmer to the edge of niceness.
Burn all recordings of the first-ever Mac Jones vs. Zach Wilson battle
My apologies to all who sat through this one. Fans of Damien Harris and J.C. Jackson likely had a heck of a time, but otherwise this wasn't the kind of showing from either quarterback that will inspire confidence in the future of the AFC East. Instead, it was a 60-minute back-and-forth derp fest between Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick, and Jones, the No. 15 overall pick. There was strong defense played, but this was in large part the result of some major assistance from the rookie quarterbacks.
Wilson had the worst quarterback performance of the early 2021 NFL season, at one point throwing the same amount of passes to Patriots defenders (four) that he had thrown to his own team. Wilson's four interceptions weren't offset by any true positives either, with Wilson struggling with his composure and accuracy late in the game, long after the final pick. Wilson didn't look good operating from even clean pockets against the Jets and each of his interceptions classified as a disaster-level turnover.
As for Jones, he can be thankful for Wilson's dreadful day because it essentially wipes all memory of his own struggles. Jones simply didn't show any aggression or willingness to push the ball downfield against the Jets, throwing only six of his 30 attempts 10 yards or further. Jones looked sluggish against the Jets' pass-rush as well and made his fair share of boneheaded rookie plays. Wilson was horrible, but Jones wasn't good either. Here is to hoping the next edition of this rivalry is much cleaner.
It should be Trey Lance time in San Francisco
No quarterback has restricted their offense more in 2021 than Jimmy Garoppolo. While the 49ers are 2-0 and Garoppolo hasn't thrown an interception, it was clear during the entirety of Week 2 that Garoppolo simply isn't it at quarterback. Garoppolo missed a number of routine throws, including one disastrous misfire on third-down in the first half, and showed a complete lack of desire to push the ball downfield with only 106 intended air yards on 33 dropbacks, the fewest among all quarterbacks in Week 2. Garoppolo has only thrown four passes 15 yards or further all season, tied for second-fewest among all starting quarterbacks.
In short, it should be Trey Lance time. He may not be "ready" and there is a good chance he will get stuffed into a locker for four quarters just like his fellow rookie quarterbacks have been over the last two weeks, but there is no upside with Garoppolo. Let the kid play, Kyle Shanahan. Games like Sunday are why the 49ers felt like they had to make a move in the draft, so why not hurry up the process?
Death, taxes, and Aaron Rodgers using the Lions as a symbolic sacrifice
When one thinks of dominant quarterback performances against specific franchises, the thoughts likely first go to Patrick Mahomes and the Chargers, Peyton Manning and the entire AFC South, Tom Brady and the Jets, and more. But right up there with the rest of the group should be Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his personal vendetta against the Detroit Lions. For whatever reason, Rodgers can have the worst game of his life one week and then come back seven days or so later and perform daring feats against the Lions.
Rodgers can always be relied upon to come through against Detroit. For whatever reason, Rodgers turns into the best version of a superhero under center each time the two teams play, with Rodgers once again torching a young and improving Lions team on Monday Night Football. Rodgers made several throws that few athletes on this planet can make, such as this ridiculous touchdown pass to Robert Tonyan. Rodgers is now 18-5 against the Lions, with 50 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. His career numbers against the Lions look like an incredible MVP season in of itself. You can't count on many things in the NFL, but you can always count on Rodgers blacking out against the Lions.
Derrick Henry is the sole reason the Titans will run away with the AFC South
The Titans are not very good this year. Ryan Tannehill and the passing game have looked completely lost without Arthur Smith and Jonnu Smith, while the defense has been shredded through the air in back-to-back weeks, frequently allowing blown coverages. Even with all of this in mind, though, you should still bet the entire mortgage on the Titans to win the AFC South. This is in part because the AFC South has gotten off to a horrible start in 2021, but a much bigger reason to be confident in the Titans is Derrick Henry.
Henry simply makes no sense as a football player. He is a steamroller with a jet pack attached to him. He can run over any defender and outrun any secondary's angle. 42 touches for 237 yards (5.64 yards per touch) and three touchdowns is absolutely bonkers. If the Titans had any other running back last Sunday, they are staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start and asking where things went wrong. Henry is an alien walking among mere mortals, and the Titans are going to ride him right to another playoff berth.
The Vikings have pushed Mike Zimmer to the verge of politeness
There is no head coach in the NFL who gives quotes like Mike Zimmer. The Minnesota Vikings head coach is a walking sound byte, even when he isn't trying to. He is the perfect blend of "Get of my lawn" and football brain, leading to his crankiness leading to some stellar quotes over the years -- with kickers often being the players who draw his ire. As a result, no quote says as much as the one Zimmer said this week about embattled kicker Greg Joseph this week after Joseph missed a potential game-winning field goal in Week 2.
“This kid has kicked well,” Zimmer said, per ESPN's Courtney Cronin. “He missed a couple this week. That wasn’t the reason why we lost the game. Lots of kickers miss field goals. Let’s give the kid a break, OK?”
The 2021 Vikings have been such a chaotic team that they have pushed Mike Zimmer to politeness, with the coach now implementing tender care of the psyche of his kicker. This is the same coach who has used kickers as more or less voodoo dolls over the last several years. Zimmer is flipping the script now, which shows just how wild and strange the Vikings season truly has been. Someone, please, help Mike Zimmer.