The first week of the NFL season created a myriad of questions. NFL Week 2 helped answer some of them, but it also offered more than a few surprises that created even more questions.
The headline grabber of the week was a beat down in Denver. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos left us surprised coming out of that one, albeit in completely different ways. The same can be said for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.
Anyone who watched last year’s NFC Championship Game can’t be surprised that the Atlanta Falcons offense dominate Green Bay’s defense. Still, it was hard to see what happened to Aaron Rodgers coming.
And while the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers did win, we can’t be too upbeat about their teams. Really, we can’t be too upbeat about their conference.
These were the biggest surprises from NFL Week 2.
Cowboys offense looked lost in Mile High
Halloween is still weeks away. But a group of impostors donned jerseys to take on the Broncos on Sunday. That’s the only logical explanation. Because the guys on the field did nothing to even remotely resemble the Cowboys.
C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles combined for 164 yards on 34 carries. Trevor Semian threw four touchdown passes. And as bad as all that made Dallas look, it paled in comparison to what we saw from the offense. Dak Prescott, who entered the game with four career regular season interceptions, was picked off twice. Ezekiel Elliott was stymied all day. He finished with nine carries for eight yards and quit on his team. These two second-year players have looked flawless in their NFL careers. But on Sunday, they were far from it.
Buccaneers show no rust, blow out Chicago
Before Week 1, a 29-7 result in this game would not have been remotely surprising. But a few things changed that thinking. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their Week 1 game postponed due to Hurricane Irma and had to deal with its after-effects. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears showed well in a Week 1 loss to the Falcons.
Logic still said that the better team (the Buccaneers) would prevail. But if nothing else, it made sense to think that Tampa might show some early rust. It didn’t work that way. The Buccaneers led 10-0 after one, 26-0 at the half and were on cruise control in the second half. It’s only one game, but the strong showing was a good sign for this team.
Rams defenseless against Redskins
With full acknowledgment that Week 1’s win came against the Indianapolis Colts, the Los Angeles Rams were overwhelming in their season opening win. They lost in Week 2 to the Washington Redskins. The result was shocking enough, but the way it materialized is the real headline grabber.
Despite having Aaron Donald back in the lineup, Los Angeles could do nothing to stop the Washington rushing attack. The Redskins ran for 229 yards on 39 carries. That’s 5.9 yards a pop. Even if we eliminate a 61-yard run from Chris Thompson as an outlier, that’s still 4.4 yards per attempt. Quite frankly, that’s way too much for anyone, especially a team that should be winning with defense.
Are Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt unstoppable?
The Philadelphia Eagles had a week’s worth of film to watch on the Kansas City Chiefs tandem that wreaked havoc in Week 1. It clearly didn’t do much.
Smith was a little more like his traditional self. But he still was 21-for-28 for 251 yards with a touchdown, no interceptions, and a 113.8 rating. Hunt, meanwhile rushed for 81 yards on only 13 carries (6.2 yards per carry!), scored two touchdowns on the ground and added three catches for 28 yards. The Chiefs had a phenomenal offense in Week 1. In Week 2, Kansas City’s offense validated that effort and proved it’s going to be very tough all year long.
Trevor Siemian and the Broncos make statement against Dallas
We’ve already detailed the struggles of the Cowboys. But we have to give credit where it’s due. The Broncos were impressive on Sunday. Denver simply overwhelmed Dallas from the opening kickoff on. Nothing, not even a lightning delay, could slow the Broncos down.
And it wasn’t just the defense, which we knew was good. The offense gained 380 yards of total offense and picked up 26 first downs. Frankly, the quarterback deserves a ton of credit. A season ago, the Broncos started 2-0, but Siemian had one touchdown, three interceptions and a 74.4 rating. It was clear that they were winning despite him. This year, Denver is 2-0 again, but Siemian has a league leading six touchdowns, two picks, and a 106.9 rating. The Broncos may not be winning because of Siemian, but he hasn’t been a drain on this team, either.
Remember, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler put up pretty mediocre numbers in 2015, and this team won the Super Bowl. If Siemian can continue to improve or at least maintain this level, Denver becomes a viable threat again.
Carolina offense continues to struggle
The good news for the Panthers is that they moved to 2-0. But it’s absolutely clear that this team needs a lot of work, especially on offense. Cam Newton was pressured all day and sacked six times by the Buffalo Bills defense. Even when he wasn’t pressured, Newton looked off, missing open receivers with flat-out bad passes. We wouldn’t be so concerned with this effort in a winning performance, except Week 2 looked strikingly similar to his effort in Week 1. In this game, Carolina couldn’t even score a touchdown.
The team’s two wins have come against two of the NFL’s worst offenses in the Bills and San Francisco 49ers. The defense can’t be expected to allow only three points a game. At some point, the offense will have to put up points. With Greg Olsen now out with a broken foot, that task is going to get tougher. The 2-0 record is good. But this team is a work in progress.
Redskins regain form across country
While we can knock Los Angeles, we have to give recognition to Washington. The Redskins looked completely lost in Week 1 — a home game against Philadelphia. Given the notorious struggles of East Coast teams playing out west, how good the Rams looked in Week 1, and that Donald was returning, Los Angeles seemed primed for a 2-0 start. It didn’t work out that way.
Washington jumped out to a 13-0 lead, and while Los Angeles would eventually tie it at 20-20, the Redskins controlled the game throughout. Washington dominated the time of possession (36:19-23:41) and first down (21-14) battles. The Redskins also forced two turnovers. We don’t know how the season will end up playing out for these two teams. But in Week 2, the better team was Washington. Given what happened only one week before, that was quite surprising.
Blake Bortles attempts 34 passes in blowout loss
Here’s a rule of thumb for the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches. Any time you have Bortles throw 34 passes, you’re going to lose. More often than not, you’re going to lose convincingly, just like you did on Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee won big. Certainly, we can attribute some of that to Jacksonville playing from behind. Right? To a degree, that’s true. The Jags definitely opened up the passing game more once the game got out of hand. But Bortles committed three turnovers. The Titans biggest lead at the time of any of those turnovers was 6-3.
While Bortles passed 34 times, Leonard Fournette took only 14 hand-offs. Maybe you can’t rely too much on the run in today’s game. Maybe a run heavy offense will only lead to even more lopsided losses. It’s possible. But while running too much might be a losing strategy, we know what relying on Bortles too much is going to get you. Additionally, Bortles threw only 21 times in Jacksonville’s Week 1 win. That’s really the surprise here. The Jags shunned a strategy that won them a game for one that’s lost them so many.
Dolphins get big win out west
As we’ve already detailed, going across the country to win is tough in the NFL. That was the task of the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, along with recovering from Hurricane Irma and the rust that comes with not playing in Week 1. Miami made it happen, spoiling the regular-season StubHub Center debut of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jay Cutler had a solid performance. Jay Ajayi had a tremendous 122 yards on 28 carries. The defense did allow a big passing day to Philip Rivers, but it hung tough to allow only 17 points (two missed Younghoe Koo field goals did help that cause). Given everything facing the Dolphins, a poor effort could have been forgiven, or at least understood. But Miami came up big in its first game of the season.
Seahawks win ugly vs. 49ers
Entering Sunday’s game, San Francisco had dropped six straight games in Seattle, losing by an average score of 30-12. The 49ers went into the Pacific Northewest on Sunday, and while their defense was solid and Carlos Hyde was good, the offense as a whole was atrocious. Still, the Seahawks needed a fourth-quarter comeback to escape with a 12-9 win. That close of a result was certainly a surprise.
Unfortunately for Seattle, it was caused by something all too unsurprising. This team can not protect Russell Wilson. It was a problem throughout 2016, in Week 1 of 2017 against the Packers, and in Week 2 against San Francisco. This is going to be a familiar song for the Seahawks in 2017. If they can’t figure it out, games against teams with a good pass rush and even an average offense are not going to go well.
Cardinals pull off weird road win
It seemed as though just about everything that could go wrong for the Arizona Cardinals did go wrong on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Cardinals were on the road and fell behind 10-0 after two Colts possessions. Carson Palmer looked lost in the pocket. When he did make a good pass, it was frequently dropped. Bruce Arians will not be submitting footage of this game to his personal coaching highlight reel. At no point did Arizona play like a winning football team on Sunday. Yet, the Cardinals won.
Some of that can be attributed to playing an inept Indianapolis team. We understand that. But the Cardinals looked completely lost for most of this game. Yet, when all was said and done, Arizona evened its record at 1-1 and now sits in a tie atop an NFC West that looks completely unpredictable.
Aaron Rodgers struggles in Atlanta
A look at Rodgers’ final stats against the Falcons on Sunday will show deceptively good numbers. The Green Bay quarterback finished the day 33-for-50 with two touchdowns, an interception, and a 90.7 passer rating. So, he did his part, right? To a degree, yes. But early in the third quarter, a Rodgers fumble was returned for a Falcons’ touchdown, giving Atlanta a 31-7 lead. At that point of the game, Rodgers was 10-for-18 for 85 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, a 44.9 rating and a lost fumble.
Yes, Rodgers fought back from there, threw two touchdown passes (one of which was fantastic) and made the game mildly interesting. But the fact of the matter is that if Atlanta’s Super Bowl collapse wasn’t so fresh on everyone’s mind, we’re chalking his finish up to garbage time. Much like we do with Blake Bortles when he has one of these games. The Falcons offense ran all over the Packers. That was expected. But the Atlanta defense won its battle against Rodgers and quite frankly, won it convincingly. That wasn’t expected at all.
Giants defense doesn’t help in loss to Lions
If we start talking about the flaws in the New York Giants offense, we’ll be here until Week 3. But as bad as that unit is, it’s not surprising. However, the performance of the defense on Monday night was. This is supposed to be an elite defense. This defense is supposed to take this team to the playoffs, if not deeper.
The Detroit Lions made the big plays when they needed to. While Detroit still hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since 2013, the team rushed for 138 yards, averaging 4.3 yards a carry. Also, Ameer Abdullah didn’t go for 100, but he did rush for 86 yards at better than five yards per. So, keeping him under 100 was nothing but a moral victory — if that. Matthew Stafford passed for only 122 yards but threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. And while he was sacked three times, New York failed to consistently take advantage of its mismatches up front.
The Giants only allowed 24 points, seven of which came on special teams. The stats may look okay, but this defense just didn’t have the effort that it needed to have. Eli Manning and the offense will be the story. But the defense can’t be let off the hook here.
Patriots defense bounces back in The Big Easy
We kind of had a feeling that Tom Brady was going to come back strong in Week 2. He rarely has two bad games in a row, and the New Orleans Saints defense is abysmal. But the New England Patriots defense looked shaky in Week 1, especially after losing Dont’a Hightower. With Hightower still out and going against Drew Brees in The Superdome, this defense was going to have its hands full.
It really answered the bell. Brees did throw for 356 yards, but New England allowed only two touchdowns and 20 points. Brady and company put up 36 points and really won with ease. The defense still has its issues. But in a tough building against a formidable opponent, it more than held its own.
Andy Dalton’s continued regression
The good news for Dalton is that if he continues to play this way, he’s not going to be ridiculed for any more poor playoff performances. Actually, if he continues down this road, he shouldn’t be ridiculed for any bad games for much longer. Because if anyone associated with the Cincinnati Bengals is paying attention, Dalton can’t be far from being benched.
Dalton looked like a confused rookie on Thursday night. He didn’t throw any interceptions, but far too many of his passes fell to the ground well out of any receiver’s reach. In those cases, he was either throwing the ball away far too early, or just missing his receivers that badly. No matter what it is, it’s a problem. The Houston Texans scored 13 points on Thursday. A mediocre game from Dalton should have been enough for that.
But Dalton wasn’t even mediocre. Instead, the Bengals are the first team since the 1939 Eagles to start the year with two home games and not find the end zone in either. For what it’s worth, those Eagles finished 1-9-1.
Falcons by far the NFC’s best
While Atlanta had a relatively easy journey through the NFC playoffs a season ago, it was only one of a number of teams to enter the year as a viable threat to get to the Super Bowl. It’s early, and we know that things can change. But through two weeks, the NFC has been flat.
Does anyone really believe in the Seahawks’ offense right now? At the risk of overreacting to one loss, the Cowboys don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Even their Week 1 win was pretty flat. It certainly doesn’t look like the Packers defense can do anything against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. Maybe things will shake out differently in the coming weeks. But two weeks in, we are far from impressed with the NFC.