September 15, 2014

SHATZMAN | Five Storylines From NFL Week Two

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1. Week of Major Injuries

The second week of the season featured an unusually high number of injuries — especially on the offensive side of the ball. Several teams lost star players and valuable contributors. In Washington, quarterback Robert Griffin III landed awkwardly on a non-contact throw and was later diagnosed with a dislocated ankle – an injury that will leave him sidelined over a month, possibly two. The Skins have an experienced backup in Michigan State product Kirk Cousins, who filled in nicely for RGIII and, with help from a 10-sack defensive performance, led a rout of the lowly Jaguars. Cousins fits first-year head coach Jay Gruden’s system well, as Gruden has been vocal in regards to his preference towards an in-the-pocket QB rather than a scrambler like Griffin. Gruden reportedly preferred Cousins over RGIII to begin with.

Regardless, you have to feel bad for Griffin. He’s a class act who has struggled with major injuries throughout his career, both college and professional. Only time will tell whether Griffin will regain his starting job when he recovers from his ankle injury. Washington also lost receiver DeSean Jackson early in Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, and although he is being considered day-to-day, the football world wants to see him suit up Sunday when the Skins travel to Philly to meet Jackson’s former team.

Other major injuries include Chiefs’ star running back Jamaal Charles, who left in the first quarter of Sunday’s matchup versus the Broncos with a high-ankle sprain. The already injury-depleted Chiefs have depth at running back with second-year pro Knile Davis, but replacing a first-team All Pro is no easy task. Charles is expected to miss more than a month. In other injury news, the Bengals’ lost stud receiver AJ Green early Sunday, but he appears to have avoided a major injury, and the first-place Bengals will likely only be forced to play one game, if that, without Green, as they have a Week 4 bye. Chargers’ starting running back Ryan Mathews went down against the Seahawks with a sprained MCL and will miss 4-6 weeks, but the Chargers have two starting-caliber backs in Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead who will fill the void as the Bolts look to compete in a weak AFC West.

2. Winless Teams Get Even

Several surprising 0-1 teams got a much-needed W this week. Starting 0-2 has been ominous in regards to playoff hopes. Yesterday, Business Insider reported that just 12% of teams starting 0-2 have gone on to make the playoffs since 1990. The Ravens handled the Steelers on Thursday night to secure their first win in the competitive AFC North. The Cowboys went on the road to Nashville where they, like the Ravens, played a phenomenal defensive game in a 26-10 win, improving their record to 1-1.

The Patriots, who were upset last Sunday by the division rival Dolphins, went into Minneapolis and dismantled the Peterson-less Vikings in all three phases of the game. Right before half, the Vikings lined up to kick a field goal to make it a one score game, and the Pats blocked the kick and returned it for a touchdown. New England intercepted former Patriot Matt Cassell four times in a game that assures Pats’ fans that the Week 1 loss was something of a fluke.

The Chargers and Bears both pulled off major upsets of their NFC West opponents in the Seahawks and Niners, respectively. Philip Rivers was able to pick apart the Legion of Boom, hooking up with Antonio Gates for three scores. Chargers’ receiver Keenan Allen called Richard Sherman “not really a shutdown corner” following the win. The Packers, Skins, Rams and Browns all broke even in the standings as well, with the third of the aforementioned squads pulling off a huge Hoyer-led upset over the Saints in front of their loyal Dawg Pound.

3. The Saints Are One of Six 0-2 Teams

Hearing that the Jaguars and Raiders are 0-2 isn’t exactly stunning. Neither is finding out that the Giants and Bucs are, too. The Chiefs? A little surprising, considering they nearly won a playoff game last season, but when looking at their injury-ridden roster, not shocking. The Saints, though, are shocking. New Orleans was favored in both Week 1 versus the Falcons and Sunday on the road against the Browns, and let both games slip away in the final minutes. Their offense is still the same ol’ high-scoring offense Saints offense as has been since their Super Bowl win, but their supposedly-improved Rob Ryan-led defense has been disappointing in the opening two games. New Orleans has three consecutive winnable games in Minnesota, Dallas and Tampa, and then heads into its bye week before beginning a brutal stretch of games (Detroit, Green Bay, Carolina, San Fran, Cincinnati). If Who Dat Nation is to be watching their beloved team in January, then the Saints need to win their next three games. If they don’t, it will be quite the challenge to be among the aforementioned 12%.

4. No Clear No. 1

It would have been difficult to argue against the Seahawks being the top team in the league, had they defeated the Chargers on Sunday. But their defense simply didn’t look as good as it usually does, and San Diego’s offense put up a 30 spot. So, maybe the Seahawks still are the best team in the NFL, but Sunday’s performance didn’t echo that sentiment. If it’s not Seattle, it must be Denver, right? Likely. They beat a tough Colts squad last Sunday, and handled the Chiefs this week in what was a lackluster offensive performance from the 13-point-favorite Broncos. For now, it’s safe to say that the Seahawks and Broncos are the top two, but teams like the Bengals and Panthers deserve credit where it is due. The Broncos and Seahawks do face off this season – this coming Sunday. I doubt it will be a repeat of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl thrashing.

5. Marquee Monday Night Matchup

Yesterday’s Eagles-Colts game in Indianapolis was set up to be the possible game of the week. Both teams had high-powered, dangerous offenses led by two young arms, and two of the finest coaches in the league in Chuck Pagano and the innovative Chip Kelly. Both Indy and Phillys’ defenses started the season a bit suspect, but have been improving. The game was a perfect matchup for casual football fans who wanted to watch an exciting game.