BELTON — There was turf freshly adorned with logos, player introductions with spotlights and the feeling of football in the air.
The Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football podcast is back with our Week 3 game-by-game breakdown. Hosts Arthur Arkush, John Sahly and Kyle Nabors go over their favorite plays from Week 3. Plus we make our bold calls!
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It might be a while before we get another game as exciting as the USC's 27-24 victory over Texas on Saturday night. The fourth quarter and overtime of that game was as good as it gets.
With only one matchup between teams in the top 30 slated this week, I thought I would outline some players to watch on TV this weekend.
If you want to see one of the better edge pass rushers who could be in the 2018 draft, check out Syracuse at LSU at 6 p.m. Central time Saturday on ESPN2. LSU’s Arden Key is tall, long and athletic, which is just what most NFL clubs want. Key missed the first two LSU games this season because of a shoulder injury, but played this past week and had a half-sack in limited reps. He should get more work this week, as he needs to be ready for tough SEC games.
LSU also has a pretty good running back to check out in junior Derrius Guice. If Guice enters the draft, he will be one of the first running backs selected. Through three games, Guice has run for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Although Guice doesn’t have the size of former teammate Leonard Fournette, he may be just as physical a runner.
Another top pass rusher to watch is North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb. It won’t be an easy game for Chubb, as NC State plays at Florida State at 11 a.m. Central on Saturday on ABC. Chubb is an ideal 4-3 defensive end, but he also has the athleticism to play on his feet in a 3-4.
Ohio State has it easy this week hosting UNLV. That means defensive end Tyquan Lewis could have a big day. Lewis has not lit it up so far this year the way many thought he would, so this game is an opportunity for him to get going in the right direction.
In the preseason, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph got nowhere near the publicity passers like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen did, yet through three games he has outplayed them all. He has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 1,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception in his first three games. Although he didn’t get the preseason publicity, he sure is getting it now and is currently one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy.
Oklahoma State also has a big time receiver in senior James Washington, who has a combination of size, speed and toughness. In three games, Washington has 13 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a whopping 28.2 yards per catch!
Oklahoma State hosts TCU Saturday afternoon on at 2:30 p.m. Central on ESPN. It is the only game between ranked teams this week.
Inside linebackers don’t often get the publicity they deserve by the draft analysts because it isn’t always a premium position come draft day. Still, they are an important part of any club's defense, and teams are always looking for good ones. One of the best in the country is Virginia’s Micah Kizer, who already has 36 tackles and 5 sacks in just three games. If you want to see Kiser, check him out at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN2 versus Boise State.
Another top inside linebacker to watch is USC’s Cam Smith. Smith is a junior with size, strength, speed and instincts. While he doesn’t have the production numbers like Kiser, he isn’t far behind. USC plays at Cal at 2:30 p.m. Central on Saturday on ABC. While you’re watching Smith, don’t forget to look closely at QB Sam Darnold, who had some outstanding throws late in the game versus Texas.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears have a wide receiver problem, and the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t.
That is why Markus Wheaton — who will apparently make his Bears debut Sunday when the Steelers come to town — is a Bear and it is why Bears fans surveying the Steelers sideline on Sunday should be and probably will be green with envy.
Another new, and wounded, Bear who is also likely to debut in front of the home folks this week, cornerback Prince Amukamara, had this to say Thursday about Pittsburgh’s embarrassment of pass-catching riches.
“Those receivers, Martavis (Bryant) and Antonio (Brown), both amazing.
“I like to use the term that they’re both No. 1 guys on the outside.
“And JuJu (Smith Schuster) and No. 17 (Eli Rogers), they’re all good. No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off.
“We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”
Amukamara may have given Bryant top billing, but Brown has had three straight All-Pro seasons and, along with Julio Jones, is one of the two best receivers in the game.
Bryant, on the other hand, is the main reason Wheaton is a Bear.
Although the Steelers had high hopes for Wheaton when they drafted him in the third round four seasons ago, at 6-4, 211 pounds, Bryant, originally a fourth-round pick, has 4.4 40 speed and the ability to compete with Brown and Jones for the title of the NFL’s best if he can overcome a list of off-the-field issues.
Wheaton can be very good but has not shown that high a ceiling, and injuries have derailed his career since the Steelers drafted him.
With Bryant returning from a yearlong suspension last season due to substance abuse problems, the Steelers were quite comfortable letting Wheaton try and get healthy elsewhere.
While it will be exciting to see what Wheaton can do Sunday and going forward, his story to date sadly seems to be the theme of a long running problem for the Bears at the position.
Dating back to the Bears' last Super Bowl appearance, following the 2006 season, the best they have have been able to do at the position has been Bernard Berrian, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and fliers on Roy Williams and ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes after their best football was behind them.
Only Marshall and Jeffery paid any significant dividends on the field, but Marshall hurt the team off the field as much as he helped on it, and Jeffery spent a portion of his time in Chicago figuring out how to leave.
During that same time period, in addition to their current group, the Steelers have had potential Hall Of Famer Hines Ward, Holmes when he was winning a Super Bowl for them, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Nate Washington and Jericho Cotchery.
For a decade, as good as the Steelers have been at wide receiver, the Bears have been that weak.
As outstanding as Ben Roethlisberger has been, his targets have been a huge part of it, and as disappointing as Jay Cutler was, his lack of weapons were always part of the problem.
To Bears fans upset and disappointed that Mike Glennon is struggling and Mitch Trubisky isn’t being given a chance yet, their paltry receiver group is a huge part of the problem.
When Big Ben has been banged up, Pittsburgh has won with guys like Charlie Batch and Landry Jones because of the strength of their receiving corps.
Le’Veon Bell is a great running back in part because the Steelers outstanding receiver group prohibits defenses from loading the box to stop him.
Jordan Howard can be a great running back, but he is struggling now because defenses can stack to stop him without worrying about where Bears receivers are.
All of that is why the Steelers are once again playing for bonus time in January, and the Bears are once again playing for their jobs.
It's Thursday, which means Arthur Arkush is cracking his first of two Week 3 six-packs. So grab a cold one and keep reading for items on the Bengals, Browns, new-wave bell-cow backs, Buccaneers, Titans and Broncos.
1. Tossing a coordinator or coach over board in-season, like the Bengals did with Ken Zampese last week, often quickly creates a desirable splash. After their move from Greg Roman to Anthony Lynn in Week 3 last season, the Bills’ best player, LeSean McCoy, amassed three of his four highest 2016 rushing yardage totals over the next month as they went on a four-game winning streak.
When Bengals interim coordinator Bill Lazor's old boss Joe Philbin was ousted in Miami in 2015, the Dolphins' most explosive playmaker, Lamar Miller's followed with his two best games of the season, catalyzing Miami's most lopsided wins.
Who's the Bengals' best player? Of course it's A.J. Green (WR3), whose criticism of Zampese after the Pro Bowl wideout was targeted just three times following Houston's top two corners leaving last Thursday night with injury, was as pointed as anyone's.
Green has attracted 28 percent of the Bengals' overall target share, yet he's secured just more than half of the looks from Andy Dalton. What does that tell us? The focus of Lazor will be lasered to getting Dalton and Green clicking with quicker throws — which obviously also helps mask the Bengals' O-line and Dalton's proclivity for crippling under pressure.
It's possible — likely, even — rookie Joe Mixon (RB33) is already the Bengals' second-best player on offense. Zampese was one of infamous rookie shade thrower Marvin Lewis' longtime lieutenants. Lazor came from Miami, where he leaned heavily on rookies, Jarvis Landry (112 targets in 2014) and, when healthy, DeVante Parker (six targets per start, more than 56 percent of his yardage total in those four outings).
Add it all up and we've found our buy-low candidates in Week 3. If you can secure them before a visit to Green Bay and its still-reeling secondary and run 'D,' even better.
2. The man whom Zampese replaced last season, now-Browns coach Hue Jackson, likely isn't considering any rash coaching changes or ceding his play-calling responsibilities after an 0-2 start. But unlike some players whose public griping over a lack of touches is brushed off as selfishness, Isaiah Crowell (RB14) can point to Jackson's own offseason promise to affirm his complaint.
Jackson, recall, "beat himself up" in 2016 for not feeding Crowell, whose 4.8-yard rush average — more than two full yards above his current clip of 2.6 — ranked third among NFL backs with less than 200 carries. Crowell has just 27-70-0 rushing after two games, compared to 30-195-2 after also entering Week 3 winless last season.
Crowell is running for a new contract — something he thinks about, "during the game, after the game, before the game, right now, all the time," as he told local media this week. Our guess is he gets his best opportunity Sunday, when the Browns head to Indianapolis as 1 1/2-point road favorites without their No. 1 receiver. That could mean Duke Johnson — who out-snapped Crowell 39-32 in Week 2 — is back in the slot, and Crowell gets his wish against an improving Colts 'D.'
3. Crowell surely would love nothing more than to join 2017's new wave of old-fashioned three-down backs. Most of us expected Jay Ajayi (94.1 percent of offensive snaps), Ezekiel Elliott (84.8) and Le'Veon Bell (82.8) to pace this list after two games. Very few, though, foresaw Ty Montgomery (88) and Carlos Hyde (80.2) also being in the top five. Mike McCarthy has historically preferred a tandem, and Kyle Shanahan's record-breaking Falcons introduced the NFL's best one-two punch last season in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Unlike Hyde, with a dominant 7.0-yard rush average vs. stout Carolina and Seattle stop-units, Montgomery has thrived for owners namely on volume (39 touches on an NFL-high 139 snaps) and scores (3). And McCarthy suggested Wednesday he'll likely soon pull back Montgomery's reins, assuming Green Bay can find a better offensive rhythm than it has through two weeks. So Montgomery owners who insured their early investment with a late Jamaal Williams flier should enjoy their stud's success but don't cut bait on the rookie just yet.
With the help of football outsiders, here are Nos. 6-10 in playtime percentage among starting RBs: Melvin Gordon (79.5), Lamar Miller (77.9), LeSean McCoy (71.8), C.J. Anderson (71.2) and Dalvin Cook (67.2). The bookends of that list, Gordon and Cook, are the ones we'd expect could reside there by season's end. And Cook, particularly, has caught our eye through two games — one dominant outing vs. New Orleans and one underrated showing vs. Pittsburgh — en route to leading NFL backs with 30-plus carries with a 5.6-yard average.
4. Cook on Sunday should help us start to determine whether the Bucs' run 'D,' which rendered Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen completely ineffective (20 yards on 16 carries) in Week 2, is truly much improved. That's a huge key to Tampa's postseason aspirations, perhaps as big as any besides the Year 3 growth of Jameis Winston — which relates more directly to fantasy.
And another Viking, lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes, can help us gauge how much Winston has grown. Last week Rhodes took Antonio Brown out of the game in Pittsburgh's home debut, during which Ben Roethlisberger gladly shifted his attention to his other "No. 1," Martavis Bryant.
Can DeSean Jackson be to Winston what Bryant was to Big Ben? Evans attracted a game-high nine targets vs. the Bears, good for 7-93-1, whereas Jackson received seven chances against a defense missing its top corner. How Jackson fares against Trae Waynes/Terence Newman, and how much Winston looks in the direction of D-Jax and his tight ends will provide a solid early fantasy snapshot of the Bucs' new pecking order.
5. With DeMarco Murray (hamstring) on Thursday missing his second consecutive practice, Derrick Henry inched closer to his first-ever NFL start in which Murray isn't dressed. For owners with any stake in the Titans backfield, needless to say this is a huge deal. Mike Mularkey doesn't talk like a coach who'll let a Wally Pipp situation unfold in his backfield, but Henry has the talent to force his coach's hand, especially if he does it against the fearsome Seahawks.
Henry has turned 20 carries into 117 yards (5.8 a pop) and a touchdown. Murray has 69 rushing yards on 21 carries. Mularkey said Thursday he hopes to have Murray back at practice on Friday. We can't help but wonder whether the Seahawks are hoping for the same.
One more Titans note: their two unconventional garbage-time rushing touchdowns a week ago went to Delanie Walker and FB Jalston Fowler. Exotic, sure, but expected to be a regular occurrence? Of course not. If even one of those touchdowns went to Henry, like they did last season when he rounded into the team's formidable four-minute back, we're looking at a top-five RB1 last week. This is another definite buy-low candidate right now, boasting not just easily the highest ceiling of any club's backup but a higher one than many team's current starter.
6. In an offseason piece on the six most likely candidates to crash the QB1 party for the first time, we included Carson Wentz (No. 2), Alex Smith (No. 4) and Sam Bradford (No. 6). In Week 1 Smith was the QB1, Bradford was QB3 and Wentz was QB5. No, I'm not writing this to pat myself on the back; there's a long way to go, and when I toot my horn, it's way less subtle.
Rather, I'm calling myself out because No. 4 on the list was a Broncos quarterback — and not Trevor Siemian, who leads all NFL quarterbacks with seven total touchdowns and ranks second in fantasy behind only Smith.
Siemian heads Sunday to Buffalo, home of the ninth-stingiest defense vs. fantasy QBs and one yet to surrender a passing touchdown. Siemian isn't as athletic as Paxton Lynch, but he's more than halfway to his 2016 rushing total and already more than one-third of the way to his 2016 touchdown total.
He's playing good football. And despite our reluctance, still, in endorsing him as a QB1 this week, another eye-opening outing could earn just that with consecutive home games vs. the Raiders and Giants, respectively, in Weeks 4 and 5 before a trip to face the Chargers.
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found to have advanced CTE, according to the family's lawyer, following a Boston University study.
Lawyer Jose Baez said Thursday that the study revealed Stage-3 CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is normally associated with a man his late 60s, out of a possible four stages.
Hernandez committed suicide in his jail cell in April at the age of 28 following his 2015 conviction in the murder of Odin Lloyd.
Baez indicated that the Hernandez family intends to sue the NFL and the Patriots, on behalf of Hernandez's daughter. The University of Florida, where Hernandez played in college, also later could be added to the suit.
Boston University's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center is perhaps the leading research center for the disease, often found in people who have suffered repeated head trauma, such as football players. The degenerative brain disease currently only can be diagnosed post mortem, when brain tissue can be examined on a cellular level.
Experts on the disease say that CTE can lead to depression and memory loss, among other debilitating or disorienting effects. Several former NFL players have been found with evidence of CTE, including Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.
Hernandez's family donated his brain to BU for study following his death. BU issued a graphic indicating that the study showed Hernandez suffered from “brain atrophy and large perforations.”
His conviction in the Lloyd case actually later was lifted because of an obscure Massachusetts law following his suicide. He previously had been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2013 shooting.
Hernandez had been acquitted in a separate trial of the 2012 shootings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston only days before his death.
Eric Edholm and Arthur Arkush are back with your Week 3 primer, discussing the Dak and Zeke-led Cowboys' first bout of serious adversity and how they'll respond in Arizona. The guys single out a battle of 2-0 clubs in Atlanta visiting Detroit as perhaps the week's best matchup. Other topics include: getting more help for Carson Wentz, the Eagles and Saints going in opposite directions, what to expect when the Texans return to Foxboro and whether it's time to buy what the Broncos are selling.
Our podcast is sponsored by Lootcrate. Get great gamer/geek gear and more, and save $3 on your first box by using our promo code 'shaw' at www.lootcrate.com/shaw.
Like what you hear? Subscribe to us here in iTunes. Leave a review, it helps others discover the show.
The Seattle Seahawks have their share of issues on offense, many of them centered around the team’s blocking. Although the unit improved slightly in its performance from Week 1 to 2, there is still a lot of room for an up grade there.
Also chief on their list of concerns is how TE Jimmy Graham has played this season. He’s off to a very slow start this season and currently is hobbled by an ankle injury. All signs point to the team moving on from the 30-year old in the offseason, when his contract expires.
But can the Seahawks get some production out of the talented tight end for the remainder of this season? That hope might also be in short supply, although we are told that Graham has made plays in practice and that the team is in no way assuming he can’t contribute in some meaningful way at some point. It’s just not entirely clear when that would be.
Graham had a rough Week 1 in the loss to the Green Bay Packers. He caught only three passes for 8 yards, dropping a would-be touchdown, and also missed a few blocks, both in pass protection and in the run game. On at least two instances in that game, his missed blocking assignments led to negative plays.
In Week 2, Graham (who did not start with the Seahawks opening in a two-back, three-wide formation) caught one pass for 1 yard on two targets against the San Francisco 49ers. He injured his ankle and left the game before catching the pass and ended up playing 53 of the team’s 83 offensive snaps, appearing to limp through some of them after the injury.
Most of Graham’s routes this season have been short. The dropped TD against the Packers was a rare vertical shot to the big-play receiver who made the Pro Bowl in 2016 in a 65-catch, 923-yard, six-TD season.
That’s what has been so disappointing: Although some have questioned how Graham fits in this offense, the Seahawks believed he was primed for more big production this year.
Graham has a chance to play in Week 3, although it could end up being a game-day decision. But the longer-term concern is whether Graham can help aid a passing game that has been stuck in neutral this season. The injury only compounds what has been a frustrating start to 2017.
It doesn’t take a number of great sources to know that Roger Goodell isn’t Jerry Jones’ favorite Facebook friend right now, but it is tough to determine where a once-solid working relationship went so wrong.
The Way We Hear It, even those closest to Jones aren’t certain whether he’s really upset about how much money Goodell is making, or is he mad because Goodell has shown the audacity to treat one of his misbehaving players the same way he would treat a player on any other team?
In spite of denials from both sides of the story, it is well documented at this point that the NFL was ready to give Goodell a five-year extension on his contract — which expires in 2019 — until Jones stepped in and started participating with the compensation committee of which he is not a member.
While none of the actual numbers are available to the public, reports that Goodell has been paid as much as $200 million since the current collective bargaining agreement was reached in 2011 have Jones seething.
Other sources, however, tell me that what Jones is really upset about is the six-game suspension the commissioner handed his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, just when Jones believed his Cowboys were ready to enjoy their first real postseason success since the owner forced Jimmy Johnson out of Texas in the mid ‘90s.
Yes, we know Jones won his third Super Bowl with Barry Switzer in 1995, but that was with Johnson’s team.
Left to his own devices, Jones and his Cowboys have made nine playoff appearances in the 21 seasons since that last Super Bowl —not really bad, by the way — but they are 3-9 in the playoffs since the Switzer Super Bowl and just 2-8 since 1996.
In many respects, Goodell can be viewed as the CEO of the NFL.
While the league is reported to be generating over $14 billion in revenue annually today, Jones’ team alone is valued at about $4.5 billion, and the total values of the 32 NFL franchises easily exceed $65 billion.
There is nothing unusual about a CEO of a $65 billion business, or even a $14 billion business making $30 million or $40 million a year these days, so what would be Jones’ gripe?
I’m also hearing from multiple sources that Jones first inserted himself into the compensation committees work on Goodell’s deal late last winter, a number of months before Goodell handed down Elliott’s six-game ban.
In the other corner . . . remember it was Jones who confronted NFL Special Counsel Lisa Friel in a hotel bar last fall with angry accusations about her work on the Elliott case, and it is alleged that Friel barred NFL investigator Kia Roberts – who was the only one to interview Elliott’s girlfriend and is said to have recommended against a suspension of Elliott – from testifying in Elliott’s hearing in front of Goodell.
Perhaps Jones is upset about Goodell’s compensation, perhaps he’s upset over the treatment of his star player or perhaps it’s both.
According to multiple sources, this much is clear.
Jerry Jones expects to get his way all the time, and the only person in the NFL with close to the power and influence Jones has amassed is Goodell.
The Way We Hear It, that may be the real reason Jones is taking on the commissioner on both fronts.
The New York Giants are suffering from an offensive identity crisis, but the issues run deep throughout the team, we are told.
It goes beyond Odell Beckham’s gradual return to the field following injury. It's not just about the stagnant run game. It’s more than just poor offensive line play. At the heart of the matter might be the relationship between the coaching staff and some of the team’s key players, including franchise QB Eli Manning.
After Monday night’s loss to the Detroit Lions, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo did what a lot of coaches do following a disappointing performance, taking blame for what unfolded on the field.
“Put this game on me,” he said. “We talk about playing complete, complementary football. By no stretch of the imagination did we get that done [Monday]. We’ve got to do better. [We] dug ourselves into a hole. No one feels sorry for us. We’ve got to find a way to get better and get better in a hurry.”
He continued: “Just too many issues. We’ve got to play and feed off each other and we’re not doing that right now and I’ve got to find a way to make that work.”
But McAdoo also threw Manning under the bus, along with center Weston Richburg, who also is considered a team pillar by members of the staff and in the locker room. The Giants committed a delay of game penalty in the Lions loss at the Detroit 2-yard line that forced them to forgo going for it on 4th-and-goal, instead settling for a field goal.
“Sloppy quarterback play. Quarterback and the center need to be on the same page there,” McAdoo said after the game. “We’ve got to get the ball snapped. We have a veteran quarterback that has played a lot of football, we expect to get the ball snapped.”
The apolitical Manning took blame for his poor play in the game and said he either needed to get the ball snapped or get a timeout. But hearing his coach put the blame on him could not have gone over well. Manning’s first head coach, Tom Coughlin, might have been demanding of his former QB’s play, but it’s hard to remember him ever publicly calling out Manning in this fashion.
The Giants have a ton of issues offensively right now. We hear there has been griping about how McAdoo’s play-calling has not helped what has been a poor pass-blocking offensive line to date. There also have been calls from some for offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to take over play-calling duties from McAdoo, although we don’t believe that’s imminent.
How the head coach manages this tough upcoming stretch, with the team sitting at 0-2 and facing a tough battle in Week 3 against a vicious Philadelphia Eagles pass rush, could go a long way toward determining McAdoo's standing with the team and his relationship with Manning, which might be solid now but could teeter off the rails if things aren’t properly fixed.
Le’Veon Bell knows it’s coming soon enough. He didn’t sit out the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason program and turn down a contract worth $12 million annually to not land the big one he knows is coming his way.
“It’ll come,” Bell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings. “I’m due for an explosion play.”
And here you assumed it was a payday Bell was waiting for. Well, they might go hand in hand.
Yes, big plays often lead to big money. Bell sure is counting on that. At the heart of the contractual standoff between the Steelers and their star running back (who returned to the team on Sept. 1 after a holdout) is determining his worth at a position where it’s increasingly tough to do so.
Reports suggest that Bell wants to be paid like the top running back in the NFL plus draw a salary that reflects his rare receiving ability. Bell caught 75 passes in 2016 — more than all but 24 wide receivers, five tight ends and one running back — and did so in only 12 games.
The NFL’s top backs earn about $8 million annually. No. 2 receivers pull in north of $4 million on average. That’s the math. Bell, who will be a free agent again in the spring, signed his $12.1 franchise-tag tender a few weeks ago. It would be hard to imagine him wanting less than that per year for a long-term deal.
But beyond his financial demands, there is far more distancing team and player right now. Let’s start with three of those preseason games he missed last season as a talking point, shall we?
“Anyone you give out that kind of money to, you have to count on every single week, every day,” a rival team’s general manager said of the Steelers’ dilemma. “Especially at that position. That’s what [Steelers GM] Kevin [Colbert] has to weigh right now. Can he count on a guy with multiple suspensions? That’s what he’s trying to figure out.”
The Steelers love Bell’s talent, which is a big reason why they placed the franchise tag on him this offseason. He’s one of the big three, along with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown, who make the Steelers one of the most dangerous offensive teams in football.
But Bell also has missed 17 games over his four seasons because of injury or suspension — the first three games last season taken away via his second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy after reportedly missing multiple drug tests.
The other game Bell missed in 2016 came in Week 17, and the extra week of rest helped him be a monster the Steelers’ first two playoff games: 29 carries for 167 yards and two TDs against the Miami Dolphins, followed by 30 carries for 170 yards in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Then Bell was a shell of himself in the AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots, suffering a groin injury and tapping out after six carries in the Steelers’ blowout loss, 36-17, at Foxboro.
That game sums up Bell’s value to the Steelers: They can’t win the big ones without him, but they’re without him quite a bit, it seems. Bell has played in all 16 regular-season games only once in four years, during the 2014 season, but he missed the team’s playoff games both that year and in the following season. Hence the team’s reservations with opening the vault for him.
The whole thing is compounded by the fact that the Steelers already have invested heavily in Brown (five years, $73 million) and in an offensive line ($36.3 million to their top four blockers for 2018 alone) that helps make Bell look so good and allows his patented hesitation runs to be so effective.
Plus, the Steelers don’t know Roethlisberger’s future beyond this season. He said he needed to take time after the playoff loss to the Patriots to decide whether he wanted to play more, even as some have suggested he was playing the diva card when doing so.
Roethlisberger is back and off to a good start, but could this be his swan song?
“We’ve joked, is he becoming [Brett] Favre a little with his retirement stuff?” the GM said. “I honestly don’t know. I know the other guys in that class [Eli Manning and Philip Rivers], those teams are in the same boat. It’s probably a year-to-year deal with them also.
“They’ll have to plan for life after Ben. Just because you draft a QB or two, or have a good backup, doesn’t mean you’re fully ready for it. That’s why Bell has a little leverage on them there.”
Through two games this season, Bell has been ordinary. He was held to 32 rushing yards on 10 carries in the opener against the Cleveland Browns, looking rusty from his training-camp layoff, and to 87 yards on 27 carries in Week 2 against a good Minnesota Vikings front. Bell has seven catches for 19 yards in two games. His long run: 15 yards. Bell has yet to find the end zone on his 44 touches.
“It hasn’t happened yet. I almost had like three [against the Vikings],” he told the Post-Gazette. “I almost made one on a screen [and a] a run. They made the play. We’re two games in. We’ll watch the film and get ready for next week.”
This week's opponent, the Chicago Bears, have allowed 3.18 rushing yards per carry, good for 10th in the NFL, and have allowed only eight catches for 51 yards to opposing running backs so far. The Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers’ Week 4 opponent, have allowed 85.0 rush yards per game, good for 10th among teams that have played two games so far.
But the feeling around the league and in Pittsburgh is that Bell's reliability and availability might be bigger factors in contract negotiations than his production.
Sure, it won’t hurt if he gets going and puts up the monster numbers in 2017 we’ve become accustomed to seeing. After all, Bell is fifth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage since entering the NFL in 2013 — 444 behind leader LeSean McCoy — despite playing 12 (or more) fewer games than the four men ahead of him on the list.
Instead, the Steelers must be sure that Bell’s multiple suspensions, occasional bouts of immaturity and his heavy workload (nearly 1,200 touches prior to his 25th birthday) are not major long-term concerns. That ultimately is going to determine whether he lands the bonanza deal he has been seeking.
The team already has bent over backward for another playmaker in WR Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for 2016, and couldn't afford to lose Bell for another substance abuse suspension, which could last 10 games, with Bell likely in Stage Three of the NFL's substance abuse policy. That punishment could be enacted with a positive test or another missed test, which is considered tantamount to dropping dirty under the league’s rules.
“I wouldn’t give in [to his demands],” the opposing GM said, “and I don’t think [Colbert] will. But if you lose Ben, you let Bell walk, who knows what could happen with [Bryant] … then you’re just left with Brown as your one soldier out there. That’s how tough this decision is when you boil it down.”
If Bell regains his 2016 form on the field and sheds his old skin off the field, the Steelers might have no choice. But one more slipup from him, or more injuries, and they may be compelled to move on. This clearly is one of the more fascinating dilemmas any team is facing with a star player this season.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Should it really be as difficult as the majority of Bears Nation is finding it to be a Bears fan right now and avoid the temptation to write off the whole 2017 season with 15 weeks remaining?
Listen, Sunday in Tampa sucked, we get that, but was it a complete organizational failure that should have folks all over town calling for the heads of anyone and everyone in navy and orange?
The answer, of course, is no.
In the week following the Bears last-second loss to the Falcons on opening day, the general mood around town was one of pleasant surprise that the Bears were as competitive as they were against what appears to be the best team in the NFC.
Then a still-developing quarterback makes a couple bad throws, a rookie from an FCS school in just his second game on the big stage has a brain fart, a crew of backup receivers who may not even be that good drop some passes and suddenly fans all over town want everybody fired.
Have we learned anything at all from the Cubs and the White Sox?
Rebuilding doesn’t work that way, people, and that’s what the Chicago Bears are trying to do right now.
How many of you believed the Bears would be better than 0-4 to start the season after looking at the schedule?
Reasonable goals for this team this year are to win at least six games, maybe seven and find out whether Mike Glennon can play quarterback and just how high the ceiling is for Mitch Trubisky and begin the process of helping him reach it.
John Fox and company also need to do the same with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Cody Whitehair, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Leonard Floyd, Nick Kwiatkoski, Eddie Jackson and other young talent on the roster that is still more unknown than known.
The Bears also need to know if Dowell Loggains is the right guy to run an NFL offense.
I’m not making any predictions here, guys, and I’m pessimistic about some of this. But with the season now just 13 percent over, we’re not even close to having enough actual evidence to know where this is going, and those goals are all still very accessible.
Maybe I just need to take a cue from Fox, who, when asked if too much attention is being paid to how he’s developing Glennon and Trubisky, had this to say.
“Look, you’re in this long enough, too much is made about everything.
“It’s just what you sign up for and it’s just the way of the world in the NFL.”
I’m glad Fox gets it because it’s really starting to annoy me.
Glennon deserves a reasonable audition before he is quit on, and Trubisky deserves a chance to get comfortable and be put in a position to succeed before he is thrown to the wolves.
Fortunately, Fox believes his team is handling all the panic and negativity better than I am. Asked if he’s worried about his locker room’s response to all the doubters, he said, “No. Like I said, they know what they’re into. You know what I mean?
“They’re professionals. They sign up. We’re all compensated pretty well for it. Everybody understands that part of it.”
So what’s next for these mixed news Bears and all of you fans out there who insist on having the answers before we’ve sorted out all the questions?
Clearly, poor health is making these early-season tests more difficult, but a quarterback change won’t even be contemplated before Week 5, and hopefully later if Glennon plays better.
So lets see if the Falcons’ opponents or the Bucs’ show up over the next two weeks, if this club can get any healthier and if some of the kids start to move forward before we continue to panic over what we choose to believe rather than what we’re actually seeing.
CHICAGO — With just two weeks completed in the 2017 NFL season, already there are a surprising number of NFL head coaches on the bubble, including some very big names.
Marvin Lewis is the second-longest tenured coach in the league, and right now, the Bengals' coach’s seat is probably the hottest.
He is joined on the endangered list by Chicago’s John Fox, the New York Jets' Todd Bowles and Cleveland’s Hue Jackson, all of whom were in tenuous spots before getting out to 0-2 starts. Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Houston’s Bill O’Brien can be counted among that group as well.
O’Brien is the only one among them with a ’17 victory after his Texans stumbled through a 13-9 war of attrition with Lewis’ Bengals last Thursday night to get to 1-1. But the win was anything but cleansing or redemptive.
It is highly unusual for NFL head coaches to be fired early in season, but it happens — Mike Shanahan was fired just four games into his second season, 1989, with the Raiders — and a few of the guys on this list were actually projected to get the axe at the end of last season but survived to get another and perhaps last chance.
Lewis is clearly in the most jeopardy here and almost certainly would have been fired a year or even two ago if he worked for any owner in the league but Mike Brown.
The son of the legendary Paul Brown is notoriously stubborn and even more famously cheap.
Since he took over as Brown's head coach in 2003, Lewis has gone 118-105-3 (.522) in 14-plus seasons while guiding the Bengals to seven playoff appearances.
Many thought Lewis would be gone last year after his club famously imploded in a wild-card game in Pittsburgh to end the '15 season, running the Bengals' playoff record under Lewis to 0-7.
Lewis’ predilection for players with seemingly tortured souls, such as Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones, is also thought to be a liability for him when it comes to keeping his job.
Now, the Bengals have become the first team in NFL history to fail to score a touchdown in their first two home games, and rumors are buzzing around the NFL that that kind of futility will be impossible for Lewis to survive if his Bengals don’t turn things around soon.
Bowles’ Jets may be the worst team in the NFL — oh heck, let’s call it like it is, they are the worst team in the NFL — but that was predictable coming into the season.
How do you fire him in-season for doing what everybody expected?
Like Lewis, Fox (136-121) and Payton (100-72) have both passed the magic 100-win mark as NFL head coaches, which should get them the better part of the season to turn things around, but anything less than playoff runs seem likely to cost them their jobs at the end of the year.
With a first-year general manager in Chris Ballard evaluating things, and no Andrew Luck, Pagano is likely to get the benefit of the doubt for a while, and O’Brien’s defense is going to win him a few more games, so although both should fear Black Monday following the season, there is no drama on the immediate horizon.
That leaves the Browns' Jackson, and this is an interesting call. He is a coaching lifer with 12 stops in college and the NFL since 1987, and he lasted just one season as the head man in Oakland in 2011.
Like Bowles’ Jets, we knew the Browns would be bad, but there are rumblings now of disagreement between Jackson and Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown, which might spell trouble for Jackson.
Lewis is the strong front runner to be the first to go, but Jackson should not be contemplating any Cleveland real estate deals the next few weeks, either.
Pro Football Weekly’s Power Rankings are updated every Tuesday during the NFL’s regular season and are intended to rank teams based on their talent and performance to date.
Rankings will change each week due to personnel changes, injuries and performance on the field, and a team’s ranking in any given week has no impact on where they might rank in weeks to come. Rankings will fluctuate a great deal more the first few weeks of the season as teams seek their levels and schedules balance out.
These are PFW’s Power Rankings following Week 2 as teams head into the third weekend of regular season games.
1. Falcons: 2-0
Don’t have an obvious weakness right now
2. Raiders: 2-0
OK, it was the Jets, but they sure did whoop ‘em
3. Chiefs: 2-0
Suddenly, Alex Smith has a lot of weapons
4. Patriots: 1-1
555 yards of offense vs. Saints answers that
5. Steelers: 2-0
Dominated Vikings on both sides of the ball
6. Packers: 1-1
Falcons have their number, but they’ll be OK
7. Broncos: 2-0
Cowboys looking for the truck that hit them
8. Seahawks: 1-1
Defense still great, but O-line a huge problem
9. Cowboys: 1-1
O-line still great, but defense is a growing concern
10. Titans: 1-1
Derrick Henry just might be the next big thing
11. Ravens: 2-0
Two great games vs. two awful teams
12. Vikings: 1-1
Now we know how valuable Bradford can be
13. Lions: 2-0
It’s the Stafford and Ziggy show
14. Texans: 1-1
Defense is back, but how close is Watson?
15. Panthers: 2-0
2-0 is nice, but all is not well with Newton
16. Dolphins: 1-0
Cutler pretty good in tough win over Chargers
17. Bucs: 1-0
Impressive debut aided by gift-giving Bears
18. Eagles: 1-1
Wentz looks great but needs help on the ground
19. Jaguars: 1-1
Looking more like Bortles is part of the problem
20. Cardinals: 1-1
A little ugly, Arians calling out Palmer in public
21. Washington: 1-1
39-229 rushing made them tough to beat in L.A.
22. Chargers: 0-2
Same old story: playing well, finding way to lose
23. Giants: 0-2
O-line is a mess, Eli paying the price
24. Rams: 1-1
Kid coach’s mentor takes him to school
25. Bills: 1-1
“D” gave Newton fits, but tough to win with 1 FG
26. Saints: 0-2
New defense, same old mess
27. Bears: 0-2
Glennon brought gifts for all his old teammates
28. 49ers: 0-2
They can compete but won’t win much
29. Colts: 0-2
Will climb with Luck back, but when will that be?
30. Bengals: 0-2
Offense has fallen and it can’t get up
31. Browns 0-2
Rookie QBs will cause you some pain
32. Jets: 0-2
No QBs is even worse
Every Tuesday during the NFL season, Arthur Arkush shares his top nine waiver targets for fantasy football owners. This will focus exclusively on players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and this season there's a twist: we're sharing the top nine targets at each skill position, in addition to our top nine overall regardless of position.
9. Jaguars WR Allen Hurns: Hurns is on this list for the same reasons as Kearse: Jacksonville has to throw to someone, and unlike Kearse, Hurns has been a fantasy commodity before. He's sturdier than Marqise Lee, who attracted five more targets than Hurns in the first game without Allen Robinson, but failed to find the end zone, like Hurns did in garbage time. Remember, there are no style points in fantasy football, friends.
8. Ravens TE Ben Watson: Joe Flacco loves throwing to his tight ends about as much as he loves checkdowns and morphing into a different player in the postseason. Latest exhibit: Watson attracted eight targets vs. the Browns Sunday and translated them into eight grabs and 91 yards, including the longest pass play of the day. Watson, 36, is two years removed from a TE8 overall finish in New Orleans. No one is mistaking the Ravens passing game with the Saints' fantasy hotbed, but Watson's skills could easily be mistaken for Dennis Pitta's, Flacco's fallen buddy who led Baltimore with 121 targets and 88 grabs last season. In light of Week 2's rash of tight end injuries, owners could do worse than Watson.
7. Saints RB Alvin Kamara: The Saints are on the cusp of playing for next year. Yet, the immediate role Kamara carved out in a star-laden backfield out of the gate is telling — he's doubled Adrian Peterson's snaps (48 to 24) and his 13 targets, parlayed into 7-71 receiving, trail only Michael Thomas. Will he take a backseat when Willie Snead comes off the suspension list in Week 4? It's certainly possible, but not as likely as the defense is to continue being awful, setting up consistent game scripts in favor of the rookie and maybe the most explosive receiving option on the Saints roster.
6. Jets WR Jermaine Kearse: At the time he was dealt from Seattle, Kearse seemed like little more than a token alongside a second-rounder in exchange for Sheldon Richardson. Fast-forward a few weeks and Kearse is Josh McCown's favorite receiver, with 11-123-2 on 14 targets. The Jets' defense is miserable and should require McCown, for as long as he stays healthy, to throw a bunch, presumably in Kearse's way. He's a scoring threat, unlike Jeremy Kerley, and even has some big-game experience, not that the Jets will need that element soon.
5. Washington RB Chris Thompson: His career day — 106 scrimmage yards and two TDs on six chances — would've been much bigger if not for his dropping a would-be third touchdown on a quick slant from the Rams 25. Regardless, Thompson, who had 56 total yards and a touchdown on seven touches in Week 1, is clearly a comforting cog for Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden amid a ton of offensive change. Remember, Washington extended his contract, set to expire at season's end, a few weeks ago with more than $4.5 million guaranteed. The club values his versatility and scheme familiarity, and his role could even expand if Rob Kelley's rib again impedes the starter.
4. Browns WR Rashard Higgins: Staying healthy and hustling pretty much puts one in the mix among Browns wideouts. And while Corey Coleman was breaking his hand for a second consecutive season and Kenny Britt was doing little more than collecting another large paycheck, Higgins was emerging as Cleveland's top receiving weapon Sunday in Baltimore. The 2016 fifth-rounder, in his first NFL start after being promoted from the practice squad, eclipsed his 16-game rookie production with 7-95 on 11 targets, all team highs and personal bests. It might not be flashy but Higgins should have staying power with Hue Jackson.
3. Eagles RB Darren Sproles: He led Philadelphia's backfield in snaps (50) for the second consecutive game and leads the Eagles backs in yards and efficiency. Of course, you're likely not adding Sproles for his running ability — it's a bonus he's being entrusted there and Carson Wentz told local media this week what a valuable safety valve the veteran is for the young QB. Sproles' receiving role, in which he's Carson Wentz's third-favorite option, is where he truly separates from the competition in a pass-first offense. And if Philly keeps moving the football, he'll start scoring, too; Sproles has at least four touchdowns in seven of eight seasons since 2008, which keeps him in the weekly FLEX role.
2. Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson: Is this small stick of dynamite poised to overtake Larry Fitzgerald as the go-to guy in Arizona's offense? That's slightly premature, though it's not by accident Nelson has exploded onto the scene as Carson Palmer's second-favorite target and most dependable gamebreaker after David Johnson's injury. Our Eric Edholm nailed it last week following Johnson's injury when he said Nelson might be the "secret factor." The third-year vet responded in Indy Sunday with perhaps his best game as a pro, with 5-120 receiving, including Arizona's only touchdown and a critical fourth quarter grab to set up the game-tying field goal. As John Brown toils between the inactive list and trainer's room, and Fitzgerald battles Father Time, it leaves Nelson keeps flashing.
1. Seahawks RB Chris Carson: The seventh-rounder makes his third consecutive appearance on our list but first as our lead dog. Why? Look at what he's quickly overcome: a messy backfield situation out of which he's emerged the leader and even messier offensive line behind which he churned out almost 100 yards vs. a tough Niners front. Anyone watching the situation closely, including some of Carson's teammates per a PFT report, has seen that he's been Seattle's most dynamic back since the offseason.
1. Jay Cutler
2. Trevor Siemian
3. Jared Goff
4. Sam Bradford
5. Tyrod Taylor
6. DeShone Kizer
7. Deshaun Watson
8. Josh McCown
9. Blake Bortles
5. Rex Burkhead
6. Matt Forte
7. Samaje Perine
8. Jalen Richard
9. Jamaal Charles
5. Devin Funchess, Panthers
6. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
7. Marqise Lee, Jaguars
8. John Ross, Bengals
9. Danny Amendola, Patriots
The Miami Dolphins suspended LB Lawrence Timmons on Tuesday after he went AWOL prior to the Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The team ruled Timmons inactive for the game and had filed a missing persons report on their linebacker after he failed to show for a team meeting on Saturday, the day prior to the game. Timmons reportedly later was found at the airport and was attempting to fly home.
The team signed Timmons, 31, to a two-year, $12 million deal in the offseason after spending all of his career previously with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The contract included a $5.5 million signing bonus and a total of $11 million guaranteed. The Dolphins could to go after some or all of that bonus money, depending on what the team decides to do with Timmons for the remainder of the season or beyond.
According to Article 4, Section 9 of the league’s CBA, NFL teams may try to recoup money from players who have breached their contracts. That includes “[a]ny player who willfully fails to report, practice or play with the result that the player’s ability to fully participate and contribute to the team is substantially undermined (for example, without limitation, holding out or leaving the squad absent a showing of extreme personal hardship) …”
Further, the CBA notes that players who commit a forfeitable breach for the first time “may be required to forfeit up to twenty-five percent (25%) of his Forfeitable Salary Allocations upon missing his first regular season game.”
The Dolphins have yet to take this course of action with Timmons, who was supposed to meet with team doctors on Monday. It’s not clear if that meeting happened as planned. Team sources have been extremely mum on Timmons’ situation, and head coach Adam Gase said after the game that he needed to “figure some things out before I talk about this.”
Timmons was the team’s starting linebacker all through the preseason and had started 101 consecutive games prior to Sunday.
There was a time this offseason where it looked more likely than not that the New England Patriots would move on from CB Malcolm Butler.
Strange as that sounded at the time, there was a feeling that Butler’s desire for a new contract might preclude the team from meeting his financial demands — especially given that it shelled out big money to CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Dont’a Hightower and has a fascinating long-term QB situation that could handcuff the salary cap, at least for the 2018 season.
Although Butler remains with the Patriots, even after the Gilmore signing, we wonder what his future might be in New England. Could he be the next big-name defender shipped out of town?
The Patriots had a stunning 2016 calendar year. In March, they traded DE Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals prior to him hitting free agency. Last April, they waived former first-round DT Dominique Easley, getting nothing in return. Then in October, Bill Belichick signed off on a Jamie Collins trade to the Cleveland Browns.
Perhaps more stunning is that the Patriots fielded the NFL’s best scoring defense last season and won Super Bowl LI. Just another sign that Belichick isn’t afraid to make bold personnel moves and trust his instincts on when to move on from a talented player.
Butler started and played all 68 defensive snaps in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. But in the Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Butler appeared to be the Patriots’ de facto third corner, coming off the bench and playing 49-of-65 snaps.
But more telling than his playing time might have been Belichick’s words when asked about Butler in the days that followed. When asked about the roles of other defenders such as CBs Johnathan Jones and Eric Rowe, LBs Elandon Roberts and David Harris and DE Lawrence Guy, Belichick was more praiseworthy than not.
When Butler’s name came up from the media on Tuesday, however, Belichick said, "I don't think anyone's performance this season is really where it needs to be."
The coach similarly was vague about DT Alan Branch, who played a mere six defensive snaps against the Saints and appeared to struggle in a 42-snap performance in the Week 1 loss. Of Branch’s conditioning, Belichick said: "I wouldn't say that anybody's there. Maybe our specialists, I don't know."
Those could be Belichick’s way of motivating two players in Butler and Branch, who have played key roles in the Patriots’ two Super Bowl titles the past few seasons. Or they could be harbingers that the team might be set to move on from either or both.
Although Belichick fought to re-sign Branch this offseason, it would still be more shocking in the big picture to see the Patriots move on from Butler, given his age (27 years old), the value of his position and the role he has played on the team, often matching up against top wide receivers.
The Saints were the team most heavily interested in landing Butler this offseason, as the two teams are believed to have had multiple discussions about a deal. They consummated a swap of WR Brandin Cooks to New England, but that trade ultimately involved draft picks and not Butler.
Could those two teams re-stoke those discussions? Perhaps. The Saints might be ready for a roster overhaul following their 0-2 start, and S Kenny Vaccaro, RB Adrian Peterson and others on the roster have been rumored to be on the trade block. (The Saints, however, traded away their 2018 second-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in the Alvin Kamara draft-weekend deal in April.)
Also don’t count out other teams potentially getting involved. Very quietly, the Houston Texans had discussions about Butler in-house this offseason, we were told, when his status was in limbo as a restricted free agent, and they now have lost starting CB Kevin Johnson for four to six weeks with injury after watching top cover man A.J. Bouye walk out the door this offseason.
Coincidentally, the Patriots play the Texans on Sunday. That timing certainly could have an effect on any deal involving them. But those teams clearly have a connection, with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien coming from New England's staff, and they know each other well. This will be the team's fourth meeting in the past year, counting their preseason matchup in August, and they conducted joint practices prior to that game.
Prior to the team's playoff matchup in January, O'Brien called Butler "one of the best cornerbacks in the league," praising his intelligence and strength.
We have not seen any indication that the Patriots dealing Butler midseason, a la Collins, can’t happen. Given the Patriots’ past mentality of turning the page on previous standouts, it most certainly can’t be ruled out.
We have been through two weeks of the NFL season and things aren’t going the way many analysts thought the season would be.
In Week 1, we saw Kansas City manhandle the New England Patriots in the Thursday night opener and many were ready to write off the Pats and Tom Brady for the year. We all must remember that this is the Patriots we are talking about, who are led by one of the all-time great coaches in Bill Belichick and one of the all-time great quarterbacks in Brady. They weren’t going to be down for long.
In Week 2, the Pats went on the road to New Orleans and easily beat the Saints, 36-20. Brady has thrown for more than 700 yards and three touchdowns in two games. He doesn’t look like he is falling off a cliff.
Both Buffalo and Chicago had rookie quarterbacks who outplayed the veteran starters during the preseason, yet neither rookie has seen the field in the opening two weeks.
In Chicago, second overall pick Mitch Trubisky looked like a true franchise quarterback in the preseason and outplayed expectations. Starter Mike Glennon hasn’t been able to do a thing, yet the Bears coaching staff refuses to give the younger player a chance.
In Buffalo, starter Tyrod Taylor has also struggled and that has not only hurt the pass game but the run game as well. Opponents know that all they have to do is stop the run and keep Taylor in the pocket in order to beat the Bills. Rookie Nate Peterman from Pitt showed talent and unusual poise for such a young player during the preseason. He clearly sees the field better and is a good decision maker, yet the Bills want to keep him on the bench right now.
The New York Giants were a playoff team a year ago and were supposed to challenge for the NFC East this year. After two weeks the Giants are 0-2 and look in disarray. Eli Manning looks like an old quarterback, but in fairness he has an offensive line that can’t protect him. The defense to put it mildly is struggling. Next week the Giants play in Philly and very well could be 0-3. There will be no playoffs for the G-Men in 2017.
It seems like every year people write off the Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. Trust me, that’s foolish. Reid is one of the better coaches in the NFL and he always has his team ready to play. After two games, the Chiefs are 2-0 and the two teams they have beaten (New England, Philly) are probably playoff teams. Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt from Toledo is the early favorite for rookie of the year. Right now the Chiefs are the class of the AFC West.
It’s been more than 20 years since the NFL had franchises in Los Angeles. Sunday, both teams played home games across from each other and the total attendance for the two games was 81,993 fans. The Rams drew 56,612 at the L.A. Coliseum, while the Chargers drew 25,381 at the StubHub Center. Saturday night at the Coliseum the USC-Texas Game drew 84,714 fans. This isn’t good for the NFL, the Chargers or the Rams.
The last time there were two NFL franchises in L.A., there was fan apathy and the league can’t afford for it to happen again. What’s needed, is both clubs have to become perennial playoff contenders or the seats will remain empty. Right now, the Rams under new coach Sean McVay look as if they are going in the right direction. The same can’t be said about the Chargers.
Jay Cutler came out of retirement and signed with the Miami Dolphins after an injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Cutler of course had a history with Dolphins coach Adam Gase and was eager to come on board. While Cutler had his struggles in Chicago, he looked great in his first game as a Dolphin as they beat the Chargers 19-17. For the game, Cutler was 24-of-33 for 230 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over and was in complete command of the game. I have a strong feeling that this is going to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 NFL season.
Dak Prescott stood at the post-game podium Sunday night in Denver and took full responsibility for the Cowboys’ offensive struggles in a 42-17 blowout loss to the Broncos.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The tape never lies and the funny thing about rewatching the Bears' 29-7 loss to the Bucs is when it comes to grading individual players it really wasn’t as bad as the final score suggests.
Don’t worry, I know Bears fans are angry, and when it comes to grades, Mike Glennon, Tarik Cohen, Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy are all going to get failing grades, but the point of this exercise isn’t to call individual players out, it’s to analyze whether the Bears are getting better, getting worse or stuck in the mud.
Right now, the Bears are clearly stuck in the mud.
When I asked John Fox on Monday why, even if he’s committed to continuing to start Mike Glennon – which, by the way and for whatever it’s worth, I agree with for now – why not get Mitch Trubisky his first NFL experience during garbage time in the fourth quarter?
Fox explained, “Like I remind everybody, we have our starting quarterback is two games as a Bear and the point you’re probably talking about is maybe the fourth quarter of that game, all those things are going to be important for him moving forward too.
“I wish we could play two quarterbacks at once, but I don’t know if that would be our best option.”
Clearly, what Fox is saying is we haven’t seen enough of Glennon yet to know for sure what we have, and when you watch the tape, other than the two awful interceptions, Fox does have a point.
Where the conversation breaks down is we all know Glennon is eventually going to give way to Trubisky, and while it is too soon for that, if we’re talking garbage time for experience it should have more value for Trubisky than Glennon.
Other than the two picks, the rest of Glennon’s performance wasn’t bad, but he did throw the picks as well as fumbling once and the only reasonable grade for that is an F.
The Bears offensive line was a mess in Tampa. Tom Compton is not a natural guard, and when he goes down and Hroniss Grasu comes in at center and Cody Whitehair slides to guard, everything is out of whack.
Then Josh Sitton goes out, Brad Sowell, your swing tackle, has to play guard and now everybody is off including Bobby Massie and Charles Leno, who are overcompensating.
They actually did a decent enough job protecting Glennon most of the time but they couldn’t block the run.
Asked Monday if it was new teammates and injuries mucking up the ground game, Jordan Howard said, “I would definitely just say it’s different.
“We have so many new pieces, but I don’t have any doubts about us putting it all together.”
He may be right, but it won’t happen until they get healthy and Tarik Cohen gets more experience.
Cohen wasn’t bad Week 2, except for that one moment and that one ball he can’t get anywhere near and yet he does.
With mental mistakes and Wright and Bellamy dropping balls all over the place in the second half, the whole offense failed Sunday.
The defense wasn’t awful, particularly against the pass, but it couldn’t get off the field, letting Tampa convert eight of 15 third-down attempts, and no one is making big plays right now.
Rookie safety Eddie Jackson looked a lot more comfortable and instinctive, Kyle Fuller was good but not great again, Eddie Goldman had a pretty good day and Akiem Hicks demanded double-teams most of the time.
Unfortunately, Leonard Floyd appeared to take a step backwards vs. the Bucs, struggling to get off blocks all day, Danny Trevathan is clearly not 100 percent yet, Pernell McPhee is not the player he was before his latest knee woes and losing Nick Kwiatkoski with the pectoral injury really hurt after he got off to a decent start.
Basically, the defense followed a strong outing versus the Falcons by being extremely average, and that’s obviously not close to good enough in this portion of the Bears’ schedule.
Here are eight fantasy football observations from Arthur Arkush with just one (unremarkable) game left — Detroit visiting the Giants on Monday night — in Week 2.
1. Sark contrast
After needing a huge coverage bust and pair of brutalizing Austin Hooper stiff arms to reach 23 points and survive on the road in Chicago in Week 1, the Falcons offense looked more 2016 Falcons-ish in their third victory over the Packers in the past calendar year.
New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did a better job channeling the diversity of Kyle Shanahan's offense as Atlanta hung 34 points — a tick above its league-leading average in 2016 — on the Packers. Getting Julio Jones, who caught Matt Ryan's first two Mercedes-Benz dome pass attempts, for 19 and 34 yards, involved earlier and aligned across the formation helped.
The offensive line was more cohesive than in Week 1, even after losing RT Ryan Schraeder, and the overall rhythm on offense appeared better. We'll never know how Atlanta would've fared if Mike Daniels wasn't lost early to injury, but the Falcons got well before visiting another NFC North foe (Detroit) on the road in Week 3.
2. Speaking of offensive diversity
The Patriots are kings in this category and appeared on their way to shaking up the Week 1 backfield distribution before Rex Burkhead's fast start was stymied by a rib injury. Burkhead handled 40 percent of the opening-drive touches and parlayed them into 44 scrimmage yards, including a 19-yard touchdown off a wheel route.
It took one more injury, to Danny Amendola, after we penned the morning after Julian Edelman's ACL tear that either James White or Dion Lewis would essentially move to the slot. Sure enough, White operated mostly in that vein, turning his targets into a tidy, game-high eight grabs for 85 yards. Game script lowered White's snaps from Week 1 (43 to 30), but he looks like the biggest fantasy beneficiary of the Pats' wideout woes.
3. Secret sauce
Big tip of the cap to colleague Eric Edholm, who wrote Friday about J.J. Nelson potentially becoming the "secret factor" in the Cardinals minimizing the loss of David Johnson. All Nelson did in the first DJ-less Cardinals game since 2014 was haul in a 45-yard fourth quarter score as part of his 5-120-1 game, perhaps the best of his career. Nelson had a second touchdown — this one in the red zone — overturned via replay and secured a clutch 31-yard grab on the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter.
Expect to read more about Nelson, fantasy's second-leading wideout through two weeks and owned in just 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues, in Tuesday's '9 route.' As for the Arizona run game, as expected it was a committee approach with Andre Ellington's receiving skills keeping him on the field for a team-high 30 snaps. This looks like an avoid in light of its journeymen makeup and the Cardinals' tenuous O-line situation.
4. Buck Wild
The Ravens have tried and tried to replace Javorious Allen. They spent a fourth-rounder last season on receiving specialist Kenneth Dixon and more than $4 million guaranteed this offseason on 32-year-old pass-game producer Danny Woodhead. Suspensions and injuries, however, relegated the Baltimore backfield to going buck wild in Week 2.
In his third season, Allen perhaps played his best game, parlaying 19 touches into 101 yards and two scores — one as a runner and receiver. His 4.7-yard average, albeit buoyed by a 37-yard scamper, which was the second-longest of his career — was a personal-best in games with at least 10 carries.
Now comes news from the Baltimore Sun that Allen was so busy (42 snaps) in part because early-down masher Terrance West suffered a soft-tissue injury. Attrition is nothing new for the Ravens, who just lost perhaps their best player in Marshal Yanda for the season, but right now Allen is the most experienced back left standing with a trip to Jacksonville up next.
5. Juice not lost
Perhaps the rumors of Jarvis Landry's Dolphins demise were a bit exaggerated. Of Jay Cutler's 34 pass attempts in his Miami debut, 15 (!) went to Landry. Now, he only translated them into 78 yards on 13 receptions, but the chances and catches are obviously music to the ears of Landry's PPR owners.
DeVante Parker intermixed highlight-reel grabs with inconsistent play and remains the most exciting Dolphins wideout for fantasy owners. But there's always been comfort with Landry, and on a day in which Jay Ajayi was the offensive focal point, it's encouraging to see Landry as Cutler's 1B, even against one of the premier slot corners in the NFL, Casey Hayward, and a talented Bolts secondary.
6. Good JuJu
The Steelers truly like slot Eli Rogers. He had a strong offseason to hold off second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster, who struggled with preseason injuries, to begin the year. But Smith-Schuster edged Rogers in snaps (38 to 37) in Pittsburgh's thumping of the Vikings and scored his first NFL touchdown, a nifty four-yard shovel pass on the same play TE Jesse James capitalized on a week ago.
Was Smith-Schuster a luxury pick for Kevin Colbert? Not if you consider Rogers' former UDFA pedigree, Martavis Bryant's volatility and the Steelers' absence in January of a third offensive playmaker. And that's not even mentioning Colbert's track record of unearthing receiving gems in the draft. Our advice here as Smith-Schuster quickly gains ground on Rogers is don't wait to add him to your roster. He isn't like other USC wideouts who've struggled to catch on in recent years. This is a physical force who's ideally fit to complement the speed and pizzazz of Bryant and Antonio Brown.
And speaking of Bryant, who knocked off the Week 1 rust with 3-91 receiving, the dude now has 18 career touchdowns on 113 career touches. Maybe efficiency doesn't matter in fantasy football but that's just ridiculous and really ties the Steelers offense together.
7. Big 'D' gets a 'F'
If that's the performance Zeke Elliott is fighting so hard to stay on the field amid the NFL-NFLPA legal battles to deliver, just serve the suspension now. Elliott's nine-carry, eight-yard outing, easily the worst of his career, was met by pointed criticism from Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, who said Elliott quit on Dallas. We don't know if that's true, but if the film Elliott's Cowboys are currently reviewing validates Tomlinson's claim, it could be a big problem for Dallas.
Although it was disappointing to hear Jason Garrett criticizing Dak Prescott after the loss, we can't point at Garrett's play calling for the debacle. He wasn't predictable with Elliott, often throwing on first down in an attempt to keep Denver on its heels. It didn't matter. The Cowboys couldn't move the sticks, unlike the Broncos, who dominated time of possession and Dallas' run 'D' in the process.
8. What to make of the Broncos?
A 6:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, plus a rushing score, and QB2 overall standing (pending Monday night's results) is pretty, pretty good for the former seventh-round Northwestern product, Trevor Siemian.
We're ready to admit he may be better than we gave him credit for, but not without acknowledging Denver's reborn ground game is the straw stirring Denver's offensive drink. C.J. Anderson was beastly with 25-118-1 rushing (plus 3-36-1 receiving) against the Cowboys; the question is whether his 25-touch average through two weeks is sustainable? It may not be needed if Jamaal Charles keeps offering a lively change-up, with Devontae Booker getting closer to returning.
Remember, Anderson started fast last year, too, before crashing down to earth even before the meniscus tear. The Broncos' run game effectiveness doesn't meant the O-line issues are solved — check out film of human turnstile Menelik Watson — and losing first-round LT Garett Bolles hurts. If we owned Anderson shares, we'd at least be considering what we might be able to get for them.
It's pretty clear who looks like this year's fantasy version of Jordan Howard. That would be Kareem Hunt — except, unlike his Howard-esque mid-round draft pedigree, his early production is more akin to Todd Gurley's first month in the NFL and his three-down chops mirror David Johnson's.
A more pressing question fantasy owners quickly need answered is who could be this year's Hunter Henry? The Chargers' 2016 second-rounder was TE10 overall, the first rookie to crack the top-12 ranks since Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010.
Sunday was a painful one for proven TE1s — Greg Olsen broke his foot and will reportedly be sidelined 6-8 weeks; Rob Gronkowski's groin injury ended his monster day early; and Jordan Reed endured another health setback, this time a rib injury, and remember he's already playing on a broken toe.
So the consensus first, third and fourth tight ends off the board before the season could all be kept off the field a while. Meantime, the second wave of tight ends — including Martellus Bennett, Tyler Eifert and especially Jimmy Graham and Eric Ebron — have been nearly invisible.
If ever there was a year for the rookie tight ends to block the fantasy learning curve, it's 2017, the first year with multiple selected in the first round in April since 2006.
David Njoku was the first of the first-round trio to find the end zone, a 23-yard touchdown and Cleveland's only score Sunday. Njoku has secured five of his six combined targets for 47 yards and a TD. With Corey Coleman reportedly again breaking his hand Sunday and Kenny Britt in Hue Jackson's dog house, Njoku's role is set to expand.
O.J. Howard played 46 snaps, more than Cameron Brate's 38 and every other Bucs skill player on offense not named Mike Evans, in his debut. A 17-yarder was his only catch of the day on three targets, but it offered a glimpse of the problems his size and speed will pose for defenses. Unlike Njoku with Cleveland, there should be minimal concern about the Bucs' passing offense and red zone opportunities.
Evan Engram, who on Monday night plays a Lions 'D' that couldn't cover tight ends in 2016 and likely is still available in your Week 2 free agent pool (hint?), had the Giants' best (and one of just two explosives) play on offense in Week 1. Odell Beckham says he's only around the halfway point of the initial timeline from his preseason ankle injury, and Brandon Marshall's Giants debut couldn't have gone worse. If you own one of the aforementioned stud tight ends and have an expendable bench player, proactively scooping Engram on Monday may come with a nice payoff.
Gerald Everett has flashed elite playmaking potential already with the Rams, including a 69-yarder off a busted coverage — although Everett getting caught from behind near the goal line was disappointing. Jared Goff is using the whole field (gasp) and Everett showed he can stretch for the second consecutive week (39-yarder in his debut). He remains way behind Tyler Higbee in snaps, but how long will last considering he's up to a team-high 134 receiving yards on just four targets (all catches)? Sean McVay has quickly made the Rams offense relevant and Everett's for fantasy owners should only increase moving forward.
George Kittle is one more rookie name to store away, though he took a step back in Week 2 as the 49ers offense again failed to take a step forward into the end zone against another stout 'D' in Seattle. Kittle has 7-40 receiving on eight targets through two games, though only two Sunday, and he's already essentially a full-time player for Kyle Shanahan. The Niners offense won't be this bad all season (we don't think), so perhaps Kittle is worth a stash.
While Jason Witten and Antonio Gates were breaking records Sunday, the current fantasy stalwart tight ends were breaking down. Potential breakout stars (Austin Hooper and Henry) have been uneven, like the also-rans (Charles Clay and Jared Cook) that made this an unexciting position to draft.
It seems like this should be the year the infusion of excitement and production comes from the rookie class, and some encouraging signs of life may be showing themselves.
In their 42-17 loss to Denver, the Cowboys just didn’t have much of an answer on either side of the ball, as the Broncos thoroughly dominated both offensively and defensively.
Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season, the Chicago Bears looked like one of the most improved teams in the NFL, playing the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons to a virtual standstill before losing in the closing seconds of the game.
In Week 2, the Bears looked like a contender for worst team in the league, embarrassing themselves on offense and making more than enough mistakes to hand a game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that should have been as competitive as the Falcons game.
All we can really judge and analyze is what we’ve seen, and it appears to be a consistent case of one step forward followed by two big steps backwards, leaving the Bears pretty much where they’ve been since general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox arrived.
Remember, this regime inherited an ugly 5-11 football team and went a much more competitive 6-10 their first season, but then came completely apart to fall to a pathetic 3-13.
One step forward followed by a huge step backwards.
Do Pace and Fox have this team pointed in the right direction?
Honestly, it’s just too soon to tell, but Sunday’s collapse in Tampa did offer a few more hints as to where this team is likely heading.
Rather than an excuse, the Bears injury list has become a handicap that is making it impossible to improve.
With starters Cameron Meredith, Kevin White and Jerrell Freeman, along with key backup Eric Kush and long snapper Patrick Scales already lost for the season, starters Kyle Long, Prince Amukamara and Markus Wheaton yet to see the field this year, key backup Benny Cunningham knocked out last week and Sunday starters versus Tampa Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, Josh Sitton and Tom Compton all knocked out of the game, it’s time for the Bears to do something about their injury problems.
This all comes on the heels of the Bears leading the NFL in players on injured reserve and starters games lost to injury last season.
I am loath to lay any blame on the trainers, strength and conditioning coaches or sports science people, because there is no evidence any of them are directly to blame.
But continuing to chalk the problem up to bad luck is tone deaf and irresponsible.
Sometimes, innocent folks have to take a fall, and it appears that time has come as it relates to the Bears' injury problems.
It is not time to bury Mike Glennon and throw Mitch Trubisky to the wolves but ...
Glennon proved in Tampa he will not keep the Bears starting quarterback job for the full season; 2017 will only be partially his year.
However, the idea of throwing Trubisky into the Lion’s den without the team’s top two wide receivers, Pro Bowl running back and now potentially both Pro Bowl guards forcing the team’s best young player, starting center Cody Whitehair, to play out of position would be nuts.
It is, however, possible the Bears should think about Mark Sanchez because Glennon kept the Bears from competing Sunday.
Lastly, it is unfortunately time to start considering coaching changes.
Rookies make mistakes, but the one Tarik Cohen made on a punt return Sunday was inexcusable.
Glennon’s fumble on a blind-side hit can be forgiven, but his two picks on balls that never should have been thrown where they were cannot, and watching Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Tanner Gentry take turns dropping easy catches in the second half like they were trying to avoid Poison Ivy was a bit ridiculous.
Perhaps it is unfair for coaches to take the fall for their players’ mistakes, but the reality is that is exactly the nature of professional sports coaches’ jobs.
The Bears will all get another chance this Sunday against the Steelers, possibly their toughest test yet.
Any more steps backwards without change somewhere would seem to be unacceptable.
Losing is one thing, but being repeatedly embarrassed and doing nothing to change is a whole other issue.
The Miami Dolphins won their first game of the season, and the first game for QB Jay Cutler in aqua and orange, in a last-minute 19-17 thriller over the Los Angeles Chargers in the first NFL game at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
The Chargers were playing their first regular-season game there but had a sparse crowd with an attendance announced to 25,381 — many of them Dolphins fans — in the 27,000-capacity stadium, which has been mostly used for soccer up until now. Those fans watched the Dolphins dominate the final 30 minutes and have success moving the ball in Cutler’s first game.
Overall, it was a promising debut for Cutler. He completed 10 of his first 11 passes, throwing mostly short, and avoided throwing any interceptions. But Cutler and the Dolphins opened things up in the second half, and he helped rally the team in the third quarter back from a 10-3 deficit.
Cutler escaped pressure and found Kenny Stills on a pretty play-action TD pass to tie the game in the third. The Dolphins leaned on the run game with Jay Ajayi (122 rush yards) for much of the afternoon, but also ended up moving the ball well through the air. Cutler finished the game 24-of-33 passing for 230 yards with the one TD pass.
He led three field-goal drives in the final 17 minutes of the game, including the eventual game-winner with 1:10 remaining. Cutler threw for 155 yards in the second half, although he took some big hits. Jarvis Landry led the way with a game-high 13 catches, although for only 78 yards.
The Chargers had a chance to win the game late, but rookie kicker Younghou Koo — who had his game-tying attempt blocked at the buzzer in Week 1 — pushed his game-winning 44-yard try to the right on Sunday.
The Dolphins have battled adversity early this season, seeing their starting QB go down for the year in training camp and their Week 1 game erased by a hurricane. But Cutler's first game gave them hope they can be competitive after a playoff appearance a year ago.
Here are Arthur Arkush's three takeaways from the Week 2 late-afternoon slate:
1. Washington shows grit in tough road win
It wasn't pretty. The club didn't emerge unscathed. But Washington escaped Los Angeles on Sunday with a victory it needed as much as a club can in Week 2, 27-20 over the Rams.
Overcoming the losses of Jordan Reed (chest) and Rob Kelley (ribs), Kirk Cousins' undermanned and out-of-sync offense showed the necessary poise to march 70 yards on 10 plays late in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 tie for the clinching touchdown, an 11-yard hookup between Cousins and Ryan Grant.
Washington's game-winning drive was preceded by the Rams pulling off a fake punt on fourth down — another Johnny Hekker special – and followed by LB Mason Foster slamming the door shut by picking off Jared Goff.
Cousins managed just 6.6 yards per attempt and again struggled to get on the same page with new No. 1 Terrelle Pryor (2-31 receiving). But Pryor had a chain-mover on the decisive drive, when Cousins was calm under pressure to put away the Rams.
The Washington defense gave up several big plays to Todd Gurley, but the offense dominated time of possession (36:19 to 23:41) and piled up 229 rushing yards en route to a physical victory over former offensive coordinator Sean McVay's Rams.
Chris Thompson starred on offense with a pair of long touchdowns and nearly a third if not for a drop, and Samaje Perine fought hard on his rushes and, most importantly, protected the football after taking over the early-down role in Kelley's absence. Josh Norman stripped Gurley twice and fellow defensive backs, youngsters Kendall Fuller and Montae Nicholson, made timely plays.
2. Rams provide reasons to be encouraged, frustrated
The book already reads that Goff loves his new slot weapon, Cooper Kupp, which made it easy for Foster to read the quarterback's eyes from the snap with 1:44 remaining at the the Rams' 28-yard line to begin (and end) their final drive.
After Goff's eye-opening three-TD debut under McVay a week ago, he completed 15-of-25 for 224 yards with 1 TD and the pick. He flashed impressively, especially when Gurley got the run game going to set up play action, but couldn't bring the Rams back from a 20-10 halftime deficit. He also wasn't afforded the same protection he had last week, with Washington logging both of its sacks in the fourth quarter.
Todd Gurley looked perhaps as explosive as we've seen him since his first month as a rookie, finishing with 131 scrimmage yards and a hurdling highlight touchdown on 19 touches to draw the Rams even in the fourth quarter. But Gurley fumbled twice, losing one of them early to help Washington build a 13-0 second-quarter lead.
Wade Phillips' defense couldn't find the game-altering plays it scored in bunches a week ago, nor could it contain a Washington run game that was nearly invisible a week ago. Aaron Donald's debut was quiet, but he'll have a quick turnaround as the Rams visit San Francisco, another team that lost a physical 60-minute affair Sunday, on "Thursday Night Football."
3. Seahawks' O-line still a mess
It took the Seahawks more than 112 minutes into the 2017 season to find the end zone. But Russell Wilson scrambling in the pocket long enough to find Paul Richardson with the nine-yard go-ahead score in the fourth quarter was the difference in a 12-9 home win over the 49ers.
Seattle's pass 'D' was great, holding Brian Hoyer to 99 yards and a 48.2 rating. Carlos Hyde (15-124 rushing) went off against the Seahawks run 'D' in Seattle for the second consecutive year. But no other 49er on offense was a threat, unlike a San Francisco 'D' that hit Wilson 10 times (three sacks) and had its way with the Seahawks offensive line.
Get used to that narrative. For the second consecutive week, RG Mark Glowinski leaked consistent pressure, partially responsible for Wilson running 12 times, and the edge blocking wasn't much better. Even with Thomas Rawls healthy — and he ran clearly behind rookie Chris Carson (20-93 rushing), mind you — the Seahawks managed just 131 yards and 3.5 yards per carry.
Seattle entering the season with its precarious O-line situation, regardless of the Seahawks say publicly, tells us it plans to lean on Wilson again, not get back to a dominating run game. Free agent signee Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch, and Rawls managed just four yards on five carries in his debut after missing last week with a high ankle sprain.
The Seahawks' flailing protection and blocking may get a brief respite in Week 3 when they host the 0-2 Colts. But with trips to Wade Phillips' Rams and Steve Spagnuolo's Giants in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively, the defensive lines on the near horizon will pose even greater challenges than they've seen thus far.
The game between the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos was suspended toward the end of the first half because of lightning in the area of Sports Authority Field.
Game officials pulled the teams off the field with 33 seconds remaining in the first quarter, with the Broncos leading 7-0.
Lightning struck and was expected to delay the game for one hour and two minutes. The Cowboys scored first when the game resumed, but Broncos took a 35-10 lead — scoring four touchdowns in a 15-minute span — after dominating most of the second and third quarters.
We already had one game canceled this season because of weather, but that occur ed in the days leading up to the contest. Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of the Miami-Dolphins-Tampa Bay Buccaneers Week 1 game, which now will be played in Week 11.
A game between the Bucs and Los Angeles Rams was suspended last season for an extended period. The league tends not to mess around with lightning, although high winds also have caused games to be temporarily suspended as well.
The NFL rulebook states: "If, in the Commissioner's opinion, it is reasonable to project that the resumption of an interrupted game would not change its ultimate result or adversely affect any other inter-team competitive issue, he is empowered to terminate the game."
The New England Patriots raced to an early lead and never looked back on their way to a 36-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Here are Arthur Arkush's five early takeaways from the noon slate.
1. For all the buzz centered on Jameis Winston's offseason playmaking upgrades, the story of Tampa's dominating 29-7 win over the Bears was more about the opportunistic 'D' that nearly buoyed it to the postseason a year ago.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith's unit registered three first-half takeaways of former Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, with a fourth — a fumble recovery — coming courtesy of the third phase taking advantage of overzealous Bears punt returner Tarik Cohen.
Noah Spence (strip-sack) and Gerald McCoy (four QB hits) led the Bucs' pass rush. Rookie Kendell Beckwith, in his NFL debut, notched a pair of tackles for loss and helped limit a Bears run game that flourished last week to 20 yards on 16 carries. And interceptions by Kwon Alexander and a pick-six by Robert McClain made this one a 26-0 laugher by halftime.
Yes, there was excitement on offense, too, as Jameis Winston (18-of-30 for 204 yards, 1 TD) found his big guy, Mike Evans (7-93-1 receiving), for a gorgeous back-shoulder touchdown after missing newcomer DeSean Jackson by inches for Tampa's first score of 2017.
Remember, the Bucs' Week 1 matchup with Miami was postponed to Week 11. But if a team at Raymond James Stadium appeared distracted and/or rusty Sunday, it was John Fox's Bears, not Dirk Koetter's Bucs, in a resounding victory for the "Hard Knocks" stars and popular offseason postseason pick.
2. Two quarterbacks coming off offseason surgeries, Tennessee's Marcus Mariota and Carolina's Cam Newton, needed their defenses to bail them out Sunday after sluggish showings.
Mariota's Titans, on the road in Jacksonville, took advantage of three Blake Bortles turnovers to put away the Jaguars, 37-16. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan had nice games coming off the edge, combining for two sacks and a forced fumble.
Mariota (15-of-27 for 215 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), who was erratic throwing early, did appear healthy and mobile for a second consecutive week after offseason ankle surgery. But it was more Mike Mularkey's persistent ground game, which got on track after intermission behind No. 2 Derrick Henry (14-92-1), not DeMarco Murray (9-25), that wore down the Jaguars along with Tennessee's 'D'.
Unlike last week, when Oakland attacked a vulnerable Tennessee secondary, the Titans improved on the back end against an undermanned Jacksonville WR corps. Surely, focusing on Allen Hurns rather than Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree was a welcome change for Tennessee. First-rounders — Corey Davis and Adoree' Jackson — exited temporarily with injuries before returning. Davis caught just one pass for three yards; Jackson had a 46-yard punt return.
3. After not being sacked last week, Newton was taken down six times and under constant duress from ex-Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's Bills 'D' in a defensive struggle resulting in a 9-6 Carolina win. Whether it was the cumulative effect of the hits — Newton stayed down on the field for an extended period after the second of back-to-back fourth quarter sacks and briefly ducked into the medical tent to have his ankle worked on — or lack of chemistry with his receivers, Newton (20-of-32 for 228 yards, 83.9 rating) had plenty of misfires.
Losing his All-Pro TE Greg Olsen to a foot injury before intermission surely didn't help. Olsen was on crutches and in a boot after being carted from the locker room back onto the sideline to begin the third quarter. The injury at least figures to jeopardize the Week 3 status of Olsen, the 11-year vet who last missed a game in Week 2 of his rookie season in 2007.
Carolina's new-look offensive line had its issues, and the run game encountered tough sledding vs. Buffalo's active front, but its 'D' was tremendous. The Panthers limited LeSean McCoy and Mike Tolbert to 14 yards on 15 carries. Led by Julius Peppers (two sacks), the pass rush kept the heat on Tyrod Taylor while mostly minimizing his damage outside the pocket.
4. For all the great things McDermott's 'D' did, holding Carolina to three field goals and 255 total yards, the rookie head coach's inexperience with clock management was very costly. He let at least 30 seconds drain as the Panthers faced second-and-goal at the Buffalo 3 with a six-point lead in the final two minutes before calling timeout. He then wasted roughly 40 more seconds on Buffalo's last drive before spending his final timeouts.
Taylor (17-of-25 for 125 yards passing; 8-55 rushing) was solid on the final drive and most of the second half for Buffalo. But he struggled to get anything going downfield until missing a wide-open Zay Jones streaking toward the end zone on fourth-and-11, which was the Bills' last hope. Taylor threw it on Jones' inside shoulder, and the rookie almost made a spectacular twisting grab that went off his fingertips, ending the game.
The good news for the Bills is the 'D' appears immensely improved and more disciplined under McDermott. Jerry Hughes had a monster game and Shaq Lawson was also extremely effective, encouraging since Lorenzo Alexander was injured early. On the back end, new safety Jordan Poyer was outstanding, notching three pass breakups, including a would-be Newton-to-Kelvin Benjamin touchdown, a sack and 11 tackles.
5. The Jaguars 'D' could only sack Mariota once after its 10-sack onslaught last week in Houston. It was competitive until intermission, but couldn't overcome Bortles' repeated errors. No one is surprised by Bortles' struggles, but seeing the same lack of discipline from Doug Marrone's club (10 penalties for 99 yards) that defined the squad under Gus Bradley is disappointing. One obvious example: Jalen Ramsey, who again played well in coverage, delivering an extremely late hit out of bounds on Delanie Walker after the tight end scored on a jet sweep to make it a three-possession game.
The Jaguars' powerful run game from Week 1 surprisingly relented Sunday with Leonard Fournette handling just 14 carries (2.9-yard average) and four after halftime despite Jacksonville trailing by one score more than halfway into the third quarter.
The Jaguars' rivals, the Colts, played markedly better under Jacoby Brissett in an OT loss to the Cardinals than in getting humiliated by the Rams in the opener with Scott Tolzien at the controls. The Jaguars' decision to stand pat behind center surely will be scrutinized following the return of bad Bortles in a game in which simply competent quarterbacking might have made the difference.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's early games:
1. The Chiefs are really, really good
In what was a tight, defensive affair, the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs were locked up 13-13 early in the fourth quarter. The quarterbacks were needing to make tough plays on the run. Both defensive fronts were looking good.
But it was the Chiefs that got the big momentum turner they needed when DL Chris Jones picked off Carson Wentz after Justin Houston and Dee Ford bore down on the quarterback, who was trying to get off a screen pass. It would be the breaking point for the Eagles, who were living a bit dangerously.
The Chiefs went to work. Alex Smith scrambled for a huge first down, and two plays later he hit Travis Kelce on a beautifully drawn-up shovel pass touchdown. The offensive play design from this team through two games has been terrific.
After another defensive stop (sack-pressure-pass defended), the Chiefs struck quickly again. Smith hit Chris Conley for a pretty pass. Then Kareem Hunt drove into the end zone — his fifth score of the year so far — on an inspiring blast. Suddenly, it was 27-13 in the blink of an eye.
That’s how fast the Chiefs can strike. What a stark contrast to 2016, when they relied on eight return touchdowns to score as many points as they did. This season, it appears they can do so offensively too. But the same formula exists on defense: big plays, namely turnovers, are the name of the game.
The Chiefs had a few nervous moments after going up two TDs, with the game coming down to a Hail Mary pass by the Eagles as time expired. But this Kansas City team showed in Week 2 that Week 1’s demolishing of the New England Patriots was no aberration. They can deliver a knockout punch.
Jones would end up with three sacks, two forced fumbles and the one INT on the game. Houston is back into dominant form. Ford flashed. The defense looked good without S Eric Berry, which is a key development. The offense also did its part, especially when Hunt had been quiet early on.
Kelce could stand to tone things down, earning a taunting penalty on Hunt’s first TD, and the injury to C Mitch Morse is concerning. But the Chiefs have the early look of a strong contender after two weeks.
2. Eagles need to help Wentz more
The Eagles have a very good team. A few developments, and this could be the best team in the NFC East. But it’s not there right now. One big reason is that too much is on the plate of Wentz.
In Week 1, Wentz attempted 39 passes and was sacked twice. In the Week 2 loss to the Chiefs, he dropped back 52 times — 46 throws and six sacks. Both of his interceptions, one each per game, were tipped at the line. Pressure has been constant, especially right in the middle of the offensive line.
The Eagles also are not running the ball effectively. They called for 14 handoffs (zero to LeGarrette Blount) to the backs, which netted 52 yards. Wentz had 55 yards on four scrambles, including one terrific late conversion. But we’re guessing this was not fully by design.
With the beating Wentz has taken, he can’t be running that often. Otherwise, the Eagles will be watching someone else throw passes. Can they protect Wentz better? (And can he protect himself more? That’s also part of the issue, as he tries to extend plays too often to his own detriment.)
This is a big worry for a team that has very good talent, but one that is out of whack offensively right now, even with some very respectable yardage production.
3. Saints defense awful again
Through two games, the Saints have allowed the Minnesota Vikings and Patriots to convert 15-of-26 third downs and complete 57-of-71 passes (80.3 percent). They’ve also given up a stunning 11.2 yards per pass play on what looks like the NFL’s most feeble pass defense through two weeks.
The Saints are now 0-2 and have back-to-back road tests the next two games before the Week 5 bye. Head coach Sean Payton has issues in all three aspects of the game, but none are bigger than his sieve of a defense.
Will there be changes to the staff? The Cincinnati Bengals just fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after their first two putrid games, and we suppose Payton could do the same with Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Yes, they have a long history together, but so did Marvin Lewis and Zampese. What Lewis and Payton have in common is that both are squarely on the hot seat, and desperate coaches tend to make rash decisions.
We’ll have to see what moves come. The Saints appeared to bench S Kenny Vaccaro mid-game (before bringing him back) after reportedly leaking his name in trade rumors. Maybe rookie LB Alex Anzalone will have his work reduced after being burned for two TD receptions. Those are a few to watch for, but there’s little hope that a sudden revival is in the offing with a few lineup tweaks.
4. Is Steelers defense legit?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0, and though the deep ball is back in the team’s offensive arsenal, it’s fair to say that its defensive performance has been the most impressive thing it has shown to date.
Granted, the Week 2 victory over the Minnesota Vikings came with backup QB Case Keenum starting, a week after the Steelers downed DeShone Kizer in his first career start for the Cleveland Browns. But we know an improved defense when we see it, and things are looking up for the Steelers.
They held the Vikings to 4.0 yards per play and once again controlled the action up front. Cameron Heyward was an absolute wrecking machine. Bud Dupree had one of his best games in recent memory. T.J. Watt was strong after an incredible debut, although Watt also left the game with an injury, so we need to check on his status.
The Steelers now have not trailed through two games. The offense stepped up more in this game and flashed some of its tailor-made explosiveness. Le’Veon Bell had about the quietest 31-touch game he’ll ever have, and a few long pass-interference calls helped keep the Steelers’ yardage total look relatively small.
They’ll be fine there. But if the defense is really this much improved? Then this really might be a Super Bowl-caliber club, especially with some huge plays on special teams. A week after Tyler Matakevich blocked a field goal that turned into a TD, he snuffed out a Vikings fake-FG attempt on what was a huge play.
Next week, the Steelers face a Chicago Bears team that has scored a total of 10 points through the first three quarters in two games. They won’t face a great quarterback for some time, although the back end of the schedule does get a lot heartier.
The schedule works out beautifully for this unit to gain some confidence. If the defense can continue making the big plays it has through two games, it takes the pressure off Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger to have to make massive plays every week.
5. Olsen injury a big one
Greg Olsen has been an ironman for the Carolina Panthers, but the broken foot he suffered in the 9-3 win over the Buffalo Bills is a massive blow. Yes, Olsen had been quiet through six quarters this season, but he has been Cam Newton’s security blanket and go-to target — especially the past three seasons.
Given that Newton took a beating Sunday (six sacks) and that he’s still working his way through a shoulder injury that kept him out most of the preseason, it will be fascinating to see how he performs going forward without that extra layer of insurance. Olsen might not be a terrific blocker, but he’s a phenomenal receiver.
Following next week’s game against the desperate Saints, the Panthers face two tough road games — at New England, at Detroit — and a short-week game against the Eagles, who have the makings of a dominant defensive front.
The Panthers also struggled without starting C Ryan Kalil, who was scratched only minutes before the game with a sore neck. Newton was beaten to a pulp in a game that evoked shades of last season, and he got up very gingerly after that sixth sack. They can’t afford to lose much of anything else offensively, or the Panthers could be in real trouble.
THREE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
1. The Bears appeared poised to get at least three points after Tampa Bay's field goal on the game's opening drive before Mike Glennon's costly interception. On 1st-and-10 at the Bucs' 22-yard line, Glennon tried to force a pass to tight end Dion Sims into triple coverage and was picked off by Kwon Alexander. The Bears ran 11 plays and came up empty.
2. Even after the interception, the Bears defense forced the Bucs into a three-and-out only to have rookie Tarik Cohen inexplicably attempted to field a bouncing punt in heavy coverage. Cohen fumbled and Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston needed only one play to find Mike Evans in the end zone to give Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead.
3. Keeping with the turnover theme, the Bears pushed to midfield early in the second quarter before another giveaway. Facing 3rd-and-8, Glennon failed to sense pressure and was hit from behind by Akeem Spence and fumbled.The Bucs then quickly marched 35 yards to put the contest out of reach at 17-0.
THREE THINGS THAT WORKED
1. Cody Whitehair at multiple positions. Whitehair started the contest at center and then moved to left guard when Tom Compton left with an injury. The second-year lineman then moved to right guard after Josh Sitton's departure. The offensive line is a concern, but at least Whitehair has shown himself capable of holding down multiple spots.
2. The defensive front. Akiem Hicks turned in his second straight strong performance since signing his contract extension. Eddie Goldman clogged running lanes on the interior and was credited with his first sack. The Bears were once again stout against the run.
3. Kendall Wright's involvement in the offense. The wide receiver will deservedly take some heat for a pair of dropped passes in the game's closing minutes, but he was also Glennon's most reliable receiver Sunday. Wright hauled in seven receptions for 69 yards and will be counted on moving forward.
THREE THINGS THAT DIDN'T
1. The rushing attack. Jordan Howard and Cohen combined for 20 rushing yards on 16 carries. Howard appeared to be missing his usual burst on inside runs and the issue was only made worse with injuries to the interior of the offensive line. Cohen, meanwhile, was routinely forced east and west on the perimeter with the Bucs linebackers stringing plays out and never allowing Cohen to reach the edge.
2. The passing game. Glennon finished with 301 passing yards on the afternoon, but it took him 45 attempts to get there, and most of the yardage came with the game well out of reach. Glennon was picked off twice and fumbled in the first half. The Bears showed either unwillingness or an inability to stretch the field for a second consecutive week.
3. Third down defense. The Bears allowed the Buccaneers to convert four of their six third down attempts in the first half and Tampa Bay picked up three more first downs courtesy of defensive holding calls. Danny Trevathan was flagged for holding twice and Willie Young also was called for a hold.
The Bears return home for a Week 3 matchup with Pittsburgh. The Steelers are coming off a 26-9 win over Minnesota.
The Bears have won their last two meetings with the Steelers, including a 40-23 victory in their last meeting on Sept. 22, 2013 in Pittsburgh.
Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen suffered a foot injury against the Buffalo Bills and was ruled out.
Olsen suffered the injury to his right foot early in the second quarter. He was listed initially as probable to return.
However, Olsen remained in the locker room through halftime, came out in street clothes and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Olsen had to be carted to the sideline after rejoining the Panthers in the second half. He was seen using crutches.
He caught one pass for 10 yards in the game before leaving. Olsen, who caught two passes for 18 yards in the Panthers' Week 1 victory, became the first tight end to register three straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons in a row in 2016.
Cleveland Browns QB DeShone Kizer left Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with a migraine headache.
Kizer started his second NFL game against the Ravens — and his first on the road — in Baltimore. He completed 6-of-11 passes for 81 yards and an interception, as the Browns fell behind 14-0.
Kizer was listed as questionable to return. He was replaced by backup QB Kevin Hogan, who promptly led a TD drive in his first series. Hogan hit rookie TE David Njoku for a 23-yard score on a five-play, 83-yard drive that was spurred by a 49-yard catch and run by TE Seth DeValve.
Hogan was a fifth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 but was waived and claimed by the Browns last season. He played in four games in 2016, completing 14-of-26 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions. His TD pass to Njoku was the first of Hogan's career.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is trying to impede the progress of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell receiving a contract extension, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.
Goodell reportedly had been in line for a new deal, which was believed to be a coup d'etat. But given that Jones reportedly is still upset over Goodell's handling of the Ezekiel Elliott discipline case, the Cowboys owner now is trying his best to prevent that from happening.
Jones is not a part of the NFL's six-man compensation committee, the group that decides Goodell's fate and contractual status. But Jones is apparently doing everything he can to be the unofficial seventh man. The committee is headed up by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and also includes the New England Patriots' Robert Kraft, the Houston Texans' Bob McNair, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, the Kansas City Chiefs' Clark Hunt and the New York Giants' John Mara.
Kraft might relate to Jones' anger. The Patriots owner battled Goodell — once, like Jones, considered to be close allies — over the Tom Brady-Deflategate case before stepping down. It appears Jones is doing anything but backing down right now.
At the owners meeting in May, all 32 teams’ owners agreed to extend Goodell’s contract beyond 2019, and he was expected to have it announced at the league's fall meetings in New York in October. Will that change? It's hard to know how much influence Jones will have on this issue, but he has been a major swaying force in past league matters of note, such as the Rams relocating from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
Goodell has earned more than $200 million since being elected commissioner in 2006, and his salary was a reported $44 million in 2015.
CHICAGO – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a popular pick among NFL analysts and insiders to be one of the NFL’s more improved clubs this year, which is why they are seven-point favorites Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
It seems like every season, Week 1 leaves us wanting more. Sloppy play. Unexpected teams make early statements needing validation or debunking. And our shared love of football in an instant-coffee society simply makes the duration from Week 1 to Week 2 feel excruciatingly long.
Well, the wait is almost over, and our Friday six-pack will help you pass the time by focusing on six clubs whose encores we're most eager to see.
1. Chiefs — Fresh off his ground-breaking debut, Kareem Hunt (RB5) faces an Eagles 'D' that held Washington to less than 4.0 yards per carry and surrendered a long run of 10 yards — by QB Kirk Cousins. Hunt is likely to test speedy LB Jordan Hicks in the receiving game and DEs Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, among others, attempting to gain the edges after having a ton of success bouncing runs in Week 1.
Tyreek Hill (WR10) torched one of the NFL's better corner duos in the Patriots' Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler with his first 100-yard receiving day (7-133-1), including a 75-yard scoring bomb. Philadelphia doesn't have corners who can run with Hill — not many do — especially with Ronald Darby out. And almost as encouraging as Hill catching nearly everything thrown his direction is seeing Reid line him up everywhere on the field. As good as Jim Schwartz's front seven is, his undermanned CB corps might have a hard time finding Hill, never mind keeping up with him.
Who knew bringing out this version of Alex Smith required only trading a future first-rounder to move up and draft a rocket-launching rookie passer in Patrick Mahomes to push the starter? We're kidding, we think. But if Smith drills the deep ball again with regularity and accuracy, perhaps we'll have to think about finding a different photo to pair with "game manager" in the dictionary. Smith's willingness to attack downfield in Week 1 was nothing if not stunning. If he can pair that again with rediscovering his (pre-concussion) 2015 rushing ability, Smith might start to gain weekly fantasy relevance.
2. Saints — The back that went off the board in Round 3 in front of Hunt, Alvin Kamara, debuted by surprisingly leading New Orleans in snaps (31) and tied Mark Ingram's 11 touches. Kamara didn't do much with them (38 scrimmage yards), but he's the speed threat and mismatch receiving weapon whom Sean Payton may try and unleash similarly to Hunt a week ago. That, of course, depends on Payton not bowing to Adrian Peterson and finding better ways to line up the smallish Kamara than as his goal-line back.
The rapid rise of Michael Thomas (WR11) helped make Brandin Cooks expendable this offseason. Thomas proving he can produce against not one but two elite cover men Sunday would help validate the Saints' decision. Thomas notched 5-45 receiving last week, his fourth-quietest game in the NFL. It'll be even tougher sledding against Gilmore, Butler and a team that, last week notwithstanding, typically takes away the opposition's best playmaker.
Because of the issues New England had with deep speed Thursday, it'll be interesting to see whether Ted Ginn (4-53 in Week 1) can take advantage.
3. Rams — It'd be hard to ask for more from Jared Goff and the new Rams coaching staff than they delivered in Week 1's biggest thumping, 46-9 over the Colts. But it's worth mentioning they did it largely without the Rams' best skill studs, Todd Gurley (WR10) and Sammy Watkins (WR40), doing much damage.
Watkins caught all five of his targets but for only 58 yards, and could be Josh Normanized. It'll be a big test for the Rams' No. 1, and potentially a nice opportunity for No. 1 rookie wideout Cooper Kupp to keep doing damage in the slot, where Nelson Agholor had the best game of his career a week ago vs. Washington.
Jared Goff completed seven explosive passes in Week 1, more than halfway to the 13 completions of 20 or more yards he had on 205 attempts as a rookie. Wow. Also impressive was Goff's rebuilt O-line, which gets a bigger challenge this week. It'll be interesting to see how Goff handles his first real taste of NFL success.
Perhaps the light that's seemingly been dimmed since the second month of Gurley's rookie season finally flashes on vs. fantasy's fifth-worst run 'D' last season. But the Colts were the sixt worst and Gurley mustered just 96 scrimmage yards on 25 touches.
4. Titans — They looked last week like they may have enjoyed the offseason bouquet tosses their way a bit too much. DeMarco Murray (RB12) struggled with just 12-44 rushing. Marcus Mariota (QB8) wasn't quite right, though his scrambling was encouraging coming off injury. But perhaps the weirdest sight from the Titans was their red-zone offense, No. 1 in the NFL last season, punching it in just once in three chances.
That's where newcomers Eric Decker and Corey Davis (WR31), and possibly RB Derrick Henry on the ground, should make their money. Against a Jacksonville secondary potentially without top CB Jalen Ramsey, the new wideouts who parlayed a combined 18 targets into just nine grabs again will be busy — but will they take care of business?
5. Falcons — Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian couldn't get the run game ignited in his NFL play-calling debut, nor his do-it-all backs fully immersed in the passing game. Remember, Devonta Freeman (RB7) and Tevin Coleman (RB30) were in many ways Kyle Shanahan's secret weapons in one of the NFL's most prolific offenses ever. Sark may not have much success this week, either, unless new RG Wes Schweitzer markedly improves after getting abused by Chicago DT Akiem Hicks.
The problem? Schweitzer's Sunday-night foe, Packers DE Mike Daniels, may have been the best player at Lambeau field last week. For all of the skill talent carryover from last year's NFC champion club, the change at coordinator and right guard were more noticeable than Atlanta would like.
6. Chargers — Keenan Allen looked healthy vs. the Broncos, a huge factor in the Chargers' 2017 outlook, even with weapons everywhere. That Tyrell Williams remained busy (seven targets, 5-54 receiving) with Allen in the fold is encouraging, unlike Hunter Henry's (TE15) invisible debut (0 targets on 23 snaps compared to Antonio Gates' two and 39, respectively). Can all three be heavily involved in this attack, one that could add top pick Mike Williams in the next month? Miami's secondary and pass rush won't present the same challenges as Denver for Philip Rivers (QB12), who connected for scores with three different pass catchers. Whether this deep passing offense can be as good in fantasy as it may be in reality remains to be seen.
After again failing to score a touchdown Thursday night vs. the Texans in their second consecutive loss, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese on Friday, NFL Media first reported.
Zampese, who has been on the Bengals staff since Marvin Lewis took over in 2003, was promoted to offensive coordinator last season after Hue Jackson left to take the Bengals job.
Cincinnati fell from seventh in scoring in 2015 to 24th in '16, Zampese's first year as an NFL play caller, and things have looked increasingly bleak to begin this season. Cincinnati was shutout by Baltimore at home in Week 1 for the first time of the Lewis regime and managed just three field goals in Thursday night's 13-9 defeat to Houston.
Zampese, 50, was the Bengals' quarterbacks coach from 2003-15.
This is the second season in a row a coordinator was fired following a Thursday-night loss in Week 2. Former Bills coach Rex Ryan jettisoned Greg Roman last year despite Buffalo scoring 31 points in a loss to the Jets. Ryan was ultimately fired in Week 16, but the Bills did respond to Anthony Lynn replacing Roman by winning their next four games and averaging more than 23 points per contest.
Lewis is the NFL's second-longest tenured coach, in a lame-duck season after a 6-9-1 finish in 2016, and is thought to need a return to the playoffs to be back in 2018. Zampese's firing perhaps marks the most tangible sign to date of a sinking ship in Cincinnati.
At a seating capacity of 27,000 for football games, the Los Angeles Chargers' temporary home — the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. — is the smallest in the NFL. But the Chargers might also be one of the easier tickets to find in the league this season, and that would be a bad sign for both the franchise and the league long term.
We hear that a few NFL executives have been concerned about the viability of the Chargers existing as second fiddle to the Rams in Los Angeles ever since the franchise announced its relocation from San Diego earlier this offseason. And with news that single-game tickets remain available for every Chargers home game currently, the league's fears might be playing out.
The drive from San Diego to Carson is about 110 miles, but it doesn't appear that fans — many of whom felt jilted by the franchise not working out a deal locally — will be making the trek in droves this season. The Chargers operated at about 80 percent capacity last season at Qualcomm Stadium, at an average attendance just north of 57,000 per game.
The Chargers might fill a higher percentage of seats at their new rental home, but it realistically could draw less than half the fans per game this season than it did in 2016. The team has tried to roll out the proverbial red carpet for season-ticket holders since the move, offering perks and promotions as a way to drum up interest. But with what appears to be a soft secondary and individual ticket market, the 0-1 Chargers are starting their home slate with little buzz.
League officials are closely monitoring the situation, we're told, and are prepared to do what they can to help the situation, even if there's only so much manipulation that can be done at this point. The Chargers play opposite the Rams at the same time 12 miles up the road from the LA Memorial Coliseum on Sunday for their season opener, which could explain the slow action on secondary tickets on websites such as — quite ironically — StubHub.
Paid attendance for the Rams' season opener was 60,128 at the 93,605-seat Coliseum, but it appeared far more sparsely attended than that to the naked eye. The Rams generated some hype following their Week 1 blowout over the Indianapolis Colts but clearly remain a product that the locals are buying into slowly en masse. And the Rams came back to L.A. last season with a lot more tailwind, needing a mere six hours to sell 70,000 season tickets last year.
The feeling locally is that the Chargers set their 2017 tickets too high and have driven buyer interest down. The theory behind it originally was that there might be some intrigue with the NFL playing two seasons, this one and next, in a cozy venue used mostly for soccer. The team also felt the need to make up for potential lost revenue with fewer seats. That gamble, it appears, might not pay off.
The Chargers will move in as tenants of the Rams' new Inglewood stadium, which is set to open for the 2020 season, where they'll most certainly be the other team in town. That stadium at Hollywood Park is set to have a capacity of just over 70,000 for typical NFL games, with a greater volume for bigger events such as the Super Bowl.
Imagine what it might look like for a Chargers game there if attendance and interest don't spike significantly. It won't help, either, that two of the team's most recognizable stars — QB Philip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates — could be well into retirement by that point.
Empty stadiums, even if it's only a handful of venues around the league, are a bad look in the NFL's eyes. It weakens the product, both locally and nationally. Free agents might be less inclined to sign with a franchise that right now cannot fill the NFL's smallest shed. Yes, the league makes a significant chunk of its revenue from the TV contracts, but those are up in a few years and are not guaranteed to be as fruitful as they previously have.
The college schedule this week includes only two games between top-30 teams. The best of those games is No. 3 Clemson at No. 14 Louisville. The other top game as far as NFL prospects goes was Miami at Florida, but that game has been postponed because of Hurricane Irma.
An interesting game in the East has Oklahoma State playing at Pittsburgh.
Clemson at Louisville
Although it’s still early, Clemson might not have as many NFL prospects as the Tigers did a year ago when they won the National Championship. Clemson is loaded with talent, but some of their really talented players won’t be eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Tigers' best NFL prospect is junior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Wilkins has a combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism. He plays the run and rushes the passer equally well. Last week against Auburn he had 10 total tackles and 2 sacks. Another strong player along the defensive front is third-year sophomore defensive end Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell had 6 sacks and 24 quarterback pressures a year ago and has 1 sack through two games this year.
Clemson also has two interesting inside linebackers, senior Dorian O’Daniel and junior Kendall Joseph, who are the top two tacklers on the defense. Both are undersized but fast and athletic.
On offense, the best Clemson prospect is junior tackle Mitch Hyatt. Hyatt has been a starter since the day he arrived at Clemson and has the feet, range, strength and flexibility to play very well on the left side.
Louisville, of course, has one of the more exciting players in all of college football in quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson has picked up where he left off last year by already throwing for 771 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions in two games. He has also rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns. After becoming the youngest player ever to win the Heisman Trophy last season at 19, he could very well earn the award a second time this year.
Junior Jaylen Smith is Jackson’s favorite target and has 17 receptions for a 17.6-yard average in two games. Smith is the kind of big, tall, fast and physical receiver that NFL clubs love. Redshirt sophomore Jon Greenard is an interesting edge pass-rusher. Greenard is listed as being 6-feet 4-inches tall – 259 pounds, and looks all of that. He has 2 sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for loss through two games.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh
Although this game might not get much national attention, it has one of the more interesting quarterback prospects in the country. Entering 2017, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph wasn’t getting the same acclaim as players like Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, but by the end of the season he very well could be in the mix to become one of the first quarterbacks drafted.
In the Cowboys' first two games, Rudolph has completed 45-of-62 passes for 638 yards and six touchdowns. Rudolph has size, a strong arm, uncanny accuracy and ball placement, a quick delivery and the ability to move around in the pocket. He also shows poise and the ability to read defenses and make quick decisions. At 6-5, 230, he has ideal NFL size. Watch this guy closely, as he is becoming more and more popular with NFL scouts.
Rudolph also has some interesting receivers to target. Senior James Washington has size, speed and run-after-the catch skills. He is averaging a whopping 30 yards a catch through the opening two games of 2017. Senior Marcell Ateman is big and physical. He might not be the deep threat that Washington is, Ateman runs well, also.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was firm in response to the media this week about how his offensive scheme would change following the news that RB David Johnson would miss at least two months with a wrist injury.
"Not one iota," Arians said.
But this, really, is a semantics thing. The scheme will not change, sure. But how the offense is executed will — dramatically, we might add. QB Carson Palmer admitted as much.
"It changes drastically," Palmer said. "You lose who I think is one of the best football players in this league [in Johnson], things are obviously going to change."
Palmer is right. The play calling will change. Aspects of the run game will be different. The passing game, however, expects to be affected the most. Don't forget that LT D.J. Humphries also was injured in Week 1 and could be out a few weeks as well. Humphries' replacement, John Wetzel, struggled in his place.
Here's what we expect, based on folks we spoke with this week, starting with Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts: The bread and butter of Arians' offense has always been the deep ball and how the Cardinals set it up, either with short throws, double moves or a steady run game. We don't expect that to completely disappear with Johnson and Humphries out, of course. It could just be more selective.
Initially after Johnson left the game for good in Week 1, the Cardinals appeared interested in actually running the ball more often, using Kerwynn Williams on three straight carries at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. But once the Lions turned a 17-15 deficit into a 35-17 lead in a stunning flurry of a little more than five game minutes, the plans apparently were scrapped.
Williams will get the first crack at replacing Johnson, but the Cardinals are expected to activate four backs against the Colts and perhaps use at least three of them heavily. Joining him will be the recently re-signed Chris Johnson as well as Andre Ellington. Williams — a former Colts draft pick — is a speed back but has shown little pass-catching ability. Johnson and Ellington might divvy up the pass targets that Johnson previously received.
But will Palmer be able to pass effectively with his left tackle out, backs he might not trust in pass protection and two banged-up tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas? We think it might cut down on his seven-step drops and vertical routes, especially with WR John Brown (quad) not certain for this weekend.
Either way, J.J. Nelson — who coincidentally has had some of his biggest games when Johnson has had his fewest touches — could also be a secret factor. One of Nelson's most effective routes has been the over, working from the left side of the field to the right, so if the Cardinals choose to go deep, they could move the pocket in that direction (away from Wetzel's side) and stretch the field that way. Palmer has historically been far better throwing to that side anyway.
Don't expect Palmer to attack the middle of the field deep as much, either. He threw two of his three interceptions in Week 1 between the hashmarks, and his accuracy waned significantly with throws that traveled beyond 10 yards. Larry Fitzgerald still will get his token touches, and many of those will come between the numbers. But Palmer was 1-for-8 passing with an interception on passes that went 15 yards or more in the air — and many of those came with Johnson on the field.
Losing him means teams can cheat up more, and the Cardinals will have to have a response for this. They're not burning the playbook in Week 2 in his absence, but it's very possible that they skip over a few pages with him out.