NFL Studs and Duds for Week 2
After one of the most exciting weeks of NFL football in recent history (particularly for the early Sunday games), it's time to determine the studs and duds of Week 2 action.
Because of the unpredictability of the early-season matchups, some unexpected players emerged while several star players fell on their face.
Here are Week 2's "studs" and "duds."
STUD: Arizona Cardinals
Most observers knew the Cardinals had themselves one of the better defenses in the NFL, but holding the juggernaut Patriots offense to 18 points was beyond impressive.
Sure, they benefited from some head-scratching play-calling and the decision to not include their best receiver until the final embers of the game, but this was a coming-out party for a team that has eluded national spotlight since Kurt Warner retired.
It would have been a shame to see such an effort wasted because of a Ryan Williams fumble, but a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal gave the Cardinals their biggest win in several years.
DUD: Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler, without a doubt, is our biggest goat of the week. Not only did he go 11-of-28 for a measly 126 yards to accompany his four interceptions, but he deflected all of the blame from himself onto his teammates.
Cutler was caught by cameras yelling at, even belittling, J'Marcus Webb for giving up a sack to Clay Matthews. Sure, Webb did not play stellar game, but it's not like he is the first player to ever give up a sack to Clay Matthews.
Meanwhile, Cutler was consistently throwing off his back foot, making lousy reads, throwing to covered receivers and generally doing everything he could to prevent his team from winning.
Cutler's ineffectiveness wasted a stellar effort from the Bears defense that could have given them a huge head start in the NFC North.
For a player who was already dealing with image issues after the 2010 NFC Championship Game, this is not the kind of performance that will put him back in the good graces of Bears fans.
STUD: Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews was the best player on the field Thursday night, nabbing a whopping 3.5 sacks to help give the Packers their first win of the season.
What played a large part in Matthews' ridiculous sack numbers was improved play by Tramon Williams and B.J. Raji. Williams' play forced Jay Cutler to hold onto the ball, while Raji helped free up blockers and get Matthews in one-on-one situations.
It wasn't just the sack numbers that were impressive; Matthews was all over the field, knocking down passes and blowing up run plays.
At this rate, Matthews will be a shoo-in to win Defensive Player of the Year.
DUD: Steve Spagnuolo
Once viewed as one of the best coaching hires of the offseason, Steve Spagnuolo's defense has looked as bad as any unit in the NFL.
The Saints have now given up 75 points in their first two games, good (or bad) enough for worst in the NFL. Despite their offseason additions of Brodrick Bunkley and Curtis Lofton (although, to be fair, they did lose Tracy Porter), they are significantly worse in every aspect of defensive football.
Since leaving the Giants to become the head coach of the Rams in 2009, Spags' defenses have consistently been near the bottom of the NFL.
If this trend of hideous defense continues for the Saints, it will be valid to question whether or not his championship Giants defense was more about the unit's talent than his coaching ability.
STUD: Cam Newton
Cam Newton's sophomore campaign started out much slower than his rookie season, but he bounced back on Sunday with a much more efficient performance.
The Panthers reverted back to their run-first roots, which included several designed runs for Cam. The Panthers' runners accumulated 219 rushing yards, with Newton responsible for 71 of them.
Ultimately, he wound up going 14-of-20 for 253 yards and a TD, with a 129.2 passer rating.
Sure, going up against a soft Saints defense helped matters, but this was exactly the kind of performance we expected from Newton in his second season as a pro.
DUD: Stephen Hill
I could have put the entire Jets offense in this category, but Stephen Hill was completely invisible in his second game, and his performance needs to be highlighted.
Hill showed a ton of promise in his two-touchdown debut, but his inability to get off the Steelers' press led to him only having one target in the game.
To make it worse, he probably should have caught the only pass that went his way, which could have been a touchdown to switch the momentum in the game.
Hill has plenty of time to rebound and is loaded with natural talent, but it is clear that he is very raw and will struggle against press coverage for some time.
STUD: Ben Roethlisberger
It was not the 27 points that Ben's offense dropped on the Jets defense that was so impressive; it was how he went about doing it.
Rex Ryan dialed up some perfectly timed blitzes that were able to get free rushers on Roethlisberger. Ben, however, was able to shake off defenders again and again to convert eight third downs to keep the Jets' struggling offense off the field.
Not having to deal with Darrelle Revis certainly made things easier, but Roethlisberger's unique ability to escape and extend plays was on full display, and it was a big part of the Steelers avoiding the dreaded 0-2 mark.
DUD: Oakland Raiders
It's no surprise that the Raiders are off to a slow start. This is clearly a rebuilding year after new GM Reggie McKenzie was forced to dump a handful of talented players to fix a horrendous cap situation.
It was reasonable to assume the Raiders would be bad, but no one thought they would be "blown-out-by-the-Dolphins" bad.
The worst part of it all was how they were abused by Reggie Bush on the ground all game long. Bush's 172 yards allowed the Dolphins to hang 35 points on the Raiders defense.
Carson Palmer is not getting any better, and outside of Darren McFadden, there are no healthy offensive weapons that strike fear into opposing defenses.
It is clear that the Raiders are in a rebuilding year, but they have even more work to do than we imagined.
STUD: San Francisco 49ers
While the Raiders are busy digging themselves out of an 0-2 hole, their rivals across the bay are clicking on all cylinders.
Everyone knows about the 49ers defense, but their passing game has become more and more efficient as Alex Smith looks better with each start.
New acquisitions like Randy Moss and Mario Manningham are making plays, but Michael Crabtree has emerged into Alex Smith's go-to receiver on third downs. His hands and YAC ability allowed the 49ers to convert a ton of key third downs to thwart a Lions comeback.
The only real question that remains for the 49ers is whether they are peaking too early or if the best is yet to come from Jim Harbaugh's squad.
DUD: Dallas Cowboys
After knocking off the Super Bowl champs on their home turf, it appeared as if the Cowboys were ready to go on a run and take the NFC East by the throat.
Instead, the 'Boys fell flat on their face against the Seahawks, despite getting an extra few days to prepare.
As disappointing as giving up 27 points to a rookie quarterback is, the fact that they allowed the Seahawks to conduct such long drives to do so is even more deflating to a Cowboys defense that was riding high after shutting down the Giants last week.
There is still plenty of time for the Cowboys to bounce back, but they laid an egg on Sunday and whiffed big on an early opportunity to get a jump on the rest of the NFC East.
STUD: Adam Vinatieri
The legend continues. Adam Vinatieri, the most clutch kicker in NFL history, kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Colts their first win of the season.
This was not just any "first win." This was the first win for Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson and a new culture and philosophy that resides over Indianapolis.
After stumbling out of the gate against the Bears, getting a win in Week 2 is a huge confidence booster for this young team, and they have an old veteran to thank for delivering when it counted.
DUD: Jake Locker
Jake Locker's inexperience reared its ugly head on Sunday, as he folded under the Chargers' new-and-improved defense.
He was just 15-of-30 for 174 yards and only led one touchdown drive all game.
While it should come as no surprise that a young, raw quarterback like Locker struggled under pressure, this was still a step back in his development.
As bad as things may get for the Titans this season, they must stick with Locker through tough games like this.
STUD: Dante Rosario
With Antonio Gates inactive for the Chargers' game against the Titans, Dante Rosario was called upon to take his place, and boy did he deliver.
Rosario was responsible for three touchdowns on the afternoon in a Chargers' 38-10 rout. Coming into this game, Rosario had just five catches in his career, giving him a total of 8.
While I wouldn't expect Rosario turn into the next Antonio Gates, the Chargers clearly now have a viable red-zone threat when Gates is not available.
DUD: Chiefs' Run Defense
In the "Disappointing Season-Opener Bowl," the Bills were the team that was able to redeem themselves through a steady dose of C.J. Spiller.
The Bills had their way with the Chiefs on the ground, amassing over 200 yards and averaging over five yards per carry.
The Bills were so effective on the ground that Ryan Fitzpatrick only had to complete 10 of his 19 passes to drop 35 points on what is supposed to be one of the better defenses in the NFL.
There still is a lot of football to be played, but this marks the second year in a row that the Chiefs have looked dreadful out of the gate, despite a coaching change.
STUD: Brent Celek
Brent Celek somehow managed to overshadow his eight-catch, 157-yard performance against the Ravens by making an incredible leap over Ed Reed in the third quarter.
The fact that he was able to anticipate Reed going low and get his 255-pound frame clean over Reed's body to avoid tripping over him was stunning. He barely even bent his legs to get over him.
Oh, and he was the Eagles' leading receiver on the day and was the biggest reason why the Eagles were able to came back and win the game to get to 2-0.
So yeah, Brent Celek just about defined the word "stud" with his performance against the Ravens.
DUD: Bill Belichick
While the Patriots are certainly far from playoff elimination after a Week 2 loss to an inferior Cardinals team, the Patriots offense in particular has not looked quite right, so far.
With Wes Welker spending a lot of time on the bench and pass-protection issues abound, it is fair to question how much coaching is playing into the Patriots' "slump."
No one knows, for sure, exactly why Welker has seemingly been benched in favor of Julian Edelman, but it is clearly affecting the performance of the Patriots offense (and fantasy football teams across America). If the Pats are benching Welker to prepare for his seemingly inevitable departure after the season, it would be quite an unethical move on the part of the organization.
Unless there is some secret injury that no one knows about, Belichick needs to put Welker on the field more, especially with Aaron Hernandez out for a few games at least.
STUD: Danny Amendola
Who caught more passes than anyone else in Week 2? Duh, Danny Amendola, of course!
Amendola tied the NFL record for passes caught in the first half with 12. He finished with 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown to give the Rams their first win of the season.
The Rams clearly missed Amendola last year, as he spent most of the season on IR. Now that he is back and in sync with Sam Bradford, the Rams offense is on track and looks to be a real contender in the NFC West.
DUD: Blaine Gabbert
Gabbert looked like a man reborn in the season opener, but he took a major step back going against a much stronger Texan defense.
Gabbert went just 7-of-19 for 53 yards, good enough for a measly 2.8 yards per attempt. He would eventually leave the game because of a hamstring injury.
The Jaguars line didn't do Gabbert any favors by allowing pressure all game long, but this game could be a big confidence-killer for a quarterback who is desperate for some momentum. The Jaguars can only hope that his new injury does not further affect his play and confidence on the field.
STUD: Robert Griffin III
The Redskins may have been handed a loss, but the blame falls on the defense for not being able to stop the Rams offense.
The truth is, RGIII's dual-threat ability kept the Redskins in the game and almost pulled out a win at the end of the game. He completed 69 percent of his passes and accumulated for three touchdowns both with his legs and through the air.
There is still a lot of football to be played. RGIII is having a Cam Newton-like rookie season so far. Win or lose, Redskins fans have a lot of look forward to if Griffin keeps playing like this.
DUD: Mark Sanchez
Sanchez clearly struggled as the game went on, but he is not the only one to blame for the Jets' offensive struggles after a rather strong first quarter.
The Jets receivers struggled to get off press coverage, and Sanchez clearly missed Dustin Keller, who sat out the game with a hamstring injury. The offensive line began to show some protection issues, as Sanchez was pressured more and more as the game went along.
Plus, the defense's inability to get off the field on third downs gave Sanchez fewer opportunities to put together drives.
More than anything, Sanchez is a dud because he simply was unable to elevate the play of those around him rather than his own personal shortcomings.
STUD: C.J. Spiller
Spiller was able to pick up right where he left off after a dominant performance against the Jets.
The Chiefs defense simply had no answer for the third-year player out of Clemson. Not only did he average 8.2 yards on 15 carries, but he added another 47 yards on three receptions.
Since taking over for Fred Jackson at the end of last year, Spiller has looked better and better with each opportunity. Whenever Jackson comes back from his injury, the Bills are going to have a tough time keeping Spiller out of the starting lineup if he continues to play this well.
DUD: Chris Johnson
The decline of Chris Johnson has truly become one of the most troubling storylines of the 2012 season.
Last year, his poor play could have been chalked up to him missing training camp and not being in shape to start the season.
Now, there is simply no excuse for CJ2K's horrendous start to 2012. He amassed just 17 yards on eight carries. As bad as the interior of the Titans' offensive line can be, players making the kind of money that Johnson is are supposed to be good enough to overcome those issues.
Unless CJ can turn around his play in a hurry, the contract the Titans handed to him will go down as one of the worst deals in NFL history.
STUD: Reggie Bush
Sure, it was against the Raiders, but Reggie Bush's performance on Sunday to give the Dolphins their first win was perhaps the finest 60 minutes of football of Bush's professional career.
He turned 26 carries into 172 yards, good enough to average 6.2 yards per carry. Ryan Tannehill only had to put up 200 yards through the air to hang 35 points on the Raiders.
Bush's performance lifted the Dolphins to a huge first win. For a team that was dealing with so much negativity over the past month with all of the Hard Knocks drama, don't look now, but the 'Fins are tied for first place in the AFC East.
DUD: Peyton Manning
Manning's second outing in a Broncos uniform did not go nearly as smoothly as the first, as he threw three interceptions right out of the gate.
Manning was tricked again and again in the first quarter, as the Falcons' new-look defense gave him different coverages that clearly confused him.
Still, Manning was able to eventually clean up his play to nearly bring the Broncos back, but the Falcons were able to hang on to win, 27-21.
While Broncos fans should not be overly concerned with Manning's mistakes, it is a bit premature to punch their tickets to the Super Bowl.
STUD: Mike Nolan
No Brent Grimes, no problem.
The Falcons' new-look defense confused Peyton Manning all night long with its ability to mix coverages and fronts. It was able to force three quick interceptions in the first quarter, which allowed the Falcons to jump out to a big lead that not even Peyton Manning could not overcome.
What makes this all the more impressive is that Nolan's defense was able to do this all without their best cornerback in Grimes.
If Matt Ryan keeps up his play and the defense continues to shut down top quarterbacks, the Falcons are going to be a tough team to beat in the NFC.
STUD: Giants' Passing Attack
This is a late addition to the list, as I'm not afraid to admit my own mistakes. The trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Eli Manning deserve stud status for their dramatic comeback against the Bucs.
Manning put up over 500 yards passing, and nearly 400 of those yards came between these two receivers alone. Cruz and Nicks combined for 22 catches.
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