What to Watch For in NFL Week 3
Week 3 in the NFL is typically a time when teams start to establish patterns for better or for worse. It’s also a pivotal point in the season because clubs can gain valuable momentum, which can set the course of the entire season.
What direction will those 1-1 teams swing?
Which of those eight 0-2 teams will pull off a critical victory and turn its season around?
Which of the eight undefeated teams will remain unbeaten after Week 3?
Throughout this slideshow, we’ll take a look at some of the best storylines and key matchups from around the league.
How Well Will the Browns Play After Trading Away Their Hopes for This Season?
The winless Cleveland Browns have been all over the news this week after their surprising decision to trade perhaps the most talented player on their offense.
The Colts snagged second-year running back Trent Richardson away from the Browns for a 2014 first-round draft pick.
Judgment on the trade aside, it looks like Cleveland has cashed in its chips on the 2013 season and has turned its focus to the future.
The problem with this perception is the negative effect it will have on the players, not just for the remainder of the season, but beyond. Motivation in the NFL is a tricky ingredient to effectively insert into the game plan on a weekly basis.
There should be a real concern in that Browns locker room about how these players respond. Will they be willing to fight for the coaching staff and front office that have essentially bailed on their players? Can they trust the current management?
It's worth noting that Brandon Weeden will be replaced by Brian Hoyer rather than Jason Campbell this Sunday.
Weeden injured his thumb against the Ravens last week after inadvertently banging it on another player's helmet.
It should be interesting to see if he ever returns to his starting job when healthy.
Ed Reed’s Possible Return to Action Against His Former Team
The last time we saw Ed Reed in a football uniform, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and celebrating his first ever Super Bowl victory.
Now, more than nine months later, Reed could finally return to the football field to strike fear into the heart of any quarterback looking to throw over the middle.
One major difference from past years is that Reed will now be roaming up and down the enemy's sideline wearing enemy colors.
One looming question heading into this game is whether the veteran safety will be healthy enough to actually play. Reed has been trying to recover from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, but there’s no telling whether or not he feels good enough to go. We can only assume he’ll do everything he can to get out there and mix it up with his former team.
Expect his homecoming to the stadium he helped build to be greeted by Baltimore fans with mixed emotions and ambivalence—albeit a tremendous amount of respect.
Reed himself offered a window into his emotional state leading up to the game in a conference call with local reporters, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun:
I always will be a Raven. That's where I was kind of raised in the NFL. I did a lot of growing and we did a lot of special things. That's something that can never be taken away and it never will. There's a lot of love there…
…Just looking at the whole team, it just looks a little different for me, especially being on this side of things, I was looking at it last night like, Wow, this is something that I'm really coaching against my boys…
...It's like playing against your brothers again, while I'm out there coaching, I've been having this feeling for a long time. It's different being here and coming to see my guys, who I've been fighting with for a long time.
Regardless of what Reed says to downplay the situation, emotions will surely be running high for all parties involved, including the fans.
Calvin Johnson and Co. Face the Worst-Ranked Defense in the NFL
No team in the NFL has given up more yards per game than the Washington Redskins. On the flip side, the Detroit Lions come to town with one of the better offenses in the league—not to mention perhaps the biggest mismatch creator in the NFL in Calvin Johnson.
Will Washington actually tackle someone out there, or will the Lions' high-powered passing attack overwhelm this suspect defensive unit that is currently giving up over 500 yards of offense per game?
If the Redskins can’t fix their leaky secondary this Sunday, Megatron could end up having a career day.
Keep a close eye on rookies David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo in the secondary. Both of these players are promising talents, but may be in over their heads at this stage in their NFL development going against one of the most dominating players to ever play the position.
Is Philip Rivers Back and Better Than Ever?
As of right now, Philip Rivers is actually playing some of the best football in his entire career. This comes even with his shaky fourth quarter against the Houston Texans in the season opener.
The last two seasons have left many Chargers fans wondering whether Rivers is even worth keeping. During this span of time San Diego, managed a 15-17 record while their once-promising quarterback threw 35 interceptions on his way to career lows in passer rating.
These days, Philip Rivers seems back and better than ever despite a barrage of injuries to the receiving corps and limited help from the running game. In two games, he has already amassed seven touchdowns with just a single interception.
Sunday’s challenge should be huge for this red-hot quarterback as the Chargers head to Tennessee to face one of the league’s best pass defenses.
So far this season, the Titans have managed to rank in the top 10 in nearly every category in pass defense. Cornerback Alterraun Verner has been playing lights-out thus far and should be up for the challenge of trying to ruin Rivers’ hot streak. Needless to say, this matchup of streaking performers should be highly entertaining.
If Philip Rivers keeps this high level of play up throughout the season, we could end up with one of the most surprising MVP candidates in a long time. But in order for that possibility to manifest itself, he’ll need to keep adding digits to the “win” column above all else.
How Will Trent Richardson Look in Blue and White?
The trade of the year is undoubtedly Trent Richardson going to the Indianapolis Colts. Richardson and quarterback Andrew Luck now offer the Colts a stellar one-two punch on offense that could develop into one of the most dangerous tandems in the league.
But for now, the Colts head into San Francisco to face a notoriously stingy 49ers defense. Richardson has had less than a week to prepare for Sunday and absorb the Indianapolis' offense, but expect him to get a pretty decent workload nonetheless.
When Richardson’s in the game, it might key the 49ers defense to audible into a designed blitz aimed at testing the assignment-awareness of the new addition. If the Colts only plan on using him on running plays in his first week with the team, this too can become a useful key for the defense, which may exploit the transparency.
In any case, consider this game to be just the beginning of what should be a very dynamic pairing in Indianapolis.
Harbaugh and Luck Reunite
The 49ers return home to Candlestick Park licking their wounds after an embarrassing outing against the rival Seahawks.
The most interesting storyline heading into this matchup—besides the Trent Richardson trade—has to be the reunion between Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and his former coach from his Stanford days, Jim Harbaugh.
If this familiarity with each other is advantageous to either side, it would have to favor Harbaugh. The man who has guided every step of Luck's development has to have some in-depth insight into the quarterback's tendencies, strengths and weaknesses on a level that Luck has never experienced.
If Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can't devise a game plan capable of shutting down Andrew Luck and the Colts this Sunday, well then, this kid is far better than I ever imagined he could be.
Watching this chess match unfold is bound to be enjoyable regardless of the outcome.
We should also get some insight into the relationship between these two during the postgame handshakes.
Must-Win for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
It just doesn’t feel right to see the Pittsburgh Steelers at 0-2. But even worse than their record is how they actually acquired those two losses.
The offense has looked in complete disarray in each of its first two contests with the offensive line and play-calling of coordinator Todd Haley being the biggest concerns thus far. The entire unit appears to be uncharacteristically without an identity, scoring only 19 points while allowing seven sacks on Ben Roethlisberger. But perhaps the most shocking of all the Steelers' offensive stats is being ranked second-to-last in the league in rushing yards per game.
This Sunday night, the Steelers will have to dig deep for a momentum shift on their season as they face the undefeated Chicago Bears.
If they fall to 0-3, we might have to consider Pittsburgh to be officially a team in transition. The organization has been able to avoid this for over 40 years. Since 1972, this proud franchise has only finished below .500 on seven occasions, per Pro Football Reference.
A loss on Sunday may also mark the end of Haley’s tumultuous run as the play-caller on offense.
If you remember, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron midseason only to become Super Bowl champions. This type of change appears to be in order for the Steelers, especially in the event of another loss in front of a national audience.
Can Oakland Take Advantage of Ryan Clady's Absence?
With star left tackle Ryan Clady now out for the season after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury, the job of protecting one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL falls on journeyman Chris Clark. An undrafted free agent in 2008, Clark has been limited to only six starts in his career.
This could make the matchup between the Raiders and Broncos much more intriguing considering the Raiders have generated a league-high nine sacks through the first two weeks of the season, which is a surprising stat unto itself. Nobody expected the Raiders to be able to put any kind of pressure on the quarterback with the current personnel on defense, yet linemen Lamarr Houston and Jason Hunter in particular have impressed early in that department.
Houston has been used in a unique way for a 300-pounder. The Raiders have experimented with him as a standup edge-rusher, which has been met with positive results.
With that said, the real strength of this pass rush has come from a wide variety of pressures through the secondary. Blitzing a defensive back can be one of the more difficult blitz packages for an offensive lineman to identify in real time.
Can the inexperienced Clark identify these uncommon blitz schemes fast enough, or will the Raiders defense find creative ways to exploit Peyton’s valuable blindside?
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.