For Better Or Worse: A Look at the NFL's Many 2-2 Teams

Benjamin BenyaCorrespondent IIOctober 8, 2010

For Better Or Worse: A Look at the NFL's Many 2-2 Teams

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    Just four weeks into the National Football League’s 2010 season, and we’ve already had our fair share of surprising starts and defining plays. But a quick look down the standings tells a different story.

    13 NFL teams currently sit at 2-2, accounting for nearly half the league. Though 2-2 is not always a bad record, some of these teams are underachieving while others have played above their heads. Is it parity or mediocrity that fuels such an outburst on the .500 line?

    Over the next few pages, we’ll examine the state of each of these teams in an effort to provide some much needed clarity on whether or not they are better or worse than the even par score they’ve produced.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Expectations weren't too high for the Cardinals to begin the season. Without MVP quarterback Kurt Warner, the Cardinals appear the be the same hit-and-run franchise that can't string together consistent play from week to week.

    Arizona has one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season, yet its 2-2 record isn't surprising. They've been run through by much better teams like San Diego (also 2-2, we'll get to them later) and Atlanta (3-1). Their two wins were the result of close, final-minute plays that may have been lucky.

    The Cards beat St. Louis when rookie Sam Bradford was threw the ball nearly 60 times. They beat the Raiders thanks to three missed field goals for Sebastian Janikowski. In short, Arizona's wins were not awe-inspiring.

    QB Derek Anderson has been an okay starters, but his numbers are nowhere near Warner's, nor are they anywhere close to his own magical season a few years ago. Anderson is averaging just 181 passing yards a game with less than a touchdown to show for it. That just won't cut it for a team with an offensive weapon like Larry Fitzgerald, who is currently only averaging 52 receiving yards a game.

    The Cardinals are showing more that they should be 0-4 with the 49ers.

    Better or Worse than 2-2:  Worse.

St. Louis Rams

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    After an unsurprising 0-2 start, the Rams stole a big victory over the Redskins in Week 3 and stifled the Seahawks in Week 4. St. Louis, our second of three representatives from the NFC West, will already finish with a better record than their anemic 1-15 in 2009.

    What is most revealing about this squad, however, is a renewed sense of competition. The Rams were very much in the driver's seat during their losses to both Arizona and Oakland. Stephen Jackson is staying healthy for the most part and rookie Sam Bradford has delivered the goods thus far, throwing for 944 yards and six touchdowns.

    The biggest revelation, however, is the play of wide receiver Mark Clayton. Acquired just before the season in exchange for peanuts, Clayton has established himself as the go-to-guy on offense, amassing 300 yards catching on 22 receptions. He's been targeted 41 times thus far, 11 more times than any of his teammates.

    St. Louis can and will compete for their division title this year thanks to an easy schedule against several teams with a questionable pass defense. As long as they don't beat themselves and both Bradford and Jackson stay in the huddle, 9-7 is conceivable.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Better.

San Diego Chargers

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    Surprise, surprise! The San Diego Chargers have stumbled out of the gate to start the 2010 season. San Diego hasn't started a season better than 2-2 since 2006, where they went 3-1 over their first four. In fact, the Chargers are more familiar with a 2-3 record than anything over that time. Though they rattled off 11 straight wins last year following a dismal start, odds are it may not be the same this time around.

    The Chargers two losses, to Kansas City and Seattle, should have been easy wins on the schedule. But the Chiefs proved to be more difficult to handle than in years past and the Seahawks soared on the heels of Leon Washington's two touchdowns on kick and punt returns. In fact, San Diego has already surrendered three return touchdowns, each breaking 90 yards in length.

    On the bright side, quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates have hit their stride, connecting for six touchdowns in four games. While rookie running back Ryan Mathews hasn't been a destroyer as predicted, Mike Tolbert has stepped in to pick up the slack nicely.

    The Chargers defense is also having a pretty good year, racking up 15 sacks in the first four games, six of which belong to linebacker Shaun Phillips. Phillips also has an interception return for a touchdown from Week 4's thrashing of Arizona.

    The real test for the Chargers will start in Week 7, when they begin a five-game conquest against New England, Tennessee, Houston, Denver, and Indianapolis.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Better.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Rarely spoken of as a contender, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't going quietly into a 6-10 season this year. Jacksonville played well against both Denver and Indianapolis, handling one while upsetting the other. But in between those wins are embarrassing losses to San Diego and Philadelphia in games that were hardly competitive.

    For Jacksonville, consistency is hard to find. They have the league's 30th ranked pass defense and their schedule isn't getting any easier when it comes to pass happy teams (Indianapolis again, two against Houston, Dallas, the New York Giants, and Washington).

    While Maurice Jones-Drew's 322 rushing yards and eight catches for 49 yards seem up to snuff, he's got only one rushing and one receiving touchdown thus far. David Garrard is spreading the ball around, but he may not being doing enough to simply throw the ball, completing only 15 passes a game. It should come as no surprise that the pass offense is 26th in the league.

    Jacksonville can keep it close and should benefit from a few cupcake games (against Buffalo and Cleveland), but there are many other consistency issues keeping them from winning. Remember, a freak 59-yard field goal is the only reason they're not 1-3.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Worse.

Washington Redskins

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    We knew things would be interesting in Washington this year, yet the unpredictable twists and turns of the Redskins this year have kept up guessing. Since the start of the season, we've seen Quarterback redemption, defensive star turmoil, and now, we're in the midst of a running back clash.

    The Redskins started the year with an impressive, clutch win over the Dallas Cowboys, followed by a hard-fought overtime loss to the very improved Houston Texans. But as the tide was turning, the Redskins were shutdown by the Rams, and they proceeded to do the same to the Philadelphia Eagles, shelving Michael Vick in the process.

    Washington is still very heard to get a read on. Even with a great cover defense last week, the Redskins yielded 243 passing yards, nearly double what Donovan McNabb totaled. Overall on the year, the Skins have been out-rushed and out-passed despite their record.

    The Albert Haynseworth factor has been a complete miss this year, as he failed to show up until playing hurt in this past week's game against Philadelphia. His four tackles in the game brought him up to six on the season, well shy of any team leaders. He has also yet to record a sack.

    Clinton Portis is also showing signs of slowing down, running for less impressive numbers each week. In his place, Ryan Torain, a long-term pet project of Head Coach Mike Shanahan, has been stellar. With Portis' status in question, Torain should begin to see the majority of the snaps from the backfield.

    The jury is still out on the Redskins to this point, as every time they look good, they do something else to look flatout bad.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Push.

New York Giants

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    Perhaps no team is running as hot and cold right now as the New York Giants. In Week One, they tore up the Carolina Panthers in dominant fashion. Then, they themselves were destroyed by both Indianapolis and Tennessee. Everything appeared to be a mess until the Giants defense roared back for a major win over the then undefeated Chicago Bears.

    Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has been relegated to stay behind Ahmad Bradshaw, who has been an exciting force for an offense ranked seventh in the league in rushing. He's already halved his career highs and, if his ankle doesn't act up in the coming weeks, will continue to shred defensive fronts.

    Quarterback Eli Manning, on the other hand, has been nothing short of frustrating to fantasy owners this season. After an opening week of 263 pass yards and three touchdowns, Manning threw for just 161 yards in Week Two. In Week Three, he picked it up again with 386 pass yards before plummeting to 195 yards in Week Four. It has been difficult to get a read on which Eli will show up each Sunday.

    The Giants defense, particularly on pass rushing, has been remarkable from the beginning. The Giants are relinquishing fewer yards through the air than 30 other NFL teams, and after last week's complete demolition derby on Chicago QB Jay Cutler, one has to wonder if they'll stay this good all year.

    To be honest, New York's hopes lay with a fledgling offense that is currently being supported by a cutthroat defense. An incredibly tough, arduous schedule awaits the team with only one conceivable "gimme" (Detroit) left on the schedule.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Push.

Indianapolis Colts

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    File this one under weird, but the Colts are not only 2-2 to start the season, they're 0-2 within their own division. For a team that tends to start stronger than it finishes, the Colts are in the unfamiliar position of playing from behind early in the season.

    Indianapolis' problems trace back to week one, when they allowed Houston RB Arian Foster to completely dominate the defense. In fact, Indy's rush defense looks more like the maligned D from five years ago that would let any running back (like Quentin Griffin) run all over the field. The only bright spot in four games for Indy's rushing protection came against Denver in Week Three, admittedly because Denver has no running back strategy at the moment.

    Peyton Manning has been nothing short of amazing. While the Colts defense may be banged up and somewhat lacking, Manning continues to be an MVP candidate who can find any receiver and make them into a superstar (see: Collie, Austin). His 11 touchdowns are countered by only one interception in 172 pass attempts. Say all you want about Peyton's Super Bowl ending pick this past season, because he's only thrown one more since.

    Let's be honest here: the Colts should, by all rights be 3-1. Their last defeat came on an unmanageable field goal that just happened to split the uprights. Perhaps if they went back to simply scoring 35 in the first half, they wouldn't have to worry about the occasional discrepancy.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Better.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Completing the Hat Trick of the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks experienced too much turbulent overhaul to possibly be good this year, right? Think again. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks playing a more entertaining brand of football these days that makes you wonder whether or not he truly is an evil genius.

    First, Seattle stomped out the highly-touted 49ers (now the overrated 49ers) before themselves being routed by Denver. A special teams fiesta against San Diego gave them their second win before they again, ran out of gas against St. Louis. One could speculate that the biggest challenge for Seattle will be to win any two games in succession this year.

    One has to wonder with the Seahawks if there is a bounty on the head of running back Justin Forsett. Despite establishing himself as a credible number one last year, he entered the season with stiff competition from Julius Jones and Leon Washington. Then, after once again showing he's got what it takes to be the feature back, the Seahawks cut Jones and traded for Marshawn Lynch. Simply put, Forsett isn't getting enough touches or opportunity to rock the offense to a new level.

    The connection of Matt Hasselbeck to any of his receivers is questionable as well. Hasselbeck has found 12 different targets thus far this season with Lynch likely to be the 13th. While his favorite is tight end John Carlson, he's only catching for 40 yards a game, which is simply not enough.

    The Seahawks are also night and day defensively, posting a 3rd ranked rush defense and a 29th ranked pass defense.

    At the end of the day, Seattle is one of those teams that benefits from weak scheduling and a strong special teams squad led by Leon Washington's running threat. But those features are only skin deep for a team still in mass transition.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Worse.

Denver Broncos

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    A 2-2 record for the Denver Broncos wasn't out of the question at the start of the season, but the way in which they got there certainly was. Denver's losses to Jacksonville and Indianapolis are countered by big wins over Tennessee and Seattle. All five teams are 2-2, so it is generally average fare.

    But wrap your head around this: Denver's passing offense, led by quarterback Kyle Orton, is 1st in the NFL. Kyle Orton could throw for 6000 yards this year at this pace. Denver's rushing offense, a staple of the team for two decades, is dead last. Translation: Josh McDaniels learned a lot underneath New England head coach Bill Belichick.

    Denver's passing game is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround that in no way includes the name "Tebow." Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, and Jabar Gaffney are not only among the top receivers on the team, but are part of the top 20 throughout the league. For a team that lost possession receiver Brandon Marshall just one off-season after gunslinger Jay Cutler, such a resurgence is unfathomable.

    But the Broncos are still young and inexperienced in some ways. This is a team that could have easily beaten Jacksonville and was competitive with Indianapolis throughout. It wouldn't have been out of the question for Denver to be 4-0 had they cashed in their opportunities and made a few more defensive stops.

    Just think how much better they would be if Knowshon Moreno could stay healthy and Elvis Dumervil had been in the lineup at all.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Better.

Tennessee Titans

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    Figuring out what makes the Tennessee Titans consistently decent is like solving a Rubik's Cube. Despite personnel turnover and player movement, the Titans remain competitive each and every year. In now way can the Titans look at their current schedule and say 2-2 was a great disappointment, just a minor one.

    The Titans lost to both Denver and Pittsburgh, two games that looked like easy victories given the climate of those teams heading in. They steamrolled through Oakland and the Giants, so why not be 4-0?

    Well, turnovers might have a little something to do with it. The Titans can't seem to hang on to the ball, turning it over 10 times already this season. After a seven turnover disaster against the Steelers in Week Two, Tennessee fell again to Denver this past week thanks in part to a muffed kick return with under two minutes to play.

    It is really a shame, too, considering that Vince Young is showing signs of improvement despite a 30th ranked passing unit and Chris Johnson is still a beast in the backfield. Also, the Titans defense is currently among the league's best in tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles.

    If the offense could get on the same page as the non-stop defense, Jeff Fisher could have another winner on his hands.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Better.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    In even attempting to write about the current status of the Philadelphia Eagles, it is impossible to avoid the term quarterback controversy. Why? Perhaps because the Eagles two losses predominantly featured Kevin Kolb while their two wins featured an MVP-esque Michael Vick at quarterback.

    Initially, Kolb took a backseat to Vick after suffering a concussion in Week One. After two amazing performances over the Lions and Jaguars, Vick found himself on the receiving end of an injury and subsequent sidelining while Kolb failed to break the Washington Redskins defense.

    Now, in all fairness, that seems pretty hard on Kevin Kolb, but the fact of the matter is that he's still too conservative a quarterback to properly utilize a deep ball receiver like DeSean Jackson or a swing tight end like Brent Celek. Kolb has found chemistry with running back LeSean McCoy, but he too is in the injury pool and may be limited in the next few weeks. The Eagles are also 0-2 at home and 2-0 on the road, giving Eagles fans even more reason to dislike Kolb, but let's not put this all on him.

    The defense has recorded 13 sacks and six picks thus far, yet can't seem to force a fumble to save their lives. They also fall into the same category as the Indianapolis Colts; unable to stop any running backs headed their way. The Eagles have relinquished 100 or more rushing yards each week, though not all of it is to the same back.

    It doesn't get easier from here for Philadelphia. After facing the 0-4 49ers this week, the Eagles will have 11 more games against a stacked schedule of opponents that includes both Mannings and running backs Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Even.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Bengals football has never been set in stone as great; actually, it is usually far from it. Cincinnati hasn't played poorly much at all this year, dropping an opening week route to New England before two impressive defensive stands against the Panthers and Ravens. Then, for no apparent reason whatsoever, the Bengals tanked an easy win against the Cleveland Browns.

    Statistically, the Bengals defensive numbers are something of an optical illusion. Though they rank ninth in pass defense, Cincinnati has benefitted from facing Seneca Wallace, Joe Flacco, and Jimmy Clausen, none of which are known for being Grade A Quarterbacks yet. Their one opponent with that distinction, Tom Brady, ate them alive in Week One.

    Carson Palmer hasn't been exactly awesome, but his receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have been surprisingly so. Pundits who predicted an implosion are still waiting impatiently for Owens and Ochocinco to upstage each other, but that doesn't look to be happening. They have 24 and 23 catches, respectively, with Owens taking the yardage lead thanks to a huge week against Cleveland.

    One thing that has become clear, however, is the Bengals dependency on turnovers. Both of their victories saw them force 4 turnovers in each game, while both losses saw Cincinnati give it away more than they could take the ball away.

    The reason the Bengals should be kicking themselves is because the loss to Cleveland was incredibly detrimental to their division hopes. The only way to play catch up now is a mirror of last season's unenviable task: sweep Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Even.

Miami Dolphins

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    Surely, the Dolphins had high hopes entering the year. Though they may not have been quite as high as their AFC East rivals, the New York Jets, they had to be high. That said, things in Miami have been topsy-turvy since the start.

    The Dolphins were handed their first win of the season due to a string of Buffalo Bills errors, and then jumped to 2-0 in a great shutdown game in Minnesota. Beaming with pride, the Dolphins were humbled at home not once, but twice, by the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Both games turned from great promise into a nightmare thanks to miscues and poor execution.

    Sooner or later, Miami has to make some big decisions. Chad Henne may be the quarterback choice going forward, but he'll need to get a lot better than he's doing right now, averaging a touchdown and an interception per game. With Brandon Marshall coming in and Davone Bess coming on strong, there's no excuse for Henne not to exhaust his weapons.

    The Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams backfield is no closer to finding resolution or a clear, concise top choice. Brown currently has the edge in numbers but it seems as if Tony Sparano is too timid to give Brown all the time. To be fair, his hands are tied as long as Williams can produce over four yards a carry.

    The Dolphins are 0-2 at home, 1-2 in the division, and without any relief on the schedule until Week 15 and 16, when they play Oakland and Cleveland. This may be the season where they have to take two steps back in order to take one big step forward.

    Better or Worse than 2-2: Worse.