With a game in the books and another week to iron out the kinks from the preseason, players and coaches understand the second week of the season can be crucial. For teams 0-1 entering playing, phrases like “It’s a long season” don’t seem to help when you’re staring 0-2 in the face.
Teams like the 2007 Giants who went 0-2 and went on the win the Super Bowl don’t come around very often. In fact, since 1990, only 19 teams have lost their first two games and even made the playoffs.
That means out of Cleveland, Seattle, Jacksonville, San Diego, and Minnesota are fighting history for one maybe two spots in the post-season. All five of those teams had Super Bowl aspirations this season, but now must dig themselves out of a hole.
Oh and the other 0-2 teams? Miami, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Detroit—not exactly the who’s who of the NFL power teams lately.
Listen, You’re the Quarterback, Just Don’t Screw It Up
We hear the phrase “Game manager” tossed around all the time in regards to certain quarterbacks. I hate the phrase because every quarterback is a game manager, that is, your job is to make sure you do everything you can to win.
Effectively managing a game means giving your team the best chance to win. But in the NFL, you have to be able to score points to win. That means you have to pass the ball right? Wrong! You just have can’t make mistakes.
Six teams won this week without having at least 200 yards passing. Oakland won and didn’t even get 100! (JaMarcus Russell only managed 55 yards on six of 17). That was because Darren McFadden had 164 yards and the ground and they were playing the Chiefs, but the point stands.
Of the top 20 passers in the NFL through two weeks, only six reside on undefeated teams. That is the same number of signal callers in the top 20 passers who are on winless teams.
In a league supposedly built on passing, it seems like it’ll take a lot more than QB to win games. Contrast QB’s with running backs and you’ll find only two players in the top 20 in rushing who reside on winless teams. In fact, 2-0 Carolina actually has TWO backs in the top 20.
That is what you need when you’re QB has a passer rating of 73 (24th in the league). That being said…
The Quarterback Position Has Some Intrigue Among 2-0 teams.
I didn’t say you didn’t need a quarterback to win games. The reality is, you just need him to do what is best for your team to win. In the case of Matt Cassel that means throwing bubble screens to Welker and bombs to Moss. Take a look at the top 10 QB’s by passer rating, as opposed to yards and you’ll find the quarterbacks to seven undefeated teams. Only the aforementioned Jake Delhomme and the weather postponed rookie Joe Flacco reside outside the top 15 (Eli Manning is 14th).
In 2007, eight of the top ten QB’s by rating were on playoff teams. I know Eli Manning was 24th and the Giants managed to win the Super Bowl last season, but again Manning’s post-season was an anomaly just like the whole New York season.
The difference this season is the list of guys getting it done for their teams isn’t the usual Bradys and Mannings.
Kerry Collins has a 2-0 team, so do two quarterbacks with a combined three career starts (Aaron Rodgers and Matt Cassell). Second year player Trent Edwards leads a 2-0 team, so does a guy coming off Tommy freakin’ John’s surgery (Jake Delhomme), not to mention a 37 year old multiple MVP award winner not named Brett Favre (Kurt Warner).
Just Because They’re Rookies, Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have to Cover Them
They say it takes a couple seasons to really tell how good a wide receiver is. That means Randy Moss is the exception not the rule. Calvin Johnson, one of the most talented rookie receivers since Moss, was wildly inconsistent last season, but is second in the NFL in receiving through two weeks.
This week, two rookie receivers won the game for their respective teams. With time ticking down in Jacksonville one of the most difficult places to win on the road, Trent Edwards found rookie James Hardy who made a leaping grab in the back corner of the endzone as Hardy was just able to get both feet in. The score gave the Bills the lead with under 5:00 left and Buffalo would go on to add a field goal on their way to a 20-16 victory.
Meanwhile, in Denver, one of the wildest finishes in Bronco’s history was busy taking place. With Denver trailing 31-38 with just 29 seconds to go, Cutler found rookie Eddie Royal in the end zone between defenders for what would have been the tying score—unless you’re Mike Shanahan.
Coach Mike had such confidence in his rookie receiver, who couldn’t be covered last week against the Raiders, that the Broncos went for two and made it on ANOTHER throw to Eddie Royal in traffic.
Then on Monday night, the Eagles, in need of a huge fourth and long conversion go to rookie stud DeSean Jackson (who was the Eagles top receiver, but more on that later) on an atrocious hook and lateral call to try and keep their drive alive. Perhaps a little misplaced confidence to go with a misguided call, but a tremendous compliment to the rookie receiver to be sure.
On the Verge
The NBA has the most improved player award and it always seems to go to a player who went from a nobody to a solid role player in one season. However, I am of the mind that the hardest thing to do in sports is to go from the 15 point per game guy to a 25 point per game guy, someone capable of carrying the load for his team.
The same is true in the NFL. Plenty of running backs can average 50 yards a game on a handful of carries, but much fewer can get to 1,000 over the course of 17 weeks.
This season already there are a few players making strong cases for superstar status after being the solid role player just a year ago.
Jay Cutler leads the NFL is passing yards, is second in completions, tops in touchdowns, and fourth in passer rating. His has a league leading six touchdowns to go with just one interceptions. Cutler has shown the poise and competitiveness scouts extolled when he was coming out of Vanderbilt.
The guy right behind Cutler in passer rating also looks ready to bust out. Aaron Rodgers has been through more in a summer than most players go through in a career. Despite all that, Rodgers leads a 2-0 Packers team and is in the top 10 of every major statistical category through two weeks. If this is any indication of what Rodgers capable of, this Packers team, one of the youngest in the league, could be good for a long time.
Speaking of Packers, A.J. Hawk was the fifth pick in the 2006 draft with the Packers coming off a dismal 2005 4-12 campaign. He was supposed to turn the defense around with his playmaking ability. So far, he has been the epitome of solid but not spectacular.
However, this season Hawk is the only player in the top 20 in tackles (11th) who has more than one sack. On the flipside he is tied for eighth in the league with two sacks, both this past week against Detroit.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the quarterback position has been unsettled for quite some time. Cadillac Williams was supposed to be help but he couldn’t stay healthy. Enter Earnest Graham.
The fifth year pro filled in for Williams last season and propelled the Bucs into the playoffs. This season, he is the key reason Tampa’s offense has been so much improved. Graham is seventh in the league in rushing yards and is the only player to have multiple runs of both 20+ and 40+ yards so far this season.
It would hard to argue that Justin Tuck’s ability was unknown to the majority of the public. However, his situational pass-rush skills haven’t been a question since he came out of college. With Michael Strahan retired and Osi Umenyiora out for the year, Tuck will have to carry this defense upfront. So far, he has been up to the task. Tied for second in the league with three sacks, Tuck also has two passes defended and an interception return for a touchdown. If the Defensive Player of the Year voting was tomorrow, Justin Tuck would be the winner.
Before this week the offensive rookie of the year was a three horse race between Bear’s running back Matt Forte, Titans running back Chris Johnson, and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Time to add a new name to the list and it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Oakland running back Darren McFadden carried the Raiders on his back after starter Justin Fargas left the game against Kansas City. With the aforementioned struggles of JaMarcus Russell, McFadden ate up 164 yards on 21 carries plus a score. Matt Forte had another great game with 92 yards and is fourth in the league in rushing yards (just ahead of D-Mac).
Chris Johnson continues to shoulder the load for the Titans offense rushed for 109 yards on just 19 carries. Then there was DeSean Jackson on Monday night, who aside from the bone-head pre-endzone fumble, has been nothing short of a game breaker through two weeks. He became just the second player in NFL history and first in nearly 70 years to go for 100 yards receiving in his first two NFL games with six more catches for 110 yards in Big D.
Defensively, things have gotten even murkier with a ton of rookie defenders stepping up for their teams this week. Keith Rivers continues his steady player finishing with 8 tackles against the Titans, but when you lose by double digits and give up a 100 yard rusher, you don’t deserve many accolades.
Quentin Groves has so far outplayed his top 10 pick teammate Derrick Harvey and finished with 3 tackles a sack and forced fumble against the Bills. Tracey Porter lead rookies in tackles with nine total stops, eight solo, but when you are a corner making tackles it means you’re getting beat.
Jason Campbell threw for over 300 yards against Porter’s Saints D which means he can’t take much credit making open field tackles once you’ve been beat.
That leaves us with one of the surprises in the top 10 this past April, the Patriots Jerod Mayo. On a team stacked with defensive talent in the front seven, Mayo has been flying all over the field through two weeks. Against the Jets, the former Tennessee Volunteer finished with seven solo tackles to lead the Patriots in holding Brett Favre and the Jets offense to just 10 points. That makes him this week’s defensive rookie to watch.