NFL Players Who Have a Chance at Redemption in Week 2
With one poor performance by an NFL team, those on the outside start to lose their minds. Fire the head coach! Bench the quarterback! Overturn the roster!
Knee-jerk reactions are commonplace after a disappointing effort, but each franchise's approach is truly a week-by-week process.
"The best thing that we can do is turn the page and get going on the next opponent and really understand that there is a timeline to every week, unfortunately for us that we have to stay in, in order to have a chance to win or be successful that week," Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Wednesday after an embarrassing 48-17 loss to the New York Jets, per ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein.
What failed one week may work out in the squad's favor the following week. Different matchups and situations can lead to different outcomes, and individuals who played poorly can regain their confidence.
"Sometimes the games just don't go your way. I know the guys in that locker room and I take nothing away from the guys in that locker room," said Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland, who played for the Lions in 2015. "I understand that they'll come in tomorrow and they'll be more pissed off and more hungry."
Certain performances can be construed as more disappointing than others when they come from franchise leaders and established veterans. The NFL saw numerous examples of poor play from highly regarded and/or integral pieces to rosters during the opening weekend. Based on track record and expectations, a select few will be in a position to earn redemption after a woeful start to the 2018 campaign.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
An interesting question presented itself after Ben Roethlisberger's poor performance against the Cleveland Browns: Was his five-turnover effort indicative of something bigger, like a declining skill set, or did he simply have an off day in poor weather conditions against a young and athletic unit?
Statistically, the latter seems to be true.
According to Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Communications Burt Lauten, the veteran signal-caller completed 67.2 percent of his passes and averaged 370.5 yards per game with an 11-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the previous four games (including playoffs).
Pittsburgh's upcoming opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, allowed 541 total yards, including 418 through the air, to the Los Angeles Chargers. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are extremely talented, but Kansas City's secondary is a major concern after replacing five of its top six cornerbacks from last season.
Although, Roethlisberger is dealing with an injured elbow.
"It just got hit," the quarterback said, per Teresa Varley of the Steelers' official site. "It's bruised. It will be fine."
The injury isn't much of a concern since the 15-year veteran can rely on a stable offensive line, an elite wide receiver in Antonio Brown and an emerging workhorse back in James Conner. Besides, another game in driving rain isn't in the forecast.
Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
Clay Matthews III is never going to be the player he once was. The 2010 Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year can substitute his once-ferocious pass rush with a smarter approach.
His in-game IQ failed him Sunday when the six-time Pro Bowl defender hit Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, which extended the team's final drive. Fortunately for Matthews, teammate Nick Perry sealed the game with a strip-sack to end the Bears' chances of winning.
Matthews tried to rationalize his actions, per the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood:
"I think last year that definitely would've been, you know, you get the benefit of the doubt. They give you a warning. This year, almost as soon as I hit the quarterback, I figured there was going to be a flag. That's why I kind of kicked myself a little bit. But as you've seen through the first week and preseason, I mean, they are protecting those quarterbacks."
Yes, adjustments are required across the league. But Matthews made a dumb decision with the game on the line. He needs to be better and far headier during a crucial moment.
The penalty will be quickly forgotten if Matthews plays well against the rival Minnesota Vikings, who are still in transition along the offensive line. Minnesota's front allowed three sacks and six more quarterback hits against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Matthews may not be an elite edge-rusher anymore, but he can still take advantage of mismatches.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
How a player is viewed around the league is the best indicator of how good a player really is. The Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook already has the respect of his opponents despite a limited sample size in his first two seasons.
So, Sunday's effort when he averaged 2.5 yards per carry and lost a fumble seems to be more of a misstep than an indication of his actual ability.
Even the effort prior to the turnover caught Clay Matthews' attention as the Green Bay Packers prepare for the Vikings, per ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin:
"On that run in which he fumbled the ball, I think he broke something like four tackles. So he runs behind his pads. He’s definitely somebody who we feel as if he’s going to be largely involved in the game plan whether, obviously in running the ball, but out in space as well, trying to dump the ball off. We think he’s going to be a good one, and hopefully we can kind of keep him in check because they have a number of playmakers on that offensive side of the ball."
Part of Cook's disappointing start can be attributed to an offensive line in flux. The Vikings are still trying to put their best five blockers on the field. The Packers, meanwhile, surrendered 5.1 yards per carry against the Chicago Bears last weekend.
Julie'n Davenport, Houston Texans
The new-look Houston Texans offensive line quickly developed into a disaster during the team's 27-20 loss to the New England Patriots. Quarterback Deshaun Watson faced pressure on 55 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Info (via ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop). The Patriots only sacked Watson three times but hit him on 12 more occasions.
To compound matters, starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson suffered a season-ending broken ankle during the contest. This forced the coaching staff to flip Julie'n Davenport from left to right tackle, allowing a rookie, Martinas Rankin, to take over the blind side.
Davenport surrendered nine pressures and two sacks to Patriots defenders, according to Pro Football Focus.
First, head coach Bill O'Brien must decide whether the second-year blocker will remain at right tackle or move back to his natural position. Second, the Tennessee Titans couldn't be coming at a better time. Tennessee lacks explosive edge-rushers and only managed one sack against the Miami Dolphins.
"I think that there was times you saw some good games, some guys get into the pocket, get the quarterback off the spot where it looked pretty good," Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said, per ESPN.com's Turron Davenport.
But the defense didn't finish. This meeting could very well turn into a confidence builder for Davenport and Co.
Ken Crawley, New Orleans Saints
The entire New Orleans Saints secondary stunk Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is filling in for the suspended Jameis Winston, threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns.
This came as a surprise after last season's turnaround campaign following years of ineptitude.
It's safe to say no one in the secondary played well, including last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore. But Ken Crawley deserves the brunt of the blame after a woeful performance. The 25-year-old defensive back couldn't cover the speedy DeSean Jackson, who burnt him multiple times.
"It's a big stunner," Crawley said, per The Athletic's Larry Holder. "It's something that I know we're going to regret in the long run. This team, we know this team. Things they hit, we knew some of the stuff was coming. We just played a bad game overall."
The Cleveland Browns come to town next, and their passing game isn't clicking on all cylinders. In fact, Tyrod Taylor completed only 37.5 percent against the Steelers, albeit in a rain-soaked contest, and this is only the second week the entire wide receiver corps is working together after Josh Gordon's return. Furthermore, the Browns don't have a similar deep threat Crawley will be forced to cover.
"We needed to get slapped in the face one good time to see that we're not on the level we think we're on, Lattimore said. "We're going to get it right. We're going to get better."
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Detroit Lions did during their regular-season opener against the New York Jets. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, in particular, performed at his very worst.
Stafford threw four interceptions while dealing with an injured shin.
"A guy like Matt, he's been there before," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said on a conference call Wednesday, per Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official site. "He's a guy you expect to rip it up every week. I haven't looked at the stats, I could be wrong, but I'd be pretty surprised if he has a lot of games like that that go back-to-back."
To Shanahan's credit, Stafford has never experienced back-to-back games with three or more interceptions. So, the 49ers shouldn't expect one.
Also, San Francisco shouldn't be able to gain the same advantage over the quarterback as the Jets did. According to linebacker Darron Lee, the Jets defense was "calling out their plays" and "knew [Stafford's] signals," per NJ.com's Matt Stypulkoski.
Detroit won't enter this weekend's games with the same signals.
"We're constantly evolving and changing all that kind of stuff, our communication tools as an offense, as our defense is," the 10th-year quarterback said, per the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett. "So I don't put too much credit on that."
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles
Nelson Agholor experienced a unique start to his NFL campaign. The wide receiver threw a pass for 15 yards, took a handoff on a reverse for 16 more and caught eight passes for only 33 yards.
"I like that a lot," Agholor said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Sielski. "I like getting tosses and handoffs. I played running back in high school, and that's where I had my most fun and creativity."
The first two elements create diversity within the Philadelphia Eagles scheme, but he's paid to catch the football down the field—which he didn't do.
In fact, Agholor's receiving output is the fourth-lowest by a wide receiver with at least eight receptions in a single contest dating back to 1950, according to Pro Football Reference.
A conservative approach is a byproduct of Agholor's development into a reliable option with Nick Foles, not Carson Wentz, behind center.
"It was evident (Thursday) that our confidence in him, my confidence in him, is extremely high," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said, per Sielski. "We move inside and outside now and find unique ways to get him the football. He's very explosive with the ball in his hand."
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next on the docket, Agholor should receive more downfield opportunities since Mike Smith's pass defense finished dead last a year ago and surrendered 432 passing yards to the New Orleans Saints last week.
Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
Sean Lee is supposed to be the one constant on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
Everyone else can worry about quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and the suddenly sieve-like offensive front, but all of those are symbiotic.
Lee isn't supposed to miss four tackles like he did against the Carolina Panthers, according to Pro Football Focus (via the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota). Lee's supposed to be the steady presence on the other side of the ball as a two-time Pro Bowl performer.
"I usually tackle well and I work on it every day in practice," Lee told Machota after Sunday's 16-8 loss. "I just did not get it done. I am going to have to get better this week. That is unacceptable tackling I did today."
The 32-year-old linebacker is counted among the league's best, when healthy. Not long ago, he graded as an elite run-defender, per PFF. His mistakes came down to poor technique, which turned into a point of emphasis this week.
"It's more footwork, positioning, angles and then finishing, make sure you wrap and drive your feet," Lee said, per the Morning News' Kate Hairopoulos. "It's the whole picture."
Running back Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants visit Big D on Sunday. Lee isn't likely to miss many more tackles after identifying his previous mistakes.