AFC West: 2013 Week 2 Upon Further Review AFC

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders19-9 victory Sunday over Jacksonville:

[+] EnlargeTyvon Branch
AP Photo/Ben MargotRaiders coach Dennis Allen called safety Tyvon Branch's ankle injury "significant."
A quick start: True, the Raiders were set up with the good fortune of fantastic field position to start the game after Phillip Adams returned a punt 30 yards to the Jacksonville 38-yard line. But Oakland’s offense did what it was supposed to do –- cash in. Going 38 yards in five plays, taking 2 minutes, 45 seconds off the clock, the Raiders scored a touchdown –- Marcel Reece ran it in from 11 yards out -– on their first offensive series for the first time since the final game of the 2011 season, or, to put it another way, for the first time with Dennis Allen as coach and Reggie McKenzie as general manager. Early scoring sets the tone, of course, but it's especially true for a rebuilding team.

Branch’s ankle: Allen called strong safety Tyvon Branch’s ankle injury “significant,” and the last time he referred to an injury as such, the Raiders lost offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom for the year with a foot issue. This is not to suggest Branch is done, but if he is out for a significant amount of time, it’s a blow for a retooled defense that has nine new starters. Brandian Ross and Usama Young performed admirably in Branch’s absence, but with all due respect to Charles Woodson, the younger and faster Branch is the one who makes the secondary go. If Branch is out, does Woodson move to strong safety with Young starting at free?

Pryor’s arm: There’s no question that Terrelle Pryor’s passing is the part of his game that needs the most polishing. But Sunday he turned into a game manager, so to speak. Sure, he completed just 15 of 24 passes for a relatively meager 126 yards while taking three sacks. But Pryor did not throw an interception a week after being picked off twice in the red zone. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities for throwing the ball today,” Pryor said. “We were running the ball well so, as a quarterback, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities. But at the end of the day, we got a win.”

Of "explosive" plays II: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays, defined by Allen as a play that gains at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had eight such plays against the Jaguars (six runs and two passes) while Jacksonville had seven (all passes). In two games, the Raiders have 17 explosive plays (nine runs, eight passes), though none have ended in a touchdown. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, have 15 explosive plays (three runs and 12 passes), with a touchdown each way.

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chargers' 33-30 win at the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsSan Diego's Philip Rivers has been among the NFL's elite quarterbacks this season.
Beating the odds: This was an impressive win for the Chargers. Many things were stacked against them heading into this game. They traveled across the country on a short week to start a game at 10 a.m. PT. Their 31-28 season-opening loss to Houston (the Texans scored the game’s final 24 points) ended at about 10:30 p.m. PT Monday night. And, it was a short turnaround to deal with Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. But the Chargers came out energized and were the better team. This was a well-deserved win for San Diego.

The quarterback: For the second straight week, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers looked good under new coach Mike McCoy. Rivers completed 36 of 47 passes for 419 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He now has seven touchdown passes and one interception in two games. He looks refreshed and confident. It is also getting good protection. Kudos to a maligned offensive line. It has played well in the first two games.

Overcoming mistakes: The Chargers finally sealed the win over the Eagles with a field goal in the final seconds. It could have been much easier. Tight end Antonio Gates lost a fumble at the goal line, and running back Ryan Mathews also lost a fumble in the red zone. The Chargers have been their own worst enemy for a few seasons. McCoy is trying to change the culture, but this game shows the remnants are still there. But it's impressive the Chargers found a way to win despite their self-destructive ways.

The receivers: Eddie Royal came up big for the Chargers. He had three touchdown catches and has five in two games. He was expected to be a back-of-the-rotation receiver, but injuries have given him an opportunity. He played under McCoy in Denver, and McCoy clearly has confidence in him. He made a lot of big plays Sunday. The Chargers needed him after No. 1 receiver Malcom Floyd left the game with a neck injury that required a hospital visit. Royal is clearly a spark plug in McCoy’s offense, and Rivers trusts him.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 41-23 win over the New York Giants:

Bigger still better sometimes: It is certainly an odd quirk, and frankly not always logical at first blush, but a team built decidedly to be a three-wide affair on offense has now needed to go to two tight ends in each of its first two games to reset things when they have the ball. In the opener the Broncos waited 20 plays before they tried a two-tight end look, and on Sunday they didn’t do it until their first possession of the second half after they had run 40 snaps of three-wide in the first half. The result was slightly more pop in the run game and three consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half after they sprinkled it in. As quarterback Peyton Manning said, “It’s just one guy for another," but it keeps making a difference. And as Joel Dreessen gets closer to a return to the lineup after two offseason arthroscopic knee surgeries, it's something they will likely consider a little more from time to time, even as they quickly move back into a three-wide look when they feel they have a better flow.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Elsa/Getty ImagesMontee Ball needs to protect the ball better if he hopes to get more touches.
Code yellow: Yes, referee Gene Steratore’s crew called a tight game in the secondary -- the Broncos had eight penalties called on defensive backs alone -- but Denver still has to be a more disciplined lot all around. A 132-yard penalty total is not always going to be camouflaged by an 18-point win. The taunting penalty on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter is part of a league push to dial down the post-play stuff. And like it or not -- and Broncos coach John Fox certainly made it clear during the game that he didn't agree with more than a few of the flags -- the Broncos have to adjust.

Confidence game: Running backs coach Eric Studesville will have some work to do with the Broncos' young backs to keep them engaged. Ronnie Hillman got just one carry against the Giants, likely a tough total to swallow for the guy who was the starter all through the offseason, and rookie Montee Ball is averaging just 2 yards a carry and lost a fumble against the Giants. The Broncos are going to need both of those players to produce when called upon, and they've had a bumpy ride in the early going.

Clady’s injury a question: A lot of what the Broncos want to do in the offensive front, especially in pass protection, is based on Ryan Clady being at left tackle. The Broncos have not shown the same pop on offense when he isn’t there. He suffered a left foot injury Sunday and was limping after the game. It will bear watching through the week, because the Broncos have a more difficult time opening up the formation when he's not in there.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 2

September, 16, 2013
KANSAS CITY -- An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 17-16 win against the Dallas Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
AP Photo/James D. SmithQuarterback Alex Smith's ability to escape the rush has paid dividends for the Chiefs.
A running quarterback: Alex Smith threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns, but his running ability was as much of a factor. Smith led the Chiefs with 57 rushing yards, 40 of them coming on the game-opening touchdown drive. Smith doesn’t just have the ability to escape trouble and run for yardage, though that’s no small part of his game. It’s also his ability to gain yardage on option plays. The Chiefs resorted to some option Sunday, in large part because the Cowboys were loading the line of scrimmage in wait for running back Jamaal Charles. With Charles ineffective for much of the game, Smith’s running ability allowed the Chiefs to gain some yardage on the ground and take some pressure off their passing game.

A punting weapon: The last six times the Cowboys took possession of the ball after a Chiefs punt, they started on their 5, 10, 10, 16, 20 and 4, respectively. That’s in large part because of the work of punter Dustin Colquitt, who -- after making his first Pro Bowl appearance last season after dropping 45 punts inside the 20 -- is off to another strong start. The Chiefs were able to keep the field tilted in their favor for much of Sunday’s game, a major factor in the outcome.

Not special in the kicking game: The Chiefs were spectacular on special teams in the preseason, but other than Colquitt they again had problems against the Cowboys. Ryan Succop had a field goal attempt blocked, making it two straight weeks an opponent has gotten a piece of a Chiefs kick. The return game was unable to provide much-needed favorable field position for an offense struggling to score points. The worst error came late in the game, when noted fumbler Knile Davis was sent out to handle a most important kickoff. Sure enough, Davis fumbled, though he was able to jump on the ball before any of the Cowboys could.

Re-establishing Arrowhead Stadium as home-field advantage: Once one of the most feared road venues in the league, Arrowhead hasn’t been a difficult place for visitors to play the past couple of seasons. The Chiefs were 4-12 at home since the start of the 2011 season. But the place was as loud against Dallas as it’s been in some time, and the crowd was no small factor as the Chiefs were able to hold off the Cowboys in the fourth quarter. Perhaps that’s the first step toward restoring Arrowhead as one of the NFL’s premier stadiums for home-field advantage.