NFL Nation: 2013 Week 2 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 2

September, 17, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanSteelers RB Felix Jones earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin after Monday night's game.
Stuck in neutral: The Steelers’ running game is a mess, and coach Mike Tomlin said no one is above blame for the team's 75 rushing yards in two games and its paltry 2.4 yards per carry average. The offensive line has to win more one-on-one battles, and the running backs have to take better advantage of the creases they do get. Tomlin did not say who will start Sunday at running back against the Chicago Bears, but he strongly indicated that Felix Jones will get the nod. Jones rushed for only 37 yards on 10 carries at Cincinnati, but Tomlin liked the decisions the sixth-year veteran made while running against one of the better front sevens in the NFL. “I was encouraged by some of the things Felix Jones was able to do,” Tomlin said, “and will be able to do moving forward.”

Biding their time: Running back Jonathan Dwyer received just one carry against the Bengals, a team he gashed for 122 rushing yards in the AFC North rivals’ first meeting last season. Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton also played sparingly on Monday night, and the third-round draft pick is still in search of his first NFL catch. Tomlin said the limited roles had little to do with Dwyer and Wheaton and could be mostly attributed to the Steelers running 55 plays compared to 79 for the Bengals. More than 20 of those plays came when the Steelers ran their no-huddle offense, which doesn’t allow them to substitute. As a result there were very few opportunities left for reserves such as Dwyer and Wheaton. “We’re just not getting enough snaps,” Tomlin said.

Staying within yourself: Free safety Ryan Clark did not sugarcoat the Steelers’ first 0-2 start under Tomlin. On the contrary, Clark said the Steelers won’t win a game this season if they don’t get better. What troubled Clark after the Steelers gave up more than 400 yards of total offense against the Bengals and did not register a sack or force a turnover is that the defense got away from the disciplined approach that has been vital to its success. The concern moving forward is that the offense’s struggles will put even more pressure on the defense and that some players will take it upon themselves to try and make something happen. “Once you start doing that then you get out of position, you leave a gap and they get four yards on first down,” Clark said. “For us it’s about doing what we’re taught no matter the score. We can’t scoreboard watch.” Said Tomlin, “We’re capable of fixing these things. We can’t overreact.”

Not all was bad: Special-teams play, shaky during the preseason, was an unequivocal bright spot for the Steelers in their loss at Cincinnati. Jones and Antonio Brown turned in long kickoff and punt returns, respectively. The Steelers' kick coverage teams, meanwhile, bottled up Brandon Tate and Adam Jones, allowing a total of 44 return yards. Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been a beast on special teams. He and the rest of the Steelers' special-teamers will be tested Sunday night. Chicago’s Devin Hester is one of the best kick returners in NFL history.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 2

September, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 30-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans:

Offensive inconsistency: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub started well this week, but threw two interceptions that directly or indirectly contributed to 10 Titans points. One was a pick-six by cornerback Alterraun Verner late in the fourth quarter that gave the Titans an eight-point lead, and the other interception led to a Tennessee field goal drive. The Titans can cover -- Verner is Pro Football Focus' top-rated cornerback. Schaub took blame for the pick-six and rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins called it a miscommunication. The quarterback made some impressive throws; his 12-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels was perfectly placed. But offensive consistency will help the Texans avoid having to dig themselves out of significant deficits.

[+] EnlargeKareem Jackson
George Bridges/MCT via Getty ImagesKareem Jackson's hit on Kendall Wright drew a flag and put the Titans in position to score.
Punting pretty: Shane Lechler's new teammates spend a lot of time marveling at his precision. Lechler punted seven times, and five of them were downed inside the 20 -- three inside the 10. "I’ve never gotten excited, gotten up off the bench to watch a punter before, but I love watching him punt," J.J. Watt said. "There’s a reason the guy’s the best in the game. It’s so precise and he knows what he’s doing. It’s like poetry. It’s beautiful. He’s pinning it down there and we don’t even have to have people touch it. It just stops at the 1-yard line. That’s insane."

Head shots: One shot that got talked about in the Texans' locker room was Titans safety Bernard Pollard's hit on Andre Johnson that knocked Johnson out of the game. Pollard was not flagged for it, but at least one Texans player said he thought there should have been a flag on the play. Another was Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson's hit on Titans receiver Kendall Wright. Wright didn't publicly object to Jackson's hit, which drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. "I play receiver, I'm supposed to take those hits," Wright said. Jackson had this to say: "It was a bang-bang play. Who knows: They may not throw the flag, he may fumble. I gotta just keep playing as a defensive player. Some of the rules are against us but I've got to keep playing. ... He's on offense. We're supposed to target him somewhere, aren't we? It's football. I don't know what they want me to do." Jackson's penalty took the Titans down to the Texans' 10-yard line and immediately preceded a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jake Locker to Delanie Walker.

Backfield remains competitive: The distribution among the Texans' running backs in this game was similar to Week 1. Arian Foster rushed 19 times and Ben Tate had nine carries. One of Tate's nine carries was a 60-yarder on his first attempt of the game. Tate had 33 yards on the rest of his eight carries for 93 total yards. "You all want me to tell you how I wanted it to be more even?" Kubiak said, unprompted, during his news conference. Foster's biggest single play was for 16 yards, but his most important contribution to the game was crucial for the Texans. After scoring on a 1-yard run with 1:53 left in regulation, Foster converted the two-point conversion that tied the game on a play that Kubiak called "all man."

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 25-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinReggie Bush has been banged up over the first two games, a disturbing trend for the Lions.
Reggie Bush's health: In two games this season, Bush has dislocated his thumb, pulled his groin and taken a helmet to the left knee. And these are just the injuries we know about. The concern right now, although Bush wasn’t worried about it when talking after the loss, is whether or not his knee will keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. Bush’s availability, as he has already shown, changes the offensive dynamic. His work on screens and underneath routes as a player who can score from any spot on the field makes the Lions more productive. Without him, increased attention will be paid to receiver Calvin Johnson.

Play calls at the end of the first half: This largely went unnoticed last week because Detroit scored on its final possession of the first half and ended up beating Minnesota, but the Lions held on to a timeout. In that case, it made sense in case Detroit needed to attempt a field goal. Same thing happened again against Arizona without similar success. On the last drive of the first half, the Lions had all three timeouts and 53 seconds to work with. They ran two plays -- a handoff to Bush for no gain and a handoff to Joique Bell that lost a yard. There was very little aggressiveness in the calls, and if they had been more aggressive, they could have gotten points out of the drive.

“The first play might not have looked like an aggressive play,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “But all of our plays are designed to work. If we could have got a first down at that point, we could have rolled.

“But there’s another side to that, too. If you go three-and-out real quick, burning all of your timeouts and then they get the ball back in that situation, too. After we didn’t make any yards on that first play, we decided to go into halftime at that point.”

There is logic there, although if you assume Sam Martin delivers a decent punt, Arizona getting the ball back and scoring seems unlikely.

Penaltypalooza: Wrote about this after the game, but it is worth mentioning again. Detroit needs to become a more disciplined team. Penalties will happen. No team will go through a season, and likely not a week, without some gaffes -- and likely some big ones at bad times. But over the past two weeks, this has turned into a trend for Detroit at bad times -- either putting teams in position to score or taking touchdowns away from the Lions.

Right cornerback: Schwartz said, “I don’t know that we have competition” at right cornerback following the loss, but he pulled rookie starter Darius Slay for the second straight week in favor of veteran Rashean Mathis. This time, though, Mathis took over much earlier. This will be worth watching this week.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 2

September, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday:

Field-position game: The Cowboys had 12 possessions Sunday, and five of them started at their 16-yard line or worse. That’s not a recipe for success.

The Cowboys gained 63 yards on 19 plays and had to punt on four of those drives. The clock ran out on them on the final drive that started at their 4 to close the game.

“This game, in a lot of ways, came down to field position,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “It’s tough to go 80, 90 yards, 95 yards consistently against that defense in that environment. It’s going to wear on you. Once again, no one cares. We still got to get the job done and find a way to do it. But you’ve got to find chunk plays and really got to kind of get to stuff that can help you on it. We’ve got to do a better job.”

[+] EnlargeDallas' Miles Austin
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Kansas City Chiefs limited Cowboys receiver Miles Austin to three catches for 31 yards.
Where was Austin? The last time Miles Austin played at Arrowhead Stadium he left with 10 catches for a Cowboys-record 250 yards and two touchdowns, including the overtime game winner, in 2009. He caught only three passes for 31 yards Sunday, and the Chiefs did not have veteran Dunta Robinson available. With so much attention paid to Dez Bryant, Austin -- and Jason Witten, for that matter -- had to become a larger part of the offense, but Romo could not find either of them because of the Chiefs’ pass rush.

A mobile quarterback: As far as final numbers go, the Cowboys did a good job on Jamaal Charles, holding him to 55 yards on 16 carries. But Alex Smith was another story. The Chiefs quarterback ran for a career-high 57 yards on eight carries, with 49 coming in the first half. There is already some worry how the Cowboys will handle the read-option by Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (and possibly Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor, if he’s still starting on Thanksgiving), and the job on Smith did not ease any fears.

Big-leg Bailey: In the first two seasons of his career, Dan Bailey struggled on field goal attempts from 50 yards or more -- like all kickers -- making only five of nine tries. On Sunday, he nailed kicks from 51 and 53 yards, giving him two 50-plus yarders in the same game for the first time in his career. With so many games determined by a kicker, the Cowboys know Bailey will answer the call more often than not. Bailey also made a 30-yarder, giving him 12 games in three seasons with at least three field goals.

Upon further review: Redskins Week 2

September, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins' 38-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeWashington Redskins
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPoor tackling plagued the Redskins in their loss to the Packers on Sunday.
Tackling woes: The Redskins' defense already had flaws; it added another one with its tackling. The Redskins consistently give high-powered offenses extra yards because they fail to tackle; they have allowed the most yards after contact this season (208) after ranking sixth in this area last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The problem is that teams are able to spread them out, preventing gang tackling at times. They’re not good enough, and not making enough plays, to overcome this issue. Teams will continue to get them in space, and Washington needs to prove it can tackle. Or else.

Quarterback runs: Is Robert Griffin III not running on zone-read options because of his knee? Because of how defenses are playing them? Because deficits forced the Redskins to abandon it? It’s a good question (why, thank you), and one we’ll try to answer throughout the week. Griffin’s timing in the pocket is off -- yes, a byproduct of missing so much offseason work from the knee injury. It can be subtle sometimes, but the difference in hitting a receiver on the correct shoulder can mean the difference between a 10-yard gain or 20. It adds up. One reason the Redskins gained so many yards after the catch last season was because of the chaos in the back end of defenses, fueled by late linebacker drops as they were worried about defending a multi-option run game.

Brandon Meriweather: There’s a dual issue here with Meriweather, starting with his health after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion. He’ll now be monitored all week. So the Redskins will spend another week waiting to see whether Meriweather is able to play. Then you have to wonder what sort of punishment, if any, he’ll receive from the NFL. He was not flagged for either of his big hits, but replays showed him leading with his helmet on the first one against Eddie Lacy. Regardless, when he returns they need him more under control with his tackling -- and he needs to prove he can play for longer than a half without getting hurt. His continual health issues make the loss of Phillip Thomas even worse. But just think of the learning curve for a secondary with three rookies in prominent roles. UPDATE: Meriweather will be fined, but not suspended according to Adam Shefter.

Special teams: They’ve flown under the radar a little bit because of the problems elsewhere. But they shouldn’t. The special teams have not done anything to help. That goes for the returns, where rookie Chris Thompson is averaging 19.7 yards on six kick returns and 4.7 yards on three punt returns; one good runback would boost either number. Gunner Niles Paul and long-snapper Nick Sundberg both received 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties Sunday. In Sundberg’s case, the Redskins had pinned Green Bay at its own 10-yard line. It wasn’t a death sentence for the defense that the Packers then started at the 25-yard line. But right now every yard is huge for this defense. And Sav Rocca shanked a 25-yard punt that gave Green Bay the ball at its own 35 in the first quarter.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions:

Third down is no-man’s land: One really is the loneliest number. For the second straight week, the Cardinals were hampered by third-down situations, converting just 1-of-11 against the Lions. And the one they get was on a fluke play in the fourth quarter. Rookie running back Andre Ellington fumbled after getting the first down and the Cardinals kept the ball only after challenging the ruling on the field. They failed on their first nine attempts, all of which were passes save a Carson Palmer sack.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington took advantage of his opportunities on Sunday against Detroit.
Why go for two? It’s a question that’s still being asked Monday. And the only rational explanation is, if converted, the two points would’ve given the Cardinals a 27-21 lead, meaning the Lions would’ve had to score a touchdown AND kick the extra point. Whereas since the Cards missed the conversion, a touchdown sans extra point would’ve won the game for Detroit. And with the way David Akers was kicking and the Cards’ special teams were playing, it was the right decision.

Young guns for hire: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t just talk a big game. He’s showing he backs it up. Last year, as the interim coach in Indianapolis, Arians proved he wasn’t against playing young players, but he had to then because of necessity. He doesn’t need to -- instead he wants to -- in Arizona. Arians gave significant minutes to rookies Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jaron Brown, and relied on Kerry Taylor, who’s spent most of his three seasons on practice squads, to replace the injured Larry Fitzgerald. It worked. Ellington scored a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route and Taylor had 40 yards receiving on three catches.

Fitzgerald’s health a question mark: Fitzgerald didn't want to abandon his teammates in a big game, and it was admirable of him to recognize his inability to play at a high level and remove himself from the game. Fitzgerald’s health heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans could be an issue. Fitzgerald played 46 of 71 snaps against the Lions. He finished with 33 yards on two catches, despite being targeted five times by Palmer. But a hamstring is a tricky injury, as Fitzgerald had reaffirmed during pregame warm-ups. The adrenaline kicked in and Fitzgerald looked and felt fine, but he realized late in the third quarter he wasn’t. Hamstring injuries can linger and usually heal with rest and treatment. The former may be difficult to come by since the Cardinals start practicing Wednesday, but Fitzgerald will have Monday and Tuesday to recoup. Hopefully it’s long enough.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 2

September, 16, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- An examination of four hot issues a day after the Philadelphia Eagles' 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelChip Kelly said he made some mistakes during his first regular-season loss as an NFL head coach.
Crash course in the NFL rulebook: Football coaches don’t like to admit mistakes, but Chip Kelly acknowledged he didn’t know he could keep Michael Vick in the game by calling time out after Vick was nicked on the Eagles’ pivotal final possession.

“That’s on me,” Kelly said Monday. If he had known, he said, he would have used one of his three timeouts at that point.

Vick was slow to get up after being hit by San Diego’s Jarius Wynn on first down at the Chargers 14. Referee Terry McAuley blew his whistle for an injury timeout, meaning Vick had to leave the field for at least one play -- unless Kelly called time himself. Nick Foles came in for one play, an incomplete pass to DeSean Jackson.

“I made mistakes,” Kelly said. “No one coaches a perfect game, no one plays a perfect game.”

Kelly's time management also questionable: Kelly also said he should have bled time off the clock on that same possession, but his thought process was a little clearer.

The Eagles got the ball on their own 29, trailing 30-27, with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. After throwing an incompletion, Vick completed three passes for 46 yards and scrambled once for 11. The Eagles moved to the San Diego 14 in 56 seconds. Kelly chose to keep the gas pedal to the floor.

“We were throwing the ball and it was working,” Kelly said. He said it wouldn’t have been “difficult” to shift gears and take more time in that final sequence. Instead, the Eagles kicked a game-tying field goal and left the Chargers 1:51 for their game-winning drive.

“We should have run the clock,” Kelly said. “That’s my decision.”

Philip Rivers wasn’t just standing around: Kelly mocked ball-control offenses last month, saying time of possession only showed which offense was better at “standing around.” In college, though, you don’t face 10-year veterans playing their 118th NFL game.

Rivers continually ran the play clock down. But he was using the time to diagnose the Eagles' defense and change the Chargers’ offensive calls.

“They basically put the game in his hands,” Kelly said. “He was making a lot of checks up at the line of scrimmage.”

The Eagles can’t do much to fix their secondary on a short week: Bradley Fletcher, who missed Sunday’s game with a concussion, was cleared to practice Monday. His return will help the Eagles' secondary improve for Thursday night’s game against Andy Reid, Alex Smith and the Chiefs.

Unfortunately for coordinator Bill Davis, Brandon Hughes did not practice because of a hamstring injury. His availability for the Chiefs game is unknown.

As far as the safety situation, Nate Allen likely will start again. Rookie Earl Wolff got plenty of playing time Sunday, but is still making too many mistakes, Kelly said.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsTerrell Suggs and the Ravens had Browns QB Brandon Weeden trying to escape pressure for much of Sunday's game.
What a rush: This is what the Ravens had envisioned from their pass rush: 12 quarterback hits and five sacks. Not surprisingly, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil led the charge, combining for two sacks and six quarterback hits. Haloti Ngata (two quarterback hits) and Arthur Jones (one sack) also contributed, getting through up the middle. The Ravens' sacks were momentum-changers. Three of the sacks ended drives, and Jones' sack came immediately after running back Ray Rice fumbled. Baltimore's eight sacks this season are tied for fifth-most in the NFL.

Struggling going deep: Joe Flacco was 0-for-5 on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield against the Browns and is 2-for-13 on such throws this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The strong-armed starting quarterback excelled in this area during last season's playoffs, completing 13-of-26 passes of such length with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. While Flacco hasn't been accurate on his deep throws this year, there are other reasons why he hasn't connected downfield more often. The Ravens haven't had one of their top deep threats, Jacoby Jones, who has been sidelined the past six quarters because of a knee injury. And, without an established No. 2 target, receiver Torrey Smith is drawing either the other team's top cornerback or double coverage.

Tight end problems: Through two games, the Ravens can't get the ball in the hands of their tight ends and can't keep it away from the other teams' tight ends. Denver's Julius Thomas and Cleveland's Jordan Cameron have combined for 10 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Dating back to last season's AFC Championship Game, the Ravens have allowed a tight end to record at least 83 yards receiving in four straight games. There has been no such success for the Ravens this year. Against the Browns, Baltimore's tight ends totaled two catches for 26 yards. Ed Dickson dropped Flacco's first pass of the game and wasn't targeted again. It marked the fourth time in Dickson's past 16 games (including playoffs) that he was held without a catch.

Kicking surprise: No one expected Billy Cundiff to be the best kicker on the field Sunday. That's what happened when Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed wide right on field goals from 50 and 44 yards. Tucker was the second-most accurate rookie kicker in NFL history last season, when he missed only three times on 33 kicks. "I'm not really worried," Tucker said after the game. "The fact of the matter is that I missed two, and I missed two in a row, and that’s uncharacteristic." Tucker had made 11 straight at M&T Bank Stadium before missing his two attempts Sunday.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Packers’ 38-20 victory over the Redskins on Sunday:

Reviewing Rodgers: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had plenty of games where he’s taken more deep shots down the field, but against the Redskins he piled up his franchise-record tying 480 yards passing in a much different manner. He utilized short drops and relied on the hitch route to put the ball in the hands of his receivers and let them do the work. As ESPN Stats & Information told us Sunday night, 283 of the Packers’ receiving yards came after the catch. That was the most YAC by any team since the start of the 2008 season. According to ProFootballFocus, Rodgers got the ball out of his hands in 2.5 seconds or less on 33 of his 46 drop-backs.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers RB James Starks didn't let this helmet-to-helmet hit by Washington's Brandon Meriweather stop him from having a productive game.
Helmet hits: No one in the Packers locker room after the game was willing to come right out and say the two helmet hits delivered by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather were dirty plays. But after the Monday film review, I suspect the Packers will be unhappy about them at the very least. Meriweather wasn’t penalized either time for helmet-to-helmet contact, the first of which knocked out running back Eddie Lacy in the first quarter; the second knocked out Meriweather himself in the second quarter after leading with his helmet against James Starks. Said Packers right guard T.J. Lang: “I saw the first play on the replay. I’m not really sure what happened there. I know Eddie was spinning off some tackles trying to get some extra yards, ended up jumping over the pile where he was met by the safety. It’s one of those plays where you don’t like to see helmet-to-helmet contact. It’s just one of those safety concerns that they try to eliminate from the game. I’m not going to tell the refs how to do their jobs. I don’t know if it should have been a penalty or not, but hopefully Eddie’s all right.”

Sharing the carries: Depending on the severity of Lacy’s concussion, which may not be known for several days, the Packers may want to divide up the running back duties more equally between Lacy and Starks. It was Starks’ 132-yard performance that snapped the team's ignominious streak of consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher at 44. “Maybe this will start a little string,” Rodgers said. Or maybe it will make coach Mike McCarthy decide to take some of the workload off Lacy, at least for a while. In the opener at San Francisco, Lacy handled 14 of the 15 carries by running backs and appeared to be headed for another busy day against the Redskins. A running back combination might not result in many 100-yard individual games, but it might be the best thing for Lacy at this point.

New special-teams standout: With special-teams ace Jarrett Bush (hamstring) sidelined for the first time since Week 16 of the 2007 season, the Packers may have found a new star on the coverage units. Cornerback Davon House, who had three special-teams tackles in the opener against the 49ers, had two more against the Redskins. On the Packers’ first punt of the game, House beat the Redskins’ jammer at the line of scrimmage and outran two Washington players down the field to tackle returner Chris Thompson after only a 3-yard return.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 2

September, 16, 2013
SEATTLE -- An examination of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 29-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeCliff Avril
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonOffseason acquisition Cliff Avril forced a fumble, leading a dominant defensive showing by Seattle.
Dominant defense: The Seahawks shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL, keeping the 49ers out of the end zone and holding San Francisco to 207 yards of offense. After a career-best 412-yard effort in Week 1 against Green Bay, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was held to 127 yards passing and threw three interceptions. And the Seahawks did it without three of their best defensive players: defensive end Chris Clemons, cornerback Brandon Browner (out with injuries) and defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin (suspended for the first four games). Defensive end Cliff Avril, the Seahawks' top offseason acquisition on defense, finally got on the field and showed his worth by forcing a Kaepernick fumble on a sack. The Seattle defense has allowed one touchdown in the first two games.

Okung and the offensive line: The Seahawks lost Pro Bowl offensive tackle Russell Okung to a foot injury in the first half. His status for Week 3 is unknown, but this is one of the few areas where Seattle doesn’t have much quality depth. The Seahawks had to move left guard Paul McQuistan to Okung’s left tackle spot because the backup tackles -- rookies Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey -- were inactive. McQuistan, who hasn’t lined up at tackle all summer, settled in and did OK in the second half after getting burned a couple of times by 49ers speed-rusher Aldon Smith. However, the offensive line played much better overall than in the season opener against Carolina. The line opened some nice holes for running back Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 98 yards and scored three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.

Slow starts for Wilson: For the second week in a row, quarterback Russell Wilson got off to a horrible start. He was 0-for-6 passing in the first quarter and completed one of his first nine throws. Wilson improved as the game progressed, completing 7 of his last 10 passes. But he admitted he missed some throws early that he normally makes. Wilson always seems to find a way to get it done, but the Seahawks need him to start games the way he finishes them. Maybe a shower will help. During the one-hour lightning delay Sunday night, Wilson took a shower in the locker room, saying he wanted to start fresh after the break. Hey, whatever works.

Avoiding a letdown: The Seahawks are coming off an emotional home opener against their division rival in a game many people viewed as a battle for NFC supremacy. Now Seattle will face one of the worst teams in the NFL in the Jacksonville Jaguars. It would be easy to look past Jacksonville and start thinking about a road game against the Houston Texans one week later.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 14-6 loss at the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Doug Kapustin/MCT via Getty ImagesBrandon Weeden struggled Sunday before leaving the game in the fourth quarter.
Another starting quarterback? Brandon Weeden left in the fourth quarter with an injured thumb on his throwing hand and didn't return. Wearing a brace on his hand, Weeden told reporters after the game he wasn't sure whether he could play Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings. If he can't, Jason Campbell would become the 19th starting quarterback for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999. Here's the list of Browns quarterbacks who have made at least one start: Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Thad Lewis and Weeden.

Failing on third downs: The Browns' defense has improved in most areas except one -- getting offenses off the field. The Ravens converted 8 of 16 third downs on Sunday, including 7-of-11 (63 percent) in the second half. This is becoming a disturbing trend for Cleveland. For the season, the Browns have allowed teams to make first downs on half of their third-down chances. Cornerback Joe Haden gave up his share of completions to Torrey Smith on Sunday, but he's not the biggest problem. The Ravens picked on Chris Owens and Buster Skrine after halftime. Last season, the Browns ranked 16th in third-down defense.

No big plays: The Browns struck downfield with a 53-yard pass to tight end Jordan Cameron on their first offensive play. They didn't complete one past 22 yards on their final 32 passes. This was against a Ravens secondary that gave up nine passes of 23 yards or longer in the season opener. It was a tough day overall for Weeden, whose 26.7 Total QBR gave him his 10th QBR below 30.0 since the start of last season, the most in the league. His QBR of 20.3 this season is third worst in the NFL.

Running in circles: The big storyline last week was getting running back Trent Richardson more involved in the offense. Now, the focus has to be on making him more efficient. The Browns gave the ball to Richardson 18 times, five more than last week, but the results were the same. He averaged 3.2 yards per carry and didn't break a run longer than 9 yards against the Ravens. For the season, Richardson ranks 22nd in the NFL in rushing. Among the top 25 rushers, his 3.4 yards per carry is tied for fourth worst.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 30-24 loss to the Houston Texans:

Receiver development: As David Climer of The Tennessean pointed out in the press box Sunday night, there is a stark difference between what the Texans can get out of first-round receivers and what the Titans can.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSunday's game showed that the Titans aren't quite at Houston's level yet.
Sure, Andre Johnson may qualify as an all-time great when he’s done. But DeAndre Hopkins was a monster in just his second game and won it for Houston. The Titans said in their view it was Justin Hunter, the wideout they traded up to draft in the second round, who was the best receiver in the draft, not Hopkins.

But Hunter sat out Week 1 and wasn’t on the field much in Week 2, while Hopkins caught 13 passes for 117 yards and the winning TD. Receivers the Titans have drafted in the first round -- not as high as Johnson was drafted, but higher than Hopkins was -- didn’t do a ton. Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright combined for 11 catches for 82 yards and a score, with a long of just 14 yards. Wright is good. Right now is there a team that wouldn’t take Hopkins if given a choice?

And how come the Titans never get immediate impact from a new receiver?

Finisher mentality: The Texans have won the division twice in a row. While they’d like to finish a game like Sunday’s sooner rather than waiting for a late comeback to tie it and for overtime to win it, they have a finisher’s mentality because they’ve been there and done that when it comes to taking control.

The Titans are looking to create that. Sunday sure looked like they’ve closed the gap on the Texans. Jumping to a place where you make the big plays -- not the team you are chasing -- can be quite difficult.

And it hasn’t happened yet. The rematch is the regular-season finale, Dec. 29 in Nashville.

Penalties: Coach Mike Munchak talks a lot about discipline, but his Titans didn’t display a great deal of it with nine penalties for 70 yards.

Britt and Chris Johnson have to know they can’t join Wright’s touchdown dance celebration without getting flagged. What’s worse: If they didn’t know it was a penalty, or if they know it’s a penalty and can’t restrain themselves from doing it anyway?

I’ve re-watched Rob Turner’s peel back block on J.J. Watt and I understand the Texans’ outrage. Turner tried to apologize, but when the reigning defensive player of the year feels like his legs and his season are being put recklessly at risk, that’s not good. Turner can throw a block there without going low.

Watt 1, Warmack 0: It’s unlikely that a highly drafted rookie guard in just his second game is going to fare especially well against the reigning defensive player of the year.

Chance Warmack was victimized by Watt on two first-half sacks and got a lot of help as the Titans fared better against the defensive lineman as the game went on.

Warmack is probably going to be a very good player. At this stage of his development he’s not a guy who can handle Watt -- which is hardly an embarrassment considering few veterans can, either.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An examination of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

1. Who's got Super Mario? Apparently, nobody on the Carolina offensive line that appeared to be heading in the right direction in the opener. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. He made right tackle Byron Bell look silly at times. The Bills had six total sacks. No wonder quarterback Cam Newton spent almost an hour showering and getting dressed.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Bill WippertIt was another frustrating day for Panthers QB Cam Newton and the offense.
2. Interference or not? Luke Kuechly was having another one of those games in which he looked like the best middle linebacker in the NFL, with 14 tackles, an interception and a tackle for loss. Then, on third-and-6 from the Carolina 31, he reached out and interfered with Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson, negating an interception by safety Colin Jones that would have iced the win with 14 seconds left. We all know what happened after that. Coach Ron Rivera said he wanted to get another look at what he insinuated was a questionable call. There's no questioning the replay. It was a mistake -- by Kuechly.

3. Seeing red (zone): Newton wants to be the team leader, and he talked a good game after the loss, proclaiming there's no quit in the Panthers. But after the defense gave him great field position with two fourth-quarter turnovers, he managed to lead Carolina to only two field goals after being inside the Bills' 20 both times. One touchdown would have been the difference between a win and more questions. That is leadership.

4. Where is Hixon? The Panthers signed Domenik Hixon to be the third or maybe second receiver. He was on the inactive list for the opener and didn't catch a pass on Sunday. Carolina still doesn't have a go-to No. 2 guy. Brandon LaFell caught four passes for 13 yards but had a touchdown go through his fingers in the end zone. Ted Ginn had three catches for 62 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown. He also had a potential touchdown go through his arms. Armanti Edwards remains a project.

5. Panic time? The Panthers have lost two games by a combined six points. They are 2-14 in games decided by seven points or less under Rivera. The secondary could be missing three starters -- strong safety Charles Godfrey (Achilles), free safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) and cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) -- this weekend against the 0-2 New York Giants. Godfrey could possibly be out for the season. The quarterback is inconsistent, and so are his receivers. I could go on, but you tell me: time to panic?

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.