NFL Nation: 2013 Week 2 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
3:00
PM ET
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
9/16/13
3:00
PM ET
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
9/16/13
2:59
PM ET
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
9/16/13
2:54
PM ET
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
9/16/13
1:30
PM ET
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: Packers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
1:00
PM ET
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
9/16/13
12:35
PM ET
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: Panthers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
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: 49ers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 29-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

Tough night for Kaepernick: This loss is not on quarterback Colin Kaepernick by any stretch. But he was not good. At all. A week after he played superbly against Green Bay, throwing for 412 yards, Kaepernick threw for just 127 yards and committed four turnovers. His quarterback rating was 14.0, the worst of his 12-start NFL career. He was out of sync all game. Afterward, Kaepernick shouldered the blame, saying the 49ers can’t win if he plays that poorly. The bottom line is he is still an inexperienced player. He is obviously talented and already accomplished. But he is going to have the occasional stinker.

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/John FroschauerSeattle's defense held Anquan Boldin to one reception on Sunday night.
Boldin and Davis disappear: A major reason Kaepernick was so effective last week was because of receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards in his San Francisco debut. Every yard was vital. On Sunday, the Seahawks totally took Boldin away. He had one catch for seven yards. He was a non-factor. Davis followed up a six-catch, 98-yard performance with three catches for 20 yards before he left with a hamstring injury. Teams will try to blueprint Seattle’s plan and force the 49ers’ other receivers to beat them. However, that may not work because Seattle’s secondary is special. I can see Boldin and Davis quickly bouncing back.

Lynch dominates again: San Francisco is usually stout against the run. But it has problems against Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had 98 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Lynch was the difference on a night when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was not dominant.

Penalties a problem: The 49ers were called for four personal fouls. They had 12 penalties for 121 yards. In two games, the 49ers have 23 penalties. That’s ridiculous. Good teams cannot kill themselves with silly penalties. It is up to coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff to fix this issue sooner rather than later.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Bears’ 31-30 win over the Vikings:

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsKeeping his cool has helped Jay Cutler rally Chicago during critical times this season.
Cutler’s comebacks: In crunch time, Jay Cutler has been more composed than in past performances, which is why he was able to recover from three turnovers and rally the team for the second consecutive week. Cutler believes in the system and the coaches, and that’s paid dividends. It’s also a reason the normally fiery Cutler, according to teammates, has been the calmest player in the huddle during critical situations.

On the sideline, Cutler’s sounding board is quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

“Nothing really rattles him,” Cutler said. “He just taps the bench and says come over and sit down. We talk it out. If I’ve got to vent, he lets me get it off my chest and moves straight to the pictures. He’s a calming influence.”

Pass rush still lacking: The Bears forced three turnovers, which is pretty standard for the defense, but the club still hasn’t generated consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Bears go into Week 3 with just two sacks. At this point last season, the team had racked up eight.

“Early on last year, we started off with a bunch more sacks,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “I don’t think we played up to our caliber with the arsenal we have up front.”

The front four’s highest-paid defenders, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, have combined for five tackles with zero sacks. With them earning a combined $18.35 million in base salary this season, they’re making a combined $458,750 per tackle so far, by my math.

Dual-threat Forte: Matt Forte touched the ball 30 times and finished with 161 yards from scrimmage, way above his average of 102 yards per game going into the season. Forte has recorded 150 yards or more from scrimmage in 13 career games.

What’s more, Cutler targeted Forte more than go-to receiver Brandon Marshall for the first time since last season’s Week 2 loss at Green Bay. The change stems from the way the club now deploys Forte in the passing game, and provides Cutler another weapon when teams take away options such as Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

“We’ve got some guys that want the ball,” Cutler said. “Whenever we give them opportunities, they make plays.”

Cracks in special teams: Cordarrelle Patterson’s 105-yard TD return on the opening kickoff marked the first time the Bears gave up a kickoff-return touchdown since Sept. 30, 2007, against Detroit. Although the Bears immediately responded with a 76-yard return by Devin Hester, there appear to be weaknesses in Chicago’s coverage units.

“I saw a big hole. No way I could’ve missed it,” Patterson said.

In the opener, the punt-coverage unit surrendered a 50-yard return by Adam Jones on the team’s first punt of the day, but it was nullified by an illegal block above the waist.

“It’s hard to be minus-2 in turnovers and get a kick return for a touchdown and win the game,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 41-23 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeDa'Rel Scott
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsDa'Rel Scott's touchdown was one of the few bright spots for the Giants' running game in Week 2.
Where is the running game? The Giants had 23 rushing yards on 19 carries. They have 73 rushing yards in two games. Only two teams in the league have fewer rushing yards right now, and those are the two teams that haven't played a second game yet -- Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, who need 11 and 43 rush yards, respectively, on "Monday Night Football" to pass the Giants. So the odds are very strong the Giants will enter Week 3 with the No. 1 passing offense and the No. 32 rushing offense in the league. If they were 2-0, this would be a nettlesome quirk that needed to be worked out. At 0-2, it's a full-blown crisis. It's a confusing situation with the backs, sure, due to Andre Brown's preseason injury and David Wilson's Week 1 fumbles. The back who got the most snaps Sunday was Da'Rel Scott, and it looks as though the Giants intend to use Brandon Jacobs at the goal line. But the big issue is that the offensive line isn't pushing people around enough to open holes for any of these guys.

Where's the pass rush? The defensive linemen haven't shown much, either. They got to Peyton Manning a couple of times Sunday, but they couldn't seem to finish him off. They finished with no sacks, and that's the fourth time in their last nine games (dating back to November 2012) that they finished a game without any sacks. They have a total of five sacks in their last seven games. If the Giants can't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they're simply not a good defense.

Eli Manning is off. The Giants' quarterback has his full complement of receivers, including a healthy Hakeem Nicks, an improved Rueben Randle, a happy Victor Cruz and a very useful-looking receiving tight end in Brandon Myers. Yet Manning leads the league with a stunning seven interceptions through two games. It's easy to say he can't do it without a good running game to keep defenses honest, and there's unquestionably some truth in that. But 3.5 interceptions per game is completely unacceptable no matter how one-dimensional your offense is or how far behind you keep falling. Manning's first interception was a bad decision in a tight spot at a point when the game was still close. He needs to play better.

Can't lean on history. The Giants know full well that they started 0-2 in 2007 and went on to win the Super Bowl. But a couple of the veterans who were there in 2007 wrinkled their noses Sunday night at the comparison. It kind of belittles that team's accomplishment to assume it can be done again, and those veterans know that. This team has its own significant issues to fix, and looking to the past isn't the way to fix them.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 31-24 victory against the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesSteven Jackson left Sunday's game with an injury after just three carries and one reception.
The injuries. The win was dampened more than a little by a rash of injuries. Running back Steven Jackson (thigh), fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), linebacker Kroy Biermann (ankle) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) all left the game in the first half and did not return.

"The streak stops at one." That’s what a bunch of players, following coach Mike Smith’s lead, were saying in the days after a season-opening loss to New Orleans. The saying worked as the Falcons kept up their uncanny knack for avoiding back-to-back losses. They now are 21-3 in games after a loss since Smith took over in 2008. The Falcons haven’t had back-to-back losses since the 2009 season.

The offensive line was better. This unit took a lot of criticism after the season opener, but it held up fairly well against a good St. Louis front four. The line likely is going to stay under the microscope all season, but there were signs of improvement.

Making a case. Julio Jones is showing signs he might be the best receiver in the NFL. He had 11 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown on a day when an ankle injury reduced Roddy White to not much more than a decoy.

Upon Further Review: Bucs Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

The soap opera continues. If you thought last week was bad with rumblings flying about coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman not being on the same page, wait until you see what’s next. Things are only going to get uglier after Freeman threw an interception, lost a fumble and again failed to complete even 50 percent of his passes. There is some sort of dysfunction going on between the coach and the quarterback, and that’s why the Bucs are 0-2. There has been a report that Freeman might demand a trade. The rumors aren't going to fade away. Instead, they'll keep growing.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAfter another subpar game, quarterback Josh Freeman is on the hot seat.
No trust? Schiano didn’t even have enough trust in Freeman to throw a pass on third-and-6 late in the game. Instead, the Bucs called a running play and Rian Lindell then missed a field goal. In short, Schiano showed more trust in a kicker who was signed off the street than he did in his quarterback. If the Bucs go into their bye week at 0-4, which looks like a real possibility at this point, I think there's a very good chance Schiano will pull the plug on Freeman and hand things over to rookie Mike Glennon. And, based on what I saw from Glennon in the preseason, I don't think he's going to provide any sort of instant solution.

The vanishing tight ends. The Bucs targeted their tight ends just once the entire game. That resulted in a 34-yard completion to Nate Byham. But the Bucs need more than that out of their tight ends to take the pressure off receivers Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. Tampa Bay has been playing without the injured Tom Crabtree. But the lack of production from this position so far makes you wonder if the Bucs should have added another pass-catching tight end in the offseason.

The defense isn’t bad. For the second straight week, the defense played well enough to win. Linebackers Lavonte David, Dekoda Watson and Mason Foster, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and the secondary are all playing well. If you can hold Drew Brees & Co. to one touchdown, you should be able to win. The Bucs came up with four sacks and two interceptions, but it all was for naught because the offense didn’t do its part.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Own worst enemy: The Rams again put themselves in a difficult position after spotting the Falcons a 21-point halftime lead. The Falcons didn’t necessarily dominate the Rams the way that deficit would indicate, but big plays and big mistakes by the Rams again put their backs against the wall. This is the second week in a row the Rams have drawn seven penalty flags and given up a defensive touchdown. They were able to overcome it against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 but not on the road against a better Atlanta team.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJulio Jones got the best of Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, gaining 182 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Rams’ resiliency: On the flip side of those slow starts, the Rams have finished each of their first two games with a flourish. They scored 14 straight to beat Arizona last week and outscored the Falcons 21-7 in the second half Sunday. It wasn’t enough to forge a second stirring comeback win in as many weeks, but there’s no doubting the Rams’ effort and attitude after they again mounted a comeback that nearly allowed them an opportunity to tie it up late against Atlanta.

Jenkins vs. Jones: In Saturday’s matchup breakdown, we took a look at the pending battle between Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones. Jenkins got the better of Jones in their final two collegiate meetings, but Jones got the most recent laugh Sunday. Jenkins was on the wrong end of Jones’ 81-yard touchdown catch and his share of the rest of Jones’ 182 receiving yards and 11 catches. Jenkins had safety help in the middle of the field but said he played the coverage wrong, and when Jones read Cover 2, he broke to the outside, where he beat Jenkins one-on-one.

Whither Jackson?: Perhaps the biggest storyline for the Rams entering the game against Atlanta was how running back Steven Jackson would fare against his former team. As it turned out, the matchup never materialized. Jackson suffered an apparent thigh injury on an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and never returned to the game, or even the sideline. That’s a sight that became all too familiar to Rams fans in Jackson’s time in St. Louis as soft tissue injuries regularly plagued him as a Ram. As it turned out, the Falcons didn’t need Jackson, or really much of a running game at all, because quarterback Matt Ryan racked up 374 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
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A review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints16-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Brian BlancoJimmy Graham showed yet again Sunday why he might just be the best tight end in the league.
The defense was no fluke. New Orleans’ defense looked very good in the season-opening win against Atlanta. But when you have a defense that ranked No. 32 in the league last season, it’s natural to remain skeptical after only one good outing. But the Saints followed it up with another solid defensive performance against the Bucs. They allowed only one offensive touchdown, and Malcolm Jenkins came up with a big interception. The defense did allow 160 rushing yards, but it also limited the Bucs to 113 net passing yards. The defense has helped the Saints to two victories in which the offense wasn’t quite as good as we’ve come to expect. You know the offense will come around. If the defense can continue playing this way, the Saints could have a really good year.

Jimmy Graham just keeps getting better. The tight end finished with a career-best 179 yards on 10 catches and also scored New Orleans’ only touchdown. If Graham isn’t already the best tight end in the league, he soon will be. Graham is in a contract year, and the Saints should try to sign him to an extension as soon as possible because his price tag is only going to keep rising.

Mark Ingram might be a bust. A lot of Saints fans have been saying this the past two years. I’ve argued the point and said that Ingram can be effective if he’s used properly. But I saw nothing even close to promising in his eight carries against Tampa Bay. The Saints might be better off giving Ingram’s carries to Pierre Thomas.

So much for being a “dome team.’’ The Saints won outdoors in less-than-ideal conditions. The game was delayed 69 minutes by lightning and the field was wet when play resumed. New Orleans didn’t have a huge offensive day, but the Saints did enough to get the win in the great outdoors.

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