NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2011 Week 2

Final Word: NFC West

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireArizona's Kevin Kolb fared well in Week 1 when the defense brought at least five pass-rushers.
Handling the pressure. Only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers ranked higher than the Arizona Cardinals' Kevin Kolb in NFL passer rating (139.2) when defenses brought at least five pass-rushers in Week 1, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Kolb led the league in QBR (98.7) in these situations among players with at least one pass attempt, completing 6 of 11 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His Washington Redskins counterpart, Rex Grossman, put up solid numbers overall, but his NFL passer rating (70.3) and QBR (13.6) lagged badly against five or more rushers. The Cardinals weren't shy about bringing pressure against Carolina, but they struggled to stop Cam Newton in these situations.

About those early kickoffs. For years, the Seattle Seahawks struggled to win games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT unless they were played in St. Louis, where the long-struggling Rams made for an inviting opponent. Times changed last season. The Seahawks went 1-1 in early games, beating the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field after losing in St. Louis. Seattle joins Arizona among Western teams playing early games Sunday. The Cardinals were 3-0 in 10 a.m. PT kickoffs the last time they felt good about their quarterback situation, in 2009. They were 0-4 in early kickoffs for 2010.

Sam Bradford's downfield throws. Bradford and Rams' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went into the season saying they planned to incorporate more downfield throws into their offense. It did not happen during an opening-week defeat against Philadelphia. Four of Bradford's 30 attempts (13.3 percent) traveled at least 15 yards in the air. The percentage for Bradford was 13.7 last season, lowest among qualifying quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Bradford and the Rams should have additional downfield opportunities against the New York Giants' injury-depleted secondary.

49ers' offensive aggression. Coach Jim Harbaugh kept a straight face while telling reporters the team was being aggressive against Seattle when it ran the ball in traditional passing situations. The 49ers ran the ball six times on third-down plays when they needed more than a yard for a first down. This included four plays of third-and-4 or longer. The 49ers converted none of these six rushing plays. The approach was good enough to defeat a Seattle team that wasn't getting much accomplished offensively until late. How well the 49ers fare when opening up the offense against Dallas stands as a leading NFC West storyline for Week 2.

Tough duty for tackles. NFC West offensive tackles face some brutal matchups this week. DeMarcus Ware (Dallas), Brian Orakpo (Washington), Ryan Kerrigan (Washington) and James Harrison (Pittsburgh) are coming after NFC West quarterbacks. The Giants have been playing without injured defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, but if either one plays against St. Louis on Monday night, add their names to the list.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

One piece of history matters. Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta is grabbing the headlines, but this isn’t a grudge match between Vick and the team he began his career with. Vick has been out of Atlanta for a long time and he and the Falcons have done a nice job of moving forward. But there is one bit of history that could factor into this game. In Vick’s first game against the Falcons in 2009, he was Donovan McNabb’s backup. Matt Ryan was injured and did not play for the Falcons. Vick played a little and threw for a touchdown and ran for one. Some Atlanta players and members of the coaching staff felt Philadelphia coach Andy Reid was rubbing it in to Atlanta, and that hasn’t been forgotten.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe Bucs could use a big game from running back LeGarrette Blount in Minnesota.
The Bucs have to learn to play with the lead. Tampa Bay abandoned its running game last week and relied on quarterback Josh Freeman to pull off comebacks too often last season. Freeman can’t do that all the time. The Bucs need to get running back LeGarrette Blount involved in the offense from the start against Minnesota and they need to keep him involved throughout the game. Blount carried only five times in the opener. That’s about 20 less carries than he needs to be truly effective.

Look for changes in Atlanta’s secondary. The Falcons weren't thrilled with their secondary in the preseason and that’s why they signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety James Sanders. Both are veterans and have been given a little time to learn the system. After last week’s poor defensive outing against the Bears, don’t be surprised if you see more of Hayden and Sanders. Safety Thomas DeCoud had a particularly rough outing against the Bears, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Falcons start Sanders in his place.

The New Orleans defense needs to make plays. The Saints got run over by the Packers in the opener. Lots of teams have had trouble with Green Bay’s offense. But the Saints didn’t make a single big play on defense. Coordinator Gregg Williams needs to get his unit to force Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler into making some mistakes. The Saints need to create some turnovers in this game.

The Panthers will run the ball. Yes, rookie Cam Newton threw for 422 yards in his debut, and that was very encouraging. But Newton’s not going to do that every week. Carolina has two excellent running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers need to get them involved in the offense and try to control the clock. Newton’s not ready to win a shootout with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He needs his running backs to help keep Rodgers off the field as much as possible.

Final Word: NFC North

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Pressuring Cutler: We know that the New Orleans Saints defense has sent extra pass-rushers more often than any other NFL team since the start of 2010 season. We also know that the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler has been sacked on a higher rate of his drop backs (10.9) than any other quarterback in the NFL over that stretch. What we don't know is how effective the Saints' blitz will be Sunday at the Superdome. As we've discussed, the Bears have one of the best screen plays in the league. And in Week 1 at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers torched the Saints' blitz for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 22 plays. The Bears, meanwhile, were effective against the Atlanta Falcons' blitz in Week 1, completing eight of 12 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. One thing is for sure: We'll find out how much progress the Bears' pass protection has truly made.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBrian Urlacher and the Bears' defense will face a stiff challenge in trying to stop Drew Brees.
Defending Brees: The Saints drafted Mark Ingram and acquired Darren Sproles to give themselves a more balanced offense, but I'm guessing they'll need to take to the air to beat the Bears. We've discussed the likelihood of an inspired game from linebacker Brian Urlacher, but responsibility for stopping quarterback Drew Brees will start with defensive end Julius Peppers. After his two-sack performance against the Falcons, Peppers figures to get heavy attention from the Saints' blocking scheme. That will give defensive tackle Henry Melton an opportunity for another disruptive game from the middle. I don't like the Bears chances if Brees has time to find open receivers. Peppers, Melton and/or another pass-rusher must have a big game. For what it's worth, every ESPN expert, human and digital, picked the Saints in this game.

Defending Cam: Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is hardly an unknown, but few probably thought the Green Bay Packers would be preparing to play a 400-yard passer in Week 2. Newton earned those yards last week against the Arizona Cardinals, throwing 13 passes at least 15 yards downfield. The Panthers benefited from a number of blown coverages from the Cardinals' defense, something you normally wouldn't expect from the Packers. But cornerback Tramon Williams' shoulder injury at least gives the Panthers an opening to attack. Even if Williams plays, the Panthers would be well-advised to test him early. I'm guessing the Packers will have more answers than the Cardinals did, but the Packers face a bigger challenge than you might have thought even a week ago.

Lions streaking: Would you believe the Detroit Lions' five-game regular-season winning streak, dating back to last season, is tied for the second-longest among NFL teams? No matter what you think about parity in the NFL, the Lions should make that streak six games against the Kansas City Chiefs. That's what playoff-caliber teams do: Win the games they're supposed to, especially at home, and grab a few on the road as well. Indeed, every NFL expert picked the Lions to win this game. In case you're wondering, the Lions' last six-game winning streak came 16 years ago in 1995, when they won seven consecutive games. But who's counting?

Home advantage: Since 1982, the Minnesota Vikings have won two-thirds of the games they've played at the Metrodome. Even in last year's 6-10 debacle, they won four of the six games played there before the roof collapsed. Regardless of what you think of it as a facility, the Metrodome has traditionally served as a rallying point and an occasion to reverse karma for the franchise. I don't want to say that any Week 2 game is a must-win. But if the Vikings plan to compete for a playoff spot this season, this is the kind of game -- especially against an NFC opponent -- they'll need. For what it's worth, new quarterback Donovan McNabb has won both starts at the Metrodome while with the Philadelphia Eagles, completing 65.7 percent of his passes and surpassing 300 yards in both efforts.

Final Word: NFC East

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Julio CortezDallas QB Tony Romo is on the cusp of an impressive milestone.
Romo seeking Cowboys history. He's taken a lot of abuse this week, so here are a couple of nice things to say about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. He's thrown at least one touchdown pass in 19 straight games, and no quarterback in Cowboys history has had a streak of 20 such games. Also, he's got 19 career games with at least three touchdown passes, one short of the team record held by Danny White. With the 49ers likely to focus on stopping the run, Romo should get a chance to reach both of those 20s, though a healthy Dez Bryant would surely help.

Eagles in a rush. The Philadelphia Eagles' 237 rushing yards in their season opener against the Rams was the fifth-highest single-game rushing total by the Eagles since Andy Reid became their head coach. They averaged 7.6 yards per carry in the game, making it the first time since a Week 9 2001 game against the Vikings in which they ran for at least 237 yards at an average of 7.5 yards or better per carry. What will be interesting Sunday night in Atlanta, though, is whether quarterback Michael Vick can get the passing game going. His 43.8 completion percentage in the opener was the lowest by an Eagles quarterback with at least 30 attempts since Mike McMahon was taking snaps in 2005.

We're No. 2. The winner of Sunday's Washington Redskins-Arizona Cardinals game will have done something its franchise hasn't done much lately -- start a season 2-0. For the Redskins, it would be their first 2-0 start since 2007, which was also the last season in which they reached the postseason. For the Cardinals, a 2-0 start would be only their second in the past 20 years. The other came in 2008, the year they would eventually advance to and lose the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have lost seven straight games to the Redskins since 2000, when the Cardinals were still in the NFC East.

Giants injuries showing. Last season, New York Giants opponents completed 56.7 percent of their passes for 6.4 yards per attempt when the Giants had at least five defensive backs on the field. The Giants' opponents Total QBR was 28.7 when they were in nickel or dime packages, the lowest such figure in the league. In the season opener against the Redskins, Rex Grossman completed 63.2 percent of his passes for an average of 9.4 yards per attempt and a Total QBR of 86.9 when the Giants had extra defensive backs on the field. The Giants have suffered quite a few injuries on defense, particularly in the secondary, since the start of training camp, and it seems to show up when they have to dip into their bench for defensive backs.

Something's got to give. Since the start of the 2010 season Giants quarterback Eli Manning has thrown 15 interceptions on passes of 10 or fewer yards -- the most of any quarterback in the league. But over that same time period, the Rams have intercepted only one pass of 10 or fewer yards. So either Eli's safer at short range in Monday night's game than he usually is, or the Rams are going to get a good chance to get the kinds of turnovers they don't usually get.

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