Commentary

Can offenses keep up this pace?

QBs ruled as teams set an NFL opening-week record, piling up 791 points

Originally Published: September 13, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Offense won the first week of the NFL season. Will the trend continue?

Probably. The return of Peyton Manning and the debuts of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck only add to the idea that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Recent rule changes for safety have given receivers more freedom to roam into the middle of the field. Tight ends create impossible matchups for defenders.

The 791 points scored during the first week of the season was an opening-week record. It was second-most of any NFL weekend, second only to Week 12 in 2008.

Six quarterbacks led their teams to fourth-quarter victories. Nine quarterbacks had 300-yard games. The season also started with 35 interceptions, fueled in part by five rookie starters and Ryan Fitzpatrick's failure to cure his 2011 interception problems. Lost in the stats were the field goal kickers. They made 67 of 72 field goals, a 93.1 percentage that tops any opening day in NFL history.

Here are the 10 trends to watch in Week 2.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Icon SMIPeyton Manning made judicious use of downfield throws against the Steelers.
1. No-huddle showdown: The Monday night game between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons could be a no-huddle clinic. Peyton Manning proved to John Fox that going no-huddle might be the best plan for the Broncos' offense. When he took snaps from behind center out of conventional huddles against Pittsburgh, drives didn't go far. In no-huddle, the offense was hard to stop. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is allowed to use more no-huddle in a revamped offense that features more bunch formations and less of an emphasis on the ground game. Going against Manning won't be as easy for the Falcons, who lost cornerback Brent Grimes for the season with an Achilles tear. The Falcons were hoping to be able to switch out of Cover 2 into man, and that might be tough in this game. Manning, who is coming off four neck operations, was smart about his downfield throws. He attempted only one that went at least 21 yards in the air and was 4-of-5 for 69 yards in throws between 10 and 20 yards.

2. Not necessarily a friendly rivalry: How many times this week will we see Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz running downfield to get in Jim Harbaugh's face after the handshake incident last season? Both coaches are trying to downplay the controversy, but their styles are the theme of this game. Harbaugh has established an attitude with the San Francisco 49ers -- his team plays with a chip on its shoulder, and it has worked. The 49ers went into Lambeau Field and believed they owned the stadium with a victory last week. The Lions' defense lives on the edge. Sometimes that means dumb penalties and late hits. The personalities of these teams should have sparks flying.

3. Can replacement officials repeat last week's performance? Replacement officials had some expected mistakes and a few controversies in Week 1, but they might have a harder time in Week 2. They had occasional difficulty with spotting the ball, were inconsistent calling pass interference and botched a few rules, but they didn't cost a team a game. They got by in Week 1 without too many decisions that challenged them. Week 2 will be tougher because coaches' adjustments will get more complex after the first week. Overall, the replacements didn't do poorly in their regular-season debut.

4. Can the Indianapolis Colts be Lucky? Sunday's home opener against the Minnesota Vikings could be a preview of how the Colts will fare this season with Luck at quarterback. As expected, he put up good numbers in the opener, completing 23 passes for 309 yards in a loss to Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. The Vikings game is one of five home games in which Luck faces a rookie or second-year quarterback. If he can outduel Christian Ponder this week and Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker in later games, the Colts could do no worse than 5-3 at home and have a better record than most people forecasted.

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Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesAfter dropping their opener to the Redskins, the Saints must guard against digging too deep a hole in the NFC South.

5. The 0-2 anxiety: Teams can bounce back from 0-2 starts and make the playoffs, but starting 0-2 often creates panic. The Carolina Panthers-New Orleans Saints game is the headliner in this category. Both teams were flat in their opening losses. The Falcons look formidable, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got off to a good start against Carolina. Neither New Orleans nor Carolina wants to lose and stare up from the bottom of a talented division. The Panthers were embarrassed to have $89.5 million in contracts for three running backs and get 36 yards rushing against the Bucs. The Saints' defense let Griffin III have a 139.9 quarterback rating. The Kansas City Chiefs-Buffalo Bills game is another anxiety game. The Chiefs get back their best pass-rusher, Tamba Hali, and maybe cornerback Brandon Flowers. The Bills lost badly against the Jets and lost halfback Fred Jackson and wide receiver David Nelson. The Giants are also in the same category. They host the Buccaneers and can't afford a home loss that would drop them to 0-2.

6. Another test for Jets' offense: Despite putting $117 million in contracts for Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills didn't register one sack against Mark Sanchez last week. This week should be different, particularly if linebacker James Harrison can play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos were able to contain linebacker LaMarr Woodley with double-teams, and Peyton Manning was touched only three times last Sunday night. Harrison's return will give Woodley more chances to go against inexperienced Jets right tackle Austin Howard.

7. Settling down Vick: Michael Vick was admittedly rusty in the Philadelphia Eagles' opening victory over the Cleveland Browns. He threw four picks and knows he needs to settle down against the Ravens in Week 2. Without linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens know they are challenged to produce a pass rush. The surprising part of Vick's difficulties was throwing four interceptions when the Browns rushed four or fewer defenders. He was 22-of-40 for 172 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, against the four-man rush. Vick needs to be more conventional against conventional rushes.

8. Not getting off to a false start: The Dallas Cowboys have had 10 days to reflect on their opening victory over the New York Giants. They are expected to be without starting center Phil Costa for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Tony Romo's mission this week is cutting down the self-inflicted wounds. Against the Giants, the Cowboys had five false starts, two delay-of-game penalties and one illegal motion. They are going into one of the loudest stadiums in the league against a crowd that can get more false start penalties from an opponent than any other in the league.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAn injury to John Skelton gave Kevin Kolb a chance to shine against the Seahawks. How will he fare against the Patriots?
9. Kolb gets his chance: A right ankle injury will sideline Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton, so Kevin Kolb, who came off the bench for a game-winning drive against the Seahawks, gets a chance to start against the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick wants to get some hits on Kolb early in the game to test his toughness.

10. Time for the young guns: The remainder of the schedule is filled with challenges for the rookie and second-year quarterbacks. Gabbert, who played well last week against Minnesota, has a home game against the Houston Texans to see where the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the hierarchy of the AFC South. Locker of the Tennessee Titans plans to play on the road against a hard-hitting San Diego Chargers defense with a separated left shoulder. Griffin III will see if he can follow up his great debut in a trip to St. Louis. Tannehill worked on his delivery this week to cut down the number of passes deflected at the line of scrimmage. The Miami Dolphins host the Raiders. Coming off a horrible showing against the Eagles, Cleveland's Weeden visits division rival Cincinnati, which starts last year's Pro Bowl rookie, Andy Dalton.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer