Two weeks of the 2023 NFL season have passed, and the league is starting to determine which teams are early playoff contenders while others are looking to get out of the doldrums. Seven teams enter Week 3 with a 2-0 start while eight teams are 0-2.
No team is going to the Super Bowl after two weeks, and no team is considered the worst after Week 2 either. There are plenty of observations for each franchise through two weeks, trends that could repeat over the course of the season.
What did the league find out about each team after Week 2? There’s a reason why teams have the record they possess through two weeks.
Jonathan Gannon’s halftime speeches aren’t inspirational: The Cardinals are not a second-half team, allowing 20.5 points and 217.5 yards in the final 30 minutes. They allow 6.4 yards per play, 138 passing yards and 79.5 rushing yards in the second half. Arizona allows 133 yards per game in the fourth quarter — and this is after allowing just 51 yards in the fourth quarter in Week 1. Arizona blew two halftime leads in two games under Gannon. At the very least, the Cardinals should be 1-1.
Bijan Robinson is already a top-five RB: Robinson’s impact was felt in Atlanta’s comeback victory over Green Bay, rushing for 124 yards and totaling 172 yards from scrimmage. The Falcons faced two fourth-down attempts and gave Robinson the ball, and he rushed for 20 yards on two carries (10 yards per carry) — including a 7-yard run on fourth-and-1 with the Falcons in field goal range. Robinson also was targeted once on third down and had a 10-yard completion that moved the chains. Four touches on third/fourth down — three were for first downs. Already third in the NFL in rushing yards, Robinson is already amongst the best in the league.
Lamar Jackson is settling into his new offense sooner than we thought: Jackson threw two passes that demonstrated he’s thriving in Todd Monken’s system. The first was a 52-yard pass to Zay Flowers that led to a Mark Andrews touchdown followed by a perfect throw to Nelson Agholor that led to points. Jackson is completing 74.5% of his passes and has a 99.5 passer rating through two games, while also running for 92 yards (5.1 yards per carry). The Ravens also distributed the carries evenly between Jackson (12), Justice Hill (11) and Gus Edwards (10) evenly, still having that strong running game to go with the revamped passing attack. Baltimore is well balanced on offense, a scary feeling for opposing defenses.
They can run: For the first time in Josh Allen’s career, he doesn’t have to carry the Bills’ running game. The Bills rushed for 183 yards in Sunday’s blowout win over the Raiders, with James Cook averaging 7.2 yards per carry and rushing for 123 yards. Allen only had seven rushing yards in the win, which was fourth on the Bills in rushing. Damien Harris averaged 4.7 yards per carry with a touchdown while Latavius Murray also added a score. Allen threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns of his own. The Bills don’t have to rely on Allen to make the ground game work in 2023. They have Cook for a reason.
Bryce Young is still struggling: The learning curve for Young is going to be steeper than initially thought. Playing a good Saints defense, Young finished 22 of 33 for 153 yards and a touchdown (87.1 rating), but his yards per attempt is a major concern. Young is averaging 4.2 yards per attempt through his first two career games, the third lowest in NFL history (only Kyle Boller and Billy Joe Tolliver are lower). His 299 passing yards are the fewest by a No. 1 pick in his first two career starts since Alex Smith in 2005. This doesn’t mean Young can’t get better, but a poor offensive line and so-so wide receivers aren’t helping him succeed.
Justin Fields is afraid to throw deep: The Bears have been working on Fields’ footwork and arm slot, so he should be a better quarterback. The result is a quarterback who has an average pass length of 4.5 — the shortest in the NFL (was 9.1 last season) — despite having 3.2 seconds to throw (third longest in NFL). Fields has the fourth-shortest average pass length through Week 2 since 2006. He’s thrown just 12 passes of 10-plus air yards (two touchdowns, two interceptions) and no passes of 25-plus air yards. That’s on Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Joe Burrow’s calf injury is still bothering him: Burrow admitted missing training camp has had an aftereffect, demonstrated by his slow starts to games. In the first half of both games combined, Burrow is 14 of 25 for 71 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions (61.3 passer rating). That’s not the Burrow the Bengals paid $55 million a year to extend. Burrow isn’t much better in the second half, completing 57.4% of his passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (75.9 rating) — and was seen being treated with a massage gun on his calf late in the game. That injury is lingering, which is something to monitor as the Bengals are 0-2 for the second straight year.
They can survive running the football without Nick Chubb: First and foremost, there is no running back like Chubb. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry or better in five straight seasons for a reason, but the Browns can survive. Cleveland did run for 198 yards and 5.7 yards per carry, led by 106 yards from Jerome Ford on 6.6 yards per carry (Chubb did have 64 of them). The Browns still have an excellent offensive line and have proven they can run the ball against anybody. Losing Chubb significantly Hurts, but the Browns will be fine.
Micah Parsons is the early DPOY: What Parsons has been doing through two games is incredible. Parsons has three sacks, six quarterback hits, 12 pressures and an astonishing 21.8% pressure rate. Parsons is first in pressure rate, tied for first in quarterback hits, second in pressures and tied for second in sacks. The Cowboys pass defense has a passer rating allowed of 34.2 because of the pressure Parsons is bringing to the quarterback. Parsons appears to be on a mission for a historic season — and is off to an excellent start.
Jekyll and Hyde pass rush: The Broncos pass rush looked excellent in the final box score, generating 15 pressures and four sacks (just four pressures and no sacks in Week 1) with a pressure rate of 33.3%. Eleven of those pressures and three sacks came in the first half compared to just four pressures and a sack in the second half. The pressure just wasn’t there in the second half, similar to how the first week went for Denver. The unit has to be more consistent through four quarters.
Offensive line injuries took their toll: With no Taylor Decker at left tackle, the Lions moved Penei Sewell to left tackle and Matt Nelson played right tackle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s injury significantly hurt as the Lions allowed 10 pressures in the fourth quarter and overtime. Jared Goff felt the heat, being sacked twice and throwing a pick-six that changed the game in Seattle’s favor. For the Lions sake, having Decker and Vaitai back would be beneficial.
The offense has to finish games: Jordan Love leads the NFL in passer rating through two weeks and has thrown six touchdown passes to zero interceptions. Love is as good as advertised, but the Packers were unable to finish off the Falcons. Whether it was the play-calling, Love’s performance or both, the Packers ran 10 plays for 11 yards in the fourth quarter. Love was 0 of 6 with a dropped interception in the fourth quarter to cap off a deflating loss. This is an issue the Packers can easily fix, but something to monitor the next time they have a fourth-quarter lead.
Offensive line injuries rear its ugly head: The Texans were down four starters on the offensive line (including Laremy Tunsil) and it showed in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Houston allowed four sacks and 18 pressures, as Stroud was hit 10 times. Not good for any quarterback, especially a rookie like Stroud (who threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns with a 103.5 rating). The Texans have allowed 29 pressures through two games. They need to get healthy up front before Stroud joins them on the injury report.
Zack Moss significantly improves running game: What a difference a player makes, as was the case with Moss in his season debut. Missing Week 1 with a broken arm, Moss had 18 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown as the RB1 on the Colts. No other running back on Indianapolis received carries after the 16-carry, 25-yard performance from the backs not named Moss in Week 1. Moss is the guy in indianapolis, giving the Colts hope they don’t need to rely on Anthony Richardson to move the ball on the ground.
The defense is better than we think: Holding the Chiefs to 17 points is no easy task, especially when Patrick mahomes and Travis Kelce are on the field. The Jaguars forced three turnovers in the first half (two on defense), but the offense could only muster three points off the takeaways. Jacksonville has six takeaways through two games, allowed just 19.0 points per game, and only 1.29 points per drive. If the defense keeps this up, they’ll be a Super Bowl contender in the AFC.
Kansas City Chiefs
Issues at the tackle position: Both Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith have had their problems through two games, which could be a significant problem for the Chiefs come January. Taylor has allowed just one pressure in 88 pass-blocking snaps through two games, but had five penalties in Sunday’s win (he got flagged twice for false starts, and twice for holding and once for illegal formation). The Chiefs actually sat him for a bit after the fourth penalty. Smith has allowed seven pressures through two games and three quarterback hits, with a pressure rate allowed of 7.8%. Those numbers aren’t good, as the only reason Smith hasn’t allowed a sack is because Patrick Mahomes gets rid of the football quickly. Only two games have been played, but the Chiefs need to clean things up with Taylor and Smith.
Las Vegas Raiders
Run offense is offensive: The Raiders are averaging 58 rushing yards a game and 2.6 yards per carry with no rushing touchdowns through two games. They have Josh Jacobs on their roster and he has 28 carries for 46 yards (1.6 yards per carry) through two games. Jacobs had nine carries for -2 yards in Sunday’s loss, the lowest total in a game by a defending rushing champion since 1950. Take away Tre Tucker’s 34-yard run on the first drive and the Raiders have 21 rushing yards. If Las Vegas wants to keep Jimmy Garoppolo upright, the Raiders have to do a better job running the ball.
Downfield pass defense still an issue: The Chargers’ defense allows a 116.3 passer rating, good for 30th in the NFL. The unit has allowed four completions of 25-plus air yards through two games (most in NFL) and 18 completions of 10-plus air yards (tied for the most in NFL). Los Angeles is getting beat deep and getting beat often, even if it only allowed just one passing touchdown of 10-plus air yards through two games. Allowing 11 of 15 completions on third/fourth down is also a problem, too.
Puka Nacua is off to a historic start: Nacua isn’t the best wide receiver in the league after two weeks, but he’s pretty darn close. Nacua finished with 15 catches for 147 yards for the Rams in Sunday’s loss, one week after he finished with 10 catches for 119 yards in his NFL debut. Nacua has 25 catches for 266 yards after two games in Los Angeles, the most catches by any wide receiver after his first two career games in NFL history. He is the first rookie to have 10-plus catches and 100-plus receiving yards in each of his team’s first two games of the year. Nacua’s 266 receiving yards are the second most by any pass catcher through two career games in NFL history, trailing only Anquan Boldin’s 279 in 2003. The Rams need to keep throwing to Nacua — he’s getting open.
Raheem Mostert is RB1: The Dolphins appeared to be using a running back by committee after failing to land Jonathan Taylor and Dalvin Cook. Then Jeff Wilson got hurt, allowing Mostert to establish himself as the featured running back in the offense. All Mostert did against the Patriots was rush for 121 yards and two touchdowns (averaging 6.7 yards per carry). Mostert’s speed fits in perfectly with the Dolphins’ flashy offense, as he can turn the corner just as fast as any back in the league. The Dolphins have the top three speeds by a ball carrier this year by design, and Mostert is part of that.
One-score games no longer going in their favor: Minnesota went an NFL record 11-0 in one-score games last season, on its way to 13 wins despite a negative point differential. Giveaways have doomed the Vikings through two games in 2023, as they have seven in eight quarters. As a result, Minnesota is 0-2 in one-score games — although Philadelphia had the game in hand when the Vikings scored their last touchdown in the final minute. The giveaways are really hurting the Vikings through two games, especially since their playing with a banged-up offensive line and no running game. If Minnesota takes care of the football, the Vikings are at least 1-1.
New England Patriots
Offensive line still struggles with guards back: Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu back at the guard spots, but left tackle Trent Brown was out for Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins. The Patriots allowed four sacks, four quarterback hits and 13 pressures as Mac Jones was under duress all night. They were fortunate Jones was 8 of 12 for 64 yards with a touchdown under pressure — as Jones was blitzed on 13 dropbacks. New England has some issues to correct up front, but it would help if the whole offensive line was healthy.
New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr is playing with the best defense he’s ever had: Carr was subpar in Monday’s win over the Panthers (21 of 36, 228 yards, interception, 65.5 rating), yet he didn’t have to be extraordinary like he was with the Raiders. Carr’s defense took care of business, not allowing a touchdown until 1:16 to play in the game. The Saints yielded just 239 total yards and allowed the Panthers to convert just 4-of-14 third-down attempts (29%). Through two games, New Orleans has allowed just one offensive touchdown, 262 yards per game and 16 points per game. Carr finally has a defense that can pick him up when he has a subpar game.
They’re mentally tough: Getting outscored 60-0 after the first six quarters of the season is deflating for any team. The Giants easily were in the conversation for worst team in the NFL after trailing 20-0 to the Cardinals at halftime. Yet they are 1-1 after a 21-point second-half comeback, the franchise’s largest comeback in a game since 1949. As bad as the offensive line looked in the first half — contributing to the struggles of Daniel Jones — it’s amazing how the Giants were even finding a pulse on offense. Jones threw for 259 yards, rushed for 58 and totaled three touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone. The Giants may not be good in 2023, but they aren’t giving up without a fight.
Give the ball to their running backs: When Zach Wilson is the starting quarterback, the Jets have to make him a game manager. He’s just not going to throw a team to victory, which is why it was shocking Breece Hall got just four touches and Dalvin Cook five. Cook should never get more touches than Hall in a game to begin with, as Hall should be getting at least 15 touches a contest. The offensive line struggles to protect the quarterback and the quarterback can’t throw. Use the running backs as an advantage, Nathaniel Hackett.
D’Andre Swift is RB1: Swift only had two touches in Week 1, but earned his opportunity to get the bulk of the carries with Kenneth Gainwell out. All Swift did was finish with 28 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown in Thursday’s win over the Vikings. When the Vikings had the typical seven in the box, Swift averaged 7.6 yards per carry. The Eagles were in shotgun for all of Swift’s carries, as he averaged 6.3 yards per carry. On first down, Swift averaged 8.3 yards per rush. The Eagles reverted back to the run game because of Swift and his ability to move the chains. He earned the No. 1 running back role.
T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are the league’s best pass-rushing duo: Watt and Highsmith were game changers in Monday’s comeback win over the Browns, making two plays that gave Pittsburgh its first victory of the year. Highsmith had an interception return for a touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage, while Watt had a fumble return for a score on a forced fumble from Highsmith to give the Steelers the lead for good. Highsmith finished with seven tackles, two quarterback hits, a sack, a pass defensed, an interception and a forced fumble while Watt recorded four tackles, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed. Two dominant performances from the Steelers’ edge rushers, who will be a problem for opposing quarterbacks all year.
Brock Purdy has some downfield issues: Purdy has been essentially flawless since becoming the starting quarterback late last season, but opposing defenses may have found his kryptonite. Purdy missed Brandon Aiyuk on a deep ball that should have been a touchdown and Juwan Jennings on a third-down ball that should have went for a huge gain. He also overthrew Deebo Samuel, capping a day which saw Purdy finish 1 of 3 for 31 yards on throws of 25-plus air yards (he should have been at least 2 of 3). Perhaps the elbow injury is still lingering for Purdy to an extent, but his deep balls are something to monitor.
Backup tackles more than held down the fort: Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan filled in for Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, doing the best possible job they could given the circumstances. Neither player gave up a sack as each allowed three pressures in 45 pass-blocking snaps. The pressure rate allowed per dropback for each tackle was 6.7%, but the key statistic was Geno Smith was neither sacked nor hit on account of Forsythe or Curhan. The Seahawks offensive line allowed seven pressures and no sacks against the Lions, massive for a depleted unit.
Baker Mayfield to Mike Evans is a thing: Mayfield is wise to find a 1,000-yard receiver nine times in nine seasons, hitting Evans six times for 171 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over the Bears. Mayfield has thrown four passes of 25-plus air yards, completing two of them (both to Evans) for two touchdowns for a 135.4 passer rating. Evans has been targeted deep three times and caught two of them for scores. Tampa Bay has a connection with Mayfield and Evans, a critical portion of the Buccaneers’ 2-0 start.
Ryan Tannehill is going to be fine: The Chargers defense isn’t good, but there were some concerns regarding Tannehill after his three-interception game in Week 1. Tannehill was significantly better this week, going 20 of 24 for 246 yards with a touchdown (123.3 rating), including going 5 of 6 for 161 yards (118.8 rating) on passes that traveled 10-plus air yards. The Titans may need to try going deep again next week, especially with the results they got from their quarterback in Week 2.
Eric Bieniemy opened up Sam Howell in the second half: Give credit to Bieniemy for letting his quarterback throw the ball downfield, as Howell completed 2 of 3 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown when throwing for 25-plus air yards in Sunday’s win (Howell had no such attempts in Week 1). On throws of 10-plus air yards this season, Howell is 13 of 22 with a touchdown and 113.8 passer rating, so he can sling the ball if Bieniemy wants him to. Howell was 8 of 9 for 121 yards with a touchdown in the second half this week (155.8 rating), as the 13.4 yards per attempt showcased Bieniemy trusts his quarterback to go downfield.
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