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No better time than Week 2 for teams to clean up their act

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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People in football at every level like to say the biggest improvement comes in Week 2. One thing for sure about the NFL is that it's a now-or-never league. This holds true in Week 2, specifically for the teams that lost their openers.

Last year, nine of the 16 teams that lost in Week 1 followed up with another defeat and fell to 0-2. Not one of those nine teams had a winning record at the end of the season -- Miami, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Kansas City, Detroit, Carolina, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

Rob Carr / Associated Press
The increase in holding penalties -- like the one Cowboys right tackle Alex Barron committed on the final play vs. the Redskins -- with the umpire behind the line of scrimmage is just one potential penalty trend to keep an eye on.
Penalties called on average
Penalty 2007-2009 2010 Week 1
Offense -- Holding 20.6 37
Offense -- False Start 38.2 37
Offense -- Delay of Game 7.1 15
Defense -- Pass Interference 9.4 13
Defense -- Roughing the Passer 3.6 7
Defense -- Personal Foul 11.7 9
Defense -- Offside 18.9 23
Defense -- Illegal Contact 4.6 2

Coaches now know what their team looks like under fire. There is real game tape to study, and game-plan modifications to be made. And there is a point of emphasis on all things that are correctable.

The 16 teams that won their openers still have to peel away the excitement of victory and put a critical eye on the things that need repair. For the 16 losers, it's a lot easier to see their faults, but it could be a lot harder to fix the problems.

Here are some of the areas that will get the attention of coaches this week:

Penalties

Every coach is striving for the perfect game when it comes to penalties. It's unrealistic, but the Packers went into Philadelphia and committed just two penalties for 15 yards in their 27-20 victory over the Eagles. The Bengals, even though they lost 38-24 to New England, only committed two penalties for 5 yards.

Win or lose, the head coaches of these teams will be harping on penalties all week: Jets (15 for 125 yards), Bears (nine for 100), Cowboys (15 for 91), Titans (eight for 81), Raiders (12 for 77), Cardinals (11 for 72), and the 49ers (10 for 60).

I always look at Week 1 penalties for an indication of what the officials are looking to call differently from last year. They like to call it "a point of emphasis," which means they will call those particular infractions more this year.

In Week 1, their point of emphasis was on holding penalties. Officials called 37 of them, compared to the Week 1 average of 20.6 from 2007-'09 (see chart).

Special teams

Special teams can be a disaster early in the season when there are so many rookies playing on these units.

It was a good sign that only two kickoff returns crossed the 50-yard-line in Week 1 and just one went for a touchdown (New England's Brandon Tate vs. Cincinnati). Then again there were only 137 kickoff returns, and last year the league averaged 146 each week. As offenses start to improve there will be more returns and more return problems.

For now, though, the following teams will be taking extra reps covering kicks: the Bengals, Cowboys, Broncos, Eagles, 49ers, Giants and Jets. They all let their opponents average more than 30 yards a return.

As for punt-return coverage, the Chargers not only gave up the only punt return for a touchdown this weekend to Chiefs rookie Dexter McCluster, but also wound up giving up a total of 160 yards on five returns. Throw out the 94-yard TD return by McCluster, and the Chargers still allowed 16.5 yards a return on their other four punts. Not coicidently, their best special teams player the past three seasons -- Kassim Osgood -- left for Jacksonville in free agency.

The Ravens, meanwhile, gave up 62 yards on four returns.

Look for a number of big returns around the league in Week 2 as special teams coaches now have tape to identify coverage lane breakdowns.

Fumbles

Fumbles drive coaches crazy.

Last year the league averaged 44 fumbles a weekend, with 20 of them being lost to the opponent. In Week 1 there were 53 fumbles, with 26 being lost. No play was more devastating than the Dallas fumble that DeAngelo Hall scored on just before halftime.

Certain teams will be harping on ball security all week, and the defensive players will be instructed to try and strip the ball every chance they get until this problem is fixed. Of the 26 lost fumbles, 11 of them were recorded by the Cardinals, Bears, Panthers, and Lions.

Sacks

Pass protection is a critical component to winning in this league. There were 2,164 pass plays called in Week 1, and there were 66 sacks -- or one sack for every 32 pass attempts.

Here are seven teams that will be looking at personnel, play-calling, protections, and quarterback release times all week after their sack-to-pass ratio in Week 1: Eagles (1:8), Raiders (1:10), Panthers (1:10), Bears (1:10), Steelers (1:10), Dolphins (1:12), and Bills (1:12).

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Red zone

Red-zone packages, just like 2-minute drill and goal-line packages, don't get enough real work in the preseason. In Week 1, teams made 84 trips to the red zone, and a touchdown was scored 46.4 percent of the time.

This week the following offenses will take extra reps inside the 20-yard-line if they want to improve, because they didn't score a touchdown in multiple trips: Bears (four trips), 49ers (three), Jets (two), Redskins (two), and throw in the Panthers for only scoring once in five trips.

As for red-zone defenses, they too face a problem of little work against another opponent during the summer. The Colts, Bears and Raiders gave up two rushing touchdowns each to their opponents in three trips. The 49ers permitted three touchdowns in four trips by the Seahawks, and the Bengals and Panthers gave up three touchdowns each in five trips.

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