Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 2 to Week 3.
It's not all on the offensive line. It's not all on Seahawks' instantly embattled offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. For problems as pervasive as those exhibited by the Seattle offense early this season, there's never just one culprit.
Seattle faced a grown Chicago Bears defense Monday night and were predictably stymied from the beginning in a 24-17 loss that wasn't as close as the final box score indicated. The addition of Khalil Mackvia trade topped off a top-ten Bears defense that was already primed to push opponents around in coordinator Vic Fangio's fourth year with the unit. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, is on game two with the second coordinator of his career and he's rarely looked this uncomfortable.
It's hard to know where to begin detailing the problems of Seattle's rebuild. Wilson has thrown three interceptions and fumbled three times in two weeks. He has held on to the ball too long in both games as he waits for receivers to uncover. A receiver group that needs too much from Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Will Dissly misses departed talent like Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham. Doug Baldwin's knee injury has turned a thin wideout corps into one that's barely there at all. After an offseason emphasizing the running game to the exclusion of little else, the team's leading rusher, Chris Carson, has 75 yards in two games ... on only 13 carries. The offensive line might be a tick better except for right tackle Germain Ifedi, but that is a low bar to clear.
It's early. Wilson has experienced slumps before, including last season's start, and obviously has the talent to pull the Seahawks out of the morass. But there is no evidence in Schottenheimer's extraordinarily long track record to believe he can out-scheme an opponent when he's given inferior talent.
I'll kick off the rest of this week's Debrief with some other early trends from these embryonic weeks of the 2018 season.
1) The Jaguars aren't necessarily better without Leonard Fournette, but the team is undeniably more unpredictable offensively when he's out of the lineup. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone certainly drew lessons from the team's AFC Championship Game loss, staying aggressive with the team's play-calling throughout Sunday's 31-20 win over the Patriots. The Jaguars finished the first half by throwing. They finished the game by throwing. Blake Bortles played one of the best games of his life Sunday by fitting the ball into tight windows, rewarding the confidence shown by the Jags while they allowed him to throw deep even when the team led by two scores with under four minutes left.
2)Cam Newton has led the Panthers in rushing in back to back weeks for a total of 100 yards. That's good news for his fantasy owners and bad news for all those offseason articles about Christian McCaffrey's ability to run between the tackles. Newton has played well overall and is completing 69 percent of his passes despite missing a trio of offensive line starters, but he needs more support.
3) The Saints have yet to play a complete game. They narrowly avoided starting 0-2 at home against Cleveland while failing to top 300 yards on offense against a Gregg Williams-led Browns defense. More than any title contender from a year ago, the Saints seem a little too surprised that they can't just pick up where they left off.
5) Philadelphia's poor injury luck just won't let up. While the team's defense surprisingly struggled to get pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday, the team's offense lost left tackle Jason Peters (quad), receiver Mike Wallace (fibula fracture) and running back Jay Ajayi (back) to injury in the first half in Tampa. Ajayi came back into the game in the second half and Carson Wentz will return from injury to start in Week 3, but the Eagles have struggled to get their best players on the field. They are very fortunate to have stolen the season opener against Atlanta; otherwise, panic would be setting in.
6) In both Steelers games, Mike Tomlin's conservative coaching has led to a letdown. He wasn't aggressive enough offensively late against the Browns in Week 1. That wasn't a problem on Sunday, when Pittsburgh took a pass-happy approach, but Tomlin trusted his defense too much against the Chiefs, leading to multiple questionable decisions to punt. The Steelers also mismanaged the clock while going in for their final touchdown, wasting valuable time in their comeback attempt.
7) It's remarkable how easy Patrick Mahomes has made throwing 10 touchdown passes in two weeks look. Andy Reid and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have done an incredible job scheming players open, and Mahomes has shown great timing with his receivers. I gasped when Mahomes overshot Sammy Watkins on one play, because it hadn't happened all day. (The Chiefs still scored plays later.) It appeared Sunday that Mahomes had multiple open options on each play and could simply pick the most advantageous one. Both Travis Kelce and Watkins hit 100 yards after quiet openers, with Steelers safeties Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds both getting routinely smoked.
8) The Arizona Cardinals have yet to play a remotely competitive game. New coach Steve Wilks has been outscored 40-0 combined in the first half of his first two games. The Cardinals didn't pass midfield until the final possession of Sunday's game against the Rams and only finished with five first downs, the lowest total since Ryan Lindley and Beanie Wells were leading the 2012 squad.
Week 1 narratives upended
1) Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian can step off the hot seat for a week. After the Falcons hemorrhaged their season opener in Philadelphia, Atlanta went 4 for 4 in the red zone against Carolina. The emergence of the Falcons' supporting cast, like backup running back Ito Smith, rookie wideout Calvin Ridley and tight end Austin Hooper, bodes well for the Falcons moving forward.
2) Jon Gruden has aged more in a few months coaching the Raiders again than he did during nearly a decade in the ESPN booth. Sunday's blown fourth-quarter lead in Denver won't help matters, but at least Gruden's prized pupil, Derek Carr, made enormous strides in his second game under Chucky. Carr completed 29 of 32 passes, the highest completion percentage by any quarterback since 1950. They weren't all dump-off throws, either.
4) One week after everyone in the media overreacted to Sam Darnold's Jets debut, a correction felt almost inevitable. This is what can happen when a rookie quarterback isn't gifted incredible field position and free points. Darnold still made some fancy throws against Miami, so hopefully the tabloids don't overreact in the opposite direction.
5) Before the season started, the Bucs faced the toughest three-game opening stretch in NFL history, according to strength of schedule based on last season's records. They are now 2-0 in large part because of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who somehow has eight touchdowns and 13 incompletions. His completion percentage (78.7) is even more remarkable when noting that he's fourth in the NFL in average depth of target. I still don't expect Fitzpatrick to keep the starting job into November, but there is no logic when it comes to FitzMagic.
Mahomes leading leaguewide offensive charge
There was a moment in the fourth quarter of Chiefs-Steelers on Sunday when I yelled at the image of Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin inside my television screen for coaching a game that no longer existed.
Down 42-30 with under 10 minutes left, Tomlin called for a punt on fourth-and-7 from his own 44-yard line. This is the type of call football coaches have been making since Art Rooney Sr. first paid the $2,500 franchise fee to buy the Steelers in 1933. That call once made sense, but that was before converting fourth-and-7 felt as routine for Ben Roethlisberger as midweek injury drama, before Patrick Mahomes needed just 30 plays to complete six touchdown drives, way back when the Steelers fielded a defense they were proud of.
The Chiefs wound up taking four minutes off the clock on the ensuing possession before fumbling the ball away, but the damage was already done. Playing to your defense just doesn't compute any longer, especially not against Mahomes on a scorching Pittsburgh afternoon. The latest fireworks show put on by Mahomes and Kansas City coach Andy Reid was the most dazzling display in a week overstuffed with boffo passing performances. Twelve quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards. Nine quarterbacks threw at least three touchdown passes this week. Asking the Steelers' defense to make two quick stops against Mahomes was like asking Le'Veon Bell as nicely as possible to show up for work. It's worth a shot, but it's also completely unrealistic.
The September scoring crisis of 2017 is a distant memory, with quarterbacks as diverse as Mahomes, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles and Jared Goff lighting up the sky on Sunday. It all led to a fascinating week where it was good to be an underdog and even better to be a football fan during a frenetic 20-minute stretch, around 4 p.m. ET, when Vikings-Packers, Panthers-Falcons, Chiefs-Steelers, Texans-Titans, Eagles-Bucs and Browns-Saints all reached their dramatic conclusions.
There is nothing else in sports quite like the end of the early NFL games, when the dominant storylines of an entire week are set and when the seven-day forecast of a city's mood turns.
1) The Jaguars haven't missed Marqise Lee much yet, because they have their No. 1 receiver. Keelan Cole has put up the production and wow plays of a receiver taken in the top 10 on the way to multiple Pro Bowls. Because Cole went undrafted out of Kentucky Wesleyan and catches passes from Blake Bortles, no one quite seems to trust it yet. Perhaps Cole's sensational one-handed grab against the Patriots will wake everyone up to his potential.
2) The Colts already appear to be a dramatically different team under coach Frank Reich, including on defense. Second-round rookie linebacker Darius Leonard racked up 18 tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defensed in his second career game. Defensive end Margus Hunt is emblematic of a Colts defense that was too physical for Washington on Sunday. A Colts defense that is too physical!
Reich's fingerprints are all over an offense that is emphasizing getting the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands quickly. Luck is making safer throws and must be thrilled to suddenly find receivers who have early separation from defenders because of Reich's creative play design. It's remarkable how different this team looks this quickly into Reich's reign.
3) The Browns don't have a win yet, but the team's defensive playmakers have made a lot of noise in both of their games. Forcing six turnovers against the Steelers and holding the Saints under 300 yards in the Superdome proves that there will be better days ahead for a group with difference makers at every level of the defense.
5) It's hard for anything related to the Cowboys to be sneaky anything, but the potential of this year's defense continues to surprise. Byron Jones' move to cornerback has helped transform the secondary, with his coverage against Odell Beckham during Sunday night's win over Dallas being an eye opener. Jones and Chidobe Awuzie form an excellent cornerback tandem. The Cowboys' defensive front created consistent pressure again Sunday, with DeMarcus Lawrence looking ready to build on his breakout season from a year ago. Linebacker Jaylon Smith had his best day as a pro, and even rookie Leighton Vander Esch flashed while replacing Sean Lee when Lee left the game with cramps. I'm not sure the Cowboys' defense is quite good enough to carry the team to the playoffs with a formula of running and defense, but they have the personnel to give it a shot.