Game Rewind Film Room: AFC East dark horse?

With an eye toward Sunday's slate of games, let's highlight a few players and teams that caught our eye on Game Rewind:

The Lazor Effect

  1. As promised, Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace is far more active under new play-caller Bill Lazor. On back-to-back snaps in the first half against New England, the wideout lined up outside to haul in a crossing route from Ryan Tannehill before aligning in a two-back Pistol look to catch a screen.
  1. We later saw Tannehill look off a wide-open Charles Clay in the flats in favor of a deep strike to Wallace in the second quarter. The ball was underthrown and picked off by Alfonzo Dennard. Wallace subsequently fried Darrelle Revis down the sideline to haul in a Tannehill bomb, but he was ruled out of bounds. The downfield chemistry between the duo still needs work, but Tannehill and Wallace got it right with this third quarter hookup on Revis Island:
  1. Lazor's route concepts and ability to get his players open in space has Mike Sherman's playbook from a season ago looking like a less frisky version of the original Tecmo Bowl.
  1. Miami's rebuilt offensive is making progress. The front five did their job opening holes for Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno as the 'Fins went for 191 yards on the ground, the team's highest output in two seasons. A holding call wiped out a would-be touchdown in the third quarter, but the line deserves credit for wearing down a New England front left baffled by Moreno in the second half.
  1. The Dolphins went 8-8 last season with an offense totally asleep at the wheel. This remains a work in progress, but Lazor has brought energy to this side of the ball. The emphasis on a powerful ground game bodes well for cold-weather games on the road, and I look at Miami as a dark horse contender to win the AFC East.

Browns backfield

  1. Cleveland's depth chart at running back reads Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Based on their game tape, I think the order might be reversed by season's end if Tate can't stay healthy.
  1. West runs with power and he's not easy to bring down, one reason Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL's second most elusive back in Week 1. It was encouraging to see him gain his biggest chunks of yardage off the right side of Cleveland's line behind guard John Greco and the much-maligned Mitchell Schwartz.
  1. It's Crowell, though, who runs like a loose fireball surging toward earth. With Tate sidelined, look for a breakout performance from the undrafted rookie. He's a fascinating sleeper, one reason Dan Hanzus and I just added him to KATE MARA, the increasingly dominant co-owned fantasy team we've unleashed on a pack of rubes.

Problems in Kansas City

  1. When the Chiefs look back in January on their 4-12 season, heavy blame will fall on an offensive line that saw too many core pieces flitter away in the offseason. Jamaal Charles and his fellow backs aren't seeing the lanes or holes they enjoyed last season, while Alex Smith is forced into too many dump-offs behind this wall of revolving doors.
  1. I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith lead all AFC quarterbacks on the ground this season as he's too often left to fend for himself. He's underrated on his feet, but Smith wouldn't need to take off as much if the front office had landed a handful of capable linemen or wideouts with ability to beat one-on-one coverage.
  1. Are you kept up at night by the threat of Tennessee's aerial assault? Me neither, but Jake Locker and friends were productive against Kansas City's soft secondary. Look for that to be a common theme this autumn.

Tidbits & Wanderings

  1. Tom Brady's deep ball remains nonexistent. This haunted New England on a fourth-quarter third-down shot that saw Brady overthrow a wide-open Julian Edelman inside the Miami 20.
  1. East of J.J. Watt, Cameron Wake was the most dominant defender I saw in Week 1. He blew up New England's game plan in the second half and tortured Brady with two sacks, two quarterback hits and three hurries. The Patriots had no idea what to do with him.
  1. While Moreno proved that he's more than just a product of Denver's offense, Montee Ball wasn't particularly impressive. His first run of Week 1 was his best, as he whipped around the edge of Indy's defense into space for 15 yards. He didn't enjoy another run that long all night, finishing with a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. I don't see the quick cutting or requisite burst to get into the second level of a defense. The sample size is meager, but against the Colts, he looked ordinary.
  1. Lost in the mix, 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith was a raging nightmare against Dallas, harassing Tony Romo with a pair of sacks that cost the Cowboys 20 total yards and forced a pair of third-and-longs. Smith needs to do that weekly for a defense stripped of its leading men.

The latest "Around The NFL Podcast" recaps the Steelers-Ravens game and previews the other 15 games in Week 2.

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