One of the biggest surprises of the opening weekend of the 2014 season was the uncharacteristic meltdown -- melt might be the operative word here -- of the New England Patriots, who relinquished a 10-point halftime lead, were shut out in the second half and lost to the Dolphins in the searing midday Miami sun.
Miami used a persistent running game to wear New England down, to the tune of 191 yards on 38 carries -- a surprise, considering the Dolphins' own offensive line had been entirely overhauled after last year's bullying scandal. The Patriots' offensive line -- absent recently traded-away guard Logan Mankins and mixing and matching personnel -- allowed Tom Brady to be pressured 15 times, the second-highest total allowed by any team in the first week. The result: Brady completed just 51.8 percent of his passes, the lowest completion percentage among Week 1 starters, and he was less and less effective the further he threw downfield.
They'll get an answer quickly this Sunday in Minnesota. The temperature won't be a problem, but the explosiveness of Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson -- who combined for 177 yards rushing against the Rams (Patterson's 102 yards came on just three carries) in Week 1 -- might. (UPDATE:The Vikings announced Friday that Peterson will be deactivated for Sunday's matchup after it emerged that he'd been indicted by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child.)
To avoid the first 0-2 start of the Brady era, the Patriots have to test a Vikings defense that didn't get much resistance from St. Louis' backup quarterbacks, who threw for no touchdowns and two interceptions and were sacked five times. One key: more balance. The Patriots ran just 20 times while Brady had 56 attempts, the third-most in his career (the Patriots are 1-5 when he attempts at least 55 passes).
"There just hasn't been a lot of sample size, so we're trying to figure out the things we're good at, the things we're not good at, and then that's how you improve over the course of the year," Brady said. "You do things, and if they don't work, you kind of work all offseason to see if you can be better at certain things.
"Like I said before, you try to add new players, you try to add new schemes. You're hopeful things are a lot better and then ultimately you go out there and you put it to the test. If it doesn't work, you change. If it works, then you continue to build on it. But not everything works. You don't change everything -- you change some things. But ultimately, you're trying to have the best play, you're trying to anticipate it against the right defense, and you go out there and practice it and see how it works. And then if it doesn't work, you try to make adjustments moving forward."
1) Can Eli carry the load? This is a daunting statistic for the New York Giants: Last week, in their victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Arizona Cardinals allowed just 52 rushing yards at a clip of 2.2 yards per rush. That would suggest the Giants might be forced to put their fate against the Cards this Sunday in Eli Manning's hands -- which is where they probably don't want it to be. Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he waits half a season to judge a quarterback in a new offense, and it looks as if Manning, who struggled through the preseason and then in Week 1 with coordinator Ben McAdoo's new system, will need all of that time. He completed just 54.5 percent of his passes against Detroit on Monday and was intercepted twice. In Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, the Cardinals have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, and they will surely be looking to feast on Manning's struggles.
2) Which Brian Hoyer will show up in Cleveland? The one who let the Browns fall into a 27-3 hole against the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the one who roared back to tie the game before Cleveland lost? And will he be facing the New Orleans Saints defense that finished in the top five last season, or the one that yielded 568 yards to the Falcons in a Week 1 defeat? Hoyer was especially good from the no-huddle Sunday, completing 80 percent of his passes compared to just 52.4 percent after huddling -- Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau admitted that no-huddle teams have "rattled" the Steelers. But to really take advantage of where the Saints' defense appeared most vulnerable against Atlanta, Hoyer will have to air out his passes. New Orleans gave up five passes of at least 20 yards in the air to Matt Ryan, the most in the NFL in Week 1, and 10 completions of at least 10 yards in the air, also the most in the NFL last week. Ryan was 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) on throws of at least 10 yards in the air, the best mark in the NFL heading into Week 2. Hoyer completed eight of 15 passes of at least 10 yards in the air against Pittsburgh (a 53.3 completion percentage), but he had far more success with the tactic in the second half, when he completed seven of nine passes of at least 10 yards in the air. In the first half, he was 1-of-6 on such passes.
3) Can the Cowboys -- especially Tony Romo -- reverse the errors of their Week 1 ways? San Francisco scored 21 points off Dallas turnovers last week, the most in the league in Week 1. Romo threw three interceptions and was sacked three times in his first game since undergoing back surgery. He had particular trouble with intermediate and deep passes. On throws that traveled at least 5 yards in the air, he was 10-of-21 with three interceptions, and he was much less effective when taking the snap from under center instead of in the shotgun. The Cowboys' opponents this week, the Tennessee Titans, allowed just 245 yards of total offense and one third-down conversion to Alex Smith and the Chiefsin Week 1, while notching four sacks.
4) Numbers show trouble brewing for Chiefs. Smith threw all three of his Week 1 interceptions on passes of at least 10 yards in the air. This week, he faces a revived Denver Broncos defense that held off a late charge by Andrew Luck's Coltslast Sunday night. Smith and Co. will have to do a lot better, because the Chiefs' defense is going backwards; when they allowed 405 yards to the Titanslast Sunday, it marked the seventh time in their past nine games they've given up at least 400 yards. Last year, Kansas City allowed an average of 481 yards in its two games against the Broncos, and now the Chiefs are without Derrick Johnson, who tore his Achilles and is out for the season. The Titans averaged 4 yards per play when Johnson was on the field last week and 6.3 yards when he was off of it.
5) Can the Colts' defense find its footing against a hobbled Eagles O-line? Indianapolis, which will be without Robert Mathis all season, managed just one sack and a handful of pressures against Peyton Manning on Sunday. But the Colts will have a chance to do better when they face the Eagles' Nick Foles on Monday, as Philly's offensive line, which was intact all of last season, has been beset by absences. The Eagles placed offensive lineman Allen Barbre (who was the replacement for the suspended Lane Johnson) on injured reserve, while Evan Mathis, a Pro Bowl selection, landed on injured reserve-designated to return. And while they came back from 17 points down to score a 17-point victory over Jacksonville in Week 1, we should note they gave up five sacks in the process. While coach Chuck Pagano said Mathis' sack total will have to be replaced by committee, there is a Colts player to watch: second-year pro Bjoern Werner, who starts in Mathis' place and was easily held at bay by the Broncos' Ryan Clady last week. Protecting Foles -- and battling the crowd noise the Eagles will face in Lucas Oil Stadium -- is critical if the quarterback is to rebound from his three-turnover start to the year after committing four all last season.
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6) The halting development of Robert Griffin III continues. In last week's loss to the Texans, Griffin completed 78.4 percent of his passes -- but he was just 4-of-8 on passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. And Washington scored just six points while converting just 25 percent of its third-down chances. The third-year pro was pressured 18 times (the most in the league in Week 1) by the Texans' superb defense, and now he faces Jacksonville, which sacked Foles five times last Sunday.
7) How will Josh McCown and Co. handle the Rams? Minnesota used short drops and quick passes to negate St. Louis' vaunted pass rush last weekend, and Matt Cassel was practically untouched by a team that notched 53 sacks in 2013. The Bucs figure to use the same strategy against the Rams in an effort to get Josh McCown and an offense that struggled badly last week a chance to score more than 14 points and pass for more than 162 yards (29th in the league in Week 1). Tampa Bay will get a reprieve in the form of defensive end Chris Long's placement on the Rams' injured reserve-designated to return list with an ankle injury. Still, the Bucs' offensive line -- a concern entering the season -- must contend with Robert Quinn, who had three sacks when the teams played last December. McCown was pressured 12 times by the Panthers last Sunday, tied for third-most in the first week.
8) In his second NFL start, Derek Carr gets to face J.J. Watt. Good luck to the Raiders' rookie quarterback. While Oakland's offensive line can focus on keeping Watt off Carr, thanks to Texans first-round pick Jadeveon Clowneybeing lost for at least a month with a knee injury, the unit will need all the help it can get. Last week, Watt had one sack, five quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. The Raiders' offense with Carr was barely functional, posting 11 drives against the Jets, excluding kneel downs -- and just two of those drives went more than 30 yards. Oakland finished the day with 158 yards of offense and 25 rushing yards.
9) Will Green Bay get right versus Gang Green? When Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked this week how to defend Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he joked that he hoped Rodgers would get sick. Actually, Ryan's defense had some success the one time it faced Rodgers (in 2010), holding him to a career-low 44.1 percent completion rate with no touchdowns. But the Jets' secondary is depleted -- New York hopes to get starting cornerback Dee Milliner back from a high ankle sprain. After facing Carr last week, this will be the first litmus test for the unit. Do not expect Rodgers to avoid the right side of the field, as he did against Richard Sherman in the Packers' loss to the Seahawkslast Thursday. Just 24 percent of his passes went to the right side in Seattle, a marked difference from the pattern he established from 2011 to 2013, when 46.7 percent of his passes went to the right. Regardless of where he throws the ball, Rodgers is 28-2 in his last 30 starts at home when he made at least 10 attempts. This is the start of a brutal stretch for the Jets against top-level quarterbacks. After Green Bay, they face Chicago (Jay Cutler), Detroit (Matthew Stafford), San Diego (Philip Rivers), Denver (Peyton Manning)and New England (Tom Brady).
10) Running up the flags. While penalties were way down from the preseason to Week 1, they were slightly up from last year and significantly up with regard to the points-of-emphasis calls. Last year, 250 penalties were called in Week 1; this year, it was 268, an increase of about one per game. Just two illegal contact penalties were called in Week 1 of 2013 -- compared to 13 last week. Also in Week 1 of 2013, there were eight defensive holding penalties, five offensive pass interference penalties and three defensive illegal use of the hands penalties called; last week, there were 25 defensive holding penalties, 12 offensive pass interference penalties and nine defensive illegal use of the hands penalties called.