Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for Week 3, starting with a look at high-powered offenses that are underperforming:
The big questions
Can the Giants get their season on track?
The boos reverberated through MetLife Stadium on Monday night, following the New York Giants into their locker room midway through what became a deflating 24-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on national television. The Giants, seen by some as a playoff contender heading into the season, are 0-2, with an offense that can’t seem to do anything right. And now they’ll travel to face a Philadelphia Eagles team that has nearly a 70 percent chance of winning in Week 3, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul called this “a must-win game,” and it’s the offense that will have to step up.
New York’s offensive funk stretches further than this season. The Giants have gone seven consecutive games — eight, if you include the playoffs — without scoring 20 points, a streak they have not topped since the late 1970s, according to ESPN Stats Information. In those seven games, they have managed eight touchdowns and 13.1 points per game, all last in the NFL. A healthy Odell Beckham Jr. can fix a lot but not everything. He can’t fix the Giants’ leaky pass protection, and he probably can’t fix a running game that has totaled 97 yards in the first two games.
Still: There’s a lot of talent on this offense, and it doesn’t seem as though any team is running away from the NFC East. Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh has a message for the fans: “Stick with us. Don’t turn your backs on us just yet. Just give us a chance here.”
The Seahawks’ offense is better than this … right?
Let’s go out on a limb here and say that it is. The Seahawks, with 21 points through their first two games, have scored a touchdown in only one of their five trips to the red zone. Their receivers have dropped 6.3 percent of their passes, the fifth-highest mark in the NFL. These don’t figure to be recurring issues. And there’s one notable positive here: that seventh-round pick Chris Carson seemingly has emerged as a productive runner, adding an unexpected layer of depth to the Seahawks’ backfield.
But, yeah, that offensive line.
Russell Wilson has been sacked or put under duress on 39 percent of his dropbacks, the third-highest mark in the league. Some of that is caused by holding onto the ball a little longer than most, but more of it stems from an offensive line that didn’t improve enough over the offseason. Wilson himself hasn’t been good, either. He has a 40.9 Total QBR (23rd among 32 qualified quarterbacks) and a 56.1 percent completion rate (29th). He has completed only 31.8 percent of his passes when throwing more than 10 yards downfield, after completing 53.5 percent of such attempts from 2012 to ’16.
Not good, but obviously there’s a track record that suggests Wilson will be better. The Seahawks face a tough road test against the Tennessee Titans, but Wilson says he thinks the Seahawks’ offense is only “a few plays away.”
How does Ezekiel Elliott bounce back?
Elliott rushed for 104 yards in Week 1, then gained a career-low 8 yards on nine carries for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. Research from the Elias Sports Bureau says Elliott is only the fourth defending rushing champion in the past 40 years to have a game in which he averaged less than 1 yard per carry. But it isn’t just his production on the ground. It’s the pending legal issues that could keep Elliott out of six games, either this season or the next. And now there are all those questions about his effort after he failed to hustle on a couple of interceptions.
Cowboys Nation is freaking out, people.
But let’s put this in perspective a little bit: Elliott ran for only 51 yards in his first game of 2016, then fumbled twice in his second. Then, well, he went nuts, and it helped quarterback Dak Prescott turn in an equally impressive rookie season. Prescott needs more of the same now. Defenses are continuing to load up the box and force Prescott to throw more often than ever. He has thrown at least 39 times in each of his two games this season, after doing that in only two of 16 games last season. His Total QBR has gone from 78.8 to 54.5 as a second-year player.
The Cowboys are coming off managing only 268 net yards in a 42-17 blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, and now they’ll visit an Arizona Cardinals outfit that allowed a mere 4.79 yards per play last season.
“We’re a very strong team,” Elliott said earlier this week. “I think we respond well with adversity.”
Numbers that matter
20.15: The points per game, per team, through the first two weeks of this season (not including the combined 80 the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers scored Thursday). It’s the lowest rate through the first two weeks since 2010. In those two weeks, the average Total QBR was 48.8 and the passing-touchdown rate was 3.7 percent. Both were the lowest through the first two weeks since 2006.
2.8: The Steelers’ rushing yards per attempt so far. It’s the worst mark in the league and the fourth-lowest rate in franchise history through the first two games of a season in the wild-card era (since 1990). Le’Veon Bell, who held out until the day after the preseason finale, has rushed for 119 yards on 37 attempts. Thirty-two running backs averaged more yards per carry than Bell through the first two weeks.
2: The number of times the reigning Super Bowl-champion quarterback has ever matched up against the reigning college football national-champion quarterback. The first meeting? Aaron Rodgers against a rookie named Cam Newton, in Week 2 of the 2011 season. The second? Set for Sunday, in the Patriots-Texans game, when decorated champion Tom Brady squares off against touted rookie Deshaun Watson.
0: The number of touchdowns allowed by the Panthers in their first two games. If they somehow do it again, against a high-powered Saints offense, they’ll join some very rare company. Since the forward pass was allowed in 1933, only two teams have not allowed a touchdown in each of their first three games, according to Elias. They are the 1934 Lions (seven straight games) and the 1937 Bears (three straight).
15,674: The Dolphins’ airline mileage through their first three games. Miami won’t play its first home game until Week 5 because of Hurricane Irma. Before then, they will have traveled for road games against the Chargers (4,664 round-trip miles) and Jets (2,168 miles). Then they’re at “home” in London to host the Saints, which constitutes an 8,842-mile trip. Don’t forget: They already had their bye in Week 1.
What we’ll be talking about after Week 3
The AFC West is as good as it gets
The Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs are all 2-0, and a mere five points — more specifically, a more accurate kicker — is the difference between the Los Angeles Chargers being 0-2 instead of 2-0.
In short, all the AFC West teams are good.
We all knew the Broncos’ defense would be good, but Trevor Siemian already has thrown for six touchdowns and C.J. Anderson already has run for 199 yards. The Chiefs, who face the Chargers this week, are the only team in the NFL with both an offense and a defense ranked in the top 10, according to FPI. The Raiders are averaging an NFL-best 30.5 points per game and have yet to turn the ball over.
This might be it in New Orleans, Arizona
By the end of Week 3, it could be clearer than ever that this year signifies the end of the road for two of the NFL’s most prolific coach-quarterback combinations — Drew Brees and Sean Payton of the Saints and Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians of the Cardinals.
The Saints, looking to avoid their third consecutive 0-3 start, are hindered largely by a defense that ranks last in the NFL in efficiency by a wide margin. They are only the sixth unit of the Super Bowl era to allow 1,000 yards over the first two games of a season.
The Cardinals should continue to have a hard time recovering from the long-term loss of star running back David Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year. Johnson’s absence puts way too much pressure on Palmer (37 years old) and Larry Fitzgerald (34). It could get ugly there too.
Aaron Rodgers can’t do this alone
Rodgers can do amazing things, but even he has his limits. This week might offer a good example. On Friday, the Packers listed seven players — seven — as doubtful for their Sunday game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Six of them are starters: wide receiver Randall Cobb, left tackle David Bakhtiari, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, cornerback Davon House, outside linebacker Nick Perry and inside linebacker Jake Ryan. Two others, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, were questionable.
With both of his starting tackles out in Week 2, Rodgers’ average pass traveled 4.8 yards past the line of scrimmage, his shortest average since October 2014. He has thrown only 23 passes with both Nelson and Cobb off the field the past two seasons, and that is a very real possibility in Week 3.
There’s also this: The Bengals are the only team Rodgers has never beaten.