The Cowboys were riding high after Week 1’s win over the hapless Giants. Then they lost to the Broncos in a 42-17 blowout, and it raises a fair question: Is this Cowboys team destined for yet another early exit from the playoffs?
It’s become a hallmark of this Dallas team. The Cowboys haven’t made it past the Divisional Round since 1995, and last year’s 13-3 team lost a heartbreaker to the Green Bay Packers in divisional play after earning the top seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.
Hopes were high for this team heading into the season. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott both had stellar rookie seasons, and Dallas boasts the best offensive line in the league. The team made moves this offseason to shore up the other side of the ball. The NFC East isn’t exactly shaping up to be the strongest division. Even considering how the Cowboys looked against the Broncos, there’s no reason to think this team can’t get to the postseason again.
But the Broncos also represent the caliber of team that Dallas will have to face in the postseason. Can the Cowboys make any noise once they get to the playoffs? That’s a fair question.
Panic index: Not only did the Broncos beat the Cowboys handily, they also cracked the code to shutting down the run game entirely and gave other teams film on how to make that happen. There’s cause for concern.
The good news for Dallas? Not every defense is built like the Broncos’:
No one knows when Sam Bradford is coming back
Sam Bradford spent his one active week of the 2017 season as the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Now he’s battling a cartilage issue that could keep him out for one week or six — head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t entirely clear on the issue.
"Sam is fine. He might play one game from now, he might play six weeks from now. Either way, he's fine." -Mike Zimmer on Bradford's status— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 17, 2017
With Bradford out, the Vikings had to call on Case Keenum -- 9-16 as a starter all time — to lead the Minnesota offense. He performed as well as could be expected, needing 37 passes to throw for 167 yards and failing to find the end zone in a 26-9 loss. While Dalvin Cook was able to continue his budding rookie campaign with a stellar 5.3 yards per carry, he only earned a dozen touches as his team played from behind the entire game.
Minnesota is hopeful Bradford will return to the lineup for a Week 3 game against Tampa Bay, a team who rolled Chicago in their season debut. The Vikings need to dial up the firepower to avoid falling under .500 early in the season, and they’ll need Bradford to do it. No team that has ever started Keenum has ever made it to the playoffs.
And if Keenum gets hurt? Minnesota’s backup — technically its fourth-string passer -- is Kyle Sloter, a Southern Mississippi wide receiver who spent exactly one season as a starting quarterback after transferring to FCS Northern Colorado.
Panic index: This is fine — if Bradford is back soon. But it’s understandable if Vikings fans are concerned about a knee injury to their quarterback, especially one who has torn his ACL twice. But Zimmer, for one, isn’t ready to concede anything:
DeShone Kizer is becoming a Browns QB ... and not in a good way
Kizer left the Browns’ loss to the Ravens on Sunday with a migraine, but was able to return to the game. He didn’t play well, though. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 182 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, and he also lost a fumble. Why, he played so poorly that he looked like a bona fide Browns quarterback.
Hue Jackson said after the game that he’s not concerned about Kizer’s confidence. And there’s probably some validity to that.
“He didn’t play as well yesterday, but the sky isn’t falling down by any stretch of the imagination,” Jackson said Monday via the team’s website. “This guy is everything I think he is.”
The Ravens defense has been a force so far. They dominated the Bengals, shutting them out 20-0, with four picked Andy Dalton passes and a forced fumble. So the way Baltimore played against the Browns is just par for the course so far.
Also, migraines are terrible. Most people cannot get out of bed when they’re fighting a migraine. Playing football with one sounds like a special kind of hell. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported that his migraines are hereditary, and he takes medications to prevent them. They don’t flare up often, which is good news for Kizer and the Browns.
Kizer showed promise in his first start, which was Week 1 against the Steelers. The Browns lost, but he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 221 yards, a touchdown, and one pick.
Some analysts felt Kizer would need time to refine his skill set before he could assume a starting role in the NFL, but he won the job in Cleveland. If a long history of quarterback ineptitude has Cleveland fans worried, we get it. But while Kizer may have some growing pains this season, this game should be an outlier for him.
Panic index: As long as Kizer stays migraine-free, he should bounce back.
The Seahawks offense looks terrible
You get what you pay for. So, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Seattle’s decision to assemble five random athletes in the same room and call them an offensive line hasn’t produced anything more than worry about Russell Wilson’s long-term health.
Supposedly, there’s a plan in place that will make it better, the rest of the offense just has to survive. Waiting for plans to pan out kind of sucks, though, but fans got a glimmer of hope this week thanks to running back Chris Carson.
Seattle’s offense has looked lost since losing Marshawn Lynch last year. The search for his replacement hasn’t been very fruitful either, but Carson may have claimed that role last week with a 20-carry, 93-yard effort, including a 14-yard run on the game-winning drive.
Panic index: A heightened state of concern is correct. However, if Carson can keep running like this, it’ll help the offensive line by backing off some of the pressure Wilson takes.
Le’Veon Bell hasn’t been explosive
Bell was more involved in Week 2 against the Vikings than he was the week before against the Browns. That’s a silver lining here. He’s getting back to his rightful place as one of the centerpieces in Pittsburgh’s offense after missing camp and the preseason.
However, 27 carries for just 87 yards leaves a little to be desired. That’s 3.2 yards per carry, which is also his average through two games, and well off his career mark of 4.4 YPC. This week, he gets the Bears defense, which isn’t as easy to run against as you might think. The entire Steelers offense has been grinding it out in low gear to start the season, so it’s not just Bell. Big plays will come. Bell is sure of it.
"I'm due for an explosion play. It hasn't happened yet,” he said assuredly after last week’s game. The good news that he’s having fun.
Le'Veon Bell said he had more fun this week than last. Smiles and explains, "You have more fun when you get the ball a lot."— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 17, 2017
Panic index: Patience. The early numbers are concerning, but there’s no reason to freak out just yet. Bell’s getting the touches and the looks you expect, so the numbers should come eventually. At the very least, give it another couple weeks before hitting the panic button.
The Jags’ Week 1 win was simply a tease
The Jaguars had a nice outing in Week 1 against the Texans — who were a mess. The Jaguars rolled over them on the road, after Tom Savage couldn’t get the Texans offense going and was benched in the second half for rookie Deshaun Watson.
The Jaguars were high in our hope rankings after their performance (No. 3), which included 10 sacks by the defense and 100 yards from Leonard Fournette. However, after their Week 2 performance, they dropped down to No. 25. Blake Bortles went 20-of-24 for 223 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. Not too hot.
Guess what? It’s not getting any easier in Week 3!
Through two games, the Ravens defense has 8 sacks, 7 interceptions and just 1 TD allowed. Next opponent: Blake Bortles and the Jaguars.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 18, 2017
No fear, Jaguars fans. If Blake Bortles doesn’t work out, there’s always Chad Henne or Ryan Nassib.
Panic index: Chad Henne and Ryan Nassib aren’t actually good other options! It doesn’t look like any other moves are going to be made at cornerback, and NFL defenses might eat the offense up all season. Sunday might not be all that fun if you’re a Jags fan.
Offenses that can’t score
17 teams have failed to muster an average of more than 20 points per game this season. For a lot of those squads, it’s just the statistical quirk of being a small sample size. The ones that should be the most concerned are the nine teams that still haven’t averaged more than 15 points a game — the Bears, Bengals, Bills, Browns, Colts, Giants, Seahawks, Texans and 49ers.
The numbers should improve soon enough for some teams. The Seahawks have enough skill talent and a quarterback that some smarter coaching and scheming could do wonders. Cleveland and Buffalo are rebuilding.
The Bears would be better once they abandon the Mike Glennon experiment. The Colts will improve when Andrew Luck comes back, someday. Not that either of those teams is going to turn themselves into a winner this year.
Panic index: Acceptance. It’s not going to get a lot better for most of these teams, except maybe the Seahawks. Three teams on this list really need to do some soul searching. The Bengals, Giants and Texans should all be much scoring at a better clip than they are. Plus, Houston and New York have the kind of defenses where they don’t necessarily have to score 30 points per game. Cincinnati feels like the most hopeless outfit on this list.