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Zwiller: What to watch for in NFL Week 2

With the conclusion of a crazy Broncos vs. Seahawks game on Monday Night, a wild Week 1 has concluded. As we head into Week 2, I wanted to take a moment to look back on Week 1 and talk about some of the oddities.

Wide Receiving Struggles: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers

In the offseason, a few of the teams that I suspected to have lackluster pass catchers were the Patriots, the Colts and the Packers. Last weekend the Colts had 352 receiving yards, with Michael Pittman Jr. leading the way with 121 yards on 9 receptions and a touchdown.

So, the Colts move from problem to suspect. It was the Texans after all, I am not inclined to trust their defense. The Packers and Patriots, however, looked all the more suspicious.

The Packers had a total of 260 receiving yards which is fine. Until you realize that their leading pass catcher was running back AJ Dillon with just 46 yards. And yes, there was a dropped 75-yard touchdown pass that could have changed everything. But almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Granted, this might not be a long-term problem. Key Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard was out on Sunday with an ankle injury. Assuming he comes back the Packers could get right back into form and Minnesota is just this year’s New Orleans. I still think the Packers are going to end up missing Davante Adams, but only time will tell.

Unlike the Packers, the Patriots do not have an absence they can blame their lack of a passing game on. The Patriots had just 213 yards in their game against the Dolphins, and that might be a mark the Patriots hover around for the rest of the season. The offense lacks a dynamic weapon. And with quarterback Mac Jones entering his second year, I expect a bit of a slump for him and for the unit to struggle for the rest of the season.

Fumble Struggles: Baker Mayfield and Matt Ryan

One of the odder results (at least to me) was Indianapolis at Houston, a game in which Matt Ryan had a ridiculous four fumbles. While only one of them was a turnover, those fumbles did legitimately kill off some good drives for the Colts.

The first fumble was in the second quarter when Ryan fumbled on the Houston 30. It lost the Colts seven crucial yards. It caused Indy to punt. The second fumble came on the Houston 40 in the third quarter and the Texans were able to grab the ball. 

Next in the third quarter, Ryan fumbled on his own 20, recovered it himself and then the Colts punted. Ryan’s final fumble came in overtime. And while it did not kill the Indianapolis drive, it did lose them three yards, which proved critical as kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard field goal.

Baker Mayfield had an equally horrible fumble performance, racking up four against his former team, the Browns. 

His first came in the first quarter on third down, and though the play resulted in a three-yard gain, the Panthers still punted. On Carolina’s next drive, Baker fumbled again, though was able to pass for three yards. In the third quarter on third and 12, Baker fumbled, though it was recovered by Carolina. Then in the fourth, Baker fumbled in the red zone. Once again, he was able to recover, and the Panthers would kick a field goal.

By and large, these fumbles were the product of a poor center-to-quarterback snap. And in both cases, most of the blame is on the quarterbacks. While I would expect both Ryan and Mayfield to get better as the season progresses and their problems with the snap to go down, it is something worth looking out for. 

Both games could have been dramatically different. If, say, Mayfield does not fumble inside of the redzone with 1:25 left in the Panthers-Browns game. Carolina missed a chance to score a touchdown which proved critical in a 24-23 loss. If it happens again, it could cost each team another win. 

Derrick Henry

Since his injury last season, I have been suggesting that the Titans bell cow running back would likely not look the same as he did before his injury. 

In his return to the team in 2022, when the Titans hosted the Bengals, Henry had 20 carries but only produced 62 yards, though he did have a touchdown. That game was a horribly inefficient game for Henry, who averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.

And while that can be explained away by rust following a large period of recovering from an injury, his showing against the Giants is a potentially alarming indicator. For the Titans offense to work, Henry needs to be averaging a lot more per carry — at the very least 4.5, but ideally closer to five per carry like he did in 2019 and 2020.

Interceptions

Another odd offensive outlier was interceptions, with Carson Wentz throwing a pair, Derek Carr tossing three, and Joe Burrow throwing an insane four interceptions. 

Burrow’s pick-six was a good play by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. On the second one, Burrow was hit while he threw. The third was just an excellent interception by Pittsburgh star T.J. Watt. And the fourth felt like a 50-50 ball that the Steelers just came up with.

Carr’s first was an aggressive throw that was risky, and the Chargers’ defense made him pay for it. The second interception came early in the fourth quarter on a deep-down field throw into double coverage. I get why Carr threw it. The Chargers were ahead 24-13, and the Raiders needed points. But it certainly hurt. Hurting worse was Carr’s third pick, which came just a few minutes later as a low pass to Hunter Renfrow was intercepted. 

Wentz’s first interception was in the fourth quarter. A cornerback reading the play picked him off, perfectly jumping the out route. The second came the next Commanders drive, not two game minutes later, when linebacker Travon Walker picked him off as he pressured.

With some of these interceptions, they honestly feel like a fluke. I do not see Burrow having a four-interception game again this season. And I would be surprised if Carr had three again as well. Carr has never had more than 14 interceptions in a season. I think of him as a quarterback who is good about not turning the ball over. Wentz, meanwhile, is well Wentz. 

Like the fumbles from earlier, these turnovers took these teams out of the game. Or, in the case of the Commanders, put the Jags back in it. The Bengals had to work their way back into the game and could have won it because of how bad the Steelers are. And the Chargers game was put out of reach by those two late interceptions.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Tom at twziller@nd.edu