nfl week 2: four things to keep an eye on

By Tayyib Abu

Week 2 of the NFL started with a bang as the Giants and the Washington Football Team played out a Thursday night thriller. Ron Rivera’s team snatched a last-gasp victory to kickstart their 2021 campaign.

The rest of the Week 2 slate features intriguing and exciting matchups: Zach Wilson gets his first crack at a Bill Belichick-led defense, while the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals will all want to back up their Week 1 victories.

The Ravens host the Chiefs in primetime, and the NFC South teams all begin their divisional games as they play each other in Week 2. The pressure is on in the NFC North, and who will hold the early advantage in the AFC South?

Here are four things to watch in Week 1 of the new season…

Can The Bengals Double Up Against The NFC North?

Cincinnati Bengals Jacksonville Jaguars
Credit: FanSided

The Bengals sprung one of the early shocks of the season as they outlasted the Vikings in Week 1. Joe Burrow returned from his nasty injury, and he guided the Bengals’ offense with aplomb. The Ohio-born quarterback got help from running back Joe Mixon. Mixon took advantage of the Vikings’ woeful run-defense as he rumbled his way to 127 yards for the day. Defensively, the Bengals caused the Vikings problems as they sacked Kirk Cousins three times. New free agent signing Trey Hendrickson impressed on his first outing in the jungle.

Hendrickson and his teammates may be hungry for more as they take on the Chicago Bears in Week 2. The Bears are experiencing chaos on their offensive line. Rookie Teven Jenkins went down with an injury in training camp. Veteran Jason Peters picked up an injury against the Rams, as did Larry Borom. It is a weak offensive line that lacks chemistry.

It is no surprise then, that Andy Dalton had the third-lowest time to throw in Week 1. To negate that, the Bears attempted a quick-passing game against the Rams. It didn’t work, and it might not work against the Bengals. All-Pro safety Jessie Bates patrols passing areas in the deep quadrant of the field as well as anyone.

Offensively, the Bengals match up well against the Bears. Chicago’s defensive coordinator Sean Desai is a graduate of the Vic Fangio school of coaching. Therefore the Bears like settling in a two-high shell in the defensive backfield. They’ll task their three-down linemen to block a gap and a half. Consequently, the Bears don’t stack the tackle box as they sell out for the pass.

The caveat with that plan is Mixon excelled against a light tackle box last week. The Bears used eight-man boxes only 25% of the time, and while the Bears’ defensive front is better than Minnesota’s, Mixon has a chance to break loose. Furthermore, the two-high shell is designed to disguise coverages after the snap on play-action plays. The Bengals don’t like using a ton of play-action. They ranked 23rd in the NFL last year in calling play-action plays.

The Bengals hold a strategic advantage over the Bears, and if they can protect Burrow, they could double up over the NFC North in the opening weeks of the season.

Are The Tennessee Titans In Trouble?

Credit: Jeff Haynes (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Titans have shone over the last two seasons in the NFL. A wild ride to the AFC Championship game in 2019-20 was followed by an AFC South title in 2020-21. However, despite all of that success, the Titans are a flawed team.

The main concerns are on the pass defense. The Titans ranked 30th in pass defense in the 2020 season. That was a drop from 21st in 2019. Moreover, the Titans have lost Malcolm Butler, Kenny Vaccaro, Desmond King, and Adoree Jackson. These four led the Titans in snap counts last year.

The Titans tried to remodel the secondary in the offseason. Caleb Farley is an exciting prospect, but he is inexperienced and recovering from serious injury. Janoris Jenkins provides plenty of veteran knowledge; however, he is on the back nine of his career.

Week 1 for the new-look outfit didn’t go well as the Cardinals cooked the Titans in the Nashville heat. The front seven couldn’t get any pressure. Murray had the fourth-highest time to throw in Week 1. And the secondary finished 30th in DVOA per Football Outsiders.

All of those defensive concerns pile enormous pressure on Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. Arizona contained Henry, and once Tennessee fell behind, they abandoned the running game. Tannehill is a good quarterback; however, he is brilliant in the play-action game. The drop-off is significant when Tannehill can’t use play-action. The Cardinals and Ravens stopped Henry, and the Titans’ offense couldn’t function.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Titans. They play another explosive passing attack as Russell Wilson comes home. Wilson dazzled against the Colts in Week 1. The Seattle offense looked efficient and explosive under new coordinator Shane Waldron. Unless the Titans can unleash Henry, the bulldozing running back can’t mask all of the Titans’ problems.

Shootout Or Chess Match?

Credit: USA Today

Justin Herbert passed a severe test in Week 1. Herbert played a clean, mature game, and he was money on third down as the Chargers defeated the Washington Football Team.

For Week 2, the spotlight falls on new head coach Brandon Staley. Staley came over from the Rams after a sparkling year as defensive coordinator. Staley’s coaching and tactical credentials get put to the test as his team welcomes the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite suffering injuries to headline players DeMarcus Lawrence and Michael Gallup this week, the Cowboys should once again be very competitive. The passing offense is one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL.

It is an intriguing matchup between the rising defensive philosophy and a high-powered offense. Staley is the star pupil of the Vic Fangio coaching tree. He will attempt to massage the Chargers into the two-high base formations and away from the Gus Bradley Cover 3 Seahawks style. The advantage of this is teams can slide into Cover 2, Quarters, or Cover 6 after the snap, especially after the snap on play-action plays.

The consequence of that is that teams leave a light tackle box. Last week, the Chargers stacked the tackle box on just 5% of plays against Antonio Gibson. That bodes well for Cowboys back Zeke Elliott. Elliott endured a difficult outing against the Bucs. Tampa Bay led the NFL in packing the box, and their front seven is nasty. Therefore it surprised no one that Elliott struggled.

How Staley’s defense matches up against the Cowboys is critical to success in this game. Elliott should get more advantageous looks in the running game, and it should quell the Chargers’ pass rush. Moreover, Tony Pollard should also enjoy a good day on the ground. Furthermore, the Cowboys ‘ tendencies set them up nicely for success. They don’t use a ton of play-action, and they lineup in the shotgun a lot.

If Cowboys coordinator Kellen Moore can take advantage of the Chargers’ secondary, this game could get out of control. Staley will want this game to be a defensive chess match. If the Cowboys’ offense gets on top, we could have a shootout on our hands. The Cowboys are still adapting to new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and new players are settling into a new system. Two high-powered offenses against new defenses could get out of control quickly.

The Ravens Might Need to Take Their Medicine

Credit: Gene J. Puskar (Associated Press)

Life only gets harder for the Baltimore Ravens. After a wild loss in overtime to the Raiders, the Ravens now face the Kansas City Chiefs. It is the ultimate acid test for Baltimore, and it is one they’ve failed the last two years.

For anyone that watched the Manning-cast on Monday night, the Ravens love to blitz. Baltimore’s staple defensive principle is Cover 0. Early on in the game against the Ravens, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr struggled against the blitz.

Wink Martindale won’t change his philosophy for anyone. In the first three quarters, Carr was 2/9 and 31 yards. In the fourth quarter, Carr went off as he threw for 156 yards and one touchdown against Cover 0.

Going up against the Chiefs and Mahomes might be a recipe for disaster. Patrick Mahomes’ passer rating is higher when teams blitz him over when teams don’t come after him. Mahomes is a master against the Ravens’ defensive looks. Don’t forget that the Chiefs crushed Baltimore in Week 3 in 2020 by attacking the same defensive tendencies.

The Ravens don’t match up well against the Chiefs. Not only is Mahomes brilliant, the Ravens like to leave their cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups against the opponents’ receivers. Marcus Peters is out, and Marlon Humphrey finished the game in Vegas banged up. Moreover, it is precarious taking on Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and company one-on-one.

The Ravens came into the season as a Superbowl favorite. A slew of injuries and a wild defeat in the desert have put them on the back foot. Now Baltimore takes on the most explosive team in the NFL. The Ravens might need to batten down the hatches and take their medicine in the early portion of the season.



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1