Four Contenders In Need of Week 2 Win
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Every year, the first week of the NFL season brings us some results that nobody expected. It’s important not to jump to conclusions based on one game that a team could shake off as a random loss if it took place in November.
But while one loss is easy to ignore, two losses are not.Over the past five seasons, only four out of the 40 teams that lost their first two games ended up making the playoffs.
That fact brings extra urgency to two of Sunday’s best games. Each one matches two teams that were considered Super Bowl contenders just one week ago. Each game features a longstanding, heated divisional rivalry. Two of these teams will get their seasons on the right track, and two of these teams will be scrambling for hope on Monday morning.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (0-1) AT DENVER BRONCOS (0-1)
(Sunday, 4:15 p.m.)
This game revolves around two quarterbacks, but only one of them will actually be on the field.
Nearly all predictive trends pointed to Kansas City as a leading Super Bowl contender entering this season, with one caveat: The team has almost no depth.They took an immediate blow to start the preseason when both starting tackles retired. Sunday, their replacements were clearly not up to the job. Cincinnati, one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league, sacked Trent Green three times and forced him to scramble three times by the middle of the third quarter.
On that third scramble, Green’s head slammed against the turf as he was tackled by Cincinnati defensive lineman Robert Geathers.The hit knocked Green unconscious for 11 minutes and will likely keep him out of action for at least a month.The loss of Green exposes the biggest hole on a depth chart full of holes. Green had started every game since joining the Chiefs in 2001. His backup, Damon Huard, had thrown one pass in five years before finishing Sunday’s game. Third-stringer Brodie Croyle was playing for the University of Alabama a year ago and hardly saw the field in preseason.
While Chiefs fans are praying that their rookie prospect won’t be thrown into the fire this soon, Broncos fans are practically begging for their young prospect, first-round pick Jay Cutler. The Broncos’ opening day loss to St. Louis can almost entirely be pinned on the shoulders of starting quarterback Jake Plummer, who threw for just 138 yards against a secondary considered to be one of the league’s worst. He also threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away once.
The good news for the Broncos is that their Week 1 loss was the kind that most often proves to be a fluke at season’s end: a close game on the road. Aside from the passing game and weak kick returns, the Broncos did not have a bad day. The running back tandem of Tatum Bell and Mike Bell (no relation) gained 161 yards on just 25 carries. The defense got stronger the closer the Rams came to scoring: From Denver’s 40-yard line to the end zone, the Rams averaged just 1.8 yards a play, and they did not score a single touchdown.
The only two big plays the Denver defense gave up were long runs by Rams running back Steven Jackson, so the Broncos definitely need to worry about All-World Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. But there are strong odds that the Chiefs passing game will be toothless given the troubles on the line and the massive downgrade from Green to Huard. Kansas City’s defense has improved this year, but their offense is falling apart, and they will probably head home from the Rockies 0–2, wondering where the season went.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (0-1) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (0-1)
(Sunday, 8:15 p.m.)
Like Plummer, Drew Bledsoe is hearing footsteps behind him after a three-interception opening game. Fans are calling for him to be replaced by second-stringer Tony Romo. Washington presents both a good and a bad opportunity to prove he can keep his job.
It’s a good opportunity because Washington’s best cornerback, Shawn Springs, is still recovering from abdominal surgery; he’s listed on the injury report as doubtful. Last year, Springs may have been the best cornerback in football. Only 31% of the passes thrown at him were successful plays, the lowest figure in the league, and opponents averaged just 5.2 yards per pass against him, third in the league.
With no Springs, the Cowboys will get to match the best receiving corps in the league against sophomore Carlos Rogers, who is talented but still learning, Kenny Wright, who was always played far off the line in Jacksonville last year because of his habit of getting beat deep, and Mike Rumph, about whom the less said the better.
The effect of Springs’s absence was obvious during Washington’s opening loss to Minnesota. Over and over, the Vikings threw to a wide open Troy Williamson streaking down the field, and the Redskins were lucky that Williamson dropped many of these. Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will not be dropping those passes.
On the other hand, Bledsoe can’t get the ball to Owens and Glenn if he’s lying on his back. Jacksonville consistently bullied the inferior Dallas offensive line, and flustered by the pass rush, Bledsoe threw the ball directly to Jaguars defenders.
On the other side of the ball, Washington’s offensive style fits well with Dallas’ weaknesses. Last year, Cowboys cornerbacks were among the best in the league. But the linebackers and safeties ranked 31st in defending passes to tight ends, and the front seven gave up running yards easily.That’s the perfect setup for Washington’s offense that ran a two tight end set more often than any other in 2005. Expect to see a rebound from tight end Chris Cooley after a poor night against the Vikings, and a lot of power runs from Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis. (The latter is expected to play, though he’s still recovering from a preseason shoulder subluxation.) Just when the Cowboys are bringing guys up, the Redskins will throw the bomb to Santana Moss — who gained 232 yards and scored two touchdowns in two games against Dallas last season.
To win this game, Dallas has to stop the Washington running game and somehow contain Moss. If they can do that, the game comes down to whether Bledsoe can get the ball to Owens and Glenn before the Washington defenders get to him. If he can’t, he will be riding the pine when the Cowboys return from their Week 3 bye.
Mr. Schatz is the editor in chief of FootballOutsiders.com.