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Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence struggle, Chiefs-Ravens and more

Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence struggle, Chiefs-Ravens and more

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It’s only two weeks, but early returns have been ugly on Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. The top two overall picks aren’t getting help, and it’s showing. 

The kids are not alright.

Two weeks into their young careers, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have struggled mightily. Yes, ridiculously small sample size.

However, and most importantly, the infrastructure around them is horribly lacking.

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In New York, the Jets have a 34-year-old, first-time offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur, a first-time, defensive-minded head coach in Robert Saleh, a terrible offensive line and no experienced backup to speak of.

The result? Wilson is without help or a safety net. On Sunday, Wilson threw four interceptions in a listless 25-6 loss to the New England Patriots. When on the sideline, there’s nobody for Wilson to converse with, to ask about coverages a veteran has seen time and again. No, Wilson has second-string quarterback Mike White, who has never attempted an NFL pass.

Through two games, Wilson has thrown five interceptions and been sacked 10 times. New York has scored one touchdown. Next up? The Denver Broncos in their home opener at Mile High.

Speaking of Denver, the Broncos crushed Lawrence and the Jaguars’ offense on Sunday. After a scripted opening drive where Lawrence went 5-of-7 for 73 yards with a touchdown, the No. 1 overall pick was hideous, going 9-of-26 for 45 yards with two interceptions.

Similar to Wilson, Lawrence has no experience to help him along. Jacksonville is hoping first-time pro head coach Urban Meyer works out. So far, a disaster. The front office does have C.J. Beathard behind Lawrence, but the offense is unimaginably boring in scheme with Darrell Bevell at the controls.

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Lawrence also has five interceptions, throwing three last week against the Houston Texans.

While the refrain from many will center around young studs simply needing time, history says at least one is showing who they’ll continue being.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, here’s the list of quarterbacks taken 1-2 in the NFL Draft:

1971: Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning
1993: Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer
1998: Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf
1999: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb
2012: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III
2015: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota
2016: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz

Peyton Manning was a generational talent. Luck was terrific before an early retirement. The rest? Far from top-tier talents.

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In each case, save for the ’71 and ’16 crews, has one total bust. Other than Peyton, none have started and won a Super Bowl.

Yes, there are quarterbacks who struggled grandly to begin their careers before having Hall of Fame success. Troy Aikman was the top choice in 1989 for the Dallas Cowboys and didn’t win a game as a rookie. By the conclusion of 1995, he won three Super Bowls. In ’70, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose Terry Bradshaw at No. 1 overall and benched him before he reclaimed his job and won four titles in six years.

Hell, Manning threw a still-record 26 interceptions as a rookie. He turned out fine.

The common thread for Aikman, Bradshaw and Manning? Adults in the building. All had great head coaches and elite talent placed around them. This could happen for Lawrence and Wilson, but currently, both are fighting an impossible battle even in today’s quarterback-friendly NFL climate.

The kids might have great talent, but they are far from alright.

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NFL power rankings

Power rankings

Top 10 eligible quarterbacks not in the Hall of Fame

1. Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals (4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, ’81 MVP)
2. Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals (4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, ’88 MVP)
3. Joe Theismann, Washington Football Team (2x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, ’83 MVP, 1x SB)
4. Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders (4x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro, ’02 MVP)
5. Steve McNair, Tennessee Titans (3x Pro Bowl,  ’03 MVP)
6. Roman Gabriel, Los Angeles Rams (4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, ’69 MVP)
7. Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles (4x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro)
8. Jack Kemp, Buffalo Bills (7x AFL Pro Bowler, 2x AFL All-Pro, 2x AFL champ)
9. Bert Jones, Baltimore Colts (1x Pro Bowl, 1x All-Pro, ’76 MVP)
10. Phil Simms, New York Giants (2x Pro Bowl, 2x SB)

Quotable

“It was a rough day for us… We’re a young line and we’re trying to improve. But we can’t keep saying that shit.”

– Miami Dolphins guard Robert Hunt after losing 35-0 to the Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s defense will get the shine for a shutout victory in Miami and rightfully so, but the Dolphins offensive line essentially sponsored the outing. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier blitzed repeatedly and overwhelmed the front, notching six sacks on Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett while amassing 11 QB hits.

The Dolphins invested a first-round pick in left tackle Austin Jackson, who to this point has been poor. The rest of the line could also be described similarly. With Tagovailoa now nursing a rib injury, Miami could be down its starter for a bit. If the immobile Brissett has to play, the line better step up or things will quickly get far worse.

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Random stat

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions in 2019 while a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s in good company.

Only 11 players have ever thrown so many in a campaign, but of those men, only former New York Jets signal-caller Richard Todd didn’t make at least one Pro Bowl. Incredibly, four are in the Hall of Fame including Raiders’ legends George Blanda (who did it twice, including 42 picks in 1962) and Ken Stabler, Chicago Bears great Sid Luckman and Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings.

Undoubtedly a different, more pass-happy age when Winston earned the dubious feat, but good company nonetheless.

Podcast

Info learned this week

1. Ravens, Chiefs author instant classic with Lamar Jackson getting his win

The Baltimore Ravens were counted out before Sunday night. Not so fast.

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In what was a phenomenal offensive display, Baltimore outlasted Kansas City 36-35, with the teams combining for 886 yards. The difference was Lamar Jackson, who rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for another 239 yards and a score, alongside two interceptions. Ultimately, Jackson sealed the game with a 4th and 1 conversion, earning his first win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

As for Kansas City, the loss might be a harbinger. The Chiefs were gashed by the Browns in Week 1, allowing 457 total yards including 153 rushing for 5.9 yards per carry. On Sunday, Baltimore ran for 251 yards on 6.1. YPC. The Chiefs also got almost no push up front, giving Jackson time to make plays downfield.

Still, Kansas City can rightfully say that without a brutal fumble from Clyde Edwards-Helaire with 1:20 remaining at the Baltimore 34-yard line, the Chiefs probably win the game.

So what does it all mean?

For the Ravens, it’s a huge adrenaline rush knowing they can beat the AFC’s best. For Kansas City, it illuminates a festering defensive problem but, should the Chiefs keep Mahomes upright, nothing really changes. Andy Reid’s club remains top dog in the conference, even if Sunday was a rough one.

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2. NFC West continues to look like 17-week Battle Royale

The Seattle Seahawks blinked. Nobody else has batted an eye.

While the Arizona Cardinals came within a few feet of losing (more on that below), the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers gutted out tough victories in the Eastern time zone, moving all their records to 2-0. Meanwhile, Seattle blew a 24-9 third-quarter lead to the Tennessee Titans, losing at home to drop to 1-1.

Looking forward, Arizona must be smiling. The Cardinals go on a jaunt to Jacksonville to meet the Jaguars, while the Rams host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers welcome in the Green Bay Packers and Seattle visits the desperate 0-2 Vikings.

While this NFC West quartet will eventually play and cannibalize each other to an extent, the division seems worthy of the preseason hype.

3. Panthers making case as surprise NFC team after convincing win

There’s always a surprise 3-0 team in the NFL. This year, there’s going to be two.

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We’ll get to the Denver Broncos below, but on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers demolished the New Orleans Saints, forcing Jameis Winston into a pair of interceptions while Sam Darnold threw for 305 yards in a 26-7 win.

This week, the Panthers visit the Houston Texans, who will be starting third-round rookie quarterback Davis Mills after Tyrod Taylor’s hamstring injury.

So are the Panthers legit? Surveying the schedule, Carolina has a chance to stick. The Panthers play the AFC and NFC East, and should have at least a half-dozen winnable games from those divisions alone, along with a mediocre NFC South.

Eventually, Carolina needs to play a pair against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but there aren’t many contests where Darnold and Co. will be sizable underdogs.

4. Vikings lose in heartbreaking fashion to Cards in wild affair

The Minnesota Vikings almost feel destined for a housecleaning.

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Against the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings watched kicker Greg Joseph miss a 37-yard field goal as time expired, sealing a 34-33 loss in the desert. For Minnesota, the defeat drops them to 0-2 as it prepare for its home opener against the Seahawks. The season isn’t over, but for the Vikings — who have lost two excruciating games — it must feel like only a faint pulse exists.

On a day where quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns, and the rushing attack went for 177 yards on 6.1 YPC, the defense gave up 400 passing yards to Kyler Murray. All told, Minnesota’s defense forced two Murray interceptions but surrendered 474 yards and 7.9 yards per play, giving up 34 points.

While Minnesota has talent, it seems awfully similar to other years where the Vikings have personnel but no results. Perhaps it’s a Mike Zimmer problem. Perhaps it’s a Kirk Cousins problem. Maybe it’s a defensive problem. The issues seem to rotate.

For Minnesota, if things continue this way for 2021, maybe a change is in order.

5. Packers look to get right after hideous Week 1 showing

The Green Bay Packers are set up for a huge night. If they falter, sound the alarm.

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On Monday night, the Packers welcome in the overmatched Detroit Lions in their home opener at Lambeau Field. On the heels of a humiliating 38-3 loss to the Saints, Green Bay tries to even its record or fall into last place of the NFC North.

Should Aaron Rodgers and the Packers fail to put away Detroit under an early barrage of points, the questions will rightfully come. Green Bay dealt with an offseason full of noise, with everyone wondering if Rodgers wanted to be in Titletown come September. A convincing win, and everything settles. A loss or even a tight victory, and the criticism will be deafening before the Packers visit the 49ers on Sunday night.

Gambler’s game

Tease the Ravens and Cardinals, and don’t look back. Baltimore plays the Lions on short rest in Charm City, while Arizona goes cross-county to see Jacksonville. After watching the Jaguars for two weeks, don’t worry much about the flight time.

On WynnBet, a teaser would bring the Ravens’ line to -1.5 while the Cardinals would only need to win by a point. Should be easy money.

Two cents

The Denver Broncos are a fascinating team to keep tabs on.

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After beating the Jaguars 23-13, the Broncos now get their home opener with the Jets coming to Denver. Vic Fangio’s club has limitations at quarterbacks and injuries to deal with in receiver Jerry Jeudy and corner Ronald Darby, but they should start 3-0.

If they do, the question looms: Contender or pretender?

We’ll find out in short order. Starting Week 4, the Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens before visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, the unbeaten Las Vegas Raiders before another AFC North tilt with the Cleveland Browns in the Dawg Pound.

There’s always one team which rides an easy schedule to a hot start. There’s also always a team which surprises the masses.

Which one is Denver? The answer is in October.

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Inside the league

Backup quarterbacks. They’re always a source of contention among fans and general managers.

Some front offices believe a reserve signal-caller should be a cheap roster spot. After all, he hopefully won’t play and if the starting quarterback is hurt, the team is sunk anyway in some cases. Other GMs will tell you having a reliable backup, even at an expensive rate, is worth the investment.

On Sunday, we saw Indianapolis’ Carson Wentz sustain a sprained ankle while Tagovailoa was lost in the first quarter of Miami’s loss, carted off with a rib ailment. Then there’s Houston, which as aforementioned lost Tyrod Taylor. However, with the Texans in a full-scale rebuild, let’s put them aside.

For the Colts, they couldn’t have invested less Wentz’s understudies despite having ample cap space. General manager Chris Ballard has second-year man Jacob Eason and an undrafted rookie in Sam Ehlinger. Meanwhile, the Dolphins sent money to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick, signing Jacoby Brissett to a one-year, $7.5 million deal with $5 million guaranteed.

The only backups getting paid more than Brissett’s top value are Nick Foles (Bears) at $8 million and Taysom Hill (Saints) at $10.5 million, with the latter being more do-it-all piece than clipboard holder.

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If Wentz and Tagovailoa — both with significant injury histories — are sidelined, it’ll likely be the Dolphins feeling better about their situation, having paid for insurance.

History lesson

The Steelers and Raiders share an incredible rivalry. Arguably the AFC’s best for non-divisional foes.

In the 1970s, the teams squared off in five consecutive postseasons from ’72-76. The final trio of those meetings were in the AFC Championship Game, with Pittsburgh winning the first two and Oakland nabbing the last. On each occasion, the winner won the Super Bowl as well.

However, no game was more famous than the 1972 Divisional. At old Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers trailed 7-6 with 22 seconds remaining, backed up at their 40-yard line. Of course, what followed was running back Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception, with quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s desperation 4th-and-10 heave ricocheting off Raiders safety Jack Tatum and into Harris’ arms. From there, the future Hall of Famer ran 36 yards for the winning score.

Parting shot

The goat of Week 2? Joe Judge.

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The Giants’ head coach watched as his team made multiple curious decisions and bad mistakes at the end of their excruciating 30-29 loss to Washington.

Let’s focus on the three most egregious errors of the final two minutes:

1) After cornerback James Bradberry jumped a route and intercepting Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the Giants had 1st and 10 at the Football Team’s 20-yard line with 2:16 remaining, trailing 27-26. New York then proceeded called two runs and a short throw, resulting in a three-and-out with only 16 seconds elapsing.

2) With 28 seconds remaining and Washington at New York’s 48-yard line, head coach Ron Rivera calls timeout. When play resumed, New York had 13 — not 12, but 13 — guys on the field. Timeout Giants. A horrible job of communication and focus.

3) On the game-ending field goal attempt, Washington’s Dustin Hopkins misses. Penalty. Offsides, Dexter Lawrence. While it’s been debated ad nauseam whether Lawrence was truly in the neutral zone, it was far too close for comfort. Judge, a former special teams coach, has to be screaming to avoid penalties at all costs. Instead, five yards, another chance, and a loss.

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Judge’s Giants are 0-2, and he deserves plenty of blame for their plight.



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