The first two Sundays of the NFL season have been wildly entertaining. After an oft-frustrating 2017 season saw breakout stars Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz suffer torn ACLs and future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt miss most of the campaign with injuries of their own, 2018 has delivered all kinds of drama through two weeks.
The numbers also reflect an entertaining product. In 2017, the league was criticized for a decline in scoring, supposedly reflecting a dearth of young quarterback talent. It’s difficult to reconcile that with the creativity and pass-happy attacks you see in the college game on Saturdays, and indeed, that hasn’t been the case this season. Teams are averaging 5.6 yards per play and 23.6 points per game, up considerably from the 5.2 yards per play and 20.2 points per contest they were averaging a year ago. In 2013, the highest-scoring season in league history, offenses averaged 5.4 yards per play and 22.3 points per game through two weeks. The offenses are fine.
Week 2 in the NFL
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While some are frustrated with two ties in two weeks, we’ve also seen close, competitive games. Sixteen of the 31 games played so far have been decided by seven points or fewer, which is slightly better than the average of 14.7 we’ve seen since the league went to its current structure in 2002. In 2017, there were only 10 such games, which was the leaguewide low over that time period.
Nobody would argue that the league is perfect, but we’re seeing an entertaining NFL. Let’s run through some of the players and reasons why Week 2 was enjoyable, starting with the league’s most stunning individual star right now …
Jump to a player/team: Mahomes | Rams’ D | Fitzpatrick | Davis | Bortles | Browns | Barkley | Green | Sarkisian | Rodgers
Patrick Mahomes and the NFL’s best offense
I wrote quite a bit about Mahomes’ debut last week, and after a six-touchdown day against the Steelers, he has to be the league MVP through two weeks. The historical markers are stratospheric. Mahomes is the first player to throw for six touchdown passes in one of his first five games as a pro. He’s the first quarterback in league history to throw 10 touchdown passes across his first three games, and that’s even considering Mahomes didn’t throw a TD pass in his career debut last season in Week 17.
Patrick Mahomes has 10 touchdown passes in two weeks, the most by a quarterback in NFL history through his team’s first two games of a season. Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire
The Chiefs tipped a little more of their hand in terms of concepts on Sunday, but honestly, Week 1 was more exotic than what we saw from Andy Reid & Co. in Week 2, at least before the All-22 comes out. The Steelers just don’t have the horses to keep up with the league’s best arsenal of weapons. Travis Kelce had a massive game, a sad sign that the Steelers don’t yet have a replacement for Ryan Shazier to cover top tight ends like Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. He absolutely torched inside linebackers Jon Bostic and Vince Williams and was a mismatch going deeper against Sean Davis. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is doing a great job with formation diversity and has weapons who can play against stereotypes. The Chiefs are comfortable coming out with multiple tight ends, keeping everyone in tight, and then using the threat of the jet sweep to open up passing lanes downfield. They’re also totally capable of spreading teams out and then using Mahomes’ mobility to escape the pocket or running with Kareem Hunt against a reduced box out of shotgun.
Week 2 takeaways for every team: Concern for Eagles, Steelers?
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The biggest injuries of NFL Week 2
The latest on all the big injuries from our NFL Nation reporters, including the prognosis on each player for Week 3 and beyond.
Forget rookie’s rough home opener: Sam Darnold will be a star
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They had their most explosive success spreading the Steelers thin. Reid stretched the field horizontally to isolate Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on fades and back-shoulder fades against Artie Burns, who presumably had less help than Cameron Sutton, who started on the other side for the injured Joe Haden. Burns couldn’t match up one-on-one, but to be honest, few cornerbacks in the league are going to be able to keep up with that sort of speed while also trying to maintain run integrity on the edge. There’s also intense pressure to tackle these guys in the open field, which is going to be a monumental task given the team speed up and down this receiving corps. Watkins had his first 100-yard game and could have added a 39-yard touchdown, but Mahomes had his only bad miss of the day before throwing a touchdown pass to Kelce three plays later. The Steelers had the right playcall on a third-and-goal pressure and got Mahomes to make a simple swing pass to Hunt, but the star running back simply ran over rookie Terrell Edmunds en route to the end zone.
If you’re a defensive coordinator looking to stop Mahomes and this Chiefs offense, my advice would be to lobby the NFL to make some sort of schedule change to push your matchup to 2023 or so. At the very least, try to get a November or December time slot so you’ll at least get to see everything they’re doing on tape. We still haven’t really seen the Chiefs get their running game going for big chunks of yardage with Hunt or Mahomes. When that shows up, you may just want to resign and wait for your team to hire Bieniemy to take over as coach.
In reality, there are ways teams will attack the Chiefs, although it’s going to be tough. The right defense is going to be able to drop seven in coverage and get pressure with its front four, given that pressure has greatly reduced Mahomes’ effectiveness through two games. When teams don’t bother the second-year quarterback, he has posted a league-best passer rating of 151.9 while completing 78.9 percent of his passes, averaging 11 yards per attempt, and throwing nine touchdown passes. When teams do get pressure, Mahomes’ passer rating falls to 101.6 percent, mostly because he completes only 47.1 percent of his throws. Mahomes looks incredibly smooth in the pocket, a testament to the work he has done in practice, but when teams bother him, we see a bit of the mercurial Mahomes from Texas Tech reappear.