3 Week 3 Storylines to Watch: Can the Eagles Reverse Their Fortunes?
Well, football fans. You know what time it is. We are a mere two days away from the first half of the last half of the first quarter of the 2015 football season.
In other words, Week 3 is upon us.
Week 2 brought its fair share of surprises and highlights. The Colts offense looked surprisingly inept for the second week in a row. The Broncos offense looked similarly inept until Peyton Manning was allowed to operate out of the shotgun and engineer a game-tying score in the fourth quarter. The Green Bay Packers finally struck a blow against their non-divisional rivals in the Seattle Seahawks. And Sam Bradford threw for fewer yards than my unsurprisingly weak golf drive can produce.
These among many other Week 2 dramatics left football fans with a lot to think about in the ensuing days. But alas, it's still early in the season, so making any definitive conclusions about the true mettle from which our favorite teams and players are made of seems a bit rushed. But Week 3 will get us one Sunday closer to being able to do so.
With that said, here are three storylines you need to be following as we head into Sunday for Week 3.
Can the Eagles Turn up the Heat?
If you'd told me that the Colts, Eagles, and Seahawks would all be 0-2 heading into Week 3 before the season began, I would've asked you to bet me money that I knew I didn't have. Thankfully, you, or nobody else decided to come at me so correct.
The Colts current situation is the most understandable given that they've played the newly revamped Jets defense, as well as the Bills, who while not exactly crushing their opponents to submission in 2015 yet, still boasted the second-best overall defense in terms of our schedule-adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics in 2014.
The Seahawks have also faced two tough tests, being defeated on the road against their division rival in the St. Louis Rams, who sported a top-10 defense last season, and the offensive juggernaut in the Green Bay Packers in a rematch from last season's NFC title game.
But the Eagles have looked amazingly bad on offense. Reigning rushing title champ, DeMarco Murray, currently sports a yards per carry average lower than one. New quarterback, Sam Bradford, has looked awful for much of his time on the field and currently boasts the 25th best Passing NEP per drop back out of the 38 quarterbacks to take a snap thus far this season. Their lone bright spot on offense has been receiver Jordan Matthews, who currently has the 16th highest Reception NEP in the league.
The Colts and Seahawks are primed to right their ships in Week 3, facing the Titans and Bears respectively, both of which finished as bottom-10 passing and rushing defenses in 2014. But the Eagles truly are staring down the barrel of 0-3 headed into New York to face the Jets. Can Chip Kelly dial up a game plan to circumvent Revis Island and the Jets' raucous defensive line? We'll find out on Sunday.
The Return of Le'Veon Bell
Pittsburgh Steelers fans and someone in your fantasy league are holding hands in spirit right now while crying tears of joy at Le'Veon Bell's freedom from his two-game suspension.
In his stead, DeAngelo Williams turned back the clock to 2008 and got stupid with it, currently boasting the league's second-highest Rushing NEP through two weeks. But let's be real here, and this is coming from a ride-or-die for-DeAngelo-Williams kind of dude as a longtime Panthers fan. He wasn't going to keep up that kind of production.
After posting a 43-point massacre against the 49ers last week, the Steelers are in line to get the best dual-threat running back in the league back on Sunday. How good is he? Through the air Bell notched a 0.61 Reception NEP per target last season, which is barely below the league average for wide receivers. That's insane, because passes directed at running backs are primarily comprised of short-range dump offs, so there's no way they should be expected to produce that much with such short target depth. But Bell did.
On the ground Bell was also a beast, rocking a 0.06 Rushing NEP per rush, ranking sixth among the 32 backs with 150 carries or more in 2014. Bell's Total NEP (his combined, cumulative Rushing NEP and Reception NEP) of 82.85 was best among all running backs. Second place? Marshawn Lynch at a distant 46.38.
With the Steelers' offense already ranking first in the league in Adjusted NEP, the team might literally explode with points. They'll get a tough test going up against the Rams' defense, but expect the Steelers to get Bell involved early and often.
Did the Broncos Find Their Formula?
Things were looking really bad for the Denver Broncos through the first half of Week 2. Peyton Manning had already thrown his second pick-six of the season, and the team was down 14-0 in the second quarter against the Chiefs.
But after getting constantly harassed by the Chiefs' offensive line, Manning and the Broncos returned to their once-familiar formula of operating their offense out of the shotgun, after which, albeit with some help from an Aqib Talib interception, Manning tossed two touchdowns to close out the second half. He also drove the Broncos down the field for a game-tying touchdown drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, which was followed up by a Jamaal Charles fumble that the Broncos promptly scooped up to return to the end zone for the win.
Our own Austan Kas recently detailed the transition the Broncos made mid-way through the second quarter to Manning's more familiar shotgun-based offense, and the positive effect it could have on opening up running lanes for beleaguered first-round-fantasy-pick, C.J. Anderson. In fact, this may be the scheme the team has to roll with given their woes on their offensive line, and the still-somewhat-shaky performance from Manning, who currently ranks 36th among quarterbacks in per drop back passing efficiency two weeks into the season.
It remains to be seen whether or not head coach Gary Kubiak will attempt to revert back to his more run-focused scheme, or hew closer to what Manning is more comfortable with. But whatever scheme the team decides to roll with, without a strong four-quarter showing, the proclamations of the Sheriff being done will only continue to get louder, fair or not.