What Have We Learned From Week 3 of the 2015 NFL Season

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Charles Woodson

Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson celebrates after an interception in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Cleveland. The Raiders won 27-20. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 2 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

                                                                                Ups

  • Raiders, Falcons, Panthers lead early turnarounds in 2015 NFL Season– So the Raiders can win on the road — and in the Eastern time zone, too.And the NFC’s power lies in the South, of all places, at least through three weeks.

    Reversing fortunes both long-standing and recent has been a trend early in the NFL season. Again, it’s still September, so placing too much stock in what we have seen out of Oakland, Atlanta and Carolina might be unwise.

    It’s also worth a look, though, because of how different things seem to be with those three clubs. Plus with the Ravens and Lions at the bottom.

    Start with the Raiders, who after an awful opener at home against Cincinnati reversed fortunes with an upset of Baltimore and then a win in Cleveland. IN Cleveland; Oakland had not won on the road since Nov. 17, 2013, and had dropped 16 in a row in the EDT/EST region.

    No, the Raiders aren’t ready to shove aside the other teams in a pretty strong division, particularly Denver, but credit is due for their moxie and resourcefulness the past two weeks.

    Just as huge is how new coach Dan Quinn has altered the downward spiral in the ATL. The Falcons completed a three-game sweep of the NFC East to open the schedule, becoming the first NFL team to rally in the fourth quarter of each game to win.

    Quinn hasn’t done a whole lot to the offense in Atlanta’s positive reversal, although young running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have been revelations, providing balance for the outstanding passing attack. The defense, Quinn’s specialty, still has issues.

    But this has been an enthusiastic and creative bunch following two years of sliding under Mike Smith.

    Carolina hasn’t been nearly as impressive in its 3-0 start; the wins are over Jacksonville, Houston, and New Orleans without Drew Brees. A deeper examination, though, shows another reversal, because the Panthers are winning without key players.

    In the past, they struggled mightily when significant starters were out. This season, they’ve won twice without one of the NFL’s best linebackers, Luke Kuechly, and they’re missing for the entire season their only bona fide threat at wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. Pass rusher Charles Johnson injured a hamstring Sunday.

    Their biggest early season test will come Oct. 18 at Seattle. The gumption they’ve displayed so far will serve them well against anyone.

  • Texans look better in Win during Week 3– A win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn’t the only thing Texans coach Bill O’Brien is upbeat about.The team is close to being at full strength ahead of Week 4’s matchup with the Falcons.

    Running back Arian Foster, tackle Duane Brown and guard Brandon Brooks are hopeful to play Sunday.

    O’Brien said of Foster playing at Atlanta: “I think we’re close. I don’t know that answer today.”

    The Texans have had to split Foster’s carries up by committee with the star tailback out. Alfred Blue had a breakout game against Tampa Bay on Sunday with 31 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown. Blue only had 14 carries for 48 yards through the first two weeks of the season.

    Brown (thumb) hasn’t practiced until now.

    “I’ll practice this week and I’ll have a good gauge for what I feel like for Sunday,” he said.

    Brooks (ankle) is “very hopeful” he plays at Atlanta, too. He left Sunday’s game with the injury.

    The Texans’ offensive line has had to reshuffle a lot so far in 2015. Brooks sees positives from the unit weathering the injury bug.

  • Broncos find comfort zone in pistol formation– A meeting of the minds has led to a happy medium.Peyton Manning prefers to line up in the shotgun where he doesn’t have to take his eyes off the defense, which is especially important for a 39-year-old quarterback.

    Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak likes his QB to line up under center where the play-action is most misleading in his zone blocking scheme.

    So, the pistol formation it is.

    Manning lined up away from the center but with the running back directly behind him so as not to tip his hand in Denver’s 24-12 win at Detroit on Sunday night.

    Although it didn’t help the Broncos’ ground game — they gained just 42 yards on 18 carries before Manning’s kneel-down in victory formation— Manning was sacked just once in 43 drop-backs.

    He threw for two TDs and more yards — 324 — than he had since last Nov. 16 against the Rams. The Broncos improved to 3-0 even as they continue to search for a balanced offense to go with their top-ranked defense.

    “Obviously, I want to get Peyton as comfortable as I possibly can is what we’re trying to do,” Kubiak said. “We’re still trying to maintain some balance as far as formation-wise … I know he was very comfortable.”

    After getting sacked seven times through the first two games — the most through Week 2 in his 18 NFL seasons — Manning spent most of his night upright against the Lions (0-3).

    He also had more room to step into his passes and had more zing on his throws.

    “I know he likes to see the field from back there,” Kubiak said. “We continue to work both and I think you’re going to continue to see both, but I was trying to find some balance with what we’re doing offensively, but I think he played really, really well.”

    The Broncos ran the pistol through much of training camp and Manning said he loved the way it helped in protection.

    “I imagine it’ll be a part of the arsenal throughout the season,” he said.

    Whether or not their next opponent, the Minnesota Vikings (2-1), is buying it, Kubiak was also non-committal when discussing whether the pistol is permanent.

    Kubiak was asked Monday when Manning will next be seen under center.

    “Probably Wednesday,” he replied. “We’ll continue to do it all. But obviously, he was very comfortable. I think we made some strides last night. So, we’ve just got to make some more.”

    Especially in the running game.

    The Broncos are averaging just 57 yards a game on the ground and 2.6 yards a carry. Part of the problem is that C.J. Anderson has had a sprained ankle, sprained big toe and a head injury.

    “We’ve got to keep him on the field consistently,” Kubiak said. “(But) I just think it’s (getting) better every place. I can’t sit here and say it’s one thing and we’ll go out there and rush for 250 yards. We’ve got to just keep pounding and get better at a lot of things.”

  • Cardinals looking once again to start the season– With all these points, the Arizona Cardinals are hard to ignore.Gaudy one-sided victories early in the season have gained national attention for a team that’s opened an early two-game lead in the NFC West.

    The Cardinals are 3-0 after a 47-7 blowout of division rival San Francisco on Sunday.

    Through three games, their 126 total points are by far the most in franchise history and most in the NFL this season. Twenty of those points have come from the defense, and one on a kickoff return, but the offensive points are still high.

    The 126 points are tied for the fourth-most in NFL history through a season’s first three games.

    Arizona’s 17 touchdowns are tied for third-most in league history through three games. No team has scored as many touchdowns since the Dallas Cowboys totaled 18 in 1968. To put it in perspective, the Cardinals scored six touchdowns in their first three games last season and took six games to reach 17.

    Arizona already has multiple (two) games with 40 or more points, the first time that’s happened since 1985 and first time it has happened in back-to-back games since 1969. Seven different players have scored on offense.

    And yet head coach Bruce Arians expressed tempered enthusiasm for the team’s Sunday performance, rating it a “6 ½ or 7” when asked where his offense is at present.

    The Cardinals host the St. Louis Rams (1-2) in another NFC West matchup on Sunday.

    They have had it hammered into them for months that the outside hype should be ignored.

    Arians considers a combined total of six running plays of 15 yards or more and pass plays of 22 yards or more a success in a game. His team had eight offensive plays for 20 yards or more on Sunday.

    “We want to be explosive with our team speed,” he said.

    One key to the offensive production is the play of quarterback Carson Palmer, who has won nine straight starts dating to last season — the longest active streak in the NFL — and has nine touchdown passes in three games. That’s the second-most in franchise history through the first three games of a season.

    “We keep winning the coin toss,” Arians said. “That always helps. We like to start on offense.”

    The Arizona running game is humming along at 374 yards on 90 carries, with 219 for veteran Chris Johnson, whom no team claimed until the Cardinals signed him in mid-August.

    “We’re better up front. We’re much better at tight end and our receivers are blocking extremely well,” Arians said.

    Guard Jonathan Cooper said the main focus going into this season was to be a running team on offense, and that playing with a lead has helped the offense sustain success.

Downs

  • The Bears are just bad at this point– Despite their 0-3 start, the Chicago Bears believe they have discovered the answer on defense.It is special teams where they are really struggling.

    The Bears are so confident in their defensive progress that they dealt pass-rush specialist Jared Allen to the Carolina Panthers on Monday for a sixth-round draft pick, but the team’s problems covering kickoffs and punts continue to perplex coach John Fox as the team prepares for Sunday’s home game against Oakland.

    “It’s no different than playing any kind of defense,” Fox said. “You’ve got to get off blocks. If they block everybody, it’s usually not good.”

    A week after Arizona’s David Johnson returned the opening kickoff 108 yards untouched for a touchdown to start a Bears loss, Seattle’s Tyler Lockett returned the opening kickoff of the second half 105 yards for a TD that broke open Sunday’s tight contest with the Seahawks. The Bears also gave up a field goal in the first half after allowing a 64-yard punt return by Richard Sherman on a trick play.

    Bears special teams have utilized numerous young players as the bottom of the roster constantly changes in a rebuilding year. Fox didn’t want to use lack of knowledge about the system as an excuse.

    “Our special teams, offense and defense are all new systems to these football players,” Fox said. “There were some pluses in that game. I thought our punt protection was pretty good. We did partially block two punts. So it wasn’t all bad. I know it’s got to be some kind of a record to go back-to-back games with kickoff returns for touchdowns. I’m not really proud of that. But hopefully guys that were on those teams, on that coverage teams, are looking and learning.”

    Defensive players believe they have learned something about their 3-4 scheme.

    The pass rush Sunday produced the first four Bears sacks, and none came from Allen. Although the trade of Allen surprised players they felt they had achieved success for the future.The Bears considered Allen expendable because they have McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Sam Acho at outside linebacker. Allen had 5.5 sacks last season but none this season.

  • The Ravens are 0-3 & play the Steelers on a short week(Oh Boy)– The Baltimore Ravens won’t have much time to lament their status as the only winless team in the AFC.Baltimore has a short work week before facing the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on the road Thursday night. The Ravens practiced Monday and will also hit the field Tuesday before heading north Wednesday.

    During that quick turnaround, coach John Harbaugh and his players will strive to correct the many flaws that have contributed to Baltimore’s unprecedented 0-3 start.

    On Sunday, the Ravens lost to Cincinnati 28-24 despite twice holding the lead in the fourth quarter. Baltimore gave up 383 yards passing, managed only 36 yards on the ground and was flagged for 13 penalties totaling 116 yards.

    “We’ve just got to get better at what we’re doing, across the board,” Harbaugh said Monday.

    There is much to do, but in this case, a short week is actually a good thing.

    “You do like to get right back at it, there’s no question about it, win or lose,” Harbaugh said. “But especially when you lose, you want to get right back at it and get a chance to redeem yourself. The guys are excited about that.”

    In his previous seven years as Baltimore’s coach, Harbaugh never experienced an 0-2 start. Before Sunday, the Ravens were the only current team in the NFL that had never been 0-3.

    In spite of it all, Harbaugh has not lost faith that this season can be salvaged.

    “We’re a very confident football team,” he said. “We feel like we can overcome any adversity. We have before, and we will again.”

    Steve Smith was spectacular against the Bengals, catching 13 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. The 36-year-old worked so hard and was so exhausted that he received intravenous fluids on the sideline in the fourth quarter.

    And now, with very little time to recover, Smith and the Ravens are headed to Pittsburgh (2-1).

    “We don’t have a choice,” Smith said. “If we would have won, it would have been a quick turnaround. Let’s go down there. We’re going to Pittsburgh. That’s going to be a physical, bullish kind of game.”

    In each of their defeats, the Ravens have been in position to win in the fourth quarter. Instead, they lost at Denver 19-13 and at Oakland 37-33 before coming up short against the Bengals.

    That is cause for optimism for Harbaugh, who believes all the preparation that took place in the spring and summer will ultimately pay off in the fall.

    “I told the guys, ‘We stand on the foundation of a lot of hard work, a lot of good work that we’ve put underneath ourselves,” the coach said. “That does not disappear. We’ve been within a whisker, a play really, of winning all three of these games. That doesn’t count for a hill of beans when it’s all said and done and you look back, but it does count for something going forward.”

    The last team to reach the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.

    “It’s a really tough situation for us. We have to grind our way, fight our way out of this,” guard Marshal Yanda said. “We need to forget about this and get a win.”

  • Colin Kaepernick was just bad on Sunday– Coming off two straight blowout losses, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula remained in the corner of his starting quarterback.”I believe in Colin Kaepernick and I think he’s got the tools to be a darn good quarterback in this league,” Tomsula said Monday after the 49ers lost to division rival Arizona 47-7.

    Kaepernick threw four interceptions, including two on his first two possessions that were returned for touchdowns, and finished with a career-low 16.7 quarterback rating.

    While the Cardinals continued to build their lead in the first half, the 49ers offense elected to stick with the rushing attack after Kaepernick’s early mistakes. The 49ers ran the ball on 13 straight plays, including two quarterback scrambles on called passes.

    Kaepernick finished the first half with 33 yards passing, and didn’t add to that total until 5:09 in the fourth quarter before finishing with 67 yards. He threw his fourth interception on the first play of the second half.

    “Very hard for me to deal with. Very hard to see myself play like that and hurt this team the way I did,” Kaepernick said after the game. “I nullified all the efforts of every other player on that field today and that’s something that I have to fix.”

    Kaepernick spent much of the offseason working on becoming a better passer from the pocket, which included work with two-time league MVP Kurt Warner and position coach Dennis Gile at EXOS, a performance training facility in Phoenix.

    Through the first two games, Kaepernick completed 69 percent of his throws, averaging 250 yards passing with a 98.1 quarterback rating before Sunday’s showing. Through three games, however, San Francisco has the league’s lowest-scoring offense.

    “His development as a pocket passer, in terms of Colin reading and looking at things, and studying, I think he’s doing a nice job there working at it,” Tomsula said. “In terms of us as a team, and as a whole offense, our drop-back pass game, we need to be better at and we need to improve on.”

    Things won’t get easier for the reeling 49ers (1-2) after getting outscored 90-25 in their last two games. They host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

    Kaepernick might find solace in his past success against Green Bay. He set a playoff record for a quarterback when he ran for 181 yards in his breakout performance in the playoffs in January 2013. In the season opener the next year, he set a career high with 412 yards passing in a 34-28 win.

    The 49ers haven’t lost to the Packers since 2010.

    However, the lack of production on offense isn’t the only obstacle facing San Francisco. Defensively, the team is showing attrition after losing linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Justin Smith to retirement in the offseason.

    Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger combined to throw for 676 yards over the last two games, when the 49ers allowed 40 or more points on consecutive weeks for the first time since 2006.

    Given the tumultuous offseason San Francisco had, including changing head coaches and losing a number of key players, Tomsula insisted it’s still too early to give up on the season.

    “We are a work in progress,” Tomsula said. “As far as a lost season, no. I disagree wholeheartedly. And in terms of anybody that’s not here, we spend zero time thinking of that. That doesn’t help us get better.”

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