These four NFL teams can’t afford to go ‘uh-oh-and-2’
Every NFL team likes to play at home, but those familiar confines will look especially good to a handful of clubs who opened on the road and started the season as flat as a lonely stretch of highway.
San Francisco did a belly flop in rainy Chicago, 19-10.
Denver, with Russell Wilson making his debut at Seattle, crumbled in the red zone and lost to the Seahawks 17-16.
Green Bay was humbled by Minnesota 23-7.
Las Vegas instantly dropped back in the AFC West with a 24-19 loss at the Chargers.
Each of those four 0-1 teams has a chance Sunday for redemption at home. Not that this is a lock every season, but last year no team that started the season 0-2 qualified for the playoffs.
A glance at their situations:
San Francisco (versus Seattle)
The biggest issue with the 49ers is at quarterback, where Trey Lance is trying to get his footing and Jimmy Garoppolo is lurking over his shoulder. It would bleed off a lot of pressure Sunday if Lance were to pick up a victory.
That’s no simple task against Seattle, a franchise that has a history of playing well against the 49ers, even though a seasoned Wilson was at the helm all those years.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on a strong ground game, and that could be an issue for San Francisco, which lost top running back Elijah Mitchell in the opener. It was a flashback to last season when San Francisco lost Raheem Mostert in Week 1 against Detroit.
So the spotlight swings to running back Jeff Wilson, and it’s uncertain whether he’s the guy to carry the load. He doesn’t have the explosive potential of a healthy Mitchell or Mostert, now with Miami. The 49ers used Deebo Samuel as more of a running back than a receiver against Chicago, and maybe that’s the answer. They look at Samuel the way Seattle once looked at the multidimensional Percy Harvin.
Finally, there has been lots of talk about the soggy conditions in Chicago, which wouldn’t seem to be an issue in Santa Clara, which has suffered the same kind of drought problems as Southern California. In a strange twist, though, there’s a high probability of rain for Sunday’s game. The 49ers can’t seem to get out from under that cloud.
Denver (vs. Houston)
Despite the outcome in Seattle, the Broncos were happy about a lot of aspects of that opener. They rolled up 433 yards of offense, numbers more typical of the Peyton Manning era, and their defense held the Seahawks to 34 yards and five first downs in the second half.
There was weirdness, too, including fumbles on the one-yard line on back-to-back possessions, possibly a first in NFL history. Then there was botching the clock management at the end and betting the outcome on a 64-yard field-goal attempt.
The Broncos got just three points out of three trips inside the 10-yard line. It takes work to be that inefficient.
So returning to Denver isn’t so much a complete reboot as a welcome escape from the lunacy of Lumen Field, maybe the loudest place in the NFL, and the chance for a fresh start.
Watch for Denver to be more balanced offensively than in the opener, when the Broncos ran the ball less than half as much as they threw it. The Broncos’ ground game should be more of a factor Sunday against a Houston defense that gave up 177 yards on the ground in its opener against Indianapolis.
Green Bay (vs. Chicago)
Being on the wrong end of a lopsided opening game was especially painful for the Packers because it was Minnesota delivering the beatdown. Fortunately for Green Bay, it won’t be facing a receiver the caliber of Justin Jefferson too often.
The Packers feel good about their defense, regardless, and have a running game capable of establishing the tempo. The problem in the opener was they fell behind too quickly to stick with the run, so that one-two punch of A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones became an afterthought.
With Davante Adams in Las Vegas, the Packers need to develop more receiving talent. That drop by wide-open rookie Christian Watson on a game-opening bomb had to be excruciating.
It was a nothing-special game from Aaron Rodgers, but he’s been here before. The Packers lost their opener last season and wound up tied for the league’s best record. R-E-L-A-X, remember?
(Just not too much, because after the Bears comes a trip to Tampa Bay.)
Las Vegas (vs. Arizona)
There’s no shame in losing to the Chargers, especially by less than a touchdown, so the Raiders were far from humiliated in their opener. Still, it was a division game, and Las Vegas has its share of unresolved issues.
Lack of protection for quarterback Derek Carr is a big one. The Raiders are still trying to figure the right side of their offensive line and are rotating at both guard and tackle on that side. Maybe that should have been worked out in training camp, but it didn’t help that promising rookie lineman Thayer Munford was hurt in August and sat out the last two preseason games. He was on track to become the starting right guard, and the coaches also like fellow rookie lineman Dylan Parham.
Regardless, in the opener, the right side played better than the left. Left tackle Kolton Miller struggled with the Chargers’ front, surrendering a pair of sacks. He’s a good player who had a bad game, and the Raiders as a team need to do a better job of handling blitzes this season.
Las Vegas might not have the luxury of tinkering with the line in the short term because starting center Andre James sustained a concussion in the opener and Parham might have to step into that role.
Carr was hounded relentlessly in the opener and wound up with three interceptions, his most in a game since 2018.
For some, his performance added a log to the fire of those people who think starters should take at least some snaps in preseason games. Might just be a statistical anomaly, but quarterbacks who didn’t play in the preseason saw their teams go 3-8 in Week 1.
Whereas Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson won, the rusty losing quarterbacks included Carr, Rodgers, Wilson, the Rams’ Matthew Stafford, Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow.
Then again, the Rams don’t put much stock in the importance of starters playing in the preseason. And they now have a ring to support that argument.
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