By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Another great football weekend is in the books, with a few upsets likely messing up survivor pools around the country. While it is too early to hit the panic button based on just two weeks of results, we are beginning to get a feel for which players and teams are poised to separate from the pack.
After taking the night to review some tape and study the box scores, here are some thoughts.
Three things I liked
It’s Tua’s time
Perhaps Tyreek Hill was right when he spent the entire offseason hyping up his new quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa made the Pro Bowl wideout look like a prophet with a sensational performance against the Ravens that squashed some narratives around his game. The third-year pro completed 36 of 50 passes for 469 yards and six touchdowns. Although he threw a couple of interceptions, the Dolphins‘ QB1 finally looked like the quarterback prospect who prompted the “Tank for Tua” campaign within the fan base.
Against a Ravens defense that brings pressure from all angles, Tagovailoa picked Baltimore apart with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws (bubble screens, RPOs and quick routes) that enabled the Dolphins to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers on catch-and-run concepts. Considering the speed and talents of Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the extended handoffs helped the young QB play efficiently from the pocket.
Mike McDaniel complemented the dink-and-dunk game plan with enough vertical throws to punish the Ravens for attempting to squeeze the field with tight coverage. As a result, the Dolphins were able to keep the Ravens on their heels and eliminate a huge deficit with a 28-point fourth quarter.
Tua Tagovailoa leads Dolphins to comeback win vs. Ravens
Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins came back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit Sunday to beat the Ravens 42-38. Shannon Sharpe evaluates Tua’s performance and reacts to the Ravens blowing a big lead.
Given the criticism that Tagovailoa has faced since stepping in as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback, the scintillating performance briefly validated the team’s decision to select the former Alabama standout fifth overall in 2020.
Mike McCarthy can still coach
It is easy to dismiss the accomplishments of a one-time Super Bowl winner when he has endured some lean years, but critics have portrayed McCarthy as an inept leader after the Cowboys‘ recent woes. Although the criticism was warranted based on the team’s penalty issues and inconsistent game planning, the veteran coach put together an impressive plan to help his team avoid a dreadful 0-2 start.
The Cowboys’ defense played lights-out football behind an emerging Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Micah Parsons) with a scary combination of skills, intensity and effort. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year tallied a pair of sacks and five QB hits on the day. Dorance Armstrong (2), Dante Fowler Jr. (1) and Leighton Vander Esch (1) also took down Joe Burrow as part of a six-sack effort from the Cowboys’ defense.
The disruptive pass rush was complemented by sticky pass coverage that blanketed a talented Bengals WR corps for most of the day.
How ’bout them Cowboys?
Skip Bayless is stoked over his Dallas Cowboys’ 20-17 upset win against Joe Burrow’s Bengals.
Offensively, the Cowboys put together a solid game plan for Cooper Rush. The backup quarterback connected on 19 of 31 pass attempts for 235 yards with a touchdown. While the numbers are solid, it was how well he commanded the offense while tossing to a collection of unknowns that stood out to me. The connection with Noah Brown (five catches, 91 yards, and a touchdown), in particular, is a byproduct of the work the duo has done in practice while working on the scout team.
With Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combining for 96 rush yards on 24 carries, the Cowboys had enough balance to get the job done. Given the long odds facing the Cowboys heading into this game, McCarthy deserves credit for putting together a winning effort.
The Giants‘ blue-collar formula works
Although Brian Daboll was hired due to his reputation as an offensive wizard, he deserves credit for building a team that adheres to an old-school formula that has always worked for the franchise.
The Giants are running the ball, avoiding turnovers and playing great defense, which is why they are off to a 2-0 start for the first time in six seasons. It is the same recipe that served Bill Parcells during his time with the G-Men, and it also helped Tom Coughlin hoist a couple of Lombardi Trophies during his tenure.
Daboll has certainly paid attention and emphasized physicality and ball security on offense. The Giants have been content to grind out games with a low-risk formula that has eliminated some of the “DBOs” (Don’t Beat Ourselves) that previously plagued their play. They are not turning the ball over or committing egregious pre-snap penalties that give away yards. While this recipe sucks for fantasy owners hoping for big games from the Giants’ designated playmakers, it has enabled the defense to play in favorable spots throughout the game.
Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley leads Giants to victory
Led by Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, the Giants advanced to 2-0 on the season with a 19-16 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has put together solid game plans that have forced opponents out of their comfort zones. By utilizing creative pressure schemes and simulated pressures, he has created uncertainty in the minds of quarterbacks attempting to find open receivers down the field.
With Baker Mayfield unable to get into a consistent rhythm, the Panthers could not move the ball consistently despite a solid effort on the ground. As the Giants continue to eliminate big plays and force opponents to drive the length of the field against a talented defense that is capable of presenting a variety of looks, it looks more and more likely that this team could stay in the division race as a viable contender.
Three things I did not like
Matt Ryan looks old
Just because Tom Brady has been able to defy the odds as a 40-something-year-old quarterback does not mean that every veteran signal-caller will be able to thrive in the twilight of his career.
Ryan’s struggles against the Jaguars showcased what evaluators fear in playing an aging quarterback with limited athleticism and mobility. The former MVP struggled mightily against an athletic defense with a menacing front line and swift secondary. Ryan was sacked five times and tossed three interceptions in the Colts‘ 24-0 loss to Jacksonville.
The constant harassment and punishment changed his timing within the pocket and affected his downfield accuracy. Moreover, the Jaguars’ pressure challenged his courage, poise and composure as the leader of a Colts offense that was expected to perform better under his direction.
While injuries to his top pass-catchers certainly played a role in his struggles, Ryan looked nothing like the star quarterback Indy expected to see when he was acquired from the Falcons.
Nathaniel Hackett is struggling
The Broncos‘ new head coach might have earned his first win, 16-9 over the Texans, but he continues to struggle as an offensive playcaller operating in a dual role. Denver’s game plans lack creativity and direction, and the franchise quarterback is not playing well as a result.
Russell Wilson completed just 14 of 31 pass attempts for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He never settled into a groove as a passer. In addition, he took three sacks (minus 18 yards) and appeared uneasy with his assignments.
Hackett certainly compounded matters by failing to get to his play calls in a timely manner. The Broncos struggled to get to the line of scrimmage in time and those gaffes resulted in a number of penalties prior to the snap. These errors should never happen with a veteran quarterback, so the blame rests solely on the playcaller and his lack of game-plan organization.
Is Nathaniel Hackett overmatched?
Despite Denver’s win over the Houston at home, fans booed new head coach Nathaniel Hackett for his playcalling and organizational issues. Colin Cowherd explains how Hackett is in “over his head.”
Finally, the Broncos’ lack of offensive direction appears to be an internal debate on whether to put the ball in the hands of the quarterback or commit to running the ball with a talented tandem in the backfield. The Broncos were averaging nearly five yards per attempt on the ground (31 carries for 149 rush yards), but continued to throw the rock against a defense that was clearly vulnerable at the point of attack.
Given the execution problems and scattershot production of the offense, it appears that Hackett has bitten off a little more than he can chew.
Trey Lance’s injury
It is always heartbreaking to see any NFL player suffer a serious injury, but it hits a little deeper when a young player is hurt while attempting to establish himself.
While the jury is still out on whether Lance will become a solid or elite quarterback in the Bay Area, it is unfortunate that he suffered an injury in the middle of a percolating debate about which QB should lead the 49ers. Despite the team firmly standing behind the former No. 3 overall pick in the draft as the unquestioned QB1 of the future, the presence of Jimmy Garoppolo certainly created some anxious moments for the second-year pro.
Lance’s natural insecurities are probably raging out of control after receiving the word that he is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower-leg injury. He must spend his days and nights rehabilitating from that injury while his replacement could reemerge as the team’s leader and franchise quarterback. Regardless of the youngster’s confidence and determination, watching Garoppolo reenter the lineup will play all kinds of tricks on his mental state.
Jimmy G delivers a 49ers win, Trey Lance out for season
Trey Lance suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Craig Carton reacts to a comeback performance from Jimmy G and to the media pointing fingers at coach Kyle Shanahan over Lance’s injury.
How well Lance handles this adversity (mentally and physically) could ultimately determine if he is ever the franchise quarterback in San Francisco.
MY TOP 10 TEAMS
1. Buffalo Bills*: Based on their sheer dominance on opening night, the Bills earn the top spot. With a tough game against the Titans on Monday night, we will find out more about the AFC front runners.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs might have lost some of their offensive pizzazz when Tyreek HIll departed, but they certainly have retained their winning ways behind an efficient offense and an opportunistic defense that comes up with key stops.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It is not pretty when the Buccaneers play, but wins matter more than style points at this stage of the season. Todd Bowles‘ gritty defense has enough talent and toughness to carry the Buccaneers to a division crown and more.
4. Miami Dolphins: The ultra-explosive offense looks like an Olympic-caliber 4 x 100-meter track team on the perimeter with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle blowing past defenders all over the field. With Tua Tagovailoa growing into his role as a QB1, the Dolphins have a chance to make a run.
5. Los Angeles Chargers: The all-star lineup at Brandon Staley’s disposal gives this team a chance to make a deep playoff run.
6. Los Angeles Rams: The defending champs have been taking their lumps but remain well-positioned to defend their crown due to talent and toughness.
7. New York Giants: Brian Daboll has quickly whipped the Giants into shape as a blue-collar squad with an old-school formula (running game + defense = wins) that has always worked for this franchise.
8. Minnesota Vikings*: Kevin O’Connell’s impressive debut as a head coach/offensive playcaller has the rest of the league buzzing about the Vikings’ prospects.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance’s season-ending injury robs the 49ers of their QB1 but enables the team to rally behind a backup quarterback who led the franchise to a Super Bowl and a pair of NFC Championship Game appearances.
Murray’s clutch performance in a spectacular comeback win against the Raiders earns him MVP honors. The fourth-year pro delivered a handful of jaw-dropping plays with the game on the line, including a pair of improbable two-point conversions that showcased his rare skills as a dual-threat playmaker. With Murray’s late-game heroics likely saving the Cardinals’ season, the two-time Pro Bowler deserves the honor this week.
Kyler Murray leads Cardinals to wild OT win
The Cardinals were down 20-0 at halftime to the Raiders before storming back to force overtime and win the game. Kyler Murray passed for nearly 200 yards and had passing and rushing touchdowns in the second half. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react to Arizona’s comeback win.
St. Brown amassed 184 scrimmage yards on 11 touches to help the Lions knock off the Commanders in a solid performance for Detroit. The second-year receiver not only flashed impressive skills as a route-runner and pass-catcher as he twisted defenders into knots in the open field, but he also dazzled as a ballcarrier on a pair of jet sweeps that netted 68 yards. Given St. Brown’s impact on the Lions’ first win, he deserves some flowers for his performance.
It is time to start including Parsons in any discussion regarding the best defensive player in the league. The second-year pro is an unstoppable force for the Cowboys as a hybrid linebacker with five-star pass rush skills. Parsons sparked the Dallas’ 20-17 win over Cincinnati with a pair of sacks and five QB hits that impacted Joe Burrow’s play from the pocket. Moreover, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year’s fanatical effort ignited a defensive performance that the Cowboys needed to knock off a defending Super Bowl participant.
Unsung Hero: Robert Saleh, New York Jets
Credit Coach Saleh for believing in his backup quarterback when few could envision Joe Flacco playing at a high level again. The Super Bowl winner rewarded the second-year Jets coach for his faith with an incredible performance on the road (completing 26 of 44 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns) that featured a furious fourth-quarter rally. Flacco connected on a pair of touchdown passes in the final two minutes to erase a 13-point deficit against the Browns.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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