It’s only Week 3, but the season might be over for the NFL’s five 0-2 teams. In this issue:
- Why 0-2 is such a hard hole to dig out of
- Which of the five teams has the best chance to turn around the season?
- Plus a sixth team that’s just as much on the rocks
0-2 & Running Out Of Time
With just 17 games in the NFL regular season, it gets late early. Even though we’ve only played two weeks, we’ve already seen a handful of elimination games — practically speaking if not literally.
That’s because the history of teams that start the season 0-2 is dire. Less than 10 percent of all teams to start 0-2 since 1970 turned things around to make the postseason. The expanded 14-team playoff field in 2020 hasn’t helped. The Texans and Seahawks were the last two 0-2 teams to make the playoffs back in 2018 and it hasn’t happened since.
Maybe that means we’re due this year. Five teams have hit the dreaded 0-2 mark in 2022:
- Atlanta Falcons
- Carolina Panthers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Las Vegas Raiders
- Tennessee Titans
We dive into what’s gone wrong for each team and rank, from worst chance to best chance, which one can pull out of this tailspin and save their season.
If there’s ever been a time where the Panthers under Matt Rhule have looked like a team capable of doing some damage, it’s been early in the season. In Rhule’s first two years, they have a pair of three-game winning streaks in the first five weeks of the season. Six of his 10 career wins have been by Week 5.
So the fact that the team is struggling at 0-2 is not a good omen for Rhule being able to turn things around and save his job this season. He entered 2022 with the hottest seat of any NFL coach after two years of the Panthers spinning their wheels and it wouldn’t be shocking if that impacted the players. Carolina’s two losses have been close, coming within a pair of field goals to the Browns and Giants, but they haven’t played good football in either.
I should amend that and say they haven’t played good offensive football. The defense is scrappy once again after finishing inside the top 10 last year, though they have yet to force a turnover. The offense has been borderline unwatchable. New QB Baker Mayfield looks slightly better than he did with the Browns last season but still nowhere near good enough to push the Panthers to the postseason.
The biggest issue with the offense might be OC Ben McAdoo, however. McAdoo’s offense is notably stale and static compared to some of his contemporaries around the league. There’s not a lot of motion to put stress on the defense. Instead, the Panthers have peppered opponents with a lot of quick, short passes from the pocket, and that’s meant a ton of batted balls from the shorter Mayfield.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 19, 2022
McAdoo has also failed to scheme open his playmakers like WR D.J. Moore and RB Christian McCaffrey, who have made plays in spite of the coaching the first two weeks. Moore in particular is good enough to thrive with a diet of schemed touches like we see around the NFL from guys like 49ers WR Deebo Samuel. Instead, McAdoo sticks him out on the boundary and makes life harder for everyone. ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell also points out only one of McCaffrey’s 10 targets has come on an option route over the middle — where McCaffrey is arguably his most dangerous.
Dropping two winnable games to begin the year is especially tough for Rhule and the Panthers because it looks like this was the easiest part of their schedule. Next up are the division-rival Saints, then four straight games against teams who were playoff squads last year (Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Buccaneers). After that, they have games against the Falcons sandwiching a trip to Cincinnati, with the second of those coming on Thursday Night Football. It’s not crazy to think Rhule needs at least three wins by that point to keep coaching after the mini bye.
Frankly there’s more intrigue about whether Rhule will avoid a midseason firing than there is over the Panthers somehow turning things around, despite the dark horse playoff predictions from before the season. There have been rumors connecting Rhule to a return to the college coaching ranks, as his work turning around the programs at Temple and Baylor remain legitimately impressive for that level of competition. Carolina’s bye is conveniently timed around the end of the college regular season, so might we see some sort of mutual parting of ways?
Much to HC Arthur Smith’s chagrin, no one expected the Falcons to be that good this year, so it’s not a huge surprise they’re 0-2 after two weeks. The team’s reset continues and while there are promising players, Atlanta is still operating at a pretty clear talent deficiency compared to most opponents.
What has been surprising is how spunky the Falcons have looked in their two losses. They jumped out to a big lead against the Saints and probably should have won that game. In Week 2 against the Rams, they stormed back after falling behind 28-3 in the third quarter — yes, 28-3 — fueled by an interception, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble on WR Cooper Kupp. They were driving with a chance to take the lead when Rams CB Jalen Ramsey picked off a pass in the end zone.
With a full year in DC Dean Pees’ system, the defense looks more comfortable than just about any point in 2021. They’re still operating with a talent deficiency but it’s not as drastic as last year and they’re making more plays. They already have seven sacks after recording 18 all of last season and have forced four turnovers.
The offense has also been surprisingly dynamic. They’re currently ninth in the NFL in scoring and this has been with minimal involvement from star TE Kyle Pitts, who has just four catches for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Instead, it’s been QB Marcus Mariota, RB Cordarrelle Patterson and WR Drake London leading the charge. Mariota’s mobility has been an X-factor to cover up the weak links in the offensive line, while London has looked awesome right out of the gate. Patterson put up 120 rushing yards on a stout Saints defense in Week 1 and the Falcons haven’t even really tapped into his receiving ability like they did last year either.
It hasn’t added up to wins yet but there’s a much different tenor to the Falcons’ 0-2 start compared to the NFC South rival Panthers. Some of that is Smith still has leash to build his program and no one outside of the team building expected Atlanta to be any good. Regardless, the product the Falcons have put on the field has so far been much better than Carolina. They might not make the playoffs, even in a weaker NFC, but they’re going to knock off a team or two they shouldn’t as the season rolls along.
Both the Cardinals and Raiders entered Week 2 0-1, which meant one of them was going to be in a tough spot after the game. It looked like it was going to be Arizona after the Raiders jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead and maintained a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter. But credit to the Cardinals and especially QB Kyler Murray for fighting back. Murray’s speed and arm were pivotal down the stretch and he just could not be stopped.
The Raiders had their chances, though, and could not close out a game that should have been there’s. The offense stalled out in the second half and normally reliable WR Hunter Renfrow fumbled twice in overtime while Las Vegas was driving for the winning score — the second of which was returned for the game-winning touchdown.
Mistakes from otherwise reliable players have been what’s hurt the Raiders the most through the first two weeks. In Week 1, it was three interceptions from QB Derek Carr that held them back against the Chargers, although in that game too they had the ball at the end with a chance to drive for the game-winning score.
Outside of that, they’ve looked pretty good. They just have come out on the wrong side of two close games against two good opponents. The offense has shown flashes of being deadly once it gels a little more, though the offensive line remains a concern. The defense has been better than expected too but they’ve faced an unreal level of quarterback play through two weeks. In Week 1, Chargers QB Justin Herbert was shrugging off defenders and firing balls into pinpoint windows, while Murray raced around like the Roadrunner in Week 2.
KYLER MURRAY IS A MAGICIAN.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 18, 2022
From a talent perspective, the Raiders are my favorite bet to rebound. But you have to acknowledge the division they play in. 0-2 is a tough hole most years, let alone in the stacked AFC West with the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos. Las Vegas will match up against Kansas City and Denver in the next couple of weeks, but first up is a game against the Titans, who also happen to be 0-2…
The Week 3 game between the Raiders and Titans has double or nothing stakes with the prospect of falling to 0-3 on the table. If 0-2 is bad, 0-3 is far worse with only six teams ever making the playoffs after that cold of a start. So there’s quite a bit on the line for both teams.
If the Titans can get the win, they have the advantage of playing in the AFC South which looks wide open right now. The Jaguars currently are in pole position at 1-1, with the Colts and Texans tied, literally, at 0-1-1. Tennessee can claw back into the running but they have some things to fix first.
Health is a big issue right now. The Titans lost top pass rusher Harold Landry before the season to a torn ACL, and since then starting CB Kristian Fulton and LT Taylor Lewan have gone down for an unclear amount of time. Without those two, the Bills shredded the Titans secondary and offensive line, though Buffalo looks like a machine this year. The Titans defense fared a lot better in Week 1 against the Giants outside of one major coverage bust, and you have to think HC Mike Vrabel will get that unit in better shape as the season goes along.
The problems on offense run deeper. Tennessee’s offensive line wasn’t exactly playing well even before losing Lewan and the injury will push Dennis Daley, acquired in a trade with the Panthers late in the preseason, into the starting lineup. Daley has starting experience but it’s come for one of the poorer offensive lines in football the past few seasons. He’s a better run blocker than pass blocker, though Tennessee’s reliance on play-action will help mask his deficiencies in the latter.
Star RB Derrick Henry is back and healthy but he’s been uncharacteristically inefficient the first two weeks with just a 3.1 yards per carry average. Now, YPC is admittedly a junk stat. One long run and Henry would be right back to normal. It’s also reliant on the offensive line, which isn’t doing super well. Henry’s 1.2 yards before contact is sixth-worst in the league. But what’s a little more concerning is Henry bringing up the rear in the NFL’s Next Gen Stats’ rush yards over expected metric at -46 yards. It’s too early to say Henry is declining but it does certainly look like there are some warning signs.
Another issue is that after trading away WR A.J. Brown, the Titans are left with no one who can beat man coverage. That’s been a major contributing factor to being just 7-23 on third downs so far this season, 26th in the league. That’s not veteran Robert Woods’ game right now, and rookies Treylon Burks and Kyle Phillips will be hard to count on reliably in that area for some time even though they’re the Titans’ two leading wideouts right now.
Between those two issues, the ecosystem that Titans QB Ryan Tannehill thrived in the past few seasons is faltering. The Titans have to get Henry going which will hopefully put them in fewer third down situations and keep the pressure off Tannehill and the passing offense. Having Vrabel coaching is a big plus and will stop the bottom from truly falling out this season. But it’ll be a tall task to coach around some of the personnel deficiencies this season.
Sunday against a Cowboys team missing QB Dak Prescott was supposed to be the get-right game for the Bengals. Instead, the reigning AFC champions fell to 0-2 and we have to start talking about the r-word now: regression.
It does certainly seem like the Bengals have regressed in a few key areas, with QB Joe Burrow and the offense not playing nearly as well as they did to end last season. Much of the blame has fallen on the offensive line so far. Cincinnati’s top offseason priority was fixing the unit and they have four new starters: fourth-round LG Cordell Volson, C Alex Karras, RG Alex Cappa and RT La’el Collins. Yet in two games, the Bengals have conceded the most sacks in football with Burrow going down 13 times in just two games. What gives?
Chemistry is important on the offensive line and that takes time to build. There’s certainly room for improvement for the Bengals’ offensive line, they’d all tell you as much. But the common denominator between this season and last season when Burrow was also sacked an NFL-high 51 times is the quarterback himself. Burrow isn’t afraid to hold the ball to try and let something develop downfield, and it leads to him getting taken down more often. The line has probably been below-average at best, but Burrow has dragged the sack numbers down to the very bottom.
Bengals OL bad at protecting Burrow: Yes
Burrow very bad at protecting himself: Yes pic.twitter.com/ipqZMplVwe
— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) September 19, 2022
There’s still a lot to like about the Bengals, however. The defense has been pretty good through the first two weeks. They still are loaded on offense with weapons once they figure out this funk that Burrow and the offensive line are in. Teams are selling out to stop the deep ball against the Bengals and they haven’t fully pivoted to taking advantage of the openings in the short and intermediate areas of the field. They have the players to do it. Tyler Boyd is one of the league’s better slot receivers and Ja’Marr Chase is as good after the catch as he is on the deep ball. Shorter passes would also take pressure off the offensive line.
Despite all of the problems, the Bengals have lost both their games so far on walk-off field goals. They’ve been a play here and a play there from scraping it out. The biggest concerns going forward are probably the schedule and the competition in the rest of the AFC and the division.
Technically the Colts don’t qualify as an 0-2 team as they scraped a tie out in Week 1. Regardless, expectations for this team were far higher than to be two games in and still looking for their first win in 2022. The bumbling loss in Jacksonville in front of fans dressed as clowns to protest their own team is well-covered territory as one of the most embarrassing moments in franchise history. Yet Indianapolis made a compelling comedic sequel on Sunday by getting shut out 24-0 after an offseason of supposedly fixing all the problems that doomed them .
What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Unfortunately for the Colts it’s a lot of things right now. To start with, HC Frank Reich is just not good in September. Under his watch, the Colts have a 5-10-1 record in September and generally have not gotten off to fast starts. Reich also has an 0-5 career record in Jacksonville, encompassing starts with Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers as well as Jacoby Brissett and Carson Wentz.
Reich is highly-regarded around the league and it’s not just manufactured hype. In his first season, he coached the team back from a 1-5 start to a playoff berth at 10-6. He has a 37-29-1 record which is No. 12 in the league, excluding non-first year coaches. For whatever reason, though, he’s just not good in September and especially not good in September in Jacksonville. Injuries left the Colts’ skill positions depleted on Sunday but there’s still no reason for RB Nyheim Hines, one of their most dynamic playmakers, to see just 15 snaps and five touches in that scenario.
The Colts have had other issues. Pass protection has been a problem through two games, with journeyman Matt Pryor at left tackle the most apparent weak link and someone the Jaguars were able to victimize on Sunday — though the line as a whole has also underperformed. The Colts also dearly missed WR Michael Pittman on Sunday and the lack of other viable weapons in their receiving corps was exposed.
Those are failings you can lay at the feet of GM Chris Ballard. The Colts have defended their lack of aggressiveness at tackle and receiver this offseason, defiantly at times. Ballard is widely regarded as one of the league’s top GMs, but if his philosophy has a flaw, it’s being conservative to a fault. Ballard has largely eschewed free agency despite the Colts having gobs of cap space the past few seasons, preferring to save it for extensions for homegrown players. Every team wants to draft, develop and retain talent. But no one hits on all their draft picks, and when free agency isn’t used correctly as a supplement, it can leave thin spots like what the Colts are dealing with at left tackle and wide receiver.
There’s no denying the Colts have caught some unfortunate breaks, at quarterback in particular. That can’t be an excuse forever, though. This is a huge season for both Reich and Ballard, and it’s not unfair at all to say their jobs could be on the line if they can’t turn things around.
That said, the prognosis isn’t as dire at 0-1-1 as 0-2. Things could get worse before they get better with the Chiefs on deck this week. But it helps that the AFC South still looks wide open. In a loaded AFC, the Colts have an edge if they can win the division for what would be the first time in Reich’s tenure. Perhaps that would be enough to satisfy owner Jim Irsay for another season.
This Week In Football
- When 49ers QB Trey Lance crumpled to the turf under a pair of Seahawks defenders with a broken and dislocated ankle, it set in motion ripple effects that we won’t truly comprehend for years. This is a momentous injury that robs Lance of much-needed playing time to develop the potential the 49ers saw in him when they made him the No. 3 pick in the draft. When he returns in 2023, he’ll have started just one season of football and five games in five years. He’s a mystery box with an injury history, and the 49ers will have just one season of him starting before they have to decide on his fifth-year option. Meanwhile, the starting job goes back to Jimmy Garoppolo after all, though not in the way many people expected when he returned to San Francisco. This couldn’t have worked out better for Garoppolo, who gets a chance to rehab his value if he can lead the 49ers on another postseason run and then hit free agency in 2023 with all options on the table. It could be the spark that revives his career.
- Week 2 was a hard week on quarterbacks. Both Chargers QB Justin Herbert and Saints QB Jameis Winston are banged up, though Winston’s injury was from Week 1. He has multiple fractures in his back that he’s playing through, which is painful but not unprecedented for quarterbacks. It should get better as the season progresses. Herbert took a hard hit to the ribs and labored through the end of last Thursday’s game against the Chiefs, getting a diagnosis of fractured rib cartilage the next day. The 10-day break should serve him well, however, and he’ll play with extra padding and potentially some medical help — although he’ll surely be cautious given the Chargers’ poor history with this particular injury.
- The Buccaneers are banged up in their receiving corps with Julio Jones and Chris Godwin nursing injuries, while Mike Evans got himself suspended for a big game against the Packers by inflaming a brawl in the win against the Saints. The shorthanded Bucs signed slot WR Cole Beasley to the practice squad, which could prove interesting given Tom Brady’s history with similar players. Head coach Todd Bowles wasn’t exactly effusive about Beasley, however, calling him a “viable” receiver. So we’ll see what kind of impact he ends up making.
- Tampa Bay also lost veteran DT Akiem Hicks for a month with a foot injury. They have some depth on the defensive line, but Hicks is the kind of force multiplier that has made them so dominant to start the season and will be missed until he returns.
- NFL GMs and head coaches lie awake at night worrying about multiple injuries hitting the same position, as that kind of catastrophe is what can really cost you games in a league skilled at exposing weak links. So it’s notable the Rams lost their third interior lineman to injury when G Tremayne Anchrum fractured his fibula. He was starting in place of third-rounder Logan Bruss who tore his ACL in camp and OL Coleman Shelton who had to move to center after veteran Brian Allen went down with an MCL injury. Alaric Jackson will start this week and they called up veteran Oday Aboushi from the practice squad who had a decent start to last season with the Chargers before tearing his ACL. But given the Rams’ struggles on the offensive line already, this won’t make things easier.
- As the Ravens took stock of their defensive failure in the 42-38 collapse to the Miami Dolphins after holding a three-touchdown fourth quarter lead, it became evident bolstering their depth was a necessity. Baltimore elected to go with just Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston to start the season at outside linebacker, banking on some practice squad elevations to tide them over until October and November when Tyus Bowser and second-rounder David Ojabo could return from Achilles injuries. Miami showed that wasn’t viable, so the Ravens called veteran Jason Pierre-Paul back in for a second visit and ultimately agreed to terms on a deal that can be worth as much as $5.5 million. That’s great business for any player at this time of year.
- The Commanders lost starting center Chase Roullier to a leg injury that initially was framed as a short-term IR stint. But it turns out Roullier is in danger of missing much more time, potentially the entire season. It’s a major blow considering the veteran lost half of the 2021 season to a fractured fibula. Washington has solid depth at center but it’s always tough to lose a starting lineman.
- The 49ers signed LB Dre Greenlaw to a two-year, $16.4 million extension, rewarding one of the underrated starters on their defense. $10 million of that is practically guaranteed, which is a nice chunk of change for Greenlaw. San Francisco has been able to develop unheralded players like Greenlaw, LB Azeez Al-Shaair and S Talanoa Hufanga into legit starters, which should be taken into account in a few months during the coaching cycle when DC DeMeco Ryans’ name comes up.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
I think after the Dolphins’ comeback, you can make a compelling case for WR Tyreek Hill as a top five, maybe top three most valuable non-quarterback in football. That kind of field-tilting speed just changes things. It puts incredible pressure on defenses every single snap, and you can play it well the whole game and lose all of it in a blink…
The Dolphins field-stretching receivers forced the Ravens secondary to cover a lot of ground…
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 18, 2022
Oh and Jaylen Waddle is pretty darn fast too…
One last Miami nugget, there were some legitimately promising moments from QB Tua Tagovailoa in the win, he wasn’t just throwing to wide-open speedsters off busted coverage. But Mitch Trubisky has a six-touchdown game on his resume too…
At his best, Tagovailoa reminds me of Garoppolo+ with a little extra mobility to create out of structure. That might not be a top-ten quarterback but the bar has been raised extraordinarily high at the position these days. Garoppolo+ is good enough to win a lot of games…
I don't even know lmao pic.twitter.com/iCLuW44247
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 18, 2022
Only one thing saved this from being the most facepalm-worthy moment of Week 2. And that was…
Please watch this entire sequence. Nate Hackett has officially lost it. Denver went from 3rd and inches, a TE rush attempt, a long FG attempt, and then a punt. Lord pic.twitter.com/3Eugrn7sHG
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 18, 2022
This is catastrophically bad from Nathaniel Hackett. A week after playing for a 64-yard field goal, he passes up a 59-yarder in higher altitude to punt in opposing territory…
49ers HC Kyle Shanahan pointed to how the Bills make designed quarterback runs with Josh Allen a key part of their offense as to why he’s not concerned about running Trey Lance. And to a degree, he’s right. Football is football and injuries happen. But in the limited appearances we’ve seen of Lance, he does not avoid or shake off contact like some of the other great rushing quarterbacks. He’s 20-30 pounds smaller than Allen and Cam Newton, and he’s not as quick or elusive as Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. In Lance’s starts, you can feel him getting hit. Perhaps that’s something that should be kept in mind when he returns to the field…
Just listened to the Stephen Jones interview.
The quote that stood out to me was one of his first:
“Your goal as a play caller should be to get into third and shorts”
If that’s the goal or your play caller please send him to the sun
— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 16, 2022
Jerry may love being flashy but that masks how stodgy and conservative this organization really is…
i love the nfl. what a play by isaiah simmons and byron murphy to return it. pic.twitter.com/1FSVa4laQO
— kota (@ulissestheguy) September 19, 2022
Last week we picked on Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons a little, though not nearly as much as the Chiefs did. So it was cool to see Simmons redeem himself after being benched by forcing a fumble that led to the game-winning touchdown for the Cardinals in overtime…
The Detroit Lions are averaging a league-leading 3.8 (!!) yards BEFORE contact per rush, per TruMedia.
That offensive line is a fucking monster.
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) September 19, 2022
The Lions look legitimately good on offense this year. They dropped 35 points on an Eagles defense that just shut down the Vikings…
Asante Samuel Jr. was ROBBED!!
— Michael Maclane (@Michael_Maclane) September 16, 2022
Mini soapbox: I don’t get why the Asante Samuel Jr. pick that was overturned last Thursday was controversial. The ground clearly made the ball move…
Here's the rate at which every NFL defense has shown a 2-high shell pre-snap in 2022 as compared to how often they showed it in 2021. Ed Donatell is running a completely new scheme in Minnesota while Wink Martindale is going against the grain pic.twitter.com/Z7L1IgenjG
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) September 20, 2022
Neat chart showing just how much two-high coverage has taken over the league. It also shows the holdouts and which teams are more susceptible to some of these high-flying aerial attacks. Make note of that for the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals this week…
The Philadelphia Eagles pic.twitter.com/WqHZ2HCc1g
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 20, 2022
In lieu of power rankings for now…
EPA per play through week 2 pic.twitter.com/EjEFP4QUyi
— Owen Phillips (@owenlhjphillips) September 20, 2022
Same chart, different perspective. Perhaps a more effective one…