Every week in “4-Down Territory,” Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Luke Easterling of Bucs Wire and Draft Wire go over the things you need to know about, and the things you need to watch, in the NFL right now. With Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season in the books, there was a lot to cover!
This week, Doug and Luke discuss:
What they’re looking for in Thursday night’s game between the Steelers and Browns on Amazon Prime;
Which team who had an amazing comeback in Week 2 has the best ability to make that momentum stick;
Why the Bengals’ offense is falling apart; and
Why the Broncos’ offense is doing the same.
You can watch this week’s “4-Down Territory” right here.
Thursday Night Football preview: What are we looking for?
(Syndication: The Enquirer)
In the upcoming Thursday Night Football game on Amazon Prime, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, we have two teams in need of redemption after tough Sundays. The Steelers lost to the Patriots, and the Browns allowed the New York Jets to score two touchdowns inside the two-minute warning for a comeback victory. What’s the one thing each team needs to do in order to get those bad Sundays out of their minds?
Doug: In the case of the Steelers, I’ll be looking at their run fronts. With Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, the Browns will want to lead with the run game, and Nick Chubb – one of the NFL’s best backs – scored three rushing touchdowns against the Jets. We all know how great Cameron Heyward is, but with T.J. Watt out, it’ll be on edge-rusher Alex Highsmith to get things done outside, while veteran Larry Ogunjobi and rookie DeMarvin Leal must help Heyward keep things together on the inside. The Browns have the NFL’s best guard duo in Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, and they can waste you in the run game with everything from outside zone to old-school power sweeps.
Luke: The Steelers have to lean on Najee Harris and the ground game, and that means getting improved play from the offensive line. They can’t afford to put the game in Mitch Trubisky’s hands with tons of 3rd-and-long situations against Myles Garrett and that Cleveland pass rush. They’ll also need more big plays from their defense, namely Minkah Fitzpatrick, especially with T.J. Watt still out of the lineup. The Browns should have an easier time establishing the run behind their stellar blocking unit (along with Chubb and Kareem Hunt), but they should also look for opportunities to take big shots down the field off play-action. They’ve got some speed and big-play ability at wide receiver with Amari Cooper and some others, and if the ground game is forcing Pittsburgh to load the box, they should have some opportunities to take advantage through the air.
Dolphins prove to be the comeback kings.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Sunday was an amazing day for comebacks. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, three teams with basically zero win probability – the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, and the Arizona Cardinals – somehow came back from massive deficits to win their games. Per ESPN Stats & Info, It’s the first time in NFL history that multiple teams (the Cardinals and Dolphins) have overcome a 20-point halftime deficit on the same day. Which of those games means the most to the winning team in the long term?
Doug: I think it means the most for the Dolphins, and it isn’t particularly close. The Jets and Cardinals are clearly spunky teams, and I certainly loved Kyler Murray’s two-point conversion that took 21 seconds and 85 yards, but what the Dolphins are able to achieve in their passing game with both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field has to be truly terrifying for any defense – as it was for the Ravens’ defense last Sunday, and as it was for the Patriots’ defense in Week 1. When you can scald two of the more complex and multi-faceted defenses in the NFL, it isn’t a fluke.
The Hill/Waddle combination prevents cornerbacks from pressing, creates matchup impossibilities if they’re aligned on the same side of the formation, and if they’re bookends, you have to bracket both guys – which leaves easy openings for Tua Tagovailoa. New head coach Mike McDaniel has done an amazing job making Tua comfortable as a timing and rhythm passer, and all of a sudden, Tua isn’t afraid to take the deep shots. The Dolphins are a problem, and they must be taken seriously every week.
Luke: I have to agree. Those other teams can build on the momentum of these wins, but the Dolphins might have something special here. Tua silenced the haters with an incredible performance, and that Tyreek/Waddle combo is the fastest WR duo in the NFL. New head coach Mike McDaniel is 2-0, and his team should have tons of confidence after a comeback like that, especially on the road against another AFC playoff contender.
Bad Bengals, and...
(Syndication: The Enquirer)
The defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals are the first team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to lose each of their first two games as time expired. And Joe Burrow’s new offensive line doesn’t look any better than his old offensive line. Is this a case of new pieces needing to get on the same page, or are we dealing with something more ominous here?
Doug: This is a problem that goes beyond a couple of games. It’s not just that Cincinnati’s offensive line is giving up too many sacks – Burrow is also finching his own way into pressures and takedowns. We’ve already talked about head coach Zac Wilson’s questionable tactics, and Cincinnati’s defense – which was supposed to be better than this – made Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush and Dallas’ no-name receiver group (outside of CeeDee Lamb) look better than you’d like to see, if you’re Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. I’m not saying that the Bengals are going to circle the drain all season, but it’s tough to see how they transcend their 0-2 start.
Luke: Yeah, this starts at the top with Taylor. It seems like he’s still struggling to make adjustments away from what his team doesn’t do well, and put them in position to do what they do best. Burrow is obviously feeling the pressure, and the defense isn’t playing like the unit we say in the playoffs last year, but Taylor has to set the tone for the rest of the team, and inspire confidence that he knows what he’s doing. Through two weeks, it doesn’t look like he does, and the Bengals won’t go anywhere until he figures it out.
(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
Speaking of offenses in free-fall, the Denver Broncos with Russell Wilson look like anything but a team that was one top-tier quarterback away from a Super Bowl. They have been awful in the red zone, penalties all over the place, and in Wilson’s first home game, he heard boos, and the crowd counting down the game clock to help the team out, We have to ask the same question here – is this more about everyone learning to work together, or is there more afoot here?
Doug: I think the Broncos have a larger issue than their passing game, and that’s a head coach in Nathaniel Hackett who seems in over his head. Hackett either needs a situational expert voice, or he needs to hand offensive play-calling responsibilities to somebody else. He’s doing too much, which means that he’s not doing anything well enough. We don’t even know whether Hackett has the ability to be a good head coach. Right now, because he’s laden with so many responsibilities – crucial responsibilities upon which game-changing decisions are made – and very few coaches can make that work. We need to see how that plays out before we can have any idea what the Broncos will be in 2022.
Luke: Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has said that the biggest thing he learned during his first head-coaching stint with the New York Jets was the need for delegation. Hackett will need to learn the same lesson quickly if he doesn’t want to be run out of town quicker than Bowles was in New York. Like you said, he’s clearly in over his head, and he’s got to streamline his responsibilities and focus on game day. His situational awareness and decision-making has been awful, and the team is playing accordingly.