Ten most intriguing players of Week Two

Posted Sept. 14, 2011 @ 7:18 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Cam Newton — So much for the idea that the much-ballyhooed rookie quarterback from Auburn faced a steep learning curve in his jump to the NFL. But then again, Newton's boffo professional debut (his 422 passing yards were the most ever for a rookie quarterback playing in his first game) came against the Cardinals, whose cornerbacks are as green as fresh kale. This week, Newton and the Panthers host the Packers, and it's a safe bet that Dom Capers, the Super Bowl champs' defensive coordinator, will reach deep into his bag of blitzes in an attempt to rattle the rookie. Newton could catch a break if a bruised shoulder keeps ace cover corner Tramon Williams out of action for the Pack, but even without Williams, Green Bay's secondary would be a whole lot better than the one Newton faced last weekend.

2. LeGarrette Blount — Uh-oh. Could there be trouble brewing in Blountville? Blount clearly was displeased after carrying the ball just five times for 15 yards in Tampa's home loss to Detroit (not jack-an-opposing-player-in-the-face displeased, but displeased nevertheless). Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said after the game that he wanted to jump-start the Bucs' sluggish attack by shifting into the two-minute offense early on, and that meant replacing Blount with the more versatile Earnest Graham, who got 14 touches (six carries, eight catches). The Bucs now visit Minnesota, and it's reasonable to expect around 20 carries for Blount. But Minnesota traditionally has been a tough place for opposing running backs to do business, and if Blount can't get it going against the Vikings, his frustration could mount.

3. Matthew Stafford — Not only did Stafford and his porcelain shoulder survive opening weekend, but the former No. 1 overall draft pick played up to his pedigree, throwing for 305 yards and three TDs in leading the Lions to a road win over the Buccaneers. Stafford is now tucking a napkin into his collar, preparing to dig into a Chiefs defense that yielded four TD passes to former Ivy Leaguer Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills last week. One doesn't need to be an Ivy Leaguer to deduce that Stafford should be in for another big day.

4. Tim Hightower — One of the trickier questions that fantasy owners were forced to ponder before this year's drafts and auctions was whether Hightower could be productive as a full-time running back for the Redskins. Actually, it was more of a two-part question: (1) Could Hightower pull it off; and (2) would Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan let him try? Shanahan is notoriously restless with his running backs (at least in the post-Terrell Davis era), but Hightower was fed 25 carries and three passes in Week One, and he responded with 97 total yards and a TD. Hightower now gets to face his old team, the Cardinals, who traded him to the ’Skins after the lockout ended. Arizona's plans to pair Hightower's old running mate, Beanie Wells, with rookie Ryan Williams were scuttled when Williams ripped up his knee in the preseason, so now we'll get an interesting showdown between the two former platoon mates.

5. Tom Brady — It's probably impossible for Brady to top his Week One performance; coming up with a satisfying encore is difficult when you open the season by throwing for 517 yards and four TDs. But, boy, how sweet is a Week Two QB matchup between Brady and the Chargers' Philip Rivers? OK, so Brady probably isn't going to maintain an 8,272-yard, 64-TD pace, but as good as he looked in the opener, spreading around 32 completions to eight different receivers, it might not be too much of a stretch to think he could equal his brilliant regular-season performance of 2007, when he threw for 4,806 yards and 50 TDs.

6. Percy Harvin — There have been some major changes to Harvin's professional ecosystem, with the Vikings replacing one over-the-hill quarterback (Brett Favre) with another (Donovan McNabb), and with WR Sidney Rice defecting to Seattle, leaving Harvin as Minnesota's undisputed go-to receiver. Thing is, for all of Harvin's Swiss-army-knife versatility, he simply doesn't fit the profile of a standard go-to receiver. Although he gave the Vikings a jolt of electricity last week with a 103-yard kickoff-return TD to open the game, his numbers from scrimmage were paltry (four carries for 15 yards, two catches for seven yards). Will Harvin start to mesh with McNabb this weekend when the Vikes host the Buccaneers, or will it take more time for Harvin to get his bearings in his altered environment?

7. Matt Ryan — Think Ryan is feeling a little bit of pressure this week? Not only did he and the Falcons flop in their season opener, taking a 30-12 whipping in Chicago, but now Ryan must prepare for a Sunday-night matchup against the Eagles that features Michael Vick's highly anticipated return to Atlanta. (Technically, Vick returned to Atlanta in 2009, but he wasn't starting at the time.) Much is expected of the Falcons following last season's 13-3 record and a stinging home playoff loss to the Packers. But Atlanta's offense struggled in Week One, with Ryan committing two costly turnovers and feeling the heat from Chicago's pass rush all day. Ryan dinked and dunked his way to 319 passing yards but did no damage downfield. Ryan's honeymoon period in Atlanta has stretched out over his first three seasons in the league, but now Falcons fans want more than just the promise of a brighter future. If Vick outplays Ryan on Sunday night and the Falcons fall to 0-2, it's a safe bet we'll start to see Falcons supporters leaping from the "Matty Ice" bandwagon.

8. Rashard Mendenhall — It was hardly shocking to see Mendenhall produce lackluster numbers against the Baltimore defense in Week One. The Ravens allowed 93.9 rushing yards per game last season and are usually hard on opposing runners. But with the Steelers digging themselves a big hole against the Ravens early on, Mendenhall was limited to just 12 carries, resulting in 45 rushing yards. The tonic for Mendenhall owners arrives this week in the form of the Seahawks, those softies from the Pacific Northwest. The Steelers are going to be angry this week. Very angry. Expect them to assert their alpha-male dominance early on by trying to ram the ball down the Seahawks' throats early on with a heaping helping of Mendenhall.

9. Robert Meachem — With Marques Colston out at least a month with a broken collarbone (and realistically, it'll probably be closer to two months), and with Lance Moore's status still up in the air because of a groin injury, the Saints need some of their other receivers to step up. We're looking at you, Mr. Meachem, you mercurial fellow. Meachem has largely been a tease during his first four years in the league, flashing occasional glimpses of brilliance, typically followed by a string of mediocre games. Meachem is off to a solid start with five catches for 70 yards and a TD against the Packers in Week One. Now he has a chance to demonstrate that he can be more than just an average NFL receiver. With the Saints hosting the Bears this week, let's see if Meachem can string together two good performances.

10. Peyton Hillis — It was just a so-so opening week for the video-game cover boy: 87 total yards and zero TDs (on 23 touches) in a home loss to the Bengals that had the hearty Browns fans in the Dawg Pound reaching for the flea powder afterward. No need to start talking about the Madden Curse just yet. Not unless Hillis somehow fails to run roughshod over the suddenly helpless Colts, whose problems defending the run pre-date Peyton Manning's neck injury. Even with Arian Foster out of action for the Texans last week, the Colts were gouged for 167 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per rush. Ben Tate and Derrick Ward were doing the damage, but one suspects that any able-bodied man plucked off the streets of Houston could have managed three yards per carry against Indy. Expect Hillis to rumble through the Colts' defense like a bull through the streets of Pamplona.