There's a new sheriff in town in the AFC West. Peyton Manning made the Broncos look like division favorites in a 31-19 win on Sunday night, in a game where Manning evoked memories of his old self and the defense swarmed Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger often. The Chiefs, a sleeper pick by many, struggled without two of their top defensive players. On Monday night, the Chargers took advantage of the Raiders using a backup long snapper, making big special-teams plays en route to a 22-14 win.
What we learned: The front seven on defense is going to be aggressive and a strength for this team. Even without NT Antonio Garay, the Chargers were swarming up front, recording nine tackles for loss in the win. Donald Butler, Shaun Phillips and Atari Bigby had two stops behind the line apiece. The running game was a nonfactor, but a new-look O-line with undrafted rookie Mike Harris at left tackle allowed only one sack and gave Philip Rivers the time he needed to make big plays.
What's in store next: San Diego hosts the Titans next week, and if Week One was any indication, the Chargers' defense should have a big advantage. The Bolts held the Raiders to 45 rushing yards — 32 to Darren McFadden — and the Titans managed only 20 yards rushing against the Patriots. The Chargers' O-line will face another test from the Titans and Kamerion Wimbley. Ryan Mathews returning would be a big boost to the run game, but it's still unclear if he will be ready after suffering a broken clavicle in the preseason.
What the heck? Remember when the Chargers led the league in total offense and defense in 2010, but had miserable special-teams play? That seemed like long ago on Monday night, when it was the special-teams unit that had a blocked punt and took advantage of the Raiders using a backup long-snapper. Speaking of special teams, rookie LB Melvin Ingram, whose roughing the passer penalty allowed the Raiders new life to cut the lead to eight points, recovered the onside kick to seal the win.
— Kevin Fishbain
What we learned: RB Darren McFadden is obviously an elite weapon. He can’t lead the Raiders to victory on his own, though. We saw a few nice plays Monday night from some other players, but McFadden was the team’s leading rusher (15 carries for 32 yards), and he was targeted by QB Carson Palmer almost twice as many times as any other Raiders player. McFadden had 18 targets and made 13 catches for 86 yards. No Raiders wide receiver had more than 44 yards receiving. In today’s NFL, that’s just not going to get it done. Oakland was banged up at wide receiver (Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford did not play), and it showed.
What’s in store next: A short week and a long road trip await Oakland in another interesting test for first-year head coach Dennis Allen. The Raiders have a Week Two date with the Dolphins in Miami. It will be a battle of freshman head coaches, as Joe Philbin is also looking to get his club on track. The Dolphins turned the ball over four times, and did not have a takeaway, in a 30-10 loss to the Texans.
What the heck? … will the Raiders do about their long-snapper situation? They lost Jon Condo, a two-time Pro Bowler, in the first half after he suffered a head injury and turned the long-snapping duties over to LB Travis Goethel, who struggled. Goethel made three bad second-half snaps. On a snap that made it to P Shane Lechler, the punt was blocked. Clearly, the team will need to look for help at long-snapper if Condo is going to miss an extended period of time.
— Dan Parr
What we learned: Peyton Manning will be just fine this season. In his much-anticipated return to the gridiron, Manning looked exceptional when the Broncos went to the no-huddle, as he threw two touchdown passes in the win over Pittsburgh. Manning was not the only free-agent acquisition who impressed, as CB Tracy Porter had an all-around good game, which included a pick-six of Ben Roethlisberger to seal the win for Denver. In the theme of newcomers, rookie Derek Wolfe made an impact with one of Denver’s five sacks.
What’s in store next: The spotlight remains on Denver as the Broncos travel to Atlanta for “Monday Night Football” in Week Two. It’s part of a brutal early schedule for Denver. CBs Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter have a tough task to slow down WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and a Falcons air attack that looked explosive in Week One. Manning has an 11-3 all-time record on Monday night.
What the heck? Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy lauded RB Knowshon Moreno’s blocking, but Moreno whiffed when trying to block LB Larry Foote, who sacked Manning to end the Broncos’ first drive. On the Steelers’ second sack, Pittsburgh sent both Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons in Moreno’s direction. The back did stop Timmons, but Worilds got the sack, so it certainly was not entirely Moreno’s fault. Those were the Steelers’ only two sacks, which is a testament to the play of an O-line that was missing starting ORG Chris Kuper.
— Kevin Fishbain
What we learned: The defense needs work. Clearly, this wasn’t a true representation, as OLB Tamba Hali (suspension), CB Brandon Flowers, FS Kendrick Lewis and NT Anthony Toribio (all injuries) were out against a high-powered Falcons offense. Once this core returns, we should see improvement from Romeo Crennel’s group, although the defense took a few lumps in the preseason, too. The offensive consistency isn’t there yet, but there were promising signs despite Matt Cassel’s three second-half turnovers. The run game was mostly humming, and that was even without RB Peyton Hillis doing much of anything.
What’s in store next: It’s time to regroup and get ready for Buffalo. We might be getting an old AFL-type of shootout up there because the Bills allowed 48 points to the Jets in Week One and the Chiefs gave up 40. Cassel can’t afford another bad second half. He looked on point, throwing with conviction in the first half but fell apart as he pressed the further the Chiefs fell behind. The Chiefs ran for 152 yards on 33 carries and should continue this formula. They’re not panicking yet by any means.
What the heck? The NFL gamebook states that WR Jon Baldwin played, but you’d be hard-pressed to find much more evidence to support it. Instead of Baldwin seeing passes thrown his way (not a single one), they mostly went to Dexter McCluster (6-82-0 receiving on 10 targets). Right now, Steve Breaston is listed ahead of Baldwin on the depth chart. After an early breakout in camp in which he looked more polished and effective, Baldwin has pulled a disappearing act. It’s not a problem yet, but the 2011 first-rounder has done little of note to date.
— Eric Edholm