SEATTLE: Seahawks still flawed but off to best start since 2013
RENTON, Wash. — For the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2013, the Seattle Seahawks have started 2-0. The way they've gotten there still leaves questions about just how good they are.
Yes, the last time Seattle was at this point it ended the year raising the championship trophy. Yes, Russell Wilson is commanding and executing Seattle's offense at a level that will have him in the MVP conversation if this continues. Yes, Seattle dominated stretches of Sunday's game and only two turnovers leading to short field goals kept Pittsburgh hanging around before the Seahawks prevailed 28-26.
But they remain flawed. The Seahawks are allowing too much pressure on Wilson, who's been sacked eight times. They've been penalized 18 times in two games, regularly leaving the offense in unmanageable down-and-distance situations. The defensive line struggles to create consistent pressure even with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney.
The Seahawks own a one-point win over Cincinnati, which was playing without standout wide receiver A.J. Green, and a two-point win over Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger spending half the game on the sideline. Now they are set to host New Orleans, which is expected to be playing without Drew Brees.
"I am proud of how the guys played," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I thought our young guys focused, the way we practiced. Now we just have to lock in and not let this win go to our heads."
Wilson is off to a fantastic start in his eighth season. He's completing 78% of his passes, has thrown for five touchdowns and no interceptions, and is taking advantage of opportunities to run rather than running for his life. Wilson was 29 of 35 for 300 yards and three TDs against the Steelers. Wilson also seems to be meshing with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. With Pittsburgh able to get pressure on Wilson in the first half, the Seahawks adjusted and went to a quick passing game that got the ball out of Wilson's hands quickly. Wilson was 14 of 16 and threw two touchdowns in the second half.
"It's hard to imagine something could keep getting better when you're in year eight or whatever it is," coach Pete Carroll said. "How could that happen? But it is. It's happening."
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Carroll is not happy with the offensive line and the amount of penalties being accumulated. Seattle offensive linemen were called for holding six times, although not all were accepted. Right guard D.J. Fluker and right tackle Germain Ifedi both had noticeably tough days dealing with Pittsburgh's defensive front.
Even though holding is an emphasis for officials this season, Carroll is irritated at the number of flags against his linemen.
"I hope this hit hard enough this week. I hope the lessons are strong enough that we can make the impression on our guys," he said.
TE Will Dissly. Known more as a run blocker coming out of college a year ago, Dissly showed off his hands Sunday. Dissly caught a pair of TDs and finished with five catches for 50 yards, with another long pass completion called back due to a penalty. It's been an impressive return for Dissly after missing most of his rookie season following a torn patellar tendon.
RB Chris Carson. One of Carroll's primary mantras is to take care of the football. Carson has two fumbles in two games, and while he was asked to get the final yards needed on a fourth-down run in the final minutes that clinched the victory, he is at risk of losing his spot as the primary ball carrier if the fumbles continue.
Carroll said the expectation is for DE Ziggy Ansah to make his debut against New Orleans. Ansah missed the first two weeks while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but Carroll said Ansah should be ready to go. He's also hopeful DT Poona Ford will be able to return from a calf strain that kept him out of the win over Pittsburgh. Carroll was less optimistic about FS Tedric Thompson (hamstring) and CB Neiko Thorpe (hamstring) saying it'd be a challenge for both of them to be ready in time.
15-0. The Seahawks have not lost a September home game in Carroll's 10 seasons in charge.
Seattle returns home to host the Saints on Sunday. The Seahawks are 3-0 against the Saints in Seattle during Carroll's tenure, two of the wins coming in the postseason. Carroll said he hasn't looked closely enough at how New Orleans might be different with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, but said Brees' absence will be significant.
"Everything about his command of playing the position is as good as it can get. He's a phenomenal player," Carroll said.
-- By Tim Booth, AP
SAN FRANCISCO: 49ers return home after successful road trip to start season
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan believed the improvements the team made leading into his third season would make the 49ers a contender.
The early results have been extremely positive, with San Francisco opening the season with back-to-back road wins for the first time since 1989, capped by a dominant performance in Cincinnati.
The Niners gained 572 yards of offense for the fifth-most productive day in franchise history and dominated up front defensively against Cincinnati in a 41-17 victory Sunday.
"That game yesterday was as good as any game I've been a part of," Shanahan said Monday. "That will only give us confidence, but it doesn't make anything easier. The games will only get harder."
The Niners (2-0) will seek their first 3-0 start since 1998 in the home opener Sunday against a Pittsburgh team that will be without injured star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
About the only thing that went wrong on the road trip that started with an ugly win at Tampa Bay and featured a weeklong stay in Youngstown, Ohio, was a broken leg for left tackle Joe Staley.
Shanahan said Staley is expected to miss between six and eight weeks, which could be a big blow to the offense. Rookie Justin Skule, a sixth-round pick out of Vanderbilt, is slated to take his spot, but Shanahan said the team would be aggressive to look for upgrades, with the most intriguing possibility being Washington holdout Trent Williams.
"We would love to if there were options," Shanahan said. "You look at anything that's possible. I don't think there are a ton of great options out there that are possible."
Running game. With Jerick McKinnon out for the season with a knee injury and Tevin Coleman sidelined by an injured ankle, the 49ers running game thrived with the backups in charge. Matt Breida had 12 carries for 121 yards, Raheem Mostert added 13 for 83 yards and Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for two TDs. San Francisco finished with 42 carries for 259 yards, averaging 6.2 per carry.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
There wasn't much that didn't go well in a 24-point road win. There were a few issues on special teams. Robbie Gould missed a 39-yard field goal, and Richie James had two punt returns for 4 yards and gained only 13 yards the only time he tried to return a kick.
Jimmy Garoppolo. There were plenty of questions about Garoppolo's play after he struggled in the season opener in his first game back from a season-ending knee injury. There were no such questions after Week 2. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 297 yards and three TDs. His 131.2 passer rating was his best in 10 starts with San Francisco and he averaged 11.9 yards per attempt thanks in part to Shanahan scheming open receivers on several plays.
"His mind is incredible — just how he's two plays ahead while we're running the current play," Garoppolo said of his coach. "It makes everything so easy. When he gets in a rhythm like that, it puts everyone in a good position."
WR Dante Pettis. The player who was supposed to be San Francisco's top wideout is off to a slow start. He got just two snaps in the opener, when he had one catch for 7 yards. He played more this past week but wasn't targeted on a single pass. He did throw one on a trick play that went for 16 yards to Mostert.
Staley's injury was the most significant, but edge rusher Dee Ford also left the game with an injury to his quadriceps and knee. He was sidelined with a similar injury in training camp and Shanahan said he didn't know what Ford's status would be for this week.
1.3 — The Niners held the Bengals to 25 yards on 19 carries. That was the fewest yards rushing allowed and the fewest per carry allowed in a game for San Francisco since Nov. 8, 2015, when Atlanta had 14 carries for 17 yards (1.2 ypc).
The 49ers play their home opener against Pittsburgh seeking their seventh 3-0 start since the merger. They made the playoffs in all but one of those seasons, missing only in 1980 when they went 6-10.
-- By Josh Dubow, AP
LOS ANGELES: McVay criticizes McVay's play-calling after Rams win again
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay didn't hold back Monday, harshly criticizing the Rams' offensive play-caller for a series of bad selections in the red zone during Los Angeles' 27-9 win over New Orleans .
Since McVay calls all of the Rams' plays himself, he feels pretty confident his target will take the criticism in the right way.
"We had some patches in there offensively where we didn't finish in the red zone, and there were some really poor decisions on my part that really there's no excuse (for)," McVay said. "There were just poor decisions, especially on the third down when we end up throwing the screen to (tight end) Gerald (Everett). That's a bad design, bad idea. There's really no way of running around that one."
Once McVay finishes critiquing himself, he'll get back to work unlocking the potential resting in a team that has scored 57 points and played strong defense during a 2-0 start to the season.
McVay is already imagining what the Rams can do once their high-powered offense gets back into top form. Although the Rams have plenty to work on, they still haven't trailed this season.
Jared Goff's passing game hasn't blown up yet, failing to crack 270 yards in either game. While Goff has done enough to win both games, McVay expects more from an offense that racked up two of the most prolific seasons in NFL history to start his tenure.
In fact, the Rams got more than half of their 265 yards passing last Sunday on only two big plays: Brandin Cooks' spectacular over-the-head catch and Cooper Kupp's even-more-spectacular catch and run .
Cooks' catch dazzled McVay, the former Miami of Ohio receiver.
"I've never caught something that long or that far down the field," McVay said with a laugh. "For Brandin to be able to find that ball, accelerate — and then you can see he actually caught the back tip of that, and then brought it back in before he went to the ground. Because if he didn't kind of regather it on his way down, it probably would have been one of those when it hits the ground it actually comes out. A lot of good things."
The Los Angeles defense is off to a superb start despite facing Cam Newton and the high-powered Saints in back-to-back weeks. The Rams are fifth in the NFL with just 293.5 yards per game allowed, and their pass defense is rated sixth in the league. Los Angeles and New England are the only teams that didn't allow a touchdown pass in the first two weeks of the season, and the Rams have allowed just one pass play longer than 20 yards — fewest in the NFL.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line will need every possible minute to prepare for a near future with three untested starters. Right guard Austin Blythe has a sprained left ankle, which could mean sixth-round pick Jamil Demby, who was waived and re-signed by Los Angeles last season, will make his first career start next to fellow second-year pros Bryan Allen and Joe Noteboom. No starting offensive lineman has missed a game due to injury in McVay's tenure in Los Angeles, but that could change this week.
Kupp has seamlessly reassumed a prominent role in the Rams' offense after missing the second half of last season with injury. He led Los Angeles with five catches for 120 yards against the Saints, and Goff targeted him nine times — three more than he targeted Cooks and Robert Woods combined.
Woods was targeted only twice — down from 13 targets in Week 1 — and made just one jet sweep run against the Saints. He also had a 14-yard TD reception that was called back by a dubious illegal block penalty on Noteboom. Woods has been an invaluable component of McVay's offense, and it's nearly certain the Rams will work to get the dependable wideout more involved in the upcoming weeks.
Blythe said his injury is a low ankle sprain, calling it a "best-case scenario" and "good news." He doesn't know how long he'll be out, but he's not even sure whether he'll have to miss the next game. TE Tyler Higbee left the game with a bruised lung that left him coughing up blood, but his condition is improving, McVay said. The Rams don't know how long Higbee will be out, either.
2: The number of games this season in which the Rams' defense has forced a turnover on the opening drive. After linebacker Cory Littleton forced and recovered a fumble at Carolina, safety John Johnson intercepted a deflected pass by Drew Brees. McVay loves the tone-setting nature of this habit. The Rams have four takeaways in their first two games.
The first of at least five prime-time games for the defending NFC champions when they travel to Cleveland for a Sunday night showdown with the improved Browns. The Rams' early schedule looked fairly tough on paper, and this jaunt to Ohio will be their second long road trip already. Another win would put the Rams on course for a shot at matching last year's 8-0 start.
-- By Greg Beacham, AP
ARIZONA: Red-zone problems hurting Cardinals' quest for wins
TEMPE, Ariz. — Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is good at throwing the football, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are good at catching it, and first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense is functioning well for the Arizona Cardinals through two games.
Most of the time.
But there have been some problems — especially in the red zone — and that's a big reason the Cardinals (0-1-1) are still searching for their first win of the season after losing to the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday.
Arizona had to settle for field goals three times despite advancing the ball inside Baltimore's 5-yard line. That's obviously not ideal. Kingsbury's charge is to find answers.
"Kyler's a rookie quarterback, this is my first time calling plays in the league, so I have to wrap my mind around that and find matchups and find concepts that work and we can be efficient at," Kingsbury said on Monday. "I obviously haven't done a great job at that so far."
When the Cardinals get going, the offense is really fun to watch and effective.
Murray completed 25 of 40 passes for 349 yards, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards in his first two games. The other was Cam Newton.
Kirk, in his second season, had six catches for 114 yards. Fitzgerald, who never seems to age despite this being his 16th season in the NFL, continued his great start with five catches for 104 yards. Damiere Byrd, KeeSean Johnson and Michael Crabtree give the receiver group plenty of depth.
The defense hasn't been perfect, but it's kept the Cardinals competitive. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson had big numbers — 272 yards passing and 120 yards rushing — but the Cardinals held the Ravens to two field goals in the second half, which gave the offense a chance to climb back into the game.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game.
RB David Johnson missed part of the first half with a wrist injury, but returned and finished with seven carries for 14 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals ran for just 20 yards as a team.
Kingsbury has said he'd like the offense to have some balance, but on Sunday the Cardinals threw 40 times and ran just 11 times.
Part of the reason is because Arizona was playing from behind for the second straight week and needed to try and score points in a hurry, especially during the second half. But 20 yards on the ground probably won't get it done, especially when there's an option like Johnson.
"We've got to get him going early and into the game more," Kingsbury said.
Kirk showed promise during his rookie season in 2018 after catching 43 passes for 590 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. He's on pace to blow past those numbers, and it's obvious the former second-round pick will be an important part of the offense going forward.
RT Justin Murray was pushed into a surprise starting role during the first two weeks after Marcus Gilbert was lost for the season because of a knee injury. Murray has been OK considering the circumstances, but Kingsbury doesn't seem certain that he's the long-term answer at the position.
The Cardinals have stayed relatively healthy through the season's first two weeks. Kingsbury said Johnson (wrist) should be "good to go" despite his leaving for part of the first half. The coach also said backup offensive lineman Lamont Gaillard (knee) is getting closer to playing after missing the first two weeks.
20 — The Cardinals had 20 yards rushing on Sunday. This is probably going to be a passing-focused offense, but they still have to find a way to run more often and more effectively.
The Cardinals have been an entertaining team through two games and there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. But if this group is going to make any noise in the standings this season, it's crucial to get wins over the next two weeks with home games against the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks.
-- By David Brandt, AP