10 things you need to know from NFL Week 2
Here are the 10 things you need to know from our PFF database coming out of Week 2:
1. Peyton Manning is tied for the lowest QB grade in the NFL through two weeks.
Yes, the Broncos are 2-0, but Manning has not gotten off to a good start this season, earning grades of -4.1 and -3.3 in wins over the Ravens and Chiefs, respectively. That adds up to a -7.4 cumulative grade, tying Houston’s Ryan Mallett for the worst of any NFL quarterback through two games.
On its own, a bad grade through the first two weeks of the season isn’t necessarily a sign that all is lost. Through two games in 2014, Tony Romo ranked second-to-last before finishing at No. 7, so a rebound is certainly possible. But this rocky start adds to the mounting evidence that perhaps we are finally seeing the end of Manning’s run as a top-level NFL quarterback. He currently ranks just 29th in accuracy percentage, after ranking in the top three for that category in 2012 and 2013, before slipping to No. 17 last year.
There are two signs of optimism, however:
1.) As Sam Monson wrote Monday, Manning found a rhythm towards the end of the win over the Chiefs in an offense that more closely resembled what we’ve seen Manning succeed in previously.
2.) As we wrote last week, there is a lot of talent on this Broncos defense, particularly in their pass rush; it’s fair to say that Manning doesn’t have to have a huge season for this team to be a Super Bowl contender.
Still, though, seeing Manning tied with Mallett for the worst QB grade in the NFL is really hard to believe.
2. Matthew Stafford is off to a bad start, too.
Manning will be lining up on the opposite sideline from Stafford in the Broncos-Lions Sunday Night Football matchup, assuming Stafford is able to play (Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell was noncommittal Monday, citing Stafford’s soreness), and neither one has had a good start to 2015. Stafford ranks just ahead of Manning through two games at No. 31, with a -5.9 grade. He did most of his damage with his -4.3 grade in Sunday’s loss to MIN, and what’s worse, the Lions are 0-2.
This poor play continues a downward trend line for Stafford, who ranked No. 13 and No. 7 in our QB grades in 2012 and 2013, respectively, before dropping all the way to No. 22 last season. You could pin some of the blame on the absence of top wide receiver Calvin Johnson for part of the year, but overall his numbers were down nearly across the board, and the Lions’ defense deserved a lot of the credit for the team’s playoff run.
Stafford is having a particularly tough time with pressure this season. When he has a clean pocket, he has a passer rating of 102.5, compared to a passer rating of 43.1 when pressured. That drop-off of nearly 60 points is almost twice the NFL average—a huge problem on a team with only one offensive lineman (Manny Ramirez) who has earned a positive pass protection grade.
3. Aaron Donald is setting a historic pace.
Those of you who are familiar with our grading system likely know that Texans D-lineman J.J. Watt is without peer, and last season he put up the highest grade ever recorded by us since our inception in 2007.
Not only is Rams DT Aaron Donald currently leading Watt in terms of grade, but he is on pace to break Watt’s record grade set last year.
Now, it’s highly unlikely Donald can continue at this clip, but the fact that we’re even having this discussion speaks to just how good Donald has been this early in his career. Donald was our top-ranked DT in the NFL last season in his rookie year, besting franchise defenders like Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, and Marcell Dareus (ranked Nos. 2, 3, and 4 last year, respectively), and with a +18.0 grade through two games, he looks poised to reclaim the title again this year. His pass-rush grade of +11.9 is the best in the NFL at the position, and he’s a very effective run defender as well, ranking second among DTs with a +6.7.
We are witnessing the start of what could be an outstanding NFL career. Donald is earning those Watt-comparisons so far.
4. Jameis Winston earned a better grade in Week 2 than Marcus Mariota did in Week 1.
Sam Monson did a good job of explaining last week why Mariota’s Week 1 grade (+2.3) wasn’t nearly as inflated as his perfect NFL passer rating, even though he played well in his win over the Buccaneers.
As for how Winston posted a +3.1 grade in the Bucs’ Week 2 win over the Saints, he was boosted by his rushing grade of +0.7, third in the NFL for Week 2 behind Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor. He was also efficient as a passer, earning a +2.3 passing grade on the strength of his zero interceptions and effective deep passing, completing four-of-six throws of 20+ yards.
What does this mean for their careers? We don’t know that yet, but even though Mariota still holds the edge in overall grade through two weeks (Mariota ranks No. 26 in the NFL versus Winston’s No. 32), there are reasons for optimism for both rookie passers.
5. Johnny Manziel graded a lot worse than his stat line showed—but he’s still the best option the Browns have.
Manziel wasn’t punished for some of his worse decisions in the Browns’ win over the Titans, as Monson described, which is why his grade of -2.9 isn’t nearly as impressive as his box-score stat line of 8-for-15 passing for 172 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
But while this might seem like a surprising thing to say about our third-lowest-graded quarterback through two games, Manziel is actually the best option the Browns have. While Josh McCown has proven himself to be a below-average QB, Manziel at least offers the upside of his big-play ability, provided he can limit some of his poorer decisions.
6. The Cardinals might be the new favorites in the NFC West.
It won’t be a surprise if Seattle turns things around after its 0-2 start and wins the NFC West again, but there are enough issues for the Seahawks early on to think that this division is more open than in recent seasons. The offensive line play is a concern, with only LT Russell Okung earning a positive grade versus the Packers, Russell Wilson ranks just No. 13 among QBs through two games, and even cornerback Richard Sherman had a rare bad game against Green Bay.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have started out 2-0 behind QB Carson Palmer (No. 4 in our quarterback grades) and some impressive play from the likes of DE Calais Campbell, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Tyrann Mathieu, WR Larry Fitzgerald, and LT Jared Veldheer. It’s still very early, but the Cardinals look like a strong contender to win the division heading into their Week 3 home matchup with the 49ers.
7. The Falcons are the new favorites in the NFC South.
According to Neil Hornsby, Matt Ryan is the best quarterback in the division (ranked No. 9 in PFF grading, compared to Cam Newton at No. 12, Drew Brees at No. 29 and Winston at No. 32; Julio Jones is the top-graded receiver in the NFL through two games; their run defense ranks No. 8 in our grading; rookie Vic Beasley, brought in to help fix the Falcons’ anemic pass rush, currently ranks second as a pass-rusher among 4-3 defensive ends. That’s a pretty good formula for a division title.
8. Tom Brady is off to his third-fastest start of the PFF era.
Following his +5.3 grade Sunday in the Patriots’ win over the Bills, Brady now ranks third in the NFL among QBs with a grade of +9.8. That’s the third-best grade he’s had over the first two games of a season since we began grading games in 2007—behind his +11.1 in 2007 and +18.5 in 2011. Both of those seasons ended in Super Bowl appearances for the Pats—and losses to the Giants. Still, though, those were really strong offensive years for Brady and New England.
9. The Eagles might be in trouble—but remember, so is that entire division.
It hasn’t been a good start to the year for the Eagles, losing to the Cowboys on Sunday to drop to 0-2. The only starters to earn positive grades against Dallas were LG Allen Barbre, RG Andrew Gardner, and RT Lane Johnson. Big-name offseason acquisitions Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray have struggled, with Bradford ranking No. 24 in our QB grades through two games, and Murray ranking No. 46 in our HB grades. And the defense ranks just No. 22 overall.
The good news? With Cowboys QB Tony Romo sidelined with a broken clavicle, the Giants also starting 0-2, and Washington not looking like much of a threat to win the division, the NFC East is very much up for grabs.
10. We had a Jadeveon Clowney sighting on Sunday.
The Texans’ No. 1 overall pick from 2014 earned the fourth-highest overall grade among 3-4 outside linebackers in Houston’s loss to the Panthers, making him No. 6 at his position through two weeks with a +5.2 overall grade, and No. 1 at his position with a +4.4 run grade. That’s a good sign from a player known for his talent, but who hadn’t yet produced much as a pro.