The Associated Press
Saturday, September 22, 2018
DAVID GINSBURG BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. BRONCOS Unbeaten after two games for the sixth consecutive year, Denver showed its tenacity in a pair of fourthquarter comebacks at home.
Now it's time to see if the Broncos can win on the road.
Quarterback Case Keenum, record-setting rookie running back Phillip Lindsay, standout receiver Emmanuel Sanders and the NFL's second-ranked offence will be tested Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens, who are 60-21 on their own turf since coach John Harbaugh arrived in 2008.
"They have great crowd noise. It's like playing at a college stadium," Denver coach Vance Joseph said.
"It's going to be a tough [matchup] for our guys as far as travelling and playing our best game."
Keenum orchestrated a late drive for the gamewinning field goal last week against Oakland after throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns in his Denver debut versus Seattle. Lindsay is the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to top 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games, and Sanders has 14 catches for 231 yards and a score.
"They play really well together," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They have a quarterback at the helm that they believe in. In this game, confidence is 95 per cent of it."
All that aside, the Ravens (1-1) know the outcome could depend on how well they handle Denver linebacker Von Miller, who already has four sacks as the focal point of an aggressive defence.
"He's the straw that stirs the drink, no doubt, one of the very best in the league at what he does," Harbaugh said. "We will have to have him accounted for at all times, on every play. If we don't do that, he'll wreck the game."
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller is vastly quicker than he looks.
"He's a physical freak. That's his major trait," Joseph said. "He's built like an outside linebacker, but he's got defensive back movement." MARK LONG JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS VS. TITANS One of the NFL's most formidable fronts is off to a slow start.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who ranked second in the NFL with 55 sacks in 2017, have four in two games - on pace for 32 this season. Players insist the issue is all about the schedule and not any "Sacksonville" shortcomings.
The Jaguars (2-0) have faced veteran quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady, both savvy enough to get rid of the football quickly and avoid the pressure that defines Jacksonville's defence. The result: A relatively pedestrian nine quarterback hurries in eight quarters.
Jacksonville hopes to end the trend against AFC South rival Tennessee on Sunday. It's hardly a given considering the Titans (1-1) have allowed a leagueleading one sack.
But they also could be without starting offensive tackles Taylor Lewan (concussion) and Jake Conklin (knee). Conklin missed the first two games while recovering from a knee injury sustained in the postseason.
Making matters worse for Tennessee, backup Dennis Kelly (illness) was hospitalized last weekend and could miss a second straight game.
"They do have a good O-line, but we'll see this week," Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said with a sly grin.
Jacksonville has become one of the favourites in the AFC following wins against the New York Giants and New England. A victory against the Titans would give them their first 3-0 start since 2004.
Tennessee has won four of the past five meetings, including a series sweep last season, and has more victories (27) against Jacksonville than any team in the franchise's 24-year existence.
"It's intense, both teams on the rise that started at the bottom of the league and now both teams have been fighting for something [in] recent years," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
"It's exciting. It's exciting for football. The AFC South is becoming very competitive again, and we're both glad to be on the winning side of the things." STEVE REED CHARLOTTE, N.C.
PANTHERS VS. BENGALS The Bengals have their offence revving in high gear.
Cincinnati has put up 34 points in back-to-back games to open the season, although quarterback Andy Dalton said they haven't played a perfect game. yet "We left some stuff out there," Dalton said. "We can definitely improve and get better. [But] if we're saying that and scoring 34 points, that's a good thing."
Dalton and the Bengals will look to fix those "little things" and start 3-0 for the fifth time in coach Marvin Lewis's 16 seasons when they visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Panthers are coming off an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance in a 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, prompting coach Ron Rivera to say he wouldn't tolerate laziness on defence.
The big change from last year's 0-3 start for the Bengals has been up front. The offensive line was a mess last season, the main reason they finished last in the league in offence.
Co-ordinator Bill Lazor was given freedom to redesign the offence. The overhauled Bengals Oline line has new starters at four positions. So far the group has meshed well, allowing just two sacks - none in a 34-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 13.
"Any time you have time back there, you can step into your throws and you can put the ball where you want it," Dalton said of the protection in the team's 2-0 start .
Another adjustment has been lining up wide receiver A.J. Green in different spots on offence.
Green caught three first-half touchdown passes from the slot against the Ravens. Cornerback James Bradberry will cover Green most of the time, but there will be occasions when Green could face nickel back Captain Munnerlyn in the slot, where he'll have a significant height advantage.
"The reason they are moving him around is to try to create opportunities for him. You just got to have a package that can counter it," Rivera said of Green.
DAVE SKRETTA KANSAS CITY CHIEFS VS. 49ERS Patrick Mahomes has never lost an NFL game as the starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, beating the Broncos last season and the Chargers and Steelers to start this one.
He's also never started a game at Arrowhead Stadium. That will change Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and it's a moment Mahomes has thought about ever since the Chiefs traded up to select him 10th over all last year.
Because as much fun as it was to win a trio of games on the road, performing for his home fans figures to be quite a party.
"I'm extremely excited," Mahomes said. "I can't wait to run on the field and hear them roar."
You can bet there will be plenty of noise for Mahomes, given the way he's performed two games into the season. His 10 TD passes heading into Week 3 of a season is an NFL-record, and he has yet to throw an interception.
"Remember, it's only been two games," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "I understand the excitement.
I get it. But when you're in the grinder ... you don't worry about all that other stuff. You worry about a really good team coming in here."
Besides, the 49ers (1-1) have a fairly high-profile quarterback, too. Jimmy Garoppolo was perfect in five starts to finish last season, and while he's had trouble with interceptions the first two weeks, he's also a big reason why San Francisco won a shoot-out against the Lions last week. Garoppolo threw two touchdown passes in the 30-27 victory.
Mahomes and Garoppolo both had time to learn under QBs who rarely make errors: Alex Smith with the Chiefs last year and Tom Brady when Garoppolo was with the Patriots.
"I think it's tremendous for a quarterback to sit his first year," Garoppolo said. "You kind of try to put yourself in that situation, how to learn from it, what you would do if you were in the spot they were in.
There's a ton of things that you could benefit from."
Such as how to win in a tough road environment such as Arrowhead Stadium.
Or, in the case of Mahomes, how to win in one of the most favourable home venues in the NFL.
KRISTIE RIEKEN HOUSTON TEXANS VS. GIANTS It will be a showcase of two of the NFL's best receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr.
when the Houston Texans and New York Giants meet on Sunday with both teams looking for their first win.
Hopkins likes Beckham's determination and grit, and sees similarities between himself and the New York star.
"He makes plays no matter where the ball is," Hopkins said. "He's not the tallest, I'm not the tallest, but he [goes] up and gets it. He just makes plays."
Beckham is a fan of Hopkins and said he has been admiring him since he was in college.
"I love his game," Beckham said. "I remember when we were playing them here and he had that catch against Prince [Amukamara] down the field and they called it back. Trust me, I have been watching him, watching him a long time."
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt raved about the knack both players have for making difficult catches look easy.
"I know they both can catch anything you throw their way," he said. "I know they both find a way to get open and find a way to make catches that 99 per cent of people wouldn't be able to make, so they're obviously special playmakers, both of them."
Hopkins has 188 yards receiving with a touchdown this season and Beckham has 162 yards receiving. Giants coach Pat Shurmur noted that 6-foot-1 Hopkins is a bit bigger than the 5-foot-11 Beckham, but also sees many of the same qualities in the two receivers.
"Their production can be similar in a lot of ways [and] I think they've got a lot of similar traits in terms of their competitive nature, their spirit, their ability to win their one-on-one matchups. There's really a lot of similarities. I think Hopkins is a little bit bigger, if I'm not mistaken, but for the most part, they're very similar guys."
Both teams will be looking for a big game from their star receivers to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole.
The Texans lost to Tennessee 20-17 last week and the Giants fell to the Cowboys 20-13.
STEPHEN WINE MIAMI DOLPHINS VS. RAIDERS With this week's game preparations completed for the Oakland Raiders, coach Jon Gruden is confident he knows the Miami Dolphins' playbook, personnel and pronunciations.
That's not the way Gruden said the name when he was a network TV analyst talking about Ryan Tannehill.
"He always pronounced my name funny: 'Tanney-hill,'" the Dolphins quarterback recalls with a laugh.
Gruden stands corrected.
"I called him that on Monday Night Football a time or two," the Raiders' first-year coach says. "I knew a guy named Steve Taneyhill who played quarterback at South Carolina. You can't fault me; I'm human like everybody else. But I know his name now for sure."
With that issue settled, here are some other things to know about Sunday's matchup between Miami (2-0) and Oakland (0-2): Tannehill's name may be foremost for the Raiders' defence, but he has handed off more than he has thrown in the first two weeks. That's a big change from last year, when the Dolphins threw 64 per cent of the time, the NFL's highest rate.
Oakland's soft run defence makes it likely Miami running backs Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore will get plenty of touches. Broncos rookie Phillip Lindsay ran for 107 yards last week against the Raiders, and they're allowing an average of 5.7 yards a rush, worst in the league.
The Raiders' Derek Carr bounced back from a three-interception performance in the opener to complete 29-of-32 passes in a one-point loss at Denver. His 90.6-completion percentage was the best ever for a QB with at least 30 attempts, and would have been better if not for a key drop by Keith Smith.
Carr says he's already able to anticipate what play Gruden will call next.
"We're building that, and it's going to take time to continue to build that," he says. "But it's kind of cool to already be thinking what he's thinking before it even comes out."
Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum
Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack
Cincinnati Bengals pivot Andy Dalton
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill