Week 2 of the NFL season gave us joy and misery, comebacks and collapses, and other things beyond the 60 minutes of chaos that was the New York Giants vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
The Giants and Cardinals each put down the sticks and let the computer sim them out for a half at a time as New York engineered an epic comeback over one of the league’s worst teams to prove that, “hey, we’re not *thathopeless.” The Chicago Bears went in the other direction, showcasing some early competence and then abandoning it while allowing Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to look like a world class passing offense.
But the point of this column isn’t to revel in failure; that’s what Week 2’s grossest quarterbacks feature is for. Instead we’re talking about all the best things that happened Sunday. Fortunately, there was plenty of that — sometimes right up front and sometimes in the silver linings of sadder games. So what stood out the most? Friends, I’m glad you asked.
Micah Parsons pic.twitter.com/SzI1Q9rigP
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 17, 2023
That’s just one facet of what makes the Dallas Cowboys so dangerous. Parsons is nigh unblockable — particularly against a Jets offensive line whose porous state left Aaron Rodgers injured after four snaps — but this sack isn’t his alone.
Zach Wilson has nowhere to turn thanks to coverage downfield. His most likely option, a tailback screen, has been wiped out by defensive tackle Mazi Smith — a rookie who recognized the play and erased it from the option tree. He can’t go downfield because Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore bring elite coverage and Da’Ron Bland looks like a long-armed problem as the team’s third corner. So Parsons gets the sack because he’s great and so is the rest of the defense.
That’s not all. Here’s a play where Garrett Wilson gets open against Diggs in the end zone and it does not matter. Why? Because Demarcus Lawrence is still very good at football.
wanted to roast Zach Wilson for this one, but it reality it’s a great play from Demarcus Lawrence and the perfect read for an open Garrett Wilson. he’s doing some work today! pic.twitter.com/Q0FK5FoVBT
— Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 17, 2023
That’s a unit that can sew chaos on every level. It’s also a defense that’s allowed 10 points in two games so far. Granted, that’s against Wilson and Daniel Jones (in a rainstorm), but the fact remains; this is a championship caliber group.
We saw signs the offense can approach those heights as well. The Cowboys faced the defense that harangued Josh Allen in Week 1 and held the Buffalo Bills to 16 points. Dak Prescott led an effort that hung 30 on New York while converting 50 percent of his third downs. Granted, that came with a relatively paltry 4.6 yards per play — the same number Buffalo hit a week before — but 70 percent of the team’s drives that weren’t cut short by the end of the first half or regulation ended in either a touchdown or, much more commonly, field goal.
Concerns persist. All but nine of Prescott’s 38 passes came within five yards of the line of scrimmage, leading to an underwhelming 6.7 yards per attempt despite completing nearly 82 percent of his passes. Tony Pollard averaged fewer than three yards per carry. Five of those seven scoring drives were limited to field goals.
But if this offense can merely be league average the Cowboys’ defense will make it a contender. Prescott, Pollard, CeeDee Lamb and a hopefully healthy Brandin Cooks can get them there — especially amongst a thin crop of NFC title hopefuls.
Arizona has little benefit to winning games this season. Sure, there’s pride, but an overmatched roster is unlikely to make a meaningful playoff push. With two potential top 10 draft picks looming in 2024 — their own and the Houston Texans (currently 0-2) — the most prosperous path forward was a step backward as part of a total rebuild.
That’s what 2023 looked like from the outset, but these Cardinals have thrown a wrench into those plans. They actually look good … for just about three quarters each week before completing their more meaningful objective of losing games.
We saw it in Week 1 when a 16-10 fourth quarter lead over the Washington Commanders dissolved into a 20-16 defeat. But that was child’s play compared to Week 2, where the Cardinals put on a master class in tanking and allowed Daniel Jones and a New York Giants team whose offensive line was mostly theoretical to erase a 28-7 third quarter deficit.
This was wonderful. Arizona’s final two possessions before a last-ditch Hail Mary were both three-and-outs that net a combined -2 yards. The defense gave up 89 yards in the first half while staking a 20-0 lead and 350 in the second half. The Cardinals gave up 3.3 yards per play before halftime and 10.9 yards per play after it. New York’s win probability chart was the abstract interpretation of a hammock of shame.
The Cardinals are losing, but they aren’t entirely bad. They’re collapsing, but they’re entertaining. They’re sinking to the bottom of the standings but remaining fantasy relevant (100-plus rushing yards for James Conner, six catches, 54 yards and a touchdown for Hollywood Brown). They are somehow producing a watchable product for their fans while guiding them through the worst part of their fandom.
That’s a wonderful tightrope to walk. The Arizona Cardinals might be tanking wizards.
Conventional wisdom warns against using a first round draft pick on a running back thanks to the abundance of quality runners in the NFL. Conventional wisdom does not apply to Bijan Robinson, whose every touch is a sin against the rule of physics.
📺: FOX | NFL+ pic.twitter.com/6HCmkxkgJZ
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 17, 2023
One week after a 10-carry, 56-yard NFL debut Robinson proved his value as an NFL lead back with 124 yards on 19 carries. On a day where Tyler Allgeier’s 3.0 yards per carry average saddled him with -0.27 expected points added (EPA) per play, his rookie counterpart clocked in at 0.30 — making him twice as valuable to Atlanta’s comeback effort as quarterback Desmond Ridder (0.14 EPA/play).
Robinson is so good his head coach is comfortable running a toss sweep — a play that begins roughly five yards behind the line of scrimmage — on fourth-and-inches with the game in the balance.
The Falcons go for it on 4th and inches and convert!
📺: #GBvsATL on FOX
📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/FhXtx7w3wW pic.twitter.com/YFeTSMMHV5
— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2023
Robison’s drive-sustaining cuts justify every bit of hype he brought to the NFL. Through two games he has 256 total yards from scrimmage, generated 1