Three very fun games on the afternoon slate for Week 2 of the 2019 NFL season: a redux of the NFC Championship game with the Saints out for retribution; a revenge game for Denver HC Vic Fangio against the Chicago Bears, whose defense led the league with Fangio at the helm; and the NFL's sideshow, the Oakland Raiders, against the NFL's main attraction, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
I highlighted a matchup from each game that I think will go a long way in determining the outcome. Be sure to let me know what you expect from this afternoon's games on Twitter @BenjaminSolak or @DraftNetworkLLC.
Kinda a cool spot for draft heads, though it's a shame how we got here. Oakland CB Gareon Conley had a scary stretcher exit in the first half against Denver, while Kansas City WR Tyreek Hill is out multiple weeks with a collarbone injury. Conley is actually questionable with a neck injury, and has been a limited participant in practice this week.
Now, if Conley's a no-go, it's a rookie that will likely start in his place: ex-Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen, the second round selection for the defense-needy Raiders. And because Hill is a no-go, Georgia speedster Mecole Hardman is expected to run with the ones -- he was also a second-round selection, taken 16 picks after Mullen.
Hardman had a strong preseason, while Mullen's was a little quieter, but both were appropriately drafted as potential Year 1 starters who likely needed a little more time to develop, and would have been better suited for a Year 2 starting role. Now, they're thrust into a Week 2 matchup against one another, with Hardman's speed and route running likely presenting a tough early challenge for Mullen, who struggled with receivers of Hardman's type in college.
Chicago EDGEs v. Denver OTs
Mike Munchak is in Denver now, which is great news for an offensive line that has underwhelmed for years. The bad news is that the offensive line has underwhelmed for years because some of the talent is...well, it's not great.
Now, Ja'Wuan James was added in free agency, and Ronald O'Leary has returned nicely to form, and Dalton Risner was drafted -- so the retooling has begun. But boy if Garret Bolles still isn't an issue on the outside -- especially when Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd are coming to town.
Denver's offensive line gave up three sacks to the Raiders last week, and while that has a lot to do with Joe Flacco's time spent in the pocket, things aren't going to get any easier or faster when Benson Mayowa and Clelin Ferrell are replaced by Mack and Floyd. The two Bears off the edge both had strong performances on Thursday night against Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers, now face lesser talent across the offensive board. If Denver has a hope of moving the ball against the Chicago defense -- which looks to be just as tough in 2019 as they were in 2018 -- they must find a way to stymie the Chicago rush
Rams Defensive Backs v. NFL Officiating Crew
Nah I'm just playing.
Rams Receivers v. Saints Defensive Backs
The Saints and the Rams played twice last season -- you probably remember that second game pretty well -- but the first one was telling at the time. In their first loss of the season, the Rams struggled particularly with the size and physicality of one P.J. Williams, who ended the night with 6 tackles (one for a loss) and 3 pass breakups. The second time they played, the pressure was the story: the Saints harassed Goff for four quarters, leading to quick throws and inaccurate passes in a lower-scoring and dirtier affair.
In an early season rematch of the rematch, I'm fascinated to see how the return of Cooper Kupp -- lost for the 2019 playoffs -- affects the Saints' coverage shells in another matchup against the McVay offense. Remember, the Saints return Patrick Robinson as a slot cover option, who they didn't have for all of last season.
The Saints have one of the deepest secondaries in the league, and should be able to track the Rams' impressive receiving corps in man coverage for four quarters -- and while you'll lose some reps that way, you also can protect yourself from Jared Goff's calm dissection of zone coverage, which is the strength of his game. Especially circle Brandin Cooks on the outside against Marshon Lattimore as the premiere match-up.