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NFL Week 2 takeaways: Bolts of emptiness, NFC South surging and Fields of nightmares

Will the Chargers win a close game? Is the NFC South for real? Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways from Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season.

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans
Head Coach Brandon Staley of the Los Angeles Chargers looks at his play call sheet during the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season is in the books and we’ve already got some compelling storylines to follow heading into Week 3. As always, the league remains the standard for parity with 11 games being decided by one possession. Here’s a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the week that was in the NFL.

The Chargers continue to implode

This is soon going to be the longest-running comedy show on television. The Chargers, once again, dropped a one-score game and now find themselves sitting at 0-2 in this pivotal season. It’s becoming clear what the problem is, and it’s not the offense.

LA’s offense has ranked ninth, fourth and ninth in total offense since Justin Herbert became the team’s starting quarterback. They’ve ranked 18th, fifth and 13th in scoring offense in those respective seasons. That’s not exactly as efficient as you’d like to be given the production, but it’s not terrible.

The defense is another story. Since Brandon Staley took over, the Chargers have ranked 30th and 22nd in scoring defense. They ranked 23rd and 20th in total defense. In 2020, the year before Staley took over, the Chargers ranked 10th in total defense and 23rd in scoring defense. Staley, who was the Rams defensive coordinator in 2020, led that unit to a first-place finish in total defense and scoring defense.

I don’t know if it’s scheme, players not fitting or something about the Chargers uniform but that side of the ball has consistently let this team down. Staley was brought in to shore up that side of the ball, and he’s arguably made it worse. The Chargers are going to be solid offensively but they won’t be contenders until they fix the defense. The question now is whether Staley will be around to fix it. The team started 4-2 in each of Staley’s first two seasons but struggled in the middle of the year. Now, the Chargers are 0-2 and looking at a four-week stretch featuring a desperate Vikings squad, the Raiders, the Cowboys and the Chiefs. This could get ugly.

What is happening in the NFC South?

The quarterbacks in this division in 2020 were Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. There was a debate as to who the best quarterback was among a trio of accomplished passers and a motivated prospect. Three years later, there’s still a debate as to who the best quarterback in the division is but the names are Desmond Ridder, Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr and Bryce Young. There’s a clear difference. This division was supposed to be four mediocre teams fighting for the opportunity to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Two weeks in, three of the four teams are sitting at 2-0. The Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers have all put together strong performances through the first two games and appear to be tougher outs than expected. The Falcons will continue to grow offensively as Bijan Robinson develops, while the Saints and Bucs can lean on their defenses. New Orleans will also be getting the dynamic Alvin Kamara back, and he’s likely motivated to show he’s still one of the best players at his position.

Things will begin to sort themselves out in Week 4 when the Saints face the Buccaneers.

Are the Commanders legitimate?

We’re about to find out. After a win in the season opener over the tanking Cardinals, the Commanders came back from a 21-3 deficit to defeat the Broncos 35-33 in one of the wildest games of Week 2. Sam Howell has been impressive in his role as the starting quarterback, and Brian Robinson Jr. is starting to establish himself as a dynamic running back. The defense certainly needs some work, but Washington did find its footing after surrendering 21 early points to Denver.

The Commanders are now going to face the Bills and Eagles in the next two weeks before a Thursday game against the Bears. They beat the Eagles and Bears last season, but that three-game stretch with a short week to close it out will give us a better idea of what this team can be.

Have the Bears failed Justin Fields or has he failed them?

Last spring, the Bears appeared to be turning an important corner organizationally. They have the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but didn’t necessarily need to take a quarterback after what Justin Fields had done. The team was able to pry Kevin Warren away from his job as the Big Ten commissioner to become the team’s president. The Ryan Poles-Matt Eberflus tandem was going to get another offseason to reshape a develop this roster.

Fields’ 2022 season is hard to decipher because a lot of his numbers did come when the game was out of hand. However, rushing for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns is no joke. Fields posted a 56.4 QBR, which is slightly above average according to how the metric is derived. It’s not a perfect evaluation but it showed progress from his rookie season. The future seemed bright.

Instead, we’ve seen a regression through two games. Fields has thrown three interceptions, including a comical pick-6 against the Bucs in Week 2. The Bears ran that same screen play three times in a row, so Tampa Bay knew what was coming. Through two games, Fields has posted a QBR of 22.2.

Some of this is on Fields. He holds the ball too long on occasion and tries to create windows which aren’t there. He’s also dealing with an offensive line which has been overwhelmed through two games and a receiving group that has left a lot to be desired.

The coaching staff and front office have not helped. Acquiring D.J. Moore as part of the deal for the No. 1 pick appeared to be a good start, but he’s not consistently getting open. There’s no run game, largely because the offensive line is struggling. Fields has not been moved around much, which takes away a lot of what he can do with his legs. And the defense isn’t exactly locking down opponents.

For Fields to be successful, the offense needs to feature read options, run-pass options and some designed quarterback runs. In my opinion, it has to be heavy in these areas. The Bears don’t seem interested in doing that, and hiring Eberflus as the coach to develop Fields seems like a mistake. Poles has attempted to surround Fields with talent, but he also has to worry about the defense. For now, the coaching staff appears to have put Fields in a tough position. We’ll see if something changes in the coming weeks.