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2023 NFL season, Week 2: What We Learned from Monday night doubleheader 

  1. Pittsburgh's defense saves day. The Steelers won Monday night by putting 26 points on the board; 12 (14 if you count the extra points) came from their defense. It began with a pick-six off a Deshaun Watson pass that glanced off tight end Harrison Bryant's hands and spent time in the grasp of two defenders, with Alex Highsmith being the second recipient fortunate to return it for a first-play defensive touchdown. And it fittingly ended with Highsmith again playing a key part, racing around left tackle Jedrick Wills to strip Watson from behind, forcing the ball free for T.J. Watt to scoop and score with ease. Bottom line: The Steelers do not win this game without their defense -- which forced four turnovers -- because their offense certainly didn't do enough to win. After they were steamrolled by San Francisco a week ago, this one has to taste extra sweet.
  2. Watson, Kevin Stefanski still so many miles apart. An offseason filled with talk about a wide-open, explosive offense has yet to materialize, and after a rain-soaked opener gifted the Browns an excuse for their struggles, Week 2 brought a hard dose of reality. Cleveland's offense is out of sync. Relying on Nick Chubb kept the Browns afloat until he was lost to a gruesome, season-ending knee injury. Watson still isn't anywhere near the star quarterback he once was in Houston, and, too often Monday night, frequent pressure forced him to instinctively pull his eyes down and attempt to bail out of generally clean pockets. There are glimpses of good -- downfield passes to Elijah Moore, well-placed sideline shots to Amari Cooper -- but far too much of it is awful. As for Stefanski, there are a number of decisions that can be questioned: Why did Stefanski decide to go up-tempo while holding a 22-19 lead early in the fourth quarter? Why did he dial up a pass on second-and-9 with 7:06 left and Cleveland still clinging to the same lead (which ended in a strip-sack and a fumble returned for a touchdown)? For most of Stefanski's tenure in Cleveland, there have been a multitude of times in which he seemingly outcoaches himself. He did it again on multiple occasions Monday, such as when he called an option on fourth-and-short early in the game, which failed to pick up the first down after a review. Worst of all, Stefanski and Watson haven't been able to find an answer to the blitz. Stefanski hasn't schemed away from pressure, and Watson too often fails to escape it. Pittsburgh's approach in the final moments of the game could be seen from the moon: send the house at Watson and dare him to make a play. He didn't, sending Browns fans to the interwebs to question everything about their franchise's past, present and once-optimistic future -- and rightfully so.
  3. Steelers offense still lacking -- and a backfield controversy is brewing. Monday night was an artisanal blend of perplexing play-calling from both sides, and especially from Pittsburgh. Stefanski's fourth-down option call was the clubhouse leader for worst decision of the night until Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada deemed it wise to call a read option on third-and-2 with the Steelers hanging on to a narrow lead in the fourth. That play, unsurprisingly, ended with Kenny Pickett getting sandwiched by two defenders before he could ever get going. Pittsburgh's offense is a bit of a mess, with Pickett still struggling to get comfortable and establish much of a rhythm. Pittsburgh finished with 255 total yards of offense, went 4 of 14 on third down and punted seven times -- and still won, thanks to its defense. Pickett's best play of the night came via a blown Browns coverage, in which Denzel Ward attempted to hand off George Pickens to an inside defender, but no such teammate existed. That connection went for 71 yards, the longest scoring play of Pittsburgh's young season, which still might end up being the longest scoring play by the end of the campaign if things continue at this rate. The offensive line isn't doing Pickett any favors, nor is Pittsburgh's insistence on giving lead-back carries to Najee Harris. It might be an ugly secret, but as Monday night proved, it's time to bring this fact to light: Jaylen Warren is the better runner for this offense.
  4. Chubb's injury casts shadow on Monday night. A number of injuries occurred throughout this game, but none was more difficult to witness than Chubb's knee injury. On a red-zone carry in the second quarter, Chubb was hit in a high-low collision in which safety Minkah Fitzpatrick forced Chubb's knee in a direction that the human body is not supposed to go. It was an image so gruesome the folks at ESPN wisely declined to show the replay. Chubb appeared to immediately understand the significance of the injury, was carted off and Stefanski ruled him out for the remainder of the season following the game. It hurts to watch a player like Chubb -- a class act, consummate pro, fantastic teammate and elite running back -- go down in such a manner, no matter who you root for. Chubb is truly a one-of-a-kind individual, and the league is worse off without him playing in it for the rest of 2023. Here's to a speedy recovery, Nick -- you deserve it.

Next Gen stat of the game: Deshaun Watson completed just 3 off 11 pass attempts while under pressure Monday night, bringing his total to 7 of 22 while under pressure this season. His -26.7 completion percentage over expected while under pressure is the worst in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.

NFL Research: The Steelers' two defensive touchdowns powered them to victory, and also past their combined total for defensive touchdowns between the last two seasons (one). T.J. Watt also became the Steelers' all-time sack leader (81.5) with his second-quarter sack of Watson.

  1. Olave catch jumpstarts struggling Saints. A good portion of the game consisted of more of what we saw out of the Saints offense in Week 1: productive plays to start drives, before stalling out in the red zone. But after going 0 of 2 on two trips to the red zone and failing to score a touchdown through almost three full quarters Monday night, a highlight-reel play from Chris Olave seemed to bring the offense to life. Running down the sideline on a long throw by Derek Carr, Olave reached out and tipped the ball up with one hand before getting his second arm free to bring it in. The 42-yard reception put the Saints in Panthers territory, and they used the newfound momentum to finally find the end zone and get things going.
  2. Bryce has another rough outing. The Panthers offense still hasn't found its rhythm through two games of Bryce Young learning on the job. It doesn't help that Young continues to be pressured at a high rate behind a leaky offensive line, but he also made mistakes that can be attributed to his inexperience. Young had multiple pass attempts in which he overthrew an open receiver, giving away costly potential yards. And he had one, almost two, fumbles, the second negated because of a defensive holding penalty. The offense was just 4 for 14 on third down, and had one long scoring drive of 75 yards late in the game, with no other drive going longer than 44 yards. There were small positives, like Adam Thielen getting more involved, as he caught the touchdown and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, and Young using his legs to get some good yardage, but overall it's clear there's still a lot of work to do.
  3. New Orleans run game sees lows and highs. After recording only 69 yards rushing last week against a stout Titans defense, the Saints were looking to get back on track this week, and early on they looked to be establishing the run well. Through three drives they had 58 yards rushing, but then Jamaal Williams, who had half of those yards, left the game with a hamstring injury. With Alvin Kamara still serving his suspension and Kendre Miller inactive due to injury, that left Taysom Hill and Tony Jones, who was a game-day elevation, as rushing options. The Saints largely abandoned the run game for the next four drives, but brought it back in the second half with positive results. Jones rushed for both of the team's touchdowns and Hill used his versatile skill set to rack up 75 yards on the ground, often lined up at the QB position. Though it looked rough for a moment, the run game came through when it mattered.
  4. Panthers D kept it close. With the offense unable to put up points for most of the game, it was up to the Panthers' defense. And for a majority of the contest Carolina achieved its goal, getting pressure on Carr early to limit the passing game. Four players had at least half a sack, including two for linebacker Frankie Luvu and one for Kamu Grugier-Hill, in for an injured Shaq Thompson. The unit had six tackles for loss, seven passes defensed and an interception, and before the Saints' break-through drive near the end of the third quarter, the Panthers D had only given up 142 yards. Though Carolina came away with another loss, the early defense was a bright spot.

Next Gen stat of the game: Chris Olave's 42-yard catch in the third quarter increased the Saints' win probability by 12% (55% to 67%) in Week 2. He had less than a yard of separation (0.8 yards) on C.J. Henderson when the ball arrived.

NFL Research: Derek Carr's 65.5 passer rating in Monday night's win is the worst passer rating he has had in a win in his career (previously 0-25 with a sub-70 passer rating).

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