Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 2

September 15, 2023 08:10 AM

Why do the Eagles look different this season?

Fighting off boredom can be the hardest thing for any NFL playcaller—offensively or defensively.  Having to repeat play calls and not use their entire sheet to highlight their bright minds can cause frustration and the urge to try something new.  It takes great discipline and selfless behavior to repeat good calls. Instinctively, there becomes an internal sense as a coach you’re not doing something to help.

I know that might sound strange to fans. Yet coaches don’t have the Cheesecake Factory-sized menu in front of them as their call sheet because they only want to run a few plays.  They love variety; they tend to bore easily. When I first met Bill Belichick, I once asked him why, when he was with the Giants, I had never seen him with a call sheet.  He said, “I have Lawrence Taylor. Why do I need one? Just call Flip Cover 2.”  And he was right.  However, not everyone has the patience of Belichick, nor do they adhere to an NFL old adage:  Make them stop you, don’t you stop you. 

Last night, we witnessed the Eagles implement the rule perfectly defeating the Vikings 34-28.  Yet Eagle fans and most of the NFL know, the Birds don’t have the same explosive rhythm as in 2022. 

All off-season, the defensive coaches around the NFL have spent time studying the Eagles' “six back” offense with quarterback Jalen Hurts being the focal point of their attack.  With an off-season to prepare, the coaches have devised a plan to stop the Birds from dominating the game and never punting.  In two weeks, even though the Eagles are still undefeated, they don’t look the same offensively.  In Week 1 against the Patriots, they were held to their lowest offensive output in 27 games.  Last night, the Birds moved the ball—once they decided the Vikings were a gap short defending the run, willing to allow short runs over long passes.  The Vikings' plan was to take away the explosive pass play, rally to the run and get the game to third down, then unleash their deceptive scheme.  And for the first half, it was working, until the Birds didn’t get bored and started to feed D’Andre Swift the ball.  Swift had 28 attempts and 175 yards, his best as a pro. He was the difference in the game. 

All evening, and in the first game against the Patriots, the Eagles didn’t look as dominating as they did in 2022 on either side of the ball, and the numbers prove that they are going to need to get healthy and make significant improvements to get back to their level of play from a year ago.  These new defensive schemes playing the Eagles had to be expected.  They were the standard of excellence last season, on both sides, but particularly offensively, so naturally coaches will devise ways to slow them down. 

For example, in two games, the Eagles offense has averaged 9.1 yards per attempt passing; last season, that number was at 12.5.  Hurts averaged 8.0 yards per attempt; this season, he is at 6.5.  Last year, he was sacked 8.6% of the time; this season, he is at 12.5%.  Last year, the Birds averaged 12 points in the second quarter alone, and this year, they are at five. 

The offense feels different, less explosive, and less effective, especially on third down.  Last year, the Eagles converted 45.9% of their third downs. This season. it’s down to 37%.  In 17 games last year, kicker Jake Elliott attempted 25 field goals, 1.47 per game. This year, he has attempted seven already, four over 50 yards, 3.5 per game.  The Eagles averaged 3.6 punts per game in 2022. This year, they have already punted eight times in two games, 4.0 per game. 

Defensively, things have changed as well—for the worse.  When the Eagles cannot control the game with their defensive line pressuring the passer (they got 60 of their 70 sacks from their defensive lineman last season), they are vulnerable in the secondary.  With injuries to their secondary and their front not being as dominating, they have allowed the opposing offenses to move the ball, scoring seven touchdowns through the air in two games.  Last season, they allowed 1.29 touchdown passes per game, and this year, that number has ballooned to 3.5. 

The Eagles have only four sacks in two games—none from Hassen Riddick who led their team last year with 16.  In 2022, they allowed 4.8 yards per play, and already this year they have allowed 5.7.  What has saved the Eagles has been their opponents’ willingness to hand them the ball back. In two games, the Patriots and Vikings have fumbled six times, losing five of them, and the Patriots allowed a pick-six, which ended up costing them the game. 

The fundamental question Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni must ponder on this break is whether this is a scheme problem, a talent problem, an injury issue, or a coaching problem.  They cannot ignore the numbers or assume it will revert back just because they did it last year.  It’s a new year, which brings new problems.  The Eagles understand when they play teams who can protect the ball, who don’t have two starting linemen missing from the game, it will get harder to win.  Admitting problems while being 2-0 is the mark of a great organization.  The best part of the problem is there are 15 more games to show the improvement needed to return to the Super Bowl.  And if they don’t address these issues, they won’t. 


We all know it’s a quarterback league, but four of my top five quarterbacks lost last week. Two of them, Burrow and Allen, had horrible games.  One bad game doesn’t isn’t going to affect the rankings, but two will. 

1. Patrick Mahomes - With Kelce back and ten days to prepare for the Jags, I expect Mahomes to be vastly better than Week 1.  

2. Joe Burrow - Burrow was historically bad last week. The rain, the Browns defense, and his lack of protection all made him look like an average Joe, not Joe Burrow.  Against a beat-up Ravens secondary and limited pass rush, the Bengals need the real Joe back. 

3. Jalen Hurts - As we mentioned above, he isn’t the same in terms of his production running or passing.  He is not going to stay healthy averaging 10.5 carries per game and being hit as often as he’s been over the first two weeks. 

4. Justin Herbert - I love the talent, but sometimes I don’t love the decision-making with the ball.  With 1:45 to go in the game and two timeouts, down by two points against Miami, Herbert needs to win this game.

5. Josh Allen - In the two playoff games and last week, Allen has thrown six picks and has not protected the ball.  He needs to stop trying to win the game himself and force the ball to Diggs. 


This list will be based on last week as we move forward. 

28. Ryan Tannehill - He didn’t play in the preseason and looked awful in Week 1.  He needs to have a big game this week and not turn the ball over, or else he will move further down the list. 

29.  Sam Howell - Played better late in the game against the Cardinals.  Needs to show he can handle the road, and the Broncos' crowd noise as it was loud last week vs. the Raiders. 

30.  Zach Wilson - Needs to protect the ball, not be a hero, and make smart decisions this week against the Cowboys.  Most of all, he needs to prove to his teammates, he is prepared and ready to go. 

31.  Bryce Young/CJ Stroud - Both have to improve their decision-making as the season progresses.  They showed flashes, Young more so than Stroud, but both are hampered by injured offensive lines and a lack of playmakers. 

32.  The game in Glendale -This game will feature two quarterbacks, Daniel Jones and Joshua Dobbs who didn’t have the best opening day games.  Jones can rally back as he has played well. Not $40 million well, but well enough to win.  Dobbs is still growing and will struggle with the Giants' pressure package this week. 


This is far from perfect.  Next week, with two weeks of data to help, we should be able to post the power ranking numbers and get a better handle on the Lombardi Lines. 

San Francisco



Kansas City



Green Bay





Las Vegas




New England

Tampa Bay


New Orleans




NY Jets



NY Giants








I know Aaron Rodgers means a great deal to the betting line. However, this summer, the line against Dallas was at -3.  Once he was ruled out, it went to -9.5.  6.5 points in one direction seems a little too much.  When you consider Zach Wilson and the Jets' offensive line struggles, maybe this isn’t as far-fetched.  You can make arguments either way, which means I am not touching this game.  I scratched it off the consideration list. 


Green Bay opened as the favorite on the road against Atlanta and quickly got beat to the dog.  Not sure why, as the Falcons showed no ability to throw the ball and their protection was marginal at best vs. Carolina.  The Falcons are capable of running the ball, and the Packers struggle to defend the run at times in the Mike Barry defense.  I suspect this line will move back to the Packers come Sunday morning.  If you like the Packers, take the points now. 


Broncos head coach Sean Payton is an outstanding playcaller and designer.  He understands how to attack different schemes well and has been around the league long enough to know how each defensive coordinator behaves.  His scheme works well against the Jack Del Rio scheme of Washington.  In 2021, while at the Saints, he scored 33 points, threw for 271, and won in spite of having two turnovers.  In addition, the Chargers using the Payton scheme, with then-offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, amassed 334 yards passing in a Week 1 win against the Commanders.  Washington has a young quarterback with Sam Howell, who will face all sorts of pressure from Denver’s defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, behind a bad offensive line, and in front of a hostile crowd. It makes me feel the Broncos have an edge. 

Tune into The Lombardi Line on Sunday for the picks. Last week, I went 2-1, and so far since making picks for VSIN, I am 140-101 (58%).

Enjoy the games.

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