Mike Tolbert and the stanky leg try to signal that the Chargers are back. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers won an in-conference game vs. Jacksonville to progress to 1-1. Their offense got back on schedule going from -6.7% VOA to 13.5%. Their passing is outproducing their rushing offense (35.2% vs 6.9%), but compared to the rest of the NFL their passing ranks 10th in VOA while their rushing ranks 6th. On defense, the Chargers are producing at an elite level (-23.2% VOA, which would rank 2nd in the NFL last year behind only the Jets, but ranks 6th so far this year). Most of that defensive value comes from stopping the pass and getting interceptions (-33.0% VOA vs. Pass), but they are no slouches against the run (-12.2% VOA). However, the special teams is still a work in progress and ranks dead last in the NFL (-18.6% VOA). The Chargers can go far with this formula (Total VOA is 18.1%, good for 8th in the NFL), especially if the special teams play gets cleaned up.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos won an out-of-conference game vs Seattle to move up to 1-1. However, the performance metrics aren't seeing this win as a big improvement (and in some cases not even an improvement). Their offensive VOA actually dropped in this game going from 18.9% to 13.7%, but that's still good enough to be 7th in the league. Their defense did the heavy lifting as it went from an abysmal 31.8% VOA to just a bad 15.2% VOA. That improvement is still a good sign for the Denver ballclub, its just not enough to show that they are going to consistently perform at that level. Special teams is also still a problem for the Broncos as they dropped in VOA from -3.6% to -6.4%. A win is always a win in the NFL, but sometimes you want to know what the performance means. For the Broncos it would seem to mean that they got better in the standings, but still have a lot of work to do.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs took advantage of a bad Cleveland team to win an in-conference game and stay undefeated at 2-0. If you recall from last week the Chiefs were pretty average in the two main phases of the game and the best in the league in special teams. Well, they are still #1 in special teams (even though their VOA went from the absurd and unsustainable 24.6% down to a more repeatable 10.7%), but the offense looks much worse and the defense looks better (although, with the Browns as the opponent that will probably change when VOA becomes DVOA). The offense dipped down to -7.5% VOA. Jamaal Charles didn't bust out the type of runs that got his week 1 VOA so high, Thomas Jones looked a little better, but Matt Cassel's VOA dropped from a paltry -21.7% to a worse -22.7%. Much like the Broncos the win still counts, but the Chiefs need to be looking hard at what they can do better in order to keep them coming.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders did just enough to scratch out a 16-14 win over the St. Louis Rams and get to 1-1. The offense couldn't get any worse that it was in week one and didn't (-56.3% VOA went up to -35.2%), but still ranks last in the NFL. The defense was on a mission back towards respectability (going from 23.1% VOA to 5.4% VOA) and is now ranked 20th in the NFL. However, much like the Chiefs and their defensive exploits against the Browns this performance against the lowly Rams won't look as good when DVOA starts making its adjustments for opponent strength. The special teams got better, but is still not good (-2.0% VOA). I would say something here about the Raiders not playing the Rams every week, but they've got the Cardinals coming up next and I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference there.
San Diego Chargers: The general hype for the Chargers is that the team we all expected to see showed up on Sunday. Most of the talk of Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill was silenced, with the exception of the impending trade of VJ. The talk of Kassim Osgood, how much the Chargers miss him and why did they let him go completely fizzled out. There still are some concerns though. Ryan Mathews fumbled for the second time in two games and suffered a minor injury that has people bringing up questions that not many Bolt Backers would want to hear (well, except for those big time Tolbert fans). The Chargers also had that blocked punt, which piled on the special teams problems from the week before. Getting back to Mathews I personally think that those two fumbles are not a good indicator that he has a fumbling problem. That doesn't mean that he doesn't, just that I don't see a problem based on the two that happened in the first two games. Also, if you go back and watch Mathews' runs from that first quarter you can see why he has value that Tolbert doesn't, while Tolbert has value that Mathews doesn't. I saw a couple of runs where at least one lineman missed his block and the defender got into the backfield, but Mathews hit the hole vacated by that defender so fast that it didn't matter. That stuff is special. Just like Tolbert and his ground and pound is special. We need all the special we can get.
Denver Broncos: If you remember back to last week, the hype with the Broncos was correcting mistakes. Well, taking a team to the woodshed that had looked good in week one will appease the followers of the Denver team for this week. The team looked good. I said in this space last week that they'd need to go to the air with Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd, but they got their rookie 1st round pick WR Demaryius Thomas active for this game and he made an impact. Their RB Knowshon Moreno had a number of good plays as well, which I'm sure fans of the Shanahan Broncos loved to see. The team's defense made their hay by getting 3 interceptions on Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks. Hasselbeck is prone to interceptions and you can try to belittle the Broncos defense by saying they were gimmes, but nothing in the NFL is a gimme. Champ Bailey ending up on crutches after the game is probably a bit worrisome. I'm not sure the defense works without him.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs escaped with a victory again. Tell me if you've heard this one before: The Chiefs won on Sunday in a close game where they played conservatively, didn't get much out of their offense and had to rely on the other units to score the points that decided the game. Yeah, well, this time it was against the lowly Cleveland Browns instead of the defending division title holding Chargers. I get angry every time I see that duck of a pass that Seneca Wallace threw for a pick 6. I get angry when I see the fairly reliable Phil Dawson miss the FG that perhaps would have given the Browns the edge they needed. And it was frustrating to see the Chiefs win the game by converting on 4th and inches by the tiniest of margins. The Chiefs also upset some of the NFL pundits who praise aggressiveness when they punted in the 4th quarter in their opponents territory for the second straight week. When Todd Haley was taking the Cardinals offense to the Super Bowl in 2008, I don't remember cautious and tentative being his trademark.
Oakland Raiders: Team Gradkowski or Team Campbell. That's the divide in Oakland right now. Those who analyzed the Raiders on paper this offseason saw Jason Campbell as enough of an upgrade at QB over JaMarcus Russell that he'd help turn around the Raiders. Well, in his first two games Campbell looked lost. Personally, I want to blame it on his coaching because even though Campbell isn't a Pro Bowl caliber QB he should be able to steward an offense that's based on a solid ground game and a well gameplanned and practiced passing game. Gradkowski is a bit of an improviser. He's been on bad teams for years and cut his teeth with a wide open Toledo offense in college. He can scramble around and deal with line breakdowns and receivers running bad routes. I guess if you're Tom Cable and your rear end is on the hot seat if you don't start winning then you turn to Gradkowski to get you those wins. But, I still think Campbell is the better QB if you give him a legitimate NFL offense.
San Diego Chargers: The Bolts get the Broncos sloppy seconds this week again. With the Jaguars the Chargers succeeded where the Broncos failed, but the Seahawks were crushed by Denver. So what does that mean? The formula for the Chargers will probably be the same as what the Broncos just did. Cage the Seahawks' running game, intercept Matt Hasselbeck and let all the weapons on offense steamroll Pete Carroll and his charges.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos stay at home and face the defending AFC Champs. This will be quite different from playing the Jaguars or the Seahawks. The one thing going for the Broncos will be their running game since the Colts' run defense looked awful throughout the preseason and in week one. The Colts will try to hide this the same way they did against the Giants. Score as much as they can and force the opposing team to pass. They figure the Colts either blow out the Broncos or its a shootout, much of which will rely on Kyle Orton and the Broncos ability to prevent turnovers on offense and get them on defense.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs get to host a team that took the Super Bowl Champions to the brink on Monday night. The 49ers come in hungry for a win. The 49ers also come in as team that has not looked good at ball security, which will have the Chiefs licking their chops. The Saints have one of the better pass defenses, but when the 49ers were rolling they were able to use talents like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to beat them through the air before making mistakes. The 49ers also showed that their defense comes to play and another performance like Monday night could mean an ugly day for the Chiefs and their offense. I see either a low scoring slug fest with either team coming out ahead, the Chiefs defense and special teams carrying the day again or the 49ers holding onto the football, methodically moving the ball on the Chiefs and burying the Chiefs offense for a San Francisco victory.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders travel to the desert to face the plucked Cardinals. The losses of Kurt Warner, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Anquan Boldin are taking their toll on a team that's only 2 seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Both teams got their one win versus last year's worst team, the St. Louis Rams. Both teams struggled in doing so. The Cardinals did it by scoring just enough, allowing the Rams to throw, throw, throw and intercepting the rookie Rams QB just enough. The Raiders did it by grinding out yards on the ground and shutting down any offense the Rams could muster. Truthfully, I don't know what to make of this game. I don't have a lot of faith in the Raiders passing game or their ability to go on the road and win. I don't have a lot of faith in the Cardinals to keep their stuff together for 4 quarters if the game is tight. I'd say we should tune and see, but there's probably better football to watch on Sunday. Maybe the key lies in what the Falcons did to the Cardinals and that's run all over them.