Not many things are more certain than 0-2 NFL teams missing the playoffs.

According to Justis Mosqueda of Optimum Scouting, only six of the 77 teams that have started 0-2 since 2009 have reached the postseason – a minuscule 8.5 percent success rate.

There are five games this weekend involving two 0-1 teams. We’ll look at three of those pivotal contests in this week’s X vs. O preview.

QB redemption: Deshaun Watson vs. Marcus Mariota

Two of the league’s emerging star quarterbacks entered 2018 with lofty expectations, albeit for slightly different reasons. Deshaun Watson was coming back from injury, while Marcus Mariota was playing with a new offensive coordinator. Yet both players struggled in their debuts.

As outlined earlier this week, Watson was held in check by a New England Patriots defense that focused on rush-lane discipline, smart defensive calls, and reactions in the secondary. Even when Watson was given time to throw from a clean pocket, though, he failed to capitalize. Facing fourth-and-5 on the Patriots’ 17-yard line and trailing 21-6, Houston head coach Bill O’Brien kept his offense on the field to try to get back in the game. They put tight end Ryan Griffin (No. 84) alone on the right in a “Y-Iso” formation. The Patriots fielded a 4-1-6 defensive package with four down linemen, one linebacker, and six defensive backs.

New England used a man coverage scheme, with Stephon Gilmore (No. 24) and Devin McCourty (No. 32), the free safety, bracketing DeAndre Hopkins. That left Griffin isolated on the other safety, Duron Harmon (No. 21), who used outside leverage, giving the tight end the advantage inside on his post route.

Watson, however, missed the throw.

Watson’s counterpart, Mariota, is dealing with an elbow injury suffered in the Titans’ Week 1 road loss to the Miami Dolphins. He’s not the only Tennesse player hurt. OT Taylor Lewan left the game with a concussion, while TE Delanie Walker suffered an ankle injury that will require surgery. If this team is going to avoid the 0-2 hole, it’ll need Mariota to step up.

The lofty expectations on the fourth-year quarterback were fueled in part by the potential influence of offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who spent last season under Sean McVay in Los Angeles. Using offensive designs that made more effective use of space, as McVay is known to do, would vastly improve an offense that struggled in that area last year. At times against the Dolphins, it seemed the offense was in a better position than last year when it came to spacing their concepts and stretching the defense. This play from the second quarter is a perfect example:

This is a variation of a classic Air Coryell passing design, 585. This school of thought focuses on the vertical passing game, and here we have two comeback routes along each boundary (the 5 routes) paired with a post route over the middle (the 8 route). But we also get the tight end releasing to the left flat, as well as running back Dion Lewis (No. 33) on the angle or Texas route underneath. That’s where Mariota looks to throw.

With Lewis isolated on a linebacker, this is an advantage for the offense. A better use of the field gets players in space and creates matchup problems for the defense.

But there were still some mistakes, and they start with Mariota. On this play against Miami, he immediately throws in the flat to the right and misses a dig route that came open in the back of the end zone that could’ve extended the Titans’ early lead.

If you look at the offense and defense pre-snap, you’ll see that even though the Titans have a three-receiver bunch to the right, the Dolphins have four defenders over that alignment, giving them the numbers advantage:

If Mariota let this play develop, he could’ve taken advantage of Tennessee’s numbers edge on the other side of the field.

QB protection: Cowboys vs. Giants

Week 1 was one to forget for both Cowboys and Giants fans. Dallas lost a one-score game on the road to the Panthers and saw quarterback Dak Prescott get sacked six times in the 16-8 loss. The Giants dropped a one-score game at home, falling 20-15 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eli Manning, who missed on a few throws that could’ve changed the game, was pressured often and was under severe duress on a pick-6 that altered the complexion of the matchup.

While not every sack or pressure can be attributed to the guys up front – there were instances where both Prescott and Manning could’ve been faster with their reads and decisions – fans and coaches of both teams should be concerned by how often Carolina and Jacksonville were able to get pressure with just four pass-rushers. Anytime a defense can pressure the QB with four pass-rushers but still drop seven into coverage, it has a clear advantage.

On this play, the Panthers implemented a dual tackle-end exchange, or TEX stunt. A TEX stunt is a design where the defensive tackles work upfield and try to split the guard and tackle in the B-gap. The DT looks to occupy both the guard and tackle while the defensive ends loop behind to the inside.

Prescott (No. 4) thought for a split-second he had space inside to tuck and run, but he ran right into the looping defensive ends for a sack.

The TEX stunt also played a role on the pivotal strip-sack of Prescott in the closing minutes. This time, the Panthers just used it on one side of the formation, but Prescott again thought he had space to run before getting overtaken by one of the four Carolina pass-rushers.

In New York, the spotlight shone on Ereck Flowers, the Giants’ right tackle. And while that was justifiable, to an extent, Jacksonville also excelled at faking him. Here’s the game’s pivotal play, a pick-6 by Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack:

The Jaguars rushed just four on this play. Linebacker Telvin Smith (No. 50), who’s responsible for rookie running back Saquon Barkley (No. 26) in coverage, deked Flowers (No. 71). Smith took a few steps toward the line of scrimmage as Flowers slid to his right to start his kick slide and block defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (No. 91). But when Flowers saw Smith’s first few steps, he stopped his kick slide short and tried to move to the inside, because with Barkley not involved in pass protection, Flowers needed to protect that inside gap. That gave Ngakoue the edge, and he pressured Manning. The QB tried to climb and check the ball down to Barkley, but the pass was tipped and then intercepted by Jack.

Again, pressure with four gives the defense the advantage on the back end. Which team – or quarterback – handles the pressure better Sunday night will go a long way toward determining the winner of this NFC East clash.

Seahawks’ O-line vs. Bears’ defensive front

This is a matchup between two more 0-1 teams that lost one-score games in Week 1. The Chicago Bears got a glimpse of their future with Khalil Mack and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith harassing Green Bay passers in the first half. Then Aaron Rodgers led yet another stunning comeback. Meanwhile, it was the same old song and dance for the Seattle Seahawks, with the Denver Broncos sacking Russell Wilson six times en route to a 27-24 victory.

Part of Denver’s ability to pressure Wilson came from its proficiency to get after the QB with just four rushers, as we talked about earlier. On this third-and-3 play, the Broncos sent just four after Wilson, giving them seven defenders in zone coverage:

There’s nowhere for Wilson to throw the ball given the seven defenders in coverage, and, as we can see from the end-zone angle, the pocket breaks down as he tries to buy time. Von Miller (No. 58) chases him down after getting past right tackle Germain Ifedi (No. 65).

Another way the Broncos challenged the right side of Seattle’s offense was with a cornerback blitz, which they used on a critical third-down play in the fourth quarter. As you can see pre-snap, Denver put eight defenders down near the line of scrimmage, showing blitz:

They sent six of the eight defenders, and with five linemen and the running back, this play should be blocked. But there seems to be some miscommunication, as center Justin Britt (No. 68) turned to the left and running back C.J. Prosise (No. 22) handled an interior blitzer, leaving defensive back Chris Harris Jr. (No. 25) unblocked off the right edge.

Harris finally chased Wilson down, and the Seahawks were forced to punt.

Given the pressure the Seahawks allowed off the right edge and fans’ concerns over Ifedi, this Doug Farrar tweet is cause for major concern:

On this red-zone play, Mack (No. 52) beats a chip attempt from wide receiver Davante Adams (No. 17) and shrugs off a block from Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga (No. 75) before stripping backup quarterback DeShone Kizer:

Later in the second quarter, Mack again beats Bulaga, and Smith (No. 58) is there for a clean-up sack on his first NFL snap:

These two plays illustrate the danger Seattle’s offense faces on its right side come Monday night.

As stated at the outset, 0-2 teams face an almost insurmountable challenge of reaching the playoffs, making these three games virtual must-wins for all six teams. The outcomes of these specific matchups might just determine their respective playoff fates.

Mark Schofield writes NFL feature content for theScore. After nearly a decade of practicing law in the Washington, D.C., area Mark changed careers and started writing about football. Drawing upon more than a decade of playing quarterback, including at the collegiate level, Mark focuses his work on quarterback evaluation and offensive scheme analysis. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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