With two clear victors and one incomplete grade, it’s time to review our three scheme and execution questions posed before the Week 2 slate of NFL games.

QB redemption: Deshaun Watson vs. Marcus Mariota

Winner: N/A

In what was expected to be a matchup between two young quarterbacks looking to rebound after Week 1, the best pivot on the field Sunday in Nashville may have been Kevin Byard.

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but the Tennessee Titans safety did complete his only passing attempt of the afternoon on a fake punt, finding fellow safety Dane Cruikshank for a 66-yard touchdown.

As for the main event, Marcus Mariota was sidelined with an arm injury suffered in Week 1, so the Titans’ offense relied on a mix of short passes and play-action from Blaine Gabbert, along with a healthy dose of the Wildcat with running back Derrick Henry receiving snaps.

As for Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ second-year quarterback threw two touchdown passes – the first coming on a scramble drill in which he eventually found DeAndre Hopkins:

The most impressive thing here is Watson’s ability to keep his eyes downfield. On this replay angle below, watch how the quarterback – even with pressure flushing him around the pocket – keeps looking for a target rather than dropping his eyes:

However, Watson did make a costly mistake on Tennessee’s side of the field. Facing a second-and-7 in the third quarter, he tried to hit Hopkins on a deep post route. But the Titans had bracket coverage on the talented receiver – with Byard on the inside and Adoree’ Jackson covering him as well – leading to an interception.

This is the type of throw Watson can’t afford to make. He trusts his receivers, especially Will Fuller and Hopkins, and many times that trust is rewarded. But there are also times when a quarterback needs to identify the double coverage and acknowledge there’s almost always a better option.

QB protection: Cowboys vs. Giants

Winner: Cowboys

We got a clear answer to this question Sunday night. After both Dak Prescott and Eli Manning were harassed throughout their season-opening contests, both teams looked to do a better job of protecting their quarterback in Week 2.

The results? Manning was sacked six times for 59 yards and was pressured throughout the night. Meanwhile, Prescott wasn’t even sacked once.

So, how did Dallas do it? Part of getting a quarterback comfortable in the pocket is giving him plays and designs he’s executed for years. The Cowboys did that on Sunday, giving Prescott some zone-read designs that got him into the flow of the game as a runner and an athlete, with parallels to the offense he sometimes ran at Mississippi State:

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Prescott’s read is easy on the play below, as the defensive end immediately follows the running back after the fake handoff, allowing the quarterback to pull back the football and skip around the end for an easy gain:

A comfortable quarterback is more confident, and Prescott was much more confident in the pocket in Week 2, as seen on throws like this one:

The play above is a simple slant/flat design on the right side – something most teams run routinely. In this example, there’s a choice between the slant route from Deonte Thompson and the flat route from Ezekiel Elliott. Following the snap, Prescott first peeks to his left, but then sees Elliott in the flat, which widens the linebackers and opens up a throwing lane to hit the slant route late in the play. Calm and confident in the pocket, Prescott delivers on the throw.

It was a completely different story for the Giants, as Manning became the subject of more memes due to the barrage of pressure he faced all night long:

This sack early in the second quarter is a prime example of how Dallas was able to get to Manning, even when the offense had the numbers to protect its quarterback. Facing a third-and-9, the Giants put Manning in the shotgun with rookie running back Saquon Barkley to his left. Dallas responds by “sugaring the A-Gap,” or putting both linebackers down near the line of scrimmage on either side of the center:

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In addition to the four down linemen, both linebackers blitz on this play. To combat those six defenders attacking the pocket, the Giants have both Barkley and tight end Evan Engram (No. 88) involved in pass protection. That gives New York a numbers advantage of seven blockers for six rushers.

While we can’t be certain of the actual protection call, this looks like a “50” protection scheme with Barkley responsible for the “MIKE” linebacker on the inside. That should theoretically allow left tackle Nate Solder (No. 76) to block Taco Charlton (No. 97) on the outside. But instead, Solder turns inside and double-teams the defensive tackle along with rookie guard Will Hernandez (No. 71), leaving Charlton with a free run to the quarterback:

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Here’s the play in real time. Manning never had a chance:

Again, we don’t know for sure what the call was, but judging from the rest of the line and some of Solder’s postgame comments, it seems he made some mistakes on Sunday night.

Seahawks’ O-line vs. Bears’ defensive front

Winner: Bears

If this showdown was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight before halftime.

Chicago’s defensive front hounded Russell Wilson all night long, and it was particularly relentless in the opening half, racking up five sacks. As you might have expected, newly acquired Khalil Mack was the main reason for the chaos. Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tried a number of ways to slow him down, including formations like this one:

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Above, Seattle detaches its tight end from the formation, forcing Mack to align himself a bit wider – and further away – from Wilson.

Seattle also tried using scheme, running a number of play-action boot passes away from Mack. However, there was one play in which Wilson rolled toward Mack, which the latter unsurprisingly disrupted.

The Seahawks even tried a combination of scheme and formation, detaching the tight end from the tackle and having him chip Mack at the start of the play. Even that didn’t work:

Even while coach Matt Nagy and young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continue to develop as a tandem, this Bears defense looks more than capable of carrying the team to wins. And with a few more performances like the victory over Seattle, Bears fans might start having visions of a certain squad from the mid-1980s … though perhaps without the “Super Bowl Shuffle.”

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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