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2023 NFL season: Six things to watch for in Saints-Panthers, Browns-Steelers on Monday night

As if the walk-off touchdown from last week's Monday Night Football opener wasn't enough excitement, fans are about to be treated to an extra helping of prime-time football to close out the Week 2 slate of games.

The Saints and Panthers kick off an hour earlier than usual in an NFC South showdown before the Browns and Steelers begin a divisional matchup of their own 60 minutes later.

Both contests will pit a team riding high (New Orleans and Cleveland) coming off Week 1 against a squad looking to avoid the disastrous hole of an 0-2 start (Carolina and Pittsburgh).

There's little rust left to shake off. Now it's time to discover what early narratives might stick around and become reality.

Here's six things to watch for in Saints-Panthers and Browns-Steelers on Monday night:

New Orleans Saints
2023 · 1-0-0
Carolina Panthers
2023 · 0-1-0
  • WHERE: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte)
  • WHEN: 7:15 p.m. ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes

  1. Bryce Young makes prime-time debut. Carolina’s new face of the franchise is set to become the third rookie quarterback taken No. 1 overall since 1970 to start a Monday Night Football game, per NFL Research. He’ll do so after making an uneven first impression. Young completed 20 of 38 passes for 146 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 48.4 passer rating last week. The numbers are subpar, but he did exhibit signs that he belongs at this level by standing strong in the pocket and hitting multiple tight-window targets against the Falcons. Both of his picks felt nearly identical and reeked of rookie inexperience, though, taking place because Young neglected to look off Atlanta safety Jessie Bates. The test only gets harder from here. The Saints had the eighth-highest pressure rate in Week 1 (42.5%), per Next Gen Stats, and boast their own cast of ballhawks led by Tyrann Mathieu and Marshon Lattimore.
  2. Saints must revive run game. For at least the first game, Derek Carr checked off every box. He dismantled the blitz, with a 137.2 passer rating against extra rushers, and he delivered in crunch time by going 10 of 13 for 163 yards, one TD and a 143.9 passer rating in the second half. Most importantly, he got the win despite minimal help from the rushing game. Jamaal Williams flopped as the workhorse, rushing for 45 yards on 18 attempts (2.5 yards per carry). Tony Jones was the only other RB to receive a carry and took his lone tote for five yards. Perhaps third-round rookie Kendre Miller, listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, debuts to shift some of the onus off Williams. Whatever the distribution, it's vital New Orleans starts to establish offensive balance while awaiting Alvin Kamara’s Week 4 return from suspension.
  3. Brian Burns’ price tag watch. The 25-year-old sat out a handful of practices ahead of Week 1 in hopes of striking a new deal. It was unclear for days leading up to the contest if he would play. He did, and he declared his return with two sacks, seven tackles (two for loss) and a forced fumble. Burns could prove a menace once again against a Saints offensive line that has allowed pressure on 51.4% of dropbacks thus far. Elsewhere on defense, expect a major shift in mentality from how the Panthers approached last week against the run-happy Falcons. Carolina lined up with a single-high safety on a league-leading 86.1% of snaps, a rate that Carr would almost certainly expose -- especially with cornerback Jaycee Horn now on injured reserve.
Cleveland Browns
2023 · 1-0-0
Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 0-1-0
  • WHERE: Acrisure Stadium (Pittsburgh)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | ABC, ESPN+

  1. Can Kenny Pickett and offense recapture preseason form? The Steelers were preseason darlings. Pickett went 13-of-15 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and Pittsburgh finished undefeated. Unfortunately, those games don’t count. When they started to in Week 1, the Steelers got shellacked in the Steel City by the 49ers. The offense failed to even manage a first down until 1:16 remained in the first half. Monday night presents an opportunity to pick up the pieces, although that appears to be a taller task than expected against a Cleveland defense that just held Bengals QB Joe Burrow to three points and 82 yards passing. Plus, Pickett will have to lean on less familiar contributors Calvin Austin III and Allen Robinson alongside George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth since target-hog Diontae Johnson is out with a hamstring injury. An 0-2 start would not bode well for Mike Tomlin’s record 16-season streak of going .500 or better.
  2. Deshaun Watson still needs a turnaround. Cleveland began the year with a victory that was as surprising as it was dominant. It was mostly thanks to new coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense, though. Watson manned the quarterback position with the same malaise in the pocket and inaccuracy he has shown through all seven of his starts as a Brown. Rainy weather aside, he missed throws, finishing with 154 passing yards and a 67.3 passer rating. Things still haven’t fully clicked with his best wideouts, and even though Nick Chubb eclipsed 100 rushing yards last week, the RB has yet to score a TD on the ground with Watson in the lineup. Will Monday prove the night the QB finally rounds back into form? It'll be tough. The Steelers are known for their stellar pass rush, and the just-turned 28-year-old has a 40.7 completion percentage under pressure since 2022 -- better only than Zach Wilson and Taylor Heinicke
  3. T.J. Watt vs. Myles Garrett. What could Watt possibly do as an encore from his start to the season? The 2021 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year already has three sacks, two forced fumbles (one recovered) and a pass defensed. He’s logged 15 career sacks against the Browns, his most against any opponent, and he’ll be counted on even more in the wake of defensive tackle Cameron Heyward’s groin surgery. Garrett, meanwhile, has seven sacks and 15 QB hits at the expense of Pittsburgh. He didn’t get off to the same torrid start as Watt, but he did add one sack last week to his career total of 75.5. That ranks tied-second behind his Steeler counterpart's 80.5 for most since 2017, the year both were drafted.

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