Week 2 Preseason Notes - AFC
August 19, 2014
By Tony Mejia
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Buffalo: Mike Pettine was plucked away by Cleveland to fill its head coaching vacancy, so Doug Marrone turned to ex-Lions leader Jim Schwartz to come run this defense, something he did well under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee from 2001-08. Thus far, the Bills have survived the season-ending ACL injury to linebacker Kiko Alonso and given a good account of themselves in tight games with the Giants, Panthers and Steelers,. They'll get their longest look at a true first-team offense when the Buccaneers visit on Saturday night. As juicy as Detroit's visit on Aug. 28 looks on paper, we're not going to see how Schwartz plans to attack old friends Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson until the Bills visit Ford Field in Week 5. Tampa Bay, eager to get new starter Josh McCown his most significant action, will offer a valuable test.
Miami: Dolphins fans are getting excited about the offense new coordinator Bill Lazor has implemented given the positive early returns. The team seems to be executing crisply and moving faster, tweaks Ryan Tannehill has taken to thus far despite Mike Wallace rendered ineffective by a hamstring issue and Brian Hartline also missing time. With next week's preseason game likely to feature backups, the only true sneak preview of just how fast-paced the offensive tempo will be might come Saturday against a depleted Cowboys defense that has given up 64 points in losses to San Diego and Baltimore. The Dolphins do host divisional rival New England in Week 1, so it's likely they'll pull back some. Still, fueling Tannehill's increased confidence could factor in since it's Miami's home debut against a vulnerable opponent, especially given the need to get him in a rhythm with his top receivers.
New England: Bill Belichick raved about the work that his team was able to put in against the Eagles, calling it as productive as any week he's ever had during preseason joint practices. As a result, it will be interesting to see just how aggressive he is against a Panthers team facing a short week after playing Sunday night, especially since they pushed Cam Newton as much as they'll likely want to in August. Even though most teams use this third exhibition game to see their starters for lengthy stretches, Belichick has always defied convention when it comes to preparation, which means he could use the bulk of Friday night's game as an audition for players on the fringe of the roster to make closing arguments before the team cuts down from 90 to 75.
N.Y. Jets: It's never good when you're asked immediately after a preseason game if you're going to seek help elsewhere to try and bolster a segment, which Rex Ryan addressed late Saturday. Injuries to likely starters Dee Milliner and Dmitri Patterson bumped up backups Antonio Allen and Ellis Lankster, while former first-rounder Kyle Wilson continues to disappoint, allowing Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to go 8-for-8. This year's first-round pick, safety Calvin Pryor, forced two fumbles and looked every bit the "Louisville Slugger," but it's become clear he may be the lone bright spot among a thin, banged up secondary that could derail the Jets right out of the gate since six of the first seven quarterbacks they'll run into rank among the NFL's top dozen passers. Milliner is sure to sit against the Giants as he waits for a high ankle sprain to heal properly, but Patterson has returned to practice and could ease some concern by performing better than he did in a forgettable debut. As ideal a scenario as that would be, it's likely he'll be standing on the sidelines with Milliner.
Houston: The take that Jadeveon Clowney's jaw-dropping series against Atlanta is diminished because it's preseason is lazy. Clowney destroys left tackle Sam Baker, now out for the season in a major setback for the Falcons, with a fierce rush, tossing aside a former first-rounder with over 50 career starts, to drop Matt Ryan. Yep, it's August, but the Falcons still likely wanted to keep him from being sacked while he was out there. It was probably a point of emphasis. On the previous play, he blew up Antone Smith, arriving to deliver a blow before Ryan can fully pull away after handing off. There are likely going to be some off days and perhaps a date with the rookie wall, but the No. 1 pick will be an impact player on a defensive line filled with them. It will be fun to see how the Broncos handle the challenge of a J.J. Watt/Clowney-led front and how long they expose Peyton Manning to a pass rush likely to be the Texans primary strength.
Indianapolis: Blowing a 26-0 lead in less than 10 minutes would normally be alarming, but fails to even register given the circumstances. The Colts actually have to be thrilled by how their regulars have looked on both sides of the ball, potentially getting a huge boost if Hakeem Nicks continues to get comfortable and stays healthy. The ex-Giant can be an enormous x-factor alongside burner T.Y. Hilton and reliable future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, who has yet to debut this preseason and may be held out another week as he aims to return from last year's torn ACL.
Jacksonville: Any success the Jaguars are going to have, either with Chad Henne or Blake Bortles under center, is likely to ride on the guy snapping the ball and the four others around him. For now, the Jaguars are undecided at center, rotating three members each in the mix to be the guy. Former No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel got hurt in October of his rookie season and still has to return to form, while likely starting right tackle Austin Pasztor broke his hand against the Bears last Thursday and won't return until at least mid-September. Bortles is going to take reps with the first team a lot this week and is probably going to get the second quarter against Detroit, but anyone who wants the Jaguars to risk his development by throwing him out there with a shaky line and questionable receivers doesn't have his best long-term interests in mind.
Tennessee: RB Bishop Sankey is going to draw a lot of attention this week, both from his coaching staff and from legions of fantasy owners eager to get over on people in their leagues. The second-round pick has already led the Titans in carries and yards through two games and might be in line for an increased workload since Shonn Greene hurt his knee last week. Though Greene was back practicing, it's doubtful that he'll be pushed extensively at Atlanta when coaches can take an even longer look at a rookie who could wind up being the saving grace for an offensive unit that lacks star power.
Baltimore: Ray Rice only getting suspended two games provides its own debate, but the Ravens are still going to have to replace his production in key AFC North games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The fact both are home games is a plus, but adds to the pressure Bernard Pierce and newcomers Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro will feel trying to fill his shoes. Rice left Saturday's win in Dallas after two carries due to a shoulder issue, but was back at practice early in the week. John Harbaugh may elect to go with the running backs who will play in those first two games against Washington on Saturday, resting Rice and potentially give him some work in the fourth preseason game at New Orleans. While Pierce will be counted on most heavily, Coastal Carolina product Taliaferro, a fourth-round pick, has looked sharp and packs a great burst.
Cincinnati: The plan for Sunday night's visit to Arizona remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that Darqueze Dennard will play. Head coach Marvin Lewis has already called him the best rookie corner he's ever seen, but after watching him exit against the Jets with a hip injury, matching him up with Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd doesn't seem prudent if he's not 100 percent, removing a potentially intriguing matchup from the showcase.
Cleveland: Between an offensive line that offered shoddy protection, receivers that couldn't catch and inaccurate quarterback play, Bobby Hoyer and Johnny Manziel stood out for all the wrong reasons on Monday night. Despite his desire to name a starting quarterback heading into the third preseason game, it's hard to imagine Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan having enough information to make a decision they're truly comfortable with, so the circus, er, evaluations, should continue Saturday night. The Browns are home for St. Louis and will see an aggressive defense that you provide a good barometer of who is better at making the right decisions in the face of pressure. Hoyer currently looks more comfortable in the pocket, but Manziel may give the team their best chance to win due to his elusiveness and improvisational skills once he finally adjusts to the speed of the game and better recognizes the defensive coverage.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers seen committed to going no-huddle more often this year, trusting Ben Roethlisberger enough for coordinator Todd Haley to take the handcuffs off and make better use of potentially the fastest team Mike Tomlin has ever had on the offensive side of the ball. Pittsburgh's head coach commented after the Buffalo win that he wanted to see what an increased pace would look like within the "comforts of Heinz Field," which makes you wonder how eager he'll be to test it out in Philadelphia against the ultimate up-tempo team come Thursday night. Given the preseason setting and an early projected total approaching 50, you can infer that oddsmakers believe the Steelers plan to test things out in hostile territory instead of trying to slow the Eagles down as they likely would in a regular-season setting.
Denver: Montee Ball's appendectomy went as expected, his recovery looks like it's going well and all he's seeking is the go-ahead to return to action, but you should expect John Fox and the Broncos staff to be very cautious with him. At this point, young backs Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson and Kapri Gibbs have gotten much needed reps learning how to better pass protect for Peyton Manning and hanging on to the football when they do get it. With an emotional win over Seattle and a rout of the 49ers at new Levi's Stadium under their belt, it's tough to predict how invested Denver is going to be in its final two preseason tests, but rushing Ball back isn't going to be part of the equation.
Kansas City: Star RB Jamaal Charles rolled his foot moving out of the team's training camp quarters, but his absence at Carolina definitely sounds like a case of Andy Reid erring on the side of caution, to be expected since few coaches care less about preseason results than he does. He wants to see quarterbacks Alex Smith and Tyler Bray against Minnesota (Aug. 23) and will likely give Chase Daniel and Aaron Murray the bulk of the work Aug. 28 at Green Bay, but it remains to be seen what the plan is for Charles given the need to have him at 100 percent when the season opens on Sept. 7. An extended absence should result in more game reps for De'Anthony Thomas, who is attempting to pick up the nuances of being an NFL running back after a hybrid role at Oregon.
Oakland: Rookie Derek Carr hadn't passed his concussion tests by late Monday, which takes some of the potential drama out of Oakland's visit to Green Bay on Friday night. Thus far, new acquisition Matt Schaub hasn't alleviated concerns he'll be the guy, turning only one of seven possessions into points. He'll work into the third quarter in an attempt to squash fears that he's washed up, but it remains to be seen if Carr returns to run the second unit or if the bulk of the second half turns into an extended audition for roster hopefuls Matt McGloin and Trent Edwards.
San Diego: The Chargers looked like a Super Bowl contender against Dallas in the opener, but were absolutely squashed by Seattle last week, so it'll be interesting to see how they respond to a 41-14 loss. We'll get a better indication of what type of team they actually are in this third and most important preseason game in Santa Clara, where the 49ers will be out to answer a few questions of their own. Defensive line issues have been among San Diego's primary concerns, so seeing how they bang heads with an elite team coming off their own embarrassing performance creates an interesting dynamic for Sunday's exhibition matinee.
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