Week 2 Preseason Notes - NFC
August 20, 2014
By Tony Mejia
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Dallas: Without a need to push Tony Romo, he'll go just a couple of series against Miami as the Cowboys attempt to ensure everyone they still plan on joining us come regular season. Dez Bryant showed last week that the offense can remain dynamic since he's a threat to move the chains on every down, while the return of likely starting corners Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr should boost the defense. The Cowboys have been a train wreck thus far and have depth and injury issues, but circumstances dictate that they're going to have to get to Week 1 of the regular season via the methodical route.
N.Y. Giants: Eli Manning has completed one more pass than famous father Archie thus far this preseason. To be fair, he's had nine more attempts, so it's clear the progress new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has seen in practice hasn't translated to game action. That puts pressure on the Giants to produce against a depleted secondary that has been victimized by Indianapolis' and Cincinnati's first-stringers thus far. It sounds strange to say a two-time Super Bowl MVP would be under the same type of microscope as second-year starter Geno Smith and highly publicized backup Michael Vick, but with only one final preseason game after the Snoopy Bowl and Tom Coughlin troubled by Manning's struggles, the comparison fits. It would be nice to see him find a rhythm before ga, es count. Expect the Giants to be aggressive in taking shots downfield. Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham, Jr. should have opportunities to generate some much-needed confidence.
Philadelphia: Rookie Jordan Matthews has had an up-and-down preseason, but still looks like the guy most SEC corners couldn't handle the past few years. He'll have the most help he's ever enjoyed on Thursday night since Jeremy Maclin returns from last week's absence and Riley Cooper debuts. Matthews had nine catches for 104 yards against the Patriots after a drop-filled opener, so how he takes to getting in a rhythm while not comsistently being a primary option should be critical to his early success. He'll get his touches in an offense likely to lead the NFL in plays, so don't be surprised if the Vanderbilt product settles in and his debut becomes just an ugly aberration.
Washington: Surviving a hail mary thanks to a failed two-point conversion gave Washington a Monday night home win, but holding off the Browns provided little consolation given how sloppily the first-team offense played, failing to score. Alfred Morris couldn't handle a pitch and fumbled to kill a drive. They got b stoned at the goal line multiple times. Robert Griffin III connected with DeSean Jackson early, but was picked off easily by Joe Haden and displayed an inability to avoid unnecessary contact. Kirk Cousins looked decent, but the organization would rather trade the backup than ride with him. That's clear. From Daniel Snyder on down, they're all in on RG III. That faith may ultimately rewarded, but none of the higher-ups can be sleeping too soundly these days. The short turnaround before facing the Ravens doesn't make things any easier.
Atlanta: Left tackle Sam Baker is out for the season with a torn patella tendon suffered in Houston, putting immediate pressure on first-round pick Jake Matthews to be a quick learner. Lamar Holmes is going to get first crack at right tackle, the position where Matthews was supposed to start his pro career and ease into the role of elite tackle. Baker missed most of last season, too, but the Falcons were counting on him returning to ease the burden on the rest of the line by providing stability and a veteran presence. Saturday night's game against Tennessee now takes on added importance to see just how far there is to go learning curve-wise since the pieces now have to come together on the fly.
Carolina: Cam Newton is going to play another couple of series at New England to try and knock some of the rust off, but with injuries continuing to plague the offensive line, don't expect the playcalling to be too creative. The play of the new-look secondary should be far more interesting to monitor against the Patriots, as rookie Bene Benwikere is getting a long look at CB, while untested guys like Anderson Russell and Robert Lester are seeing extensive time with Tre Boston and Roman Harper still on the mend.
New Orleans: The Saints have a legitimate kicking competition on their hands as they move in a new direction after parting ways with Garrett Hartley before last year's postseason. Shayne Graham took over and seemed like a lock to return when training camp began, but he's missed one of those extended extra points and been matched kick for kick in practice by Derek Dimke, who nearly made Tampa Bay's roster last year but has yet to kick in an NFL regular season game. The Saints look like one of the most settled teams in the league, roster-wise, but have the good fortune of playing all four preseason games in domes, making it easier to come to a decision on one of their biggest tossups. The battle will continue in Indianapolis.
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers are set to play their only game outside of Florida until September 18, a span of three preseason games and the first two weeks of the regular season, when they visit Buffalo on Saturday afternoon. It will be an opportunity for Josh McCown to further lead his new football team, putting his stamp on things by working into the second half. After coming up empty in the opener, McCown finally led the Bucs first-team offense to a touchdown, connecting with Vincent Jackson in the second quarter against Miami. Due to an unsettled offensive line situation, a road atmosphere is just what the first group needs to generate confidence under new coordinator Jeff Tedford, who has taken a measured approach to showing off what's being implemented. Tampa Bay is likely to take this third preseason game against the Bills very seriously.
Chicago: Although it's always interesting to test yourself against the defending champions, look for Chicago to avoid putting a lot of stock in testing themselves against an elite Seahawks defense this early in the process, whether they think they're ready or not. Individually, Marc Trestman is specifically looking for somebody to step up and fill the void left by Marquess Wilson breaking his clavicle earlier this month. The Bears signed veteran Santonio Holmes to come in and compete for the No. 3 spot over the weekend and may throw him out there in Seattle, but the plan is for Josh Morgan to get first crack at plugging in Trestman's three-receiver sets alongside Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Detroit: Auburn won its first national championship, in part, because of what a force Nick Fairley was. He's been a huge disappointment as a pro, so it's no surprise that Jim Caldwell has arrived in Detroit and been underwhelmed. How Fairley handles the demotion will be critical how effective the Detroit defensive line ends up being, but with weight not being the issue its been in the past, one can only infer that his practice habits and effort level during game reps must be elevated. Again, predictable, but if Fairley doesn't turn things around or decides he's not up for coaching ploys, a major potential edge goes out the window since veteran CJ Mosley won't be as disruptive. We'll be able to see Fairley's immediate reaction against Jacksonville. He played only 15 snaps against the Raiders last Friday, the fewest of any Lions defensive tackle.
Green Bay: The Packers are another team whose starting lineup appears to be all set , with team insiders reporting that not a single job is changed hands since late July, practically unheard at this level given the stiff competition for jobs and injury factor. It will be interesting to see just how long head coach Mike McCarthy rides his starters against visiting Oakland since he and his staff have a lot of decisions to make regarding the depth on the roster. Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien have each looked sharp, so the battle of the backup Aaron Rodgers bears watching in Friday night's national broadcast.
Minnesota: The Vikings seem ready to let rookie Teddy Bridgewater learn from the sidelines, at least for the first few weeks, naming Matt Cassel the starter for the third preseason game on Saturday night in Kansas City. Bridgewater is likely to get time with the first-teamers for experience's sake, but it doesn't seem likely he'll unseat the veteran former Chiefs starter who actually made the Pro Bowl in 2010. Cassel started six games last season with mediocre results, but his strong camp make him the logical choice to open the Mike Zimmer regime unless he melts down at Arrowhead.
Arizona: Darnell Dockett's unfortunate season-ending ACL injury is the second major loss of the offseason for this front seven since leading tackler Daryl Washington was suspended for all of 2014 due to a second substance abuse violation. Even with Tyrann Mathieu back in the fold practice-wise, it will be months before he can even think about being as effective as he was pre-injury. It's undeniable that the unit that was supposed to do the heavy lifting in pulling the Cardinals up to Seattle and San Francisco's level has taken a major hit. The Cardinals will be looking for answers as a welcome Cincinnati in for the Sunday nighter.
San Francisco: To be fair, the 49ers seemed to be favored against Denver simply because they were opening up Levi's Stadium. The 34-0 result came through as Sunday's guaranteed NFL winner, but it was so easy to dissect, in part, because Jim Harbaugh wasn't putting much emphasis on the exhibition home opener. Peyton Manning was going to see more time than Colin Kaepernick and the Broncos backups were clearly further along after an emotional win over Seattle. Sure, Kaepernick could've been sharper, but everyone on both sides of the ball was flat. The backup offensive units have lacked punch because quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson have been dreadful, so a Super Bowl contender has been outscored 57-3 in two losses. There are offensive line issues to be concerned about, but the 49ers won't suddenly be terrible. I expect them to actually care this week, which in itself will be an improvement. Harbaugh has been vague about how long starters will play, but you can bet he's eager to see his regulars snap out of their funk against visiting San Diego.
Seattle: Teams ideally shouldn't be angry about an exhibition loss, but considering the Seahawks responded to having their nine-game preseason winning streak snapped by routing the Chargers, Pete Carroll and his team still have the collective fire after winning a Super Bowl. They don't only like to win, they like to beat down teams. That trickles down from first-teamers to guys that won't even be on the roster. Seattle often gets accused a running up scores this time of year in some showing a false bravado, but the fact their third and fourth-stringers often do the piling on speaks of a system and mentality that is simply on a higher level as teams seek out identities in August . From 2012-13, the Seahawks outscored opponents 232-80. They'll welcome in Chicago on Friday.
St. Louis: Even though the third preseason game is typically about seeing what your starters look like, the Rams are a different story. Jeff Fisher is comfortable with how his regulars have looked, so the focus shifts to Michael Sam, who has been productive in his quest to make the squad. His sack last week was the highlight of a solid preseason, but he'll now get after Johnny Manziel when the backups enter in a showdown that could break Twitter. While Sam has been good, St. Louis' defensive front is loaded, and fellow rookie Ethan Westbrooks looks to be ahead of him due to explosiveness and versatility. An eye-opening performance might be necessary for him to stick.
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