Biggest Winners and Losers of Friday's NFL Preseason Games
The second week of the NFL preseason gives us a better idea of where certain players and teams are at than the initial slate of games the week prior. We are now at a point where rosters are being figured out and the powers that be are ready to make some difficult decisions.
This is all a primer for the third week of the preseason, obviously the most important for every franchise in the league. That is when the starters play extended minutes and we have something more to gauge.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the winners and losers from Friday's preseason action.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill, Quarterback, Miami Dolphins
After struggling out of the gate with a couple balls batted at the line, Ryan Tannehill seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on.
He completed seven of 11 passes on an extended second-quarter drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Daniel Thomas.
The Texas A&M product isn't going to come in and immediately look like a reincarnation of Dan Marino. It is going to be baby steps, but for him to grow this much in such a short period of time has to be encouraging for the Miami Dolphins.
Loser: Carson Palmer, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
I have been a supporter of Carson Palmer over the course of the last few seasons. I even believed that a change of venue and entire offseason in the Oakland Raiders' system would do him wonders.
What Palmer has done in his first two preseason games with the Raiders has to led to a myriad of different issues.
Let me preface it by saying we are still in the preseason, and he is a veteran quarterback. I just don't see him returning to pre-injury form. Instead, I see a quarterback that is making rookie mistakes.
At least Oakland has two more games to prove skeptics wrong. As a fan of Palmer, I hope he does.
Winner: Rashad Jennings, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
We have no idea when Maurice Jones-Drew is going to report to the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, they do have a solid, young running back in the form of Rashad Jennings ready to make an impact.
The former seventh-round pick out of Liberty impressed two seasons ago by averaging 5.5 yards per rush and accumulating nearly 700 total yards for Jacksonville.
He missed the entire 2011 season with an injury and is currently in a contract year. If Jones-Drew fails to report to camp prior to the regular season, Jennings will get a shot to prove he can be a starting running back in the NFL.
Jennings helped himself a great deal Friday night.
Loser: Jake Locker, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker had the starting position pretty much locked up entering Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, what he did on his second pass of the game just isn't acceptable.
You don't throw the ball off balance, across your body and to the opposite end of the field against double coverage. You just don't do it. The result was an interception for Ahmad Black and a Buccaneers touchdown two plays later.
That is a throw you just cannot make, and it isn't going to earn him many friends with the Tennessee Titans coaching staff.
Overall, Locker's numbers were horrible.
He completed just four of 11 passes for 21 yards and an interception. The second-year quarterback averaged a putrid 1.9 yards per attempt.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars First-Team Offense
Now that really wasn't expected. Blaine Gabbert connected with Justin Blackmon on a 16-yard touchdown pass to finish off an impressive scoring drive in which Rashad Jennings looked like the real deal in the backfield.
Blackmon, playing in his first NFL season, went up the middle against the New Orleans Saints secondary and nabbed the ball out of midair before sprinting to the end zone for a touchdown.
Jennings accumulated 62 yards on 11 rushes.
I fully understand that it is the preseason, but Jacksonville's first-team offense looked great last night.
Loser: New Orleans Saints Defense
I cannot count on one hand how many tackles the New Orleans Saints missed against the Jacksonville Jaguars last night. They struggled shedding blocks at the line of scrimmage and seemed to take horrible angles on the outside.
Moreover, the Saints secondary looked lost against what has been an anemic Jaguars pass offense.
It just makes you wonder if Gregg Williams had it right with calling all those blitzes the last couple seasons, because whatever the strategy was just didn't work against Jacksonville.
New Orleans yielded over 200 yards and 13 first downs in the first half on Friday night. That just isn't good.
Winner: Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Christian Ponder looked really good for the second consecutive week Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. The 2011 first-round pick completed 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards and a score.
More than statistics can suggest, Ponder was extremely comfortable in the pocket and did a great job getting to his secondary reads.
One play stands out to me. Ponder hit Toby Gerhart up the middle when the running back was his third read. Going through the progressions and making a quick decision to hit Gerhart on the slant was a veteran-type play right there.
The Minnesota Vikings are going to be relying on more consistent play from their young quarterback, and he showed that last night.
Loser: Miami Dolphins Defense
Chris Clemons may have saved a day in which the Miami Dolphins defense looked out of sorts. His hit and forced fumble on Carolina Panthers running back Mike Tolbert was a thing of beauty.
This doesn't change the Dolphins' inability to tackle at the line or commit costly penalties. They struggled in those two aspects a great deal Friday night.
Miami has absolutely no chance at contention in the competitive AFC East if its defense plays like this during the regular season.
It really is that simple.
Winner: Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Carolina Panthers
This kid looks utterly amazing on the football field. His instincts are solid prior to the snap, and he is able to drop back into coverage.
More than that, the Boston College product looks comfortable playing in the Carolina Panthers' scheme. He batted down a Ryan Tannehill pass, dropped back to deflect another pass and played well sideline to sideline.
Look for Luke Kuechly to make an instant impact against the run for a team that struggled in that category last season.
Loser: Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil struggled last week when Aldon Smith was in the game. Friday night he had an equally troubling time against Mark Anderson and the Buffalo Bills.
This has to be troublesome to the Minnesota Vikings, who are relying on the top-five pick to protect their franchise quarterback in 2012.
Winner: Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
This is big for the Tennessee Titans, really big. Chris Johnson looks like he is starting to regain the form that saw him become one of the most explosive running backs in the National Football League a couple seasons ago.
More than his two touchdowns indicate, Johnson had that secondary burst that made him such a special player in 2009 and 2010.
Anyone questioning whether the talented running back is prepared to have another breakout campaign in 2012 should reserve judgment. He is going to be special this season, and Friday's performance was a prime example of this.
Loser: Kevin Kolb, Quarterback, Arizona Cardinals
Kevin Kolb just isn't a starting quarterback in the National Football League. I will make that point right now. He looks utterly scared and confused on the football field consistently.
This point was magnified against the Oakland Raiders Friday night. Kolb literally freezes and then makes bad decisions in the face of pressure. This isn't a good sign for a quarterback who is playing behind a questionable offensive line.
Getting called for intentional grounding on a throwaway that led to a safety on the next play makes no sense, especially when you could have released the ball earlier. Kolb looks uncomfortable on the football field and continually holds on to the ball too long.
Congratulations, John Skelton—you "won" the job.