Handing Out Game Balls for Every Game of NFL Preseason Week 2
There were a ton of players that made major moves in the second week of the NFL preseason. The preseason gets a lot of negative attention, but the fact is that it's a great opportunity for players to earn more playing time. Several players entered this week battling for a starting job, while others are looking to work themselves into form.
The thing is that if you love football, you can watch preseason games and get excited for each performance. It's great to watch athletes compete and fight for the right to help their team win football games.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Atlanta Falcons
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Stats: 18-of-21, 174 passing yards and one touchdown
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense were in midseason form. Ryan spread the ball around to all his targets. His accuracy and consistency were very impressive. This performance shows that the Falcons could have a very explosive offense.
Ryan has one of the best wide receiver tandems in Roddy White and Julio Jones. If Atlanta hopes to make another playoff appearance this season, it'll need the passing game to produce at a high level.
Runner-Up: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: two receptions, 59 yards and one touchdown
A.J. Green only had the two catches, but one of them was for a 50-yard touchdown. He showed that it's unlikely that he has a sophomore slump. Green's combination of size, quickness and leaping ability makes him one of the most talented receivers in the league.
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
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Game Ball: Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Stats: 12-of-20 and 118 passing yards.
Brandon Weeden looked much improved in his second preseason game. He did a good job dealing with pressure and delivering an accurate football. Actually, his numbers could've looked a lot better had Greg Little and Josh Gordon not dropped passes.
The way he handled the pressure was very encouraging, considering young quarterbacks tend to struggle to adjust to the variety of ways NFL defenses get after a quarterback. He didn't let it impact his ability to locate open targets.
Runner-Up: Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns
Stats: 12 carries, 45 rushing yards and one touchdown
The Cleveland Browns used their first-round pick to add Trent Richardson to the mix. However, a knee injury has forced him to miss most of training camp. This opened up an opportunity for Montario Hardesty to get extra carries.
Hardesty didn't waste this opportunity, and showed what type of impact he could have this season. Most teams in the NFL run a two-back offense. This performance shows that Hardesty can help take some of the load off of Richardson.
Tennessee Titans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Game Ball: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Stats: 10 carries, 46 rushing yards and two touchdowns
Chris Johnson looks poised to rebound from last season's poor performance. He looked explosive and quick through the hole. On his touchdown runs, Johnson did a good job finding the open lane and making defenders miss.
The Tennessee Titans will need Johnson to play at a very high level if they hope to make a run at the playoffs.
Runner-Up: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: Seven carries and 23 rushing yards
Doug Martin's numbers weren't great, but he showed a lot of ability. He picked up a lot of yardage after the initial contact. His low center of gravity and solid build makes him tough for defenders to bring down. Martin isn't just a tough runner, he also has a lot of quickness.
On a couple of his runs, Martin showed his good balance and ability to make quick, seamless cuts. He will have a major impact this season.
Miami Dolphins vs. Carolina Panthers
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Game Ball: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Stats: 8-of-11, 119 passing yards and one touchdown
Cam Newton had an efficient second preseason game. He quickly located his targets and delivered strikes. Newton's going to have to work hard to avoid a letdown from last season's dominance. Everybody is aware of the type of runner Newton is, but he must continue to improve as a passer.
The biggest thing to take from this game is that it's obvious that Newton spent the offseason working to improve his overall play.
Runner-Up: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Stats: 11-of-23 and 100 passing yards
Ryan Tannehill held his own against the Carolina Panthers after starting the first preseason game of his career. It's obvious that the rookie has tremendous talent, but also needs more time to develop. The Miami Dolphins appear to be leaning toward giving Tannehill the keys to the offense despite his rawness.
Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens
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Game Ball: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Stats: five receptions, 111 receiving yards and one touchdown
Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions offense are looking to build off of last season's great performance. In this game, Johnson made several big-time catches that showed off his explosiveness. He's easily one of the top offensive threats in all of football.
Detroit's defense hasn't looked all that great this season, so the Lions will need Johnson to have a repeat of last year's performance.
Runner-Up: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stats: 12-of-17, 184 passing yards and two touchdowns
Matthew Stafford is already in midseason form. He hit all his targets, including several hookups with Calvin Johnson. Stafford is showing us why he's considered one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. It's his powerful arm, good decision-making and quick release that makes him so dangerous.
Buffalo Bills vs. Minnesota Vikings
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Game Ball: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Stats: 10-of-13, 136 passing yards and one touchdown
The Minnesota Vikings have taken some criticism for selecting Christian Ponder early in last year's draft. However, his play this preseason is showing everyone exactly what the Vikings saw in him. This is a talented football player who makes sound decisions.
Ponder's play this season will go a long way to determining where the Vikings are in their rebuilding process.
Runner-Up: Vince Young, Buffalo Bills
Stats: 8-of-14 and 123 passing yards
Vince Young isn't competing for a starting job, but his performance might have solidified him a spot on the Buffalo Bills roster. At this point, he is battling Tyler Thigpen for the right to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Young outperformed Thigpen in this game and has put himself in good position to win the job.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New Orleans Saints
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Game Ball: Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stats: 13-of-16, 113 passing yards and two touchdowns
Blaine Gabbert entered the season with a lot of pressure to improve off his disappointing rookie campaign. So far this preseason, he's looked far better than he did last year. A lot of that has to do with the additions made in the offseason.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson, drafted Justin Blackmon and named Mike Mularkey as their new head coach. All three of these moves promise to help Gabbert take a few steps forward in his development.
Runner-Up: Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stats: four receptions, 48 receiving yards and one touchdown
There has been a lot of negative vibes surrounding Justin Blackmon's first few months with the Jaguars. His DUI arrest and short holdout haven't given fans much to be happy about. However, his first action showed that he's an excellent talent.
Blackmon is a tough football player who just knows how to make plays. He already looks like one of Blaine Gabbert's favorite targets. This relationship has the potential to significantly increase the production of the Jaguars offense.
Oakland Raiders vs. Arizona Cardinals
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Game Ball: Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
Stats: five carries, 25 rushing yards and one touchdown
The Arizona Cardinals offense as a whole hasn't looked very good. However, Ryan Williams gave the Cardinals something to get excited about. He looks to be fully recovered from last season's knee injury and ready to contribute.
With their inconsistent play at quarterback, the Cardinals need their running game to help the offense find some type of production. Williams' combination of power and speed gives him a chance to be a real difference maker.
Runner-Up, Rod Streater, Oakland Raiders
Stats: seven receptions and 43 receiving yards.
The Oakland Raiders found a sleeper in Rod Streater. He didn't have a standout college career, but is showing the skills needed to play in the NFL. This is an Oakland receiving corps that needs to find some depth. Streater has put himself in a good position to make this team and even possibly contribute as a rookie.
New York Giants vs. New York Jets
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Game Ball: Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Stats: five receptions and 51 receiving yards
It's going to be tough for Victor Cruz to duplicate his production from last season. However, don't expect to see a dropoff in his play. He's an explosive football player who makes plays all over the field. He's a threat to both attack the deep part of the field and also work the underneath routes.
Cruz continues to build a strong relationship with Eli Manning. These two have an opportunity to do some special things this season.
Runner-Up: Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Stats: two tackles and two sacks
Jason Pierre-Paul had a breakout season last year and looks poised to improve on that production. He's still learning the position and developing more pass-rush moves. However, his explosiveness and tenacity are enough for him to generate pressure.
As good as Pierre-Paul was in the 2011-12 regular season (16.5 sacks), we've still yet to see him reach his full potential.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. St. Louis Rams
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Game Ball: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Stats: 6-of-9, 101 passing yards and two touchdowns
The St. Louis Rams need Sam Bradford to look past last season's struggles and regain the promise he showed as a rookie. A lot of his struggles last year had to do with injuries that caused inconsistent playing time.
However, he's been able to remain healthy so far this preseason. This recent performance was a great example of the talent he possesses. He has the ability to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and the Rams need him to fulfill that potential.
Runner-Up: Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Stats: seven carries and 46 rushing yards
Sam Bradford's success has a lot to do with the production of Steven Jackson. A strong rushing attack is always a quarterback's best friend. Jackson has looked healthy and explosive during the preseason. He'll continue to be the one of the focal points of this Rams offense.
Washington Redskins vs. Chicago Bears
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Game Ball: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Stats: 18-of-23, 264 passing yards and three touchdowns
I'm one of the many who was surprised to see Kirk Cousins drop in the draft, and I was equally surprised that the Washington Redskins selected him. He's a very polished player who could've had a chance to start with a different team. However, with the Redskins, he's heading toward being the backup to Robert Griffin III.
Washington has to feel good about this performance because Cousins showed that he has the talent to play at this level. The Redskins know they have a promising young backup that could develop into a starter or an intriguing trade chip down the road.
Runner-Up: Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears
Stats: five tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble
Israel Idonije doesn't get enough credit for being a solid contributor along the Chicago Bears defensive line. He's a well-rounded player who plays tough against the run and can also get after the passer. His good performance against the Redskins will help him hold off rookie Shea McClellin for another week.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans
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Game Ball: Trindon Holliday, Houston Texans
Stats: 166 total return yards and one touchdown
Trindon Holliday isn't going to be a major contributor in the Houston Texans offense, but he has the potential to change the outcome of the game on special teams. Holliday has great speed and the burst needed to make explosive plays.
A top-notch return man like Holliday could really help the Houston Texans tally some wins this season. Opponents will have to respect his playmaking ability, which could help the Texans get better field position.
Runner-Up: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Stats: 11-of-14, 128 passing yards and one touchdown
At one time, the Houston Texans were considered a heavy passing team. However, the emergence of Arian Foster has shaken up the way this offense operates. This doesn't mean Matt Schaub isn't an important part of the team. He's still a top-notch quarterback with the potential to lead it on a strong playoff run.
His steady performance this weekend shows that he's recovered from last season's injury.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos
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Game Ball: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Stats: 10-of-17, 155 passing yards and two touchdowns
Matt Flynn has had a nice preseason, but it's nothing compared to the play of Russell Wilson. The rookie is giving the Seattle Seahawks coaching staff a lot to think about. He's playing with a lot of energy while also making good decisions with the football.
Wilson has a legitimate shot of entering the season as the Seahawks' No. 1 quarterback.
Runner-Up: Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
Stats: eight carries, 28 rushing yards and one touchdown
Just because Peyton Manning is in town doesn't mean John Fox will want to completely abandon the run. Willis McGahee showed last season that he still has plenty left in the tank. So far this preseason, he's running with both power and quickness.
The presence of a productive McGahee will only increase the effectiveness of Manning. It also won't hurt having a running game to lean on as Manning works to get back into game condition.
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers
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Game Ball: Brandon Carr, Dallas Cowboys
Stats: one tackle and two interceptions
The Dallas Cowboys paid a high price to add Brandon Carr at the cornerback position. They were willing to meet his demands because of the issues they had in the secondary last year. The poor performance of the pass defense was a major contributor to why the Cowboys missed the playoffs last season.
Carr showed this weekend just how he can help this football team. He can create turnovers and also shut down an opponent's top target. The Cowboys defense will be much improved with Carr in the lineup.
Runner-Up: Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys
Stats: seven receptions and 104 receiving yards
Cole Beasley made a strong case to win the No. 3 wide receiver spot in the Cowboys lineup. Dallas is searching for a replacement for Laurent Robinson, and hasn't identified a great candidate so far. Beasley's impressive performance could give him a leg up on the competition.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
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Game Ball: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: two receptions, 75 receiving yards and one touchdown
The Mike Wallace holdout has put the focus on Antonio Brown to perform. He needs to produce like he did last year without the luxury of having Wallace on the other side drawing coverage. Tonight, Brown showed that he's up to the challenge.
Brown is one of the more underrated wideouts in the league, as is his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Don't rule Brown out of the chase to lead the league in receptions or receiving yards. Issac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall are both banged up, which means the passing game will need to pick up the slack for the running game.
Runner-Up: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Stats: 16-of-25, 175 passing yards and two interceptions
Andrew Luck is human; he is a rookie quarterback that will make mistakes. However, he was still able to lead the Indianapolis Colts down the field despite his two interceptions. Luck is going to have some ups and downs this year; it's good that he got some of the bad out of the way in the preseason.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots
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Game Ball: Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Stats: 18-of-28, 217 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception
Another Michael Vick injuries meant extended playing time for Nick Foles. The rookie quarterback has been one of the bright spots of the Philadelphia Eagles' preseason. However, it won't be a good thing for this franchise if Foles sees playing time during the regular season. This team needs Vick on the field if they hope to contend.
Still, it's encouraging to see Foles play good football. All the injury issues for Vick means that Philadelphia could look to move in a different direction after the season. Foles has the upside to be in consideration for the long-term job.
Stats: nine carries for 51 rushing yards
Bryce Brown has played well enough to himself in play for some touches during the regular season. He's a different type of runner than the Eagles' top two backs LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. Brown is a bigger back who breaks tackles and also possesses good speed.
It was also impressive to see how he caught the ball out of the backfield. The running back depth had been a concern for the Eagles, but Brown's emergence solves that issue.