Grading Preseason Week 2 Performances of Every First-Round NFL Rookie
Week 2 of the NFL's 2012 preseason has occurred, and report cards are being reissued by yours truly.
As you know, we have no room in this classroom for slackers or malcontents. Some players will be receiving progress reports, while others may face the possibility of detention.
These are first-round rookie grades from the second week of preseason action.
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Welcome to class.
Today we are missing Trent Richardson (RB, Browns) and Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Bengals). Both are out with knee injuries.
Rookie WRs Michael Floyd (ARI) and Kendall Wright (TEN) receive incomplete grades, as Floyd failed to log one statistic and Wright hauled in only one pass.
Neither will be held accountable for the horrible QB play they experienced, and both players will spend this period in the counselor's office.
These are the rookies who faced their first preseason midterm exam.
Riley Reiff, RT, Lions
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Riley Reiff vs. Baltimore Ravens
-Reiff is listed on the depth chart as the second LT behind Jeff Backus, but he entered the game in the Lions' second series at RT after starter Gosder Cherilus played his usual patty-cake with defenders for two series.
-Unfortunately, Reiff didn't provide any immediate relief in pass protection. Look at this.
The first thing that Reiff needs to realize is that they are running this play from an empty shotgun set. There is not a running back who can serve as a protector to Matt Stafford. (Photo RT No.71)
Once the TE releases, the assignment of the RT is to help the guard on the initial double-team, but make sure to keep his body's outside half free of engagement in case a defender comes from the outside on a blitz. That player is his responsibility and must not be allowed to come free.
He does the first two things. (Photo)
He just doesn't do the most important one. Block the guy. (Photo)
It's almost comical. Does he not see him?
This play resulted in an incompletion, and most importantly, Stafford got hit. Reiff was yanked in favor of Cherilus for the last series featuring Stafford and returned to man the right tackle spot again with the second team, where he allowed another QB hit and two more hurries against second-string competition.
Reiff will be staying after school and eating lunch by himself in the janitor's closet.
Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Bears
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Shea McClellin vs. Washington Redskins
-One solo tackle, one assisted tackle and one QB hit. (The QB hit came facing a third-string tackle.)
-The Bears have a lot to be excited about in the wake of QB Jay Cutler's first appearance of the 2012 preseason, but their first-round pick is certainly not one of them.
-For a guy who was thought of as a smart, versatile weapon on the edge, it frustrates me to see McClellin make moves like this in his pass rush. (Photo LDE No. 99)
McClellin takes a great first step upfield and sets the edge. He now faces a decision. He can fake an inside move and wedge around the tackle's right shoulder, or he can convert to a speed rush outside and try to fly in with his right arm as Griffin delivers.
Instead, he plays to the tackle's strength, deciding to go with an inside spin move. (Photo)
In the NFL, that ends up looking like this. (Photo) The play resulted in an easy completion once Griffin escaped pressure to the outside.
Here is another example:
Again, McClellin starts out by doing what he does, quickly putting himself in excellent position to convert a devastating rush. All he needs to do is knock the tackle's arm up and dip his right shoulder under his armpit to rip through at a perfect angle to the passer. (Photo)
But once again, he plays to the tackle's strength and tries coming across his face. (Photo)
Then he ends up on the ground, watching Griffin escape the contain for which he was responsible. (Photo)
Matt Kalil, LT, Vikings
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Matt Kalil vs. Buffalo Bills
-Fifteen good plays, nine bad plays, one sack allowed, two QB hits allowed and three QB hurries allowed.
-It can't be easy going against the new and improved Buffalo defensive line in your second NFL outing, but Matt Kalil sure made them look good. He needs to start playing a little bit lower and on the balls of his feet in pass protection.
Otherwise, things like this will continue to happen. (Photo, LT No. 75)
Everything appears normal to start the play. The guard and tackle each engage their assigned man. (Photo)
But then, the unexpected: The DT and DE stunt. This means that the DT, who was engaged with the guard, comes around the DE's back (who is engaged on the tackle). The DE then turns his attention inside, drawing Kalil that way as his teammate runs around his back. (Photo)
Then Christian Ponder realizes he is soon to be creamed. (Photo)
Not a good showing overall, but I do still like Kalil. I like his size and his pedigree, but I believe he will be a liability to start out. He needs a year to refine his game.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins
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Ryan Tannehill vs. Carolina Panthers
-11-for-23 passing for 100 yards even along with three sacks and three batted balls.
-Nine times out of 10, the ball Tannehill threw on the second series that was tipped by Luke Kuechly is an interception. Six times out of 10 it is a pick-six given their field position. In the first game of the Ryan Tannehill era in Miami, he narrowly avoided a disastrous stat line. His first two passes were both knocked down.
- Inside 10 yards: 2-for-4 to the left, 2-for-2 middle, 3-for-6 right.
- 10-20 yards: 2-for-4 left, 2-for5 right.
- Over 20 yards: 0-for-2 right.
-Tannehill did not exactly set the world on fire in his highly-anticipated debut as a starter.
Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Texans
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Whitney Mercilus vs. San Francisco 49ers
-One assisted tackle.
-That pretty much says it. Mercilus was fairly nonexistent coming in for Connor Barwin. I think Mercilus himself used the best word to describe the way his game appeared when I visited with him after Thursday practice in Houston: "Timid."
I asked Mercilus at the combine why he was so dominant his junior year in college, getting 16 sacks after only collecting two total in his two years prior. He told me that something just clicked, and maybe he had been holding back until his breakout. "But you don't just fall on all those (sacks)," he said.
I wanted to know if he felt any of that same feeling he felt early in college before the game really "clicked" for him now that he has transitioned to a much higher level of play in the NFL. I wanted to know if he felt timid.
"Yea, I'm probably a little timid," he said. "It's only been two weeks, but I'm learning. I'm getting better every day, and that's all you can ask of yourself."
-Connor Barwin is on Mercilus like white on rice during position drills, where they are paired together every time. Barwin might be harder on Mercilus than any coach. Barwin goes so far as watching Mercilus like a hawk in 11-on-11 drills when Barwin isn't even in the drill.
I believe Mercilus will be a great player one day, possibly even the eventual replacement for what Mario Williams ended up becoming. He is not there yet, though, and it looks like Texans fans are going to have to wait until things "click" for Mercilus once again.
David DeCastro, RG, Steelers
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David DeCastro vs. Indianapolis Colts
-Eighteen good plays, nine bad plays.
-DeCastro seems weak at the point of attack on counter action plays when he is used as a pulling guard. This is confusing, as when he is tasked with the assignment of engaging a linebacker in open space, he is brilliant.
He goes to the second level like a ton of bricks when it is right in front of him, but when he has to pull around and face whichever unexpected obstacle pops up, he becomes hesitant.
-DeCastro needs to learn that initial contact with a defensive lineman is not enough to create a hole. He needs to learn to latch on and drive as opposed to just entering a standing shoving match.
-I thought DeCastro was the best interior line prospect I had seen in over five years coming into 2012. He is currently proving me wrong.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
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Robert Griffin III vs. Chicago Bears
-5-for-8 passing for 47 yards, with 17 yards rushing. Sacked twice and fumbled once.
- Inside 10 yards: 0-for-1 to the right, 2-for-2 to the middle, 2-for-2 to the left.
- 10-20 yards: 1-for-1 to the middle.
- 20-plus yards: 0-for-1 to the left, 0-for-1 to the middle.
-RG3 was under serious duress during most of his relatively short stay in the exhibition, and it was due mostly to the fact that the Redskins do not currently roster a healthy running back who knows how to pass block. The pressure he received was largely due to the right side of the offensive line and horrible recognition by his backfield pass protectors.
-Mama said there would be days like this—in Griffin's case especially. While he didn't really light things up like he did on a beautiful series in his first action last week, he managed to avoid throwing any picks and avoided standing in the pocket too long for the most part.
When he did hold onto the ball too long, he showed a much greater willingness to pull the thing down and either get creative outside the pocket or just take off. Two of his incompletions were throwaways, and the other was dropped. While it wasn't a performance for the ages, Griffin survived to play another day, and he most certainly will learn from the mistakes he did make.
Harrison Smith, S, Vikings
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Harrison Smith vs. Buffalo Bills
-Smith made his living at Notre Dame as a big hitter and disruptor. There was sentiment out of camp that Smith was not able to show his full potential in this setting because of the new training camp contact rules in the CBA.
-He showed in the exhibition versus Buffalo that he can be the hard-hitting, high-flying safety that he was in college, and the Vikings need physicality at the safety position. That much is obvious.
-Smith also showed he is a liability for over-pursuing and taking bad angles to the ball-carrier. He would have been in position to make key tackles numerous times had he taken the correct pursuit angle. He is currently just average in coverage and plays a little bit stiff in this aspect, which is understandable.
-As for what he was drafted to do, Smith will be terrific—one day. He's a great player with a couple of big holes in his game.
Michael Brockers, DT, Rams
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Michael Brockers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
-I love Michael Brockers and think he has every tool in the bag to become a dominating NFL defensive tackle eventually. He currently is not. The one thing that scouts and media alike loved about him most coming out of LSU looked something like this. (Video)
That is domination at the point of attack and represents the ability to impose your will regarding where you will be positioning yourself to defend the upcoming play. I saw a lot more patty-cake and silly spin moves out of the big man in the exhibition versus Kansas City than I was comfortable with.
-Even on obvious running downs, Brockers was frequently handled suitably one-on-one with the guard, allowing the offensive tackle to get a great downfield block on the LB, like what occurred on this play. (Photo)
-While explosiveness is not an issue with Brockers, speed and quickness is. If Dontari Poe found himself in this position as the quarterback was forced to leave the pocket, (Photo) he would have been able to tackle Matt Cassel (Photo) as opposed to letting him run for an easy first down. (Photo)
A.J. Jenkins, WR, 49ers
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A.J. Jenkins vs. Houston Texans
-One catch for 32 yards, thrown at four times.
-What the stat line doesn't show is that Jenkins was thrown at twice deep when he had his man beat. Granted, this took place in the third quarter with Josh Johnson throwing balls against second-team DBs, but that tells us a few things.
Jenkins may be the best downfield threat on this offense, which seems preposterous given the fact that Randy Moss also resides on the roster. His one catch was a beautiful sideline fade over the shoulder on a terrific pass from Johnson.
On the next play, they went back to him, this time on a deep slant-and-go, and Johnson badly overthrew the open Jenkins. In the next series, Jenkins got open on a deep post and was just slightly overthrown, but he made a really weak attempt to even try to get at the ball for a sure 60-yard TD strike. I don't like that. It's like he knew he wasn't fast enough. The fourth time he was thrown at was on a short, well-defensed out route he could have caught, but dropped.
-We all know Jenkins came into camp lazy and out of shape. He is starting to show that perhaps the "reach" by the 49ers to take him with their first-round selection was not as silly as some might have thought. He serves as an excellent complement to the receivers currently on the roster and will have time to develop, as their cupboard in this area has gone from bare to fairly well-stocked in just one offseason.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns
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Brandon Weeden vs. Green Bay Packers
-12-for-20 for 118 yards.
-This stat line would have read "one touchdown" had Greg Little stretched a little further out on one play that set the Browns up for a rushing score.
-I said Weeden was not as bad as his stats would have indicated last week, and he showed improvement this week. He made better decisions and went through more of his progressions, even when his offensive line was not quite as solid as it was in pass protection during the preseason opener.
- Under 10 yards: 1-for-1 to the left, 2-for-3 to the middle, 5-for-11 to the right.
- 10-20 yards: 2-for-3 to the left, 2-for-2 to the middle.
- 20-plus yards: none attempted.
ESPN's John Clayton told me in the PFWA press box at the combine that Brandon Weeden was going to struggle throwing to his right as a pro. Maybe he was onto something. I still feel that Weeden is progressing, and the Cleveland offensive line, at this point, may be highly underrated.
David Wilson, RB, Giants
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David Wilson vs. New York Jets
-Eight carries for 26 yards.
-Wilson led the Giants in rushing in their domination of the Jets, but that doesn't mean he looked that great doing it, or that he played too big a part in the victory.
-Wilson came in early with the first team on third-down passing sets but was noticeably absent from run formations until after Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware had taken their share of snaps.
-He clearly does not come in as the dynamic running threat that the Giants had hoped they were getting. Whether that is the angles he is taking, time will tell. He honestly doesn't look as fast in an NFL uniform as he did in college, and my best guess is that it's due to rookie hesitation. He is solid in pass protection, and anyone who has watched one college game tape of Wilson knows he is more than capable as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
-As of now, this is clearly not the new "Jacobs and Bradshaw" tandem in "Bradshaw and Wilson," as many were prognosticating. Previously, both runners had shown that they were capable of being relatively effective carrying the load in one another's absence. It seems, at least for now, that if Bradshaw went down, the Giants would be more comfortable with Ware as their first option on running downs.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
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Andrew Luck vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
-16-for-25 passing for 177 yards, two interceptions and one rushing TD.
-Don't read too much into that stat line, though the first interception was all on Luck. Steelers DC Dick LeBeau came out in the first series and brought a ton of different zone blitz looks that Luck was obviously not used to seeing.
-After going three-and-out on his first series, Luck went on to stare down Reggie Wayne on an out route to the left side, which Ike Taylor decided he would like to turn into a pick-six. Like candy from a baby.
Maybe Andrew Luck is learning the difference between facing the Rams and facing the Steelers.
-Luck's second interception was not his fault. T.Y. Hilton knocked the perfectly placed ball up into the air as if he were a volleyball player.
-I love the way Luck reacted. He drove right down the field on the next drive and scored.
- Under 10 yards: 3-for-5 to the left, 4-for-5 to the middle, 5-for-6 to the right.
- 10-20 yards: 1-for-2 to the left, 2-for-5 to the middle, 2-for-2 to the right.
Morris Claiborne, CB, Cowboys
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Morris Claiborne vs. San Diego Chargers
-That was about all you really noticed, too. Byron Lambert of RosterWatch asked Morris Claiborne at the combine how he compared himself to former teammate Patrick Peterson. He said that Peterson was a playmaker, but that he was a "technician."
He still is, and it shows. Like I've said before, the speed of the game has to level out, and in the read-and-react position that is the NFL corner, even the slightest change in game speed takes major adjustment.
We didn't see much in Claiborne's Cowboy debut, but we were all certainly expecting the worst, given the fact that he has been injured in camp and reports were not great even when he was healthy.
What I saw was a corner who subtly stuck on his man really well and seems really smooth doing it. I like the term "technician," as he does not like tackling and is certainly not what I would call a physical corner.
Teacher's note to Morris:
Nick Perry, DE/OLB, Packers
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Nick Perry vs. Cleveland Browns
-Two QB hurries, two QB hits. That is fantastic, especially having played in just under two quarters of football. That is a substantial amount of disruption.
-My issue with Perry is the way he plays in run support. He uses his positioning all wrong at this point and lets runners by. It's odd for me to see such a natural-seeming OLB have such an issue with understanding relative outside contain.
-All day, he was basically facing rookie (surprisingly good) RT Mitchell Schwartz and/or TE Evan Moore.
This kind of thing happened all the time in the run game. A play would start off like this. (Photo LOLB No. 53)
Perry would engage the TE like this, with his head on the wrong side. (Photo)
Then the TE would do what a TE should never be able to do to an NFL DE: turn him inside so the runner can whiz by. (Photo)
The Browns offensive line, once again this week, made a terrible running back in Montario Hardesty look good.
Dontari Poe, NT/DT, Chiefs
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Dontari Poe vs. St. Louis Rams
-One tackle, one batted pass, two QB hurries.
-It is hard to force a QB hurry from the nose tackle (or even a 2- or 3-technique.)
-Look at this. (Photo) That is a 340-pound man showing that testing for a vertical leap among defensive linemen does matter at the NFL level. Poe still stands up at the point of attack as he did in college, but he is violent with his arms and unusually slippery for a man his size.
Every NFL offensive lineman's worst nightmare occurs when players like Poe finally flip the switch and turn their undeniable athleticism into true prowess on the playing field. It appears Poe may be on his way.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills
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Stephon Gilmore vs. Minnesota Vikings
-Thrown at twice and allowed one reception in 1.5 quarters of play.
-Could this be the beginnings of Gilmore Island? The Bills had Gilmore in man on the right side of the defense for practically the entire time he was in, and Christian Ponder simply did not want to throw it his way.
-The Vikings had to run a lot more crossing and drag routes than you would think because of the man-to-man coverage that Buffalo came out in, and it made their offense seem extremely dink-and-dunk.
-Gilmore was burned on the reception he did allow to Jerome Simpson. He bit on a corner move out of a straight slant and let Simpson easily cross his face and then pass him by as he had lost his footing. Other than that one moment of rookie indiscretion, he looked as fast, fluid and instinctive as ever. He has the unrivaled ability (among fellow rookies) to open up his hips and run with the receiver, and he showed it.
Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Seahawks
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Bruce Irvin vs. Denver Broncos
-One tackle, one QB hurry, two QB hits.
-It is in plays like this where we see the absolute beast that Bruce Irvin is capable of being in the pass rush. (Photo, No. 51 clubbing No. 74)
That is domination.
-It is in run support where he lacks any of this sense of violence or real strength, though.
Two QB hits in three quarters of play for a rookie is sensational, and Irvin will put up sack numbers this year. He needs to improve as a defender against the run.
Doug Martin, RB, Bucs
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Doug Martin vs. Tennessee Titans
-Seven carries for 23 yards.
-Doug Martin looks like Doug Martin, who I have frequently said runs like Frank Gore. He started the game coming in on third down and doing a nice job in pass protection. His first carry of the evening was certainly his best, as he showed off a brutal cut off his left foot in counter action.
The rest of his runs were what we have come to expect, out of both Martin and Gore at this point: disciplined running to assignments that can almost be classified as stubborn. They are simply not creative runners, but when the assignment gets sprung like it is supposed to, it is off to the races.
-Who knows what will happen with LeGarrette Blount or the severity of his injury that occurred Friday. What we do know is that Martin is the better back, and this should become more and more apparent.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jaguars
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Justin Blackmon vs. New Orleans Saints
-Four receptions for 48 yards and a TD.
-Blaine Gabbert looked much improved last week against the defending world champions, and with the debut of Blackmon, he kept things up against another of the NFC's most formidable opponents in the Saints.
These two are coming up through a new system, and this time together is important. Now that Blackmon is in camp, it appears he and Gabbert do indeed have a connection. Blackmon was lining up predominantly at the X, but he would sometimes operate in the slot.
-Leonard Johnson of Iowa State told me that Blackmon is not necessarily the fastest, but he is a menace to cover because of the way he changes his speed. He varies his acceleration and bursts into action when he finds you vulnerable. He's off to a great rebound after badly flunking on his first report card.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
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Luke Kuechly vs. Miami Dolphins
-One solo tackle, two assisted tackles and one batted pass in about one half of play.
-That stat line would have looked a lot different if Kuechly had anticipated what a terrible throw Tannehill was going to make to the sidelines on the pass he batted. His stat line should have read: One solo tackle, two assisted tackles, one interception and one touchdown.
-Kuechly is everywhere. He has a nose for the ball, and he is perfect for this defense. He pops up out of nowhere to take the fullback out of the equation and somehow always manages to get off him going in the right direction.
-He looked great in coverage and gets a gold star on top of his assignment this week.
Quinton Coples, DE, Jets
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Quinton Coples vs. New York Giants
-Two solo tackles, one assisted tackle and one sack.
-Once again this week, Coples lined up literally everywhere along the line of scrimmage, this week even as a true nose tackle in the 3-4 on a bull rush.
-Coples "started" the game and played on the first two snaps as the Jets elected to come out in their 4-3 sub package. Coples is still technically a second-teamer in the Jets' 3-4 base package, but it is clear that the staff is looking for ways to get him more involved.
-He didn't look as dominant in his second exhibition as he did in his first, and most people probably would have predicted that. Coples has a way of bursting onto the scene, then going relatively quiet at times. Not to say that a 2.5-tackle, one-sack day is anything to sneeze at, but it wasn't the explosion we saw in his debut.
-Eventually, Coples is going to have to find one or two spots that are best suited to his skill set and focus on their specific technique. He was using pass-rush moves from the 3-technique that no one has any business trying to run on a guard. There is no lateral space to his outside shoulder as there is when engaging a tackle. Certain moves just don't work as you move inside.
-Coples turned in an A+ effort last week, and while this week was not quite as dominant, he is clearly working his way solidly into the rotation. I expect his improvement to continue.
Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, Chargers
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Melvin Ingram vs. Dallas Cowboys
-Two tackles, one sack and three QB hurries.
-I am not going to give any undue credit to the interior of the Chargers defensive line, no more than I will give the Raiders and Tommy Kelly. They did the same thing the Chargers' interior did to the middle of Dallas' O-line: smeared them.
-Ingram lined up on the outside, though, and I would like to extend a quick teacher's note to Shea McClellin. He will need to take this home and have it signed by his parents. It reads:
Dr. Mr. and Mrs. McClellin,
Please be notified that your son has failed to exhibit any sign of a brutal inside spin move on his pass rush, and we feel he needs to keep up with his peers. Please do everything in your ability to reinforce our set, league-wide curriculum. A devastatingly sick inside spin-rush move is supposed to start out looking like this. (Photo RDE No. 54)
We appreciate your time and attendance to this matter.
Kevin Zeitler, RG, Bengals
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Kevin Zeitler vs. Atlanta Falcons
- 21 good plays, two bad plays.
When I say "good" and "bad" plays, I mean by the way I saw the play occur. For an offensive guard, I see good plays as plays in which your assignment is executed. Bad plays are plays where your assignments are missed. They are penalties, allowing QB pressures, hurries or sacks, allowing penetration into an area where the offensive play is developing, etc.
-Obviously, Zeitler played great. I should also mention that this was a defensive line in Atlanta that looked much improved last week versus Baltimore.
-He does his best job getting off the double-team and engaging the LB at the second level. He always seems to take the right angle to cut off defensive pursuit lanes, and he plays smart with his positioning.
-Zeitler is not as effective with a DT lined up directly in his face at the 2-technique. Both of his bad plays came in this situation, when he was blown backward and allowed penetration of run downs.
All in all, very impressive performance.
Mark Barron, S, Bucs
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Mark Barron vs. Tennessee Titans
-This is what I loved the most. This is a play Barron will never get credit for, but he had a huge role in causing it. It was the Jake Locker interception that was almost a pick-six.
His second read was the inside, crossing tight end Jared Cook, who would be cut underneath and intercepted if thrown to.
Locker was forced to throw a ball across his body in a horrible attempt to hit Kendall Wright on the far side of the field. The minute the ball left his hands, it screamed "pick."
This is why. (Photo)
Mark Barron is holding Nate Washington down in solo coverage like nobody's business.
-Barron flies to the ball in run support. Maybe that's why it seemed like he was more involved than his stat line would indicate. He brings an important "gang tackling" mentality to the linebacking and DB unit, which is beyond obvious.
-This is our first time seeing Barron live, in a real NFL game situation, and my goodness does he look the part.
Straight to the honor roll.
Monday Night Additions
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Monday night gave us a game between two teams in very different circumstances. Traditionally, Week 3 of the preseason is the big week for your "dress rehearsal," leaving Week 4 as a time for sure starters to rest up for the regular season opener.
Philadelphia and New England both play on ridiculously short weeks this week, though. Both teams play again Friday after playing Monday.
Philadelphia chose to use Monday's game as their "dress rehearsal," as Friday, they face the Cleveland Browns (who they will face in the 2012 regular season opener). Not wanting to give the Browns anything on paper, the Eagles rolled out their starting unit for Monday's exhibition with the Pats and got their big showing on film against them instead.
The Patriots, however, decided to play possum on Monday, electing to have their dress rehearsal on Friday against Tampa Bay, instead. In doing so, they rested Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowksi, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Brandon Lloyd, Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Fanene, Jerrod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington.
Both of New England's first round rookies did get a little bit of run, but they were yanked a bit early as well.
DT Fletcher Cox of the Eagles was a fairly noticeable presence on the defensive line from the first until the third quarters. Here are their grades.
Dont'a Hightower, LB, Patriots
What I find most exhilarating about Hightower's play is his ability to see a hole develop and get downhill and up in the middle of it. He does not always position himself best for initial contact, but the controlled sense of reckless abandon he plays with cannot be taught.
He made an open field tackle on Lesean McCoy that was nothing short of magical. McCoy gave his best inside juke, and Hightower kept his eyes on his McCoy's hips like a veteran and made the play facing one of the league's toughest backs to get a hold of.
He is physical in coverage, but last night he showed it does not always have to be a liability.
Hightower had a great play by recognizing Jason Avant coming over the middle on a critical 3rd and 3 play. He sat down in the zone, waited for his moment, then popped the thing right open. An incompletion and a perfect picture of how physical play in coverage can be used effectively by a linebacker as part of an overall balanced method.
Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots
Every time I watch Chandler Jones, I am amazed just looking at him. The length of his arms, the positioning, my goodness.
Jones gave a very large, very good LT in Jermon Bushrod of the Saints fits last week. This week, he faced off against a guy with my last name and a much cooler first name: King Dunlap. Dunlap was in for Demetrius Bell who is not a good NFL tackle to begin with. I was expecting dominance.
Jones played better last week, however. That is not to say that his game was void of reason for praise. He got hits on the quarterback two times in about one quarter of play, and also registered what I will call "a half hurry," as I am pretty sure that he was left unblocked because the offense had a screen on.
He did get sucked in on a fake reverse, and bit on the thing pretty hard when he saw both the tackle and the guard collapse away from him, allowing Vick to bootleg around the outside after the fake was executed.
Howard Mudd of the Eagles is the best offensive line coach in football. He is known for his ability to dial up a line scheme that can keep these explosive pass rushers contained. Considering the Eagles were giving this exhibition their "best shot," I was encouraged by Jones' performance once again.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles
Cox is a disruptive, productive inside threat on defense, and that is what he always has been. Last night we saw much of what we are used to seeing. Cox makes good initial contact right off the bat and keeps good pad level. This results in penetration. It is a pretty easy equation, and it led to Cox being named SEC defensive player of the week four times last season.
In case you didn't notice, that is once every three games, and the SEC had some pretty good defenders come out this year.
He had a couple of plays where he should have had tackles for losses, but was simply moving too fast to readjust his trajectory. That is a bad thing resulting from a good thing. At the 7:59 mark in the second quarter, he made my favorite play of the game when throwing two defenders off him who were engaged on the play-side of his body and made the tackle for no gain on Shane Vereen.
We know the Eagles build a defense from the inside out, and Fletcher Cox lined up predominantly at the 3-technique on both sides, rarely coming in at the 5.
He registered one QB hit that will not count, because it was a bonehead late hit that you cannot commit at the NFL level, even with these current "refs" running things. The hit was egregious and unacceptable.
He also registered one QB hurry, but it won't count either, even though it would have resulted in a Trent Cole sack, because there was a defensive holding call on the play. Twice during the game, he blew up his assignment so hard that the run play was ruined from the start. I love that. He also looked gassed to start the second quarter. I don't love that. Cox is an above-average student at the DT position right now.
Out of the "Big 3" in 2012's defensive line class, in Week 2 they finished: Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers.