Key Observations and Expert Analysis from NFL Preseason Week 2
After watching every game from Week 2’s action of preseason football, I share some key observations that really stood out. Naturally, some of the more noteworthy observations tend to be the ones that either surprise you the most or are just downright impressive; such is the case in this piece, which is focused exclusively on the second week of preseason action.
Packers Run Game Still Unproven
When quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Graham Harrell lead the team in rushing for a combined 47 yards, there clearly are lingering concerns about whether or not the Packers' run game will improve from last year.
Packers players have been very vocal about their desire to become a more balanced offense this year. But after Week 2 of the preseason, it seems as though Green Bay's success will continue to come from the arm of Rodgers.
Weeden and Gabbert Look Much Improved
Although Brandon Weeden is a rookie and Blaine Gabbert has already played an NFL season, both of these first-round signal-callers have taken some abuse over past performances.
Before Week 2 was in the books, Gabbert had a one-way ticket to "Bust City" until he came out against New Orleans and demonstrated the ability to consistently find the open receiver and hit him on target, completing 13-of-16 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Weeden also played like a guy worthy of the 22nd pick overall. He was able to stand in the pocket and take a serious hit while throwing an accurate pass to the receiver. He finished the day 12-of-20 passing for 118 yards and no interceptions.
Considering there were some dropped passes, his actual performance was even better than the numbers in the stat column.
Both guys demonstrated poise in the pocket and the ability to make the right decision under pressure—two things which are crucial for the success of any franchise quarterback.
A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson are Well-Oiled Machines
It was exciting to watch A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson continuing where they left off last season, making acrobatic catches and displaying why these two are possibly the most physically gifted receivers in the league.
Johnson made some really nice runs after the catch, as would-be tacklers bounced right off of him.
Green showed off his speed and ability to open up an offense after blowing by the Falcons’ new cornerback addition, Asante Samuel.
It should be safe to assume there will be no drop-off in performance from either of these elite athletes.
CJ2K Looks Explosive and Ready for Mega Numbers
Perhaps Chris Johnson’s prediction about his monster season is correct. He looked extremely explosive and capable of finding the open lanes, using his speed to outrun defenders with ease.
Personally, I was under the impression that CJ2k had lost a step and would never return to the man he was a few years ago. Admittedly, he does seem to be in much better shape and a tad faster than last year.
Nevertheless, I remain cautiously optimistic in regard to his output in the 2012 season.
Dontay Moch Not Ready to Be a Star or a Starter
Sadly, while watching the Bengals game, I couldn’t help but notice the terrible effort in pursuit and hustle that Dontay Moch was demonstrating. I’m not sure if he was tired or just doesn't grasp the value of a high-motor player. Either way, his effort was nothing short of shameful and overshadows any physical gifts he happens to possess.
Until he figures out how to run to the ball and not walk around the football field, this talented pass-rush specialist will never be anything more than a backup.
Marvin Jones is B+ Talent All Around
Bengals rookie Marvin Jones demonstrated to Bengals fans a taste of what’s to come in his very promising career. Jones is not elite in any one category, but he is very solid at everything without any real weaknesses. This is his greatest asset to the Bengals' receiving unit.
Jones has ideal size and capable speed to create separation and be a legitimate deep-threat option alongside Green.
Expect him to continue his steady ascent up the Cincinnati depth chart.
Doug Martin is as Good as Advertised
Although he only had seven carries for 23 yards, watching Doug Martin play against the Titans, he showed how effective he can be as a runner. His style is similar to Ray Rice in that they both run extremely hard and have great balance due to their low center of gravity. What was most impressive about Martin was seeing how difficult it is for a defender to wrap him up.
I anticipate Martin will eventually prove to be one of the better running backs in the league in a couple of years.
Darius Reynaud has been simply amazing this preseason. His speed is a deadly weapon, and he has done nothing but make big plays when given the opportunity. I cannot see how a guy like this doesn’t make the team. He's listed as a WR on the roster, but most of his reps have come at running back and as a return guy.
This week against the Buccaneers, he ran the ball for 75 yards on just seven carries. He's also had back-to-back games with amazing kick returns.
Upshaw, Kuechly and Perry Still Figuring Things Out
Watching Courtney Upshaw play against the Detroit Lions, he didn’t appear to be the confident, attacking penetrator he was at Alabama. This is most likely a result of him trying to figure the game out and acclimate himself to the speed of the NFL, which I can assure is a major adjustment—even in preseason games.
One thing he must do moving forward is improve upon his attrition and become more efficient with his body weight.
Luke Kuechly has struggled at times in pass coverage, allowing passes to be completed over his zone; this is just a matter of Kuechly realizing that, in the NFL, the QB’s arm strength and throwing velocity require the linebackers to make much deeper drops than what he seemed to be doing.
Another element to his game that should improve is his inability to get off blocks cleanly at times. He so often was observed jumping in on tackles four-to-five yards past the line of scrimmage.
Nick Perry may make a few nice plays here and there, like his sack last week, but the truth is he will need a year or two in order to become a dominant force for the Green Bay defense. The good news is that he has improved his football skills every year and is far from reaching his physical prime as an athlete.
Audie Cole’s Late-Game Déjà Vu
In the NFL, it’s hard enough for a defensive player to score a touchdown. Many guys on the defensive side of the ball manage to go their entire careers without seeing the end zone; not Audie Cole, as he managed to score on back-to-back interceptions in what appeared to be the exact same play.
It should also be worth mentioning that Cole was in on some really nice tackles when he wasn’t busy being the team’s highest scorer.
Justin Blackmon Impresses
It was good to see Justin Blackmon in uniform and out on the field making plays. He really did resemble the same dominant player he was at Oklahoma State, catching short routes, making guys miss and turning a short play into a big one.
He also caught every ball in which he was targeted and managed to score a touchdown on the team’s opening drive.
I’ve always said that Blackmon’s primary asset has been his competitive drive and relentlessness. This guy refuses to be stopped. Even if some critiques say he lacks the speed to separate, I think he’ll do just fine with the tools he has.
Jets and Cardinals Offensive Lines Struggle Terribly
Perhaps it is too early to push the panic button just yet, but the offensive-line play of these two teams was absolutely atrocious. Both teams were barely able to get a throw off without the QB taking a hit or sack.
For the Jets, Wayne Hunter alone gave up four sacks in just a single half of football. That’s more than good linemen give up in an entire season.
As for the Cardinals, it really is hard to gauge the play of Kevin Kolb when he has absolutely no time to make the proper throws and reads. Kolb has been getting manhandled all preseason long, and Week 2 was no exception.
Unfortunately for him, the line seemed to withstand the rush a little bit better once John Skelton came into the game and went 3-of-3 with a touchdown before his day was over.
If these games are any indication of the regular season for Arizona, we may be looking at a disastrous season for Cardinals fans and quarterbacks alike.
Great Backup QB Situations from Week 2
Chase Daniel almost appears to be a mini version of Drew Brees. Daniel's ability to scramble should come in handy if the Saints ever call upon him to win a few games in place of Drew.
Who would you rather have as your backup QB?
The Ravens' Tyrod Taylor shows nice intermediate accuracy and can improvise with his athleticism. This is a crucial characteristic of a backup QB, considering they’re often asked to execute a game plan to which they've had little exposure. This means most of the play-calling thus becomes one big improvisation act.
Shaun Hill has a ton of real game-time experience and has proved himself to be a capable QB who can win games for the Lions. This type of resume in a backup is rare in today’s NFL. He was a very effective passer this week and should be a great plan B if Stafford gets injured.
Joe Webb—this kid is a dangerous runner. He also can throw some pretty impressive ropes right into the breadbaskets of his receivers. Webb is a big, fast, smart, elusive QB who seems to get better each year for the Vikings. He may be in line for another opportunity at a starting position depending upon how things go this season. This past week, he made some great throws and spectacular runs. All things considered, he may be a more dangerous weapon than Christian Ponder.
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