The 5 Most Important Things We Need to See in Preseason Week 3
The third preseason game on the NFL schedule is commonly referred to as a team's "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.
While teams tend to use different strategies throughout the preseason as far as playing their starters, most coaches opt to leave their starting lineups in the game for most, if not all, of the first half.
There have been several surprising stories throughout the 2012 preseason—some pleasant surprises and some major disappointments. And the third preseason game figures to be a great opportunity for some of these questions to be settled once and for all.
Let's take a look at the five most important things we need to see in Week 3 of the preseason.
5. Can Rashad Jennings Shoulder the Load for the Jaguars?
Jennings has enjoyed an impressive preseason thus far, rushing for 118 yards on 23 carries. His career average of 5.4 yards per carry eases the pain of potentially being without Maurice Jones-Drew for a portion of the upcoming season.
But this is the Jaguars dress rehearsal for the regular season, and Jones-Drew is now reportedly "open" to being traded.
Jennings rushed for 56 yards against the New York Giants, and he followed up an impressive debut with a 62-yard outburst against the New Orleans Saints. The Giants and Saints were mediocre against the run last year, but the Ravens had the second-best run defense in the NFL.
Thursday night will certainly be a big test for Jennings and the Jaguars offensive line.
4. How Will the Dolphins Look with Ryan Tannehill as the Starter?
Tannehill started the Dolphins second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, but on Friday, this year's No. 8 overall pick will make his first start since being named the team's Week 1 starter.
On Monday, head coach Joe Philbin named Tannehill his starting quarterback. The announcement followed David Garrard's knee scope and two consecutive lackluster performances from Matt Moore.
The Dolphins are now led by a 6'4", 220-pound rookie; it's officially Tannehill's team. So how will the Dolphins perform in their dress rehearsal this Friday? If Tannehill's first two preseason appearances are any indication, the offense will do just fine.
In his first preseason game, Tannehill completed 14 of his 21 passes for 167 yards and the only Dolphins touchdown. Tannehill started Miami's second preseason game and completed 11-of-23 passes for 100 yards.
Tannehill will be under the microscope as he tries to keep pace with the high-flying Atlanta Falcons on Friday night.
3. Will the Packers Play Better in Their Dress Rehearsal?
The Green Bay Packers were as explosive as any team in the NFL offensively last season, but they've been less than impressive through two brief preseason appearances.
Although the Packers quiet start to the 2012 season is no reason to be concerned at this point, an impressive performance in Week 3's dress rehearsal would be refreshing to see from the Packers potent air attack.
For the first time this preseason, the Packers offense will be at full strength. With Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings both returning to the lineup, football fans will perhaps get a glimpse at the Packers explosive 2011 form.
Following an MVP season, Aaron Rodgers is just 8-of-19 for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Again, the Packers mediocre offensive production in a small preseason sample size isn't a big deal, but if Rodgers were to complete less than 50 percent of his passes and throw as many interceptions as touchdowns, the Packers would certainly be concerned.
With Cedric Benson facing his former team and with the Packers offense looking to get on track, Green Bay at Cincinnati should make for quality television on Thursday night.
2. Will Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson Start to Click?
From the moment he stepped onto the practice field with the Buccaneers, there have been reports suggesting Vincent Jackson is the most impressive player on the roster.
But despite the positive early returns on Jackson, he and quarterback Josh Freeman have only connected on one occasion through two preseason games—an eight-yard completion against the Tennessee Titans last week.
On Friday night, the New England Patriots will travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers, and the stage will be set for Jackson to make a splash in the Bucs dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Patriots secondary struggled for the majority of last season, and their top cover man, 5'10" Devin McCourty, is no match for the 6'5" Jackson.
It remains to be seen how long Tom Brady will be on the field for the Patriots, but Freeman, Jackson and the Buccaneers will certainly want to gain some momentum as the regular season approaches.
1. How Will Russell Wilson Fare in His First Start?
The success of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been one of the biggest stories of the 2012 preseason. Matt Flynn has certainly been impressive as Seattle's starter, but Wilson has carved up reserve defenses, earning a start in the team's third preseason game.
Seattle opened up the preseason with a 27-17 win over the Titans, and the quarterback position was one of the bright spots in the victory. In Wilson's first action as an NFL quarterback, he completed 12-of-16 passes for 124 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In the Seahawks' second preseason game, Wilson went 10-of-17 for 155 yards and two touchdowns—a passer rating of 128.3.
So when the Seahawks play the Chiefs this Friday with Wilson as their starting quarterback, football fans will get to see how Wilson fares against a starting NFL defense for the first time.
With Eric Berry returning to the secondary and Tampa Hali creating havoc rushing the passer, Wilson will have his hands full in his first career start.
And if Wilson proves his worth against the Chiefs first-team defense, head coach Pete Carroll's decision to name a starting quarterback will get even tougher.