Who's Hot, Who's Not After NFL Preseason Week 1?
One week of the NFL preseason is officially in the books, and while much of the action was carried out by players unlikely to make a significant impact on their respective teams, there was still plenty of insight to be gleaned.
It's time to assess who's hot and who's not after Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Which players sizzled and which players fizzled?
Let's find out, shall we?
Hot: Bills QB EJ Manuel
The Buffalo Bills own the NFL's longest postseason drought, as they haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1999, a staggering amount of time that's left one of the league's best fanbases angry and jaded.
The good news for the Bills and their fans? There's reason for hope in the form of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
Manuel, the 16th overall pick in April's NFL draft, sparkled in his preseason debut, playing the entire first half in Buffalo's 44-20 win over Indianapolis. Manuel finished 16-of-21 passing for 107 yards and a touchdown, managing the game and not making any critical errors.
Manuel spoke after the game about the confidence he and his teammates are gaining, a positive sign for the organization. If he can keep up his play throughout the preseason, there's little doubt he'll be the starter come Week 1 against the Patriots.
Not: 49ers WR A.J. Jenkins
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver A.J. Jenkins had about as forgettable a rookie campaign as could be imagined. He caught zero passes last season in the team's run to Super Bowl XLVII, a stunning fact considering the team selected him in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
This offseason, it appeared as if Jenkins' time had come. Star receiver Michael Crabtree ruptured his Achilles, seemingly leaving the door open for Jenkins to carve out a larger role on offense.
Through one preseason game, not only has that not happened, but Jenkins moved further into the doghouse of coach Jim Harbaugh.
In Thursday night's preseason opener against Denver, Jenkins recorded one reception, which he promptly fumbled away to the Broncos, leaving his coach rather nonplussed after the 10-6 loss.
While Jenkins' roster spot should be safe, there's no question that he must pick up his performance over the remainder of the preseason if he's to lose the "Not" distinction.
Hot: New England Patriots' Rushing Attack
You've heard all the offseason conjecture surrounding the New England Patriots' passing attack.
How could quarterback Tom Brady and company sustain their level of success without their top five pass-catchers from a season ago—i.e. Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead?
Well, after New England's first offensive drive of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps we all should have been focused on the team's potentially devastating ground game instead. The Patriots ran the ball six times for 80 yards, culminating with a Stevan Ridley touchdown.
It was just the beginning of a game's worth of ground domination. New England ran the ball 31 times for 248 yards and three touchdowns, pummeling the Eagles defense en route to a 31-22 victory.
While it's true that Philadelphia's defense won't remind anyone of the '85 Bears, this was still an extremely impressive beginning for the Patriots' rushing assault.
Not: Philadelphia Eagles First-Team Defense
While most of the offseason attention in Philadelphia has focused on the offense employed by new head coach Chip Kelly, perhaps an equal amount should have been paid to the team's transition to a 3-4 defense.
In Philadelphia's preseason opener, a 31-22 loss to New England, the Eagles' new defense looked horrendous, particularly the first team, which was gashed and bullied by the Patriots' offensive starters in embarrassing fashion.
Philadelphia provided little resistance to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and company, leading cornerback Cary Williams to bemoan the lack of fear the unit strikes in the heart of its opponents, according to Jeff McLean of The Inquirer.
Forget about the quarterback battle and about Kelly's offense. If the Eagles defense can't stop anyone, the team has zero chance of contending in 2013.
Hot: Titans RB Chris Johnson
In an attempt to both protect quarterback Jake Locker and strengthen their rushing attack, the Tennessee Titans placed a priority on improving their offensive line this offseason.
Through one preseason game, it appears that running back Chris Johnson could be the primary beneficiary of the new beef up front.
Yes, it's only one preseason game, and yes, it was only one play, but Johnson's majestic, galloping 58-yard touchdown run in the Titans' 22-21 loss to the Redskins on Thursday was a very positive sign of things to come in the Music City.
If Johnson can keep up the form that earned him the "CJ2K" moniker in 2009, the Titans could end up challenging for a playoff berth.
Not: Green Bay Packers' Backup QBs
The good news for the Packers is that they employ the single best player in football, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is the maestro of Green Bay's offensive symphony.
The bad news for the Packers is that the group of signal-callers behind Rodgers could be the worst collection of backups in the entire league.
In Friday night's 17-0 preseason loss to Arizona, Green Bay's backup quarterbacks were absolutely atrocious. Presumed top backup Graham Harrell completed 12 of 19 passes for 76 yards, Vince Young connected on one of three passes for seven yards and B.J. Coleman was 2-of-7 passing for 15 yards.
That's 98 yards on 29 attempts. If you're asking yourself how that's even possible, you aren't alone.
Not exactly Dan Marino in 1984, eh?
While the Packers are a playoff-caliber team whenever Rodgers is on the field, there's no guarantee that he'll stay healthy for 16 games every season. Green Bay's backup quarterbacks must perform better over the remainder of the preseason.
Hot: Cardinals DB Tyrann Mathieu
When the Arizona Cardinals selected LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of April's NFL draft, everyone knew they were getting an extremely talented player.
The question was, could the man known as the "Honey Badger" keep on the straight and narrow and concentrate on football?
Through one preseason game and an impressive training camp, the answer is a resounding "yes."
Mathieu dazzled in Thursday's 17-0 win at Green Bay, making a number of tackles, returning punts and even sacking Packers quarterback Graham Harrell (see above video).
If you've followed reports from Cardinals camp, Mathieu's excellent play shouldn't come as a shock. If he can keep it up, it'd be a major benefit to an Arizona team in need of playmakers on both sides of the football.
Not: Giants RB Andre Brown
Heading into the 2013 season, it appeared as if the New York Giants were content to employ a running-back-by-committee approach on offense with the carries split between David Wilson and Andre Brown.
But as Wilson found out last season in humbling fashion, if there's one thing that will land you squarely in coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse, it's fumbling the football. Unfortunately for Brown, that's exactly what he did in Saturday night's 18-13 win over the Steelers, losing the football in grotesque fashion and earning Coughlin's fiery ire.
While it's only the preseason, Brown knows that Coughlin isn't pleased. It would certainly behoove Brown to take better care of the football for the remainder of the exhibition schedule, lest he find himself bunking in the same doghouse bed that Wilson occupied for much of 2012.
Hot: Redskins QB Kirk Cousins
Last season, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins proved that he was a capable backup, stepping in for injured starter Robert Griffin III and guiding the team to a few victories.
Now, with Griffin still on the mend from surgery to repair a torn ACL, it's Cousins' team, and in Thursday night's 22-21 win over the Titans, he showed once again that he's one of the better backup options in football.
Cousins completed six of seven passes for 52 yards and a touchdown as he continued to inspire confidence. If Griffin isn't ready to go in Week 1 against the Eagles on Monday Night Football, Redskins fans and coaches should feel good about Cousins' ability to get the job done.
Not: Chargers WR Robert Meachem
When receiver Robert Meachem signed a big-money deal with the San Diego Chargers last offseason, it appeared as if he was ready for a breakout campaign.
Well, not only did that not happen, but Meachem admitted to "sucking" last season. Right now, his prospects for 2013 don't look much better with sources telling Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego that Meachem's body is "broken down."
Meachem didn't catch a pass in Thursday's 31-10 loss to Seattle, further exacerbating claims that he may be on his last legs.
For a Chargers passing attack that needs a boost with the season-ending ACL injury of presumed starting receiver Danario Alexander, the lack of productivity from Meachem is the last thing the team needs. He must pick up his game over the balance of the preseason.
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