Takeaways from Thursday Night's NFL Preseason Week 2 Action
To borrow a phrase from the Bard, NFL preseason games are usually full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Players are strutting and fretting on the turf, but most of this week's preseason action will be forgotten once the real games start.
Whenever tempted to think preseason games matter, remember: The 2008 Detroit Lions went undefeated that preseason and winless that regular season.
There are lessons to be learned from preseason games, though, if you look beyond the box score. If you watch the game, how the starters move, how the ball spins and how the one-on-one matchups break down, you can take away some insight.
What real, tangible lessons can we learn from the Thursday night action of this preseason's Week 2?
Nick Foles Will Do, but Michael Vick Is Chip Kelly's Quarterback
Throughout the offseason, it's been easy to assume that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly would choose his starting quarterback based on whether he wanted a run-first or throw-first option behind center.
Even at 33, Michael Vick is still one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the NFL, and second-year man Nick Foles is a pure pocket passer. It was assumed Kelly's read-option offense would be toothless if Foles was the running threat, and it would seem that Vick will never be a consistently great pocket passer.
However, when running the read-option, it's not necessary for the quarterback to be a burner. In fact, if the quarterback is running the read-option correctly, he won't run the ball unless he has a completely free pass into the secondary.
Against the Panthers, Foles executed Kelly's offense competently. He completed a nifty read-option toss and even ran for a touchdown himself. Foles finished with 53 yards on 6-of-8 passing and one interception, adding 13 yards on two carries on the ground.
Between decent execution of the "mesh" handoff on run plays and accurate throws, Foles' opening drive was effective and efficient—right up until he turned a broken play into an end-zone interception. If the Eagles had to rely on Foles, and every other unit was humming along, they'd be OK.
Vick, though, is both throwing and running better than Foles. He finished with 105 yards on 9-of-10 passing and one interception, along with two carries for 20 yards and a rushing touchdown.
More importantly, Vick looks crisper and more confident executing the offense. Kelly puts a premium on speed, and Vick looks like he was born to run it.
Without Megatron, Reggie Bush Is the Entire Detroit Lions Offense
In Week 1, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had great success throwing to Calvin Johnson and little success throwing to anyone else. For Lions fans, this season's offensive woes looked similar to what happened in 2012.
In this Week 2 contest, Johnson sat out the game with a knee bruise, and Stafford got four drives to see what he could do with Nate Burleson, Patrick Edwards, Reggie Bush, Brandon Pettigrew and the rest of the Lions receiving threats.
Stafford went 11-of-16 for 74 yards, which sounds much more impressive than it was. Including one incomplete pass that was wiped out by a penalty, Stafford targeted tailback Reggie Bush six times, completing three for 39 yards. That leaves just 35 yards to split between everyone else.
It took the Lions three possessions to get a single first down; it wasn't until Stafford's fourth and final possession that the Lions put together something resembling a "drive." Even then, Bush's number was called on eight of that scoring drive's 14 plays.
Stafford, Pettigrew, Burleson and Ryan Broyles (who is coming off ACL surgery) are going to have to get on the same page soon, or this season is going to look a lot like last season.
Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler Did Not Impress
The San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears have talented, veteran quarterbacks and new, offensive-minded head coaches. Both teams were hoping the changes made on the sidelines would have a positive influence on their signal-callers.
It hasn't so far.
Rivers was under attack from the aggressive Bears defense all night, and the Chargers offensive line looked to miss departed guard Louis Vasquez. Bears end Corey Wootton beat rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker for a sack early, though Fluker recovered well after that.
After four drives, Rivers ended the evening with 5-of-9 passes completed for 50 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. New Chargers head coach Mike McCoy won in Denver with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton before Peyton Manning, but if McCoy knows how to get Rivers out of this multi-season funk, he hasn't shown it yet.
Cutler had more success, completing 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but all five targets were to his security blanket, No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall. The interception was especially brutal, with Marshall double-covered and Cutler staring him down the whole way.
New Bears head coach Marc Trestman has a lot of work to do if Cutler is going to get back to his pre-2012 form.
Brandon Weeden Has Looked Strong
So far this preseason, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden has completed 18-of-25 passes for 229 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Again, it's only Week 2 of the preseason, but after two weeks of last year's preseason, Weeden was 15-of-29 for 180 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Not only has Weeden cut down on incompletions and eliminated interceptions (so far), he's throwing further downfield and placing the ball on his receivers' hands in the short game. Weeden looks like an effective NFL starting quarterback, and the Browns look like they're ready to take a big step forward.
Then again, who knows if this will continue once defenses are blitzing and game-planning for real. Maybe Weeden's just getting lucky against vanilla defenses. Until we find out for sure, the Browns have to be loving Weeden's spot-on impression of an effective starting NFL quarterback.
Either the Eagles Defense Got Much Better this Week, or the Panthers Offense…
Though much of the football world was focused on Chip Kelly's radical new Eagles offense, last week was the debut of two new Eagles systems. They implemented a 3-4 defense this offseason, changing the alignment of a team that's been a 4-3 unit for a long, long time.
In Week 1, the results were predictable: Against the New England Patriots' outstanding offensive line, the Eagles got very little pressure in the passing game or push in the running game. Tom Brady easily sliced through the new-look Eagles secondary, and the Eagles surrendered 24 points to the Patriots in the first half alone.
In Week 2, the Eagles were suddenly collapsing the pocket, getting push and forcing quarterback Cam Newton to break down and run on several occasions. Completing just 8-of-17 for 112 yards, Newton couldn't get anything going.
The Eagles defense held the Panthers to just three field goals—a measly nine points overall.
The Eagles D, almost incapable of stopping the run last season, held DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, among others, to a collective 3.0 yards per carry. Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart didn't play due to injuries, but it was impressive all the same.
Looking at the film, the Eagles back seven did a great job of denying the offense its deep options. Newton has little patience for taking what the defense gives him, as he finished third in yards per pass attempt in the 2012 season.
Newton should have been able to beat Cary Williams and Co. deep. That his receivers couldn't—and couldn't effectively downshift into the short passing game and move the chains—doesn't bode well for new offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
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