NFL Preseason 2013: What We Learned from Week 2
These games matter.
The preseason is a weird time for NFL fans. So often, they are conditioned to believe that it is a non-event. However, after months of no actual football to watch, they're also hungry for any action on the field. For season ticket holders, it's worse because they are forced to purchase preseason tickets on top of their regular-season allotment. Then, the team trots out its fifth-stringers and doesn't even try to win the game!
Well, winning doesn't matter.
That's the weird contradiction of the preseason. The outcomes don't matter, but the games do. Ask players like Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker or Houston Texans running back Arian Foster if the early games matter. Both will tell anyone who listens that the preseason is the only reason they're even on a football team.
However, too often, fans and media overreact to a poor showing in a preseason game without looking at the context. Remember, the 2008 Detroit Lions won every single exhibition game right before going 0-16 in the regular season.
So, what did we learn in Week 2?
Tim Tebow Isn't an NFL Quarterback
Most of us already knew this, but just in case some weren't paying attention...
Look, I've been one of New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow's biggest supporters. I'm a fan of option football having played and coached in the system. I still believe that in the right system, with the right support, he could help an NFL franchise. Frankly, the Patriots might be the last possible bastion of his NFL career.
That said, he may not make their roster.
You're really going to tell me that Tebow is one of the 53 best players on the Patriots? As a quarterback, Tebow went 1-of-7 for minus-one yard and an ugly interception. What's insane is that Tebow actually has a strong arm, but he has no idea what to do with it and throws with such little accuracy and velocity that defenses salivate when he enters the game.
If the Patriots are going to actually use Tebow, they need to find his niche, because it clearly isn't under center.
EJ Manuel, If Healthy, Is the Buffalo Bills' Starter
Let's be frank: EJ Manuel is a bad quarterback.
Wait, wait, hear me out. Manuel was drafted by the Buffalo Bills out of Florida State in the first round of this past year's draft to be their quarterback of the future. Draftniks worldwide went nuts at the thought of some franchise handing its keys over to a young man who could barely manage ACC defenses, let alone the AFC East.
All along, I've maintained that Manuel has incredible tools, and the team that drafts him will have a lot to do with his NFL success. The Bills have done just about everything right.
Although Manuel is sidelined for the rest of the preseason with a knee injury, he's been the best quarterback on the roster. He has gotten reps without winning the job before he earned it. They've also surrounded him with talent like wide receiver Robert Woods and running back C.J. Spiller.
This should be a fun offense to watch in 2013. It likely won't win a whole lot of games until Manuel better hones his craft, but he's on the right track, and this selection should pay dividends for the Bills down the road.
Jay Cutler Still Needs Some Work
One look at the stat sheet for Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler could trick some into believing head coach Marc Trestman has had a much bigger impact than reality suggests. Yes, Cutler was 4-of-5 passing for 38 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the San Diego Chargers, but the actual game play was less impressive than the stat line.
Cutler seemed like he had a one-track mind, targeting all of his passes at wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The interception was forced into double coverage rather than check down and Cutler finding another target. He was at his worst, and it only worked because the Chargers defense is working out some kinks in its secondary after adding new bodies this offseason.
Trestman is a great offensive coach and a legitimate quarterback guru, but he isn't a miracle worker. Cutler wasn't going to become the second coming of Peyton Manning overnight. He still needs more time and has to prove that he's willing to learn.
The Ravens Defense Is Better in 2013
If one reads my columns often enough or follows me on Twitter, they would realize that I've been banging this drum since the early part of free agency. The narrative around the Baltimore Ravens defense has long deviated from the truth about it, as the 2012 unit finished 17th in the league—hardly an elite unit.
Safety Ed Reed (now with the Houston Texans) and linebacker Ray Lewis (now retired and with ESPN) were both embarrassingly over-matched in their final seasons with Baltimore, yet their loss was treated as the end of all hope for the Ravens.
Following their Super Bowl win, the Ravens lost a lot of personnel, but they let those players walk rather than overpay for lackluster talent. Single-tooled safety Bernard Pollard was let go, but replaced by rookie Matt Elam and free agent Michael Huff. Overpaid linebacker Paul Kruger signed with the Cleveland Browns, but Elvis Dumervil took his place.
In the second preseason game, the Ravens defense looked as good as it has for years with newcomers like Elam, linebackers Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown and defensive lineman Chris Canty all chipping in. This is a good unit and should be able to carry an injury-plagued offense through much of 2013.
San Francisco 49ers Have a Scary Front Seven
As long as we're on the topic of defenses carrying offenses due to injury—ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 San Francisco 49ers!
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a tough road ahead of him, as he looks to avoid any semblance of a "sophomore slump" in his second full NFL season while leading an offense without his favorite receiver, Michael Crabtree. But with a good running game and a good offensive line, the offense should be fine. It helps that the Niners have a defense that is able to keep the score close with any opponent.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 of the preseason, the Niners went after quarterback Alex Smith like he had taken money from them. He was sacked three times by the Niners, who added three more against his backup, Chase Daniel, and totaled seven quarterback hits.
Pressure like that is going to make any defense look good—even with the issues that the 49ers have to work through in the secondary. A front seven performance like Week 2 reminds us that San Francisco is still one of the best teams in football and a clear favorite in the NFC.
The Oakland Raiders May Be Clowning for Clowney in 2013
Ugh, watching the Oakland Raiders is painful.
General manger Reggie McKenzie has this team on the right track, but the post-Al Davis era is a lot like digging out an abscess to get to the root problems underneath. That means 2013 may not be the season fans want it to be, and "just win, baby" may be a few years down the road. Hopefully fans (and more importantly, Raiders ownership) have the patience to give this regime a chance to succeed.
The Raiders overhauled their entire defense and a lot of their offense this offseason. They brought in quarterback Matt Flynn to lead the passing attack and re-installed a power rushing offense for running back Darren McFadden. The Raiders are an improving team with more young talent, and they're getting out of the draft pick purgatory/salary cap hell they were in before.
Raiders fans will probably need to start looking forward to April as Indianapolis Colts fans did two years ago with their "Suck for Luck" campaign. CBS' Will Brinson has suggested "Clown for Clowney," though I'm a fan of "Fail harder for Bridgewater."
Eddie Lacy Is in OK Shape After All
EDDIE LACY IS FAT!
The shouts ran out through the social media landscape in response to this picture, which showed a hefty-looking running back at Green Bay Packers training camp. Clearly, one photo should be enough to end Lacy's NFL career and get him started on the hot dog eating circuit.
Ask the St. Louis Rams defenders whom Lacy rode roughshod over en route to 40 yards on eight carries. He looked fast, agile and as svelte as he's ever looked (so, not much). He's impressed coaches with his natural running ability and appears to be making strides as the Packers' potential starter.
The Detroit Lions Have Got to Be Worried
The Lions spent the weekend signing every veteran free agent that they could get on the phone lines, and head coach Jim Schwartz says that it's not a signal that the team is panicked.
After an embarrassing outing against the Cleveland Browns, they should be worried.
Remember, it's not about the outcome, and it's not even about the stats they allowed the Browns offense to put up. It's the missed tackles, wide-open receivers and lack of a consistent pass rush even though the offensive line features a bunch of first-round picks. The defensive effort in both games this preseason has been embarrassing, and the Lions should be worried about it.
This is a better football team than what former general manager Matt Millen left for Schwartz and company, but they've had plenty of time to build a more consistent team, and that just hasn't happened. If the Lions' regular-season play looks anything like their preseason version, Schwartz could be looking for a new job this winter.
Michael Vick Is the Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Quarterback
Just call the quarterback battle. It's over.
Quarterback Nick Foles looked good with the starters in Week 2. For a little bit, it seemed as if Foles was going to re-open the race, and maybe even take the lead. Not only was he making good decisions, but he looked athletic and poised (at times) in head coach Chip Kelly's offense.
Then Michael Vick entered.
He completed nine of 10 attempts, passed for 105 yards and had one interception on a Hail Mary heave that no one will actually count against him. As he left the field, he was almost wiping the dirt off his shoulders or winking at Foles as he walked by. Vick knew it was over, and it looks like the Eagles coaching staff has the same idea.
Vick received the majority of the first-team reps in practice following the second preseason game and should continue to do so (barring injury or historical collapse) moving forward.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.