NFL Preseason Week 3: Takeaways from Saturday Night's Action
There were 10 games on Saturday night's Week 3 NFL preseason slate, and the contests didn't disappoint.
The contests had everything, from poor quarterback play (hello, Josh Freeman), to dazzling runs (hi, David Wilson), to head-scratching coaching decisions (good to see you again, Rex Ryan!). There were even two overtime games in the slate, which says something about something.
As always, there were many takeaways from the action. Let's examine:
The Jets and Head Coach Rex Ryan Embarrass Themselves Yet Again
Man, oh man. Where to even start with the three-ring circus known as the New York Jets and their clueless, inept ringmaster, head coach Rex Ryan? They're seemingly the only team that could embarrass themselves in victory, as the Jets downed the New York Giants in overtime, 24-21.
Let's begin with analyzing the play of rookie quarterback Geno Smith. The prevailing thought entering the game was that Smith basically had to completely spit the bit in order to not be the Week 1 starter. Well, he did just that, throwing three first-half interceptions, essentially bequeathing the job to fellow signal-caller Mark Sanchez. Smith even pulled his best Dan Orlovsky imitation, running out of the end zone for a safety.
Even by Jets standards, it was an extremely embarrassing play, especially since it came from a quarterback selected in the second round of April's draft.
Then, Ryan made the incredible decision to insert Sanchez, his likely Week 1 starter, into the game midway through the fourth quarter, where Sanchez would be flanked by second and third-teamers. It was an asinine call that was easily first-guessed by every armchair quarterback in the nation.
What could possibly go wrong in that situation? Well, everything.
Sanchez was absolutely crunched by Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin and left with a bruised shoulder. His immediate status is now in doubt.
In the past two-plus years, Ryan has made a number of outrageous coaching decisions, but playing Sanchez in the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game may have taken the cake. After the game, Ryan spoke about wanting to "win the game" as if it were Week 10 of the regular season.
Newsflash, Rex: IT'S THE THIRD PRESEASON GAME. What, pray tell, are you trying to win? The ridiculous "Snoopy Trophy" given to the winner of the annual Giants/Jets preseason clunker?
This was as egregious as it gets. Jets owner Woody Johnson made a fatal error by not dismissing Ryan along with deposed general manager Mike Tannenbaum. This is now a wasted year for the Jets. Ryan is a dead man walking, and everyone knows it.
Now, it's anyone's best guess as to who the Jets' starting quarterback will be when the team hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. If Sanchez is healthy, it'll likely be him, and he'll continue to perform his best Jason Voorhees impersonation, because whenever you think he's out of the picture, he appears again to cause more chaos. If Sanchez can't go, it'll likely be Smith, and he'll have to be sure to know the dimensions of the end zone, lest he risk another safety.
Regardless of who plays, one thing is for certain: Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis, a former Jet, will be licking his lips. And Ryan will be one game closer to his inevitable dismissal.
Giants Running Back David Wilson Looks Ready to Breakout
While the Giants' first-team offense didn't exactly dazzle in the team's 24-21 overtime loss to the Jets, running back David Wilson exploded for an early 84-yard touchdown run (see the above video).
Wilson, recently anointed the starter by general manager Jerry Reese, showed the breakaway speed and playmaking ability that led the Giants brain trust to that decision.
Even if Wilson splits time with fellow running back Andre Brown, he is in line for a big 2013. That's good news for Big Blue and their fans.
Bucs Quarterback Josh Freeman Turns in Another Sub-Par Performance
When Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano declined to extend quarterback Josh Freeman's contract this offseason, it spoke volumes. Choosing NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of April's draft spoke even louder.
Freeman is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and it's clear that this is a make-or-break campaign for him in Tampa Bay.
Judging from his preseason performance thus far, this could be Freeman's final season as a Buc. He turned in another disappointing performance in Saturday's 17-16 win in Miami, completing only six of 16 passes for 59 yards.
Bottom line: Freeman hasn't gotten the job done in the preseason. While that doesn't mean he won't play well in the regular season, it certainly serves as a potential harbinger for negative things to come.
I've written it all along this preseason: If Freeman struggles in September and October, don't be shocked if Glennon is inserted into the starting lineup, spelling the end for Freeman in Tampa Bay.
Dolphins Running Back Battle All but Over
In the last few weeks, the Dolphins have talked up a competition for the starting running back job between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman even went so far as to call the competition "neck and neck."
Well, after the Dolphins' 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay, there is no longer a question about who the starter will be. It has to be Miller.
Miller flashed his talent, carrying eight times for 35 yards, while Thomas was stagnant once again, gaining a measly three yards on seven carries. For all the math majors out there, that's a 0.4 yards-per-carry average for Thomas. That's not good at all.
Forget all the coachspeak about a "competition" between these two. There is no competition. Miller is the better player, and he'll be the starter in Week 1 when Miami visits the Cleveland Browns.
Bills Quarterback Situation Is a Disaster
The 30-7 loss to the Washington Redskins is the last thing that Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone is worried about. His chief concern is the health of his quarterback room, which is starting to resemble a M.A.S.H. unit.
First-round signal-caller EJ Manuel is questionable for Week 1 with a knee injury, and top backup Kevin Kolb is showing concussion-like symptoms, a disconcerting turn of events, given that Kolb suffered a concussion in 2011.
While third-string quarterback Jeff Tuel has played well in preseason action, one cannot imagine that the Bills would feel confident with trotting him out in Week 1 when they host the New England Patriots. Thus, Buffalo is now in the market for a veteran signal-caller, and it'll reportedly work out journeyman Matt Leinart and John Beck. Yuck.
The Bills had better hope that Manuel and Kolb heal, and quickly. They will have zero chance with Tuel, Leinart or Beck under center.
An Encouraging Performance for the Tennessee Titans
After losing their first two preseason games, the Tennessee Titans finally got off the schneid, downing the Atlanta Falcons 27-16. It was an impressive effort by the Titans, one that will surely encourage head coach Mike Munchak.
Quarterback Jake Locker put forth his best effort of the preseason, completing 11 of 13 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He showed excellent arm strength and decision-making ability.
The first-team defense also kept the Falcons' high-octane offense in check, sacking Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan five times and holding the unit to nine points.
While the Titans are flying squarely under the radar heading into 2013, Saturday's victory shows that they could be capable of making some noise in the AFC South.
Candidates for Broncos Running Back Job Fail to Distinguish Themselves Again
The battle for the Broncos' starting running back job turned into a comedy of errors in the team's 27-26 win over the Rams.
The two participants in the competition, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, both made grotesque errors, and neither player showed enough to outright win the job.
Hillman fumbled for the third time this preseason, and for the second time, it was returned for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, after missing a block on Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner that led to quarterback Peyton Manning getting leveled one week earlier, Ball dropped a wide-open pass from Manning in the red zone, and Denver was forced to settle for a field goal.
There's no question that both players possess undeniable talent, particularly Ball, but they need to be more consistent.
Hillman is the slight favorite to be in the backfield when the Broncos open the 2013 season against the Baltimore Ravens, but both he and Ball will likely get a lot of playing time in the opener.
Rams' New Additions Look Ready to Contribute Immediately
This offseason, the Rams signed free-agent tight end Jared Cook and drafted wide receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree in the first round of April's draft to inject their roster with more playmakers.
In Saturday night's 27-26 loss to Denver, all three men showed that they're ready to provide an immediate spark for the Rams.
Cook caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Austin returned two punts for 104 yards, including an 81-yarder that set up Cook's touchdown reception. And Ogletree might have had the best game of the three, stripping Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman of the ball and returning it for a touchdown. He also intercepted a Peyton Manning pass.
If Cook, Austin and Ogletree can add the pop and sizzle to the Rams that they're capable of providing, St. Louis could be a surprise playoff contender in 2013.
The Cardinals Lose Their First-Round Pick to a Broken Leg
When the Arizona Cardinals selected North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall pick in April's draft, they expected him to provide stability and physicality to an offensive line in dire need of both.
Unfortunately, in Saturday night's 24-7 loss to San Diego, the Cardinals might have lost Cooper for the season, as coach Bruce Arians said after the game that Cooper suffered a broken leg during the action.
This is a devastating blow to an Arizona team that really needed Cooper to play well this season. Now, it faces the prospect of an entire season without him.
That's very, very bad news for quarterback Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense.
The Rest of the Takeaways, Quick-Hits Style
For the teams that weren't covered in the first nine slides, here are takeaways from their performances:
San Diego Chargers: The team has to be happy with what they've seen from running back Ryan Mathews thus far in the preseason. He had another positive effort in the team's 24-7 win over Arizona, carrying the rock 14 times for 57 yards and a touchdown. This could be the year that Mathews puts it all together.
Washington Redskins: Running back Roy Helu played well in their 30-7 win over Buffalo, with 13 carries for 70 yards. He looks set to be Alfred Morris' primary backup.
Indianapolis Colts: The ageless Reggie Wayne continues to impress, as he caught seven passes for 79 yards in the team's 27-6 win over Cleveland. Wayne and fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton will be a formidable one-two punch in 2013.
Cleveland Browns: This was a disconcerting effort for quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Browns offense. After playing extremely well in the first two preseason games, Weeden crashed back to Earth, completing 12 of 25 passes for 105 yards. This performance must leave Browns fans wondering which Weeden they're likely to see when the team hosts Miami in Week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars: While second-year receiver Justin Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy, don't discount the potential impact he could make on the club. Blackmon looks better than he did as a rookie, and caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in the team's 31-24 loss to the Eagles.
Philadelphia Eagles: The running back situation appears to be an embarrassment of riches, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk backing up starter LeSean McCoy. Brown's raw talent is undeniable, and Polk continues to run hard.
Kansas City Chiefs: How about the preseason impact made by the Chiefs special teams, now coordinated by Dave Toub? This was the second consecutive game they returned a kick for a touchdown, this time by rookie running back Knile Davis. It helped the Chiefs to a 26-20 overtime victory over the Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The team is likely holding its breath on the injury status of rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was taken to the hospital with a chest injury. The first-round pick will be counted on to rush the quarterback this season.
Dallas Cowboys: How about the Cowboys new 4-3, Tampa 2 defense under coordinator Monte Kiffin? The unit forced four turnovers against Cincinnati in the team's 24-18 win, and the first-team has yet to allow a touchdown in the preseason. While that statistic is nice, let's see if they can carry the superlative play over to Week 1, when they host the Giants on Sunday Night Football.
Cincinnati Bengals: While Andy Dalton's stats look good (12-16 for 113 yards), he did throw a rather grotesque interception. The Bengals have a team capable of advancing far into January, but they'll need better play from Dalton if they're to get there.
Atlanta Falcons: While the Falcons remain an extremely viable Super Bowl contender, the offensive line hasn't sparkled in the preseason. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked five times by Tennessee in Atlanta's 29-16 loss. The unit simply must play better if the Falcons are to advance deep into the tournament.