NFL Preseason Week 2: What to Watch for in Saturday's Matchups

Russell S. BaxterContributor IAugust 16, 2014

NFL Preseason Week 2: What to Watch for in Saturday's Matchups

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    Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make his 2014 preseason debut on Saturday.
    Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make his 2014 preseason debut on Saturday.USA TODAY Sports

    We are two days into the second week of the NFL’s full preseason slate, and if Saturday is anything like the first five games so far it figures to be entertaining, to say the least.

    On Thursday night at Soldier Field, we saw a nifty fourth-quarter comeback by the Chicago Bears against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the same at Oakland on Friday, when the Raiders rallied in the closing seconds to edge the Detroit Lions, 27-26.

    There was no Drew Brees at the Superdome, but the New Orleans Saints held off the Tennessee Titans. There was no defense in Foxborough as the New England Patriots (42) and Philadelphia Eagles (35) combined for 77 points.

    And there was seemingly no way to stop the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who crushed the visiting San Diego Chargers early and often, 41-14.

    Again, it’s the preseason, so no one is putting anyone in the playoffs just yet. But there are eight more games on tap Saturday night, and we are here to take a look at what may be worth keeping an eye on.

Green Bay Packers (0-1) at St. Louis Rams (0-1)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    As usual, quarterbacks always headline an NFL game, and both the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams will see their main men make their 2014 debuts.

    Neither Aaron Rodgers nor Sam Bradford saw the playing field last week, but that will change Saturday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher told Joe Lyons of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday that Bradford will get his share of action.

    Meanwhile, you also can’t talk about the Rams without discussing that star-studded defensive line, now bolstered by yet another first-round pick, defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Along with starting ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and defensive tackle Michael Brockers—and depth from William Hayes, Alex Carrington, Eugene Sims and perhaps 2014 seventh-round pick Michael Sam—big things are expected from this group.

    In terms of Green Bay, Weston Hodkiewicz of PackersNews.com evaluated the prospects of the Packers' developing defensive front, which earlier this week became one player short when former second-round pick Jerel Worthy was dealt to the New England Patriots. This past season, Green Bay was 25th in the NFL in total defense as well as versus the run.

    For Rodgers and Bradford, neither hopes to get much of a look at either group.

New York Jets (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    It is somewhat ironic that the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis are hosting the New York Jets, and the subject of choice here is wide receiver Marvin Jones.

    Last season, when Rex Ryan’s team arrived in the Queen City (Week 8), the eventual AFC North champions administered a 49-9 whooping on the Green and White. In that contest, Jones caught all eight passes thrown his way, totaling 122 yards and four touchdowns.

    That was the same number of touchdown receptions by tight end Jeff Cumberland in 2013, when he led the team in that category.

    Now the young wideout will be out indefinitely with a broken foot, per NFL Writer Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com. That means even more reps for Mohamed Sanu, who did catch 47 passes for 455 yards and two scores in 2013.

    Meanwhile, the Jets and second-year quarterback Geno Smith look to get better on offense. Last week versus the Indianapolis Colts, he threw the ball just six times and completed four passes for 33 yards in the team’s 13-10 win.

    Yep, there’s work to be done.

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Dallas Cowboys (0-1)

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    This past season, the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

    One reason for the disappointing showing was a running game that totaled only 1,328 yards as a team, the third-lowest total in the league.

    Last week in the preseason opener versus the San Francisco 49ers, it is somewhat worth noting that John Harbaugh’s club gained 237 yards on the ground against Jim Harbaugh’s club. That included 10 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown by Bernard Pierce, the anticipated opening-weekend starter with veteran Ray Rice suspended for the first two weeks of the season.

    As for the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Tony Romo is apparently back. We’re just not sure if Romo’s back is back.

    CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora gets us up to date on the veteran signal-caller and how he’s feeling these days.

    Meanwhile, speaking of running games, does anyone know that Dallas’ DeMarco Murray ran for 1,121 yards in 2013…all by himself? For the sake of Romo and that Cowboys defense, his workload may need to increase dramatically. Soon.

New York Giants (2-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants are a perfect 2-0 in the preseason but have hardly looked the part. So much for win-loss records during the summer.

    We say that because the team that committed a league-high 44 turnovers in 2013 has already lost three fumbles in 2014. Still, there have been positives in the form of 30-plus carries and 120-plus yards rushing in both games. Preseason stats are what they are, but when you finished 29th in the league in rushing this past season, you have to build on something.

    Coach Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning will see a familiar face at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night in the form of running back Ahmad Bradshaw. In that same building nearly three years ago in Super Bowl XLVI, Manning handed the ball to Bradshaw, whose six-yard touchdown run (or fall) with 57 seconds to play was the difference in the team’s 21-17 win over the New England Patriots.

    While we are on the subject of nostalgia, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is hoping to see more of the Trent Richardson who enjoyed a very respectable rookie season with the Cleveland Browns back in 2012. Last week versus the New York Jets, Richardson totaled 13 yards rushing on five carries.  

    Don’t be surprised if the Colts work on their running game tonight, one that was tied for 20th in the NFL this past season.

    And what’s the over/under for how many times we will see Bradshaw’s Super Bowl game-winning touchdown?

Buffalo Bills (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If the Buffalo Bills are to make their first playoff appearance since 1999, they have to do a better job when it comes to stopping the opposition.

    To be more specific, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is looking to improve a unit that finished second in the league with 57 sacks but ranked 28th when it came to stopping the run this past season. It marked the fifth straight year that the Bills ranked in the bottom five of the league in rushing defense.

    But Doug Marrone’s club will get a good chance to see how far they’ve come versus the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

    As Alan Robinson of TribLive.com discusses, head coach Mike Tomlin is looking forward to unleashing his 1-2 backfield combination of second-year running back Le’Veon Bell and free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount, late of the New England Patriots. During the regular season, both men figure to be very busy. Tomlin told Robinson this week:

    They're both going to get their share (of carries). But in terms of the details and anything more detailed than that, no, we'll deal with that on a game-by-game basis based on the plan, based on health of the men and a lot of other variables. We have a great deal of confidence in both guys. Both guys are going to be central reasons why we're successful. That's the plan, and I think they're open to that.

    Both Bell and Blount each totaled just three carries in last week’s loss to the New York Giants. Look for a slightly bigger workload versus the visiting Bills.

Miami Dolphins (0-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Both the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off of 16-10 losses in their preseason opener. Joe Philbin’s team fell to the Atlanta Falcons, and Lovie Smith and company came up short against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    So what can we expect Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium? It’s safe to say both clubs would like to continue to work on a little offensive consistency, especially given the performance of both units a year ago. Hence why the Dolphins now have offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and the Bucs hired Jeff Tedford to aid a team that gained the fewest total yards in the league in 2013.

    A number of eyes will be on Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, who followed up a sensational rookie year by seeing his sophomore campaign cut short by injury. It will be very interesting to see how much work he gets tonight off the news, as documented by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, that rookie running back Charles Sims, a third-round pick in May, will be shelved at least half the season with a foot injury.

    Last week versus the Jaguars, Martin totaled six yards on three carries and caught one pass for two yards. How much he will play on Saturday is anyone’s guess, but the Bucs can’t afford for him to be anything less than 100 percent this season.

    Speaking of recovering running backs, will we see Knowshon Moreno versus the Buccaneers? As James Walker of ESPN.com notes, he may finally be ready to contribute after a forgettable offseason.

Atlanta Falcons (1-0) at Houston Texans (0-1)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Last week, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill made it look easy against the Atlanta Falcons.

    On the team’s opening drive of the 2014 preseason, the third-year pro completed all six of his passes for 62 yards and a score, capping off a 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive at the Georgia Dome.

    And not a lot of heat was brought by the Atlanta Falcons defense.

    Yes, it was the first preseason game for Mike Nolan and his new-look unit, one that finished tied for 27th in the league this past season in terms of yards allowed.

    But one goal is certainly to improve a pass rush that has totaled just 61 sacks the past two seasons combined. That’s just one more quarterback trap than the Carolina Panthers (60) amassed in 2013 alone.

    Speaking of quarterbacks, Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien may prefer that you don’t. His team was mauled by the Arizona Cardinals last week, 32-0, and starter Ryan Fitzpatrick was miserable. The veteran completed only six of his 14 pass attempts for 55 yards and was picked off twice in the shutout loss.

    So is it any wonder, as reported by John Breech of CBSSports.com, that backup quarterback Case Keenum saw some action with the first-team offense earlier this week?

    Stay tuned.

Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0)

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Yes, we will all be watching the Minnesota Vikings quarterback situation play itself out once again when the Arizona Cardinals come to town tonight.

    Then again, there might be another quarterback who bears some attention after last week's showing.

    While veteran Carson Palmer is clearly the starter for Bruce Arians’ interesting team, you couldn't help but notice the performance of rookie signal-caller Logan Thomas last week versus the Houston Texans.

    The fourth-round pick from Virginia Tech University played the majority of the second half last Saturday at Glendale, and while he was far from perfect, he completed 11 of 12 throws for 133 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

    Still, according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com, it will be third-year pro Ryan Lindley—vying with Thomas for the No. 3 quarterback spot—who will see a lot of action versus the Vikings. With Palmer, Drew Stanton, Lindley and Thomas (after just one game), Arians may be feeling pretty good about his quarterback situation.

    On Saturday night at Minnesota, we should also get a better idea about how Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are feeling about their guys. Veteran Matt Cassel appeared to take the lead last week after a so-so performance by rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Christian Ponder remains in the picture from a distance as well.

    Meanwhile, Arizona’s aggressive defense should prove to be a nice test for the Purple Gang, who posted a 10-6 win over the Oakland Raiders last week.