NFL Preseason Week 2: What to Watch for in Friday's Matchups
While the 2014 regular season is only three weeks away, there are still questions to be answered as it concerns each and every NFL franchise. And a number of answers will be unearthed in Week 2 of the preseason. In this column, we'll tell you what to watch for in Friday's matchups.
There are four games on the Friday night slate, headlined by the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks hosting the upstart San Diego Chargers. Also on the docket: Philadelphia will visit New England, Oakland plays host to Detroit, and New Orleans takes on Tennessee in the Superdome.
We'll learn a little more about the 2014 iteration of those eight squads after Friday night's proceedings. For some teams, it'll concern the situation at quarterback. Others are hoping that young players, both on offense and defense, will emerge as prime-time options.
Here is what to watch for in Friday's matchups of Week 2 of the NFL preseason.
The Battle to Back Up Patriots QB Tom Brady
It was once assumed that Ryan Mallett was a stone-cold lock to serve as the primary backup to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
But in a wildly unexpected turn of events, 2014 second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo is making a significant push for the job.
While Mallett has regularly wowed in practices, per NFL Network's Mike Mayock (via NFL.com)—causing teammates and media alike to swoon—Garoppolo was the better of the two passers in last week's preseason opener in Washington.
Garoppolo was cool, calm and composed in completing nine of 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, while Mallett's August struggles continued, as he failed to lead one scoring drive in five first-half possessions. This continued a troubling trend for Mallett, who has yet to display his impressive physical attributes once live bullets start flying.
Mallett is still the odds-on favorite to enter the season as Brady's backup, but another sterling performance by Garoppolo—coupled with another Humpty Dumpty-sized egg from Mallett—could potentially change coach Bill Belichick's mind.
Can Eagles QB Nick Foles Pick Up Where He Left off Last Season?
In 2013, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw only two interceptions in 317 passing attempts.
In the team's preseason opener last week in Chicago, Foles threw two interceptions on only nine attempts.
And that (predictably) started the chatter that Foles might be crashing down to earth after his meteoric rise to stardom.
It's nigh-impossible to imagine Foles ever authoring the type of campaign he put forth last autumn, but to suggest he's due for a major regression as the result of a preseason game is pure folly.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly agreed, telling Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer, "It’s one preseason game. You get X amount of snaps. We’ll make corrections and go from there.”
There's no reason to be concerned with Foles—yet. But if he puts forth another stinker on Friday night against the Patriots, the nerve level of Eagles fans will be ratcheted up to another level.
Will the Titans Offense Start to Round into Form?
The Tennessee Titans are poised to enter the 2014 season as the most nondescript squad in the NFL.
But they have the pieces to put together a potentially exciting identity: that of an explosive young offense.
While he's been unable to stay healthy over his three years in the Music City, there's no doubting the natural physical ability possessed by quarterback Jake Locker. And he's surrounded by talent at the skill positions in the form of rookie running back Bishop Sankey and emerging young receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. Plus, the offensive line could easily emerge as one of the league's best.
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt is coming off a season in which he helped to resuscitate what had been a moribund Chargers offense, so it's certainly within the realm of possibility that he could breathe new life into Locker and company.
Friday night's matchup in New Orleans—against coordinator Rob Ryan's defense—will provide a fascinating test for Whisenhunt, Locker and the Titans offense.
Can New Orleans' Running Backs Keep Dominating?
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees hasn't thrown fewer than 600 pass attempts in a season since 2009, the club's lone Super Bow-winning campaign.
But if the team's running game continues to hum as it did in last week's preseason opener in St. Louis, Brees' right arm might get some rest this fall.
Mark Ingram was particularly dominant, rushing eight times for 83 yards and a touchdown. It was as explosive and strong as Ingram has looked since his Heisman Trophy-winning season at Alabama.
Backup Khiry Robinson, who emerged as a big-time player in last year's postseason, toted the rock five times for 23 yards. He looms as a player to watch in the Saints backfield.
Lost in the shuffle has been Pierre Thomas, the team's longtime starter at running back. Per Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com, Thomas is third on the depth chart behind Ingram and Robinson. He's not in any danger of losing his roster spot and should still have a role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
The fact that Thomas is third in the pecking order speaks to the outstanding depth in the New Orleans run game. The Saints could end up transforming from a pass-first offense into a run-first unit with Ingram, Robinson and Thomas.
Chargers Pass-Catchers Going Against the Legion of Boom
The San Diego Chargers are set to roll out a new, uptempo offense under new coordinator Frank Reich.
And their pass-catchers will undergo their first significant test of the young league year when they go up against the Seattle Seahawks and their Legion of Boom secondary on Friday night.
Last week's exhibition was against the Cowboys, and Dallas' defense barely qualifies as NFL-caliber, so Seattle represents a monumental step up in competition for San Diego. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and company will try to embarrass San Diego the way they do most passing attacks they go up against.
San Diego's top receiving threat, Keenan Allen, acknowledged the challenge, telling Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com, “I definitely look forward to competing against ‘the best,’ so to say. Yeah, it’s definitely going to be fun. [Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell] are pretty long guys with long arms. So it’s definitely going to be a good fight.”
Allen, along with tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green, will seek to make headway against the L.O.B. and prove that they're ready to ascend to the next level under Reich's stewardship.
Can Seahawks RB Christine Michael Emerge as Primary Backup to Marshawn Lynch?
While Marshawn Lynch is the unquestioned starter at running back for the Seattle Seahawks, the situation behind him remains murky.
Second-year rusher Christine Michael has been touted all offseason as Lynch's handcuff, but it was Robert Turbin who played with the Seattle starters in last week's preseason opener in Denver.
Neither player finished with an eye-popping stat line—Turbin carried four times for five yards, and Michael rushed seven times for 16 yards and a touchdown run—but it's noteworthy that it was Turbin and not the more heralded Michael who started the game.
We'll get a clearer indication as to the pecking order behind Lynch after Seattle's Friday night contest against the Chargers. Expect Michael to eventually emerge as the No. 2 rushing option for the Seahawks.
Kellen Moore vs. Dan Orlovsky
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a slight, 6'0", 197-pound quarterback named Kellen Moore took the college football world by storm, slinging passes and tossing touchdowns on the blue turf at Boise State.
This quarterback wasn't thought of as a legitimate NFL prospect. His arm strength wasn't up to par, and he didn't physically look the part.
But lo and behold: Three years after joining the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent, Moore could be on the cusp of claiming the team's backup quarterback job behind starter Matthew Stafford.
It's been an extremely unpredictable rise for Moore, who was once considered an afterthought. He played very well in last week's preseason game against the Browns, completing 11 of 13 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, his competition for the spot, Dan Orlovsky (infamous for this play), completed only 12 of 23 passes for 89 yards for a whopping average of 3.86 yards per attempt.
Moore has shown improved zip on his passes, and if he continues to dazzle, it's possible that he could overtake Orlovsky and begin the season as Stafford's primary backup.
Can Raiders LB Khalil Mack Start to Make an Impact?
When Oakland drafted pass-rushing linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick in this past May's draft, Raider Nation effusively welcomed its newest member.
As the offseason dragged on, the hype around Mack grew larger, and it appeared he was due to make a major impact as a neophyte in head coach Dennis Allen's defense.
But in last week's preseason opener against the Vikings, Mack failed to impress. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mack didn't generate a single pressure on six pass-rushing attempts, throwing water on the hype surrounding his ability to sparkle this fall.
Yes, Raider Nation, it's early. There's still time for the Mack train to get back on track.
But if he puts together another lackluster effort on Friday night against the Lions, the scrutiny will only intensify.