The buzzword throughout the NFL this week is chemistry. Starters around the league are seeing more action after mostly limited appearances during the opening week of the preseason with an effort to get everybody on the same page for the regular season.
Even though they are only exhibition games, there's a different level of intensity when going up against another team. Simulating that regular-season feel is why more teams are opting for some joint practices during training camp.
Of course, beyond the starters building up bonds, there are plenty of players simply trying to show they deserve a spot on a final roster. It makes for an important Week 2 slate, so let's check out the remaining schedule and some stories to keep tabs on over the next few days.
Week 2 Schedule
|Date||Time (ET)||Road Team||Home Team|
|Aug. 16||4 p.m.||Packers||Rams|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Giants||Colts|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Jets||Bengals|
|Aug. 16||7 p.m.||Ravens||Cowboys|
|Aug. 16||7:30 p.m.||Dolphins||Buccaneers|
|Aug. 16||7:30 p.m.||Bills||Steelers|
|Aug. 16||8 p.m.||Falcons||Texans|
|Aug. 16||8:30 p.m.||Cardinals||Vikings|
|Aug. 17||4 p.m.||Broncos||49ers|
|Aug. 17||8 p.m.||Chiefs||Panthers|
|Aug. 18||8 p.m.||Browns||Redskins|
Storylines to Watch
Progress of Atlanta Falcons Offense
A combination of injuries, poor offensive line play and some uncharacteristic errors caused the Atlanta offense to play well below its talent level last season. The group ranked 14th in yards per game and 20th in points per game.
The Falcons are going to need a major bounce back from the unit to rebound from a 4-12 campaign. Quarterback Matt Ryan has plenty of weapons at his disposal in the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. The line highlighted by top pick Jake Matthews must hold up, though.
What type of season do you expect from the Falcons?
Atlanta has been one of the teams taking part in joint practices ahead of its game with the Houston Texans. It's a good test against the No. 3 pass defense from last season. D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution passed along comments from Ryan about the practices.
"It's good. It's a change of venue for us to be down here," he said. "It's a different offense and different defense to look at. I think seeing somebody else, any time that you play or practice, going against another team, it brings out the competitive spirit on both sides. There are a lot of advantages to it, and we really enjoyed it today."
One thing to watch closely is how involved the tight ends are in the passing game. Nobody on the roster can match the overall production Tony Gonzalez gave the Falcons for the past five years, but it's important Levine Toilolo and Co. at least make an impact on third down and in the red zone.
Super Bowl Preview?
The reigning champion Seattle Seahawks will enter the season as the team to beat. Two of the main contenders looking to take over the throne are the division rival San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl foe Denver Broncos, who face off this week.
Denver knows it's going to put up more than enough points with Peyton Manning leading the charge. The front office made a concerted effort during the offseason to help the defense reach the same level, adding Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward.
The 49ers are built on their defense but face some question marks, highlighted by the uncertain timetable for the return of star linebacker Navorro Bowman. Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group notes the team's defensive coordinator says the race to replace him is too close to call:
Vic Fangio says "very even" competition between Chris Borland & Michael Wilhoite for who replaces Bowman at ILB in #49ers defense— Cam Inman (@CamInman) August 13, 2014
It's unclear how long the starting groups for both teams will play. But for as long as they do, that should be some of the best action of the entire preseason. Getting to see the retooled Broncos defense against a 49ers offense with plenty of options will be particularly intriguing.
Cleveland Browns' QB Battle
As expected, Johnny Manziel is generating plenty of hype as he attempts to win the starting job in Cleveland. He had a solid debut performance last week but didn't do anything that gave him a clear edge over Brian Hoyer heading into Week 2.
Both quarterbacks are going to see time with the first-team offense against the Washington Redskins, which should help paint a clearer picture about the race. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network provides some insight on how the snaps are expected to get split up:
How will Brian Hoyer & Johnny Manziel split reps in #Browns preseason game 2? They'll alternate every 2 series with the 1st team, I'm told— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 14, 2014
While Manziel possesses plenty of upside, there are still questions about whether he's capable of stepping right into the starting lineup and having success. Hoyer is the safer choice at this stage after some promising showings in three games last season.
Ultimately, it seems like Johnny Football must do something special to outshine the veteran during his preseason outings to earn the job. One thing's for sure: If he starts the season on the bench, the pressure on Hoyer will be off the charts.
There should be more clarity on the situation following Monday's game.