In the third week of the NFL preseason, game plans are handed out, practice is structured to simulate the regular-season routine and starters are expected to play into the second half before shutting it down for the rest of the summer.
That’s the plan this weekend, as teams view these games as a final dress rehearsal before turning it over to the unproven rookies to wrap up the exhibition schedule next week.
However, how much stock should we really put into Week 3 of the NFL preseason?
Today, let’s break down this weekend’s upcoming games from the perspective of structure, scheme and the first cut-down day.
'Game Week' Structure
When talking about the regular-season routine, I’m looking at the structure this week from the game plan install to the practice script.
During the regular season, the daily install/practice routine is broken down by game situations.
Here’s a look at how that plays out on offense and defense:
- Day 1: First-/second-down install, Pressure (Blitz/Blitz Pickup)
- Day 2: Third down/Sub-Package, Nickel/Dime Pressure
- Day 3: Red Zone, Backed Up, Two-Minute
- Day 4: Game Plan Walkthrough, Exotics
And don’t forget about the special teams install:
- Day 1: Punt, Punt Return
- Day 2: Kickoff, Kickoff Return
- Day 3: Review, Hands Team (Onside Kick)
- Day 4: Substitution Review, Exotics (Fakes)
This week, NFL teams will try to simulate that schedule at the team facility with daily install meetings and rookies/backup players running “cards” (opposing teams plays) on the scout team based off advanced scouting (film, tendencies, etc.).
I wouldn’t call this an “official” game week, as the scouting reports that are handed out still lack the overall depth of a regular-season game plan.
However, with camps wrapped up—and teams back practicing at home—this is as close as it gets to the regular-season routine with the starters taking the majority of reps in practice and the backups playing their roles on the scout team.
Coaches want to get back into a daily routine with the regular season approaching, and this week provides an ideal opportunity to do that with the starters taking the stage.
During the first two weeks of the preseason, we saw a lot of basic schemes on the tape.
From Cover 1 to the slant-flat combination, NFL teams rolled out their core schemes/concepts to grade on technique, alignment and execution.
And while that’s a key part of the evaluation process early in the exhibition schedule, this weekend’s games will feature more personnel packages, formations, etc., as coordinators on both sides of the ball look to clean up or add to the playbook.
This is an important part of the regular-season prep for teams to establish their core calls while also experimenting with new schemes.
For example, back in Washington under coordinator Gregg Williams, we installed (and ran) a double cornerback “cat” (blitz) in the third week of the preseason called “Chucky.”
Named after Jon Gruden, we wanted to find out if we could disguise and execute the blitz before making some adjustments leading up to our Week 1 regular-season game versus the Bucs.
This weekend is also important for teams installing new systems during the offseason to get more reps with the first-team players out on the field.
Look at the Giants and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, Williams in St. Louis or Joe Lombardi up in Detroit with quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In those new systems, there will be schemes and concepts that are eliminated from the regular-season game plan based on the level of execution this weekend.
Remember, this is still a preseason game. And that creates another opportunity to experiment with the scheme while the tape is rolling.
The Depth Chart Is Set…and the 1st Round of Cuts Are Coming
Heading into Week 3, the depth chart is pretty much set except for the final couple of spots on the roster that are still up for grabs.
And as the league makes its first round of cuts this upcoming weekend to get from 90 players to 75, that depth chart tells a story.
If a player isn’t on the two-deep roster or starting on the four core special teams units (punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return), then the clock is ticking.
And you can see it on their faces at the facility.
They look defeated as the depth chart is handed out in preparation for that third preseason game.
Every player in the NFL right now has a good idea of who is going to make it through that first round of cuts (barring an injury) and who will be asked to turn in their playbook over the weekend.
There will be some tough cuts to make once the 53-man roster is set, but the guys who are going home early after Week 3 probably won’t even see the field this weekend in the upcoming games.
This is when reality sets in for a lot of players who were hoping to make a run at that opening-day roster while earning an NFL paycheck.
How Much Stock Should We Put into Week 3 of the Preseason?
Once the regular season starts, we won’t talk about the scores, records or stats from the preseason schedule.
However, from the perspective of both players and coaches, there is still value heading into this weekend.
As we have talked about throughout camp, there are very few opportunities for starters to hit and scrimmage in "live," competitive settings on the practice field.
But with the increased amount of reps under the lights this weekend, there will be quality tape to study and corrections to be made before the games count in September.
We shouldn’t make predictions based off the results from Week 3 of the preseason, as this is still an extension of practice in my opinion.
And that’s why the goals are simple this weekend for the starters: stay healthy, utilize the reps and get ready for the real thing.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.