The Complete Guide to NFL Preseason Week 3
It's dress rehearsal time!
The third week of the 2014 NFL preseason brings with it the all-important "dress rehearsals," where starters see their most extensive playing time of the exhibition season in preparation for the games that count.
For quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, it's a chance to polish things up after an impressive exhibition season offensively.
For teams like the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, it's a chance to right the proverbial ship after a preseason that's caused more concerns than applause.
So, whether it involves crossing T's and dotting I's or trying a last-minute rewrite of the entire script, here's a look at everything you need to know as the preseason's third week gets underway.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 3 of the preseason kicks off with a nationally televised "battle of Pennsylvania" in the City of Brotherly Love Thursday night between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
For the Eagles, it's one more chance to get the first-team offense on track after a pair of up-and-down performances.
However, the Eagles may have to try to accomplish that feat without the foundation of that offense. Running back LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing last year, has been battling a minor case of turf toe, leaving his status for Thursday's game in doubt.
Still, with starting wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper set to take the field for the first time together this year, McCoy told Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com he intends to make every effort to be on the field:
It's a small version of turf toe. It's just been bothering me (when) I put pressure on it. ...
... I felt like if it was hurting too much, I would shut it down. But I warmed up today, it felt good. In this league, you have to learn to play through some pain. My track record since I have been here, I don't miss a lot of games or practices. ...
... I need the reps. It seems the first two games we have had trouble getting going (as a first-team offense). I want to play good, clean football without the turnovers and penalties.
That fast-paced Philly offense will provide an excellent test for young linebacker Ryan Shazier and the Steelers defense. Shazier, whom the Steelers selected in the first round of May's NFL draft, was the star of Pittsburgh's win over the Buffalo Bills last week, as he racked up nine solo tackles and added an interception.
It was a performance that drew the praise of veteran teammate Lawrence Timmons, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
His pass coverage is awesome. You saw the tackles; he was making tackles left and right. He has the pedigree. He has all the talent and the intangibles you want in an inside linebacker.
Over the past decade it's been incredibly rare to see rookie starters on the Pittsburgh defense, and another strong showing from Shazier can only help to alleviate any doubts the coaching staff may have about making an exception in Shazier's case in 2014.
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
Friday's slate features a fistful of evening games, including a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Of course, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn't play in that game, as he was just 14 years old at the time.
Still, as Newton told David Newton (no relation) of ESPN, he's looking forward to his second start of the preseason after undergoing offseason ankle surgery:
Just regaining confidence I had in my ankle. I know I had surgery. Everyone knows I had surgery. It’s a constant buildup. I haven’t pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor trying to see how much I can do. It was kind of like a shock at first. But after I didn't feel pain .... It's one thing where you’ve got to tell your mind that you’re not hurt. ...
... Right now, I'm at a point where it can't be flashes no more. It has to be an every-down mentality to move the ball forward.
With Newton breaking in an all-new wideout corps with the Panthers, every rep counts.
New England quarterback Tom Brady, of course, most certainly did play in that Super Bowl back in 2004. As "the Golden Boy" recently told WEEI's The Dennis & Callahan Show (via Lee Schechter of ESPNBoston.com), it's too early to tell whether this year's incarnation of the Pats is good enough to make it back to the NFL's biggest game:
I don't think you know what kind of team you have until December. You got to fight through it. There are ups and downs over the course of the year. There's a lot of mental toughness that comes into play. A lot of discipline and work ethic, decision-making that really doesn't play out in August or September.
With that said, a game against the NFL's top pass rush and No. 2 overall defense from 2013 should provide a pretty good measuring stick for where the Patriots are offensively entering the season.
New York Giants at New York Jets
Friday's matchup between the New York Giants and New York Jets may be a battle for Big Apple bragging rights, but for quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants, there's much more on the line.
Simply put, as The Associated Press (via CBS New York) reports, the Giants offense has been absolutely offensive through two games:
Here’s the numbers the first offense posted in eight series against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts: 31 plays, 134 yards, six first downs — three by penalty — and one touchdown.
Most of the yardage came on a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings against the Steelers. Take that away and it’s 30 plays for 61 yards, or roughly 2 yards per play.
However, Manning cautioned not to read too much into the team's offensive struggles:
I don’t think we have ever been a great preseason team as far as I remember. I know how things are going in practice and what we are capable of doing. We have improvements to do for sure, but we have a little time and we’ll keep working on things. I have seen progress over these weeks in practice and some of these concepts we are getting better at, getting a better feel for things and the timing for things. So we’ll keep working at it.
It would be nice, of course, if some of that improvement would actually manifest on the playing field.
Meanwhile, while most of the talk surrounding the Jets this offseason has focused on the offensive side of the ball, Boomer Esiason of CBS Sports told Dom Cosentino of NJ.com the Jets will go as far in 2014 as the defense takes them—specifically, the secondary:
My thoughts are just like everybody else’s: They’ve got to get the secondary straightened out, and one of the reasons why Rex Ryan’s defenses are so difficult to play against is because he plays a lot of man coverage. But, as you saw Saturday night, and as you see the quarterbacks that they’re playing, the first eight games of the year—forget it. The front seven will be as good as anybody. But I don’t believe you’ve seen the full defensive backfield yet for the Jets. If you’re [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick, why would you even have a running back in the backfield? Just go out there with five wide receivers and say go cover them. It’s going to be tough.
So, we have a scuffling passing attack against a struggling secondary, with both teams badly needing to get those faltering units in gear.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions
Ever since the Jacksonville Jaguars made quarterback Blake Bortles the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, head coach Gus Bradley has been crystal clear in his assertion that Bortles would not start as a rookie.
Everyone heard Bradley loud and clear. Well, everyone but Bortles.
The former Central Florida star has played the best football of any first-year signal-caller in the preseason, albeit against second- and third-string defenses.
After back-to-back strong performances, though, Bortles will get his chance Friday to impress against starters when the Jaguars travel to face the Detroit Lions.
As Peter King of The MMQB reports, Bortles will play about a quarter against the Lions, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch indicated that another great outing could lead to a rethinking of the whole "sit the rookie" game plan:
This fan base saw a quarterback [Blaine Gabbert] get thrown to the wolves. We don’t need to force it. We never thought when we drafted [Bortles] we were taking him to play now. But nothing is set in stone. We’re giving Blake every chance to make the decision super-hard for us.
The Lions, on the other hand, hope that a couple key players will be able to make their preseason debut against the Jaguars.
Head coach Jim Caldwell told Justin Rogers of MLive.com that star wide receiver Calvin Johnson should play this week, barring a setback in practice:
We plan to get him some work this week. Toward the end of the week, something adjusts, or we have to adjust here and there, and it could be that with a number of different guys, but we plan to get him some work this week.
However, Caldwell was less optimistic about the chances that defensive end Ezekiel Ansah will make his 2014 debut Friday, saying:
The medical staff will look at him. Even though he's off PUP, we're still going to bring him along according to what he can handle from a physical standpoint. We'll get a sense of that. He's doing a little bit more today in practice and he'll do a little bit more tomorrow. We'll see what happens come game day.
With Ansah being counted on to anchor the Lions pass rush this season, his continued absence is becoming a cause for more than a little concern. A Ziggy sighting, even if it's for but a handful of snaps, would allay those concerns at least a bit.
Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers
When the Oakland Raiders traded for quarterback Matt Schaub earlier in the season, the hope was that the 33-year-old could at least serve as a "bridge" starter while youngster Derek Carr acclimates to the NFL.
However, after a pair of of rocky outings in the preseason, rumblings have already begun that perhaps the Raiders would be best-served to just roll the 23-year-old Carr out there and hope for the best.
As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via colleague Chris Wesseling), the Raiders aren't biting, and it will be Schaub who starts both the team's dress rehearsal Friday against the Green Bay Packers and the team's season opener:
The Raiders' brain trust believes, however, that Schaub is ready to return to solid starter status, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Monday's edition of NFL Total Access.
There is no quarterback controversy, Rapoport emphasized, and rookie Derek Carr is not a threat to start the season opener.
The Raiders understand Schaub's waning arm strength and the accompanying scrutiny of their plan, but they believe the offensive line, rushing attack and adjusted game plans will allow him to perform at a functional level until Carr is ready.
However, as Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News reports, that belief hasn't manifested between the lines during preseason action:
Through two games, Schaub has been on the field for seven possessions that have resulted in five punts, a deflected interception and one touchdown. The Raiders have gained 144 yards, with Schaub completing 11 of 20 passes for 108 yards and a passer rating of 49.6.
There's been no such problem in Titletown. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense were in midseason form in last week's win over the St. Louis Rams.
The Packers have been working on increasing their offensive tempo in 2014, and as running back Eddie Lacy told R.B. Fallstrom of the AP (via CBS Sports) the offense was firing on all cylinders last week.
"We practiced uptempo offense and to be able to come out and execute it at this stage of the game is great," Lacy said. "It will be tough for opponents to keep up and be able to beat us."
That groan you just heard was from the defensive coordinators in Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota.
Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks
Someone forgot to tell the Seattle Seahawks that the preseason doesn't count.
For the second straight year, the Seahawks used the second week of the preseason as an opportunity to open a can on an AFC West playoff team. This year the victims were the San Diego Chargers, who found themselves on the wrong end of a 41-14 shellacking.
The Seahawks scored on all four drives led by starter Russell Wilson, who ran for a pair of touchdowns.
Wilson told the AP (via ESPN) that while the team is known for its punishing ground game and defense, he thinks the Seahawks' aerial attack will surprise some people this season.
"I definitely believe we can be that explosive," Wilson said. "It starts first of all with the offensive line and how well they're doing ... but then you think about our receivers and we have so many talented receivers."
The unenviable task of slowing down the Seahawks this week falls upon a Bears team that had its share of defensive problems a year ago.
As Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune (subscription only) pointed out, those defensive issues carried over into last week's game with the Jacksonville Jaguars:
It wasn't all fun for the Bears during Thursday's 20-19 exhibition victory over the Jaguars. In fact, a one-sided first quarter offered little fun at all. The Bears were outgained 134-8, running just five plays to the Jaguars' 28. Yet by Friday afternoon, coach Marc Trestman had found an ounce of positive spin on that rough defensive start.
No one doubts the Bears' ability to score points, but if Chicago is going to make any real noise in the NFC North this year, that defense is going to need to get better in a hurry.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills
Saturday's first game features a pair of teams trying to climb back to respectability.
For the Buffalo Bills, it's been a long time coming. The last time the Bills advanced to the postseason, Bill Clinton was president of the United States.
The Bills moved up in the 2014 NFL draft in an effort to get quarterback EJ Manuel a go-to receiver, but when the team takes the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday, it may be without wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
As the AP reported (via Fox Sports), Watkins is day-to-day after suffering a rib injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
Luckily, the injury is considered minor, and that wasn't the only good news the Bills received on the injury front this week.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn, who has been sidelined throughout camp by a mystery illness, has been cleared to practice, a development that made center Eric Wood a very happy camper.
"It's a good sign," Wood said, via the AP. "Cordy's one of our best players. And getting him back on the field, it's obviously going to help this football team."
On the other hand, as Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com reports, the Buccaneers head into this game amid a few shakeups on the depth chart:
First-round draft pick Mike Evans is now listed as a starter at wide receiver. Evans had been listed behind Chris Owusu on the first two depth charts. But that was just a case of being courteous to a veteran. Evans was getting much of the first-team work by late in training camp and there was little doubt he'd be a starter by opening day.
Another highlight of the depth chart is at guard, where the Bucs have Oniel Cousins with the first team at left guard and Patrick Omameh at right guard. That's the same combination the Bucs used in last week's preseason game with Miami. If Cousins and Omameh have decent outings in Saturday's preseason game at Buffalo, they should lock up the starting jobs.
On the defensive side, one thing looks off. The Bucs are listing Mike Jenkins as a starting cornerback. Jenkins has been out most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has played well in Jenkins' absence.
The Buccaneers, who are a trendy pick as a dark-horse playoff contender, have had an up-and-down preseason. With the starters likely to play at least a half Saturday, this game will afford us our best glimpse yet as to whether the Bucs are contenders or pretenders in the NFC South.
Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins
The Dallas Cowboys fielded the worst defense in the National Football League last year, allowing over 415 yards per game.
At the rate things are going, the Cowboys may call 415 yards per game in 2014 a moral victory of sorts.
The Dallas defense has been decimated by cap casualties, free-agent departures and injuries, to the point that the Cowboys are hoping that Rolando McClain will be the team's starter at middle linebacker in 2014.
The same McClain who was out of the NFL altogether last year.
That's the latest from Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, who reports that the Cowboys have begun giving McClain first-team reps in practice. Head coach Jason Garrett told McMahon:
We started to do that a couple of weeks ago and then Rolando was out of practice a couple of days, so we will do that in practice this week. At the end of the day, we need to find our three best linebackers and our best combination of those guys to start for us in base, and then there are some roles in nickel as well. If guys demonstrate that they’re a better cover guy than base linebacker, maybe they’ll get their opportunities there. So we’ll continue to work the different looks and the different combinations and see what looks best.
If you're wondering what happened to weak-side linebacker Bruce Carter, well, Bruce Carter happened. Just like last season, Carter's production and performance haven't sniffed his potential, and the former second-round pick is looking more and more like a bust.
If getting better defensively was the Cowboys' priority in the offseason, then the offensive line was at the top of the list for the Miami Dolphins, who allowed the most sacks in the NFL last year.
The team spent big on free-agent offensive tackle Branden Albert and spent its first-round pick on the offensive line in 2014, but as Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald reports, the line remains a work in progress:
One thing is clear: The Dolphins need much better blocking in the running game. The Dolphins, who averaged 4.1 yards per rush last season, averaged 2.5 yards per carry in their preseason opener at Atlanta and 1.8 in the Tampa game.
If nothing else, the Cowboys' woeful defense could be just what the doctor ordered, so far as a chance for the Miami offense to build some confidence heading into the season opener against the New England Patriots on Sept. 7.
Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons
After winning 13 games in 2012, the Falcons stumbled to 4-12 last year, in large part due to injuries that ravaged both sides of the ball.
Well, those injuries have struck again, and the latest one was a whopper.
As the AP reported (via USA Today), left tackle Sam Baker will miss the entire 2014 season after tearing his ACL in last week's blowout loss to the Houston Texans.
That means rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews, who was slated to kick to right tackle, will now be forced to flip back to his collegiate position.
While speaking with Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Matthews admitted that all this flip-flopping presents a challenge, but the former Texas A&M star said it's a challenge he's up to:
Yes, the stagger changes. You go for a long time used to bracing a guy with one leg back. And now you've got to flip it around. It's like almost going from writing with your right hand to your left hand. But I did it in college. I feel pretty comfortable on both sides.
Head coach Mike Smith also expressed confidence in Matthews, stating flatly, "I don't think he'll blink. We're not."
The injury bug also hit the Tennessee Titans last week, but unlike the Falcons, the Titans appear to have caught a break.
Veteran running back Shonn Greene, who has been surprisingly effective in holding off rookie Bishop Sankey to start for new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, also suffered a knee injury in last week's game.
Unlike Baker, though, Greene told the AP (via The Paris Post-Intelligencer) that he's OK. "It was just a bang-bang thing," Greene said. "I just kind of hit on the turf, and it got bent and I was all right."
Greene's injury afforded Sankey a shot to impress the coaches, but the youngster squandered the chance by losing a fumble.
Still, Whisenhunt told Terry McCormick of The Daily Herald he's not worried about Sankey being fumble-prone:
He needs to get as many reps as he can from the standpoint of what he has to do. Protections, and then obviously with putting the ball on the ground, those are things (he needs to work on). He’s not a fumbler, he was not that in college. It’s technique things, it’s footwork things where he hasn’t gotten a lot of reps at those, and that can mess with you when you’re trying to think about your footwork and not focusing on some of your other things.
Saturday's matchup with a shaky Atlanta defense affords Sankey an excellent opportunity to get back on the right track, even if Greene draws the start.
Washington Redskins at Baltimore Ravens
On one hand, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III had a much better showing in his second preseason start than the first, making some nice throws from the pocket.
However, Griffin also continued to lock on to his primary read, threw a horrible interception against the Cleveland Browns and took a pair of completely unnecessary hits while running with the ball.
It was a performance that drew criticism from Jason Reid of The Washington Post:
This is how statistics can be misleading: Griffin completed 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards with an interception. By reading only the stat sheet, you could surmise Griffin actually played well. Numbers alone, however, did not reveal most of the mistakes Griffin made in a troubling outing. ...
... There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Griffin’s hero act while running has worn thin. Anyone who has had two reconstructive knee surgeries should be smarter when he bolts from the pocket, yet Griffin continues to show he just doesn’t get it.
ESPN.com's Mike Sando (subscription required) went so far as to proclaim that Griffin's "best is already behind him," although it was said with a caveat:
Transitioning to a more conventional offense under new coach Jay Gruden is a smart long-term move, but it also raises the very real possibility that the NFL has already seen the best Griffin has to offer before his 25th birthday. That's a risky thing to say when assessing a young player with Griffin's physical gifts, but it doesn't rule out his ability to succeed as an NFL starter, either. Far from it.
However, while the Redskins offense has sputtered at times, the Baltimore Ravens have been very effective in the red zone this preseason.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reports, it's quite a turnaround after the Ravens struggled mightily in that regard in 2013:
In two preseason games, the Ravens have scored four touchdowns in six red zone trips, a 66.6 percent success rate. Flacco and the first-team offense are perfect, reaching the end zone on both of their possessions inside the 20.
This is a drastic shift from last season, when the Ravens scored touchdowns on 46.2 percent of their red zone trips. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars were worse at 43.9 percent.
Both of these teams missed the playoffs a year ago after making the postseason the season before, and it will be interesting to see if their respective offenses continue to trend in opposite directions.
New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts
Were this the regular season, Saturday's game between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints would be one of the week's marquee matchups.
However, even in a game that doesn't count, there's no shortage of interesting subplots.
For starters, the game marks the preseason debut of a relative unknown under center for the Saints. Some guy by the name of Drew Brees.
Brees was held out of the first two exhibition games with a sore oblique muscle, but the only man in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in successive seasons told John DeShazier of the Saints' website that he's all systems go this week:
I think the expectation is (to play) a half. If we go out and we score on the first three possessions, then it might be less than that. If we go out and we don’t score at all, then it’s going to be more than that. I think typically, a half is what we’ve gone in the past.
We know we’re playing against a really good football team, on the road, and we’ve had some guys out. The most important thing is going out there executing well, and making sure that we all feel very comfortable leaving that game. Like, ‘Hey, we are on track, we are where we want to be at this point.’ Because if we’re not, then that creates even more of a sense of urgency.
Everything's been just fine for the Colts at quarterback, as Andrew Luck has looked to be in midseason form.
Unfortunately, so has running back Trent Richardson, who continues to look nothing like a player who has now cost two teams first-round picks.
Through two preseason games, Richardson has carried the ball 14 times for 34 yards—a whopping 2.4 yards per carry.
The Colts continue to insist they aren't concerned about Richardson, but NFL.com's Wesseling pointed out that Richardson's bad habits are already re-emerging.
"Richardson has had moments of decisiveness to inspire hope," Wesseling tweeted, "but still reverts back to stutter-stepping way too often."
If Richardson continues to struggle against the Saints, the calls for Ahmad Bradshaw are only going to get louder in Indy.
St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns
When the Cleveland Browns host the St. Louis Rams Saturday, the centers of attention will no doubt be a pair of rookies.
Even if those rookies aren't a threat to start for their respective teams.
At least Johnny Manziel certainly didn't look like a threat to start at quarterback for the Browns after a nightmarish performance against Washington, highlighted by Manziel flipping off the Redskins bench.
It was apparently enough for head coach Mike Pettine. As Lindsay Jones of USA Today reports, Brian Hoyer was named the Browns Week 1 starter on Wednesday.
Pettine released a statement:
He was the clear leader from the beginning. We've maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.
At least Manziel was fighting for the right to start. St. Louis defensive end Michael Sam is just fighting for a roster spot.
Sam tallied his first NFL sack last week against the Green Bay Packers, but as Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter reported, that may not be enough:
For just a few drives' worth of work, a two-tackle, one-sack stat line looks fine for Michael Sam. The problem is the four-tackle, one-sack performance by Ethan Westbrooks—not to mention the fact that Westbrooks got in earlier, played longer and was the one subbed in for Sam in the middle of that lengthy drive.
Simply put, Westbrooks has been more productive (and looked better) than Sam in the preseason, and Saturday's game in Cleveland may be the last chance for the most scrutinized seventh-round draft pick in NFL history to stake his claim to a roster spot.
Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs
Just over a week ago, it looked like any thoughts of a quarterback controversy in the Twin Cities was dead and buried. Matt Cassel had played well in the preseason opener, while rookie Teddy Bridgewater struggled in a big way.
Cassel kept his positive momentum going against the Arizona Cardinals, but it was Bridgewater's fourth-quarter comeback that stole the show.
Yes, Cassel will start against the Kansas City Chiefs and is a near lock to open the season under center. With that said, though, as Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated reports, Bridgewater opened more than a few eyes last week:
In Minnesota's 30-28 win over the Cardinals, Bridgewater completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including the score that put the Vikings up for good with 22 seconds left. On that last drive, Bridgewater was six of eight for 64 yards, and he handled Arizona's multiple blitzes masterfully, looking like a veteran all the way. When the Vikings traded up to take Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick, the Louisville alum had been picked apart by analysts who dinged him for everything from a bad pro day to "skinny knees" (yeah, whatever). But when it counted (well, when it sort of counted), Bridgewater was accurate, composed and consistent. His ball placement wasn't perfect, but his game was good enough, and head coach Mike Zimmer has an interesting choice to make between Bridgewater and Matt Cassel as his Week 1 regular season starter.
For the Kansas City Chiefs, meanwhile, the biggest story is likely who won't be on the field (and why).
Running back Jamaal Charles is the unquestioned fulcrum of the Kansas City offense, so it raised more than a few eyebrows when Charles was a late scratch from last week's game against the Carolina Panthers with an injured foot.
As Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star reports, head coach Andy Reid's explanation for the injury got eyes rolling:
I’ll just tell you what happened. He was actually carrying a box down the dorms, and he came down the grassy slope there and just tweaked his foot, rolled his foot over on the curb. It was that simple.
Reid indicated that tests on Charles' ankle were negative, but if the 27-year-old is unable to go this weekend, you can bet that many people won't be finding this funny little story all that funny.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
If it's possible for a preseason game to have "stakes," then those stakes are much higher for the Houston Texans in Saturday's game with the Denver Broncos.
After all, one team made the Super Bowl last year. The other had the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
For the Texans, the preseason has been a tale of two very different games. In their opener, the Texans looked very much like the team that won all of two games last year in getting waxed by the Arizona Cardinals.
Last week, however, the Texans looked like the team that won the AFC South in both 2011 and 2012, blasting the Atlanta Falcons.
Now, as Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle reports, the Texans received some good news regarding a trio of injured stars:
Texans coach Bill O’Brien will wait until later in the week to determine whether his star players will take the field Saturday against the Denver Broncos.
But Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing were among those who increased their activity Tuesday, during the first of three joint practices between the Texans and Broncos. Foster often ran with the Texans’ first team and displayed his normal acceleration, while Johnson and Cushing saw some first-team activity.
That's a good thing, because the way the Broncos have looked so far this summer the Texans have no chance of beating them short-handed.
They may not have a chance to beat them at all.
Through two games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense have picked up right where they left off last year. Last week, the Broncos embarrassed a San Francisco 49ers team christening its new stadium with a 34-0 pasting.
The week before, that offense was just as sharp in a win over the Seattle Seahawks.
In true Manning fashion, however, the future Hall of Famer was quick to dial back the hype while speaking with Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, berating his team for what he deemed an unsatisfactory practice Tuesday.
"I thought our offense stunk today," Manning said. "Their defense totally kicked our butt."
So far as Denver being Week 1 "ready," Manning then added: "I think today that story ought to die. ... I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below-average practice, you've got to call it a below-average practice."
Oh yeah. They're horrible.
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
The San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers would both like to forget about last week.
It's not hard to see why. After all, the two were beaten by a combined score of 75-14.
For the 49ers it's been an especially frustrating preseason. Through two games, the 49ers have failed to score even a single touchdown, being outscored 57-3 over that span.
Granted, it's only the preseason, and the 49ers sat any number of nicked-up starters who probably would have played in a game that mattered.
Still, head coach Jim Harbaugh admitted to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com that there's added pressure this week to get things on track:
We got to get better. This is going to be an important week for us -- a big week. We need improvement. And we need to make decisions on who we’re playing with. We’re not going to keep experimenting. We got to tighten this down fast.
Whether it's the inconsistent play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick or the decision of who will start at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis, the 49ers still have more than a few questions to answer.
And they're running out of time in which to answer them.
The Chargers have some ship-righting of their own to do after getting blasted in Seattle.
Much like the 49ers, the Chargers had several players on the shelf last week, but head coach Mike McCoy told Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com that hardly lets his squad off the hook, saying:
We aren’t going to make excuses here. There are no excuses. You have to get them off the field and punt. We didn’t make them punt once, so obviously there’s some breakdowns somewhere [and] lack of communication. ... Against a good team like this, that’s what's going to happen. When 11 guys aren’t on the same page, it’s bad news.
These are both teams that won a playoff game last year and have aspirations of even bigger and better things for 2014.
If the Chargers and 49ers come out flat again Sunday, especially with the starters seeing significant time, those super goals are going to start looking a lot less realistically attainable in many eyes.
Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals
When the Cincinnati Bengals inked quarterback Andy Dalton to a six-year contract extension that could pay the fourth-year pro over $100 million, the general belief was that the Bengals overpaid for a signal-caller who can't win the big game.
We'll see if that proves to be the case, but Dalton isn't having any problem shining in the small ones.
Dalton was about as good as a quarterback can be against the New York Jets last week, completing all eight of his pass attempts for 144 yards and a touchdown en route to a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
As wide receiver Mohamed Sanu told Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, it's simply a continuation of what's been the best offseason of Dalton's career.
"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow.'"
The offseason hasn't been nearly as kind to the Arizona Cardinals, especially on defense.
Free-agent defections. Yearlong suspensions. Season-ending injuries. All have claimed starters from the Cardinals defense.
It was the last one that struck defensive end Darnell Dockett. As Bob McManaman of USA Today reports, the 33-year-old tore his ACL in practice, necessitating season-ending surgery.
It's also one more hole on a defense that's looking a lot more like Swiss cheese than cheddar of late, as McManaman notes:
It is another damning blow to an up-and-coming defense that already has lost its two starting inside linebackers from a year ago, has had multiple defensive linemen banged up and battered and is still without safety Tyrann Mathieu.
The Cardinals are also bracing to see whether John Abraham, their Pro Bowl outside linebacker, will face a league suspension for his DUI arrest in June.
With inside linebacker Kevin Minter also out for at least the rest of the preseason, the Redbirds are scrambling to add pieces before the season, signing veteran Desmond Bishop earlier this week.
Getting all those pieces to function at a level anything close to last year's top-five defense is another story and an immensely tall order for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
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