NFL Preseason Week 2: Takeaways from Sunday's Action

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IAugust 24, 2015

NFL Preseason Week 2: Takeaways from Sunday's Action

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    If Sunday’s NFL action was a regular-season tripleheader, think of the reminiscing we would all be doing when it came to the three matchups.

    The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have met in the playoffs seven times, and the St. Louis Rams edged the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV (with head coach Jeff Fisher on the Tennessee sidelines that day).

    In any case, it’s the second preseason game for five of the six aforementioned clubs and the third for the Steelers.

    So what did we learn from this weekend’s action? Football is a physical game, and we saw some Pro Bowl performers go down in the Steel City.

    We also learned some other things as well, and we will now take the time to share our thoughts on Sunday’s three contests. As usual, we will not try to overstate what we briefly observed.

Green Bay Packers: Who Will Fill Jordy Nelson’s Cleats?

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Green Bay Packers 19

    Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

    As has often happened, it was an injury that came without contact from the opposition.

    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson caught an eight-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the opening minutes, not long after he hauled in a 16-yard reception. But that second grab may have been his last of 2015 as NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported the Pro Bowl wideout suffered an apparent torn ACL on the play.

    “Jordy’s injury, I’m in the position of listening to all of the information until we get back to Green Bay and do all the scans,” head coach Mike McCarthy told Vic Ketchman of Packers.com. “Jordy is a key member of our team on the field and off the field. Jordy is a great player. We’re looking for good news tomorrow.”

    Good news would be welcome for a team that led the NFL in scoring in 2014. Nelson finished last season with 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 scores. Fortunately, the Packers have the likes of wide receiver Randall Cobb and second-year pro Davante Adams, the latter totaling 38 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie.

    Even more fortunate would be surprising good news when it comes to Nelson.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Injuries Take Center Stage Again

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Green Bay Packers 19

    Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

    There’s been the good and the bad when it comes to Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey's brief but impressive career.

    The five-year pro has been named to four Pro Bowls but has also had his share of injuries. As a rookie, he was unavailable for Super Bowl XLV versus the Green Bay Packers. In 2013, he was injured on the team’s first series of the game and missed the rest of the season.

    On Sunday versus the Packers, Pouncey went down with a reported broken bone above his ankle and will be sidelined indefinitely. "He's pretty down, but he's the type of guy he'll put it behind him," right tackle Marcus Gilbert told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He'll be back."

    For now, the question is when? This was an offensive line that made great strides in 2014 but will now be without its starting pivot. Cody Wallace inherits the job of getting the ball to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who, along with running back Le’Veon Bell's two-game suspension, will be down some key teammates early this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Has Team Rediscovered Its Pass Rush?

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Green Bay Packers 19

    Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

    In recent seasons, the once-fabled defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers have resembled a tattered curtain and a zone without much of a potent blitz.

    The team’s lack of a pass rush has been a matter of major concern over the last few years. Since 2011, the Steelers have totaled 35, 37, 34 and 33 sacks, respectively. That’s 139 sacks in 64 regular-season games. From 2008-10, which included a pair of Super Bowl appearances, this club racked up 146 sacks (51, 47 and 48, respectively). This past season, Mike Tomlin’s club ranked 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and surrendered 30 scores through the air.

    On Sunday against the short-handed Green Bay Packers offensive front (missing starting left tackle David Bakhtiari) Pittsburgh racked up six sacks, the first coming in the first quarter via James Harrison that resulted in a safety. Fellow outside linebackers and one-time first-rounders in Jarvis Jones and rookie Bud Dupree also came up with sacks in the game.

    A sign of things to come or just one of those typical preseason efforts against an undermanned offensive front? We will find out in less than a month.

Dallas Cowboys: 'D' as in Dull

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers 23, Dallas Cowboys 6

    Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

    If you’re looking to take anything from the Dallas Cowboys’ lackluster 23-6 Sunday night loss to the San Francisco 49ers, think again (unless you are a fan who wanted to get an early look at Levi’s Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 50).

    Quarterback Tony Romo, we barely saw you. His only pass attempt of the game resulted in a completion and a one-yard loss when running back Lance Dunbar lost his footing. The Cowboys offense ran 65 plays and gained 257 total yards, most of that under quarterback Dustin Vaughan's guidance. Running back Joseph Randle did rack up seven carries for 30 yards, and the Dallas ground game totaled 102 yards on 22 attempts.

    Defensively, the Cowboys held the Niners to 205 total yards, but 155 of those came via the ground. Rod Marinelli’s defense, which racked up three sacks, did not allow a touchdown as all of San Francisco’s points came from its defense and special teams.

    Yes, some good and some bad news for the Cowboys. Too bad we barely recognized this team. We should get a much better idea next Saturday against the visiting Minnesota Vikings.

San Francisco 49ers: Changing of the Guard…and Running Back

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers 23, Dallas Cowboys 6

    Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

    It has been an offseason of continual change for the San Francisco 49ers.

    You can take your pick when it comes to deciding the team’s biggest loss in 2015. From the parting of ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh to the retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Anthony Davis and Justin Smith to the free-agent departures of Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox.

    Of course, there was also veteran running back Frank Gore's departure. The franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards signed with the Indianapolis Colts after 10 seasons with the Niners. A year ago, the 49ers drafted running back Carlos Hyde in the second round, and now the former Ohio State Buckeye must step to the forefront.

    On Sunday versus the Dallas Cowboys, Hyde totaled seven carries for 39 yards and caught one pass for an additional six yards. As a rookie, he ran for 333 yards on 83 carries and scored four touchdowns.

    Now that carry and yardage total is about to increase significantly. As usual, the team is deep here with Kendall Hunter, free-agent pickup Reggie Bush and now undrafted rookie Jarryd Hayne, whom Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has some thoughts on.

    But this is an offense that will once again rely on the run, and now it will be Hyde in the spotlight. There’s a play on words somewhere in there.

St. Louis Rams: Offense Continues to Have Growing Pains

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Tennessee Titans 27, St. Louis Rams 14

    Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

    It would be unwise to take even some kind of moral victory from the fact the St. Louis Rams gained 403 total yards.

    In the first half, Jeff Fisher’s squad ran 25 plays and gained 84 total yards. The only points quarterback Nick Foles and Co. generated were for the Titans. Cornerback Perrish Cox picked off the former Eagles signal-caller in the first quarter and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. The Rams trailed 20-0 at intermission, and their heralded defense gave up 226 total yards.

    But the emphasis here is on the offense. Call it a lack of focus as the team’s ground game gained 33 yards in the first half, while more than one third of St. Louis’ 84 total yards came on a 29-yard reception by Stedman Bailey.

    With an offensive line that features a rookie right-side tandem of guard Jamon Brown and tackle Rob Havenstein, a quarterback trying to bounce back from an injury-shortened season and a team hoping to see 2015 first-round pick/running back Todd Gurley on the field by Week 1, the Rams are a work in progress.

Tennessee Titans: A True Battle at Running Back

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Tennessee Titans 27, St. Louis Rams 14

    Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

    From the get-go against the St. Louis Rams, Bishop Sankey was going to be the focal point of the team’s attack in various ways.

    Last year’s rookie and the first running back taken in the 2014 draft lined up to receive the opening kickoff (which resulted in a touchback). After quarterback Marcus Mariota started the first Tennessee Titans drive with a 16-yard pass to wideout Kendall Wright, Sankey got the ball on four straight plays—all carries.

    The second-year pro finished his night with 45 yards on just six carries, with runs of 18 and 19 yards during the game. He would eventually give way to 2015 fifth-round pick David Cobb, who opened eyes in last week’s loss at Atlanta and racked up 26 yards on eight carries against the Rams.

    This could be a duel that isn’t decided until September. In any case, head coach Ken Whisenhunt is looking for all solutions for a running game that finished 26th in the NFL this past season.

Tennessee Titans: Perrish the Thought?

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Tennessee Titans 27, St. Louis Rams 14

    Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

    As has been the case in recent offseasons, the Tennessee Titans were a busy organization, and they have had to be.

    Perhaps this year’s best acquisition was defensive mind Dick LeBeau, brought in to help coordinator Ray Horton aid a unit that ranked 27th in the NFL in total-yards-per-game allowed and next-to-last in the league in rushing defense.

    On Sunday night against the Rams, the Titans limited their opposition to 84 total yards in the first half and gave up very few big plays. In fact, Horton’s unit made one of its own when free-agent pickup Perrish Cox picked off Rams quarterback Nick Foles and took the prize 24 yards for a touchdown. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, another one of the team’s key offseason pickups, made his presence felt on more than one occasion.

    It’s been a while since the Titans have been a playoff team (2008), and this is a club coming off its worst showing since 1994. It’s also been some time since a Tennessee defense struck fear into opponents (the Titans allowed a franchise-record-high 471 points in 2012). At the very least, perhaps this is the year the group begins to turn things around.

     

    All free-agent information and player signings/transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth-chart information comes via Ourlads. Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com.