Thoughts From My Couch: The "Start" of the NFL Season
The landscape has been quite different from recent offseasons and if that is any indication of the kind season we have to look forward to, strap in right now.
While the games that count haven’t yet begun, ask Matt Hasselbeck if exhibition games matter; he parlayed preseason success into a starting job in Seattle, and he remains one of the few franchise-caliber quarterbacks in the NFC.
The Hall of Fame game’s best moments actually came before the game, when guys like Darrell Green and Gary Zimmerman were announced as Hall of Fame inductees.
The game itself was rather anti-climactic. No Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, Clinton Portis, or LaRon Landry meant an underwhelming marquee for the first game of the NFL schedule, albeit the preseason.
It is difficult to learn much from a first exhibition game, mostly because starters play sparingly, and with such bloated rosters, many of the players on the field in August will not be on the field is September. But Sunday’s game did offer some interesting tidbits for NFL fans.
Turns out Jim Sorgi can play a little bit
The No. 2 to Peyton Manning’s Doctor Evil, Sorgi has ridden the pine ever since being drafted out of Wisconsin. Manning is the only current player in the NFL with any kind of chance to break Brett Favre’s iron-man consecutive games streak (Favre could make the record even more difficult to break this season).
Sorgi went 7-10 for 66 yards on the Colts’ opening driving, en route to a field goal. He was deliberate in his reads and made good snap-throws to Dallas Clark on out cuts, as well as tough throws on swing passes out of the backfield.
Perhaps more importantly, Sorgi showed solid command of the offense, good footwork, and displayed excellent throwing-mechanics.
Knee surgery is, as they say, a big damn deal. The Colts' organization hopes Peyton Manning can play three quarters in the preseason, but for an offense predicated on rhythm, timing, and cohesion, that could be a dangerous game, even with one of the league’s most proficient signal callers.
Sorgi wasn’t the only talented young quarterback on the field
Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell has played in seven different offensive systems in the last seven years of football. You couldn’t tell Sunday night. The fourth-year hurler went a perfect 5-5 for 61 yards and a beautiful 20-yard touchdown pass in his only drive.
Campbell appeared in command of the huddle, strong in the pocket, and assertive with his throws. New head coach Jim Zorn will rely on Campbell's aptitude for quickly learning new systems to get this offense moving.
That brings us to Washington’s other young signal caller ,who happens to be the greatest statistical quarterback in college football history. Colt Brennan slipped to the sixth round of April’s draft, but was the star of the show yesterday, firing passes all over the field.
Brennan finished 9-10 for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Zorn, a former quarterback himself, lauded the former Hawaii passer for his recognition as a young player.
"More than his throws, what I was pleased with is how he was looking to the right guy when he was backpedaling," said Zorn. "He knew the plays, knew the routes. He should feel very good about his performance."
The Indianapolis Colts have to be concerned with their defense
Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney did not play because of lingering health concerns, an indication of how much the Colts struggled with injuries much of last season. Then, Indy gave up 28 points to one-legged Phillip Rivers/Billy Volek, Michael Turner, and Darien Sproles, en route to a 28-24 playoff exit to end the 2007 campaign.
30 points in an exhibition game does not mean it is time to panic, but it certainly does not inspire any confidence. These games are about matchups and depth. The Colts were on the short side of both on the defensive side of the ball matching up with the ‘Skins.
Indy’s D did finish with four sacks, but even in a sloppy exhibition game, they were not able to force Washington into mistakes and turnovers. The corners are still inexperienced (read vulnerable), and there is no real remedy for that other than to take your lumps.
The Colts’ pass-rush should be even better with rookie Marcus Howard (1.5 sacks) backing up Robert Mathis and Freeney on the edges. But teams that can protect the quarterback could exploit the Colts on the outside this season.
Offensively, this is a no-brainer. Colt Brennan was outstanding, throwing to an unspectacular group of receivers and backs. He won’t even sniff a start this season, barring major injuries, but if Jason Campbell can’t stay healthy, or simply can’t hack it, Brennan looks poised to prove doubters wrong.
The history of the league is littered with players who have impressed in the preseason and never replicated that success in the regular season. However, not many players that struggle in the preseason translate into franchise players when it counts.
On defense, Marcus Howard used his freakish athleticism to get after Redskins' quarterbacks, finishing with 1.5 sacks and a pass defended. The Colts have dangerous edge rushers with Mathis and Freeney, and Howard continues the trend of undersized speed rushers for this Indy D.
The 22-year-old Georgia rookie stands 6'0" and weighs in at a meager 237 pounds, but he can really fly off the corner. He was running sub 4.5 40s at the combine, and Colt Brennan knows all about his tenacity off the corner. (See Georgia’s beat down of his Hawaii team last January, in which Howard had a record-tying three sacks and two forced fumbles.)
Howard has a chance to make an impact this year with the health concerns on the Indianapolis defensive line.
Just don’t be surprised if these two meet again on a Sunday night in a game where they keep track of wins and losses.
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