Thoughts From My Couch: Preseason Week Two
The NFL landscape continues to prove why it is the most entertaining soap opera on or off television. Brett Favre has become Jet Favre. I know that is 10,000 words all by itself, but frankly, I don't have the energy left.
This summer, I have split time between Milwaukee and Green Bay. I've been to practice and to bars around Green Bay, talking with people, and they are just as sick of it. The national media may still love Brett Favre, but Packer fans are devastated at the way Favre and the Packers have handled this situation.
Some cheeseheads want Thompson's head, but just as many feel betrayed by Favre.
Luckily, Aaron Rodgers, Favre's heir in Green Bay, was impressive in his preseason debut against the Bengals on national television. The crowd was absolutely behind Rodgers, a stark contrast from Family Night when many in attendance still believed Favre's return to training camp meant his return to the starting lineup.
On Monday, things were different, as Rodgers looked in control of the huddle and the offense. If he is the real deal, this Packer team could be tough for a long time.
Believe it or not, there was football played outside of the Jets' training camp and Lambeau Field, and it was some pretty good ball in fact. With that Favre business out of the way, let's take a look at the last week or so, and see what has been learned, what I noticed, and what just didn't seem to make any sense.
Fact or Fiction: Preseason games don't matter.
I talked about this last week: The games matter, period. I know stars don't often play vital roles in the offense, but if your starters don't play well, it doesn't help your rhythm or confidence heading into the regular season when the games start to count. And if you thought preseason games didn't matter to the teams playing, just look at the scores.
Nine out of 15 preseason games this week were decided by a touchdown or less, and eight were decided by four or fewer.
Every player on the roster wants to play well because if you are in the game, you're fighting for time. If you don't understand that no one is replaceable (something a certain No. 4 thought was unthinkable), you will be replaced.
A guy like the Chargers' Jacob Hester can earn himself not just a roster spot, but playing time with the two-touchdown performance he put together against Dallas. The games don't matter to L.T., who has been with the Chargers forever and knows the offense and this offensive line.
It helps to be one of the best ever, but unless you are L.T. or Tom Brady, the preaseason matters.
Maybe Vince Young really doesn't need a top receiver.
As a team, against the Rams, the Tennessee Titans rushed 43 times for 340 yards and three touchdowns. That is an astounding 7.9-yard per carry average. Rookie Chris Johnson exploded for a 66-yard touchdown. VY had a 35-yard burst, and second-year rusher Quinton Gather had 115 yards and two touchdowns.
No receiver had more than two catches or 50 yards receiving. Oh, and the Titans pounded the Rams 34-13.
This team has running backs coming out of their ears. LenDale White can pound defenses and rushed six times for 33 yards against the Rams, showing his punishing running style. Johnson can fly, flashing his ability to break one at any time. Chris Henry has great versatility, and now Ganther gets a chance to shows his skills.
I meant it somewhat facetiously, but Young didn't have great receivers at Texas. He had an outstanding running game, a solid tight end (which he has in Alge Crumpler), and receivers who can get downfield.
There is no Limas Sweed on this team, but the Justins, McCareins and Gage, are serviceable, while Paul Williams and Brandon Jones could turn into big contributors as the season moves forward.
With the defense the Titans have, pounding the ball and limiting mistakes won 10 games last season, en route to a playoff appearance. Don't expect the philosophy to change, and with an even better running game, a second-consecutive playoff appearance isn't out of reach.
Defense will decide the NFC North...oh and some luck will help.
No quarterback in this division has much to be proud of in his career. Jon Kitna, by far the elder statesmen of this group at 35, has thrown 20 or more picks each of the last seasons in which he started all 16 games.
He was solid against the Giants to open the preseason, but the Lions defense was awful last season when they weren't turning opponents over. Things won't improve much this season, and that includes Detroit's record.
Chicago's quarterback situation can only be described as a mess. Rex Grossman has been about as inconsistent as any player can be and may not even be the starter. Kyle Orton started in the preseason and completed 7/10 passes for just 56 yards and couldn't get the Bears into the end zone.
Orton was nothing short of bad last season, but Grossman was no better. The Bears went to a Super Bowl with a great defense and rocky quarterback play, but finished 7-9 last season, as the defense battled injuries.
There are NO receivers in Chicago, so the defense and special teams (see Hester, Devin) will have to again be the Bears' main weapon to generate wins
Aaron Rodgers has never started an NFL game for the Packers, or anyone else. He, too, was solid in his debut, but has plenty to learn. Green Bay has one of the best defenses in the NFC and will employ a more aggressive blitzing defensive scheme in '08.
The Pack kept Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson off the scoreboard for the entire first quarter, even without their starting Pro Bowl corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson.
The Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson started 12 games last year for the Vikings, but threw 12 picks to just eight touchdown passes while completing just 58 percent of his passes.
Adrian Peterson may be one of the baddest men in the NFL, but if Jackson can't show he can complete passes, teams will stack the box against the Vikings to slow A.P., much like teams were occasionally able to do last season.
T.J. was stellar in his debut going 8/11 for 118 yards and a touchdown, but the vaunted Vikes defense, with Jared Allen, gave up 17 points to the Seahawks' starters and 34 overall in a 34-17 pounding at home.
The Packers and Vikings will have to hope they can stay healthy, as each team prays that its quarterback can play well enough to win games. With so much uncertainty under center for both teams, it will be up to each team to play their strengths defensively, while getting some luck with injuries, bounces, and calls to win this division.
Both teams remain capable of making the playoffs, despite not winning the division.
Ticker-tape line of the week
Brian Robison - Out (Varicose Vein)
When I saw this flash across the screen, I immediately grabbed my remote and rewound, wondering if my mind had been playing tricks on me. It was true; the Vikings' defensive end Brian Robison would not play in their opening preseason game because he had a varicose vein that needed an operation.
Any time veins need to be cut open, things are serious, making this no laughing matter. I just can't help it. When you see an injury report and in parenthesis "varicose vein" appears, all I can think of is some big, burly football player worrying his legs are a little too full of cellulite and his veins are showing as he looks in the mirror after practice.
I wish Robison the best, but for his sake, I wish the Vikings had chosen to word their injury report slightly differently.
We will start on defense this week with one New York defensive back stealing the spotlight from Brett Favre. New York Jets corner Dwight Lowery had eight tackles, all of them solo, to go with an interception against the Browns. Then, with the Jets down 17-20 in the fourth quarter, Lowery returned a punt 62 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
I have to admit I went against my gut and dropped him down my corner rankings after the season (he was my fourth-ranked corner to start the 2007 season). While it is too early to say I was totally wrong, a couple more games like that and Mr. Lowery will receive a full apology from yours truly.
On offense, this would be the Browns' tight end, Martin Rucker (whom I did get right in my tight-end rankings), who caught five passes for 70 yards against the Jets, but a torn meniscus will keep him out for six weeks.
That being said, this week's rookie to watch on offense is San Francisco's rookie wide receiver Josh Morgan. The 6'1" 220-pound Morgan caught four passes for 68 yards, a 17.00-yard per catch average. With few options at receiver, Morgan could quickly become a starter for the 49ers, and at the very least a valuable contributor.
My affinity for VTech receivers has been criticized, but another former Hokie, David Clowney, torched the Browns' defense on four receptions for a whopping 163 yards and two touchdowns.
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