by Michael David Smith, with notes from the rest of the FO staff
In the preseason, the final score isn't as important as what each individual player does. So we're back for our second week of examining the individual matchups, looking at which stars look ready to go and which backups are making a strong case for a roster spot.
It should be no surprise, with Steve McNair and Derrick Mason on the team, that the 2006 Ravens offense now looks a lot like the Titans offense two or three years ago. McNair takes his three-step drops, Mason runs his little hitches and smash routes, and the duo connects for five- or 10-yard gains over and over again. Todd Heap replaces Frank Wycheck as the tight end who also gets a lot of love. Jamal Lewis takes Eddie George's role as the power back who really has very little left. The problem with this offense is that it operates station-to-station these days, and the Ravens need to develop a home run threat.
Musa Smith, who leads the league in rushing through two weeks of exhibition games, is quicker through the line than either Jamal Lewis or Mike Anderson. He would have been a logical player to be traded to the Jets, but now that the Jets have completed their running back trade elsewhere, the Ravens should find a way to get Smith involved.
Sure, we could be kind and say J.P. Losman's numbers -- 7-for-11, 134 yards -- weren't too bad. But we'd prefer to point out that Losman played only the first half and had three turnovers. This guy just isn't ready to play in the NFL.
In his new role as an analyst on NFL Network, Marshall Faulk said Anthony Wright, with his superior speed, brings a dimension to the offense that Carson Palmer doesn't. Well, sure. And Carson Palmer brings a dimension to the offense that Anthony Wright doesn't -- actually being an accurate passer. The Bengals are in a whole lot of trouble if Palmer isn't ready to go by the start of the season.
Guard Joe Andruzzi and tackle Kevin Shaffer are supposed to be the trusty veterans who are turning the offensive line around, but they didn't look very trusty against the Lions. On one play they tried to double-team Lions end James Hall, and Hall speed-rushed past both of them, sacking Charlie Frye and forcing a fumble.
Rookie linebacker D'Qwell Jackson bit on a play fake and was beaten by Detroit's Kevin Jones on a touchdown pass, but he looks like he's going to be a very good player when he learns how to read opposing offenses. Later in the game he had a four-play stretch in which he forced a fumble, tackled a running back for no gain, covered a running back on an incomplete pass, and had an interception.
He probably won't get much playing time behind Reuben Droughns, but rookie fifth-round pick Jerome Harrison looks like a stud. He had nine carries for 53 yards and six catches for 54 yards. It was Harrison -- not Reggie Bush -- who led the Pac-10 in rushing last year. Why did he last until the fifth round of the draft?
Not only did previously unknown running back Mike Bell look good against Tennessee, but previously unknown running back Damien Nash looked good, too. The Broncos ought to hold a promotion where one lucky fan gets chosen at random before the game and becomes the starter at running back. The average guy in the stands could go for 75 yards or so.
The Texans made rookie sixth-round pick Wali Lundy the starter at running back with Domanick Davis out, and he had a decent game. But it was last year's third-round pick, Vernand Morency, who looked like he's a great fit in Gary Kubiak's offense. Morency had 11 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and he didn't just break a couple of long ones; he had a nice 4-yard pickup on a second-and-2 that looked like the kind of effective play Kubiak's Denver offenses so often ran.
Peyton Manning took the Colts' first team downfield with little resistance, going 4-for-5 for 78 yards on the first drive. Reggie Wayne burned Marcus Trufant more than once with the defense shading Marvin Harrison on the right side, and tight end Dallas Clark looked strong. Edgerrin James is going to miss the Colts a lot more than the Colts are going to miss Edgerrin James.
David Garrard, you want to be an NFL starter some day? Two interceptions and three fumbles in less than a half of playing time isn't the best way to prove yourself. Writing on the Jaguars' official Web site, Vic Ketchman wrote, "I have never seen the kind of intensity for a quarterback controversy that exists here." What has Garrard done to make anyone think he deserves to unseat Byron Leftwich and start an intense quarterback controversy?
The Jags' offensive line isn't opening many holes. Six different Jacksonville running backs have multiple carries in the preseason, and every single one of them is averaging less than 3.5 yards a carry.
Here's one play to summarize Kyle Turley. It's the second quarter, third-and-long, Turley is blocking Adrian Awasom, a Giants end who likely won't make the team. Awasom starts wide, then puts an inside move on Turley, a little rip with his right shoulder. Turley gets one arm on Awasom -- one arm -- as Awasom turns inside to crush Damon Huard, who is still dropping back. Turley, his torso still turned to stop an outside rush, sort of leans forward into Awysom, who knocks the off-balance blocker to the turf with the same right arm he used for the swim move. Huard gets flushed into Justin Tuck, who forces a fumble. That was just one awful play in a whole game full of 'em. He is toast. The Chiefs need a better contingency plan at left tackle, and they need one fast.
Mark it down: the acquisition of Dan Wilkinson is going to be one of the Dolphins' most significant off-season upgrades. Most people don't realize what an outstanding career Wilkinson has had because he's been stuck on so many bad teams. He had a sack and a half in his first preseason game as a Dolphin. The Lions were foolish to let him leave.
Bennie Anderson, the starting right guard, was abused on back-to-back plays by Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. Both times, McFarland got past his inside shoulder and had a clear path to Culpepper, who was sacked both times (Barrett Ruud made the first sack after McFarland flushed Culpepper). Anderson didn't look much better on later snaps, but he was getting more help.
The Dolphins offense looked a little Mike Mularkey-like. There were two quick-outs to receivers, a drag across the middle to Chambers, and several draw plays.
Tully Banta-Cain does not look like just some dude from special teams. Opposing coordinators will need to learn you can't just leave a tight end or fullback to block him. He looks good.
Matt Cassel looked awful early in the game, although he did settle down and finish with a good stat line (14-of-20, 192 yards). Still, he tucks and runs way too often. He's never going to develop if he doesn't force himself to stay in the pocket and give his receivers a chance to get open downfield.
New York Jets
D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold won't get the Jets' quarterbacks killed this year. Both played to their potential against the Redskins. Mangold and Pete Kendall make a solid double-team up the middle, and Kendall was able to peel off and reach the second level on some good first quarter runs because Mangold controlled the nose player. Ferguson blocked well in space and did well when handling defenders on his inside shoulder. As for athleticism, he lost control of his defender during a Brooks Bollinger scramble, but hurdled a teammate to get back into position. He had a phenomenal block on Brad Smith's long end-around touchdown run. He ran about 25 yards downfield to take out two players at once. Not many linemen have the quickness to do that.
The Jets did give Ferguson some tight end help on several plays. On one third-and-long, Chris Baker and Doug Jolley lined up on the left in a shotgun formation, both of them staying in for blitz pickup. Ferguson handled his man, Jolley made his block, and Adam Archuleta blew past Baker for the sack. So much for help.
Are the Jets ever going to throw a pass downfield to one of their wide receivers? Their receivers caught 11 passes for 56 yards. Five yards a catch from the wideout position isn't going to put the scare into opposing secondaries.
Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. Aaron Brooks was 10-of-17 for 125 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble, and all the guys on NFL Network could talk about was how much better he looked. Why not just give the job to Andrew Walter and get it over with already?
Three different Raiders made field goals against the 49ers. What, exactly, are the Raiders accomplishing by taking up three training camp roster spots with kickers?
OK, seriously, how much did Duce Staley eat during the off-season? He looks like he's gained 40 pounds, and he has 12 carries for 25 yards so far in the preseason. Staley is a bad fit on a team with a lot of guys known for hard work and dedication to their craft.
Ben Roethlisberger has played in two series in two games and he if continues to play this well, he should schedule an off-season motorcycle accident every year.
Depending on Hines Ward's health, Nate Washington could be a starter in Week 1.
So much for Philip Rivers' looking good. After a strong preseason opener, he looked lost against the Bears. His first pass was a dump-off into traffic that easily could have been intercepted, and his second pass was intercepted, and returned for a touchdown by Brian Urlacher. He settled down a bit later in the game, but he's going to have some growing pains.
Hardly anyone notices backup running back Michael Turner because he's stuck behind LaDainian Tomlinson on the depth chart, but he'd start on a lot of teams. He has great speed and vision.
Keith Bulluck looks like he's in great shape and ready for a very good season. He had a nice stuff of Mike Bell on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Unfortunately, just about everyone else on the Titans defense looked terrible as Denver's offense scored 28 first-half points.
The Cardinals executed several cornerback blitzes in the first quarter against New England. Antrel Rolle and David Macklin did the blitzing. Neither got to Tom Brady, but Macklin blew up a running play in the backfield. On at least one occasion, Brady easily read the coverage and threw into the flat vacated by the cornerback. On another play, Rolle dogged a blitz, then covered a back coming out of the backfield, leaving safety Adrian Wilson isolated against receiver Bam Childress up the sideline. Childress made the reception for a nice gain. Clancy Pendergast loves to blitz defensive backs, but his Cardinals need to do a better job in coverage on such plays.
If Cardinals tight end John Bronson is going to block like Shaun Alexander, he'd better learn to run like him, too. And speaking of bad blocking, the Cardinals line looks like it's in mid-season form. Starting guard Milford Brown, a free agent signing from the Texans, looked terrible against New England.
The Falcons are said to be excited about third-round draft pick Jerious Norwood, but he didn't do anything impressive against the Packers. He just kind of plowed into the defensive line on every play, finishing the game with 19 yards on eight carries. None of his carries went for a first down.
Hey, DeAngelo Williams, feel free to show us any time why a lot of people thought you were the second-best back in this year's draft. So far you have 12 preseason carries and exactly one of them has gone for more than three yards.
Rex Grossman doesn't deal with the pass rush well. As Chargers defensive tackle Igor Olshansky rushed up the middle, Grossman had time to throw the ball away, but instead he just wilted under pressure and took the sack. The Bears' coaches have to be thinking about pulling Grossman in favor of Brian Griese.
Drew Bledsoe looked sharp on the Cowboys' opening possession, and more importantly, he was getting the ball away quickly. The main reason for the lingering belief that Tony Romo could unseat Bledsoe as the Cowboys' starter is that Romo does a better job of avoiding the pass rush than Bledsoe. Perhaps the competition with Romo has persuaded Bledsoe that he needs to start releasing the ball more quickly. If so, he'll be a much better quarterback.
Left tackle Flozell Adams left early with a minor injury, and the running game looked a lot worse with seventh round rookie Pat McQuistan playing left tackle.
Jeff Backus showed yet again why the Lions were foolish to give him a new contract with a $16 million bonus during the off-season when rookie Kamerion Wimbley used an outside speed move to beat him for a sack. Did Matt Millen think he had to keep Backus around as a way of making the fans think at least one of his first-round draft picks has worked out?
Kevin Jones runs with no confidence. There aren't holes there (Rick DeMulling was back in at guard, never a good sign), but he just runs like he's waiting for someone to hit him. The Browns obliged, consistently nailing him at the line of scrimmage. The whole offense features one above-average player, Roy Williams.
Brett Favre looked more poised against the Falcons than he's looked in a long time. The local TV announcers, Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, told us that Favre plays with the enthusiasm of a kid on a sandlot, but that's not why he impressed. He had a good game because he dealt well with Atlanta's pass rush. When his line gave him time, he stayed in the pocket and allowed something to develop downfield. When he didn't have time, he moved in the pocket well or dumped the ball off. That's the Brett Favre of several years ago. Packers fans should hope it wasn't just a one-game throwback.
Mike Tanier writes, "I have only seen enough of A.J. Hawk to confirm that he's a better linebacker than Ben Taylor. I have only seen enough of my three-week-old son to confirm that he's a better linebacker than Ben Taylor."
Just about everyone thought the Vikings reached when they took quarterback Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State in the draft. If the preseason means anything, just about everyone was wrong. Jackson looks smart, athletic, and accurate. The Vikings are still in trouble if Brad Johnson goes down, but not in as much trouble as it looked a couple of weeks ago.
But it's a good thing Jackson is playing well because Mike McMahon has absolutely no business playing quarterback in the NFL. He'd have no business playing quarterback in the CFL, for that matter. He is now 2-for-11 in the preseason, and his quarterback rating is 8.5.
If you thought the Vikings' home jerseys were dreadful, their travel jerseys are downright embarrassing. The hometown Minnesota announcing crew spent a few minutes mocking the new officials' uniforms, but the Vikings make the refs look like fashionistas.
Left tackle Jammal Brown is an inconsistent player. On the first series he looked really good, strong at the point of attack and quick when pulling to the outside. But on the second series DeMarcus Ware bull-rushed him straight back and nearly pushed Brown into Drew Brees. The Saints' 2006 first-round pick will get all the headlines, but if the Saints' offense plays well this season, Brown, the 2005 pick, will play a big part in it.
New York Giants
Michael Jennings is making a big name for himself with returns for the Giants, but he did not look like a solid receiver in the second half against the Chiefs. Third-string Chiefs corner Chris Johnson completely jumped on a lazy route Jennings ran on the left side and nearly had an interception. Remember, third-string Chiefs corner is like eighth-string corner for another team. A few plays later, Jennings caught a ball on the right side roughly two yards from the sticks with a defender-less cushion of four or five yards all around him. Instead of just going forward and getting the first down, he started juking like he was either trying to make a big play or had fleas in his uniform. By the time he got around to actually advancing the ball, there were three Chiefs sitting on top of him and no first down. That's the kind of play that leads directly to 6-10.
Jared Lorenzen, listed at 285 pounds because it would just be too embarrassing to list a quarterback at 300, looked red and bloated when he was playing. He may have set the all-time record for preseason sweat by a quarterback.
The White Buffalo appeared in the backfield on Thursday. Yes, that would be Correll Buckhalter. You probably saw the shovel pass highlight run. It was his only productive touch of the game. Buckhalter didn't have a lot of room to run on his carries, but he didn't display much cutback ability or power. The other two healthy running backs in Philly, Reno Mahe and Ryan Moats, each fumbled.
The Eagles used a no-huddle offense for much of the first half. They looked nothing like the Jim Kelly Bills, and the receivers couldn't get open against a good Ravens secondary. The no-huddle did seem to slow down the Ravens pass rush, though.
Shaun McDonald looks like he's ready to pick up the inevitable slack created by the aging of Isaac Bruce. McDonald showed nice speed on a 30-yard catch, and nice red zone awareness on a four-yard touchdown.
A week after looking competent against the Bears, Alex Smith was back to his usual horrendous ways against the Raiders. Smith finished the day 6-of-12 for 81 yards with a fumble and two interceptions, while Trent Dilfer went 6-of-8 for 71 yards and managed not to give up the ball. A team that's building for the future might feel like it can't bench its No. 1 draft pick for a 34-year-old like Dilfer, but if Smith looks as bad early this year as he did last year, Mike Nolan will have no choice.
As Doug Farrar pointed out on Seahawks.net, a false start call on Walter Jones (who looked skittish as Dwight Freeney prepared for a speed rush) stalled Seattle's first drive, and Jones was later beaten by Freeney on a sack. Also contributing to that sack was an uncharacteristically bad block by fullback Mack Strong. The line play was better in Week 2 than in Week 1, thanks in large part to the solid play of rookie guard Rob Sims, but there are still kinks to be worked out in the Seahawks' pass protection.
This year, the Seahawks drafted a punter (Ryan Plackemeier) who's both taller and heavier than the defensive end (Darryl Tapp) they also drafted.
Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski looks very good. Sixth-round picks out of mid-major schools aren't supposed to be this polished, but he's a very smooth passer. So far in the preseason he has 297 yards on 22-for-27 passing, with three touchdowns and one interception. Jon Gruden's offense looks like the perfect fit for him.
Right guard Sean Mahan blocked well on two trap plays but gave up a sack and was caught holding on another play. The pass protection in general was poor after the opening drive. Chris Simms threw some nice passes (sideline routes to Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard) when he had time, then started running for his life.
On several plays, tight end Alex Smith motioned across the formation and was aligned like an I-formation fullback at the snap. All of the plays in question were runs.
He's a long shot to make the squad on a team with an expensive group of wide receivers on the depth chart, but Jimmy Farris looks like he deserves a spot on an NFL roster. He's a white guy from Montana, so you'll never hear the TV commentators say this, but he's got very impressive downfield speed, which he displayed in catching passes for 15, 22, and 18 yards.
Eight-year vet Kenny Wright is starting in place of injured Shaun Springs, and he played well against the Jets, essentially holding Laveranues Coles in check and recording a sack. Mike Rumph is playing corner on the second team, which is where he belongs, assuming there's no third team, fourth team, or customer service team.
Jason Campbell threw an interception off his back foot, but he completed several deep out passes and has the arm to make some throws that Mark Brunell cannot execute anymore.