I put all 16 NFL preseason games on my DVR each week and I watch every first half to see how the guys who are likely to see the field in the regular season are progressing. Now that three full weeks of preseason action are in the books, let’s take a look at my personal assessment of some noteworthy squads based on the “eye test”, not on meaningless August stats.
I can understand why this defensive line got so many accolades this past offseason – the Bills are playing five different guys who have led their team in sacks at least once. Bottom line is this team has a monster front four pass rush without the need for a bevy of blitzes to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But that pass rush was about the only thing they did right. I saw poor effort from the linebackers and poor coverage downfield. Their man-to-man coverage frankly didn't work. And the $59 million dollar man, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, absolutely stunk up the joint for the second straight week! This team wasn't ready. Maybe some of it was gameplan; they were working on running the football. But the Bills offensive line got eaten up, and the running game didn't work particularly well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Free agent addition wide receiver Vincent Jackson could be an immediate impact player. Josh Freeman can just chuck it in his direction every time he's in single coverage; Jackson has the size and the hands to reel it in. Mike Williams is another big, tall strong WR on the opposite side – this team finally has legitimate downfield weapons. Tampa’s offensive line struggled in pass protection after pro bowl lineman Davin Joseph got hurt (out for the year!). Freeman was under constant pressure, even against four man rushes. I mean really bad protection! The secondary might be the strength of this defense. And the defensive line could be strong too, but these linebackers are not good; vulnerable to the run.
Kansas City Chiefs:
This D forgot to show up for the second straight week, pushed around up front and unable to make any plays at all in the secondary. First round pick Dontari Poe is not starting at nose tackle – all reports say he’s very raw. Unfortunately for KC, the guy who beat him out, Anthony Toribio, limped to the sideline with an ankle injury here! WR Dwayne Bowe signed his franchise tender, giving the offense a much needed playmaker. But key defensive playmaker, cornerback Brandon Flowers, is still banged up – they need him in the secondary, bad. This offensive line got eaten up!
This is a bottom-tier offensive line; primed to stunt the growth of #1 overall draft choice Andrew Luck. Luck was under constant pressure, but showed good poise in the pocket and had a nice touch on his downfield throws. This defense was loaded with question marks heading into the preseason, with head coach Chuck Pagano looking to install a similar defense to the one he coordinated in Baltimore last year. Things have gotten worse, with cluster injuries all over the defense. Indy’s front seven already resembles a MASH unit, not a good sign moving forward.
Robert Griffin didn’t take any sacks against the Colts, but he was running for his life behind an offensive line that really struggled in pass protection. Griffin made some nice throws, but he wasn't accurate throwing on the run. Given the state of the line in front of him, that’s clearly an area where the rookie will need to improve. The line did a much better job run blocking – Alfred Morris had room to run throughout. The Redskins defense was at its best when Jim Haslett was dialing up the blitz, but they struggled to get off the field on third down.
New Orleans Saints:
For the second straight week, I saw a boatload of missed tackles from this defense! Lots and lots and lots of them, with the secondary tackling as poorly as the linebackers, while the front four got pushed around. Steve Spagnuolo's brand new defensive schemes are not getting the job done just yet, but they weren't blitzing a ton either. Mediocre play from the offensive line, but this team can catch and run with the best of them; still a big play, quick strike offense! New Orleans definitely has some kick coverage issues – will special teams’ problems be a recurring issue for a team without a head coach?
This defense got pressure, and owned the line of scrimmage playing their usual 4-3 without much blitzing. That’s very good news on a unit where three defensive backs went to the Pro Bowl last year. Protection for the punting game was bad. Last week they allowed two punt blocks (even though one went for 53 yards after getting tipped behind the line of scrimmage), and there still seemed to be protection issues against Arizona this past weekend. I can’t argue with rookie Russell Wilson winning the starting QB job. Matt Flynn spent two weeks dinking and dunking while looking tentative in the pocket; then sat Week 3 with a sore elbow. Wilson led the offense to six consecutive scores to open the game against KC; making good decisions with the football and great plays with his feet. I haven’t seen a more impressive August running back than Seattle rookie Robert Turbin, dragging defenders an extra yard or two on nearly every play.
Running back Toby Gerhart is starting to play like he did in college, getting 3-4-5 yards every time he touches the ball, as long as they aren't running him wide (why on earth are they calling plays that run him wide?). Gerhart lacks big play ability at the NFL level, but he can change the momentum of a sideline with his bruising style. QB Christian Ponder has been hammered by a four man pass rush in each of the last two weeks, including an ugly five sack performance against San Diego. Ponder demonstrated good mobility in the pocket and made a handful of good throws with pressure in his face, a noticeable improvement from last year. This defense forced five three-and-outs in seven first half possessions against the Chargers, a solid showing. But I must temper my enthusiasm somewhat because San Diego was playing with a banged up OL and a backup QB.
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