Preseason Week 3 kicks off tonight and that means “tune-up games”! This is the one time during the preseason where we can really see the starters play into the second half to get a better sense of what sort of rhythm they may have come regular season kickoff.
It’s a glorious time to be a football fan because it also means we are a mere two weeks from the start of the regular season. As fans, we love the fast approaching season. As coaches, their excitement could be limited due to questions surrounding their respective teams. With the “tune-up” week beginning this evening, I think it’s only fair to dive into some of these questions.
1. What does Brian Hoyer do as starter?
We all knew this was coming. Cleveland has made a decision on it’s starter and they are going with Brian Hoyer. I wrote yesterday about the quarterback competitions as a whole and will stand by my claim that I think Manziel should start, if based off of “ability to win games” alone. I really want to see what Hoyer will do with the first team for an extended period of time. While I think it is fair to question Hoyer’s ceiling and question if last season was a fluke, I have to admit that it was fun to watch him in Cleveland’s offense a year ago. Can he do it again? And what happens when Manziel does come into the game? I get the sense that everyone hates how much they want to know…
2. Who are the “super-rookies”?
We have heard of the deep wide receiver class. We have heard of Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier at linebacker, we have heard of the quarterbacks and we have heard of Jadeveon Clowney’s impact a week ago against Atlanta, but I want to know what happens against the veteran starters for extended time. The preseason is about keeping it simple and carefully giving players more and more information. This process is for both rookies and veterans who must learn a new system. So, rookies with exceptional gifts can flourish as it is more about showcasing their ability to play football than the coaches ability to play chess with the football players. So, I want to see the Saints’ Brandin Cooks, the Eagles’ Jordan Matthews, Shazier, Clowney and others perform against the “big boys”. Are these guys going to really be the difference-makers we are expecting after their first two games?
3. Can Eli Manning show us something… anything?
The younger of the two active Manning’s has been awful this preseason. He is 7-of-16 for 49 yards through three games (including the Hall of Fame Game) and really the only way New York has moved the ball is on the ground with Rashad Jennings – who could be one of the most underrated signings in free agency – and the rest of the run game. He needs to show something against the Jets horrendous secondary. Maybe move the ball? Have you tried throwing it to your receivers? I’m half joking…
4. Can the Jets secondary show us something… anything?
I defended the Bengals’ signing of Andy Dalton to his huge contract because I believe he can improve into the upper echelon of quarterbacks, but letting the guy finish his game last Saturday 8-of-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown is a little generous. Starting cornerback Dee Milliner is suffering from a high-ankle sprain, which is tough to come back from in a decent time frame, and the other guys aren’t… really… doing much… This week, they matchup with Eli. As I outlined above, something has to give.
The Jets Communications department seems to be aware of the criticism the secondary is taking.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 21, 2014
5. What is the “pricey” Andy Dalton all about?
Let’s keep with the roll from one question to another. Dalton has looked very, very good this preseason. He has looked confident, poised and has displayed fantastic accuracy on his deep throws. In addition, he has directed the Bengals first-team offense down the field for points on each of his drives. Is it because of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson? Is it because he knows he is financially secure? Who knows, but I want to see if he can keep it up against a depleted, yet ultra-talented Arizona defense Sunday night.
6. Can Atlanta protect Matt Ryan?
If you pay attention to NFL stories as much as I do, you have heard this talked about frequently ever since starting left tackle Sam Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury last week against the Houston Texans. Atlanta is moving last year’s first-round pick, Jake Matthews, from right tackle over to the left, which doesn’t sound like a terrible solution. After all, Matthews was drafted to eventually start at left tackle, right? The issue is that Matthews has struggled with speed rushers and may be unable to handle rushers from Ryan’s blind-side. Of course, this would be an issue. So, we all wait to see how Matthews handles his first go against Tennessee Saturday afternoon.
7. How bad is Dallas’ defense?
Dallas’ defense has been… well awful this preseason. The general consensus among NFL insiders is that this is the “year of the shootout” in “Big D” where Tony Romo and company will be forced to simply score more points than the other team without the defense’s help. I’m not so sure the Dallas defense will be that bad, but I would like to see for myself. Dallas has lost a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but I feel like they have enough to give Dallas a remote chance, right?
8. What do we see from Oakland’s Matt Schaub, Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown, Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel and Tennessee’s Jake Locker?
These aren’t guys in a quarterback competition, but they are players who have a lot to prove. Schaub was run out of Houston, despite solid win-loss records. Thus far, he hasn’t displayed enough effectiveness with deeper throws to make me think this season will go particularly well for him. Then again, Oakland may be struggling anyway, so that could irrelevant.
You have to love how McCown is getting his chance to start full-time after years of a journeyman backup, but you also have to wonder if his ceiling is too low to help Tampa Bay. His preseason has been average thus far and his struggles are more based on his offensive line’s inability to block for him than anything McCown has done, but nonetheless, let’s see what he does with at least a half to get into a rhythm.
Manuel and Locker are in similar boats, but heading in different directions. Both aren’t being replaced this season and both seem to make their fans a little uncomfortable. Manuel has looked unsure of himself this preseason and he can’t seem to get the offense moving. Locker seems to be trending up with solid performances for Tennessee. I want to see where these two talented players go from here.
9. Will Bernard Pierce lead you to fantasy football prominence?
Okay, that’s what I am watching this game for on Saturday night, but I doubt Baltimore’s coaching staff cares much for my fantasy team. Pierce is a talented back who plays with a punishing style and enough speed to succeed in this league as “the guy”. Rice is recovering from a shoulder injury, so we should get our first look at Pierce in a starting role for extended time. Frankly, I’m not sure if the guy in the backfield will matter with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s rushing attack because Kubiak seems to know what he is doing (See Houston’s rushing attack during his head coaching tenure there). I want to see what Pierce can do and if there is a chance he supplants Rice as the starter this season.
10. Who sees the injury bug bite?
You hate to see it happen, but extended playing time opens the door for injuries. May this preseason be free of further injuries. I’m ready for the regular season.