A Brief Look at Pre-Season Week 1
I originally planned to do this as a ‘game by game’ review, but after writing 500 words just on the Jets I realised it was probably better just to hit on some of the top points that I noticed while working my way through the pre-season games and what better way to do that than a Gents style list. I’ll try and do this every week, but come week 4 we might already be in full-on regular season mode.
Before we get started though it’s worth remembering some context. This is pre-season. I noticed the excellent Woot and Wye podcast point out on twitter the other day that the 0-16 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the pre-season. What I’m trying to say is that we should take everything we see with a pinch of salt. It doesn’t mean we won’t be able to make some valuable points, but just know that this post is written with that in mind. I might not think the Jets were very good, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be when the actual season starts. I’m just talking about what I’ve seen, which is really very little.
Not What we Were Hoping For: Let’s start with the negatives. Whilst several players came out of the blocks flying, there were several players that struggled to get it going.
Doug Martin is a player that has been the subject of much, Bucs coaching hype. The thought is that he turned up to camp fully healthy and ready to relive the 2012 season. This was not evident in this game. Martin managed just 19 yards from 5 attempts. If the Bucs can’t get the run game going, Winston could be under some serious pressure to perform.
It might be a bit harsh calling the Bills QBs disappointing, but really none of them have stood out. Cassel probably had the best game, but not by much. Tyrod Taylor however took the ball the furthest, with 49 yards in the air and 47 on the ground. EJ Manuel threw for the most yards and gained a touchdown, but he only completed 4 passes. Game 2 might shed a little more light on the situation when he gets the start next week, but so far, much like the Browns QB dilemma last year, no one is excelling.
Davon House is a player I liked a lot in Green Bay and thought that between him and Sergio Brown, the Jags may have solved their secondary woes. However with his first target, House gave up a 44 yards touchdown pass, whilst being called for defensive holding. Not a good look, but you know…pre-season.
Justin Gilbert needs a strong season this year to avoid being called a 1st round bust. Being left in the dust of Pierre Garcon will not fill Browns coaches with confidence. Bad game all round for the Browns corner.
Players of Note: There are some obvious ones here, but some players that made me raise an eyebrow that aren’t getting the mentions they deserve.
I’ll start simple. Jarryd Hayne played well… there is zero doubt about it, but I want to see more.
Ameer Abdullah has probably been the standout player of week one, running the Jets ragged for the limited time he was on the field. Theo Riddick though also deserves some praise. Riddick was predominantly used as a pass catching back last season, something I’m sure a lot of us will remember from the London game in Atlanta last year. So it was interesting to see Riddick being used in a more traditional manner in this game. One thing is for certain though. With Bell, Abdullah and Riddick, this Lions backfield is loaded. Whilst on the Lions, it’s worth mentioning receiver Greg Salas who had a great game. Salas could find himself on the roster as the number 3 receiver.
After an athletic leap over a defender in his game against the Saints, I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Maxx Williams, who had a great game at tight end for the Ravens. Williams could help solve some issues the team has had at the tight end position.
I was a little underwhelmed by the Saints team as a whole, but there were 3 offensive players that stood out. Khiry Robinson needs to be taken seriously in the trio with Ingram and Spiller. Robinson looked great in this game being both elusive and powerful. Brandin Cooks came into the 2014 season as one of the top rated rookie receivers, but suffered a season ending injury. In this game he proved that he is still a burner, taking a great catch and run pass to the house and nearly adding a long TD reception to his stats, if not for stepping out of bounds whilst burning the corner covering him. Finally Marcus Murphy was a serious weapon in the return game. A pick up in the 7th round, the only way that Murphy makes the 53 man roster on the running backs depth chart will be as a return man. So look out for him in the next couple of games.
With the Packers losing Davon House and Tramon Williams the Packers depth at corner was in question. However 2nd round pick Quintin Rollins and undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter came in to perform against the Patriots in a big bad way, showing just how well the Packers draft. Even with the 2 experienced corners leaving Lambeau, it looks like they haven’t missed a step.
Mariota/ Winston: It is understandable that there would be a fair bit of hype surrounding the no. 1 and no. 2 picks in the draft this year.
So how did they do?
For me they both struggled to get going, but showed flashes of what they’re capable of. Mariota’s stat (7/8, 94 yards) tell a completely different story from how he played. The missed pass was an interception that came from panic, when he edged backwards, hitting line backer Justin Durant. Mariota also fumbled the ball, which came from a lack of awareness and resulted in a touchdown. There were a couple of other early issues too. Fear of a pass rush at one point saw him edge backwards rather than stepping up, which made about an 8 yard difference, which made him look a touch… well, ‘Gabbert-y’. It wasn’t all bad though. He looked much better when he settled in and seemed to understand what was coming at him way better. Being able to get over an atrocious start and settling in to be reasonably solid is definitely a credit to his demeanour and attitude to learning from his mistakes. Also it’s worth mentioning that the Titans line looked poor, yet he was still able to move the ball, which is a good sign.
Winston looked more dangerous in every sense of the word. Where Mariota settled in to make some safe, solid throws, Winston carried on throwing bombs. Winston’s stats probably do tell the story. Winston was 9/19 with an interception and a running TD. There are definitely some teething issues. I don’t have any doubt that Winston will throw a ton of head scratching interceptions, but amongst them I think we’ll see some great passes. He’s clearly got the arm; he just needs to limit the mistakes. Winston, like Mariota had zero help from his line, but with several new starters and a couple of players in new positions, it might take a while to get going. Basically this offence has potential for greatness, but it might require some patience.
Manziel/ Tebow: There is no denying that this weekend we saw some much improved play from 2 of the NFL’s media magnets. Manziel came in and looked more solid, got the ball out quicker and made better decisions, which included a smart run for a touchdown.
Tim Tebow’s arm was the subject of a lot of talk in the early stages of the Off Season, after training with Tom House, saying that he’d changed his throwing mechanics which had turned him into a better passer, Tebow came on last night to run the 3rd string offence and performed admirably, doing a decent job moving the ball down field and like Manziel running in a TD.
So naturally the NFL world is going crazy over this. Tebow received a standing ovation from Eagles fans, which is sweet but probably unnecessary. It’s at this point I want to point to our podcast that regularly mentions the 2 back up superstars and if it wasn’t immediately obvious, they are generally spoken about with our tongues firmly in cheek, but it’s time to add some context.
I’m not going to take either performance away from them. Both played well, but there are some very good reasons we probably won’t see either take the field this year. For Manziel it’s simply that Josh McCown is more reliable. McCown out played Manziel in this game moving his offence downfield, not missing a pass, finishing with a rollout inch perfect touchdown throw. McCown deserves credit for this and that’s his job to lose, which with a better line than at the Bucs and with a better offensive coordinator, probably won’t be for a while. In terms of Tebow, I can’t even see him making the roster. Bradford will almost certainly be no. 1, Sanchez no. 2 and Barkley no. 3. I can’t see room for Tebow there. Yes he did play better but there are still some glaring issues, the biggest one for me being that he does a lot of running backwards to make space. Not a great look if he gets sacked.
So let’s talk about how great 2 NFL media targets are doing in pre-season, but let’s also accept that we probably won’t see them come September.
Don’t Believe the Hype: We (myself included), spend all summer talking about who we think has made a big leap forward. The hype behind a team tends to snowball and before we know it, we’ve forgotten about how bad a team was last year and are branding teams as Super bowl contenders. For me this is proven perfectly by both the Jets and the Colts. There is a lot of talk that the AFC East will be one of the most competitive divisions in the league. The Jets are considered to have made some great moves, bring in a new head coach and in a year where the Patriots are considered to be taking a nap, losing a number of key defensive players along with Brady (potentially) sitting out 4 games, this was to be a year that saw them step up and become playoff contenders. But we forget sometimes that you can’t just throw players into a situation with a new head coach and expect it to work immediately. There is some thought that the Geno situation could be to blame, which explains the stuttering on offence, but how do you explain Golden Tate being wide open with a clear route to the end zone when it is predominantly the defensive starters on the field? You don’t is the answer. You accept that teams take a while to gel and that despite a ridiculous amount of talent on a team; it doesn’t guarantee it will always work.
The Colts are another good example of this. I described the Colts last year as the ‘best bad team in the league’ last year. There is no doubt they added some great pieces. Gore, Johnson are both great players that will almost certainly be being measured for a yellow jacket someday, but they didn’t improve the offensive line. A line that could barely keep Andrew Luck up right and as bad as the running backs were last year, some of the blame has to be rested on the lines shoulders. The Colts yesterday were crushed by the Eagles. Not just in the score line but in nearly every phase of the game. This is a bad team that’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the game and brought in some great, experienced weapons, but surely the 2013 Falcons (a former hype team) proved that a team needs more than this to be successful.
I myself was on board the hype train for both these teams, but what I saw this weekend was a wakeup call.