NFL Pre-Season Review

With week 4 being mostly about fringe players finding another job, I think now becomes as good a time as any to look at a pre-season round up. As always, this is just pre-season and I’m well aware a lot of the time it means very little, however there has been a lot of interesting moves on the back on some of the pre-season performances. So let’s take a look at what happened throughout the last 3 games.

 

The Quarterbacks:

Really the big talk has been over the signal callers this week, so let’s start with the battles. Before we get into it though it’s worth remembering that Matt Cassel, Chad Henne, Jake Locker, Nick Foles, EJ Manuel, Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer, were all named starters last year. None of them played every game. It’s worth remembering when thinking about the importance of being named “the starter”. Don’t get me wrong it is important, but it really doesn’t take a great deal for a season to be derailed.

Buffalo probably had the most interesting situation. 3 players were in the running for the starting job and it went right to the wire. All 3 played pretty well over 3 pre-season games. Matt Cassel seemed pretty solid, starting pedigree and was fairly safe with the ball. E.J Manuel was the Bills former 1st round pick and was clearly the 3rd best throughout the 1st 2 games, however in the 3rd game he was exceptional. It was ex-Ravens backup, Tyrod Taylor, however that took the job after, what I see as 3 typical Tyrod Taylor performances. Taylor is a QB I’ve been a fan of for a while, from watching the last couple of pre-seasons. The undersized QB now has a shot at being a regular starter playing for a head coach that needs someone who can play in a number of ways. Taylor, a mobile QB is an extra weapon in an already solid running game. With Cassel and Manuel now out of the running for the starting job, we can expect to see at least one/both of them on the trading block.

There were few QB situations as crazy as what went down in Washington. At the start of pre-season there it was a lock that RG3 would be the starting QB and in fact right up until game 3 he still was. It gets even crazier when you realise that Griffin was cleared for game 3 of pre-season… right up until just before the game when it came out that he hadn’t in fact been cleared for the game. In the space 1 weekend it seemed that RG3’s career with Washington came to an end. Over 3 years Griffin has been drafted number 2 overall, by a team that essentially traded away their future to get him, had a winning season where he was named a pro-bowler, named rookie of the year over Andrew Luck, been named the 5th most marketable sports star in the world, missed games through injury in 2 seasons, seemingly forgotten how to play QB and now has been dropped in favour of a QB that was drafted in the same year as him, but 3 rounds later. At this point after a rollercoaster career, you have to think he is desperate for a fresh start.

The Texans QB situation has been well documented simply because of hard knocks. Really there wasn’t a great deal of differences between the 2 ex- Brady backups. What it seemed to come down to though was Hoyer being a more reliable prospect than Mallett. Watchers of Hard Knocks will know that even though Bill O’Brien made it clear that Hoyer isn’t on a “short leash”, he very much is. Hoyer will need to be more consistent than last year with the Browns if the Texans are to be relevant this year.

As well as the battles there were a few performances of note throughout the pre-season, so let’s rattle through these fairly quickly.

Sam Bradford made his first significant start for the Eagles and looked damn good doing it. Bradford had a near perfect game going 10/10 for 121 yards and 3 touchdowns. Collectively the Eagles went 30/40 for 5TDs and zero interceptions, which shows just how QB friendly this offence is. Bradford is the clear standout QB on the team and if he can stay healthy could have a great season.

The Lions have looked pretty good throughout the off season, with Matt Stafford being no exception. Stafford has had a great connection with Golden Tate who could be in for an improvement on an already great season last year. My only concern with Stafford is his inability to go through his progressions and look past his number 1 receiver. If he can however they’re in good shape.

Marcus Mariota has not had a perfect pre-season. However there is a lot of reason to be excited about the young QB. Where Mariota has had issues, he’s seemingly gotten over them pretty quickly. In game one, he struggled with the pass rush, but eventually figured out how little time he had. In game 2 his helmet comms went down, yet he still managed to keep the offence rolling.

Whilst on the rookies, we need to realise that it’s not going to happen for Winston overnight. Whilst there is clear and prominent talent in the number 1 pick, he is massively up against it. The offensive line still needs some serious work, meaning a QB with a history of poor decision making will have less time. However Evans and Jackson give him some easy targets. So I guess what I’m saying is, let’s not judge him this season, but see how he does next year.

A couple of quick-fire points… Any Tannehill believers have to be feeling pretty good post pre-season (still aware of game 4). In the game against Atlanta he moved the ball, 147 yards, 33 for 41, 3 tds for 303 yards, zero INTs. definitely looking good. It feels like it’s gone under the radar, but Drew Brees has looked pretty great throughout pre-season. He might be missing his favourite target, but a renewed focus on catching the ball out of the backfield has been great for the future Hall of Famer. If I was Andy Dalton I’d be concerned about the A.J McCarron’s pre-season. If Dalton has one of his complete brainfart games, we could see McCarron come in and maybe show him up. Andy Dalton’s seat is definitely getting a little toasty.

The Good…

We already mentioned Mariota, but really the bigger story is that the entire Titans organisation might have become relevant. They might not end up winning anything this year and in my opinion will certainly miss out on a playoff spot, but it is very possible they might have had the best off season of any team, with both an excellent draft and free agency. Savour this Titans fans, it’s not often I’m this complimentary.

The Ravens have had a really good showing in preseason. Both offensive and defensive lines have been exceptional on top of a ridiculously deep line-backer group, that has looked a little, well… fired up. But there are a few players that have stood out. Brandon Williams has looked exceptional, truly a dominant force in the middle taking over permanently from Haloti Ngata and looking like they haven’t missed a step. But I can’t talk about the Ravens without mentioning Steve Smith. Smith had an exceptional game against Washington, looking 10 years younger. Then he was ejected. Which he handled with style, by bowing and watching the rest of the game with his son. Good work sir.

Tyler Lockett could become a very important piece for the seahawks this season. In pre-season there is no denying the offence stuttered, although a lack of a decent amount of Marshawn Lynch could take some of the blame for this. Tyler Lockett looks like a special teams dynamo. If he can give the Seahawks offence decent field position, that could be huge in a super bowl push.

Sam Bradford has taken a fair amount of praise for a decent series the other night, but we should look deeper at this team and how good they could be. Specifically in the secondary. The trio of Jenkins, Thurmond and Maxwell could have a huge season. If the season end and the Eagles are leading the league in INTs I would not be surprised. The Eagles have made some headway on my power rankings throughout the pre-season.

The Niners had their fair share of problems this off-season losing a number of players, including 2 inside line-backers. In response to this it felt like Navorro Bowman was playing like 2 people. He looked superhuman. Bowman could end up as comeback player of the year if he continues to play this well.

A few more quick ones. The Vikings are really deep. This team can afford a few injuries and are set for a big season. The Saints running backs all look incredible. We could see Robinson, Ingram and Spiller all pick up significant time. The Jets started really slowly this pre-season, but by the end of week 3 it kind of looks like they might have got it together. This team could go into the season hot. If Lions running back Zach Zenner gets cut, he will be picked up instantly. He looks really dangerous. The Jags line looks good, but Jacksonville fans have had their fingers burnt by pre-season expectations before. Here’s hoping they’re for real. Finally the Chiefs look great on offence. Seriously now a 3 dimensional team.

Pre-Season Star Player: Navorro Bowman

The Not So Good…

2 Teams I really liked coming into pre-season were the Colts and the Falcons, of which neither looked consistently solid. The problem for me comes from depth, which is where they’ve struggled in the past. If both teams stay healthy I think they both have relatively good seasons, but injuries could kill both these teams’ seasons. One point worth noting however, on the Colts is that Luck didn’t throw a single interception all pre-season, which is a very good sign.

The Chicago Bears are in the middle of a serious transition period and it will more than likely kill their season, with an eye to the future. The Bears didn’t score a single 1st team offensive touchdown. Expect big things from this team, just not this year.

I’ve been the Manning apologist on the podcast, but behind a reworked offensive line, with less weapons, the season that could be his last might not end too well. Manning got sacked 3 times in the last game… not good.

Patriots, I know this is sleight of hand and you’re heading to a super bowl, but your pre-season was not good… that being said this probably means we’ll see them play a game 1st week in February.

If the Cowboys do nothing this year and it is remotely blameable on the lack of running backs, there could be some front office folk without jobs at the end of the season. None of the current crop look set to make a difference.

Finally a message for the G-men. Please bring in some safeties… currently Landon Collins under a lot of pressure as a rookie. This could be the difference between them and the other NFC East contenders.

So pre-season is pretty much done. See you in the regular season!