2012 NFL Preseason Recap and Fantasy Football Notes: Week 1
**** NOTES FOR EVERY GAME WILL BE UP AS SOON AS I WATCH THEM **** Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
Cowboys 3, Raiders 0
If you didn't watch this game... well, I'm jealous. It was one of the sloppiest matchups I've ever seen. I'll get to all of the general mistakes later, but as for each offense, neither unit could get anything going because of stupid errors.
For instance, Tony Romo went just 3-of-6 for 30 yards. He constantly had to run for his life, as the interior of his offensive line couldn't block whatsoever. This was humorous because as I posted on Twitter (@walterfootball), "Quote from Jerry Jones last week: 'I think that we're better in the interior (of the offensive line).'"
Here were Romo's targets (Miles Austin-Jones did not play):
Cole Beasley: 1
Dez Bryant: 1
Felix Jones: 1
Jason Witten: 3
DeMarco Murray had just two carries in the preseason opener. He failed to gain a single yard. Murray is really going to struggle this year behind Dallas' inept interior offensive line. The group, which was downgraded this offseason, as I noted constantly the past couple of months, really struggled at Oakland. Combine that with Murray's durability issues, and I would stay away from him in fantasy drafts because he's going way too early.
Jason Witten was the only Cowboy to have more than one target from Romo (3). He left the game when he took a hard shot to the ribs, but he later came back. He finished with two grabs for six yards.
Dez Bryant was targeted only once on three drives, but he wasn't on the field much because he's coming off a hamstring injury. Bryant made the most out of it, however, impressively hauling in a 24-yard back-shoulder throw.
As for Oakland's first-team offense, Carson Palmer went 3-of-6 for 33 yards and an interception. Two of the incompletions were back-to-back Jacoby Ford drops, but the pick was terrible, as carelessly floated a ball deep to Ford into double coverage. Cowboys' safety Gerald Sensabaugh came up with the turnover.
Here were Palmer's targets:
Jacoby Ford: 3
Richard Gordon: 1
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 1
Darren McFadden: 1
Ford had an awful game. He was targeted three times, but as indicated earlier, the results were: interception, drop, drop. Ford then bobbled a punt return. Palmer was seen giving Ford a pep talk on the sideline after this.
Darren McFadden had just three touches in the preseason opener, but he looked great. He had a gain of 18 yards on a screen pass and then followed that up with a 16-yard rush. He can easily lead the league in rushing if he can stay healthy for a change.
Terrelle Pryor played the entire second half. He did not look like a quarterback. He had a couple of nice scrambles and one good throw on his final drive, but he had zero pocket awareness, while most of his passes lacked accuracy.
Pyor finished 8-of-15 for only 50 yards and an interception. I don't want to judge him completely based on one game, but it just doesn't look like he has much of a future as an NFL quarterback. Herm Edwards, showing up as a guest analyst on SportsCenter afterward, commented, "I say move him to tight end." That's probably a good idea, given the lack of talent Oakland has at the position.
Two Raider backups who really stood out were rookie receiver Rod Streater and backup punter Marquette King. Streater caught six balls for 66 yards, while King had a number of impressive punts (and one really bad one). Still, some other team that needs a punter may look into signing him in early September.
I mentioned earlier that both teams were very sloppy. The Cowboys and Raiders both committed numerous mental blunders. For instance, Dallas had two special-teams penalties on fourth down that gave the Raiders a first down after they punted the ball away. That's two - on the same drive. When Oakland punted for the third time, defensive back Chimdi Chekwa watched the ball roll toward the goal line. It rolled and it rolled. Chekwa finally picked up the ball - but it was too late. It already touched the goal line, so it was a touchback.
There were tons of drops, delay-of-game infractions, botched snaps and offside penalties during the botched snaps. The Cowboys even had 12 men on the field when they were kneeling down at the end of the game. It was really pathetic.
More inept officiating: The referees, of course, screwed up just as much as the players. The officials automatically reviewed the Palmer interception, as required by the NFL's stupid new rule that all turnovers much be looked at. Sensabaugh's pick was clean, but it looked like he may have been down by contact. After reviewing the video, however, all the official said was, "The play stands."
That's it? The play stands? Did he even know to check for down by contact, or was he just watching the interception itself?
This wasn't even the officiating crew's most egregious error. Early in the second quarter, Romo actually had to notify the refs that they spotted the ball on the wrong hash mark. At this point, I'm wondering if the NFL would just be better off having the players officiate themselves.
Colts 38, Rams 3
So, I'd say the Colts were pretty smart to Suck for Luck. They showcased the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft for a quarter and a half, and he did not disappoint. In fact, he nearly broke Twitter with his sterling performance.
Andrew Luck went 10-of-16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns (along with a 9-yard scramble) in his debut. He was amazing. He showed great poise in the pocket, played mind games with the Rams' safeties and converted plenty of third downs, leading the Colts to three trips into the end zone in four possessions. Luck is a stud and is fully capable of posting low-end QB1 numbers as a rookie. Feel free to draft him as a high-upside backup.
Here's a breakdown of all of Luck's passes:
1. Checkdown screen to Donald Brown, which Brown turned into a 63-yard touchdown. I'm not breaking any news here, but the Rams' defense is pathetic. After this happened, by the way, I tweeted (@walterfootball): "If Andrew Luck can get a 63-yard touchdown every six minutes in the NFL, he'll throw for 10,080 yards and 160 touchdowns this year."
2. Play-action pass; Luck overthrew Reggie Wayne as he was being tackled. His offensive line was pretty anemic all afternoon. This must be addressed next offseason. I'll have an updated 2013 NFL Mock Draft soon.
3. Short 10-yarder to Collie. Nothing special.
4. Laser to T.Y. Hilton 12 yards. A slightly slower throw would have been picked off by Janoris Jenkins. Kind of makes you wonder what people were thinking when they questioned Luck's arm strength.
5. Short 5-yarder to Coby Fleener. Nothing worth noting.
6. Perfect touchdown pass to Austin Collie 23 yards. Luck held the safety with his eyes so Collie could get open. He looked like a seasoned veteran.
7. Screen pass to Mewelde Moore for 9 yards.
8. Pass dropped by LaVon Brazill. Was a bit high.
9. Pass broken up; intended for Coby Fleener.
10. Pass dropped by Collie. Definitely should have been caught.
11. Converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 12-yard sideline dart to Collie.
12. Another 12-yarder to Lavon Brazill.
13. Thrown away while escaped pressure. A smart play, though it helped that one of the officials helped block the Rams.
14. Quick release on 3rd-and-9 to Brazill. The rookie wideout spun away to get the first down.
15. Perfect touch pass to Quan Cosby for 32 yards. Cosby was brought down at the Rams' 1-yard line, so Luck nearly had a third touchdown. Delone Carter scored two plays later.
Here were Luck's targets if you weren't keeping track:
LaVon Brazill: 3
Donald Brown: 1
Austin Collie: 4
Quan Cosby: 1
Coby Fleener: 2
T.Y. Hilton: 1
Mewelde Moore: 1
Reggie Wayne: 1
Austin Collie was Andrew Luck's favorite target in the preseason opener, as he was thrown to more times (4) than any other Colt. Collie caught three of those balls for 45 yards and a touchdown. With Luck looking awesome, Collie is now very relevant in fantasy again.
Rookie receiver LaVon Brazill caught all three balls for 38 yards in his debut. He saw more targets from Andrew Luck than any other Colt, save for Austin Collie. Brazill isn't worth picking in re-draft leagues, but he should be added in dynasty and keeper formats.
Donald Brown was the recipient of Andrew Luck's 63-yard touchdown in the preseason opener. He had just two carries for two yards (one was a 5-yard loss in which the offensive line was blown up), but none of the other running backs stood out, so Brown should be able to keep his job.
Speaking of the Colts' reserve running backs, Delone Carter received snaps ahead of rookie Vick Ballard. Carter converted a goal-line attempt, finishing with 17 yards on five carries. Ballard went for 28 yards on six tries, but fumbled the ball away in the second half.
While Luck showcased his immense talent in front of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd, Sam Bradford, taken No. 1 overall two years earlier, really struggled. He went 7-of-9 for 57 yards, but those numbers don't tell the whole story.
All but one of Bradford's completions were short. The lone exception was a nice third-down conversion to Austin Pettis for 12 yards. Bradford's one really deep attempt was pathetic, almost Brady Quinn-esque; it sailed out of bounds and Steve Smith never had a chance. Bradford then panicked under pressure on 4th-and-3 and threw way wide of Danny Amendola.
I was hoping for signs that Bradford has reverted to rookie form, but he looks like he's developed David Carr syndrome after being hit too many times behind his anemic offensive line. He could be broken.
Here were Bradford's targets:
Danny Amendola: 2
Steven Jackson: 1
Lance Kendricks: 2
Austin Pettis: 1
Steve Smith: 3
Steve Smith could be a nice PPR option late in the draft. He saw more targets from Sam Bradford in the preseason opener than any other Ram (3). He caught two of them for 14 yards.
Steven Jackson ran with some burst. He gained 17 yards on four attempts. Unfortunately, the touchdown opportunities will once again be scarce because of how pathetic the rest of the offense is.
Rookie running back Isaiah Pead had some nice gains; he tallied 33 yards on 10 carries, which includes an 11-yard scamper. He also caught three balls for nine yards. Unfortunately, he also fumbled twice. Jeff Fisher won't be able to use Pead until he has more confidence in him.
Brian Quick had a disappointing debut. His one and only catch came from Kellen Clemens, which was a 9-yard slant. He was targeted only one other time.
Not much inept officiating except for the one time that a ref blocked a St. Louis defender from getting to Luck.
Forum member Daniel pointed something funny out in the fourth quarter: "Did anyone else laugh when the announcers said that the Rams could be a top-five defense, only for Chandler Harnish to throw the fifth Colts' touchdown of the day immediately after that?" Yeah, allowing Donald Brown to go 63 yards on the first play is a clear sign that the Rams can have a top-five stop unit.
Seahawks 27, Titans 17
Pete Carroll's plan going into this game was to play Matt Flynn for the entire first half and then hand over the reins to rookie Russell Wilson for the whole second half. Both quarterbacks performed admirably.
Matt Flynn 11-of-13 for 71 yards and an interception. He didn't make any throws that stood out, but he did a good job of managing the offense, save for tossing the pick, of course. The interception, snagged by emerging stud linebacker Colin McCarthy, was an underthrow targeted for Ben Obomanu. Flynn did nothing to alleviate concerns that he's just a game-manager, but he at least orchestrated the offense well.
Here were Flynn's targets. Keep in mind that Sidney Rice and Terrell Owens were out, while Brayon Edwards was relegated to second-team duties:
Deon Butler: 2
Anthony McCoy: 2
Zach Miller: 2
Ben Obomanu: 1
Michael Robinson: 1
Golden Tate: 2
Robert Turbin: 3
Leon Washington: 1
Wilson, meanwhile, went 12-of-16 for 124 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also chipped in with 59 rushing yards and another score on three scrambles. One of his incompletions was thrown away.
There was plenty of good from Wilson. He showed solid arm strength and quality awareness for the most part. He also obviously proved to be dangerous on the ground. His mobility really helps make up for his lacking height, given that he can maneuver the pocket to find open receivers downfield. His 39-yard bomb to Braylon Edwards was a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, Wilson's height is a problem, despite what he says. He can't always find open targets. One of his passes was also batted down. He also apparently didn't see linebacker Zac Diles when he tossed his pick into the end zone.
Speaking of Edwards, he led all Seahawks with 51 receiving yards on two catches. His 39-yard leaping touchdown grab was awesome. He made a bone-headed play, however, committing a blatant block in the back on one of Wilson's scrambles.
Marshawn Lynch was out, so Robert Turbin and Leon Washington split carries. Turbin had some tough runs, finishing with 24 rushing yards on 10 carries to go along with three catches for nine receiving yards. His YPC suffered when he had poor blocking from the second-string offensive line.
While Flynn and Wilson had solid outings, Seattle's former quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, disappointed and may have lost the starting job to Jake Locker. Hasselbeck went 5-of-9 for 45 yards and two interceptions. The first pick wasn't his fault; the ball was tipped up by his receiver and taken back for six by Brandon Browner. The second interception was abysmal, however. Hasselbeck carelessly floated a ball deep into double coverage, overshooting wideout Damian Williams. Hasselbeck may be the veteran in this competition, but that was a rookie mistake.
Here were Hasselbeck's targets:
Jared Cook: 1
Chris Johnson: 2
Nate Washington: 4
Damian Williams: 1
Jake Locker is the best quarterback on the Titans. There's no question about that. Locker went 7-of-13 for 80 yards. The completion percentage isn't very good, but keep in mind that both Damian Williams and Chris Johnson committed drops. Tennessee's offense had more juice with Locker, who didn't even use his superior scrambling ability. That's what really separates him from Hasselbeck right now.
Jake Locker seemed to like throwing to rookie wideout Kendall Wright, who caught all three targets thrown his way for 47 yards in the preseason opener. There's little doubt that Locker will be named the starter sometime soon, which bodes well for Wright's fantasy prospects.
Matt Hasselbeck's favorite receiver in the preseason opener was Nate Washington; he targeted him four times. Washington caught three of those balls for 24 yards. He can be started as a WR3 or flex as long as Kenny Britt is injured and/or suspended.
What a disappointing performance by Chris Johnson in the preseason opener. Seriously, what happened to all of that talk about focusing this year with a full offseason under his belt? Johnson dropped two screens and ran with zero decisiveness. This helped him on a wild 9-yard scamper, but he constantly danced around the line of scrimmage and couldn't find any running lanes behind his anemic offensive front. He finished with eight rushing yards on five carries. I'm willing to give Johnson another week to prove himself before I shoot him way down in my rankings. He's getting a slight reduction for now.
More inept officiating: Nothing too blatant, but Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons was whistled for an unsportsmanlike penalty at one point. The problem? The Seahawks' offense was on the field.
Browns 19, Lions 17
The Browns dreamed of showcasing both of their first-round rookies in this game. Unfortunately, Trent Richardson had to undergo a knee scope, meaning Brandon Weeden would have to start with Montario Hardesty in the backfield.
Weeden, as you may have heard, went 3-of-9 for 62 yards and an interception. I saw his numbers before I watched this game, so I thought I would have to fully criticize his poor performance. Now I know that the stats were deceiving. Weeden did some good things, so let's start with that:
The good: Weeden's best pass was a perfect sideline throw to Travis Benjamin for 34 yards on the opening drive. This was after his first attempt, which was a nice 12-yard strike to Mohamed Massaquoi. Also, it's worth noting that three of Weeden's incompletions were essentially thrown away.
The bad: OK, there was a good amount of "bad." Weeden was strip sacked by Willie Young on 3rd-and-15 on the opening drive. He then had a weak-armed heave toward the sideline on his next possession, which allowed rookie corner Bullet Bill Bentley to jump the route. Bently nearly had the pick, but it bounced out of his hands. Bently had better luck on the next drive, however. He hauled in the interception by once again jumping the route because Weeden stared down Greg Little.
I'd give Weeden a C if I had to grade his performance. He made some solid throws and decisions, but I'm not sure he looks like a starting NFL quarterback to me. It's still early though, so let's see what happens once he gains some professional experience.
Colt McCoy was the better quarterback in this matchup, but only by a bit. He went 6-of-8 for 88 yards but didn't do anything great.
I mentioned Massaquoi earlier because he caught Weeden's first pass. Unfortunately, Massaquoi suffered his third concussion in two years, so he'll probably be out for a while.
Massaquoi's injury will allow Josh Gordon to see the field more often. Gordon was targeted once by both Weeden and McCoy, but didn't catch a single pass in this contest. His only action was a holding penalty.
Montario Hardesty started in place of Richardson. He rushed for 16 yards on four carries. He had one nice attempt (for seven yards), but looked pretty ordinary otherwise.
As for Detroit's starting offense, it didn't put any points on the board, but did a good job of moving the chains. Matthew Stafford went 4-of-7 for 51 yards and an interception that was the result of a miscommunication with Brandon Pettigrew.
Here were Stafford's targets:
Patrick Edwards: 1
Calvin Johnson: 2
Brandon Pettigrew: 4
Pettigrew led the Lions in targets from Stafford with four. However, he caused an interception by running a wrong route and dropped a pass later on. I'm not going to give him a fantasy stock down arrow, however, because he'll continue to produce. His other two targets were converted for 15 yards.
Make sure you get Kevin Smith on your fantasy roster. With Jahvid Best still suffering through concussion symptoms and Mikel Leshoure suspended, Smith will start for the Lions in the early part of the season. He looked great against the Browns, making nice cut-backs and displaying great shiftiness. Of course, it helped that he had outstanding run blocking in front of him, allowing him to rush for 28 yards on five carries.
Speaking of Lions' blocking, first-round rookie Riley Reiff played with the second-team offense. It's hard to judge him because he battled backups, but he looked pretty solid in his NFL preseason debut.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, backup defensive ends Everette Brown and Willie Young brought tons of pressure; the former had 1.5 sacks. It's amazing how deep Detroit's defensive front is.
There's one last player to discuss, and that's undrafted rookie quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore, known for all of his victories at Boise State, went 4-of-14 for 40 yards and an interception.
Was Moore as bad as those numbers indicate? No. Three of his incompletions were drops. Two "misfires" occurred because Moore was hit as he released the ball. And the interception was on a Hail Mary...
...But with that being said, Moore was pretty dreadful. He did not look like an NFL quarterback. He had one solid throw - a 16-yard completion to Nate Hughes - but some of his other attempts proved that he has an alarming lack of arm strength. For example, one of the passes on his second drive was broken up because the defender had enough time to swat away his slow-moving toss. Moore also threw way behind his receiver on another occasion. Oh, and the aforementioned Hail Mary? It went about 35 yards in the air.
I'd like for Moore to succeed, at least in terms of being a backup quarterback, but he just doesn't look like an NFL-caliber signal-caller. I don't expect him to make Detroit's final roster.
More inept officiating: Colt McCoy was scampering toward the sideline at one point. A Detroit defender was chasing him. Realizing McCoy was running out of bounds, the defender dived near McCoy and didn't touch him. It was clear that he was blatantly trying to avoid McCoy because he didn't want to be called for a late hit out of bounds. Sure enough, the ref whistled him for that penalty - even though he purposely didn't even touch McCoy!
Texans 26, Panthers 13
The Panthers announced Jonathan Stewart's 5-year, $36.5 million extension a couple of hours prior to kickoff. Stewart, however, was not on the field with the starting lineup. DeAngelo Williams had the honor, and he had more touches than Stewart. In fact, Stewart didn't have a single rushing attempt, only catching one ball for 13 yards. Williams rushed for 13 yards on four carries.
I don't think I'll ever understand what the Panthers are doing with their running backs, but you can check out my Jonathan Stewart Signing Grade by clicking the link.
Cam Newton went just 2-of-6 for 17 yards with 16 rushing yards on two scrambles in the preseason opener. Houston's defense did a terrific job putting pressure on Newton; he constantly had defenders in his face and could only break free once for a 15-yard scamper. One of Newton's incompletions was a Mike Tolbert drop, but another was nearly intercepted because Brandon LaFell ran a sloppy route. Newton projects as a top-five fantasy quarterback because of his rushing potential, but his passing numbers diminished toward the end of the 2011 season, thanks in part to his anemic receiving corps. Newton can't rely on anyone except for Steve Smith, who may regress this year because of age. Don't be surprised if Newton suffers a sophomore slump.
Here were Newton's targets:
Seyi Ajirotutu: 1
Brandon LaFell: 1
Steve Smith: 2 (1 end zone)
Jonathan Stewart: 1
Mike Tolbert: 1
It appears as though the Panthers struck gold with another first-round pick. Luke Kuechly was amazing. He was everywhere. He made a stop on Ben Tate on the 2-yard line to prevent a touchdown and he later forced Arian Foster into a fumble. What was especially awesome was that after the sideline reporter complimented him ad nauseum, Kuechly admitted that he made a mistake by lining up in the wrong place on the first play of the game. Kuechly has to be the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
I'm sure Texan fans loved seeing Matt Schaub on the field again. Schaub looked pretty good, going 3-of-6 for 52 yards and interception that wasn't his fault (he was hit as he released the ball). Schaub's best throw was a 20-yard dart to Keshawn Martin on the second play of the game.
Here were Schaub's targets (Andre Johnson did not play):
James Casey: 1
Owen Daniels: 1
Lestar Jean: 1
Keshawn Martin: 1
Kevin Walter: 2
Earlier this offseason, Lester Jean was the favorite to become the receiver to challenge Kevin Walter as the No. 2 wideout. Rookie Keshawn Martin took over that distinction during training camp and he did not disappoint in his preseason debut. He caught a 20-yard pass from Schaub on the first drive and he added a 4-yard grab later on. He's a late-round deep sleeper. Jean could still be the guy though; he played with the first team and later hauled in two catches for 50 yards.
Ben Tate saw most of the action on Houston's first drive. He carried the ball on the fourth, sixth and seventh plays of the game. He received an attempt from the 2-yard line, but was stacked up by Luke Kuechly and other Panthers. He then gave way to Arian Foster on the next drive, only to watch Foster lose a fumble. Tate then played with the second-stringers, so I'm not sure what to make of that. He finished with 38 yards on seven carries.
Arian Foster, meanwhile, had just one rush for 11 yards and the aforementioned lost fumble, though he was on the field on some third downs on the opening drive. Gary Kubiak's reluctance to give Foster carries probably means that he wanted to preserve him.
Whitney Mercilus registered 1.5 sacks in his debut. It looks like the Texans just might have a third stud pass-rusher.
Another Houston rookie who thrived was Randy Bullock, who drilled both of his field goal attempts in the preseason opener, including one from 52 yards.
The Panthers' broadcasting network had a feature called "Sweet Tweets," where the announcers read random tweets from Panther fans. Here's one to give you an example:
I drove for 5 days from Anchorage, Alaska to Charlotte to see this game!... And my family... Go Panthers!
This guy drove five days to go to a preseason game? Really? And I love how his family is secondary in the whole equation. Why didn't he just fly to Charlotte? Why would anyone drive for five days? Plane tickets probably cost less than the money he spent on gas.
This "Sweet Tweet," from @Brinsonlee, was the most pathetic of the bunch:
Derek Anderson moving the chains. Let's go Panthers!
How is this a "Sweet Tweet" of any sort? Who tweets about their backup quarterback "moving the chains?" Who the hell cares? This BrinsonLee fellow must lead a really boring life to spend time tweeting about something as menial as that. What does he tweet on an average Wednesday night? "Taking out the trash. Let's go me!"
Chiefs 27, Cardinals 17
I've maintained all offseason that the Chiefs have the best roster in the NFL if the quarterback position is excluded. Both first-string units looked damn unstoppable against the Cardinals.
Matt Cassel played just two drives, leading his team down the field and into the end zone on both occasions. He finished 5-of-6 for 67 yards and a touchdown. Cassel is limited physically, but he has so much talent around him. I'll get to all of the players later in this recap.
Here were Cassel's targets (Dwayne Bowe is holding out):
It's really nice to see that Dexter McCluster is finally being utilized correctly. Stationed in the slot during the preseason opener, McCluster caught three balls for 45 yards. He was his explosive self, breaking big gains after catching the football. He could be worth drafting as a reserve, especially in a PPR league.
The Chiefs ran the ball extremely well. The offensive line was very forceful, blasting open huge holes for the running backs, particularly on the right side behind Eric Winston. Kansas City rotated three backs when the first team was on the field.
Jamaal Charles looked explosive in the exhibition opener. He seemed to have all of his burst, and he was also able to carry some defenders and move the pile. Charles had just three carries for 12 yards to go along with an 11-yard reception, but Romeo Crennel was probably limiting his workload so he could save him for the regular season.
Peyton Hillis played a big part in the Kansas City offense during the first two drives of the preseason opener. He rushed for 41 yards on four attempts and also caught an 11-yard touchdown. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles split carries evenly two years ago, and it appears as though Hillis and Charles will have a 50-50 share of touches this season. Hillis definitely deserves a stock up.
One thing I didn't understand was why third-string running back Shaun Draughn was on the field with the first-team offense. Draughn played a couple of third downs and received a goal-line carry after Hillis exited the game following a big run. Perhaps Draughn was used to conserve both Charles and Hillis. We'll know more in the next couple of weeks.
Despite missing stud corner Brandon Flowers, Kansas City's defense completely stymied the Cardinals' offense. Arizona had no chance. The starting unit had just 45 net yards in three drives.
John Skelton had defenders in his face on nearly every pass attempt. He still managed to make some nice throws, going 3-of-6 for 35 yards. Skelton should have been 4-of-7 for 46 yards, but the officials gave the Cardinals 12 yards on a Kansas City pass interference penalty, wiping out an 11-yard Larry Fitzgerald reception. Skelton also had an interception. It was a forced ball into Fitzgerald on third-and-long amid heavy pressure.
Here were Skelton's targets:
Larry Fitzgerald: 4
Todd Heap: 1
Andre Roberts: 2
Kevin Kolb went 1-of-5 for 21 yards, but definitely wasn't as bad as those stats indicate. He had a nice, 20-yard back-shoulder throw to DeMarco Sampson that was dropped. He managed to complete the same pass two plays later.
However, like Skelton, Kolb was constantly under siege by Kansas City's dominant defensive front. Kolb managed to escape once to toss an incompletion, but he couldn't do anything under pressure otherwise. Color analyst Trent Green said it best: "Kevin Kolb has not looked settled." He never has looked settled with defenders in his face - something he'll constantly have to deal with behind Arizona's anemic offensive line.
Larry Fitzgerald had just one catch for 17 yards, but there's no cause for concern. He paced the team with four targets from Skelton, and as mentioned, he was robbed of an 11-yard completion because of pass interference penalty.
Neither Chris Wells nor Ryan Williams suited up for Arizona.
I didn't notice any stupid calls or anything, so I'd like to use this space to criticize the Chiefs' broadcasting network. I found nothing wrong with the announcers (Green and Paul Burmeister were plesant to listen to), but the sideline reporter pissed me off because he kept trying to interview a CEO of some hospital.
There were two problems with this. First, the audio failed twice, so I heard nothing but static on two occasions. And second, these failed interviews occurred in the opening quarter while Arizona's first-string offense was still on the field.
Take note, stupid preseason networks: If you want to conduct dumb, pointless interviews, that's fine - just do it in the second half when the scrubs are on the field. Don't disrupt meaningful action.
Jaguars 32, Giants 31
It's way too difficult to tell if there's any sort of Super Bowl hangover for the Giants at this moment because the starters played just one quarter of action Friday.
Eli Manning was pretty solid, going 4-of-8 for 60 yards. He made one bad throw - a dropped Dwight Lowery interception on the final play of the opening drive - but his numbers should have been much better. Victor Cruz dropped a pass, while Manning and second-year wideout Jerrel Jernigan were screwed out of a touchdown because cornerback William Middleton held Jernigan's right arm in the end zone as Manning floated a perfect pass toward his receiver. A competent officiating crew would have called pass interference on Middleton.
Here were Manning's targets (Hakeem Nicks did not play):
Ramses Barden: 2
Martellus Bennett: 1
Ahmad Bradshaw: 1
Victor Cruz: 3
Jerrel Jernigan: 2
As mentioned, Cruz dropped a pass, but he made up for it when he turned a short reception into a 28-yard gain. He projects as a low-end fantasy WR1.
Ahmad Bradshaw played every single down on the first two Giant drives, rushing for 12 yards on four carries. He also had a 7-yard reception. D.J. Ware received goal-line touches on the next possession, but Bradshaw was already out of the game. Bradshaw is going to be utilized heavily until he gets injured. He'd be an RB2 in a normal year, but the running backs are so terrible this season that he'll serve as a low-end RB1.
David Wilson had a good showing in his debut. He rushed for 43 yards on seven carries, headlined by a 26-yard burst up the middle, thanks to outstanding blocking. Wilson broke some tackles on numerous touches, which includes his two catches for 26 receiving yards. Wilson is a good handcuff to own because of Ahmad Bradshaw's durability issues.
It was a tale of two drives for Blaine Gabbert. I can't believe I'm saying this, but he looked like a quality quarterback on his opening possession, going 4-of-7 for 51 yards and a touchdown. What's remarkable is that all four of his completions were on third down, including a 29-yard gainer to Mike Thomas.
Gabbert, however, was 1-of-3 for 11 yards on his other real possession. He was back to his old self; he ducked and fired the ball carelessly before taking a hit and later was strip sacked on third down because he missed an open Laurent Robinson over the middle.
Overall, this was a relatively good showing for Gabbert because he engineered a touchdown drive. However, the real issue remains. Gabbert is not good at handling pressure. Perhaps he'll get better at this, but it's almost impossible to teach courage. He at least will have plenty of games to prove himself, as Chad Henne struggled. In fact, third-stringer Jordan Palmer looked much better than Henne.
Here were Gabbert's targets (Justin Blackmon didn't play):
Laurent Robinson led the tean with five targets from Blaine Gabbert in his debut with Jacksonville. That's the good news. The bad news is that he converted only one of those targets for seven yards. He just looked out of sync with Gabbert. For example, he ran the wrong route on one play. He was open on another, but Gabbert didn't see him. Avoid this guy in your fantasy draft.
Maurice Jones-Drew is still holding out, which allowed Rashad Jennings to start against the Giants. He impressed, rushing for 56 yards on 12 carries. He didn't score, but he received touches inside New York's 5-yard line. Jones-Drew will eventually end his holdout, but Jennings is worth drafting late because he'll produce if given the chance.
I seldom give you punter updates, but Bryan Anger, a third-round pick this past April, forced the Giants into two muffs. This led to 10 Jaguar points.
Inept announcing: The Jaguars' sideline reporter had this to say: "This offense is all the talk in town." Really? Jacksonville must be a really boring town.
Later, the color analyst revealed his bias for the Jaguar organization in regard to the Jones-Drew holdout: "I bet you, 90 percent of the fan base is on the side of the Jaguars." Yeah, OK. Jacksonville only has the most salary cap space in the NFL and refuses to pay its best player. I'm sure that "90 percent of the fan base" is siding with the blatantly stingy front office.
More inept officiating: The refs botched the end of the game (a 10-second run-off was never called) and earlier whistled the Jaguars for a face mask penalty in which a defender allegedly grabbed the back of Eli Manning's helmet. The Jacksonville player barely touched Manning, only hitting him in the back of the jersey.
But this wasn't the worst we saw out of the officials. The zebras whistled the Giants for kick catch interference despite the fact that no one was near the Jacksonville returner. The ref's shaky announcement was the cherry on top:
"Kick catch interference... uhh... (20-second pause, looks around nervously)... kick catch interference. On the Giants. On the gunner. Added to the end... first down Gi... uhh..."
49ers 17, Vikings 6
The Vikings were missing both Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, so how could Christian Ponder possibly succeed? Well, he fared pretty well considering, going 4-of-9 for 80 yards. One of his attempts was dropped by Stephen Burton, who didn't secure the ball because he wanted to avoid taking a hit. Ponder's best completion was a 52-yard bomb to Burton on the opening drive.
Here were Ponder's targets:
Stephen Burton: 2
Michael Jenkins: 2
Kyle Rudolph: 2
Jerome Simpson: 1
Christian Ponder seemed most comfortable throwing to Kyle Rudolph. The second-year tight end caught two balls for 22 yards in the preseason opener. Rudolph was plagued by a hamstring injury last season but is now completely healthy. He should have a big year as Ponder's No. 2 target behind Percy Harvin.
With Peterson out, Toby Gerhart was the starting running back. He performed well, gaining 31 yards on five attempts.
Matt Kalil started at left tackle, but was beaten badly by Aldon Smith on the first drive. Smith would later suffer a hip injury. He was carted into the locker room, but it appears as though he'll be fine.
As for the 49ers, Alex Smith played just one drive, leading his team down the field and into the end zone. He completed all three of his pass attempts for 16 yards with a touchdown to Brett Swain.
Here were Smith's targets:
Michael Crabtree: 1
Kendall Hunter: 1
Brett Swain: 1
San Francisco's first touchdown drive was an 84-play sequence, so the team obviously did most of its damage on the ground. The offensive line blasted open huge holes for Kendall Hunter (5 carries, 24 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (4-31). Minnesota's stop unit was pushed around quite easily.
Randy Moss wasn't in the opening lineup - the two starters were Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn - and he didn't register a single reception despite being on the field on multiple plays. Considering the starters were in the game for only one drive, this isn't a big deal.
Colin Kaepernick was at the helm for the rest of the first half. He came out running the no-huddle and using option plays. It was really effective, given that he rushed for a 78-yard touchdown on his second play.
Kaepernick finished 5-of-9 for 40 yards. He nearly tossed an interception on the second drive because he threw the ball way too late, telegraphing his pass. However, he came back from that with a nice sideline connection to rookie wideout A.J. Jenkins, who made a good catch while falling out bounds. Unfortunately, Jenkins dropped a catchable ball on the next play.
The officials actually did a good job in this game. The announcers? Not so much. Forum member GiantsFanMike posted the following while all of the games were going on, and then I heard it afterward when the play-by-play guy offered his take on Minnesota's offense when Burton made the aforementioned 52-yard grab:
"The one threat the Vikings have without Peterson (commentator waits for player to turn back to see his name)... uhh... Burton?"
Buccaneers 20, Dolphins 7
News broke hours prior to this contest that David Garrard will need a knee scope, which will sideline him for up to a month. Garrard was considered the favorite to win the starting quarterbacking gig, so this obviously threw a wrench into new head coach Joe Philbin's plans.
Matt Moore started, and like the other two Miami quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill, Pat Devlin), he ran Philbin's fast-pace no-huddle attack. Unfortunately, he did not have the results he was looking for.
Moore was OK. Just OK. He did nothing spectacular, but didn't make any glaring mistakes either. Moore finished 7-of-12 for 79 yards and an interception that wasn't his fault (the ball was batted at the line of scrimmage and picked by rookie linebacker Lavonte David). Moore was also screwed over by Chad Johnson, who dropped an easy chain-moving conversion on third down of the opening drive.
Here were Moore's targets:
Davone Bess: 3
Anthony Fasano: 3
Chad Johnson: 1
Legedu Naanee: 1
Julius Pruitt: 1
Daniel Thomas: 1
Roberto Wallace: 1
Ryan Tannehill took over near the 2-minute warning of the first half and played until the end of the third quarter. He finished 14-of-21 for 167 yards and a touchdown. Tannehill did some good things and bad things (more good than bad), so here they are:
The good: Tannehill really showed off his superior arm strength on some throws. He was able to fit the ball into some tight spots. One such occurrence was a 19-yarder to Roberto Wallace where he put some zip on the ball on what was a touch pass. Tannehill also should have collected a second touchdown to Wallace, but replay overturned the ruling on the field.
The bad: A couple of Tannehill's completions were more of the receivers' positive play. For example, his second completion went to Julius Pruitt, who made an amazing, one-handed grab while falling to the ground. Tannehill should have been pick-sixed on a 4th-and-3 inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line at the end of the first half. He also missed a wide-open Michael Egnew on a routine short pass in the third quarter.
Overall, this was a pretty positive outing for Tannehill considering he was making his debut. He should be ready to start at some point this year, but Philbin needs to make sure he doesn't ruin his young quarterback by surrounding him with inferior talents who won't be able to protect him or catch the football.
Chad Johnson predictably flopped in the preseason opener. He saw just one target go his way - an easy catch on third down to move the chains - but he dropped it. Johnson is a bum and most likely will not make the roster. Don't draft him.
Anthony Fasano tied for the team lead in targets (Davone Bess) from Matt Moore in the preseason opener. New head coach Joe Philbin wants to incorporate the tight end more into the offense, so Fasano could have his best statistical season yet. He might be a decent TE2.
Josh Freeman played just one drive in the preseason opener, but that's all he needed because he was able to lead his team down the field and into the end zone. Freeman went 4-of-5 for 41 yards. He was really sharp. It's still early, but it appears as though the undisclosed personal issues that plagued Freeman last year are history.
Here were Freeman's targets:
LeGarrette Blount: 1
Zack Pianalto: 1
Luke Stocker: 1
Mike Williams: 2
Despite reports that Doug Martin was the star of Tampa's training camp, LeGarrette Blount drew the start in the preseason opener and didn't disappoint. Blount ran with great power and broke numerous tackles. He rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown (coming via 4th-and-goal at the 1) on seven carries. Blount even caught a 3-yard pass, though he did lose a third-down rep to Martin. Still, Blount's surprise performance puts him back on the fantasy radar.
It was a really disappointing turn of events in the preseason opener for Doug Martin fantasy owners. Martin has had the superior camp, but he watched LeGarrette Blount start and impress with several tough runs. Martin also performed exceptionally well, most notably gaining 10 yards after somehow cartwheeling and staying off the ground after being tackled. He finished with 21 yards on seven carries, as well as a 1-yard touchdown. Yes, Martin was used on the goal line, but only because Blount was already out of the game. Martin will be really useful in PPR leagues because he'll play on third down, but it appears as though his breakout season won't come to fruition, barring a Blount injury.
The Buccaneers were partying in the preseason opener like it was 2010. In addition to LeGarrette Blount running really well, Mike Williams also appeared in shape. Williams saw two targets compared to Vincent Jackson's zero. He caught one of them, an 18-yarder in which he avoided the arms of the pathetic Sean Smith.
More inept officiating: You know how they stop playing football during commercial breaks? Well, these refs apparently didn't understand this concept. They signaled the ball ready for play despite the fact that there was a designated break in the action. This completely confused Dolphins' play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton, who literally sat in silence for three minutes. Seriously, neither Stockton nor his two cohorts, Bob Griese and Nat Moore, said a single thing as Miami ran several plays. I have to say that it was rather refreshing not to hear anything for a change.
Bengals 17, Jets 6
I missed the first five minutes of this matchup. I turned on NFL Network and was appalled to see that they were re-airing Ravens-Falcons. Thinking this was some sort of temporary error, I logged onto NFL.com to watch the game on Preseason Live. To my chagrin, the contest was listed as "blacked out," along with Giants-Jaguars for some strange reason.
I was pretty pissed. I sent some angry tweets @nflnetwork on Twitter (@walterfootball). I announced that there were free streaming links on my forum. Hey, it's only fair - I paid to watch their games via Preseason Live, yet they didn't allow me to do so.
I watched this game on thefirstrow.eu (thanks to forum member Anosh) until right before halftime when the NFL Network finally switched to it. I was going to demand my money back, but NFL Network corrected its error, so I'm not angry anymore.
At any rate, all the talk going into this matchup was about the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow battle. Sanchez went 4-of-6 for 21 yards, never threatening the Bengals with a scoring opportunity. Tim Tebow, meanwhile, was able to lead the Jets to a field goal. He went 4-of-8 for 27 yards (hindered by a Stephen Hill drop on third down) and an interception but also chipped in with 34 rushing yards on four scrambles.
Tebow was clearly the better quarterback prior to his horrible, telegraphed pick in which he failed to see rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The offense as a whole seemed to have more life with Tebow. The offensive line couldn't block for either signal-caller, so it helped that Tebow could elude Cincinnati's pass-rushers with his trademark scrambling ability.
Here were Sanchez's targets:
John Conner: 1
Patrick Turner: 3
Jordan White: 1
Second-round rookie Stephen Hill caught two passes from Tebow, gaining 17 yards in the process. As mentioned, he also dropped a very catchable ball on third down. He's too raw to contribute consistently right away, but his potential is pretty evident.
As for the Jets' first-rounder, Quinton Coples dominated the line of scrimmage. He registered a sack and a force fumble, and he had numerous other pressures. He looks like the real deal.
The Bengals, meanwhile, incurred numerous injuries in this contest. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, linebacker Rey Maualuga and guard Travelle Wharton all suffered knee maladies. Dunlap and Maualuga walked off on their own, but Wharton, who had to be carted off, will likely miss the entire season.
Andy Dalton played just two drives. He struggled on the first, but led the Bengals deep into Jets' territory on the other. Dalton threw what would have been a touchdown to A.J. Green, but the stud receiver uncharacteristically dropped the ball in the end zone. Dalton finished 4-of-9 for 54 yards.
Here were Dalton's targets:
A.J. Green: 2 (1 end zone)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 1
Jermaine Gresham: 3 (1 end zone)
Andrew Hawkins: 1
Brandon Tate: 1
BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 22 yards on seven carries in the preseason opener. He's getting an up arrow for two reasons. First, he was the only back on the field with the first unit. And second, he was utilized on third down, catching a pass over the middle for a gain of 18 yards.
Marvin Jones might just be Cincinnati's No. 2 receiver this year. He caught two balls for 48 yards, including one which was a deep attempt by Bruce Gradkowski.
More inept officiating: The referee in this game had a terrible sense of direction. He faced the wrong way when making an announcement in the first half, and he later pointed the wrong direction when announcing a penalty. Hopefully he didn't think he was in Arizona.
Redskins 7, Bills 6
All eyes were on Robert Griffin in this game. Griffin did not disappoint one bit. In fact, he was flawless.
Griffin went 4-of-6 for 70 yards and a touchdown, but every single pass he attempted should have been completed, as you'll see below. Griffin showed great poise in the pocket. He went through all of his progressions and even forced the Bills offside on one occasion. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was watching a 5-year veteran.
I tracked all six of Griffin's attempts:
1. Pass incomplete along the left sideline to Pierre Garcon. It should have been a 10-yard catch, but Garcon couldn't keep his feet inbounds. Solid throw.
2. A 12-yard completion to Leonard Hankerson. A routine short toss.
3. Pass incomplete to Niles Paul. It was a short attempt that was dropped.
4. A 20-yard completion over the middle to Garcon. Griffin looked downfield for his first option and saw nothing, so he went to his second read and found the former Colt wideout. It was a nice pass that showed off Griffin's arm strength.
5. An 18-yard completion to Garcon off play-action. This was the play in which Griffin drew the Bills offside.
6. A 20-yard touchdown to Garcon. It was a short pass on a slip screen where Garcon did all of the work.
This was only a small sample size, but Griffin really impressed me. He's going to be awesome.
You may have tracked them already, but here were Griffin's targets:
Pierre Garcon: 4
Leonard Hankerson: 1
Niles Paul: 1
Pierre Garcon appears to be Robert Griffin's favorite receiver. He saw four of Griffin's six attempts go his way, catching three of them for 58 yards and a touchdown in just one quarter of action of the preseason opener. It's a small sample size, but Griffin really seems to favor Garcon, so he definitely deserves a stock up arrow.
Evan Royster played exclusively with the first-stringers. He got off to a rocky start, taking his first three attempts for a loss of one yard. He then fumbled his fourth try. After that, however, Royster found some holes and managed to finish with 21 yards on seven carries.
Roy Helu didn't see any action with the first-team offense in the preseason opener. He rushed the ball just four times for 17 yards, though it must be noted that he had two gains wiped out by penalties. It's not a good sign for Helu though because the coaching staff continues to believe that he's just a change-of-pace back. The coaches told the media that their concern with Helu is his inability to break through tackles. It doesn't look like they'll be changing their mind anytime soon.
Kirk Cousins went 9-of-22 for 74 yards and an interception in his debut. He was mostly good; those numbers could have been better because of a long pass interference and the fact that Niles Paul dropped a pass which would have been a big gain. It seemed like Cousins had a strong presence on the field, and he made several nice throws, particularly in the 2-minute drill right before halftime. Cousins had just three really poor throws. He sailed the ball behind his receiver on two occasions, one of which resulted in an interception by Bills' rookie corner Ron Brooks. Cousins' other bad attempt was a near-pick on an overthrow deep downfield. Still, Cousins looked a billion times better than Rex Grossman, who was 2-of-10 for 22 yards and numerous near-interceptions.
I'd love to give you a report on Fred Jackson versus C.J. Spiller, but I can't - because Buffalo's first-string offense passed the ball on every single down. I'm not exaggerating. Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't hand the ball off once to either of his running backs.
Despite all of the throwing opportunities, Fitzpatrick did not pile up impressive statistics. He was just 6-of-14 for 61 yards. There's no need for Buffalo fans to panic, however. Fitzpatrick had a 20-yard touchdown to Steve Johnson nullified by an illegal formation. He also fired a long incompletion to Johnson that would have been called pass interference by a competent officiating crew.
Here were Fitzpatrick's targets:
Scott Chandler: 4
Derek Hagan: 1
Fred Jackson: 1
Steve Johnson: 6
Donald Jones: 1
C.J. Spiller: 2
Scott Chandler caught two balls for 32 yards in the preseason opener. He's worth noting for two reasons. First, he was targeted four times, which is more than any other Bill, save for Steve Johnson. And second, both of his grabs were really impressive, as he extended his arms way over his head and secured the ball despite taking a hit each time. Chandler's a decent backup tight end.
More inept officiating: One of Brian Moorman's first-quarter punts hit the 5-yard line and was downed at the 4. The officials blew it dead there and then said a minute later that it was a touchback. Chan Gailey looked like he wanted to kill someone. He challenged it, and it was quickly overturned. No damage was done, but it was still ridiculous that time was wasted on such an obvious call. These refs are absolutely terrible.
Eagles 24, Steelers 23
Real life overshadowed anything that occurred on the field in this game. What happened to Andy Reid was simply unbelievable. No one saw it coming. Yes, the long-time Eagles' coach lost tons of weight. It's really remarkable. He's still chubby, but he's no longer the man who used to eat hundreds of cheese steaks each day.
In all seriousness, it's really tragic what happened to Reid and his family. The Eagle fans, who often boo their coach, chanted "Andy! Andy! Andy!" multiple times during this contest. Barring a Super Bowl victory, I never thought the crowd would cheer Reid.
Something that Andy Reid didn't want to see in the preseason opener was an injury to his quarterback, but that's precisely what transpired. QB Eagles No. 7 (3-of-4, 6 yards) hit his hand on center Jason Kelce's helmet on the second drive and had to leave the game. The good news for Eagle fans is that x-rays came back negative. The bad news is that this was yet another reminder that QB Dog Killer will miss plenty of time this year because he's so fragile. Draft him at your own risk. I'm not touching him in the first eight rounds.
Given that QB Eagles No. 7 is a lock to miss at least four games this year, it's important to discuss the backup quarterbacks. Mike Kafka played in the second quarter and wasn't very good, going 5-of-9 for 31 yards and an interception. The pick was a panic move; there was a missed assignment on a designed screen, so Kafka threw the ball prematurely. He didn't look where he tossed it, however, and it landed into nose tackle Al Woods' arms.
Nick Foles will likely be the primary backup. The box score shows that he went 6-of-10 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and he was as good as those numbers indicate. He showed off tremendous arm strength on multiple deep touchdown bombs of 70 and 44 yards. The former score was really impressive because he scrambled right to avoid pressure and still managed to hit Damaris Johnson downfield. Foles' only blemish was that he was nearly picked off on his first drive.
Another Eagles' rookie who showed well was Bryce Brown, who had an impressive 33-yard gain on one carry. He also caught two balls for 17 more yards.
There's not much else to say about Philadelphia's offense because the starting unit played just two brief drives. Jeremy Maclin didn't suit up because of a hamstring injury. This will be a concern if he misses next week's game.
As for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger wasn't pass protected very well. The main issue was rookie left tackle Mike Adams, who surrendered two-and-a-half sacks because he had problems with Phillip Hunt. Making matters worse, Adams injured his right knee.
Despite the poor blocking, Roethlisberger still went 7-of-8 for 49 yards, leading his team to a field goal on his only possession. Big Ben's best play was when he escaped a sack and found Emmanuel Sanders downfield for a 17-yard gain. It could have gone for six if Sanders didn't step out of bounds.
Here were Roethlisberger's targets:
Antonio Brown: 1
David Johnson: 2
Chris Rainey: 2
Isaac Redman: 1
Emmanuel Sanders: 2
A mixed game for Isaac Redman. He gained 14 yards on five carries, as the offensive line blocked well for him on occasion. He also converted a 4th-and-1 on the Eagles' 45 during the opening drive. He caught a pass, but lost third-down reps to fifth-round rookie Chris Rainey, who will be used as both a running back and a receiver this season.
More inept officiating: The Steelers challenged and lost on their first possession - but the official said that the Eagles were charged with a timeout. It's amazing how horrible these refs have been thus far. Not only do they not know the rules; they don't even know what city they're in.
Patriots 7, Saints 6
New England's offense should be unstoppable. With all of the new weapons Tom Brady has at his disposal, how can it not be? Well, Brady went just 4-of-7 for 30 yards, and the Patriots' first-string scoring unit couldn't put any points on the board.
So, what happened? Well, Brady didn't have much time to throw. Second-year left tackle Nate Solder had serious issues blocking Will Smith. Solder was guilty of two holds and a sack, which resulted in a fumble in what was a fierce hit. Brady looked decent otherwise, though he underthrew Brandon Lloyd for a potential touchdown.
Here were Brady's targets:
Rob Gronkowski: 3
Brandon Lloyd: 3
Danny Woodhead: 1
Lloyd, the primary newcomer to this offense, didn't register a single reception. There's no cause for concern, however. As mentioned, Brady underthrew Lloyd for a potential long touchdown in the first quarter, allowing cornerback Johnny Patrick to make a nice pass break-up. Lloyd also had a 17-yard reception that was nullified by one of Solder's holds. Lloyd was targeted thrice on Brady's seven attempts, so he still projects as a solid WR2.
Both Patriot running backs looked very good. Stevan Ridley handled all of the first-team reps in the preseason opener. He ran really well, though it helped that he had terrific blocking in front of him. He rushed for 40 yards on eight carries. He didn't receive any goal-line opportunities, but only because the Patriots weren't in a position to score a close touchdown when he was on the field. He'll likely assume BenJarvus Green-Ellis' role as the goal-line hammer.
Meanwhile, Shane Vereen didn't play until the second half of the exhibition opener, but he was exceptional. He displayed great quickness and cutting ability, gaining 64 yards on 11 carries. He can serve as a dangerous weapon for Brady out of the backfield, so he needs to be on the field more often with the first-stringers. I can't imagine Bill Belichick keeping him sidelined for long. He's just way too talented.
Ryan Mallett played most of the second quarter. He went 8-of-19 for 89 yards and an interception that wasn't his fault (he was hit as he released the ball). Mallett had some impressive passes, but that's to be expected against a vanilla second-string defense in the preseason.
I mentioned earlier that Brady often had defenders in his face. Well, the Patriots also applied good pressure on Drew Brees. Brees wasn't on the field very much, but he was constantly under siege when he dropped back to throw. He finished just 1-of-4 for 4 yards.
Here were Brees' targets (one pass thrown away):
Darren Sproles: 1
Daniel Thomas: 1
Pierre Thomas: 1
Mark Ingram didn't play for precautionary reasons. This, however, didn't deter the Patriots' play-by-play announcer from saying that Ingram received a carry late in the first quarter. He praised how great Ingram was at Alabama. The problem was that the runner was Appalachian State's Travaris Cadet.
That wasn't the play-by-play guy's only error; he also said that the Saints beat Kansas City in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night. What the hell is going on here? The refs in the Falcons-Ravens contest confused Atlanta with Arizona, and now this guy can't differentiate between Arizona and Kansas City. Did everyone get stupid, or is this like a Twilight Zone episode and I'm the dumb one?
Ravens 31, Falcons 17
Falcons' sideline reporter Hans Heiserer (best name ever) said something curious to Mike Smith prior to kickoff. Prior to asking his question, Hans blurted out, "yet about another preseason has come and gone..."
Another preseason is gone? Already? Well, that makes sense if you look at how both coaches approached this game. Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta starters were on the field for the first 15 minutes, while Joe Flacco played into the second quarter. Though neither signal-caller suffered any sort of injury - it's worth noting that Flacco did take some tough hits - several other players got hurt.
Fifth-round rookie fullback Bradie Ewing was the first to go down for the Falcons. He endured a nasty knee injury on a special-teams play. And speaking of special teams, someone needs to ask Smith why his starting middle linebacker, Akeem Dent, was playing on special teams in the preseason. Dent took a shot to the head and suffered a concussion.
As for the Ravens, Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson figure to be out a few weeks with an ankle sprain and a shoulder malady, respectively.
Even with all of the injuries, the greatest take-away in the Baltimore-Atlanta contest is Julio Jones' breakout performance. Jones is a stud. He's big and fast, and he makes unbelievable catches and breaks tackles. He led the team with seven targets, catching six of them for 109 yards and a touchdown. Keep in mind that Jones' numbers were in just one quarter of work. Just for fun, if those stats are expanded over a full game, that's 24 receptions, 436 yards and four scores. Jones could very well be the No. 2 fantasy wideout this season behind only Calvin Johnson.
Matt Ryan was on fire versus Baltimore's defense in the preseason opener. He went 9-of-13 for 155 yards, one touchdown and a pick in just one quarter of work. The interception was bad; he stared down Roddy White deep in Ravens' territory. He was flawless otherwise though and looked like he was made for Dirk Koetter's offense. Ryan is definitely right with Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers as one of the third-tier quarterbacks.
Here were Ryan's targets:
Drew Davis: 1
Julio Jones: 7 (1 end zone)
Roddy White: 4
Michael Turner had some tough runs, gaining 17 yards on five carries. Jacquizz Rodgers, meanwhile, tallied 33 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts. Rodgers saw some action with the ones; in fact, that's when his score occurred. The Falcons gave him the ball at the goal line and he converted. Rodgers is well worth taking in the double-digit rounds as a running back with upside.
While Ryan was on fire, Joe Flacco wasn't very effective. He went 9-of-12 for 88 yards and a score, but those numbers are deceiving, given that he did most of his damage against the Atlanta reserves. Flacco had Jacoby Jones wide open for a 52-yard touchdown in the middle of the first quarter, but overthrew him by a mile. Flacco stated this offseason that he's the best quarterback in the NFL. Well, any elite signal-caller could have made that completion.
Here were Flacco's targets:
Anquan Boldin: 3 (1 end zone)
Ed Dickson: 2 (1 end zone)
Jacoby Jones: 2 (1 end zone)
Vonta Leach: 1
Torrey Smith: 4
It's a shame that Torrey Smith got hurt in his preseason debut. He looked to be Joe Flacco's favorite target until he sprained his ankle. There's a chance he could be ready for the opener.
Ray Rice barely touched the ball (3 carries, 4 yards), so the reserve running backs were able to make their case to be the top backup. Bernard Pierce didn't play, but Bobby Rainey helped himself more than any other player at his position. He was really impressive whenever he had the ball in his hands, gaining 36 rushing yards on 12 carries and catching three balls for 28 more yards. He's really elusive; he was able to dodge multiple defenders during his 18-yard receiving touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The replacement refs in this game were awful. The head official said "Arizona is charged with a timeout" in the first quarter. He later made the same mistake! In the third quarter, the refs had to blow a play dead because they allowed it to start before the chains were set. John Harbaugh was so pissed that it looked like he wanted to deck the one official he was barking at.
But I'm not sure if the officials were worse than the Falcons' play-by-play guy. I don't know what his name is, but he constantly bungled names, calling Billy Bajema "Billy Bejemeh," Tommy Streeter "Timmy Streeter" and Brendon Ayanbadejo "Brendon Ayanbad" (he apparently didn't see the "ejo" on the back of his jersey). And if that's not bad enough, he said that Michael Turner and Ray Rice are very similar running backs. How does this guy have a job?
Broncos 31, Bears 3
This game was all about Peyton Manning - not only because he was the headliner, but because Jay Cutler and Matt Forte didn't play. Brandon Marshall was in the game (1 catch, 4 yards), but the Bears aren't worth discussing very much because their starting backfield was comprised of Jason Campbell and Michael Bush.
Manning had an OK outing, finishing 4-of-7 for 44 yards and an interception that wasn't his fault (Brandon Stokley bobbled it). He also endured a dropped pass by Jacob Tamme and had an 11-yard completion overturned by a holding penalty.
Manning made some solid throws, but it was mostly short stuff. He also had a second interception dropped by a Chicago defender and overthrew Demaryius Thomas in the end zone; if he would have hit his young wideout for the touchdown, he wouldn't have tossed the pick. It's also worth noting that Manning wasn't hit, so we have yet to see how he'll respond to that.
Here were Manning's targets (he played only one drive, so it's not much of a sample size):
Lance Ball: 1
Eric Decker: 2
Brandon Stokley: 1
Jacob Tamme: 2
Demaryius Thomas: 2
I thought Willis McGahee looked really good in Denver's preseason opener. He had just four carries (16 yards), but he seemed like he was in great shape. He could score a ton of short touchdowns this year if Manning's neck holds up.
Ronnie Hillman did not play because of a hamstring concern.
None of the starters saw much action in this contest, so there's not much else to say. Alshon Jeffery had a really good debut, however. Playing with the second-string offense, he caught four balls for 35 yards. He also drew a pass-interference penalty. He should be able to break into the starting lineup sometime soon.
Some amusing things in this game:
- Caleb Hanie was booed by his former crowd. The fans also cheered whenever he tossed an incompletion. Poor Cal. He was so beloved in Chicago just 10 months ago.
- The play-by-play announcer tried to be clever right before kickoff but realized he screwed up halfway: "Peyton Manning has given up the horseshoe for... uhh... the Bronco."
- The color analyst followed that up with this gem: "I personally believe Peyton Manning will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer."
Way to go out on a limb there, buddy.
Chargers 21, Packers 13
With so many fantasy stars in this game, many expected big offensive numbers. Those, however, were nowhere to be found.
For instance, Ryan Mathews had just one carry for five yards in his preseason debut. He was not targeted. No, Norv Turner wasn't severely limiting his starting running back; Mathews suffered a shoulder injury and had to leave the contest on the first drive. The severity of the injury is unknown, but regardless, this is just yet another reminder that Mathews is made out of glass. He has enormous fantasy potential if he can stay healthy, but that doesn't seem likely to happen. Draft him at your own risk.
UPDATE: As I posted on Twitter @walterfootball: "Ryan Mathews with a broken clavicle. Out for six weeks. Shocker. He's made out of glass."
Philip Rivers played three drives and went 3-of-5 for 37 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The score was an impressive 23-yard strike to Antonio Gates, but the pick was a poor decision in which he forced a throw into Robert Meachem.
Here were Rivers' targets:
Ronnie Brown: 1
Malcom Floyd: 1
Antonio Gates: 2 (1 end zone)
Robert Meachem: 1
Antonio Gates looks great. He's completely healthy for the first time in years. He caught both of his targets in his preseason debut, collecting 29 yards and a touchdown. He's bound to have a big season - until his annual injury, of course.
Philip Rivers and Robert Meachem reportedly struggled to click in training camp, so it's no surprise that Rivers was picked the only time he targeted his new receiver. Meachem is not a good player, so I wouldn't expect him to have a good season.
Vincent Brown is a stud. He caught four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener. Most of this was in the second quarter from backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, but he definitely showed off his superior athleticism. It's just a matter of time before he's in the starting lineup ahead of Robert Meachem.
Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, seems like he struggled if you just look at his numbers. He went 2-of-8 for 16 yards and an interception. However, he was constantly under siege; he had to throw multiple passes away, while the pick occurred because he was hit when he released the ball. Rookie rush linebacker Melvin Ingram embarrassed left tackle Herb Taylor, which was the primary reason why Rodgers didn't have any time to find his receivers.
Here were Rodgers' targets:
Tom Crabtree: 1
James Jones: 2 (1 end zone)
James Starks: 1
James Starks did not have a good preseason debut. He rushed for 16 yards on five carries which doesn't sound too bad. However, he dropped a pass on the opening drive and then fumbled the ball away. On the bright side for Starks, Alex Green gained just three yards on three carries.
Some good news-bad news for Green Bay's defense. Well, more like good news and awful news. The former is that some of the young players stood out. Cornerback Davon House performed well, blanketing Malcom Floyd with a great pass break-up on one play. Rookie rush linebacker Nick Perry sacked Rivers on San Diego's opening drive, beating Jeromey Clary quite easily (which isn't too difficult). Perry was whistled for a ridiculous taunting penalty after the play.
The awful news, unfortunately, was an ugly injury to Desmond Bishop. The star inside linebacker couldn't put pressure on his leg and had to be helped off the field. Losing him would be huge.
I'd like to thank Mike Tirico for pointing out that there is a referee strike this season. News to me. OK, ending the obvious sarcasm. I really do wish ESPN would end its ridiculous insistence on reminding us about how there's a woman officiating football games. Who cares? What does it matter if she's a woman? If she does a good job, fine. If she sucks, then I will be berating her on this Web site - just like any other official. But why all the focus on her? The NBA has had female refs for a long time and no one makes a big deal about it anymore.
Saints 17, Cardinals 10
I'm not going to delve deeply into this game because I covered it in my 2012 Hall of Fame Game Live Blog. The biggest take-away though is that Kevin Kolb stinks. He went 1-for-4 for four yards and one interception. He has no pocket presence and struggles to make reads. He also gets hurt way too easily, as evidenced when he went down with a bruised vag rib contusion. John Skelton saw limited action in the Hall of Fame Game, but was much better than his counterpart, going 4-of-6 for 32 yards. There is no doubt that Skelton will be the starter at some point during the season. It needs to happen in Week 1.
Here were Kolb's targets (one pass was thrown away, which is why the math doesn't add up):
Andre Roberts: 2
Anthony Sherman: 1
And here were Skelton's targets:
Todd Heap: 1
Larry Fitzgerald: 1
William Powell: 1
Andre Roberts: 2
Anthony Sherman: 1
Michael Floyd made a really nice 15-yard reception in the Hall of Fame Game, but caught that from third-stringer Richard Bartel. He did nothing else, and he was clearly playing behind Andre Roberts. Floyd will pass Roberts eventually, but that may not happen until the middle of the season. Don't draft him as a fantasy sleeper.
Neither Chris Wells nor Ryan Williams played. Both are expected to suit up later in the preseason.
Drew Brees looked awesome in his one and only drive, going 4-of-5 for 41 yards. His decision-making was really sharp, though it has to be noted that he was going up against a vanilla Arizona defense that didn't seem too interested in tackling. It's still unclear how focused the Saints will be for their opener, but this game was a good sign.
Here were Brees' targets:
Devery Henderson: 1
Joseph Morgan: 1
Darren Sproles: 1
Pierre Thomas: 2
Mark Ingram ran really well in the Hall of Fame Game, gaining 14 yards on four carries. More importantly, he was used twice inside the 5-yard line, scoring from the 1. He's been going way too low in fantasy mock drafts - click the link to see a bunch of them - so try to target him around Round 6. He won't get too many carries because of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, but it appears as though he'll be New Orleans' goal-line hammer. He could hit double-digit touchdowns.
Will Smith's four-game suspension may not matter much because converted defensive end Martez Wilson looks like a stud. He caused havoc in Arizona's backfield whenever he was on the field, registering 1.5 sacks.