AFC East: 2013 preseason reax Week 1

Observation deck: Bills-Colts

August, 11, 2013

Observations from the Buffalo Bills' preseason-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts, a 44-20 victory:

Bills set franchise record for points: The Bills' 44 points set a franchise preseason record. Scoring came from all three phases of the game, including touchdowns on a 107-yard kickoff return from rookie Marquise Goodwin and a 17-yard interception return by cornerback Jumal Rolle.

Rookie quarterbacks impressive: With veteran Kevin Kolb serving as the emergency backup, the Bills had two rookie quarterbacks take all of snaps. EJ Manuel started and played the whole first half, while Jeff Tuel took over for the second half. Combined, they went 35-of-44 passing for 319 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Manuel was credited with a fumble on a botched handoff in the first quarter, while Tuel was strip-sacked early in the fourth quarter, with the Colts returning the fumble 72 yards for a touchdown. That play appeared close to being an incompletion, as Tuel's arm looked to be moving forward, but the result was upheld upon official review.

15 players on receiving stat sheet: Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett tested all parts of his team's passing offense, with 15 different players recording at least one catch in the contest. Wide receiver Marcus Easley led the way with seven catches for 94 yards. In the running game, C.J. Spiller was limited to just four carries early in the game but broke runs of 17 and 15 yards on the first two offensive plays for the Bills. The Bills kept up the tempo on offense, using the no-huddle even late in the fourth quarter.

Goodwin provides special teams spark: In addition to his 107-yard touchdown return in the second quarter, Goodwin got off to a fast start in the first quarter, returning a kickoff 53 yards. On both plays, his breakaway speed was hard to miss. There are always questions if a player like Goodwin, who had a 4.27-second 40-yard dash time, can translate his speed into the NFL. But on Sunday, he put special teams coaches across the NFL on notice.

Penalties, fumbles both issues: The Bills were penalized nine times for 74 yards compared to six flags against the Colts. In the first quarter, Goodwin was docked for unnecessary roughness, while cornerback Ron Brooks was flagged for taunting an opponent after a play. In the second half, offensive tackle Thomas Welch was penalized twice for holding. Added to four fumbles -- including a bad snap by backup center David Snow on 3rd-and-2 from the Colts' 11-yard line -- the mental lapses ensure head coach Doug Marrone will have plenty to pick apart with players in Monday's meetings.

Colin Brown gets nod: Left guard might be the most up-for-grabs position on the Bills roster, with the coaching staff making several changes at the spot through two weeks of training camp. On Sunday, Brown started and played the full first half, while Doug Legursky took over in the second half. The upcoming week in practice will shed light on how coaches feel each player performed in the opener.

Mario Williams starts, plays two series: Defensive end Williams had a slow start to training camp after telling team medical personnel that he had a sore foot. He hasn't gotten a full workload yet in practice but received the start Sunday and played two drives. On the second possession, Williams sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck for a 10-yard loss. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who has been eased back from Achilles surgery, also played just the first two series.

Injury update: While they had 11 players who did not dress due to injuries, the Bills had a relatively quiet game on the injury front. Welch left the game in the fourth quarter, and trainers appeared to be looking at his jaw on the sidelines.

What's next: The Bills travel back to St. John Fisher College tonight and will be back on the practice field Monday afternoon from 2:10 p.m. to 5:10 p.m. They play their next preseason game on Friday against the Minnesota Vikings at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What to watch revisited: Dolphins

August, 10, 2013
Entering Friday night’s preseason game against Jacksonville, I provided three key things to watch for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins won the game, 27-3.

Let’s take a look back at the exhibition game and how Miami performed in key areas.

1. Offense-line play: This has been the biggest issue for the Dolphins in training camp. There were some issues early, but the pass protection improved as the game went on. Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill got sacked on the first drive because of a miscommunication between center Mike Pouncey and right guard Josh Samuda. There were several other plays that broke down and forced Tannehill to scramble, but some of that was due to Tannehill holding the ball too long. The fourth drive had sterling blocking for the run and passing game, which led to an 80-yard touchdown drive.

2. Ryan Tannehill: Miami’s 2012 first-round pick had a shaky start to the preseason against Dallas. But Tannehill bounced back with a better outing against Jacksonville. He finished 5-of-9 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown throw to starting tight end Dustin Keller. The final drive was key for Tannehill; he completed three passes for 52 yards. His strong finish will at least quell some concerns for another week.

3. Tackling on defense: I was curious to see whether Miami’s poor tackling last weekend against the Cowboys was a one-game issue or a growing trend. It turns out Miami’s defense put those concerns to rest. The Dolphins’ starting defense played fast and flew to the football. Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert (19 yards, one interception) couldn’t get anything done against Miami’s defense. The second team and other backups also did a good job to preserve the lead and keep Jacksonville out of the end zone.

PHILADELPHIA -- Rapid reaction from the New England Patriots’ preseason opener against the Eagles, a 31-22 victory:

Good start for the top offense. The Patriots’ top offense couldn’t have had a much better night. Quarterback Tom Brady played 16 snaps and on the first play from scrimmage, out of a two-tight end set with Jake Ballard and Zach Sudfeld, running back Stevan Ridley burst up the middle for a 62-yard gain. It was a tone-setter, as the Patriots ran on every play of their 6-play opening touchdown march. On the second drive, which resulted in another touchdown, Brady was impressive through the air, with running back Shane Vereen's touchdown catch in the back left-hand corner of the end zone a beauty to cap it off. New faces, same explosive results. The second unit came on after the first two series.

Early entrance for Tim Tebow. The plan wasn’t for third-string quarterback Tim Tebow to come into the game late in the second quarter, but when top backup Ryan Mallett was knocked out with a head injury, Tebow entered with 1:22 remaining in the first half. He played the rest of the game, leading one touchdown drive, with the Patriots unveiling an offense with read-option concepts. That’s been one of the interesting parts of watching Tebow in practice, as he hasn’t always been running the traditional Patriots’ offense; Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett would almost never run a read-option offense. The Patriots could see value in that from a scout-team perspective, as they’ll see it this year from foes, which is a reminder that when judging Tebow’s performance it should be done outside the realm of the traditional Patriots’ attack.

Top defense with shades of '12 performance. The Patriots’ top defense played three series, for a total of 11 snaps. Things started somewhat similarly to what we saw last year from the unit, with the Eagles attacking early and scoring on a 47-yard long-bomb touchdown from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson. Cornerback Aqib Talib was in coverage. But the unit then forced a punt before defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and defensive end Chandler Jones combined on a strip sack recovered for a turnover. So some ups and downs for the top group. The big takeaway: Kelly looks like the surefire starter next to Wilfork at defensive tackle, and could be an upgrade over last year’s tandem of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.

Blount makes his case for RB spot. If there was one player who might not have been considered a roster lock who most improved his standing, running back LeGarrette Blount is a good choice. The 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser had a highlght-reel, zig-zagging 51-yard touchdown run against the Eagles' second-unit defense in the second quarter. Stevan Ridley was the Patriots' lead back, and projects to that role during the regular season, but Blount made a case to be a strong No. 2 option. The first-half running back snaps broke down this way: Vereen (16), Ridley (15), Leon Washington (7), Blount (5), Brandon Bolden (2). The Patriots could keep all five on the final roster given the special-teams value that Washington and Bolden provide.

Injury updates. Outside of Mallett, the Patriots' second-string quarterback who left late in the second quarter with a head injury and didn't return, there were no major injuries for the Patriots. Mallett watched the rest of the second half from the sideline.

Learning experience a good one for young pass-catchers. The Patriots played 46 offensive snaps in the first half, and with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson on for 26 of them, and rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on for 22, it was a reminder of how important the preseason is for players like them. The Patriots, as they have in training camp, threw them right into the mix. Sudfeld will score points for some nice hustle on Blount's 51-yard touchdown to help him earn his last 10 yards with a final block. Rookie receivers Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins (4 catches in 1st half) also played a lot. Some valuable tape for them to study.

Quick hits. Meaningful night for tight end Jake Ballard, who missed all of 2012 after undergoing serious knee surgery, as he played 12 of the first 16 snaps before his night was over. He might be the team's best blocking tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski. ... On defense, top draft pick Jamie Collins didn't play with the first unit. He was a weakside linebacker on the second-unit. ... The Patriots had 16 players who didn't suit up. ... Defensive end Marcus Benard was used as the first defensive end in sub packages, often rushing from an interior position. He's an under-the-radar player to watch in the weeks to come.

Rapid Reaction: Lions 26, Jets 17

August, 9, 2013

DETROIT -- The New York Jets opened the preseason Friday night with a 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Despite a killer interception, Mark Sanchez won the night over Geno Smith in the ballyhooed quarterback competition. Smith left in the third quarter after rolling his ankle. It doesn't appear serious, but he can't afford to miss any practice time.

What it means: As it stands now, Sanchez will be the opening-day starter. He gave as many points to the Lions as he produced for the Jets -- seven -- but he showed greater command than Smith, who delivered a nondescript performance in his NFL debut. Smith is doomed if he misses any practice time; it's almost impossible for a rookie to play catch-up in training camp.

Sanchez's night: It was the worst possible start for Sanchez, who threw a pick-six on the Jets' first series. Under pressure on a screen pass, he didn't put enough air under the pass and it was intercepted by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez has a maddening tendency to turn a safe pass into a calamity. In fact, he almost had another screen intercepted.

To Sanchez's credit, he responded to the disastrous start to finish 10-for-13 for 125 yards with a 26-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeff Cumberland. It culminated a seven-play, 80-yard drive, much of which came in the hurry-up offense. It was typical Sanchez -- some good, some ugly. Some things don't change.

Geno's night: Unlike Sanchez, Smith didn't make any horrible mistakes, but he also didn't bring any spark to the offense. The former West Virginia star, who got two series behind the starting offensive line, generated only one first down on his first three drives -- a 15-yard pass to Clyde Gates on his first play. Simply put, Smith didn't look ready to take over the team. He finished 6-for-7 for 47 yards. Smith came out on the first series of the third quarter, when he turned his right ankle on an open-field scramble.

Greg McElroy came in and did a nice job against the Lions' third-stringers, going 11-for-19 for 145 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to Zach Rogers.

Big-play tight ends: Dustin Keller is gone, but Cumberland and Kellen Winslow displayed playmaking ability. Winslow made a nice catch and run for 24 yards. Cumberland scored his touchdown on a deep seam, showing his ability to get vertical. It's too soon to say the Jets have two weapons at tight end, but it was a good start.

Another injured running back: John Griffin was carted off with a lower-leg injury. It didn't look good. Already down Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Joe McKnight, the Jets can't afford another injury in the backfield. Ivory (hamstring) is expected to return Sunday.

New-look defense: The Jets opened with seven new starters in the post-Darrelle Revis era. All things considered, the defense held up fairly well. Most of the starters played most of the first half, an unusually long stint for the first game, and allowed 10 points. Cornerback Darrin Walls, an early substitution for starter Antonio Cromartie, got beat on a 15-yard scoring pass. One player who jumped out was nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, who deflected a pass and held the point of attack. Safety Dawan Landry got beat once in coverage. Keep in mind that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played only two series.

The rookies: It was a so-so debut for top pick Dee Milliner, who started at corner in the base defense. He didn't have to cover all-world receiver Calvin Johnson -- Cromartie drew that assignment -- so that made life easier for Milliner. He had a nice pass breakup in the end zone, but he missed an open-field tackle and allowed a 27-yard reception. Milliner gets some slack, though, because he missed a lot of time and is rusty. It was a relatively quiet night for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Q report: Former first-round pick Quinton Coples, making the transition to outside linebacker, flashed good and bad on his first two plays. He deflected a pass on an outside rush, but he failed to set the edge on an outside run by Reggie Bush. Coples didn't move well in space. This will be an interesting position change.

What's ahead: The Jets return to Cortland, for four days of practice. They break camp Thursday and return to Florham Park, N.Y., where they will prepare for next Saturday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Jaguars

August, 9, 2013
The Miami Dolphins played in their second preseason game Friday night, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins won the game 27-3 and improved to 1-1 on the preseason.

But the result isn’t nearly as important as the individual performances in the preseason. Here are some observations on Miami:
  • Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a better night than he did in his preseason debut against the Dallas Cowboys. Tannehill started slow and had some shaky moments, but he finished strong. Tannehill’s final stats were 5-for-9 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown. Tannehill looked hurried but caught his stride in his fourth series when he led Miami to a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Tannehill made two big-time throws to Dustin Keller for 24 and 22 yards, the latter for a touchdown. Tannehill’s two passes are why a lot of people like his potential.
  • Both Miami starting receivers Mike Wallace (groin) and Brian Hartline (calf) dressed for their first preseason games. But neither receiver got many opportunities. Hartline had one reception for 9 yards and Wallace didn’t get a reception.
  • Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller played in the game despite suffering an ankle injury in practice this week. Miller rushed for 6 yards on two carries and also had a reception for 6 yards. Miller has run well in limited opportunities this season, but he’s had a history of injuries. Miami’s coaching staff needs to be careful about his preseason workload.
  • Miami’s defense was improved this week. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe made his Dolphins debut and flashed with some good plays. The tackling also was improved. So that won’t be a big topic of discussion next week. The starters and backups all did a good job to keep Jacksonville out of the end zone the entire night.
  • A player who helped himself significantly Friday was backup cornerback Nolan Carroll. He got a nice interception off Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert and returned it 22 yards to set up Miami’s second touchdown. Carroll is on the roster bubble and trying to claim one of those final roster spots at corner.
  • Miami rookie cornerback Will Davis may be the team’s most improved player in recent weeks. Davis was getting torched in the first half of training camp. But in the past week or so, the light has really come on and Davis is making plays. Davis got an impressive third-quarter interception where he outjumped the Jacksonville receiver. Davis also picked off Tannehill twice in practice on Tuesday, so this was a fitting cap to a good week.
  • Finally, it also was a good night for Dolphins rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday. He nailed field goals of 58 and 36 yards, made three extra points and produced four touchbacks on kickoffs. This was the first NFL game for Sturgis. He is competing with veteran incumbent Dan Carpenter for Miami’s kicking job. But Sturgis is the favorite because his salary is significantly less in 2013. Sturgis widened the lead after this debut performance.

Overall, it was a much better night for Miami compared to the Hall of Fame Game last Sunday. Miami will have its third preseason game Aug. 17 against the Houston Texans.