AFC East: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 2 Observation Deck

Observation Deck: Buffalo Bills

August, 8, 2014

Put Sammy Watkins on the board. After Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was unable to connect with his rookie receiver in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game, Manuel found Watkins three times early in the Bills' 20-18 win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night. Manuel's 9-for-13 outing was part of an improved effort from the Bills' first-team offense, which reached the red zone twice in their three drives in the game.

Here are some thoughts on the Bills' preseason win:
  • The Bills' defense got back on track with their third, final drive of the game, forcing a three-and-out. Outside of the Panthers' touchdown drive Friday night, the Bills' first-team defense has allowed six total yards on its other four series this preseason. It starts up front, where the defensive line continues to live up to its billing as the NFL's best.
  • The Bills have question marks along their offensive line, so it came as no surprise that four of its starters -- besides center Eric Wood -- played deep into the first half. Cyril Richardson, who continued to rotate with Kraig Urbik at right guard, had a miscue that led to a Greg Hardy sack in the first quarter. Left guard Chris Williams, a veteran addition this offseason, also had a noticeable slip-up on a third down in the second quarter when Manuel was still on the field.
  • After Jeff Tuel replaced Manuel in Sunday's opener, Thad Lewis was the Bills' top backup Friday. That was likely the case of the Bills wanting to give Lewis -- who is locked in a battle with Tuel -- some reps with the second team. Lewis went 6-for-11 and wasn't able to move the ball before handing it over to Tuel. However, the results weren't much better for Tuel, who overthrew Marcus Easley and was intercepted on his third pass. Tuel finished 4-for-5, tossing a late one-yard touchdown pass to Chris Summers.

Observation Deck: Miami Dolphins

August, 8, 2014

The big story going into Friday's preseason opener for the Miami Dolphins was the debut of Bill Lazor's offense. The Dolphins hired Lazor this offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles to improve Miami's 27th-ranked offense.

It turns out Lazor's offense got off to a nice start. The Dolphins, led by third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, easily marched down the field for a 73-yard touchdown drive to highlight their 16-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Tannehill was 6-for-6 passing for 62 yards and a touchdown on the first drive. His passer rating was 149.3 and he couldn't have had a better start.

Miami's coaches pulled Tannehill after his stellar first drive, which surely will build confidence. Tannehill and Lazor are perhaps the biggest keys to getting Miami over the hump this season.

Here are some other thoughts on the Dolphins' first preseason game of the year:
  • For an offense to have a successful scoring drive, the line must be effective. Miami's first-team offensive line, with five new starters, held up well on the opening drive. Tannehill was not sacked on the 10-play drive. New center Samson Satele got the start after just three practices and held his own. Friday was a very small sample size for Miami's first-team offensive line, but it was promising.
  • Miami's first-team defense didn't get off to an impressive start. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan carved up Miami's defense by going 7-for-7 for 53 yards on the Falcons' touchdown drive. The Dolphins struggled with tackling and penalties on the drive, which was an issue at times for Miami's defense last season. This is an area where the Dolphins must improve.
  • Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry has been the talk of training camp. Landry also flashed in Friday's exhibition opener with a 48-yard punt return to set up a second-quarter field goal. Landry also had a 26-yard kickoff return. The rookie is competing with return specialist Marcus Thigpen for both spots on special teams as well as the slot receiver position.
  • Another player who showed up well was 2013 third-round cornerback Will Davis. Atlanta backup quarterback T.J. Yates tested Davis often but without a lot of success. Davis had three passes defended in the game. Davis is competing to be Miami's third cornerback behind starters Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan.
  • The Dolphins played second-year defensive end Dion Jordan a lot in this preseason opener. Jordan is in an interesting situation because he must serve a four-game suspension to start the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. The Dolphins played Jordan in the first three quarters with the first team and the backups. He finished with one tackle. Miami is trying to get Jordan enough reps that he will be ready after his suspension is over at the end of September.

Observation Deck: New York Jets

August, 7, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets signed Michael Vick to "push" Geno Smith, according to the company line. He's pushing, all right.

Vick sparked the starting offense to its only touchdown in a 13-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts Thursday night at MetLife Stadium. Vick, who replaced Smith in the second quarter, led a 14-play, 80-yard drive in his only series with the first team. Vick's performance doesn't change the quarterback dynamic -- Smith still is the frontrunner -- but he's definitely keeping the pressure on. The rest of the offense? Ugly. It actually faced a third-and-42.

Here are some other thoughts on the Jets' first preseason game:
  • Smith (4-for-6, 33 yards) didn't do anything to hurt his chances, but he also failed to lead the offense to a touchdown in his two series. Rex Ryan said he wanted to see some production, meaning touchdowns. Smith & Co. came away with a field goal. The offense had some problems in third-and-long situations, ultimately stalling its first two drives. Smith found Eric Decker twice, connected with Jeff Cumberland on a nice 11-yard completion over the middle and ran for 10 yards on a read-option -- the highlights. There weren't any lowlights (no turnovers), but Smith didn't grab the job by the throat.
  • It was vintage Vick. He ran a little, threw a little and brought energy to the offense. He scrambled for 15 yards on a third-and-9 and converted third- and fourth-down passes to Jace Amaro and Tommy Bohanon, respectively. As expected, Vick (3-for-6, 17 yards) looked comfortable in Marty Mornhinweg's offense, seeing the entire field and following his reads. Things fell apart in his second series, but it came behind the second-team line, which struggled in pass protection. In practice, Vick has received only 20 percent of the first-team reps. It'll be interesting to see if the split changes in Week 2 of the preseason. It shouldn't; Smith needs as much work as possible.
  • The Jets' running-back depth, one of the strengths of the team, may have taken a hit. Chris Ivory suffered a rib injury in the first half and didn't return. Bilal Powell still is nursing a hamstring injury, leaving Chris Johnson as the only healthy, proven back. In his Jets debut, Johnson looked a bit rusty, frankly. He dropped a pass as the third-down back and lacked burst, rushing for only two yards on four carries. The former 2,000-yard rusher scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting back on an inside run -- his signature moment. There's no reason to be alarmed. Remember, he's only seven months removed from knee surgery. Truth be told, the entire rushing attack was stuck in quick sand.
  • Biggest question mark entering camp? Cornerback. After one game, it's a bigger question mark. Dimitri Patterson didn't make anyone forget Darrelle Revis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or any of the other free-agent corners the Jets didn't sign. The well-traveled Patterson gave too much cushion on a couple of plays, allowed a 45-yard reception and was flagged for holding. This looms as a serious concern, considering the number of high-powered passing attacks on the early schedule. Dee Milliner played well, breaking up two pass plays, but you need more than one corner. Yes, the Jets are formidable up front, but opponents will spread them out and play dink-and-dunk. The first-team defense was shaky, allowing an 80-yard touchdown drive to the Colts' backups.