AFC East: Victor Cruz

AFC East Preseason Stock Watch

August, 19, 2012
Week 2 of the preseason is nearly in the books. The New England Patriots still have their game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

But here is a look at whose stock is rising and falling this preseason in the AFC East:


1. New York Jets RT Wayne Hunter: One of the biggest offseason mysteries is why the Jets didn't do enough to find a replacement for Hunter. He struggled mightily last year. Yet, New York didn't draft a top right tackle or sign one in free agency. Hunter made his 2012 preseason debut and looked much like he did in 2011, allowing two easy sacks to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Hunter also allowed a third sack to Osi Umenyiora, but it was called back on a defensive penalty. Things became so bad that Hunter was trending on Twitter at one point last night. If the Jets continue to stick with Hunter, it could be bad news for the Jets' offense and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.

2. First-quarter defenses: We won't overrate the preseason. But the first-string defenses from the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have been a bit concerning. The Dolphins have allowed 24 first-quarter points the past two preseason games. They can't get off the field. Granted, Miami linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett and defensive end Cameron Wake were out Friday, but Tampa Bay had success as well. This group says it wants to be a top-10 defense and needs to play much better. Buffalo has been healthy but the starters allowed 10 unanswered points in the first quarter; opponents have scored 17 first-quarter points in two preseason games. The Bills need to do a better job of setting the tone and can't assume they can turn it on Week 1 against the Jets.

3. Matt Moore, Dolphins quarterback: Moore was the favorite to win Miami's quarterback job when the offseason began. He was the incumbent who had the health advantage over David Garrard and experience advantage over rookie Ryan Tannehill. But once all three quarterbacks took the practice field, it was clear Moore was falling behind. Garrard got the nod in the opener and Tannehill earned a chance to start over the weekend against Carolina. Moore hasn't done well in practices or games. He was 5-for-15 for 57 yards against the Carolina Panthers. Overall, Moore is 12-of-27 for 136 yards and an interception.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
AP Photo/Genevieve RossSolid work against Minnesota boosted Vince Young's shot at landing the Bills' backup job.

1. Vince Young, Bills quarterback: Young came out as the big winner in Buffalo's 36-14 loss to Minnesota, taking a big step in his quest to win the No. 2 quarterback job by completing 8 of 14 passes for 123 yards. It also didn't hurt that his competition -- Tyler Thigpen -- threw his second interception of the preseason. Buffalo most likely will keep only one of these quarterbacks, and it appears Young has the inside track with two preseason games left.

2. LaRon Landry, Jets safety: The Jets brought in Landry this offseason to be an enforcer. He showed flashes of it Saturday night with some big plays against the Giants. Landry laid the lumber on Giants receiver Victor Cruz and also recorded his first interception of the preseason. It was a solid showing for Landry, who must stay healthy this year.

3. New England's return game: The Patriots didn't need more assistance scoring points. But they might have got it with the signing of former Florida running back and Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps. New England beat out the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and others for the speedster. The Patriots appear fine at running back, but where Demps may be able to contribute the most right away is returning kicks. Better field position for quarterback Tom Brady and Co. could mean more points.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC East: Morning take: I don't like to overrate the preseason, but the Dolphins are pretty much showing what I expected. I predicted Miami won't win more than six games this year, because there are too many holes. The Dolphins have yet to prove otherwise.
  • The Buffalo Bills also are winless in the preseason, but they look ahead to a big week.
Morning take: Their third preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the "dress rehearsal" game. This is Buffalo's last chance to get in a lot of work before facing the New York Jets in the regular-season opener.
  • Will Jets safety LaRon Landry get fined for his hit Saturday night on Giants receiver Victor Cruz?
Morning take: The play was not dirty. Landry was just trying to make a big hit, which he is known for. But it’s hard to pinpoint what the league does with fines, so it’s always possible.
  • New England Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd continues to work with quarterback Tom Brady.
Morning take: It's important that both players get their chemistry down. This could be a top deep threat in the AFC East.
NFL Films does a wonderful job replaying live sound from the previous week's games. That is why I was interested to hear what players and coaches had to say during Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.

It was an emotional game where momentum swung from New York to New England and back to New York. The Giants won the game, 21-17. But there were two very interesting tidbits I took from New England's perspective.

First, following a fourth-quarter drop by Patriots receiver Wes Welker, NFL referee John Parry said to another official: "That was the game." Keep in mind New England was winning, 17-15, late and was about to punt the ball deep in New York's territory.

It showed even officials involved in the Super Bowl knew that New England's 31st-ranked defense wasn't going to make a big stop to win a championship. The ref's thought process at that moment wasn't any different from the media and fans who closely watched the Patriots all season.

Second, on New York's final drive, Patriots coach Bill Belichick encouraged his defense to let the Giants throw to Mario Manningham, who made the big 38-yard grab to get New York's Super Bowl-winning drive started.

"This is still a [Victor] Cruz and [Hakeem] Nicks game," Belichick said on the sidelines. "I know we're right on them. It's tight but those are still the guys. Make them go to Manningham, make them go to [Bear] Pascoe. Let's make sure we get Cruz and Nicks."

The Patriots were a team this season that thrived and executed under pressure. But these fourth-quarter mishaps by Welker and Belichick/New England's defense were the difference in Super Bowl XLVI.

Observation deck: Jets-Giants

August, 16, 2010
Let the record show the New York Giants defeated the New York Jets 31-16 in the first game played in the new Meadowlands stadium.

But the game didn't count.

What does count are revelations from the preseason opener.

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireLaDainian Tomlinson rushed eight times for 17 yards and caught a 14-yard pass in his preseason debut with the Jets.
1. Mark Sanchez performed pretty well. All in all, Sanchez had a nice night. He forced his first pass to LaDainian Tomlinson in tight coverage. The ball was deflected and turned into an interception. But Sanchez, who had five multi-turnover games last year, rebounded. He conducted two methodical scoring drives: 14 plays for 68 yards and a touchdown against the Giants' first-team defense and 10 plays for 69 yards and a field goal against the second-team. Sanchez finished 13-of-17 for 119 yards and a 90.1 passer rating.

2. Rex Ryan made some curious decisions about playing time. Most of the Jets' starters played the entire first half, an unusually long night for a preseason opener. Although Ryan already has designated free-agent signee Mark Brunell the second-string quarterback, Kellen Clemens relieved Sanchez to start the third quarter. Clemens completed seven of his 10 throws for 84 yards.

3. Jets cornerbacks better not get hurt. While the Jets probably can make do with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Dwight Lowery as long as Darrelle Revis continues holding out, Jim Sorgi and undrafted rookie Victor Cruz lit up the Jets secondary in the second half. Cruz beat Lowery for a 64-yard touchdown, but needed to make a sensational, one-handed grab to pull it off. But in the fourth quarter Cruz torched Drew Coleman for a 34-yard touchdown and outfought Marquice Cole for a 5-yard score.

4. The offense wasn't run-dominant. Are the days of "ground and pound" over? The Jets ran 28 times and passed 43 times. Even before the Jets' final, desperation drive, they'd run 27 times and passed 32 times. Santonio Holmes had four catches, while Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith had three apiece.

5. Shonn Greene ran hard. Even though All-Pro center Nick Mangold had the night off and greenhorn Matt Slauson started at left guard, Greene plowed forth for 26 yards on five carries in one quarter of work. He had runs of 8 and 7 yards.

6. Tomlinson didn't look old to me. His numbers weren't prolific, eight carries for 17 yards and one catch for 14 yards. But Tomlinson didn't look over the hill. He showed a burst on a 14-yard would-be touchdown run that was nullified by a holding penalty.

7. Cromartie should have had two interceptions. His coverage was oppressive, but you'd like to see him come down with at least one of the two passes he could have picked off.

8. Dustin Keller was a popular target for Sanchez. Don’t forget about the third-year tight end when considering the Jets' various offensive weapons. After a relatively quiet regular season, Keller caught a touchdown pass in each of the Jets' three postseason games. It looks like he's very much in their plans this year. On their first-quarter touchdown drive, Sanchez threw to Keller four times (one was wiped out by a penalty), connecting twice for 19 yards.

9. Nick Folk remains a question mark. Ryan publicly ridiculed Folk's erratic leg in OTAs, but lately has been expressing faith in his new kicker. Folk, released by the Dallas Cowboys last year after an ugly stretch of games, converted his first three field-goal attempts from 36, 22 and 36 yards. Then he missed from 46 yards.