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Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Seven-step drop

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are seven notes and observations from the second week of preseason games:









Chris Gardner/US Presswire



Ziggy Hood collected two sacks last Saturday against the Redskins.


A rookie who is quietly having a great preseason is Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood. He recorded a sack in his preseason debut against the Arizona Cardinals and added two more sacks last Saturday in a 17-13 loss to the Washington Redskins. Hood is fitting right in with Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme and is expected to be the first defensive end off the bench this season. The early returns indicate that Hood is prepared to fill that role. It was surprising to see the Steelers commit so many mental errors against Washington. Pittsburgh committed 13 penalties for 89 yards, and many came in the first half when the starters were on the field. Maybe it was the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Achilles). Maybe it was the foggy conditions. But whether it's a legitimate concern or just an anomaly might be something to monitor in the final two preseason games. The chemistry between Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and top receiver Derrick Mason has returned quickly. Mason missed an early portion of training camp due to a brief retirement. But in the second preseason game it looked like old times as Mason caught three passes for 68 yards in a 24-23 victory over the New York Jets. Mason and Flacco orchestrated a beautiful double-route where Flacco had to pump to bait the secondary, then place the football in the open area of the defense for a 43-yard gain. Although it was just one play, it displayed the type of chemistry often required by some of the top QB-WR tandems. The Ravens will have a quick turnaround for the final two exhibition games. After a short week, the Ravens will be back on the field Saturday in Carolina to play the Panthers. Their next game also will be on the road against the Atlanta Falcons five days later on Sept. 3. The Ravens will try to get a lot of practice in very little time before those two games. But after that period, Baltimore will have 10 days to prepare for its regular-season debut against the Kansas City Chiefs. Is it too early to worry about the running game of the Cincinnati Bengals? There are some early warning signs that this could be an issue. Starting tailback Cedric Benson is off to a slow start, recording just 56 yards on 18 carries in two preseason games. He's averaging 3.1 yards per attempt and also fumbled twice, losing one. It's only the preseason. But if the Bengals want to compete in the AFC North this year, they will have to do a much running the football. Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini employed an interesting mental strategy with Derek Anderson that paid off last week. Despite committing to rotating his starting quarterbacks earlier in the preseason, Mangini briefly reneged on that commitment after Anderson went 0-for-2 with an interception against the Green Bay Packers. That kept Anderson sharp and competitive during the week. So when Mangini went back to his original plan and named Anderson the starter, he was ready and responded with 130 yards passing to place himself firmly back in the quarterback race. Browns rookie tailback James Davis continues to make a strong impression. Davis created significant buzz in the spring and summer, and last weekend he rushed for 116 yards on 12 carries against the Detroit Lions. Davis likely moved ahead of Jerome Harrison, who has been injured, for the backup role behind starter Jamal Lewis with that performance. Both Harrison and Davis have the ability to make the big runs but will need to work on their blitz pickups in passing situation. Davis has the most potential in that regard, which is another reason Mangini could feel more inclined to give Davis the second-team reps.