AFC South: 2013 preseason reaction Week 2

Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
12:06
AM ET

The transition to being more of a run-oriented team is still a work in progress for the Indianapolis Colts.

That’s understandable when the quarterback is Andrew Luck, who set three rookie passing records last season.

Indianapolis gained 22 yards on eight rushes while Luck was in the game during their 20-12 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

That stat is misleading. Luck gained 14 yards scrambling on one play. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that means the Colts gained a total of eight yards on their seven other rushes.

Ouch.

The Colts have attempted 19 passes and 11 runs in two preseason games with Luck on the field.

Establishing the run will make things easier for Luck. The Colts want to avoid having him throw the ball 50 times a game, and it’ll open things up for opportunities downfield, especially once Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) joins Vick Ballard in the backfield.

Luck played like he's ready for the regular season against the Giants. He also had some good fortune.

Luck was under pressure when he threw a pass that should have been intercepted by Giants cornerback Aaron Ross. Ross hit the ball up in the air and Reggie Wayne, for whom the pass was intended, also tapped the ball in the air before coming down with it in the end zone.

Luck finished 9-of-13, including completing nine of his last 10 attempts, for 107 yards, two touchdowns and no sacks. Luck’s second touchdown to T.Y. Hilton was perfectly thrown right out of the reach of the Giants defender. Hilton showed off his footwork by keeping both feet in bounds.

Luck completed passes to four different players, including his top three receivers Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Hilton (four catches, 42 yards).

The Colts finished the game with more rush attempts -- 33 for 88 yards -- than pass attempts -- 28.

Other observations:
  • Two of general manager Ryan Grigson’s free-agent signings had impressive performances. Linebacker Erik Walden (six tackles) easily beat Giants tackle David Diehl for a sack on Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the second quarter. The Colts are looking for another player besides Robert Mathis to put pressure on the quarterback. Cornerback Greg Toler came underneath and intercepted a Manning pass intended for Hakeem Nicks. Toler’s aggressiveness isn’t surprising. That’s how the Colts secondary has played throughout camp.
  • After spending the first quarter not getting any pressure on the quarterback, the Colts finally got it going after Walden’s sack. They finished with six sacks. Linebacker Caesar Rayford and defensive end Drake Nevis each had two sacks. Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters after the game that Rayford, a former Arena Football League player, will make things difficult once it’s time to trim the roster down.
  • Tight end Coby Fleener's preseason hasn’t gone well. He left the game with a sprained knee. The sprained knee added to another unimpressive performance. He dropped what should have been a long catch and run from Luck in the first quarter. Then, he wasn’t looking for the ball coming across the middle on a pass from backup Matt Hasselbeck in the second quarter. Sunday’s performance added to to his fumble, dropped touchdown and concussion during the Aug. 11 game against Buffalo. The Colts have high hopes for Fleener and fellow second-year tight end Dwayne Allen this season. Allen is out with a foot injury and Fleener can’t hold onto the ball to go with his now sprained knee. That’s not good.
  • Rookie linebacker Bjoern Werner had an impact in his preseason debut. He made a tackle for a 4-yard loss and barely missed out on a sack. Werner is making the transition from playing on the defensive line at Florida State to being a rushing linebacker.
  • Veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri used his 40-year-old leg to nail a 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter. The 52-yarder was Vinatieri’s longest since he made a 53-yard kick against Tennessee last season.

HOUSTON -- Last season it was against Miami that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had his swat-ridden coming-out party.

Sure, Watt had already started to become a star as a rookie, when he returned that interception for a touchdown against the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs. But he tipped three of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passes in the 2012 season opener and completely changed the complexion of the game.

It seemed like a series of flukey plays. We all learned shortly thereafter that tipped passes by Watt were no fluke.

This time around, in their preseason meeting, the Texans opted to limit Watt, who departed the game much earlier than most of his defensive teammates. Watt said that was the Texans' plan heading into the game. He played two snaps.

"I like not showing everything I'll have during the season," Watt said.

He also said he felt like a caged animal.

"I missed the whole preseason last year," Watt said. "So I'm not worried about missing a couple snaps here and there."

Here are a few more observations from Saturday night's game, which the Texans won 24-17:
  • I've gone as long as I can without mentioning the backup-quarterback battle. Case Keenum played first after starter Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates played next. Keenum had a solid outing. Statistically, he threw 18 passes, completed 11 and threw a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean midway through the second quarter. Deep balls have been one of Keenum's strengths this preseason. He finished with a respectable 150 yards and a 106.2 passer rating. Yates looked better when he came in next. The Texans ran the ball a little more with Yates in at quarterback. He threw half as many passes but completed 7 of his 9 attempts. He was smooth under pressure and played like a guy with more experience. Yates finished with 84 yards, a touchdown and a 142.6 passer rating.
  • DeAndre Hopkins caught two passes for 22 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. Texans coach Gary Kubiak doesn't seem overly concerned about Hopkins. "I don't know exactly what play it happened on, but I thought something was wrong," Kubiak said. "I told [receivers coach Larry Kirksey] to get him out of there and then we checked him out. He's fine now, he's doing fine. But we're obviously going to put him through the protocol."
  • An underrated matchup in this game from an entertainment standpoint was Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito vs. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. Last year when the two faced each other, Smith complained about Incognito's tactics; he said Incognito twisted his ankle. The film supported the fact that Incognito was doing something to Smith's ankle. The league responded by fining Smith, not Incognito, a hefty $21,000 for kicking Incognito. The fine was later reduced after Smith appealed, contending he had no choice in order to get Incognito off his leg. Tonight they met again and grappled a bit. Incognito grabbed Smith's facemask during one play and held on, then at one point appeared to swing his arm at Smith. Smith, clearly frustrated, ripped off Incognito's helmet and swung it at him. Asked about the meeting after the game, Smith said, "Next question. I kind of took a blow to the head. I can't remember."
  • The Texans have a strange attraction to tight ends from the University of Wisconsin. And it's working out pretty well for them. "It's great, it's great," said Owen Daniels, the elder statesman of the Wisconsin tight ends. "We've got three on the roster right now. Myself, G and Byrnie. It's great having those guys contribute." G, of course, is Garrett Graham. Byrnie (and I have no idea how that nickname is spelled) is Jake Byrne, a first-year tight end. Graham had a fantastic game and is going to be a really good player for the Texans this year. "Oh, he's picked up where he left off last year," Daniels said. "He helped us out a lot last year. This year he's going to get more opportunities to make plays without James [Casey] being here. He's grown a lot the last couple years. You see what he's doing out there, he's working really hard."
  • After a disappointing training camp, fourth-round draft pick Trevardo Williams seemed to release some frustration in the fourth quarter when he notched sacks on consecutive plays. Williams and fellow outside linebacker, third-round pick Sam Montgomery both fell behind during camp. Two undrafted rookies, Justin Tuggle and Willie Jefferson, jumped ahead of them on the depth chart. Tuggle started and played nearly the entire game. Kubiak talked after the game about Williams needing something to regain confidence. "Sometimes as a rookie you are just swimming in information. When you just throw them out there, sometimes their talents take over."
  • This quote from Kubiak stood out to me and is not good news for cornerback Brandon Harris, who was a second-round draft pick in 2011: "I would say Bouye, Roc and Brandon, that is a very competitive environment going on right there." Harris played a little bit of safety Saturday night after the Texans lost safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Now he's apparently competing with A.J. Bouye, a standout undrafted rookie, and Roc Carmichael, who was inactive for the first 10 games of last season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars stuck with Blaine Gabbert as their starter at quarterback in preseason game No. 2.

Part of why, it now appears, is because they were ready to put him in a no-huddle offense, force the pace against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium and see if the offense couldn’t work more effectively with an appearance by running back Maurice Jones-Drew and a contribution from receiver Justin Blackmon.

Gabbert was excellent, with 13 completions in 16 attempts for 165 yards, a touchdown to tight end Allen Reisner and a 130.5 passer rating. He threw on the move, he threw in the face of pressure when he had to, he threw to people who made plays for him. He carried himself confidently, rarely huddling, and running plays that seemed to offer him quick and simple decisions.

Chad Henne took over with 5:34 on the clock in the second quarter. On his final play, Gabbert banged his thumb on defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. He was shaking his hand as he headed for the sideline, and according to tweets from several who covered the game in person, coach Gus Bradley said X-rays of the quarterback’s right thumb were negative. It’s a sprain and he’ll be evaluated further on Sunday.

It was 10-10 when he left the game, and with him at quarterback the Jags converted five of seven third downs.

Against a better opponent who is not surprised by the hurry-up and who will have game-planned more for Gabbert, can he do similar things? We’ll have to wait for the answer to that. We don’t want to give too much weight to less than a half of a preseason game. But still, there is a lot more reason to think it could be a yes than there was before this game.

A few other thoughts on Jets 37, Jaguars 13:
  • The Jags failed to convert the final three third downs they faced in the first half, when Henne had replaced Gabbert. But the first two were runs, they went for it on the fourth down that followed and they converted both.
  • In 16 minutes of play, the Jaguars had eight penalties for 63 yards. While the hurry-up caught the Jets off guard, it may have also thrown the Jaguars off a bit in this department. The pace of the Jacksonville offense didn’t have a bearing on consecutive neutral-zone infractions against defensive linemen Jason Babin and Sen’Derrick Marks. The Jaguars finished with 12 penalties for 100 yards.
  • Blackmon was very good, with four catches on five targets for 46 yards. He ran well with the ball in his hands on a couple of quick receiver screens. They are going to miss him during his four-game suspension to start the season. But once he and Cecil Shorts (who didn’t play) are on the field together, they should be a formidable duo. Mix in rookie Ace Sanders who flashed some in this game and there is plenty of reason for encouragement. Sanders caught Gabbert’s first pass, a 35-yarder down the middle.
  • Timing wasn’t great for rookie safety John Cyprien, who just started practicing on Monday after an offseason hamstring injury. He fell down on the Jets first touchdown, a 23-yard pass from Mark Sanchez to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But even if Cyprien has stayed on his feet, he would have gotten beat on the play.
  • Jones-Drew got three carries for 9 yards and took a little pass 20 yards. The Jags got him out quickly after his first game action since Oct. 21, 2012. Jordan Todman had some quality carries as the next in line – at least one was undone by a penalty and rookie Denard Robinson showed off his speed before he was slowed in the second half. Neither had a good stat line in the end.
  • The Jets got effective work out of Bilal Powell when the running back fielded direct snaps. He took one 37 yards as offensive lineman Willie Colon swallowed up Marks to create a big hole. Powell finished with 68 yards on seven carries.
  • Sanchez and Matt Simms were each sacked once. Jeremy Mincey had the first, sticking with it on a deep drop for Sanchez and ultimately pushing back fullback Tommy Bohanon. Mincey has bulked up so he can play some tackle, and he should beat a fullback. Also of note on the D-line: Continued silence and invisibility from end Andre Branch. His stat line included just one tackle, on special teams.

Quarterback Jake Locker played a confident and efficient first-half. The run game looked good again. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey turned a triple play with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all in one swoop.

Those were encouraging developments.

That was about it for the front-liners, and those positives were swallowed up by a pretty lengthy list of bad stuff for the Tennessee Titans in preseason game No. 2, a 27-19 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday night.

A look at much of what went wrong:

Third-and-long failures. Tennessee allowed Cincinnati to convert third-and-longs and string together three long drives before halftime as the Bengals built a 17-3 lead. The headliner in third-down defensive gaffes was strong safety Bernard Pollard. He and nickelback Coty Sensabaugh missed chances to tackle Mohamed Sanu on a 24-yard catch and run to the 1-yard line that set up Cincinnati’s first score. A bit later, Pollard couldn’t bring down a crossing Brandon Tate, who ran away from him for another third-and-long conversion.

Injuries. Both strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers (right ankle) and wide receiver Kendall Wright (knee) rode a cart to the locker room after suffering first-half injuries. Both rank high on the list of players the Titans can least afford to be without. The Titans don’t have a quality, big linebacker backup for Ayers and Wright is probably the most unique receiver on the team. Ayers was on the sideline in the second half, not in a walking boot per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean on Twitter.

Drops. Receiver Nate Washington could have made a tough catch at the goal line. He was well covered by Adam Jones for a while, but the ball looked like it went through his hands. Receiver Kenny Britt let a good throw from Locker bounce off his hands. Undrafted tight end Jack Doyle had a terrible drop on what should have been an easy catch for a good gain.

Run defense. Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard looked very good (seven carries for 37 yards). He took one carry 22 yards and went the same distance for his one catch. Bernard got a lot of his work on one drive and looked to tire out the Titans' defense. On a Cedric Peerman run, the Titans missed two chances at a tackle for a loss (linebacker Patrick Bailey and defensive end Ropati Pitoitua), allowing him to escape outside.

Missing kicks: After moving ahead 3-0, the Titans missed three field goals in a row, with two of the off-target kicks coming from Rob Bironas and another from Maikon Bonani. It’s bad enough that the Titans had to settle for field goals. Bironas hooked the first miss wide-left, and the second went wide-right. The usually reliable Bironas missed time recently with a back issue and this was his first preseason action. Hopefully for Tennessee, his problems were related to rustiness.

Solid fade: The Bengals got a very nice Andy Dalton throw and Sanu catch on a 2-yard fade in the back left of the end zone. Tommie Campbell wasn’t as bad as he was in the preseason opener, and he had a good play on him here. He did get his hands on Sanu early, but Sanu just made a good play. That said, he didn’t look to seize the job in this game. Alterraun Verner made two plays in the first five minutes of the second half. Forget the physical attributes. Verner is a just better football player who understands the game better and has superior instincts.

The second half: The second and third teams fared better and produced a couple of touchdowns. One gaffe of note early in the fourth quarter, however: Right end Scott Solomon crashed to the middle of the field rather than containing on his side. Young Bengals running back Dan Herron reversed course and ran to where Solomon should have been. The result was a 39-yard touchdown scamper that wound up providing the winning margin.

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