NFC East: 2013 preseason reaction Week 3
August, 24, 2013
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It sure looked as though it would be David Wilson's night when the explosive second-year back ran 84 yards for a touchdown on the New York Giants' first play from scrimmage. And there's no denying Wilson's rare ability as a runner. He can make things happen that most other running backs can't when he has his hands on the ball.
Wilson got only four more carries in the rest of the Giants' 24-21 preseason overtime loss to the New York Jets, while Andre Brown got seven. And I'm interested to see the snap-count numbers, because I believe Brown was on the field considerably more in the first half than Wilson was (neither played in the second). Of the eight third-down plays the Giants ran in the first half, Brown was the lone halfback on six of them, Wilson on one and both were in on one. Brown was also on the field (and Wilson on the sideline) for all four of the plays the Giants ran inside the Jets' 10-yard line. And in the second quarter, he got the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as well.
What's it mean? Well, I think the reason Brown was getting the third-down work Sunday night and again Saturday was because the Giants trust him more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. And I wonder if he started getting the early-down work for the same reason, because Eli Manning looked uncharacteristically uneasy in the first quarter behind a revamped offensive line that lost starters David Baas and David Diehl to injury in the Colts game Sunday. It's possible the Giants put Brown in because they're worried the depleted line can't protect Manning sufficiently right now, and if that concern were to linger into the regular season, Brown could end up getting first-down and second-down carries even then.
It's a real conundrum, because the Giants can't ignore what Wilson offers them as a runner, but their No. 1 priority is absolutely the protection of Manning. It's possible they do trust Wilson in pass protection more than it appears and they're giving Brown all the extra work in an effort to preserve Wilson for the season. But they weren't preserving any of their other starters in the first half Saturday night, and I know they like the way Brown has run the ball this summer. So this remains a situation worth watching closely when the regular season begins.
Anyway, here are some other things I took away from an unnecessarily late night at the Meadowlands:
- The knee injury to starting safety Stevie Brown could be pretty serious. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he didn't have any new information after the game, but he also said, "I feel bad for Stevie. He's been a tremendous addition to our team, and the guy has another interception and then that happens." Brown, who had eight interceptions last season and is one of the Giants' projected starting safeties this season as a result, appeared to go down without being hit while returning an interception in the first quarter. He'll surely have an MRI on Monday, and the Giants will hope the news isn't as bad as they fear.
- Cornerback Jayron Hosley also left the game in the first quarter with an injury the team called an ankle sprain. He'll surely find his way into an MRI tube on Monday as well.
- I'm not sure how Coughlin could watch the Jets and think he has problems, but he was sure upset about the way his offense performed in this game. Manning was 8-for-20 for 83 yards. The ground game averaged 2.5 yards per carry if you take out Wilson's first run (though, on the plus side, it was 6.0 yards per carry if you don't!). They were 3-for-18 on third downs. They allowed four sacks. They couldn't get in on four tries at the goal line. "It's very obvious that, in all three areas, we're not doing what we need to do on the offensive end," Coughlin said. "We've got work to do."
- Jim Cordle played center in place of the injured Baas and got run over a couple of times, most notably by Sheldon Richardson on a play that resulted in a sack of Manning. Cordle said he struggled with the twists and other wrinkles the Jets front was throwing at the Giants. "Some of it was stuff I hadn't seen, but most of it was stuff we had seen and you've just got to reach a little bit faster," Cordle said. First-round pick Justin Pugh looked passable at right tackle, but there were communication issues along the line all night, as you'd expect with so much change in a short period of time.
- Terrell Thomas got "20-plus plays," mostly as the nickel cornerback, in his first game action in two years. Thomas, who's recovering from two surgeries on the anterior cruciate ligament his right knee in the past two years, said he felt great playing again and will continue to build strength and confidence. Still no way to be sure what role, if any, he has on this season's team. The injuries to Brown and Hosley could conceivably create opportunities for him, though, if he shows he can play at a high enough level.
- Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks wasn't on the same page with Manning all night, but he did make a one-handed circus catch along the sideline while being blatantly interfered with by Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson. And he delivered a key block on the edge to help spring Wilson on his big run. Nicks is the total package at wide receiver, and the most important thing for the Giants about him Saturday night was that he said he felt healthy.
- Ryan Torain was the running back getting all of the carries once the second half started. The Giants like him as a pass protector as well.
- Former Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who had brain surgery a year and a half ago after collapsing on the field during an Eagles training camp practice in 2011, looked impressive for the second game in a row. The defensive tackle play in general was a bright spot, and Patterson looks like a guy who deserves a spot in the rotation.
- Finally, a word on the concept of overtime in the preseason: seriously? What a farce. In this era of supposed emphasis on player safety, the Giants and the Jets played half of an extra period to decide a winner in a game that doesn't count. Giants cornerback Laron Scott even got injured on a play in the overtime. I'd say the NFL needs to make a new rule that says preseason games can't go to overtime, but I'm astounded to learn that wasn't a rule already. It's preposterous that they'd even consider playing overtime in the preseason. Overtime is a mechanism for determining a winner in a game that ends in a tie. Preseason games do not require winners. Therefore, they do not require overtime. Pretty simple. Preseason overtime is one of the stupidest NFL things I've ever heard of. And you know, if you read me regularly, that I have a long list.
Anyway, I'll check in with you next week. Hope you enjoyed this game more than I did.
August, 24, 2013
By John Keim | ESPN.com
Highlights from the Washington Redskins’ 30-7 win over Buffalo on Saturday, their third straight in the preseason. Somewhere, Don Shula’s boys are getting nervous. Or not. Anyway, here you go:
- The running game was terrific, but I need to start with the defense. Yes, the Bills have some issues at quarterback. Kevin Kolb was knocked from the game, but he’s at best an average quarterback. Still, the Bills want to play at a fast tempo and it’s not just about passing the ball; they want to run the ball a lot, too. But the Redskins’ defense forced two three-and-outs in addition to a 10-play drive (aided by a third-down penalty on David Amerson). It would have been good to see the Redskins’ defense face this attack longer, to get a better feel because it can wear teams down. However, the Redskins handled this attack well and one reason was linebacker London Fletcher. To a man, players talk about how communication and conditioning are key to battling that offense. The Bills typically snapped the ball with 20-23 seconds left on the play clock. Yet the Redskins’ D did not look confused or lost. They subbed and were able to use their base and nickel packages. “London is the calming force of the defense,” Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. “You feed off his confidence and getting the calls. That tempo is trying to catch you with everyone not communicating. That’s how big plays happen.” By the way, Buffalo managed a first down on only three of 12 series and none in the second half, though when Jeff Tuel is your quarterback for most of the game, that's bound to happen.
- It can’t be underestimated how important it is to have someone like Fletcher on the field. It doesn’t mean mistakes won’ t happen; it does mean that they can minimize those mistakes because of his knowledge. “He’s a coach out there and even with the short amount of time we had to get up, we were able to get the calls out and get lined up,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. I haven’t asked Fletcher about this, but there’s little doubt that he’s watched film of Oregon and of Philadelphia in preparation for the opener, and probably has for a while. There’s still no voice in the defensive room that players trust more than Fletcher.
- I know one growing trend in the NFL is the use of packaged plays in which the quarterback has the option to either hand off or throw – and only he knows what he’s going to do. Buffalo does that; Philadelphia will do some of that. And Saturday, the Redskins scored a touchdown in that situation. They don’t do this a lot, but it’s certainly not foreign to them. They scored a touchdown two years ago versus Minnesota in this fashion to receiver Jabar Gaffney, and their first drive against New Orleans in the 2012 opener featured several such plays. Anyway, against Buffalo, Rex Grossman spotted the safety in a spot that left him vulnerable – up near the line on the right side. Typically, the safety would have been where receiver Pierre Garcon was headed on his slant. Grossman knew what to do. Watch the offensive linemen on this play– everyone was blocking for a zone run to the right; left tackle Trent Williams went for the linebacker. Grossman stepped that way but threw the slant to Garcon for an easy score. The corner had no shot at making the play – and even gestured to the safety at the end. Don’t blame him at all. “I knew we would get a blitz or he would drop out of leverage,” Grossman said of the safety. A good call and an easy touchdown.
- It’s a shame about Richard Crawford on many levels. It leaves the Redskins in a bind for punt returner. I wrote about this elsewhere on the site, but the options are veterans such as Santana Moss and DeAngelo Hall. However, coach Mike Shanahan does not like to use key players in this role, and both would qualify. Besides, Moss has not returned a punt since 2009, and Hall has four returns in five seasons. There’s also Aldrick Robinson, who was bad in this role two preseasons ago and didn’t show a lot of improvement last summer. Can they really trust him? Skye Dawson has looked better since two disastrous returns in the opener (a fumble and a bad decision to reverse field). Anyway, Crawford is one of the Redskins smarter players; he’s always struck me as a future coach because of the way he thinks and understands the game. And he had improved a decent amount this summer – after spending the spring working with Redskins Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green. Mostly, this is about Crawford’s returns and I liked how comfortable he was fielding the ball. It looked natural and he (usually) made the first defender miss.
- Another option is Chris Thompson. There’s much that I like about Thompson and what he offers, and yet there are two major issues that just won’t go away: durability and ball security. I was pleasantly surprised how he looked fielding the ball. In practice a week or two ago Thompson did not look smooth at all; he twisted his hands awkwardly catching it on the run to his left and he fought the ball other times. However, he looked much different Saturday. “When I got back there I was pretty calm,” he said. It showed. He ran up and caught one on his 31-yard return. He had to backpedal and grab another one and moved to the side. Still, he’s only fielded three punts in a game since high school. It’s hard to imagine they can trust him with ball security at this point. But they absolutely love his speed and his sharp cuts in the open field. Some of this talk makes him sound like Brandon Banks, though Thompson is loads ahead when it comes to character.
- Now, for Thompson’s runs from scrimmage. The fumbles are an issue, and it’s clear he’s still adjusting to running in this offense. Of his 15 carries, none went for more than 9 yards. There were some positive signs: He did not dance around, and when he saw the opening he cut up and took what was there. Liked on a 5-yard run in the fourth how patient he was running to his left, then cutting up and running into the gut of a linebacker, moving him back a yard. He only averaged 2.9 yards per run and I’m curious to see when rewatching the game what sort of holes he really had. I saw good signs. However, those fumbles are killers. He showed resiliency in what he did after the fumbles and that’s good. (He actually carried the ball in his left hand on a run to the right, his first after the fumble. Why? Because he's left-hand dominant and felt more secure with the ball in that hand.) But he’s fumbled twice in two preseason games. If you’re going to do that, you’d better make a few really big plays. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Can he make the roster? Yes, because the coaches love his speed and he can develop. But he has not yet earned it with his performance (just remember, though, two years ago that Banks had not really earned it either until a big preseason finale).
- I liked how rookie tight end Jordan Reed played after a tough debut versus Pittsburgh. In that game, he dropped a pass and struggled as a blocker. Saturday, Reed caught the ball well and blocked even better. Reed competes hard, one reason he’s further ahead as a blocker than the coaches had hoped or realized he would be at this stage. On Keiland Williams’ 23-yard run it was Reed who cleared an opening by driving a linebacker out of the way. It wasn’t his only good block, but it was one good example. He used his hands better and was a little quicker with his feet getting in position. I also like that he makes smooth catches on balls that would be a little tougher for most players of his size at his position. I don’t know when he’ll make an impact, but I like his potential.
- Another guy who deserves credit: safety Bacarri Rambo. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him after the game, but you saw one reason why the coaches really like him: The ability to quickly learn. With the tackles it was all about angles rather than desire and after working on it even harder this week, there was a big improvement. Should you be completely comfortable yet with him? No. Even Sean Taylor needed to adjust to this during games; I remember asking Gregg Williams about Taylor’s open-field tackling as a rookie. The difference for Rambo tonight is that he didn’t hesitate. He was decisive and it showed. He tackled running back C.J. Spiller in the open field. Rambo also tackled Kolb in the open field. OK, Kolb isn’t Mike Vick. But what Rambo needed was some confidence in this area, and he received it Saturday. The coaches even gave Rambo extra time when the other starters were out, a smart move. They need him to be solid in this area. One game doesn’t make or break anyone – good or bad – but it was a positive step.
- The Pat White show continues. Does it mean he’ll win a roster spot here? Not unless the Redskins do the unlikely and keep four quarterbacks. And while he’s done a nice job running the zone read plays, keep in mind what separated Robert Griffin III on these plays was his ability to provide a triple threat: run, hand off or throw. White hasn’t shown he can be consistent throwing the ball from this look. White has improved greatly since we first saw him in spring workouts and if nothing else he’s shown that if and when he’s cut, it would be wise for someone else to at least take a look. His passing is still inconsistent and while he’s good throwing slants – hitting guys in stride – he has trouble on out routes. Before I go crazy on him I’d like to see consistency throwing into different areas and against different looks. But for a guy out of football for three years White has been far from an embarrassment and has provided jolts of energy on the field. He was very patient on his touchdown run, allowing fullback Darrel Young to do his job and then following behind. It’s just too bad for the Redskins that White is ineligible for the practice squad. White is behind Grossman; that touch throw to Roy Helu on the wheel route was very, very nice by Grossman. Maybe White gets there someday but he’s not close to those types of plays yet. Still, he’s improved.
- Finally, running back Roy Helu showed once again what he can do in the open field. As a running back there are still times I’m not in love with him. He gets the yards that are available too often whereas Alfred Morris creates more yards for himself. Morris did just that on his first three runs; each one went for longer than it should have because of his vision or his cuts or all of the above. His patience is exemplary. Helu is learning how to run with a little more patience. He didn’t always set up blockers. But one of Helu’s best runs, a 12-yarder, also coincided with a major negative – a fumble. However, the run was good as Helu pressed the hole well and got the linebackers to overflow to their right. A big cutback lane opened and Helu took advantage. Lucky for him, he recovered his own fumble. On the next play, you saw the dangerous Helu: his footwork was sharp as he was forced to cut a yard or two deep in the backfield because of pressure. Then he made a quick jump cut outside; all tight end Niles Paul had to do was obstruct his man and he did. Helu bounced wide for 17 yards. There’s a big difference between Helu and Morris, but both can be dangerous when used properly. If Helu gets 10 touches a game he will provide some big plays. If you put him on the field in passing situations with tight end Fred Davis and receiver Pierre Garcon and use play action… one of them will get wide open. Get a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker, as Helu did, and it can result in a wheel route and long completion. I’m not about to say this will be the most explosive offense ever, but a healthy Helu certainly provides more options and added firepower.
August, 24, 2013
By Phil Sheridan | ESPN.com
The Philadelphia Eagles returned to the site of their Super Bowl XXXIX loss for a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the ghosts of 2012, not 2004, that haunted their starters in a come-from-behind 31-24 win. Some thoughts:
" The third preseason game had some of the flavor of a regular-season game. The Eagles had better hope that flavor was pure vanilla.
It would take some of the sting out of the Eagles’ ragged offensive play if coach Chip Kelly was holding back most of the good stuff in his playbook. If not, there was some real reason for concern here.
For starters, Michael Vick looked very much like the guy who held the Eagles’ starting-quarterback job the last two years rather than the guy who was competing for it in the first two preseason games. Vick threw two terrible passes off his back foot (well, he was almost on his back the second time) while under pressure. One was intercepted, the other was ruled a sack. That sack came late in the first half when the Eagles needed to take advantage of a long return by Damaris Johnson.
Vick completed 13 of 15 passes for 199 yards while competing with Nick Foles in the first two preseason games. After being named the starter, he completed 15 of 23 for 184 yards, one TD and one INT.
" There was little evidence of the go-go pace that Kelly demands from his offense. The Eagles did not huddle, but there were long delays as plays were signaled in and the players sorted themselves out into the proper alignments. Vick has not really executed that fastbreak offense in this preseason. On the play before that late first-half sack, the ball was snapped with one second left on the play clock. Vick ran around, couldn’t find a receiver and threw the ball away.
" Last year, running back Bryce Brown showed amazing quickness to the corner but came down with a bad case of the fumbles. In the third quarter, Brown sped around the right corner, then fumbled the ball through the end zone for a turnover. The fumble killed an opportunity for the Eagles to answer the Jaguars’ long, second half-opening TD drive. Brown ran four yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
" That late TD came at the end of the Eagles’ best sustained drive of the game to that point. Foles was at quarterback for that one. Foles also managed the uptempo, go-ahead scoring drive that began on the Eagles 1 and ended with a Chris Polk TD run.
Foles completed 10 of 11 passes for 112 yards. To be fair, the Jaguars backups were playing defense on both of those drives.
" For the first time, the offensive line was complete. Left tackle Jason Peters took the field for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. For the first time, however, the line looked confused and unable to figure out its assignments. Early on, especially, Vick seldom had a clean pocket and resorted to running for his life. That has been a bad combination over the past few years, with Vick turning the ball over or getting hurt with great frequency.
" The Eagles defense had some great moments. Connor Barwin batted a pass in the air and caught it as he landed on his back. That gave the offense great field position, which Vick took advantage of for the first team’s only touchdown. Barwin, Trent Cole, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks all disrupted the Jaguars offense at different times.
" The Eagles defense had some very 2012 moments. Chad Henne carved the Birds up on Jacksonville’s first possession. It ended with a blown coverage: Henne found Justin Blackmon all alone between safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. It looked like many of the league-high 33 passing TDs allowed by the Eagles last season.
" Jordan Todman’s 63-yard touchdown run was another bad flashback to 2012. Todman ran off left tackle, then cut to his right. Both Eagles safeties, Patrick Chung and rookie Earl Wolff, took terrible angles and were unable to slow him down, let alone hit him. Todman got outside to the right and was gone.
Wolff replaced the mediocre Nate Allen in the first half but did little to stand out in a positive way. Kenny Phillips, the free agent brought in to challenge Allen for the starting job, said he expected to play after dealing with a sore quadriceps. Phillips did not play. Considering Chung’s performance on the Blackmon and Todman TDs, there is real concern about both safety spots.
" Return man Damaris Johnson had an eventful night. He fumbled the ball away on a punt return, then got stopped inside his own 10 on a kickoff return. Later, he broke two long returns, 61 yards on a kickoff and 37 on a punt. The Eagles would love the undersized wideout to provide big-play potential on returns so they can avoid putting DeSean Jackson at risk.