NFL Nation: 081012 preseason obs

NFL teams have long sought hard-hitting safeties to deter receivers from making catches over the middle of the field.

Wilson
Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals has been one such safety for more than a decade.

The rules have changed, however, and players such as Wilson walk a finer line when determining how to serve as a deterrent without inviting penalties and fines.

The hit Wilson delivered Friday night against Kansas City Chiefs receiver Terrance Copper provides another test case. At first glance, Wilson did what every team has wanted its safeties to do for decades. He held the opposing team accountable for lofting a high pass over the middle. Copper leaped for the ball, his body suspended in a jumping-jack position as gravity pulled him back toward the ground, where Wilson was waiting.

Copper never had a chance to defend himself from contact. In a split second, the ball sailed past him by about five yards and Wilson lowered his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame into a crouching position. As Copper landed, Wilson's left shoulder and upper arm struck him in the torso area near the elbow. The impact catapulted Copper into the air and onto his back.

Replacement officials working the game did not penalize Wilson. Copper knelt for a few seconds after the play before going down onto his hands and knees, where he remained for another 70 seconds or so. Three members of the Chiefs' training/medical staff tended to him during that time. Copper eventually walked off the field.

Will the NFL fine Wilson? A few things to consider:
  • Copper was a defenseless player;
  • Rules allow defenders to hit defenseless players as long as the defenders do not initiate contact with their helmets, and as long as defenders do not strike the defenseless players in the head or neck area;
  • Wilson did not use his helmet to deliver the blow;
  • Wilson did not strike Copper in the head or neck area.

By these measures, the hit on Copper was a legal one. The only uncertainty, in my view, involves the timing. The pass from Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn was high and slightly behind Copper. The ball had gone past Copper when Wilson delivered the hit.

As the rulebook states, "It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture."
Starting left guard Travelle Wharton suffered a season-ending knee injury during Friday night's preseason-opening 17-6 victory against the Jets, a source told ESPN's John Clayton. Wharton, 31, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract in March, is done after playing three snaps.

The loss of Wharton hurts the Bengals' plans of getting their running game on track. Last season, the Bengals averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Cincinnati replaced Cedric Benson with BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back, but the addition of Wharton was almost as important in recharging the running game.

Cincinnati's biggest weakness was running the ball up the middle, where the 320-pound Wharton was going to make a real push. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals averaged 3.3 yards in between the tackles (30th in the NFL) and scored three touchdowns up the middle (tied for 21st).

The Bengals made Wharton their first free-agent signing this year because his strength was run blocking. And Green-Ellis, who excels at running inside, would've been following Wharton more often than cutting to the outside.

Cincinnati will also miss Wharton's experience. He has started 99 games over the past eight seasons. Now, the Bengals are expected to turn to Clint Boling, a 2011 fourth-round pick who has three career starts.
Here are some thoughts from the Chiefs’ 27-17 home win over Arizona:

Last year, the Chiefs were awful in the preseason and it spilled over to a horrible start to the regular season. If the first preseason game in 2012 is any indication, the Chiefs are heading into the regular season on the right track.

Kansas City looked crisp and executed beautifully under coach Romeo Crennel, who finished the 2011 season as the Chiefs’ interim head coach.

Kansas City’s first-unit offense staked the Chiefs to a 14-0 lead.

The most maligned Chief of them all, quarterback Matt Cassel, led the way as he completed 5-of-6 passes for 67 yards. The team’s first series were an impressive 12-play, 72-yard drive.

Running back Peyton Hillis had 41 yards on four carries and Jamaal Charles had 12 yards on three runs in his return from an ACL injury.

It was a terrific start to Brian Daboll’s tenure as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator and it shows Kansas City’s offense is well on pace for the start of the regular season.

“It’s definitely meaningful. Coach Crennel has been preaching all camp long to get off to a good start,” Cassel said. “That’s exactly what we came out and accomplished tonight. I think offensively, defensively and special teams got off to a great start. I think that gives us momentum going forward. But again, we know it’s only the first preseason game. We’ve got a ways to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do. There will be a lot of corrections made tomorrow. But, at the same time, I was proud of how everybody came out and got off to a good start today.”

Kansas City’s first-team defense also did well as the Chiefs ran out to a 17-0 lead.

Crennel said first-round pick Dontari Poe made some nice progress Friday night. Still, Poe didn’t do much against an undrafted rookie on an Arizona scoring drive.

Crennel said there were no injuries of note, which is a nice change in Kansas City.

Like Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki got some good work in their first game coming back from torn ACLs.

I would think Brady Quinn will remain the backup quarterback for the second week of the preseason. Quinn completed 7-of-13 passes for 81 yards and he did have an interception. Ricky Stanzi was 2-of-7 for 42 yards.

There appears to be no movement in the holdout of receiver Dwayne Bowe. He flew to Kansas City on Friday and there was an unsubstantiated report he was ending his holdout. But that has not happened.

New cornerback Stanford Routt was called for pass interference. He led the NFL with 17 penalties while with Oakland last season.

Fourth-round pick, receiver Devon Wylie, ripped off a nice 33-yard punt return.

Tackle turned tight end Steve Maneri had three catches for 69 yards.
There are no blockers or play-action fakes to deal with when prospective NFL athletes compete at the scouting combine each February.

That helps explain why Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook could not catch San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a 78-yard touchdown run Friday night.

Officials clocked Cook at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the 2010 combine. Kaepernick ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds the following year, an outstanding time for a quarterback.

Kaepernick was already approaching full stride when Cook disengaged from the man blocking him (Brett Swain) to give chase after the 49ers' backup quarterback fooled the Vikings' defense with a designed run off play-action. That put Cook at a clear disadvantage even though he had perhaps a one-yard head start.

Still, with 70 yards remaining til the end zone, most cornerbacks would like their chances against most quarterbacks in that situation.

Kaepernick is not most quarterbacks, of course. He rushed for more than 4,000 yards at Nevada. He was one of four quarterbacks at the 2011 combine to break 4.6 seconds in the 40. Tyrod Taylor (4.51), Jake Locker (4.59) and Cam Newton (4.59) were the others.

Cook was close to catching Kaepernick near the goal line, but Kaepernick held him off with his arm and made one last cut to ensure safe travel to the end zone.

That is one fast quarterback.

Preseason: Up and down for Vikings

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
10:29
AM ET
Reviewing Friday's action at Candlestick Park:

San Francisco 49ers 17, Minnesota Vikings 6

Preseason record: 0-1
Of interest: Quarterback Christian Ponder had a solid preseason debut, completing a 52-yard deep post to receiver Stephen Burton -- who started for an inactive Percy Harvin -- and moving the team in position for two field goals. Ponder completed 4-of-9 passes overall, but two clearly qualified as drops by Burton and receiver Jerome Simpson. His chemistry with tight end Kyle Rudolph was clear. … The defense played without defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield, all of whom were healthy scratches, and was gashed in the running game, giving up nearly 200 yards in the first half alone. Brandon Jacobs hit them for a 23-yard gain, Rock Cartwright had a 19-yarder and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran 78 yards for a touchdown. Safety Mistral Raymond took a poor angle on Jacobs' run, and cornerback Chris Cook couldn't tackle Kaepernick near the end of his run. … Rookie placekicker Blair Walsh drilled attempts from 39 and 26 yards and also had two touchbacks. … Nose tackle Letroy Guion suffered a knee injury that likely will sideline him for a few weeks. … The scattered performance of backup quarterback Joe Webb was concerning. The Vikings have limited him to quarterback this summer, electing against using him at other positions, but thus far he appears to have taken a step back if anything.

Local coverage: The Vikings need to elevate rookie safety Harrison Smith to the first team, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The Vikings left Webb in for nearly half the game, likely hoping he'd end on a high note. But his last two possessions ended in incompletions on third down." … Ponder, via Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune: "I thought it was a pretty good start. Obviously we’d rather come out with touchdowns rather than two field goals. But I thought we moved the ball pretty well against a good defense. A lot of positives. It also gives us a lot of film to look at come Sunday." … It's possible that tailback Adrian Peterson could be activated to the roster as early as Sunday, notes Pelissero.

Up next: Friday, Aug. 17 against the Buffalo Bills

Preseason: Sluggish Lions start

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
10:16
AM ET
Reviewing Friday's action at Ford Field:

Cleveland Browns 19, Detroit Lions 17

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: Coach Jim Schwartz expressed disappointment about the overall play, but I interpreted that sentiment to higher expectations as a franchise. This was a typical, sloppy opening preseason game. … Defensive end Willie Young made a nice early play to strip Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, and rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley had an active and ultimately encouraging outing, recovering from an early 34-yard completion against him to get in position for two interceptions. He made one and dropped another that probably would have gone for a touchdown, but Bentley didn't seem to do anything to threaten his position with the first team. … The safety position remains a weak spot, as Amari Spievey sat out because of concussion-like symptoms. Remember, Spievey missed a portion of the offseason program because of headaches stemming from a concussion he suffered in January. … The first-team offense didn't score in three series, two of which ended in punts and one by a Matthew Stafford interception that should never have been thrown. … Those around the country who are rooting for rookie quarterback Kellen Moore to make the team didn't see a lot to be encouraged by. Moore completed 4-of-14 passes and continues to display an arm that doesn't appear to have enough zip, at least at the moment, to make it in the NFL. … Receiver Titus Young didn't play because of the expected birth of his child. … Say what you want about the Browns' run defense, but the Lions rushed for nearly 200 yards. Joique Bell registered 89 yards on 16 carries, while Keiland Williams added 71 on nine carries.

Local coverage: Schwartz via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Let's be clear, preseason games, we don't use them as a barometer and they don't count. But you want to play well. Win or lose, you want to play well, and I don't think we played well. We didn't play well on offense, on defense, special teams, from the beginning to the very end. And again, we had a chance." … Early returns on the Lions' offensive backfield were encouraging, writes Rod Beard of the Detroit News. … Schwartz had a tough assessment of Bentley, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "It's too inconsistent play for a cornerback. Give up the deep ball -- that's something that we shouldn't allow to happen -- and we were 50 percent on making interceptions. I don't think that's a good day at all for what he can do. I mean, he has a chance, if he knocks the deep ball away and makes two interceptions in this game, to have done something for himself. Fifty-50 isn't going to get it done." … Don't be concerned about the first-team offense, writes Birkett of the Free Press. … The Lions have stirred up the populace, writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.

Up next: Friday, Aug. 17 at the Baltimore Ravens

Three things revisited: Vikings-49ers

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
12:24
AM ET

Looking back upon three things discussed here before the 49ers' 17-6 exhibition victory Friday at home against Minnesota:

1. Pass protection. No real concerns here. I listed this subject first in our preview only because quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick took a pounding from the blitz-happy New Orleans Saints in the 2011 exhibition opener. In this game, Smith completed all three attempts for 16 yards and a touchdown to Brett Swain. He was not sacked. The running game dominated. Pass protection benefited from the balance. The 49ers' offense was exponentially better in this game than in their opener a year ago.

2. New life at running back. With starter Frank Gore sitting out, the 49ers got runs of at least 11 yards from Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and even fullback Rock Cartwright. Jacobs was effective in short-yardage situations, including a fourth-and-1 during the opening drive to a touchdown. Fullback Bruce Miller did a good job clearing holes in two-back groupings. New right guard Alex Boone caught my attention with aggressive blocking in the run game. The 49ers got exactly what they wanted from their backup runners in this game. San Francisco finished with 42 carries for 260 yards.

3. Backup QB race. Kaepernick dazzled with a 78-yard touchdown run on a designed keeper out of the no-huddle offense. That play showed why the 49ers will probably design a few special plays for Kaepernick even as Smith remains the starter. It showed why Kaepernick has a chance to become a dynamic running quarterback. It showed why the 49ers' offense will likely change fundamentally if Kaepernick is the quarterback. Kaepernick completed 5 of 9 passes for 40 yards. He found rookie A.J. Jenkins for a 15-yard gain. Kaepernick appeared late in delivering another pass. Kaepernick's presumed competition for the No. 2 job, Josh Johnson, took over late. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 30 yards. Scott Tolzien got into the game before Johnson. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 84 yards and a pick. On one play, Tolzien stood firm in the pocket and drove the ball to tight end Garrett Celek over the middle.

Observation deck: Giants-Jaguars

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
12:00
AM ET

This was one of the preseasoniest preseason games any of us has ever seen. The New York Giants' 32-31 exhibition loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Friday night was by turns sloppy, silly and downright ugly for both teams. Blown coverages, muffed punts and the sad struggles of the nervous, overmatched replacement officials made this a game that showed exactly why there's nearly a full month left before the start of the regular season -- because everybody needs that time.

All of that said, though, the Giants got some long looks at a few key players who are likely to factor into their 2012 regular season. And that's what this is all about. We draw no long-range conclusions from these ridiculous games. We merely observe, report and discuss. So please bear that in mind as you read.

1. There's lots to like about David Wilson. He's no threat to Ahmad Bradshaw's job security, but Wilson looks like a dangerous dude with the ball in his hands. His speed is legitimate, and likely the main reason he was used on kick returns. And it helped him break a few runs. He had a really interesting statistical night -- 43 yards on seven carries for an impressive 6.1 yards-per-carry average. But these were the lengths of his seven runs, in chronological order: 0, 26, minus-5, 17, minus-1, 6, 0. That's some variety right there, and it would appear to be evidence of a work in progress. Wilson is capable of big things as a first-rounder should be, but he has some things he needs to refine. The Giants have a high-caliber starting running back in Bradshaw, and right now Wilson may be behind D.J. Ware as well. But as he progress with his vision, his cuts and his pass protection, he should be able to move up quickly and maybe even become the Giants' No. 2 back at some point this season. He also caught two passes for 26 yards, which is important to note, as the Giants like to use their running backs as receivers in the screen game.

2. Prince Amukamara isn't all the way there yet. His highlight play was an outstanding forced fumble, which I really liked because he didn't just sell out for the strip, but actually had his other armed wrapped around the ballcarrier's shoulder. Going for the turnover without sacrificing tackling technique -- a rare sight and the mark of a sound and smart player. Unfortunately by that point in the game, Amukamara had already been burned twice in coverage, including for a touchdown, and coverage is the more important part of his game. With Terrell Thomas continuing to struggle with knee issues, Amukamara is a starting cornerback for the Giants right now, and needs to do better in the coming weeks if the Giants are to feel good about starting the year that way.

3. A Black Unicorn sighting. Tight end Martellus Bennett has made headlines since arriving in New York for the interesting things he's called himself in group interviews. But he caught all three balls thrown to him Friday night, including a 12-yard touchdown from David Carr. The Giants got him mainly to help as a blocker in the run game, and he (as well as fullback Henry Hynoski) offered plenty of proof Friday that they can help there. But if he can be a legitimate threat to catch the ball, that's a huge bonus for the Giants. We shall see. He had some big August games in Dallas, too. The more important thing is that he's always been a good blocker, and the run game needs that.

4. The No. 3 receiver battle. It was interesting that Ramses Barden got the start due to a Domenik Hixon hamstring injury. Whichever of these receiver candidates is working with Eli Manning on a given night is automatically going to have an advantage, and Barden was the lucky guy in this one. He had a 14-yard catch early in the game and looked good using his big body to shield the defender from the ball. Jerrel Jernigan might have had a touchdown catch, but his right arm was held by the defensive back and so he had to try (unsuccessfully) to catch the ball only with his left hand. And rookie Rueben Randle looked good late, using his size to gain an advantage in the end zone and corral a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Perrilloux. It's worth noting that Isaiah Stanback, who's not in this mix but is trying to make the team, made a circus catch for a touchdown from David Carr in the second quarter.

5. Sloppy, sloppy. Hixon could be the No. 3 receiver if he can get on the field, but where the Giants really could have used him Friday was on punt returns, where both Jayron Hosley and Jernigan muffed punts. Shame about rookie cornerback Hosley, who was having a good game to that point with a good return and a sack.

6. Being physical. At times over the past few years, when the Giants' defense has underachieved from week-to-week, it's been because they were physically pushed around by other teams' offensive lines. This was the case for much of the early part of Friday's game. The Jaguars' first touchdown drive covered 89 yards in 13 plays and took 6:09 as running back Rashad Jennings and quarterback Blaine Gabbert were able to do whatever they wanted. I'm certainly not saying the Giants will play defense like that in the regular season, but we have seen that they can, and I'm sure the first-team defensive linemen weren't thrilled about the way their night went.

7. Miscellany: Adrian Tracy, who's being converted from linebacker to defensive end, looked athletic and able, if a little jumpy pre-snap. ... Marvin Austin continues to look rusty but has potential. On one play he got pushed back easily, on the next he collapsed the pocket to help Tracy get a sack. ... Mark Herzlich looked very good as he continues to push Chase Blackburn for that starting middle linebacker spot. ... Backup defensive lineman Dwayne Hendricks had two sacks and a nice overall game as a back-of-the-roster guy trying to stick. ... Steve Weatherford picked up right where he left off in the Super Bowl, nailing perfect punts. He even looked good compared to that punter the Jags drafted in the third round! But that guy's clearly awesome. He punts the ball so no one can catch it!

That's plenty from this game for me. What'd you guys see?

Observation deck: Browns-Lions

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
11:44
PM ET
Brandon Weeden headlined a sloppy performance by the Browns in a 19-17 preseason win at Detroit. In one quarter of work, the rookie quarterback had three completions and two turnovers.

While it wasn't surprising to see Weeden struggle in his first NFL action, it was a little unexpected to hear coach Pat Shurmur compliment him for such an uneven performance.

“I thought Brandon did a good job," Shurmur said at halftime. "It looked like the game was slow for him. He was out there and he executed pretty well. I think he would want that one back on the interception. It was in tight coverage. The ball was a pretty good ball and we’ve got to make that play. I think for the most part, he executed in a way that I thought he would."

As I blogged about earlier tonight, Weeden started off strong before making a series of mistakes. In three series, he fumbled, threw an interception and should have been picked off another time. He left after three forgettable drives, completing 3 of 9 passes for 62 yards.

Here are my thoughts and observations from the game:
  • The Browns' injuries continue to pile up. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi sustained a concussion after making a catch on the Browns' first offensive snap. It's his third head injury in three seasons. The other injuries were: cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), defensive tackle Scott Paxson (knee) and tight end Jordan Cameron (back).
  • Cleveland's run defense was awful, and that doesn't come as a surprise. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, defensive end Frostee Rucker and defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin (pelvis) and Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle) all didn't play, which left the Browns short-handed up front. Cleveland gave up 115 yards rushing in the first half. The Browns showed no containment on outside runs and got gashed on runs up the middle.
  • The Browns won't win many games this season if they beat themselves. That's exactly what happened in the preseason opener, committing eight penalties for 55 yards in the first half. This lack of discipline is a bad reflection on the coaching staff.
  • Backup quarterback Colt McCoy (6-of-8 for 88 yards) was one of the few bright spots. He took three shots downfield, hitting Cameron for a 42-yard pass down the seam. McCoy wasn't this aggressive as the starter last season. He also gained 20 yards on one run.
  • Sheldon Brown tightened his grip on the starting cornerback job with an interception over the middle of the field. His good play looked more impressive by the disappointing performances of Patterson and Buster Skrine.
  • The Browns have to figure out a way to take use Travis Benjamin's speed. He had two catches for 46 yards and can be a playmaker for an offense that lacked a spark last season.
  • In his first game back since missing last year with an Achilles injury, Reggie Hodges had a 52-yard punt and placed two kicks inside the 20-yard line. Not to be outdone, kicker Phil Dawson connected on a 37-yard field goal and had two touchbacks in the first half.
  • Weeden wasn't the only rookie who stumbled Friday night. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was called for a false start on third-and-10 and then allowed the sack that led to Weeden's fumble on the next play. He's definitely a work in progress.
Some quick thoughts on the Jaguars 32-31 preseason win over the New York Giants at EverBank Field Friday night:
  • Quarterback Blaine Gabbert showed good command and made good throws on the Jaguars’ first series, converting several third downs and leading a touchdown drive. He got time, stepped up and found Laurent Robinson, Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts, hitting Shorts for a short TD that produced a 7-0 lead. It was an encouraging showing from the second-year quarterback. Gabbert did lose a fumble later when he got swarmed. He simply needs to go down and be sure to hold on.
  • Shorts offset his TD catch with a fumble of an end around that started a long stretch of super starting field position for the Giants. The receiver was holding the ball with his inside hand and was too easily stripped. It’s the sort of mistake the receivers have been making in camp.
  • Other errors the Jaguars probably won’t be able to withstand against premium competition in meaningful games: a dropped interception by safety Dwight Lowery right at the start; a big kickoff return allowed following the touchdown pass that put the Giants near midfield; William Middleton holding down an arm of receiver Jerrel Jernigan in the end zone (that went uncalled); end Jason Pierre-Paul's too-easy rush inside left tackle Eugene Monroe en route to a tackle for a loss; punt fielding issues by undrafted rookie Mike Brown.
  • Rashad Jennings ran just fine: 12 carries for 56 yards including a 17-yarder around the right corner. Jaguars’ brass will not wake up Saturday morning feeling any differently with regard to Maurice Jones-Drew as a result of anything that happened here.
  • Tyson Alualu didn’t play, and the Jaguars started D'Anthony Smith and C.J. Mosley at defensive tackle. Terrance Knighton was in with the twos, and on several snaps he looked like a player a notch above the guys he was on the field with and against.
  • Rookie defensive end Andre Branch's speed off the edge was apparent a couple times. Once his presence prompted David Carr to step up into a sack by Knighton. Encouraging.
  • Bryan Anger's big, second-quarter punt tied up Jayron Hosley, who fumbled it. The big hang time meant Antwon Blake had time to get in position to pounce and recover the loose ball, setting up a quick Chad Henne-to-Brian Robiskie TD that cut the Giants lead to 24-14. Anger prompted Jernigan to botch a punt as well, and Blake recovered that one too.
  • Thomas and Robiskie made plays for third-string QB Jordan Palmer in the third quarter. More baby steps -- the Jaguars have receivers who can have success against second- and third-team guys in coverage.
  • Good consistency by the replacement officials. They consistently failed to give signals to declare what happened on plays that begged for such authority. It’s not that they failed to convey the message. It’s that they didn’t know what to convey.

Observation deck: Bengals-Jets

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
11:09
PM ET
The Bengals opened the preseason with a 17-6 win over the Jets that proved costly. Four starters left the first half with injuries, and it's not immediately known how long they will be out.

Left guard Travelle Wharton was carted off the field with a knee injury on the Bengals' third offensive snap of the game. On the next series, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive end Carlos Dunlap both sustained right knee injuries. Early in the second quarter, strong safety Taylor Mays was knocked out of the game with a head injury.

Here are my thoughts and observations from the game:
  • While the three injuries on defense are a concern, that starting group put together a dominating effort. The Bengals limited Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense to 20 total yards in the first quarter. The defensive front got consistent pressure just like last year, and Maualuga and linebacker Manny Lawson both recorded sacks.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton (4-of-9 for 54 yards) found his rhythm on his second and last drive of the game. But the 15-play, 76-yard drive ended with a field goal. Cincinnati failed to punch the ball in the end zone despite having first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. It was interesting to see the Bengals hand the ball off to red zone monster BenJarvus Green-Ellis only once when they were so close to the goal line.
  • Wide receiver A.J. Green had an off night in his brief outing. It was uncharacteristic of Green to drop a touchdown in the end zone after beating Darrelle Revis on a slant. He was one of the few receivers to make a bad impression. Armon Binns looked good running after the catch, Brandon Tate made some athletic grabs and Marvin Jones got behind the defense for a 45-yard reception. The battle for the No. 2 receiver spot remains tight after the first preseason game.
  • Running back Cedric Peerman solidified his spot on the roster, even though he wasn't on the bubble. He recovered Robert Sands' blocked punt in the end zone and scored his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.
  • Green-Ellis looked good even though his numbers don't reflect that. He was patient following his blockers, gaining 22 yards on seven carries. Not known for being a pass catcher in New England, Green-Ellis beat linebacker Bart Scott one-on-one for an 18-yard reception to convert a third down.
  • Undrafted linebacker Vontaze Burfict rewarded the Bengals for giving him a shot, ending Tim Tebow's night with an interception in the third quarter. Burfict showed athleticism in diving for the pick.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –- Several New York Giants made solid first impressions in the team's preseason opener Friday night, a 32-31 loss to the Jaguars.

What it means: Nothing really, other than the fact that the Giants finally got a glimpse of several newcomers. We finally got to see what first-round pick David Wilson looks like carrying the ball, and how Martellus Bennett might fit into the offense.

Wilson was the last running back to get the ball. On his first carry, he got smacked by two Jaguars. On his second carry, he exploded up the middle for 26 yards. And on his third carry, he was blown up for a five-yard loss. However, running behind reserves on the offensive line, Wilson definitely showed what he is capable of on that one big gain. Wilson also took a screen pass and delivered two hits to Jaguars defenders, displaying some toughness. If anything, Wilson showed that he can break a big play on any play.

Second-round pick Rueben Randle also flashed his potential, gaining 21 yards on his first reception and catching a six-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Royal redemption: Prince Amukamara started and had a rough start, giving up a three-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts on the opening drive.

But he redeemed himself by stripping Shorts on an end-around later in the first quarter to give the Giants the ball at the Jacksonville 29-yard line.

It’s still too early to make any assumptions yet, but Amukamara is the guy the Giants want to start in place of the injured Terrell Thomas. So far, he has shown us some good things and some bad things.

Black Unicorn sighting: Bennett made his Giants debut and had three catches for 27 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown catch on a pass thrown by David Carr.

Bennett -- who has referred to himself as "The Black Unicorn" because of his speed and size –- will be counted on for his blocking. But he is off to a great start by showcasing his receiving skills with that TD catch.

Hokie connection: The Giants’ two Virginia Tech rookie draft picks were exciting on special teams.

Wilson gave everyone a glimpse of his speed and big-play ability on the second kickoff return of the game. He took the the ball up the left side, ran across the field toward his right, and took it to the 49-yard-line for a 48-yard gain.

Third-round pick Jayron Hosley had an impressive debut, too, but also made a rookie mistake.

The cornerback had two very good punt returns -- including one on which he turned nothing into a 20-yard gain by dancing all over the field (only to be called back for holding). But he also muffed a fair catch, as the ball bounced off his right shoulder pad, setting up a Jacksonville touchdown right before the end of the first half. Jerrel Jernigan replaced Hosley after that on punt returns, and he later muffed a punt as well.

At the very least, though, Hosley brought some excitement to an area where the Giants really need a boost.

On defense, Hosley had a sack and looked good in coverage, too. If he can limit mistakes like the punt return fumble, the rookie has the potential to be a contributor.

The running backs: If the preseason opener is any indication, the battle for the backup running back spot is going to be fierce. D.J. Ware got the first crack after Ahmad Bradshaw and looked great. He was quick and elusive, rushing for 30 yards and a touchdown on five carries. His two-yard TD run came on a great second effort at the goal line.

Andre Brown got the next crack and gained 19 yards on his first two carries, but was later stuffed on a third-and-1. He finished with 25 yards on seven carries, with one catch for four yards.

Wilson then came in and showed electric potential on a couple of his carries.

The wide receivers: Victor Cruz and Ramses Barden each had a catch. Jernigan just missed making a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch in the end zone in the first quarter. It appeared he couldn’t use his other hand with cornerback William Middleton all over him.

Isaiah Stanback, though, did make a highlight-worthy one-handed touchdown grab over Kevin Rutland on a five-yard pass from Carr.

Et cetera: DE Adrian Tracy had a nice strip sack ... MLB Mark Herzlich looked active and will push Chase Blackburn for the starting job ... Rookie Will Hill saw action as the third safety and delivered some hits ... Thomas, WR David Douglas (quad), WE Domenik Hixon (hamstring), RB Da’Rel Scott (thigh), LB Jake Muasau (hamstring), LB Michael Boley (hamstring), LB Jacquian Williams (hip), LB Clint Sintim (knee), TE Travis Beckum (knee), DT Chris Canty (knee), DT Rocky Bernard (knee), WR Hakeem Nicks (foot), DE Justin Trattou (ankle) and LT Will Beatty (back) did not play.

What’s next: The Giants are reunited with the Jets on Aug. 18 at MetLife Stadium. Can Tim Tebow play defense and cover Cruz for Rex Ryan?

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 17, Jets 6

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
10:54
PM ET

CINCINNATI --Tim Tebow made his highly-anticipated Jets debut, providing a few Tebow moments but ultimately making a big mistake in the Jets' 17-6 loss to the Bengals Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.

Tebow-Mania: Did he live up to the hype? Yes and no. Tebow, who replaced Mark Sanchez at the start of the second quarter, showed some fancy footwork in the pocket, scrambling for 34 yards on four attempts. There were no designed runs, no Wildcat plays; it was just Tebow doing what he does best, dodging tacklers and making something out of nothing. His running set up the Jets' first field goal, but he faded after that. In four series, he completed 4 of 8 passes for 27 yards, throwing a third-quarter interception in scoring territory. In the end, we really didn't learn anything about the Tebow/Sanchez dynamic. In Game 1, they existed in separate worlds. Oh, by the way, Tebow had three plays on the punt team, with no tackles.

Sparan-O: The Jets unveiled the Tony Sparano offense and it was ... well, let's just say it's a work in progress. It was Ground-and-Pound (the ugly kind), with a glaring lack of explosiveness. Sanchez and the starters played two series (14 plays) and they generated only two first downs, the latter on a Sanchez scramble. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 21 yards, including three to WR Patrick Turner. It was all quick stuff, nothing down the field. They got into a few second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and the pass protection broke down -- two sacks and one pressure. LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson allowed the pressure and TE Jeff Cumberland surrendered a sack. Looking for a positive? The starting offense didn't have any penalties and they didn't have any clock issues. That's called reaching for a silver lining.

Q rating: After two quiet weeks in camp, rookie DE Quinton Coples flashed a few times in his pro debut. The Jets' No. 1 pick recorded a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a pass deflection and drew a holding penalty on an inside bull rush. He didn't get a lot of action with the starting unit (only five of 18 snaps), but he demonstrated his power versus the run, doing a nice job of fighting off blocks in the second quarter. Coples did most of his damage against the Bengals' backups, so let's keep it in perspective. But let's say this about him: He did more in one game than Vernon Gholston ever did. He was one of the few bright spots on a defense that struggled on third-down.

Hill Street Blues: The Jets went into the game with a lot of questions at wide receiver -- and they still have questions. Rookie Stephen Hill finished with two catches for 17 yards, but he also had an open-field drop on a third-down pass that should've been a first down. He played a lot -- 22 of 28 plays in the first half. They took a long look at rookie Jordan White, who replaced Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) in the slot in three-receiver packages. White was targeted twice and didn't have any receptions. Chaz Schilens, who started, also was shut out. Without Santonio Holmes (ribs), the receiving is woefully thin and inexperienced. It might be time for GM Mike Tannenbaum to start wheeling and dealing.

Special teams blunder: Mike Westhoff wasn't a happy man. The Jets' punt team allowed a major jailbreak, resulting in a blocked punt by Dan Skuta and a recovery in the end zone by Cedric Peerman. It gave the Bengals a 10-3 halftime lead. Neither Tebow nor Eric Smith, the usual personal protectors, were in the game. Tebow was busy doing his quarterback thing and Smith was out with a left-knee injury. Smith didn't start at safety -- LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell started -- but he's a valuable reserve, in large part, because of his special-teams ability. They can't afford to lose him for an extended period.

What's Ahead: The Jets return to Cortland for their last five days in the upstate town, then return to New Jersey to face the Giants next Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.

Observation deck: Bucs-Dolphins

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
10:44
PM ET

For the first time since October, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won a football game, defeating the Miami Dolphins on Friday night, 20-7.

So what if it doesn’t count in the standings because it’s just a preseason game? We might look back on it in the future and remember it fondly as the start of a successful Greg Schiano era. Heck, even if Schiano’s overall tenure doesn’t go well, what happened in Miami sure was a lot better than what happened in the final 10 games that Raheem Morris coached this team.

Although the starters played only briefly, it’s obvious Schiano has brought some order to a team that desperately needed it. The first-team offense opened with a long scoring drive, the second team followed with an even longer one and the defense got the Dolphins off the field.

Let’s take a look at some observations on the Bucs:
  • Running back LeGarrette Blount, who is trying to hold onto his starting job, got off to a good start. Blount got the start and played well. Blount carried seven times for 30 yards and even caught a pass. Blount also scored the game’s first touchdown, hurdling over a pile at the goal line, but you could make the case Blount should have gotten in on third down if he had followed Carl Nicks with more authority.
  • Doug Martin, the rookie Blount is trying to hold off, also fared well. Martin scored the game’s second touchdown on a short run and did it behind a second-team offensive line that’s not nearly as good as the first unit. Martin’s highlight play came on a run in which it looked like he was tackled. He then spun free and never hit the ground. Martin also did a nice job blocking Cameron Wake on a key pass play to Luke Stocker on the offense’s first drive.
  • Speaking of rookie running backs, Michael Smith, a seventh-round draft pick, had a 74-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.
  • Quarterback Josh Freeman completed 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards while playing only one series. Freeman didn’t do anything spectacular, but he looked calmer than last year. Maybe that was because he had some help from the running game as the Bucs drove 59 yards on 13 plays in seven minutes and 17 seconds.
  • Top draft pick Mark Barron was held out due to a slight injury. Cody Grimm, who had been working with the third team early in camp, ran with the first team.
  • Wide receiver Preston Parker has had a nice camp. But he probably had a few points deducted by Schiano after drawing a 15-yard penalty for slapping Miami’s Richard Marshall after a play ended. Things got worse for Parker in the second quarter when he fumbled a punt return. Yeah, it was raining and the ball was wet, but those same conditions can be present in the regular season.
  • Second-year linebacker Mason Foster and second-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn both put big hits on a Miami back on a running play near the end of the first quarter.
  • Rookie linebacker Lavonte David was drafted in the second round because the Bucs believe he can make big plays. He did. David intercepted a tipped pass in the second quarter.
  • Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky completed all eight of his passes for 91 yards, but it wasn’t as spectacular as it sounds. Receiver Tiquan Underwood bailed Orlovsky out with a catch on a 44-yard pass that a Miami safety had the angle on but failed to reach out for the ball.

Observation deck: Bucs-Dolphins

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
10:37
PM ET

MIAMI -- The Dolphins began the Joe Philbin era Friday night on a sour note with news of quarterback David Garrard requiring knee surgery. But the Dolphins had a preseason opener to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay beat Miami, 20-7.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: Miami first-round pick Ryan Tannehill showed promise in his NFL debut. The No. 8 overall pick made several nice throws and finished 14-of-21 for 167 yards and one touchdown. Tannehill was just 3-of-7 in the first half. But the rookie warmed up and did better in the second half when the Buccaneers played most of their third stringers. I don't want to overrate anything that happens in the second half of a preseason game. But Tannehill at least showed some things physically that prove he deserves to be in Miami's quarterback race, especially now that Garrard is out with a knee injury.

What I didn’t like: It was a disappointing start for Miami's new-look, 4-3 defense. The Buccaneers played starting quarterback Josh Freeman for just one drive, and Tampa drove down the field 59 yards on 13 plays for a first-quarter touchdown. Freeman was replaced by Buccaneers backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky on the second drive and Miami’s defense still struggled. The Dolphins had a mix of starters and backups on the second drive, but allowed a second consecutive touchdown. Orlovsky made two big connections with receiver Tiquan Underwood for 23 and 44 yards. The Dolphins are relying on their defense to lead the team this year.

Moore up and down: Dolphins starting quarterback Matt Moore failed to make a strong impression with the starting offense. Moore was 7-of-12 for 79 yards and an interception. It wasn't an awful performance. But Moore missed a golden opportunity to put his stamp on this quarterback race. Instead, Moore left the door wide open and will continue to compete with Tannehill.

Johnson's missed opportunity: Chad Johnson only got one chance to impress in his Dolphins debut and missed it. Johnson had one pass thrown his way in limited playing time. It was a third-down throw by Moore that went right through his hands. That drop will probably stick with Johnson until he plays his next game. He’s been the best receiver in training camp for the Dolphins.

Trusnik shines: It's never too early for a bubble watch. Miami backup linebacker Jason Trusnik is one of those players who must impress a new coaching staff to make the team. Trusnik had six tackles (one for loss) and fumble recovery on special teams. Trusnik played with good energy, which has to catch the eye of the coaching staff as he plays his way off the bubble.

Healthy returns: Miami has a lot of options at kickoff returner. But rookie receiver Rishard Matthews was the most impressive. Matthews had two returns for 73 yards, including one return for 46 yards in the first half. Special teams are the best way for Matthews to make the 53-man roster.

What's next: The Dolphins will hit the road next week for a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Aug. 17. The Dolphins will continue to evaluate their two quarterbacks while also facing one of the exciting young quarterbacks in the league in Carolina's Cam Newton.

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