NFL Nation: 2013 preseason reaction Week 4

Jets game recap: What we learned

August, 30, 2013
Ten takeaways from the Jets' 27-20 win over the Eagles:

1. Looking like Geno: I left the stadium early Friday morning thinking it'll be Geno Smith at quarterback when the Jets open against the Bucs. Mark Sanchez (shoulder) still hasn't resumed throwing, and I know there was some thought that he'd already be throwing by now. He has five days to make a rapid recovery, because I think the powers-that-be will want to make a decision by Wednesday. If Smith starts, he'll need every practice rep.

[+] EnlargeMatt Simms
Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesJets QB Matt Simms completed a strong preseason with his effort on Thursday against the Eagles.
2. Son of Phil shines: Matt Simms was so good that Rex Ryan hinted after the game he could keep four quarterbacks. I think that might be more about the injuries to Sanchez and Greg McElroy (knee) than a reflection of awesome quarterback depth. Listening to sports radio on the way home, it's amazing to me that so many people want Simms to be the Week 1 starter. Yes, it was a strong preseason, but it came against second- and third-string players. Simms hasn't taken a first-team rep all summer. Perspective, please.

3. Tone's dress rehearsal: Not only did Santonio Holmes participate in another pre-game warmup, but he did it in full uniform -- another baby step. The sense I get is that the Jets are hoping Holmes (foot) can play in the opener. As we've come to learn, Holmes may have a different opinion.

4. Hold on, Vlad: OK, I admit it, I drank some of the Kool-Aid on Vladimir Ducasse. After his start against the Giants, and the subsequent release of Stephen Peterman, the Jets gave the impression that Ducasse finally realized his potential. But against the Eagles, rookie Brian Winters started at left guard, with Ryan later revealing that Ducasse and Winters are locked in a competition for the starting job. So let me get this straight: Ducasse, a three-year veteran, is neck-and-neck with a rookie who's played only two preseason games? I think we know where this is headed.

5. Safety dance: Ryan said the safety competition between Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett is "too close to call." Both made plays Thursday, including an interception for a touchdown by Allen. It sounds like Ryan may not declare a winner, noting it could go week-to-week based on the opponent. But here's the trouble with that: Allen and Jarrett are similar players, both "box" safeties. So, too, is Dawan Landry. This could be trouble against a spread offense.

6. Good grief, Jason: Everybody is entitled to a bad night, but this was a really bad night for LT Jason Smith, who let more people pass him than a crossing guard. He made Wayne Hunter look like Anthony Munoz. Speaking of Hunter, he's available and the Jets need a backup swing tackle. Kidding.

7. Making a late push: Players that really helped themselves heading into the final cut -- Simms, RB Kahlil Bell, LB Ricky Sapp, LB Nick Bellore, LB Danny Lansanah and DE Leger Douzable. CB Mike Edwards played well on kick coverage, but he was too tentative on kickoff returns.

8. Head scratcher: It was strange to see Kyle Wilson in this game, considering Ryan bubble-wrapped almost every starter and key reserve. In theory, Wilson could be an opening-day starter, considering first-round pick Dee Milliner (calf) still is recovering from an injury. Milliner said he expects to play, but they'd still need Wilson in the nickel. Ryan said he used Wilson because he wanted to give him a chance to return punts and kickoffs, and he figured he might as well let him play cornerback, too. Something smells fishy.

9. Oh, Zach: The Wes Welker wannabe had a solid camp, but Zach Rogers may have cost himself a chance by muffing a punt and alligator-arming a perfect pass. Still think he has a chance for the practice squad.

10. Not-so-chipper Chip: If you're Eagles coach Chip Kelly, how can you feel comfortable with your backup QBs? Nick Foles and Matt Barkley were a combined 19-for-44. Simms threw 44 passes, too, except he completed 33.

Three takeaways: Jaguars-Falcons

August, 30, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three things that stood out in the Jacksonville Jaguars20-16 victory over Atlanta on Thursday night:

1. Running back Jordan Todman showed again not only why he deserves to make the team but to probably be No. 2 on the depth chart behind Maurice Jones-Drew. The former UConn standout ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, giving him a team-high 223 yards on 29 carries in the preseason.

Todman, who scored on an 18-yard run against the Falcons in the first quarter, is a patient runner who quickly gets north and south when he makes a decision. He has been the offense’s best player throughout the preseason.

The Jaguars signed Justin Forsett to be the top option behind Jones-Drew, but he has yet to play this preseason because of a sprained toe on his right foot. He hasn’t even practiced since he suffered the injury during the first live period of training camp.

Forsett is hoping for a Week 1 return, but even if he does, Todman has been so impressive that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get more work.

2. Cornerback Demetrius McCray had his best game of the preseason: five tackles, two pass breakups and a sack. One of those tackles came with a group of other defenders on a fourth-down stop inside the 5-yard line to preserve the victory.

The Jaguars drafted McCray with their second pick in the seventh round of this year's draft. He’s a bigger corner (6-foot, 185 pounds) and plays the physical style coach Gus Bradley wants out of his corners.

McCray had been having a relatively anonymous preseason (just two tackles), but he solidified his spot on the roster with his performance against the Falcons. He jarred a pass loose from receiver Kevin Cone and then made a leaping deflection of another pass to Cone in the first half. He also made a solid open-field tackle on fullback Jason Snelling on a screen pass.

3. Quarterback Matt Scott did some nice things, but they were wiped out by two terrible plays: a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and an interception on back-to-back series in the second quarter.

Scott’s first turnover came when he failed to secure the ball when he turned on a bootleg and was confronted by defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who poked the ball free and returned it for a 9-yard touchdown. It’s not an unusual occurrence for a quarterback to whip around into the bootleg after the fake and see a defender in his face. Sometimes the smartest thing a quarterback can do is realize the play has been blown up and just secure the ball and keep the negative play from becoming even worse.

On the interception, Scott stared down intended receiver Mike Brown, and cornerback Desmond Trufant, the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, stepped in front of the pass. There may have been some miscommunication on the route, but it was an easy interception for Trufant.

Scott was battling Mike Kafka for the No. 3 quarterback spot. Scott completed 6 of 12 passes for 67 yards. Kafka completed 6 of 15 passes for 46 yards, but he did hook up with Jeremy Ebert on a 13-yard touchdown pass that put the Jaguars ahead for good.

Observation deck: Vikings-Titans

August, 30, 2013

The Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the preseason on the night they used their starters the least, in a 24-23 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and others watched from the sideline, but Marcus Sherels returned the second-half kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown and McLeod Bethel-Thompson led an eight-play, 71-yard drive to set up Blair Walsh's deciding field goal with 1:38 left.

Minnesota finished the preseason 1-3.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the night:
  • In a short night of work, backup quarterback Matt Cassel looked as sharp as he has all preseason, directing an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive in his only action of the night. Cassel was 3-for-3 for 48 yards on the drive, connecting with Rodney Smith on a long pass and hitting John Carlson over the middle for 19 yards. Cassel finished his preseason 22-of-40 for 317 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
  • Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard each helped themselves in their push for one of the Vikings' last roster spots, both scoring a touchdown. Asiata ran with purpose and physicality, carrying eight times for 32 yards and a 1-yard score, while Banyard played most of the second half and surpassed 100 all-purpose yards, posting 62 on the ground and another 54 through the air. If the Vikings are looking for a running back who could give them a change of pace, Banyard might find a spot on the roster. But let's not kid ourselves here: The Vikings aren't exactly in the market to give many carries to anyone other than Peterson, and with the reigning MVP on the roster, third-string running backs have to be able to do other things. That might be why Asiata sticks in the end; he has proven himself on special teams. The Vikings could try to stash Banyard on the practice squad, where he was last season.
  • Desmond Bishop probably had his best night of the preseason in his third game back from a torn hamstring, making seven tackles and pulling down two Titans players in the backfield on Tennessee's first drive. It's worth noting that Marvin Mitchell, who has started at weak-side linebacker all through training camp, didn't play on Thursday night, as the Vikings treated him more like a starter than a player who has much to prove. But Bishop might have done enough to guarantee himself a roster spot, at the very least.
  • While Sherels stole the show for the Vikings, Bobby Felder had a night he'd probably rather forget, spraining his ankle while defending a 50-yard pass in the third quarter. X-rays on Felder's ankle were negative, but he probably would have liked to finish his preseason with a stronger impression after playing well early.
  • Fullback Zach Line, who didn't have to do much lead blocking in college, provided a nice example of it on the Vikings' drive for the go-ahead field goal. He and DeMarcus Love combined on a nice kick-out block on Banyard's 19-yard run. Line didn't show the pass-catching skills he'd displayed early, but he's probably done enough that the Vikings would at least consider using a practice-squad spot on him.
  • Speaking of Love, he had one of the odder moments of the game in the fourth quarter, when he caught a tipped pass, stretched the ball forward as he dove and got up to signal first down after getting the ball to the marker. Considering Love is set to serve a three-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, Thursday night could have been his last game with the Vikings.
  • Playing most of the game, Bethel-Thompson finished 19-of-26 for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The Vikings will make their final roster cuts before Saturday's deadline, and they open the regular season on Sept. 8 in Detroit.

Observation deck: Chargers-49ers

August, 30, 2013
Random thoughts from the San Diego Chargers41-6 home loss to San Francisco:

OK, it was ugly. Ugly.

What does it mean? Well, the 49ers’ backups are much, much better than the Chargers'. San Diego doesn’t have much depth, and this was a classic fourth preseason game for Mike McCoy’s team. The starters rested. And the backups were hammered.

The Chargers’ depth on the offensive line was exposed. Left tackle Max Starks, signed to start, might not even make the team. He wasn’t very good. I can see Mike Harris being kept over Starks as the swing tackle.

San Diego's special teams were bad again, giving up a blocked punt (the second of the preseason) that resulted in a touchdown. San Diego’s special teams has been bad all preseason, perhaps a byproduct of a lack of depth. It will be something to monitor early in the season.

Receiver Robert Meachem suffered a possible concussion late in the game. He could be cut or put on injured reserve. Regardless, I don’t see a future for Meachem in San Diego, even though he will make $5 million this season.

Guard Johnnie Troutman, expected to provide depth at guard, suffered an arm injury. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen wasn’t very good after playing well earlier in the preseason, throwing two interceptions. Still, I think he will be the No. 3 quarterback.

It was all laid out for Terrelle Pryor on Thursday night.

And he couldn’t get it done in the Oakland Raiders' 22-6 loss at Seattle.

The third-year player still might end up being the Raiders’ starting quarterback in Week 1 at Indianapolis. But Pryor didn’t make Dennis Allen’s decision easy. The coach wanted to be convinced Thursday night. All Pryor did was convince the Raiders’ coaching staff that he is still very much a work in progress.

If Pryor gets the starting job over Matt Flynn, it will be on-the-job training in the regular season. But so what. Last week, I wrote that Pryor needed to be given the job. I still think so even after he was not very good against the Seahawks.

The reason is, I think Pryor has more potential than Flynn. Flynn is a backup. If he starts, he will just be warming the starting job for someone else come next year. Perhaps Pryor would be doing the same thing. But at least he has a chance to someday grow into the job.

Basically, whether it’s Flynn or Pryor quarterbacking this rebuilding roster, it’s likely going to be tough sledding in Oakland in 2013. But what if the light comes on for Pryor? Oakland needs to figure out if it has something in the third-year quarterback. If not, the Raiders can go get their starter in a strong 2014 draft class.

I am not surprised Pryor didn’t nail down the job Thursday. He’s as green as the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. He looked lost at times in a game in which he faced mostly Seattle’s backups. He was just 3 of 8 passing and had a dreadful 9.9 passer rating.

At his best, Pryor is a runner; he had 48 yards on three carries. He can make things happen with his legs.

Of course, against first-team NFL defenders and against NFL defensive coordinators who have all week to plan against him, Pryor’s chances to run wild will be neutralized because of his inconsistency as a passer. We saw that Thursday night.

What Thursday night showed us was that Pryor is incapable of nailing down a starting gig. But in Oakland, it might not matter. He still is the right choice.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers closed their 2013 preseason schedule with a 41-6 road victory over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night:

1. Final QB impressions: Starter Colin Kaepernick, backup Colt McCoy and third quarterback B.J. Daniels combined for four touchdown passes without an interception. The group made a positive final impression overall, even though McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards per pass attempt while completing 8 of 15 attempts for 56 yards. Daniels, a seventh-round draft choice, tossed two scoring passes on only nine attempts and added a 36-yard run. He looks like a keeper. Veteran backup Seneca Wallace did not travel to San Diego and doesn't appear to have a future with the team.

2. Injury list: Backup offensive lineman Adam Snyder appeared to suffer a wrist or hand injury. Running back LaMichael James suffered a knee injury. The extent of those injuries was not immediately known.

3. The spectacular: The 49ers' receivers deserve credit for making their quarterbacks look good. Rookie Quinton Patton turned a short pass from Kaepernick into a 43-yard touchdown. Veteran Lavelle Hawkins produced a 45-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle and making defenders miss. He made the grab after the ball bounced off his body high into the air. The 49ers also got spectacular plays from outside linebacker Cam Johnson. Johnson made a strong case for a roster spot. He had two sacks and also blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown.

Observation deck: Browns-Bears

August, 30, 2013
CHICAGO -- Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson had a vision for what his first game back would be on Thursday.

Nelson, who hadn’t played in a game since tearing the ACL in his right knee in the 2012 season opener, held two assumptions about his return. First, he thought he would get really emotional prior to Thursday’s preseason game with the Chicago Bears because of how much he had gone through to return to the field. Second, he expected his performance would again meet his high standards.

Neither went according to plan.

Nelson did make his season debut and caught a team-high four passes for 54 yards, but he wasn’t overcome with emotion and he wasn’t pleased with how he played.

“[The game wasn’t as emotional] as I thought it would be,” said Nelson, who had 61 receptions for 658 yards and five touchdowns for Buffalo in 2011. “There was a time before the national anthem and before the game started I got emotional. Once we stepped on the field, it was just playing football again.

“It was a special moment [being back]. It really was. Obviously, today wasn’t the way I wanted. I think I’m my harshest critic. I just didn’t play the way I wanted to. It wasn’t because of the knee. I wasn’t out there slipping because of the knee. It just didn’t go the way I wanted to.”

Nelson first got involved in the Browns’ offense in the second quarter. He missed his first opportunity at a catch when he wasn’t looking as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw him the ball. But five plays later, Hoyer went back to Nelson, and Nelson hauled in a 4-yard reception.

Nelson was targeted 10 times, and his longest reception was for 21 yards. He reported no pain in his knee, but he did suffer leg cramps late in the game.

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski understood Nelson wasn’t satisfied with his day, but he believed it was a positive starting point.

“I thought it was great he got back out there,” Chudzinski said. “You know what? I know there’s a few plays he’d like to have back. Playing in a NFL game, you get tired, and he was tired by the end. Those guys got a lot of reps. We had limited guys to begin with. It was really good to see him. He made a couple plays. Those are the kind of experiences you can build on.”

In other notes from the Browns' 18-16 victory:
  • Quarterback Jason Campbell, who was expected to start, missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. Hoyer played the entire game and was 24-of-35 passing for 307 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
  • Kicker Shayne Graham did not play after his back tightened up in warm-ups. Punter Spencer Lanning was thrown into the emergency-kicker role. Lanning, who was a placekicker/punter in college, missed a 41-yard field goal on his first attempt but connected from 32 yards and 40 yards on his following two attempts. The latter proved to be the game winner in the Browns’ 18-16 victory. He also punted twice for a 52-yard average.
  • Wide receiver Josh Gordon played in his final game before serving a two-game suspension for a positive codeine test. Gordon had catches of 45 and 32 yards Thursday. “Josh can come to the facility over the course of the next two weeks,” Chudzinski said. “He can be at meetings, and he can work out in the weight room and run and that type of thing. He can get treatment. So he can be around. He can’t be out at practice. He can’t do any of those type of things with the team.”

Observation deck: Seahawks-Raiders

August, 30, 2013

SEATTLE — For the second consecutive year, the Seattle Seahawks end the preseason undefeated.

That and $4 will get you a Starbucks coffee across the street from Pike Place Market, but the Seahawks will take it and use the momentum to start a season of high expectations and Super Bowl predictions from many experts and fans.

Seattle defeated the Oakland Raiders 22-6 Thursday night at Century Link Field in the typical battle of backups for the final preseason game.

What it means: The Seahawks look like a team ready to contend for the championship. The defense allowed only 36 points in the four preseason games. The biggest problem for the coaches is determining who makes the 53-man roster on what might be the deepest team in the NFL.

Stephen Williams suffers concussion: The one big downer of the night. The receiver has been the biggest surprise on the preseason on offense with his ability to out-battle defenders on deep throws down the sideline. He did it again Thursday, but this time the end result was costly.

Williams made a leaping 50-yard catch on Seattle’s opening drive, out-clawing Oakland defender Phillip Adams for the ball on the long pass from Russell Wilson. But Williams fell backward on the catch and slammed his head into the turf, resulting in a concussion.

That makes Williams’ status for the season opener uncertain. There is a protocol of tests he must go through before getting an OK to practice or play. The good news is that he has 10 days before the opener in Charlotte, N.C., against the Carolina Panthers.

No worries at kicker: Steven Hauschka was perfect against Oakland, making five field goals, including three of more than 50 yards -- a 56-yarder in the first quarter, a 51-yarder in the second and a 53-yarder in the fourth. Hauschka also had five touchbacks on kickoffs.

Jermaine Kearse sees all: Wide receiver Kearse should be the poster boy for Lasik surgery. He was close to perfect in the preseason after having the Lasik procedure in the offseason to improve his vision and end his days of wearing contact lenses. Kearse had two more receptions in the third quarter Thursday, including a 33-yard sideline catch. He ended the preseason with two touchdown catches and a 107-yard kickoff return for a TD.

What’s next: The Seahawks open the regular season at the Panthers on Sept. 8. Seattle defeated Carolina 16-12 last October in Charlotte, but the Seahawks have lost their past two season openers, both of which were on the road.

Seattle is 7-5 in its past 12 season openers, but 2-5 in the past seven openers on the road. Next week’s game will be the 10th time the Seahawks have started the regular season on the road in the past 14 seasons.

Observation deck: Redskins-Buccaneers

August, 30, 2013

Highlights from the Washington Redskins' 30-12 preseason finale win at Tampa Bay. They ended the preseason 4-0:

1. Robert Griffin III tweeted that he had been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews, but then coach Mike Shanahan said the doc had a couple concerns. And that Shanahan would meet with Griffin over the weekend to discuss the situation. OK, I do not think this is just a ploy by Shanahan to keep the Eagles guessing, especially because the decision could come early in the week -- and if you’re Philly, you’re prepping for Griffin regardless. Much easier to adjust to a non-read-option attack than vice versa if Kirk Cousins has to play. Shanahan, though, is huge on gaining any little advantage. Still, it’s legit for Shanahan to want to see another week of practice, if that is the case. Just know that if this is the case, there will be more probing into the coach-player dynamic. Maybe Shanahan just wanted to remind everyone who controlled the decision.

2. But if it’s Andrews who has the concerns, then no one can blame Shanahan if he wants to take a little more time to evaluate -- or if he ultimately chooses to sit Griffin for the opener. There is, wrongly, a belief that Shanahan and the Redskins have rushed Griffin back. The kid hasn’t played in a game yet and, despite being cleared for practice at the start of camp, did not take any 11-on-11 reps until three weeks in. So, no, they have not rushed him back. When you see Griffin, you see someone who if not 100 percent is very close. If he were limping or missing practices and then it was announced he would play in the opener, then, OK, he’s being rushed. Now? Even if he plays I don’t think he would have been rushed. There’s one person who was rushing here; because of it he’s put himself on the verge of meeting his goal to play in the opener.

3. What are the concerns? Could be as simple as: Learn how to take care of yourself on the field. The coaches have preached this to Griffin for a while and, despite perception, he did learn last year. After his concussion he ran out of bounds at a much higher percentage than before. But when it’s a key situation he will try to grab every yard possible, turning upfield instead of running out of bounds. Have said this several times, but Griffin needs to learn how to keep the defenses guessing when scrambling by keeping the ball alive -- pump-faking as he approaches the line, or even beyond. Cousins did this a couple times against Pittsburgh. But Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did it as well, even getting linebacker London Fletcher to jump in the air after Roethlisberger had crossed the line of scrimmage. It’s just another way for Griffin to protect himself.

4. Chris Thompson’s speed and playmaking ability will earn him a roster spot. Shanahan praised him earlier in the week, excused his fumbles and called them correctable and said he’d keep getting better. Read between the lines. Then Thompson returns a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. Whether or not he ends up as the main returner immediately is irrelevant; he still needs refining in this role. But it just shows what he’s capable of doing. Thompson was extra patient on the return, a trait he showed last week too. He’s good at pausing, forcing the coverage to commit and then spotting the opening. What I like about his running style: the ability to cut sharply and the fact that he’s always leaning forward when cutting up through the hole. For a little guy, he never gets knocked back.

5. Thompson also picked up a defensive linemen coming on a third-down stunt. Really liked how he attacked the block. The coaches like when you’re willing to handle this task, and Thompson did not back down at all. Made a good block, too. He deserves a roster spot; he understands how to run with the ball in this system. Thompson did misjudge a punt, not getting a good read on the ball and falling slightly forward as he caught it. He can work on catching punts in practice, as he has been doing.

6. The question is, did Evan Royster do enough to warrant a roster spot. I did not think entering the game that he would earn a job. And I think it comes down to him and Keiland Williams. For a while I thought the Redskins would keep only four backs because neither one of the rookies had shown anything in camp. Thompson was in and out of the lineup. But the past week or so changed my mind, and it looks like five backs could earn spots. It would be deserved, too, if you’re keeping the best 53. While Royster ran well, I still wonder how he fits. I know if something happened to Alfred Morris, Royster would be a good alternative. But if nothing happens? Then what does Royster do? Williams is a better special-teamer and that could still make the difference. I will say, Royster’s touchdown run was all him. Josh LeRibeus pulled but didn’t move anyone, and two defenders popped Royster, who bounced outside to his right and cut up for the score. By the way, on his 31-yard run I liked the subtle block by tight end Fred Davis. Royster started left and cut back to the right, the same side Davis was on. He was engaged with the backside linebacker, a block he didn’t always sustain last year. This time he did and it proved to be a pivotal one as Royster cut back.

7. Quarterback Pat White made some more plays which, considering his layoff from the NFL, isn’t too bad. But he still hasn’t shown that he can be a consistent or solid passer in the league. He did throw a nice out to Skye Dawson, a low zinger into tight coverage. He seems to be more comfortable when he’s outside the pocket. He threw an interception because he never saw the linebacker. Yeah, White stared at the receiver, but on a slant sometimes that’s what it takes on a quick route. He just failed to see the defender. On that same series he missed badly over the middle and should have been intercepted then, too. Yes, White’s touchdown run was nice, but the one thing everyone knew about him before he came to the NFL was that he could run. Can he pass out of the zone read? He didn’t do it this preseason. Can he throw any touch passes? Didn’t do that either. Or drop it in over the top of a linebacker down the middle – and in front of the safety? Nope. In other words, he has a long ways to go, as he should. I would not keep him.

8. Brandon Meriweather showed enough to make you think he’ll be fine for the season opener. Shanahan seemed pleased afterward with what he saw. Meriweather did not make a huge impact, but that wasn’t surprising given the layoff. He just needed to be active around the ball and prove he can still run well. He was generally around the ball and stuck his nose in the action when appropriate. The Redskins could use what he adds. I remember a corner blitz from the numbers against Philadelphia last season that I’m guessing they don’t run if not for Meriweather. Why? Because he had the speed to rotate and cover a speed guy like DeSean Jackson. That’s why it’s important to see how well he was running against the Bucs Thursday night. Meriweather needs to stay healthy.

9. Once again, safety Bacarri Rambo tackled well, especially in the open field. Before I get to that, I like how active Rambo is, whether it’s deep or playing near the line of scrimmage. I liked that he makes quick reads and breaks when playing the curl/flat drop zone. Last week he broke up a pass to C.J. Spiller, and this time Rambo tackled the tight end. Give Rambo credit for getting there before they can do anything with the ball. On one open-field tackle Rambo approached, broke down and then attacked and made the play. It’s too bad he didn’t really see any legitimate quarterbacks the past two games so he could get tested downfield. But he licked the one problem he had early on. Those missed tackles could turn out to be the biggest plays he made this season – just because of what he learned and how it helped him improve.

10. OK, this is the last observation so we’ll combine a few into one with a little rapid fire. I thought Chris Baker played a terrific game, showing a lot of strength (as did Phillip Merling). Liked what Bryan Kehl did; active and avoided some blocks to make plays. Brandon Jenkins is a raw pass-rusher. Got inside the tackle on one rush, coming out of a three-point stance. Did see him get wide on one other time but often quiet. Was not impressed with tackle Tom Compton early in the game; knocked over on the first play; allowed pressure on the third play and later in the game he whiffed on one pass set, expecting the defender to either bull rush or engage. Instead he went around the edge. Right tackle Tony Pashos was fine, though he allowed a pressure. Leonard Hankerson dropped another ball. He’s an improved route runner, but those hands. … And will Dez Briscoe’s catch and run help him enough to get a spot as the No. 6 receiver? Briscoe’s hands were inconsistent during training camp so that matters, too. It’ll probably come down to keeping a sixth receiver or an 11th defensive back or a ninth offensive lineman. Good play by David Amerson; right spot, right time on the overthrow. Jose Gumbs had a couple good pops, though I wonder on his downfield hit if it could have been better. He hit the receiver with his right shoulder, but he could have taken the guys head off with a big hit (afraid of drawing a fine perhaps?).

Observation deck: Broncos-Cardinals

August, 30, 2013
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos' plan Thursday night was easy to see when, just more than three hours before kickoff, most of the players who sit at the top of the depth chart at their respective positions were working with strength-and-conditioning coach Luke Richesson, as Richesson prodded them all from one end of the field to the other over and over again in something far more stringent than just a warm-up.

That’s because they weren’t going to play in the game that followed. And with just a few roster spots still in play, the Broncos' reserves closed out the preseason with a 32-24 loss to Arizona at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Some things to consider as the Broncos now turn their attention to the Baltimore Ravens:
  • There was almost as much to learn by who the Broncos did play as by who they didn’t. Tight end Julius Thomas earned the night off as a starter, but Jacob Tamme did not, as Tamme played in several two-tight end sets, lining up in the slot. Some of that was a numbers game with Joel Dreessen still coming back from two knee surgeries since late May, but it's clear the Broncos have big plans for Thomas in the front-line offense. Running back Montee Ball also was in the pregame workout with the starters, but Ronnie Hillman was not. Hillman started at running back, likely just to give him confidence with a carry or two early in the game given his recent fumbles -- he had a fumble returned for a touchdown in each of the previous two preseason games -- and given he is still very much in the mix to be a mainstay in the run game. Hillman carried twice for 14 yards on the Broncos’ first two plays of the game and then headed for the sideline with his work finished for the night. Knowshon Moreno also did not play, so Ball, Hillman and Moreno are solidly the top three.
  • Broncos coach John Fox said last week that linebacker Von Miller, who is suspended for the first six games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, would play in the final two preseason games because Fox didn’t want to turn a six-game suspension into eight games. Miller did play last weekend against the Rams, but he was held out of Thursday night’s game. Miller’s suspension officially begins Saturday since the Broncos play next Thursday night. In the end the Broncos elected to give some young players those snaps instead of risking an injury to Miller.
  • And one of the Broncos’ undrafted rookies made the most of that decision. Lerentee McCray, who has made a strong push for a roster spot since training camp opened, started in Miller’s strong-side linebacker spot and finished the first half with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. (McCray blocked a punt in the previous game against the Rams.) But McCray was helped off the field with just under four minutes left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury. He had difficulty putting weight on the leg, and if an MRI shows any significant problems Friday, it could complicate what the Broncos can do with him if it's an injury that would keep him on the sideline for several weeks. But McCray certainly earned a spot with his play on the field.
  • The Broncos have struggled to protect the quarterback with the backup linemen in front of him during the preseason -- Brock Osweiler had been sacked eight times in three preseason games coming into his start against the Cardinals -- so the Broncos bulked things up in front to open the game. After not using the two-back look for anything more than a smattering of plays in the first three preseason games, the Broncos worked out of it for most of the first half. They used it on six of 10 plays in their opening drive of the game -- an 80-yard touchdown drive -- and 12 plays in all in the first half. They used a two-tight end/two-back look once and a two-tight end look six times in the opening half. The move did give fullback Jacob Hester a chance to get some work on offense. Hester was the fullback in all of those two-back sets after playing just 25 plays on offense in the first three preseason games combined. Hester’s chances of making the final roster are enhanced by the fact he is the only running back who has lined up at fullback in the offense, that he can play running back and that he is a key special-teams player.
  • The Broncos have plenty of tough decisions awaiting in the secondary for final cuts, but they unveiled at least one of their potential solutions against the Cardinals. Cornerback Omar Bolden, who has played plenty on the outside with the second-team defense in the preseason, lined up at free safety in the base defense for much of the first half. He showed himself to be physical, quick to the ball and comfortable despite it being his first game at the position. It means the Broncos consider him a potential swing player in the secondary, one who could line up at corner and work at safety as well. If the game video confirms for the coaches what seemed clear in real time -- that Bolden can function well at safety if needed -- that likely makes it difficult for veteran Quentin Jammer to make the roster. The Broncos had originally signed Jammer because they envisioned him being able to be a combination player in the secondary.
  • Rookie quarterback Zac Dysert got his first significant action of the preseason. He tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter and led another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that included a short toss to running back Lance Ball that turned into a 69-yard catch-and-run. Dysert will be around the team, whether on the practice squad or as one of those to get one of the final two or three roster spots. If the Broncos feel they can’t afford the luxury of three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, they will have to get Dysert through waivers to get him to the practice squad.
  • Rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster could get a look from the league office with an unnecessary-roughness penalty in the first half -- he was called for striking an opponent with his helmet -- to go with another personal foul in the opening half for intentionally slamming a player to the ground.

Observation deck: Texans-Cowboys

August, 30, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Gary Kubiak will have some decisions to make in the next several hours. Many of them were made much easier by Thursday night's final preseason game, in which his Houston Texans beat the Dallas Cowboys 24-6.

The game saw both backup quarterbacks play well, and made it very likely the Texans will keep three on their roster this season.

It showcased the two remaining running backs whom Kubiak needed to see more of in Cierre Wood and Dennis Johnson. Wood helped himself with 107 rushing yards and a 5.6-yards-per-carry average. Johnson hurt himself with three fumbles, one of which he lost, and difficulty fielding returns. Kubiak said he already knew enough about veteran running back Deji Karim, so he didn't play him much at all.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye showed skill with an interception. Then he got chewed out after he incurred a 15-yard penalty for standing in the middle of the Cowboys' star, his arms outstretched like Terrell Owens. The undrafted rookie said he probably won't even sleep Thursday night waiting to hear whether or not he made the team.

And tight end Ryan Griffin showed exactly why the Texans drafted him in a performance that included five catches for 87 yards.

The decisions will start tomorrow -- and could finish then, too. Stay tuned.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' final exhibition game of the 2013 preseason, a 32-24 road victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night:

1. Williams' performance. The stats for running back Ryan Williams -- nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown -- will not make a compelling case for him earning a spot on the initial 53-man roster. The third-year running back looked good, though. His per-carry average took several hits, including on a 1-yard scoring run. Williams showed quickness in outrunning defenders around the corner for an 8-yard gain. He spun away from trouble and accelerated on another run. The blocking generally wasn't there for him, notably when he lost 6 yards on a carry. There are no guarantees Williams has done enough to stick around. Future injury risk could lead the Cardinals in another direction. Rashard Mendenhall is clearly established as the starter. Rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor figure into the team's plans as well.

2. Speed at wide receiver. Jaron Brown, a rookie free agent with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, got deep to catch a 55-yard scoring pass from Ryan Lindley. Mike Thomas, signed recently after Detroit released him, is another receiver with the speed coach Bruce Arians is seeking to stretch defenses. Thomas had a 13-yard scoring reception in the fourth quarter. A couple completed passes in the fourth preseason game aren't going to provide definitive answers, but these were positive signs.

3. Third QB. Lindley had only one scoring pass to show for 280 career pass attempts in preseason and regular-season games over his two NFL seasons. He fared better in this one. Lindley completed 17 of 29 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Lindley also completed a two-point conversion throw to take a 25-24 lead with 5:28 remaining. He took one sack, threw no interceptions and finished the game with a 104.7 passer rating. Will the Cardinals keep him around as the third quarterback?

Observation deck: Steelers-Panthers

August, 30, 2013

Some thoughts from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 25-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Thursday's preseason finale:
  • The only way Derek Moye doesn't make the 53-man roster is if the Steelers keep just four wide receivers. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder clearly separated himself from the other receivers vying for a spot behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton. Moye caught two passes for a team-high 55 yards Thursday; he received bonus points for chasing down Josh Norman from behind after the Carolina cornerback intercepted a Landry Jones throw and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Moye's hustle saved a touchdown and the Panthers settled for a field goal.
  • Jones played the entire game and finished with a thud after a great start. The former Oklahoma star looked masterful in directing an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the Steelers' opening possession. Jones looked like the rookie he is after that. He completed just 13 of 32 passes for 149 yards and three interceptions. The last pick came on his final pass of the game and, the Steelers have to hope, the foreseeable future. Wide receiver Justin Brown fell down on the play, but Jones still looked a long way from being NFL-ready. If injuries force Jones -- the No. 3 quarterback -- to play, the Steelers are in trouble anyway.
  • The toughest roster decisions the coaches and front office have to make might come at linebacker. Undrafted rookie Alan Baxter again put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and he will be tough to cut. But do the Steelers like him enough on special teams to keep a fifth outside linebacker? There appear to be at least four solid candidates for two backup spots at inside linebacker, and it probably comes down to special teams when sorting through those players.
  • If veteran Brian Moorman had to beat out Drew Butler, I think the latter hangs on to his job as punter. Neither one stood out during preseason play, and Butler is younger. He is also the incumbent.
  • Felix Jones ran well, gaining a game-high 56 yards on 14 carries and presenting the coaches with a tough decision at running back. Jones is probably the odd man out if the Steelers keep four running backs on their 53-man roster as well as fullback Will Johnson. But the former first-round pick could have convinced Pittsburgh to keep another running back while rookie Le'Veon Bell recovers from a mid-foot sprain.
  • I don't think Curtis Brown is in trouble as far as making the team, but the former third-round pick didn't help himself at Carolina. He was beaten twice for touchdowns by Ted Ginn Jr., who torched the Steelers with 149 receiving yards.
  • Wheaton saw his most extension action of the preseason, and the rookie third-round draft pick produced mixed results. He dropped three passes, including one that Jones put right on his hands. But Wheaton also showed why the Steelers are so high on him. He blew past a Panthers defensive back in the first half and would have caught a long touchdown pass had Jones not put too much air under the ball.
  • I know fans were screaming when Reggie Dunn fielded a punt inside the Steelers' 5-yard line and got tackled for a safety after he went backward while trying to reverse field. But Dunn isn't going to make the team anyway, and the undrafted rookie was just trying to make a play. The Steelers were intrigued by his speed, but one thing worked against Dunn from the start: the frequency of touchbacks in the NFL has de-emphasized kickoff returners.
  • What will the 53-man roster look like? I will take a shot at projecting it Friday in a post that will be up before noon. I expect the Steelers to make some cuts Friday afternoon, and they could do as they did in 2011, when they made the majority of their roster moves a day before the 53-man rosters had to be finalized.

Observation deck: Titans-Vikings

August, 29, 2013
Observations and thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 24-23 loss Thursday to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field:
  • Running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene didn’t play, which allowed for Jackie Battle to carry the load with the first-team offense. He was prominent in a game-opening drive that covered 70 yards and 18 plays, eating up 8:59 of the clock. Battle had 10 carries for 38 yards on the march, including a fourth-and-1 conversion where left guard Andy Levitre pulled and opened a hole on the right side of the line. Tennessee got only a field goal out of it all, but it did well to keep building the offensive-line-centered identity. That was it for the first-teamers on offense.
  • A couple other key players beside CJ did not play: receiver Nate Washington, cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive end Derrick Morgan. Nine others with at least minor injuries didn’t play, either, including receivers Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt, running back Greene, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Sammie Hill, and safety Bernard Pollard.
  • Tommie Campbell's missed tackle on a third-down play inside the 5-yard line was a 4-point play, as running back Joe Banyard turned a screen pass into an 11-yard touchdown. Campbell also gave up a red zone catch to Rodney Smith and was flagged for defensive holding, which was declined. Nothing there gave Campbell any better claim to the starting job he has spent camp and the preseason trying to take away from Alterraun Verner.
  • Tight end John Carlson made a nice, 19-yard catch on the Vikings’ first touchdown drive on the kind of play that gives the Titans trouble. Linebackers sucked up on a play-action fake, and Carlson found room between middle linebacker Moise Fokou and free safety Michael Griffin.
  • The second-team offensive line was, left to right, Byron Stingily, Fernando Velasco, Brian Schwenke, Chris Spencer and Mike Otto. At least one of those guys will be cut by Saturday evening. It’s not going to be Schwenke or Otto, and it’s probably not going to be Velasco.
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson's had a pretty quiet preseason, but the third-round rookie cornerback showed something on the 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels. Wilson did well in late pursuit, and his dive for Sherels’ feet just missed.
  • Jack Doyle had a bad third-down drop two weeks ago and was more sure-handed in this game in terms of being certain he had the ball before he even thought about running. He caught a sliding 2-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone from Ryan Fitzpatrick. But he also got nailed early in the second half as he ran with a pass and coughed up a fumble. He’s a promising guy, but the Titans are going to be stretched with players they’d like to keep at receiver, on the offensive line and by their desire to keep a third quarterback. Doyle seems more like a practice-squad guy to me.
  • We’ve thought for a good while that if Darius Reynaud makes the team it will be as a returner, not as a running back/returner. His 11 carries for 56 yards look better than they were. It all came in the second half, against guys at the very back of Minnesota’s depth chart. Battle and Jalen Parmele are looking better ahead of him, as they have throughout the preseason.
  • The Titans have depth issues after their top three safeties. Seventh-round safety Daimion Stafford collected two turnovers in the third quarter. He intercepted a really bad pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Later, as two defenders jarred the ball free from tight end Chase Ford, Stafford scooped it up and ran with it for 39 yards.

Observation deck: Packers-Chiefs

August, 29, 2013

Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not play in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City, meaning his entire preseason consisted of five series and 45 plays. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews and tight end Jermichael Finley also were given the night off.

The Chiefs also rested many of their key players, including starting quarterback Alex Smith.

The Packers lost 30-8 to finish the preseason 1-3.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the night:
  • Backup quarterbacks Vince Young and B.J. Coleman split playing time. Young started and played the first two series, and then Coleman came in and played the next two series. They alternated that way the rest of the first half. Young played the entire second half and struggled. He lost a fumble on the first possession of the third quarter and then had five straight drives that ended with punts. Young actually fumbled twice in the third quarter, losing one of them when outside linebacker Josh Martin beat tackle Andrew Datko for a strip sack. On the second one, Ridge Wilson beat Datko and knocked the ball away from Young, but the Packers recovered. Young threw behind receivers several times and completed just 14 of 30 passes for 144 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Coleman finished 2-of-7 for 19 yards and an interception. He was picked off by former Packers linebacker Frank Zombo.
  • On his first – and only – play this preseason, cornerback Tramon Williams came up with an interception, picking off Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel on the first play from scrimmage. Williams missed the first three preseason games because of a knee injury he sustained early in training camp but looks like he will be good to go in Week 1 at San Francisco.
  • Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari also played only one play. He was slow to get up after the Packers’ first play from scrimmage and did not return, but he did not appear to be seriously injured.
  • Receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson made their preseason debuts but played only the first two snaps, both of which were running plays.
  • Kicker Mason Crosby, who earlier on Thursday agreed to take a pay cut, made both of his field goals, from 48 and 45 yards, and likely solidified his hold on the job.
  • Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly played extensively and likely solidified his spot on the team after missing the past three seasons because of a suspension. However, his personal-foul penalty helped the Chiefs to their only touchdown in the first half. Jolly delivered a late hit after linebacker Nate Palmer had a strip sack of quarterback Tyler Bray. Jolly’s penalty wiped out what would have been a 13-yard loss.
  • Cornerback Brandon Smith, a receiver in college at Arizona State, gave up all the Chiefs’ three touchdowns – an 8-yard pass from Bray to Junior Hemingway in the second quarter, a 43-yard pass from Bray to Josh Bellamy in the third quarter and a 9-yarder from Bray to Frankie Hammond in the fourth quarter. Smith did also have an interception of Bray early in the third quarter.
  • Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin got his most extensive playing time of the preseason and had a couple of good gains – a long run of 7 yards and a long reception of 14 yards – but struggled mightily in pass protection. He whiffed on several blocks, including one that may have caused Coleman to rush a throw on his interception.
  • Receiver Jeremy Ross may have helped his chances. He caught three passes for 50 yards.
  • Rookie linebacker Sam Barrington, who likely will make the team as a special-teams player, sacked Bray in the third quarter for a safety.
  • Chris Banjo, trying to make the team as the fourth safety, sacked Bray in the fourth quarter.
  • Rookie Micah Hyde took four punt returns. He had three fair catches and a 12-yard return.
  • Coach Mike McCarthy turned the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Tom Clements.
  • Tim Masthay punted 28 times during the preseason, including nine against the Chiefs.
  • Receivers Tyrone Walker and Myles White both fumbled in the fourth quarter, hurting their chances to make it as the fifth or sixth receiver.
  • The Packers may make a few cuts on Friday but likely will make the bulk of their roster moves on Saturday, when they have to be down to 53 players.



Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24