NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 5 W2W4


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Start your engines for Derek Carr-mania.

The rookie quarterback was brilliant (if that’s possible in the preseason) Thursday night as the Oakland Raiders blitzed the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Making his first start, the second-round pick led the Raiders to a three-touchdown lead over Seattle a minute into the second quarter of an eventual 41-31 Oakland victory.

Carr completed 11 of 13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He led the Raiders on two one-play touchdown drives. Several Seattle defensive starters were on the field for the first drive, which ended with a Raiders touchdown. Carr even completed a pass on Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, one of the game’s very best. The Seahawks seemed to be going through the motions, but Carr was dominant.

What was most impressive about Carr is how he handled the offense. He played with such comfort and confidence. He made every throw he needed to make and he was a stunning 4-for-4 for 62 yards on third down. He looked like a five-year starter, playing with about half of the Raiders’ first-string offense.

Carr’s wonderful performance, of course, will put pressure on the Raiders to start him Sept. 7 on the road against the New York Jets. Carr worked with the first team this week because starter Matt Schaub had elbow soreness. Both head coach Dennis Allen and Schaub said the injury is not serious. Allen said Schaub will start against the Jets.

However, we’ve seen this movie before. Last year’s presumed starter, Matt Flynn, also came up with elbow soreness at this point in the preseason. Terrelle Pryor started the last preseason game and then was named the starter for the regular season.

If Allen made that decision last year, with Pryor looking not nearly as strong as Carr did Thursday, why wouldn’t Allen give Carr a chance now?

If I had to guess, I think we will see Carr play against the Jets. Why not? Let’s see what he can do in the bright lights of New York.

Here are some other thoughts on the Raiders’ final preseason game of the year:
  • Carr had great chemistry with receiver Denarius Moore. Moore had three catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Moore was once a key part of the offense but has struggled to take the next step, and there has been speculation he might not be in the team’s plans. But if he and Carr can duplicate this performance in the regular season, it would be a huge boost for the Raiders.
  • The Oakland defense was so-so. Seattle QB Russell Wilson, playing with some other starters, ripped through a defense that played four starters on the first drive. The Oakland defense did play well in spots afterward, though.
  • It was a good night for the Raiders’ special-teams units. They were good in coverage, creating a turnover, and the return game was good. Latavius Murray, who also ran the ball well at running back, had a big kick return and TJ Carrie looked good as a punt returner.
  • Third-stringer Matt McGloin didn’t look as good as he did earlier in the preseason. He and Brice Butler did hook up for their fourth touchdown of the preseason. Both players are solid reserves.
  • Cornerback Neiko Thorpe had a tough night. Coaches raved about him this week. He is on the 53-man bubble.
  • Right tackle Menelik Watson worked with the second-stringers. If that continues next week, that means Khalif Barnes would start at right tackle and rookie Gabe Jackson would slide into Barnes’ spot at left guard.

W2W4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) host the Washington Redskins (2-1) in the preseason finale for both teams Thursday night.

Three things to watch:

Mike Glennon: The backup quarterback will get most of the action with the starters expected to play very little. Glennon hasn’t looked sharp in his last two games, but that might be due in large part to some poor play from the offensive line. Glennon needs a strong performance to make the team more comfortable with him as the backup for Josh McCown.

Larry English: The former first-round pick by San Diego recorded two sacks in the last preseason game. Although English was a bust with the Chargers, there’s hope he can resurrect his career. Another strong performance by English could put him on the roster ahead of Da’Quan Bowers, who has missed much of the preseason due to an injury.

The backup offensive line: Newly acquired Logan Mankins will not play and it’s likely the other starters will sit or appear only briefly. The backup jobs remain very much up for grabs. Even though they were drafted, rookies Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile are on the bubble.

W2W4: Arizona Cardinals

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Arizona Cardinals (1-2) and San Diego Chargers (1-2) close the preseason Thursday night (10 ET) at Qualcomm Stadium.

1. Healthy returns? While the large majority of starters won't be playing Thursday night, it looks like linebacker Kevin Minter, nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu and guard Jonathan Cooper will take the field for about 20-25 snaps at most in San Diego. All three are coming off injuries that caused them to miss a couple games (Minter and Cooper) or the past eight months (Ta'amu). Arians wants them to get game reps before sending them out for "Monday Night Football." It's still uncertain if safety Tyrann Mathieu will play. Arians said Mathieu is "day-to-day" and the team would make a decision after Wednesday's workout.

2. Final rehearsal. Thursday night will be the last chance for 22 players to make a lasting impression -- or at least one deep enough to get through final cuts. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said there are about five positions that will be tougher to cut than others, including defensive backs, wide receiver, offensive tackles and defensive line. There are about seven players who are firmly sitting on the fence. Wide receivers Dan Buckner, Brittan Golden and Walt Powell; safety Curtis Taylor; cornerback Teddy Williams and tackles Nate Potter and Bradley Sowell could just as easily make the 53-man roster as they could be cut.

3. Thomas starting. Logan Thomas will have all four quarters to himself Thursday night. With quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton getting the game off, Thomas will start and go the duration. Arizona tailored the playbook toward him, hoping he can repeat his performance against Houston, rather than his outing against Cincinnati. Having a full game to evaluate Thomas will give Arizona important film to work on for the next few months as they continue to prep and mold him to be the team's future starter. Thursday night will also give Thomas a chance to prove to the naysayers he's capable of being a quarterback at the NFL level.

W2W4: Detroit Lions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions (2-1) and Buffalo Bills (1-3) conclude their preseason Thursday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

1. Is this it for Kellen Moore: The Lions’ No. 3 quarterback has been one of the most talked-about players during the preseason – at least from a fan perspective. After the first preseason game, he briefly looked like he might push Dan Orlovsky for the No. 2 spot, but now his place on Detroit’s roster in 2014 solely lies on whether or not Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell choose to keep three quarterbacks instead of two. If the Lions go with three, Moore makes the team. If the Lions go with two, he doesn’t (barring injury). Moore could end up on Detroit’s practice squad if he is released and clears waivers, but there is a chance this could be Moore’s final game for Detroit.

2. Can any receivers stand out: This would seem like one competition where all of the principles will receive ample playing time since it is unlikely Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate see more than one series, if anything. So this is a final impression for Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller to make their cases for a roster spot. It’s also a chance for Patrick Edwards and Andrew Peacock to put tape together or impress enough for a practice squad spot. But the main focus will be on the four receivers fighting for two or three spots since Johnson, Tate and Jeremy Ross are going to occupy three of them.

3. Hello again, Jim Schwartz: It probably won’t be as big of a deal as it will be when the former Lions coach returns to Detroit with the Bills during the regular season, but a lot of the current group of Detroit players were drafted by the Buffalo defensive coordinator. In a game where almost all of the subplots surround roster spots, potentially the starting right tackle spot and keeping players injury free, seeing a former head coach on the opposite sideline could be intriguing. More intriguing goes to the first point up top – if any coach knows Moore, it is Schwartz, who kept him on the Detroit roster the past two seasons as the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, both NFL starters.

W2W4: Buffalo Bills

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills will wrap up their preseason Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET) against the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
  • Starters expected to see time: Coach Doug Marrone said this week that he is planning on playing some of his offensive starters in the finale. NFL convention usually is to rest starters for the final preseason game. That's what Marrone did last year, but his team has gone 1-3 so far this preseason. The first-team offense hasn't scored a touchdown against a first-team defense. EJ Manuel will start at quarterback. We don't know how long he and other starters will play, but they'll want to put up a better performance Thursday in front of a home crowd that booed them off the field last Saturday.
  • Final pushes for starting battles: Few starting jobs remain up for grabs. Marrone said this week he feels comfortable using Erik Pears at right guard and Seantrel Henderson at right tackle, so it may take a strong late push from Kraig Urbik, the former starter at right guard, to change that. The other spot to watch is safety, where the Bills have used several combinations this preseason. Are Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy the locked-in-stone starting combination? Or can Duke Williams factor into that mix if he plays well Thursday?
  • Backup quarterback carousel: Two of the Bills' four quarterbacks who saw time earlier this preseason are no longer with the team: Thad Lewis and Dennis Dixon. Instead, expect to see plenty of Jordan Palmer, who was signed this week, once Manuel (and perhaps Jeff Tuel) exit the game. While Palmer brings something to the table with his coaching experience, he also needs to prove his worth as a player. He can do that Thursday.

W2W4: New York Jets

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The New York Jets (2-1) face the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, in the final preseason game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

1. A sort of homecoming: Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the Jets, against the team he played for the past five seasons. It'll be interesting to see how he is received by the fans in Philadelphia. The Jets are sitting all their starters, and even Vick won't play for long. Ex-Jets starter Mark Sanchez is now the backup to Nick Foles in Philly, but Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn't planning to use either of his top two QBs in this game. Nevertheless, it'll be an opportunity for Sanchez and his former teammates and coaches to reconnect on the field before and after the game.

2. Last chance? One Jet who will play is wide receiver Stephen Hill, and his job appears to be on the line. The former second-round draft pick, a major disappointment in his first two years with the team, has just two catches for 29 yards in three preseason games. Fellow wideouts Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson are locks to make the final roster, and coach Rex Ryan talked up Greg Salas and Saalim Hakim on Tuesday, and fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders is currently tabbed as the team's No. 1 punt returner. Hill better make some plays Thursday, or else his Jets career could be over.

3. Around the corner: The Jets' lack of talent and depth at cornerback has been the biggest topic of conversation regarding the team during the preseason, and it could get ugly against the Eagles. Dee Milliner (ankle) is still out, and Dimitri Patterson has been suspended for the rest of the preseason. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle (knee) is out for the season, and converted safety Antonio Allen (concussion) is still out as well. Darrin Walls sat out practice Tuesday and will not play against the Eagles, and Ryan is holding nickel back Kyle Wilson out of this game, too. That leaves you with Ellis Lankster and LeQuan Lewis as your likely starters, with Johnny Patrick, Brandon Dixon and Jeremy Reeves as your reserves. Yikes.

W2W4: Green Bay Packers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers (2-1) play their first of two home preseason games on Friday (7 p.m. ET) against the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2).

Here are three things to watch:

1. Center of attention: All eyes will be on Corey Linsley as the rookie fifth-round pick will make his first start at center in what will be his one and only tune up before the regular-season opener a week later at Seattle. The Packers turned to Linsley after JC Tretter sustained a knee injury in last Friday's preseason win against the Oakland Raiders. Even quarterback Aaron Rodgers likely will keep a close eye on Linsley -- from the sideline. Rodgers is not expected to play in the preseason finale, which means his first game action with his new center will come against the Seahawks.

2. Backup quarterbacks: The most important job still up for grabs is the No. 2 quarterback spot. Coach Mike McCarthy would like to get Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien equal playing time to get one last evaluation, but he does not plan to alternate them a series at a time. McCarthy said he would rather see them over extended stretches. For what it's worth, Rodgers said this week he hopes both quarterbacks stick on the roster because both help him to prepare for the upcoming opponent and assist him on game day.

3. Who sits: Last week, the Packers lost a pair of starters -- Tretter and B.J. Raji -- against the Raiders. Not that McCarthy needs any more reason to play it safe, but look for several starters to sit this one out. In addition to Rodgers, the Packers might be inclined to sit starting running back Eddie Lacy, receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Don't expect the starting offensive line, other than Linsley, to play much, if at all. On defense, the Packers might sit outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers among others.

W2W4: Tennessee Titans

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Tennessee Titans (2-1) and Minnesota Vikings (3-0) face off in a preseason game Thursday night at LP Field.

Three things to watch:
  • The Vikings' first drive. The Packers, the Saints and the Falcons all put together long drives that produced touchdowns to open their games against the Titans. Ken Whisenhunt has said that trend isn’t the concern, playing better is the concern. But he can be certain that the trend talk will be amplified if Minnesota scores a touchdown on its opening drive of the game. "I just think we’ve got to come out and do whatever we’ve been doing in practice," outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said. "Whatever we need to do to make that happen, we need to get it done fast. Time is running out, the first game is right around the corner."
  • Maikon Bonani and Travis Coons get their final chance to seize the kicker job. One of them is expected to be cut Friday or Saturday. But both could be if the Titans decide to move on to a veteran after looking at three on Wednesday. Bonani needs to show accuracy with his big leg and produce touchbacks. Coons needs to show more leg, putting kickoffs higher and deeper.
  • The entire body of work will be the deciding factor in battles for roster spots. But there is little differentiating receivers Michael Preston, Derek Hagan, Brian Robiskie and Marc Mariani. If one of them has a big productive night, he could pull away as the fourth guy. One other player I will watch closely who will be trying to convince the Titans to keep a 10th guy in the secondary: Khalid Wooten.

W2W4: Chicago Bears

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Chicago Bears (2-1) face the Cleveland Browns (0-3) in the preseason finale at FirstEnergy Stadium:
  1. No. 3 receiver battle: This competition remains in the forefront as the Bears hope to take one last look at Josh Morgan and Santonio Holmes, who should now be a little more comfortable with the offense. Morgan caught three of the five balls thrown his way last week against Seattle for 48 yards, while Holmes hauled in one pass for 7 yards. Morgan has shown he’s perfectly capable of handling the No. 3 job while Marquess Wilson continues to heal from a fractured clavicle. Holmes could potentially add a dynamic element in the slot.
  2. David Fales in extended action: The Bears plan to play Fales the entire game to find out whether he’s truly worth spending the time and resources to develop. Fales played sparingly in the exhibition opener against Philadelphia, but hasn’t taken any snaps since this preseason. So this will be an opportunity for Fales to earn a spot on the 53-man roster as opposed to being waived and brought back later to the practice squad. Fales hit on 5 of 7 passes for 68 yards in his only brief action of the preseason. Bears coach Marc Trestman likes what he’s seen so far from Fales, who flashes superior anticipation skills.
  3. Return of injured players: The starters typically don’t play in the fourth exhibition game, but an exception could be made for starting right tackle Jordan Mills, considering he hasn’t played a single snap this preseason. Mills returned to practice Monday and could use a little full-speed work against the Browns as the Bears prep for the season opener against Buffalo. Trestman isn’t sure whether Mills will play. Eben Britton also returned to practice this week, and he’ll need to show what he can do against Cleveland to keep a roster spot because Michael Ola and Dennis Roland have come on during his absence. Like Mills, Britton hasn’t participated in any games this preseason.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Carolina Panthers (1-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) play Thursday night at Heinz Field.
  • Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told his players the story of wide receiver Derek Moye earlier this week. Moye, an undrafted free agent in 2012, had been on the outside looking in going into the final preseason game last season. Moye caught two passes for 55 yards and just as impressive was his running down Panthers cornerback Josh Norman from behind after an interception. Moye played his way onto the 53-man roster, and Tomlin’s message to those who are in the same situation this year -- and that includes Moye -- was simple: Make it hard if not impossible for us to cut you.
  • Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, who has been back with the Steelers for little more than a week, is expected to receive extensive playing time in a game that is generally reserved for younger players. Keisel could use work in preparation for the regular-season opener, and it will be interesting to see where the 13-year veteran gets his snaps. Keisel started at right defensive end from 2006-13 and Cameron Heyward, who will sit out as a precaution after spraining his ankle last Thursday, is listed at left defensive end on the depth chart. But Heyward started at right defensive end in the Steelers’ third preseason game, the day after they re-signed Keisel, and he has been entrenched there since the outset of offseason practices. We may find out more on how the Steelers plan on using Keisel this season based on where he lines up against the Panthers.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won’t play against the Panthers. Backup Bruce Gradkowski will play sparingly if at all. That means it will be Landry Jones’ show, and if the second-year man bombs against the Panthers there may not be a place for him on the 53-man roster. The Steelers desperately want Jones, on whom they inexplicably used a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, to earn a spot on the team and not find his way onto it because they want to carry three quarterbacks. The former Oklahoma star did not play well in the Steelers’ second preseason game and he didn’t play at all last Thursday in a 31-21 loss at Philadelphia. It’s interesting that No. 4 quarterback Brendon Kay survived the first round of cuts Tuesday. Is the undrafted rookie competing with Jones or are the Steelers planning to play him Thursday so he can put out game tape after not seeing the field in the first three preseason games?

W2W4: Oakland Raiders

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Oakland Raiders (1-2) and the Seattle Seahawks (2-1) complete the preseason in Oakland at 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

Three things to watch:

Passing game: Even if starter Matt Schaub doesn’t play, the Raiders will want to see progress made in this area. It’s just not the quarterback position. Oakland’s coaches want to see better routes, better ball handling and better protection in the pass game.

Defensive backs: There is some good competition here, especially at cornerback. Neiko Thorpe and TJ Carrie can solidify their spots with more strong play. If so, the Raiders should be in pretty solid shape here.

Overall depth: The Raiders appears to have better depth this season. It will be needed as this roster will evolve through the season. The Raiders want to see bottom-of-the-roster players excel in this game.

W2W4: Atlanta Falcons

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Atlanta Falcons (1-2) play their fourth and final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) Thursday night at Everbank Field.

Here are a few things to watch:

1. The right tackle: The Falcons are set at left tackle with rookie Jake Matthews sliding over from the right side. Now it's a matter of solidifying the right tackle spot going into the Sept. 7 season opener against the New Orleans Saints. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said the competition is "wide open" with Lamar Holmes, Gabe Carimi, and Ryan Schraeder. Holmes has the edge now just based on experience from last year. Carimi, who just returned from an ankle injury, would appear to be the top competitor. Tice said Carimi was in line to be the swing tackle before Sam Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury. Schraeder is mean and nasty, but he's the dark horse. Let's see which guy is the most sound with his technique.

2. Fast track: During an appearance on HBO's "Hard Knocks,'' general manager Thomas Dimitroff seemed to indicate the team had a decision to make between undrafted rookie receivers Geraldo Boldewijn and Bernard Reedy. Well, the decision might have been made for the Falcons as Boldewijn apparently is dealing with a hamstring injury. His playing status for Thursday remains unclear. If the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boldewijn plays through the pain and still makes plays, that might speak volumes about his value. But no one can discount what Reedy brings to the equation with his blazing speed and ability to go get the deep ball. We'll see if Boldewijn's hamstring issue gives Reedy the advantage.

3. Bubble watch: There will be plenty of other guys fighting for jobs Thursday. Some of the names worth monitoring include defensive tackle Travian Robertson, who has been solid throughout the preseason but might be caught in a numbers' game, and nickelback Josh Wilson, who started off strong during training camp but hasn't made many plays as of late while competing against Robert McClain and Javier Arenas. The backup tight end role seems to be down to the wire between Bear Pascoe and Mickey Shuler, although Shuler suffered a setback in missing the last game with a concussion. Coach Mike Smith contends the backup quarterback spot remains up for grabs, but it seems like T.J. Yates would have to pitch a perfect game to overtake Sean Renfree. We'll see.

 

 

W2W4: Cincinnati Bengals

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) and Indianapolis Colts (0-3) play their final game of the preseason at 7 p.m. ET Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium.

1. Who will run the ball? Perhaps the most intriguing question entering Thursday's game revolves around the backfield, a position group that entered Bengals training camp expected to have one of the more hotly contested battles. In the last week or so, those battles haven't been quite as interesting, though, as injuries have filled the running back group. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been believed to be the odd man out, but he might end up sticking with the team depending upon how serious injuries to Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman are. If the injuries are bad enough, they could be sent to an injury list this weekend, opening a spot for Green-Ellis to stick. He actually hasn't had the best health in recent days, either, as an illness held him out all of last week's practices. He also missed Tuesday's workout this week for an undisclosed reason. So with Burkhead, Peerman and Green-Ellis -- players who had been competing for the final running back spots -- out of the mix, who gets carries Thursday? Don't expect starter Giovani Bernard to do much. Rookie Jeremy Hill probably isn't going to be on the field for more than 30 snaps, himself. That means potential practice squad back, rookie James Wilder Jr., could get more extended action.

2. Will starters get rest? It seems likely that Bengals' starters won't play much beyond the first series or two of the game. It also seems reasonable that some may not even see a down of action. The goal of the fourth preseason game is always simple: stay healthy. Cincinnati is focused on hitting that goal this year after losing linebacker Emmanuel Lamur for the season in last year's preseason finale at Indianapolis. For that reason, don't be surprised if he's among those who see an extremely early exit Thursday. Also don't be surprised if Jason Campbell enters the game in the first quarter to relieve starting quarterback Andy Dalton.

3. Special teams improvements? Cincinnati's weakest area this preseason has been special teams. Poor tackling and coverage-unit breakdowns have led to the Bengals allowing big kick and punt returns. Penalties also have negated the Bengals' own gains, forcing them into consistently having bad field position. Last Sunday at Arizona, the Bengals began seven of their 10 drives inside the 20 largely because of lacking special-teams production. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has vowed for better play, and he's seen it as the preseason has progressed, too. There is a thought around the team that some of the penalties that were called may not get upheld during the season. A few of the borderline calls may have been part of preseason overemphasis. Watch to see if the Bengals' special teams can play cleaner Thursday.

W2W4: Denver Broncos

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
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The Denver Broncos (2-1) meet the Dallas Cowboys (0-3) Thursday night (8 ET) in AT&T Stadium in the preseason finale for both teams.

1. Somebody, anybody: There is a bit of self-preservation at work, but if it's not already too late, somebody on the Broncos' roster has to show the coaching staff he can catch a punt with some reliability and perhaps provide some impact in the return game along the way. Otherwise, the chances of the Broncos combing the list of transactions in the coming days to bring in a returner go up significantly. And if they bring somebody in, that means a Broncos player will have the unkindest cut of all -- one where you think you made the 53-man roster only to be released a day later. But since Jordan Norwood's season-ending knee injury, nobody has shown they can consistently make the plays fielding punts.

2. Tough decisions: It will bear watching which veterans, who don't project to be in the team's starting lineup, get the DNPs (did not play) in this one. Often those are players the team is considering releasing and do not want to suffer an injury that would require a settlement or a stint on injured reserve. The Broncos still have some roster spots in play, especially on the defensive line where things will be the tightest. If the Broncos keep just eight in the defensive front, and that is still the most likely scenario, Kevin Vickerson and Mitch Unrein could be playing for the last spot in the position group. It is a testament to the difference in depth on this roster and last year's given that both players were regulars in the rotations last season.

3. His night: The Broncos will not play any of their regulars in this one, so backup quarterback Brock Osweiler will get perhaps his most extensive work of the preseason. Granted, he hasn't played behind the starting offensive line or with the team's starting receivers, but he's completed just 55.6 percent of his passes in three preseason games -- 36 plays against the Seattle Seahawks, 24 plays each against the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans. He has flashed a power arm and shown progress in how he runs a challenging offense. But he still needs to be more settled in the pocket, feel pressure sooner and slide to make throws. He's still too quick to run if things break down even a little and learn a lesson Peyton Manning has always said was one of the most important as a young quarterback, "that a punt is not necessarily a bad play," so he doesn't force a ball into coverage when he doesn't have to.

W2W4: San Francisco 49ers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
PM ET
The San Francisco 49ers (1-2) and Houston Texans (2-1) face off in each team's fourth and final preseason game Thursday night (8 ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston.

1. Playing time for starters: The fourth preseason game is generally a sham in terms of playing time for starters. Who wants to risk injury in the most meaningless of exhibitions 10 days before the regular season begins? But when it comes to the 49ers' offense, a successful series or two would not hurt and would actually go a long way toward establishing that long sought-after rhythm. In last season's exhibition finale, at San Diego, quarterback Colin Kaepernick started, led the Niners on a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to open the game and was finished for the day. "I don't really remember last year's preseason," Kaepernick said Tuesday. "I'm more worried about the regular season, but when we go out there, we want to be productive."

2. No. 3 receiver: The 49ers brought back Brandon Lloyd this offseason. They also acquired Stevie Johnson and drafted Bruce Ellington. And Quinton Patton has flashed this offseason. So who is in line to be the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, behind starters Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree? The position seemed earmarked for Johnson but he did not get much run in the third preseason game. The 49ers may use this game to get a better feel on their third receiver, even if Kaepernick is long gone from the game and Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson are the ones throwing the ball. In any event, coach Jim Harbaugh said he felt "very good" about Stevie Johnson being on the 49ers' 53-man roster.

3. Solidifying the inside: NaVorro Bowman is out at least six games, more likely half the season, so the race is on to find a starter at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. On the surface, it appears as though Michael Wilhoite is the front runner, though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is not ready to make such a proclamation. Yet. "Well, he hasn't proven that yet totally, but we'll wait till after Thursday," Fangio said. "Give these younger guys a good, healthy dose of snaps and see if they can make some progress. We're confident in Mike and we think he'll do fine in there like he did last year in those couple games he's played."

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